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The Applegate Valley Wine

After our visit to Jacksonville, Oregon, we decided to check out a couple of wineries!  The Applegate Valley is one of the most overlooked wine regions in the country, with outstanding wines and a quiet, relaxed atmosphere.  Our first winery stop was Wooldridge Creek Winery. We pulled in to find an amazing covered seating area with cushioned patio furniture, a classy yet inviting tasting room with several books available to read, and another outdoor patio with tables and chairs. Jon’s dad wasn’t interested in wine tasting so he plopped down outside in the shade to read his book.

The winery named after the Wooldridge family who first settled on the property in the 1850s – this isn’t the same family that owns the property and the winery now though.  The first grapevines at Wooldridge Creek were planted in the 1970s; it has now expanded to 56 acres planted in twelve varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Tempranillo.  However, until 2002, the owners sold all their fruit to other wineries; at that point they met and partnered with a wine-making couple to start the winery.

We began our tasting in the tasting room, but soon the draw of the warm sunshine was too much. Our server was very gracious about loading up our tasting on a tray with mini decanters and tasting information for each wine. As I think back on it now (on a gray, rainy day in frigid January), I wish I were back there soaking up the warm rays of the sun!

Wooldridge Creek Winery

Wooldridge Creek Winery

The wine was delicious – I did find that I liked the reds more than the whites though.  The French oak aged Chardonnay was a hit with Jon, but a little too oaked for my taste – good for a taste but too much for a whole glass. There was a Viognier that was quite enjoyable – which was a bit unusual because I don’t typically like many Viogniers. Jon’s mom really enjoyed that one. The reds were wonderful – balanced and approachable while still having lots of structure.  We tasted Merlot, Pinot Noir and Malbec.

After Wooldridge, we visited Troon Winery. Jon and I had been there before, and Jon had wanted to go back. We wanted to be outside again, so we shuttled back and forth between the tasting room and the seating area outside. That was a little bit awkward, but it was to be expected as the server had her hands full with other customers. She did tell us a bit about each wine when we came in to get our sample, but it seemed a bit more impersonal than our visit in 2011.

Troon Winery from our covered seating

Troon Winery from our covered seating

That said, Troon’s wine is excellent – not a bad one in the bunch. Ironically, when we visited in 2011 the Druid’s Fluid red blend was my least favorite wine, but it is the biggest seller for the winery. This year, they didn’t have Druid’s Fluid on the tasting menu, so I don’t know if I would have liked it more now.  We ended up getting several wines to bring home with us.  For some reason though, I always forget that Troon now has a tasting room in the Willamette Valley, so we will have to stop by there sometime when we are down that way.

After our two tasting room visits, we wrapped up our day and headed back to the rental house to enjoy one last quiet evening on the river before heading home.  We swam in the pool, read books, watched the Canada Geese flying overhead to their night roosts, and heard the hum of the jet boats as they took tourists back home after the dinner tour (I so want to take that jet boat tour one day!).

Canada Geese flying home for the night

Canada Geese flying home for the night

We had to be up before dawn in the morning, because Jon had misunderstood what days he was supposed to get off from work.  I had planned for us to spend a leisurely day Tuesday driving home and then go back to work Wednesday, but Jon thought we were coming home on Monday.  He had scheduled himself to work at 2 pm on Tuesday, expecting that he would have a quiet morning at home to sleep in and get some things done.  Obviously that wasn’t going to happen!  Considering that the drive home (without traffic) is 8 hours, we set the alarm for 3 am to get home in time.

We were on the road at 3:17 am! It’s not often that I watch a summer sunrise from the road, but I caught this one. Our early morning travel all worked out in the end though, as we made it home with enough time to get some lunch and essentials at the grocery store before Jon had to go to work.  And I had the whole afternoon to take a leisurely nap, unpack and relax for going back to work on Wednesday. It was a nice end to a great long weekend…

 

A Stop in Historic Jacksonville

It was the third day of our Southern Oregon long weekend and we were headed to Jacksonville!  Jacksonville, Oregon is a historic town just 5 miles outside of Medford.  It experienced a huge boom in 1851 and 1852 when gold was discovered there, and the town became the principal financial center for Southern Oregon at the time.  However, the gold dried up, and so did the town, especially after the railroad passed it by in 1884.  It remained the county seat until 1927, but the economy of the town drastically declined.  As a result of the decline, progress bypassed Jacksonville and a large number of the commercial and residential buildings were left intact.

The Old Drug Store

The Old Drug Store

Now the large number of historic buildings are the stars of the town, drawing tourists to the quiet downtown.  The main street is lined with shops, selling a variety of art, local clothing and handmade jewelry, and fair trade products.  Jon and I visited in 2011, and loved the relaxed little town so much that we couldn’t wait to come back.

A Historic Saloon turned Coffee Shop

A Historic Saloon turned Coffee Shop

We had lunch at the Bella Union – a restaurant in a historic building downtown.  The Bella Union began as a restaurant and saloon in 1864, and operated until it burned on April 14, 1874.  After that it was home to many businesses; a machine shop, saddle shop, saloon, deli and finally a restaurant and saloon once again.  The present restaurant has been in business since 1988.

The outdoor patio at the Bella Union Restaurant

The outdoor patio at the Bella Union Restaurant

I had a turkey cranberry sandwich and vegetable soup; Jon had steamed clams and salad.  Both were delicious.  We sat outside on the patio in the warm shade and enjoyed a relaxed conversation with Jon’s parents.  After lunch, we shopped a bit, and then headed off for our next adventure – wine tasting!

A Boat Tour of Crater Lake

There are only five boats permitted on Crater Lake – three tour boats and two research vessels.  And I got to spend two hours on one!

The second full day of our Southern Oregon long weekend was dedicated to a trip to Crater Lake, and the boat tour!  We left first thing in the morning (but not too early, because it was our vacation) for the two hour drive to the lake from our vacation home in Grants Pass, Oregon.

We stopped to check out the upper Rogue River for a few minutes, walking along the river and snapping some photos.  But we couldn’t stay long because we needed to make it up to the lake in time for our tour!

We got to the Cleetwood Cove Trail parking area, and then had to find parking along the road because the parking lot was full!  We checked in at the kiosk (you are required to check in and pick up your tickets before you hike down) and then started down the 1.1 mile trail to the lake.  The trail isn’t too steep, because there are a lot of switchbacks, but there are sections that have lots of loose gravel.  A couple of times my feet slipped on the loose gravel, even though I was wearing my Chaco sandals that have a good sole.

But soon enough, we were down at the bottom, where we checked in again (checking in was quite a theme on this tour…).  We had about 20 minutes to relax at the bottom, eat some snacks, and dip my feet in the water before the boat tour started.  And boy was that water cold!  We got all settled in on the boat and set off for our two hour tour (go to the bathroom before you get on the boat people – there’s no peeing in the lake!).

Our ranger started us off by telling us about the history of Crater Lake, beginning with the Native American oral history that I told you about in my last post.  Then he talked about William Gladstone Steel, and how his efforts are one of the main reasons Crater Lake is a National Park.  After the history talk, the Ranger discussed the geology about how Crater Lake was formed, and the formations that exist on the edges of the caldera and within the lake itself.

The Devil’s Backbone is a dike that was created by lava as it pushed up and filled cracks.  The “backbone” emerged as the softer rock around it is eroded away.  Devil’s Backbone ranges in width from 23 feet to about 50 feet and is the only backbone that goes all the way from the water’s edge to the top of the caldera.

Devil’s Backbone – This shows how much it sticks up!

Devil’s Backbone – This shows how much it sticks up!

Wizard Island is a cinder cone that began to form while the caldera was filling with water.  The top 763 feet of the 2500 foot cinder cone are visible above the surface of the lake.  Aerial photos show where volcanic activity is apparent at the top of the cone.  Depending on which tour you choose, you can get dropped off on Wizard Island and spend some time hiking there.

Wizard Island – the cinder cone shows well on the left, but you can’t see the crater at the top from the boat.

Wizard Island – the cinder cone shows well on the left, but you can’t see the crater at the top from the boat.

The Phantom Ship is an island created by the remains of lava flow.  It is about 500 feet long with a maximum width of 200 feet; the dramatic spires that give The Phantom Ship its name tower about 170 feet above the surface of the lake.  Despite not having much soil, trees make their home there, along with other shrubs.  The Phantom Ship is probably Crater Lake’s most famous landmark.

Mergansers! Swimming around the Phantom Ship

Mergansers! Swimming around the Phantom Ship

The Phantom Ship – Sorry about the people standing in the pic; I was told pushing them in the water was frowned upon.

The Phantom Ship – Sorry about the people standing in the pic; I was told pushing them in the water was frowned upon.

The Pumice Castle is an outcropping of fragmental pumice along the wall of the caldera.  It is striking because of its bright orange color; it sharply contrasts with the gray of the rock around it.  It is another example of how erosion has revealed geologic features at Crater Lake.

The Pumice Castle – Jon loved this because it is orange.

The Pumice Castle – Jon loved this because it is orange.

The Old Man is a Mountain Hemlock trunk that has been floating upright in the lake for more than 100 years.  It is pushed to different areas of the lake by the wind and lake currents, but I don’t think they know why the Old Man bobs along in his upright position.

The Old Man of Crater Lake – a Mountain Hemlock that has been bobbing along upright for over 100 years.

The Old Man of Crater Lake – a Mountain Hemlock that has been bobbing along upright for over 100 years.

 

The tour also explained the water’s clarity, which I discussed in my previous post, and the flora and fauna of the lake.  The Ranger told us that other than ground squirrels, wildlife was not frequently seen near the surface of the lake, because the loose scree made it difficult to travel down the edges of the caldera.  Simply put, the animals aren’t that crazy.

William Gladstone Steel began stocking the lake with fish as early as 1888 and the stocking continued until 1941.  Two species were able to acclimate to the lake and begin reproducing naturally; Kokanee Salmon and Rainbow Trout.  Both of these species are abundant in the lake today.

You can fish to your heart’s content during the season, but there are no organic baits or lures allowed.  And fishing in the Park’s many creeks is prohibited.  The endangered Bull Trout makes its home in those waters, and they are trying to help it make a comeback.

After our two hour tour on the lake, the boat finally motored back to Cleetwood Cove and we were back on dry land.  We still had to make the 1.1 mile hike back up to the rim of the caldera, but it went more quickly than I expected.  Of course, Jon couldn’t wait for us slowskies (me and Jon’s parents), so he powered up to the top and waited for us there.

This is a view of the Phantom Ship from the Cleetwood Cove Trail – not as much detail, but no people in the photo either!

This is a view of the Phantom Ship from the Cleetwood Cove Trail – not as much detail, but no people in the photo either!

We drove over to the concession area, got a snack, and spent some time perusing the gift shop before heading towards home.  A great day – I had a fabulous time on the boat tour and would highly recommend it!

Would you want to take the Crater Lake Boat Tour?

Crater Lake History

Did you know what the deepest lake in the United States is?  Crater Lake!  It is also the ninth deepest lake in the world, and contains some of the world’s clearest waters.  And we were lucky enough to visit again in August!

Crater Lake National Park was the fifth National Park to be named, on May 22, 1902, by Congress and Theodore Roosevelt.  Although it was one of the earliest parks, that was thanks to the perseverance of William Gladstone Steel, who had been lobbying Congress to create the park since 1870!

Steel first learned about Crater Lake in1870 and was immediately enthralled, but it took another 15 years before he had the chance to visit.  He participated in many of the scientific experiments in the 1880s that established Crater Lake as the deepest in the U.S., and documented its exceptional clarity.  Steel also was integral to the building on Crater Lake Lodge, which was completed in 1915, and the Rim Drive, which is a 33 mile drive around the entire rim of the lake, which was completed in 1918.

Of course, the Native Americans in the area, belonging to the Klamath tribe, have known about Crater Lake for thousands of years.  In fact, their oral tradition includes stories of the eruption that blew the top off of Mount Mazama 7,700 years ago, and created Crater Lake in the caldera that was formed.  According to their tradition, two Chiefs, Llao, of the Below World, and Skell, of the Above World fought each other in a battle.

Crater Lake from the Cleetwood Cove Trail

Crater Lake from the Cleetwood Cove Trail

Llao had visited the top of Mount Mazama, and on one visit, had seen Loha, the daughter of a Klamath Chief.  When she rejected him because he was ugly (aren’t these stories always about unrequited love?) Llao rained fire onto the Klamath people.  They appealed to Skell for help, and that’s when the trouble really got going.

After a fierce battle, Skell defeated Llao and drove him back into the underworld, and covered the hole with the top of Mount Mazama, and then to ensure he wouldn’t get out again, covered it with a dark pit of water that still exists today.

Gold prospectors “discovered” the lake while out searching for gold in 1853.  However, they didn’t find any gold there, so the find wasn’t all that momentous.  But eventually, Crater Lake attracted enough attention that the media wrote about it, and William Gladstone Steel began his quest to get Crater Lake designated as a National Park.

I have written about Crater Lake before; it is the one place (at least so far) where I have felt so overcome by a sense of peace and tranquility even when surrounded by people.  It just has that effect on me.  There are many peaceful places, but peace within a crowd of people is scarce.  Surprisingly, Crater Lake isn’t a hugely visited park; annual attendance in 2012 was 447,251.  I have such a hard time understanding why more people don’t want to go!

Part of this low attendance is because of the fact that snow covers the area for a full eight months of the year; the park is open all year but has limited accessibility outside of the June to early October summer window.  Only about 100,000 people visit outside of the summer season.  You have to be pretty determined to visit in the winter; the record year for snow came in 1950, with 903 inches of snow!

And the tranquility I felt when gazing at the lake?  I think that’s in part due to the sapphire blue color of the lake itself.  The stunning blue is caused by its depth, and the fact that the water is so clear.

Crater Lake from the Boat Tour

Crater Lake from the Boat Tour

A secchi disk (an 8″ black and white disk that is dropped to measure clarity) was still visible at 139 feet below the surface of the lake!  The water is so clear because there are no rivers or streams pouring sediment into the lake.  The only water coming in is rain and snow melt.  And the porous volcanic soil allows the snow melt to run down into the lake without taking much sediment with it.

I was so excited that we got to visit again, and this time, we were going to take the boat tour around the lake!

Have you been to Crater Lake?  Did you do the boat tour?

An Impromptu Stop: Foris Vineyards

You want to know one of the best things about Oregon Wine Country?  The signage!  Well, that, and the wineries!  Oregon has some of the easiest wine country to navigate, thanks to hundreds of little blue roadsigns pointing you to the wineries.  Even if you didn’t have a map, or a GPS, or a guidebook, you could find some wine!

On our way back from a satisfying day trip to Oregon Caves National Monument, we saw a few of those winery signs and decided to make an impromptu stop at Foris Vineyards.  Of the four of us, Jon was the only one who had heard of Foris – but his dad doesn’t really pay attention to wineries or wine so really, only three of us count on this score.  But Jon had heard good things, so drove a few miles down the country road, following the signs and ended up at a little tasting room in the front section of a wine production facility.

Foris Vineyards is family owned and operated by the Gerber family, and has been since 1971.  That’s when Ted Gerber and his wife purchased the property; they planted the first vines in 1974.  For awhile they sold their grapes to other wineries, but in 1986 they began using their grapes to make their own wine.  Currently about 80% of the grapes they use are estate grown.

My fabulous mother in law at the Foris Tasting Room

My fabulous mother in law at the Foris Tasting Room

When we went into the tasting room, we were warmly greeted by our server.  When we told her that we had just been to Oregon Caves, she asked which ranger had given our tour.  When we told her, her eyes lit up and she explained that he frequented the tasting room on his days off.  Just another reason why National Park Rangers are so awesome!

We were guided through the lineup, and I found myself really enjoying the reds.  We were able to do a side by side tasting of their two Pinot Noirs; one their flagship Pinot and the other the single vineyard Pinot from the Maple Ranch vineyard.  Both were delicious!  Their Cabernet Sauvigon and Cab Franc were also very good.

My mother in law really enjoyed the Fly Over Red blend and their sweet Moscato.  The Fly Over wines show that this wine-making family has a great sense of humor; these wines are named for the fact that because the Illinois Valley of Oregon is one of the most remote wine growing regions in the nation, many members of the national wine press will never come out to witness these wines being made.  So the folks at Foris simply wave at the planes overhead, because you never know who is “flying over”.

A few of the wine awards Foris has received

A few of the wine awards Foris has received

Jon came in and out of the tasting room to sample my wine at his leisure, and then settled with his father on the Adirondack chairs outside.  Linda and I took our time enjoying the wines and chatting with the server.  Soon enough, we were on our way back to our home away from home by the river, to swim in the pool, eat dinner and wile away a relaxing evening, with a newly opened bottle of wine.

A Bite at the Oregon Caves Chateau

Once we had toured the Oregon Caves, it was time for lunch in the historic Oregon Caves Chateau!  The Oregon Caves Chateau was built in 1934, in order to provide the tourists visiting the cave with lodging and meals.  The Chateau was designed and built by Gust Lium, a local contractor with no formal training.  His talents were recognized by the Forest Service, and he was responsible for several projects within the Siskiyou National Forest in Southern Oregon, where the Oregon Caves are located.

The Chateau is six stories tall, built over a steep ravine.  The location makes its appearance a bit misleading, because when viewed from one direction, you can see all six stories, but from the front entrance, only the top three stories are visible.  The Chateau has 23 guest rooms, and also houses a dining room and coffee shop.  In front of one of the entrances to the coffee shop is a courtyard with a pond.

A Side View of the Oregon Caves Chateau – the Coffee Shop is the door on the bottom left

A Side View of the Oregon Caves Chateau – the Coffee Shop is the door on the bottom left

The style is considered National Park Rustic, with cedar siding on the exterior of the building, giving it a shaggy appearance.  Inside, the Chateau has the largest public collection of Mason Monterey furniture, made by the Mason Manufacturing Company in the 1930s.  Much of the furniture is in original condition, although some has been restored.  Although we didn’t stay at the Chateau this time (one day I will!), the rooms all maintain their original appearance, with steam heaters, and no telephones or televisions.  Some people would call this dated, but I appreciate the intention of making sure there are places that stay true to history.

The fireplace in the lobby of the Oregon Caves Chateau

The fireplace in the lobby of the Oregon Caves Chateau

But this post is about the coffee shop.  It was completed in 1937, with birch and maple counter tops on a counter that snakes around the dining room and vinyl stools, and it is almost entirely original!  The knotty pine paneling is original, but the oak parquet floor that was constructed in the 1930s had to be replaced with a tile floor after a 1963 flood.  We were there for a late lunch, so it wasn’t that busy when we got there and we were able to get 4 stools all together.

The Oregon Caves Chateau Coffee Shop

The Oregon Caves Chateau Coffee Shop

They serve typical diner fare with a Northwest twist, but their signature items are the milkshakes and malts!  They make them from real, hard ice cream and there is a long list of flavors that you can choose from.  I am a purist, so I went with the chocolate.  Each milkshake is huge, arriving in a full glass that is as big as the stainless steel cup it is made in.  YUM!

Delicious Chocolate Milkshake!

Delicious Chocolate Milkshake!

I ordered the bison burger, which was perfectly made (I asked for mine medium rare) and fries.  Jon had the Chef salad.  They have a variety of other burgers and sandwiches, chili, chicken strips and meatloaf.  Although the menu is pretty heavy on the meat, there are some vegetarian options, as well as a vegan burger.  And you can substitute a gluten free bun on any of the burgers or sandwiches.

My buffalo burger and fries!

My buffalo burger and fries!

I really enjoyed just sitting on the stool, eating my burger and shake and chatting with Jon and his parents.  It was a real treat to enjoy a meal in this historic setting, and it reminded me that we need to take the time to just slow down and see and experience what is right in front of you.

Have you stayed at the Oregon Caves Chateau or dined there?

 

A Real Cave Tour!

I was finally going to tour the Oregon Caves!  But first a few safety precautions.  Not for us… For the bats!  You see, bats that live east of the Rocky Mountains are being decimated by White Nose Syndrome.  Infection with the fungus causes bats to rouse too frequently from hibernation and they starve to death through excessive activity.  The symptoms include loss of body fat, unusual winter behavior (including flying), damage and scarring of the wing membranes, and death.  Sadly, affected areas have experienced declines in the bat population of over 90%.

Luckily, White Nose Syndrome has not yet made its way to the bats at The Oregon Caves, so the tour guides take precautions.  You cannot bring any shoes or clothing that have entered a cave where the fungus is known to exist.  We checked out and got our tokens, indicating we had passed the safety check.

Then it was time!  The tour lasts about 90 minutes and travels about 1 mile through the cave.  We entered the cave at the entrance where Elijah Davidson first entered in 1874.  It was surprising how quickly the light goes away.  The cave is equipped with electric lights, but our Ranger turned them off to let us experience the total darkness.

A stream runs through the cave; so you could hear the sound of water.  Once the lights were back on, we were guided along a series of narrow passageways and metal staircases.  The Ranger showed us the dingy brown color of the marble along the route, discolored over a hundred years by the oils in so many hands; high up on the walls the marble was bright white.

Flowstone that shows how white the marble at the Oregon Caves used to be

Flowstone that shows how white the marble at the Oregon Caves used to be

We saw the different formations, stalactites and stalagmites, soda straws, popcorn, bacon, moonmilk, columns, draperies (also called curtains) and flowstone.  The draperies in one room reminded me of those meringue cookies that you can buy at the store.

Draperies in the Oregon Caves

Draperies in the Oregon Caves

We also saw where early tourists signed their names on the marble; the writing is clearly visible but is now encased in a clear stone layer, as new marble is forming over top.  Although geological changes occur extremely slowly, this is one time where change is clearly evident.  We also saw where stalactites and stalagmites were broken off and carted away by people eager for a souvenir.

Century Old Graffiti at the Oregon Caves

Century Old Graffiti at the Oregon Caves

Columns, Stalactites and Stalagmites in the Oregon Caves

Columns, Stalactites and Stalagmites in the Oregon Caves

Our Ranger also did a great job of showing us how the tour has changed over time.  We were walking on smooth surfaces lit by electric lights, with metal catwalks and metal staircases.  But in the early days of Oregon Cave tours, tourists did not have the luxury of today’s infrastructure.  They did their tours with lanterns and wooden ladders, which became very slippery from water dripping in caves.  Our Ranger pointed out where the original tour route was, and sections where visitors had to hold onto handholds in the wall, and creep along narrow ledges.  I’m not nearly that adventurous.

We also got to hear stories about life in the caves.  Fossil bones from several species have been found, including a jaguar that is estimated to be between 20,000 and 40,000 years old and a grizzly bear that is over 50,000 years old.  Other fossils include the rare mountain beaver and a blue grouse.  The tour took us by the grizzly bear bones, which are encased in a viewing box at the end of the tour – still in the same place where they were found.

The whole tour was fascinating, seeing all the different rooms and passages, and it didn’t feel like 90 minutes had gone by when we finished the tour.  The cave is pretty cold though, staying a relatively constant 44 degrees, so it was nice to get back out into the 80 degree sunshine!

And after the tour we went to get some lunch at the Oregon Caves Chateau!