Road trip

  • Story and photos by Wayne Kruse / Special to The Herald
  • Saturday, May 29, 2004 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

So last summer we set out on yet another of Granddad’s Dreaded Educational Road Trips, in which I found that you no longer have to climb down, and back up, 400-plus steps to see the critters at Sea Lion Caves; that you do still have to climb 91 feet to the top of the Yaquina Head light to see the gorgeous surf-and-rock view from the old facility; and that pre-teen boys seem to think the Teapot Gas Station, near Zillah, is as cool as I did on trips with my family in the early 1950s.

This trip, with Judyrae, Keegan (the Older Kid) and Conner (the Younger Kid), was designed to be a megadose of history for the grandsons, grades seven and four, respectively.

It was planned by their whip-cracking, hard-driving, grim, humorless, ex-school teacher grandfather to take advantage of that rapidly closing window of opportunity their ages offered – old enough to take advantage of educational travel, but not yet so old they wouldn’t be caught dead with their senile forebears.

As a history buff, I believe strongly in the value of passing along one’s heritage, preferably in a reasonably entertaining manner. There’s a saying, “Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” or something like that, which has been used so much it has become a cliche, but which contains a grain of truth, nevertheless.

I much prefer a couple of catchy phrases currently being used in ads for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. One shows three happy and obviously American kids in a car, and the caption is: “Do They Know Why They Don’t Have British Accents?” Another full-page ad is titled, “Colonial Williamsburg. America. Chapter 1.”

Change the focus to The Great Northwest, change the accent to Russian or Spanish, and you have the reason behind our foray last June.

We picked the boys up on a Monday morning, and Gram ticked off the Rules For Those Riding In Her New Car (no ice cream between the seats; no dog poop on your shoes). We made sure they both had notebooks and pencils, with which to keep a journal.

We headed south on I-5 and drove past the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field, intending to hit that one the last day of the trip, on the way home. So our first stop was at the relatively new Washington State History Museum ($8 adult, $5 student) in Tacoma, a facility none of us had visited before and one I was looking forward to seeing for the first time.

Terrible disappointment.

The displays have apparently been put together by a committee so worried about offending someone that they have wiped the place clean of any character whatsoever. Not even close to the first-class British Columbia provincial museum in Victoria, or any of a number of other facilities we have visited.

We spent the night at Long Beach (just north of Ilwaco) and had breakfast at Laurie’s Homestead, one of the trip’s best meals. Huge and satisfying Hangtown fry; big hot chocolates with whipped cream and a cherry. Thus fortified, we drove a short distance and crossed the Astoria bridge to what turned out to be perhaps the boys’ favorite of the trip, the Columbia River Maritime Museum.

The clean, open structure (on the east, upriver, edge of Astoria, Ore.) has a lot to recommend it to both young people and adults. A full-wall map showing dozens of shipwrecks and their locations on the Columbia River bar and adjoining headlands; life-size fish and cannery dioramas; the bridge of a World War II destroyer; lots of ship models.

And, the Lightship Columbia, moored alongside the museum and included in the price of admission ($20 for the four of us). The boys enjoyed touring the vessel and seeing how the crew of 10 lived, while anchored and acting as a lighthouse for maritime traffic entering or leaving the mouth of the Columbia, for 28 years.

West, through Astoria, to Fort Clatsop National Memorial, the turn-around and wintering-over spot for the Lewis and Clark expedition in the winter of 1805-06 ($5 per car). Interesting reproduction of the log stockade and living spaces, equipment, tools, weapons. Live, costumed, re-enactors at certain times.

Because of the bicentennial and expected crowds, entry to the stockade this summer will be timed. Entry tickets must be purchased in advance from the National Park Service, local community visitor centers, or some hotels and campgrounds in the area.

We next drove into Tillamook where, in the words of The Older Kid’s journal, “we regretfully stayed the night.” An unattractive town, with limited choice of accommodation and food, although the Tillamook County Creamery (the “cheese factory”) is a must stop for most tour buses driving the coast.

Clean facility, factory tour of so-so interest, plenty of parking, big gift shop and excellent ice cream, cones, milkshakes and malts, reasonably priced. A large malt and three waffle cones (coffee almond fudge, toffee cream, and mudslide) came to $8.35 and we ate them outside.

The Yaquina Head Light, west of U.S. 101 and on the north edge of Yaquina Bay, is part of a large park and is open to tours during daytime hours. Small groups are led up the black steel, spiral staircase by a ranger with an interesting spiel on the lighthouse’s history, on a timed basis. Pick up a ticket when you get there, and wait your turn.

Doing the Sea Lion Caves ($23 for four) experience just long enough to find an elevator had replaced the rickety wooden steps of my youth (and a huge relief it was), we moved on.

We had lunch at Florence, Ore., at a great hot dog spot called Hot Diggity, in the town’s very nicely restored dock and waterfront area, well worth a quick visit. Turning east at Florence, we overnighted at Eugene.

Crossing the Oregon Cascades the next day, we came to Bend and a trio of notable attractions.

The first was the High Desert Museum (adult $8.50, child $4), south of town about three miles, off U.S. 97, and surrounded by the Deschutes National Forest. Great combination museum and zoological park, particularly with time to stroll the half-mile outdoor path.

This one features sheepherders and homesteaders, wagons and cabins, a steam sawmill, desert raptors, high steppe wildlife and much more.

A short distance south is the Newberry National Volcanic Monument ($5 for the group), a unique geologic area featuring cinder cones, a caldera, lava flows and more. We limited ourselves to renting lanterns and walking Lava River Cave, at a mile in length the longest lava tube in Oregon. Walks are ranger-led on a well-defined, albeit somewhat rough, trail.

The third major attraction in Bend, according to the boys’ journals (and Gram and Granddad agree), is Jake’s Truck Stop, a big trucker’s restaurant on U.S. 97. Good food and lots of it – lots of it – particularly if you’re partial to chicken-fried steak and other traditional comfort food.

The National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center was next up, about nine miles northeast of Baker, Ore., a world-class facility sitting on Flagstaff Hill, just above the actual ruts of the Oregon Trail. The relatively new center is cutting-edge, featuring a 150-seat theater; a life-size, walk-through wagon train diorama; a pioneer encampment and wagon exhibit; a hard-rock mining exhibit; and a trail to and from the original ruts.

This was a trip highlight, even though the day was pushing 100 degrees.

Interstate 84 took us on north to Walla Walla and the Whitman Mission National Historic Site, showing how religion, along with trapping, trading and emigration, was a factor in the settling of the west. A portion of the Oregon Trail, footings where the mission buildings stood, and an interpretive center can all be seen in a fairly short period of time.

In 1847, a band of Cayuse Indians attacked the mission, killing 12 people and taking 50 other men, women and children hostage, an event that ended Protestant mission activity in the Northwest but hastened the creation of Oregon Territory by Congress.

Even better than the historic Hat and Boots buildings in south Seattle, the Yakima Valley’s “Teapot,” a 1950s-era icon, is still a working gas station, just east of Zillah on the old Yakima Valley highway.

Coming back across the Cascades on I-90, we ended the history portion of the trip at the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field. Another world-class facility, the museum has both static and visiting exhibits, and offers free tours by volunteer experts.

Aircraft old and new, and substantial hands-on activities for children, pertaining to the theory and history of flight. This was the one museum at which the boys said we hadn’t budgeted enough time to do everything they wanted. That says something.

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