Thursday, January 20, 2011

Oregon---Willamette Valley

Since we've been vacationing in Oregon for over 35 years, I decided to break up my Oregon blog into sections. Not only do we still vacation here (mostly to visit my family), but I lived here for about 7 years as a child. Most of our vacations, though, are during their fabulous July or August months. Can't beat those nearly 90 degree days with low humidity and almost constant sunshine. This blog is of the area I lived in---the Willamette Valley. Most of our vacations were based out of Dallas, Oregon, about 12 miles west of Salem.

First a little education about the area. The Willamette Valley is a fertile plain on either side of the Willamette River in the northwest area of Oregon. It is bound on the west by the Oregon Coast Range and on the east by the Cascade Range. The Missoula Floods some 13,000-15,000 years ago contributed to the agricultural richness of the valley. The majority of the state's population lives within the basin.
The climate in the Willamette Valley is usually cool wet winters and moderate dry summers. Most valley precipitation arrives as rain, about half of which falls between December and February. Growing seasons are long, averaging 150 to 180 days per year in the lowlands with an average of 40" of rain. Temperatures rarely get below 0 in the winter and only above 90 5-15 days per year in the summer.

A fantastic way to see the Willamette Valley is by Amtrak train on the Coast Starlight. It is widely regarded as one of the most spectacular of all train routes. It starts in LA and ends in Seattle. It goes through Oregon in the Willamette Valley. The scenery along the Coast Starlight route is beautiful. We boarded it a couple times here at the Amtrak station in Salem and rode it to Seattle.


We loved sitting in the 2nd level Sightseer Lounge car that has floor-to-ceiling windows for watching the passing scenery go by. There are other trains along this route, too, but none with this impressive viewing car of the Coast Starlight.

Located in the center of the Willamette Valley alongside the Willamette River is the capital of Oregon, Salem. A 2009 estimate placed the metropolitan population at 396,103, the state's second largest metropolitan area, first being Portland by far.

This is the third and current Oregon State Capitol building which was completed in 1938 and is the fourth-newest capitol in the United States. It is adorned by a gold leaf Oregon Pioneer statue atop the capitol dome. The capitol grounds cover three city blocks and include Willson and Capitol parks. Although we've never been in the capital building we've driven by it hundreds of times.

Oregon State Capitol building

Just blocks from the Oregon State Capitol, on the banks of the Willamette River, is the Salem Riverfront Carousel. The carousel operates inside a building which is opened up in the summer and enclosed in the winter. It is within walking distance of Salem Riverfront Park, A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village (a children's interactive museum), the Eco-Earth World Globe, Salem's sternwheeler "The Willamette Queen," and downtown Salem.

Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary is a community of Benedictine monks near the city of Mt. Angel, about a 30 minute drive north of Salem. The library at the abbey was designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. Since Angie studied architecture in college, she wanted to go check it out. Along with the library, there is The Mount Angel Abbey Museum which holds a collection of assorted artifacts, including mounted animal dioramas, rocks and minerals, antique liturgical vestments and religious items, and American Civil War memorabilia.
Mt. Angel Abbey

The Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum is a museum which displays a number of military and civilian aircraft and spacecraft. The museum is located in McMinnville, about a 20 minute drive west of Salem. An IMAX theater opened in 2007, and a second exhibit hall focusing on the Titan II ICBM and space technology opened in 2008.
Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum

But it's most notably plane is the Hughes H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose". It was capable of carrying 750 fully equipped troops or one M4 Sherman tank. The HK-1 contract was issued in 1942, but because of several reasons (restrictions placed for acquisitions like all the spruce wood that was needed to build it, Hughes' insistence on "perfection",... ) it was not completed until well after the war was over. The aircraft made its only flight on November 2, 1947. Although the project did not move beyond the initial prototype, the H-4 Hercules was a forerunner of the massive transport aircraft of the late 20th century .

Spruce Goose

Located in Monmouth, about 10 minutes west of Salem, is the Paul H. Jensen Arctic Museum. It is a free little museum focused on the culture and environment of the Arctic. It houses 5,000 artifacts and has exhibits on the wildlife of the Arctic along with displays about the Inuit and Eskimos of Alaska. Unfortunately, The Jensen Arctic Museum is scheduled to close after the 2010/2011 school year due to a loss of funding.

Paul Jensen Arctic Museum
Among the many artifacts and stuffed animals in the museum is this Polar Bear. Wonder what will become of all the artifacts?

Built in 1899 and in continuous use, the Polk County Courthouse in Dallas, (about 20 minutes west of Salem) is a distinctive structure. The courtroom decor contains some original vintage furniture and related furnishings. This was the view from my brother's pizza parlor just across main street until he moved the business further down the road.

Polk County Courthouse

The Oregon Garden in Silverton (just northeast of Saloem) opened in 1999 and spans 80 acres. It includes 20 specialty gardens, as well as waterfalls, fountains, quiet ponds, a working tree farm, tram tours, a summer concert series and the Gordon House, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and is open to the public.
Oregon Gardens

One of the many views from the tram as we toured the Oregon Gardens.

Silver Falls State Park is also located near Silverton, about 20 miles away. It is the largest state park in Oregon with an area of more than 9,000 acres and has more than 24 miles of walking trails, 14 miles of horse trails, a 4-mile bike path, and 15 waterfalls.

Silver Falls

South falls is one of the 4 of falls with a walkway that goes behind the waterfall. It is a 177-foot waterfall and the most visited one in the park.
South Falls at Silver Falls
The Elkhorn Valley Recreation Site offers overnight camping and day use recreation along the Little North Fork of the Santiam River in the Salem District. Elkhorn Valley is an excellent basecamp for trips along the Little North Fork including Opal Creek. As of 2010, new fees of $14 per campsite and a day-use fee of $5 per vehicle are now in effect. It's season is Memorial Day weekend-Labor DAy weekend. I forget the exact time we camped there but I thought I was going to freeze during the night! During the day, we were playing in the river and even rafting it in an inflatable raft---until we sunk it.

Elkhorn Valley Recreation Site

This was another of the thousands of crystal clear fresh water creeks in the Willamette Valley. Many of the creeks are stocked with trout during the summer. The wilderness of Oregon is a outdoors person's dream---not just for fishing and hunting, but for hiking, biking, photographing,... .

Mill Creek

Another kind of fishing you don't hear too much about in the Pacific Northwest is slough fishing. This slough was just outside of Salem and my dad enjoyed fishing for catfish here.

slough fishing

Walking into the slough area, wildflowers were leading the way.
wild flowers

The wildflowers throughout Oregon are incredible. During the spring and summer months there's flowers everwhere.

One or more massive Ice Age floods left the valley floor thick with flood carried sediments making the valley extremely fertile — a massively productive agricultural area. When floodwaters met log-and-ice jams at Kalama, in southwest Washington, the water caused a backup that filled the entire Willamette Valley to a depth of 300 to 400 feet above current sea level. The lake gradually drained away, leaving layered sedimentary soils on the valley floor to a height of about 180 to 200 feet. The soil in the Willamette Valley is about 0.5 miles deep in some areas.

Oregon is the world’s number one producer of cool-season forage and turf grass seed. Grass seed is one of the state’s top commodities. The grass industry in Oregon employs approximately 10,000 people annually and generates about $1 billion annually. Around early July, you'll see many fields like this. The harvesting of the fields is a fun process to watch. But if you have asthma, it's not a good time to be in the Valley!

The major agricultural products of the valley include many varieties of berries and vegetables like these Queen Anne cherries. This crop, up the street from my parents house, was used to make maraschino cherries. Back when I was a kid, school was let out early when fruit and vegetable crops came in so we could go to work picking them. This farm now uses sophisticated equipment that lays a tarp on the ground then shakes the tree, then a convayer carries the cherries up to a holding area for transport.

Growing wild all over the Willamette Valley are blackberry plants. Although they are considered a nuisance to many, I love being there in late August when the fruit are ripe. Unlike the domestic farm grown ones of the midwest, these wild ones are huge (about the size of a walnut) and very sweet. They also are protected by some evil thorns, but the reward for fighting off the thorns is worth it!

Just another farm in Dallas. This was along my walking route--to the cherries and blackberries.

farmland in Dallas

More along my walks---love the wild roses on the fence.
This happens to be the farm of some friends of ours in Dallas. Spent many hours there in my childhood.

Another random farmland photo.

Although wildflowers grow throughout the valley, the greenhouse and nursery stock have become the biggest agricultural commodity in the valley.
About 30 miles north of Salem by Woodburn is the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm. In early spring, it holds their annual tulip fest. With over 40 acres of tulips and daffodils, it's quite a sight to see.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Woodburn

The Willamette Valley is home to several commercial flower fields, and most are open to the public. You can stroll through viewing fields at little to no cost. But the color for many of the blooms lasts only a month.

flower farm near Silverton

Another of the flower nurseries near Silverton.

Driving the back roads by the flower farms when they're in full bloom is an awesome ride.

Red Poppies in summer bloom.

Poppy field

The valley also produces most of the grass seed, Christmas trees, and hazelnuts sold in North America. Even hops for microbrews has become popular in the valley. Here is one of the many Christmas tree farms.
Christmas Tree farm
In recent decades, the valley has also become a major wine producer, with multiple American Viticultural Areas of its own. With a cooler climate than California, the gently rolling hills surrounding the Willamette are home to some of the best pinot noir in the world. This is just one of the many vinyards in the valley.

Vineyard in Dallas
The vineyards make an excellent place for weddings---such as my niece's wedding in 2010.

Not just a Willamette Valley occurance, but Memorial Day services are a big thing here. "The Avenue of Flags Memorial Day Program" in Dallas is pretty impressive with all the flags lining the road and the individual flags placed by veterans graves.

That's just shows a little bit of why I love the Willamette Valley so much! Someday I wouldn't mind living there again. Until then, I'll continue to take vacations there.


  1. Oh how I love Oregon. Reading this post made me happy. Now I'm dreaming of going back for a visit. Can't wait to get back there. :)

  2. My daughter and family just moved to the Willamette Valley from Wilsonville. What a treasure! I loved Wilsonville but this is more what I imagined Oregon to be.

  3. My daughter and family just moved to the Willamette Valley from Wilsonville. What a treasure! I loved Wilsonville but this is more what I imagined Oregon to be.