Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Historic Balch Hotel: Dufur OR

I’m a sucker for historic hotels, and often seek them out whenever I take a trip.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to stay at the Balch Hotel in Dufur, Oregon. Dufur is a farming community roughly 100 miles from Portland and just east of The Dalles. The hotel (c. 1907), which has been elegantly restored and is on the National Register of Historic Places, looms large in this small town.

The Balch (as it's fondly called) takes pride not only in its historic roots, but also in creating an atmosphere where you can unplug. There are no TVs – but there is Wi-Fi for those that suffer from technology separation anxiety. Having said that, soon after arriving, not only did I put my iPhone down – I actually put it away. Yup, that’s right. I just turned off the ringtone and zipped it up in my purse. That way, I knew I could enjoy the sound of cooing doves wafting through my second-floor bedroom window without interruption.

Another great thing about the Balch is that, although it’s more than 100 years old, it does not have that musty, creepy feeling – often passed off as “atmosphere” – that some historic hotels have. The Balch stays true to its historic roots and has a definite period look and feel, but the aura inside is airy and light with just the right amount of furnishings, and not overwhelmed by overstuffed “shabby chic” Victorian furniture. 

The grounds are well maintained, and there’s also a lovely, spacious patio. (It’s easy to understand why this is a popular place for weddings.) The weekend I stayed the weather was sunny and warm (not unusual for east of the Cascades), so it was easy to enjoy the outdoor areas.

The hotel also hosts many events, one of which I attended: a spring winemakers dinner, which featured a delicious meal prepared by The Lamb’s Table paired with wines from Maryhill Winery, located just across the Columbia River in Washington.

An entertaining, enthusiastic and very knowledgeable marketing person from Maryhill Winery filled us in on the wines as we ate. This might sound invasive, but it was actually fun to learn about each wine in real time while eating the dish it complemented. I bonded with the Viognier, and ended up purchasing a bottle to go.

After the meal, I took an evening stroll around the grounds, gazed at the stars, then retired to my room – reveling in the simple pleasure of not feeling I had to go anywhere or do anything. 

In short, the Balch has a beautiful feeling both inside and out; it pretty much has everything one needs to chill, and is well worth a visit.

Balch Hotel
40 South Heimrich Street
Dufur, OR, 97021

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Covered Bridge Reborn: Stayton OR

I had read about the covered bridges of Oregon, but had never actually seen one. So off I went down Hwy. 5 to check out the closest of the bunch – which would be the Stayton-Jordon covered bridge, located in the town of Stayton, just east of Salem.

Aside from the the bridge, I wasn't too clued into what else to see or do in Stayton, since the Travel Oregon site didn't have much to say about it. (Having said that, I did enjoy my pancakes at Kelly’s CafĂ©.)

Back to the bridge. Apparently, this bridge is actually a reproduction, since the original burned down back in December 1994 by a fire started by Christmas lights on the roof. (Note to self: things can burn in western Oregon in December, despite the relentless rain.)

Regardless, the "new and improved" bridge is still photo-worthy, and for amateur photographers, there are many shots to be had here. As I was leaving, three people showed up armed with a camera and tripod, which confirmed my hunch that this is probably the favorite local photo opp spot.

Monday, November 24, 2014

We Picked a Winner:
Portland Meadows, Portland OR

My pals and I decided to try something different for my birthday this year. Intrigued by a really great case study I found online about a local agency's rebranding of Portland Meadows (not to mention the charming billboards around town – yes advertising does work!) we were lured to the track to check out the ponies.

Vintage jockey portrait at Portland Meadows

Our group thought we’d be mildly amused by this unfamiliar pastime. But not long after arriving, we were completely taken in by the procession of jockeys on horseback dressed in their silks, the thrill of placing a bet, and the thundering hooves of the muscular and sometimes jittery horses. Before long, we were huddled over our racing form, discussing the finer points of exactas, trifectas and daily doubles, aided by a roving Portland Meadows “betting coach”, who patiently talked us through the wagering process.


Portland Meadows race snippet 

And then there’s the lingo! So many of life’s most familiar phrases have their origins in horse racing. (Think about it ... who hasn't said it's a long shot, they're on the homestretch, or that the stakes are high?)

And here are a few more fun ones:

Also-ran: a horse who finishes out of the money (does not win, place or show).

Bolt: when a horse suddenly veers from a straight course.

And my personal favorite…

All-out: a horse that is trying to the best of its ability.

At one point, a friend was concerned that due to a trip to the bar, I missed post time. Bloody Mary in hand, I looked at her and said – without a trace of irony – “It's OK. I don’t have a horse in that race.”

I knew my transition from clueless observer to race-fan-in-the-making was complete.

Portland Meadows
1001 N. Schmeer Road

Portland, Oregon 97217

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Out of Their Element in Portland OR

Decided to take a stroll around the neighborhood this afternoon to enjoy the lovely early fall afternoon, and lo and behold I stumbled upon a raised bed full of thriving cacti.

Hmmmm…not exactly indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, but striking none the less. Not sure how they’ll look in December.

But, just proves if you get out of your comfort zone you can still flourish.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sitting on the Dock of the…Willamette
Portland OR

A good friend with loads of creativity and vision held a birthday party down on a nameless dock by the Willamette River, somewhere near NE 18th and Front. No one knew who “owned” this dock, so our party basically assumed squatters rights for the afternoon.

It was a striking backdrop for a fete: the arching Fremont Bridge against an early autumn blue sky, complete with rustic (and rusty) freighters rolling by, escorted by rough-and-ready tugboats – just as cute and sturdy as we remembered them from the childrens’ books of our youth.

Monday, June 30, 2014

K&M Tasting Room: Good Wine, Good People
Carlton OR

If you’re seeking a wine tasting experience that's the polar opposite of, say, Napa Valley on the weekend – i.e. impersonal corporate wineries with about as much charm as the inside of a Home Depot, overpriced tastings and gobs of people jockeying for position at the wine bar – then the K&M Tasting Room is the spot for you.

K&M Winery Rose, ready and waiting

K&M stands for Ken and Mauro, the two men behind the food-friendly wines showcased at their modest-but-stylish tasting room. It’s a calm and welcoming space, defined by spare furnishings and large windows that look out onto Carlton’s charming historical Main Street.

If this all sounds dreamy, well, that’s because it is. And I’m always impressed when people seem to be living their dream, because it means they had the wherewithal to make it happen. Inspired by close friends who owned a small vineyard, Ken and Mauro worked, planned and saved for many years to purchase their own. In one of life’s more serendipitous moments, Ken jumped on craigslist and the perfect piece of property popped up. They jumped on it, and the rest is history.

Ken with a few of his bottles
I figure if I’m that charmed by the K&M tasting room and story, then I will be equally charmed by the K&M vineyard. I have yet to visit it, but will be able to several times a year once I join K&M's wine club – which the retelling of this tale has just motivated me to do.

And now, I can hardly wait for my first vineyard event.

143 E. Main Street
Carlton, OR  97111 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Somewhere Far, But Not.
Horsethief State Park, Dallesport WA

Not too long ago, a friend emailed asking if I wanted to go “somewhere far, but not.” I was charmed by her poetically phrased request. Plus, I was still recovering from a head cold and she had a sore foot. So an afternoon of low-impact sightseeing seemed like just the cure for what ailed us.

Horsethief Lake

I suggested Hwy. 14 – on which I seem to have a perpetual summer crush.  It’s a scenic, gently rolling two-lane road with good views of the Columbia River.  

In fact, according to certain guidebooks, Hwy. 14 is also visually more representative of how Lewis and Clark might have seen things, as opposed to Hwy. 84, its busy big sister on the Oregon side of the river. (A nice thought – except that Lewis and Clark were in dug-out canoes, not humming along in a Honda CRV at 60 MPH. But I digress…) 

Regardless, Hwy. 14 seemed to fit the bill of “somewhere far, but not.”

Looming basalt buttes at Horsethief Lake State Park

So we hit the road and headed east for about 90 miles. It never ceases to amaze me how driving east from Portland for just over an hour puts you into a totally different environment: warm, dry breezes; clear, cloudless skies; and high desert vistas. The cool, damp, densely forested feel of Portland seemed worlds away.

We clambered out of the car at Horsethief Lake State Park in Dallesport, WA – a happy accident, since we were attracted by the park’s Wild West name and knew nothing about the place itself. 

Pictographs (look closely) at Horsethief Lake State Park

Turns out we were thrilled to discover this gem of a park, with its striking views of black basalt buttes, a lake perfect for a quick dunk on a hot summer afternoon, plus several impressive Native American pictographs, which can be viewed from a very accessible path.

All this for an easy, scenic drive less than 100 miles from Portland.

Indeed, we had found our “somewhere far, but not” spot.  

Horsethief Lake State Park
Dallesport, WA