72 hours in and around Willamette Valley, Oregon

With no time to lose when I landed in Portland, OR, I grabbed my bag, jumped in an Uber and headed to Vancouver, WA to claim my Enterprise rental car. I was in town to attend the Travel and Words Conference in Vancouver, WA.  Before the learning began, I wanted to see some of the areas south of Portland in the Willamette Valley. 

PEARSON AIR MUSEUM

Pearson Air Museum is located on Fort Vancouver Historic Site in Vancouver, WA.  This small air museum features planes that put Oregon on the aviation map.  Pearson Field began as the Vancouver Barracks which was where aviation enthusiasts would try out their aircraft. In 1917, the field transformed in the Spruce Cut-Up Mill which produced aviation grade lumber used to manufacture Curtiss airplanes. In the early 1920s, the area was changed once again into the Vancouver Barracks Aerodrome and was the home to the 321st Observation Squadron.   

In 1937, a Russian piloted landed at the airfield with an oil leak. Valery Chkalov was the pilot of this first Russian transpolar experimental flight. The flight electrified the world when it occurred. General George C. Marshall, Commander of the Vancouver Barracks, greeted the pilots after they landed.  The Russian and Vancouver connection is a significant moment in history to the airfield.  A monument to Chkalov stands on Pearson Air Field.

The diorama of the Spruce Cut-Up Mill is impressive in its detail is the work of volunteer, Dr. Gary Brooks’ twelve hundred hours of crafting.  The National Park Service runs this museum with the assistance of dedicated volunteers.

OFFICERS ROW

Officers Row is a row of 22 Victorian-style houses that served as residences for the military officers that served at the Vancouver Barracks.  All the homes on Officers Row are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Ulysses S. Grant house built in 1850 served as the Commander’s house.  Grant never actually lived in the house, but he did serve as quartermaster on the post in the 1850s.  Today it is a restaurant and wedding venue.

The George C. Marshall house replaced the Grant house as the Commander’s residence.  Marshall served as the Commander of the Barracks in the 1930s.  He would later serve as the Army Chief of Staff during World War II and Secretary of Defense.  Tours of the residence are available.  

My home base for my journey around the Willamette Vally was the Best Western in Oregon City.  I had a beautiful view of the River, but there was a bit of noise from the nearby highway overpass..

Room with a view

The hotel provides easy access for sight-seeing south of Portland. 

The next morning, I awoke to fog over the river.  I decided to take the back roads for my day of adventuring.   I found it much more relaxing driving on the freeway. 

EVERGREEN FLIGHT AND AEROSPACE MUSEUM

Evergreen 747

Evergreen Flight and Aerospace Museum in McMinnville, OR is about an hour’s drive from Oregon City.  Having visited the museum some years ago, I was excited to see the Spruce Goose (H-4 Hercules) again.  With a wingspan is 320 feet and eight propeller engines, it is one of the largest planes ever built.  It was the efforts of both Henry J. Kaiser and Howard Hughes that the Hercules came to be.   The U.S. needed a large transport aircraft to more supplies to troops. Together with Hughes’ designers, they crafted a plane that could carry 750 troops or tanks and had a range of three thousand miles.

My volunteer guide, Brad gave me a tour of the interior of the aircraft.  When I sat in the pilot’s seat, I was some eighty feet off the ground.  You can’t see the nose or the wingtips from the pilot’s seat.  Sitting where Howard Hughes piloted the plane on its only flight on November 2, 1947, in Long Beach Harbor is a pretty fantastic feeling.  That one minute flight would be the single flight for the behemoth aircraft.  Why the name Spruce Goose?  Because of the lack of steel for manufacturing during World War II, the Goose was constructed mainly out of birch wood and not spruce, but the name stuck.  That name Hughes did not favor.

Evergreen Space Museum

Comprised of three exhibit buildings; the aviation building, theater for IMAX films and the aerospace building, Evergreen is massive.  There are planes and artifacts of every description and genre and displayed in every fashion possible.   

Gee Bee

I especially enjoyed seeing a favorite aircraft of mine, the Gee Bee.  She is a sleek and fast acrobatic plane that I saw fly in several air races in the 1990s.     

DC-3

I toured the Douglas DC-3 with my volunteer tour guide, Jack.  The DC-3 was a workhorse when it flew in the 1930s and 40s.  It was one of the first most recognizable commercial aircraft.  It could fly thirty-three passengers from New York to Los Angeles in fifteen hours with three refueling stops.   

Mercury Spacecraft

The aerospace building features displays on the U.S. Space program and the Soviet program.  An original Mercury space capsule is one of many pieces of NASA equipment housed here.  To see how small the Mercury spacecraft is astonishing.

SR-71 Blackbird

An SR-71 Blackbird stands proudly on the floor of the aerospace building.  The spaceflight timeline that unfolds throughout the exhibit area provides visitors detailed information on the purpose of each mission.  You cannot pass through McMinnville without noticing the Evergreen Airline 747 parked on top of the water park building.  How did they do that?  The answer: two massive cranes.

CRESCENT CAFÉ

On the recommendation of Evergreen’s personnel, I headed to the Crescent Café on Northeast 3rd Street in downtown McMinnville.   I knew I had a long day of touring ahead, so I indulged in a delicious breakfast of eggs and pancakes.  I highly recommend the Crescent if you are in the area. 

HOOVER MINTHORN HOUSE

Hoover Minthorn House

I drove up Route 99 to the Hoover Minthorn House in Newberg, OR.   Britta Stewart, its director, gave me a comprehensive tour of the small home.  Although born in West Branch, IA, our thirty-first President Herbert Hoover lived in the home form 1885 to 1888.  Hoover was orphaned at age seven with the death of his parents. His aunt and uncle, John and Laura Minthorn took him in.  John was a physician, missionary and entrepreneur. The small house is full of family artifacts including the family bible.  I learned of President Hoover’s early upbringing and how the plight of orphaned children stayed with him for his lifetime. His initiation of the White House Child’s Health Conference in 1930 led to reforms in child welfare in the U.S. 

Throughout the years, the house sold to others but in 1947, a childhood friend of Hoover’s created a foundation to buy the house and make it into a museum. The Hoover-Minthorn house was dedicated in 1955 and is maintained by the National Society of Colonial Dames.

CHEHALEM TASTING ROOM

Chehalen Tasting Room

I asked Britta for a nearby wine tasting recommendation. “Try the Chehalem tasting room next door.”  She told me.  The suggestion was a good one.  My host, Peter was kind enough to pour a tasting of seven of Chehalem’s wine selection.  I enjoyed a delightful time as I learned the story of Chehalem’s beginnings of the winery in the 1980s to the release of its first Pinot Noir in 1990.  I chose a bottle of the Pinot Noir Rose to enjoy during my downtime during my Portland journey.

REX HILL VINEYARD

Rex Hill Vineyard

After leaving Chelehem, I stopped at Rex Hill Vineyard.  It sits on a lovely hillside above Route 99 in Newberg.  The Pinot Noir served is excellent.  I left with a bottle to take home.  I also learned an essential tip about Oregon tasting rooms; they all close by 4 pm or 5 pm.

My third day found me on the back roads again.  Of course, I did run into a bicycle race, but the delay did not last long.  

WOODEN SHOE TULIP FESTIVAL

Tulip Field

The Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival in Woodburn, OR is about a half hour south of Portland.  There is a street fair atmosphere at the festival. With carnival rides, balloon rides, food trucks and, wine tasting it was a fun morning amoungst the tulip blooms..   

I met Jeanna and Tammy, sisters who ran the wine tasting bar.  Tammy provided me with a tasting of nine of the Woodburn vintages.  Thankfully, it was just a sip or two. It was still early in the day, and I had a full day ahead.  The wine was tasty and the conversation delightful.  Beer and cider tastings were also available.   

Wooden Shoe Wine

The blooms were beautiful.  Prime bloom time this year is mid-April to early May. I was a tad disappointed that I did not see the fields in all their glorious colors.  It’s essential to keep an eye on the festival Facebook page to plan your tulip outing. That way you are sure to see the fields of Tulips in beautiful full bloom.

WORLD OF SPEED

World of Speed

After a delightful morning roaming the Tulip fields, I headed to the World of Speed in Wilsonville, OR.  World of Speed is a race car lover’s dream.  The museum is chock full of racing cars of every description on display.  The exhibit on racing legend, Mario Andretti and seeing the race cars he drove is magnificent. One guest remarked of Andretti, “He anything that had wheels he could drive and win.” The tenacity of Andy Granatelli in the sport of racing is inspiring.  I discovered that these high priced racing machines travel a circuit throughout the county and displayed in many automobile-themed museums. 

The museum was the brainchild of the David and Sally Bany. Their shared passion for cars led to the World of Speed.  Also, avid music lovers, they wanted a place to display their substantial music collection. A vacant Chrysler dealership became the home of the museum which will celebrate its fifth anniversary in July.  The museum also runs a training academy for high school students interested in the field of automotive repairs. The Museum has graduated 200 students. I had the pleasure of meeting two volunteers during my visit, Earl Becker and David Bech. 

Earl had a career as the manager of mechanical maintenance for the Disney theme parks for 34 years.  He was instrumental in the building of the monorails and steam trains in the parks.

David Bech

David, age 84 is a true race car driver.  He was racing a Corvette in the Rose Cup Race in 1961 when he spun out and crashed.  David broke both arms, but recovered and went on to race for another thirty-seven years.  He pointed out his crash was in the video running in the rear of the museum about the Rose Cup Race at the Portland track.  David told me, “You would have thought a guy would say, you shouldn’t do that anymore. But I had a brand new car the next year.”   He also had the pleasure of racing with and getting to know Paul Newman.

Taking time to engage with volunteers at the museums I visit will sometimes lead me to a good story!

MCLOUGHLIN HOUSE

I learned of the McLoughlin House in Oregon City, while at the Pearson Air Museum.  I was a bit early for the last tour of the day.  The docents recommended I take time to see the municipal elevator and Oregon City overlook nearby.  From the observation deck of the elevator, there is a wonderful view of the city area and the Willamette River. The Oregon City outdoor elevator is the only one in the U.S. and one of only four in the world.    

Oregon City Outdoor Elevator

The Park Ranger gave our small group a detailed history of Oregon City, history of McLoughlin house, and the story of the Father of Oregon, Dr. John McLoughlin. McLoughlin was originally from Canada and a physician.  In 1824 he was appointed the chief agent for the Hudson Bay Company.  McLoughlin built Fort Vancouver in 1825 as a trading post.  Dr. McLoughlin was an imposing man, standing 6’4″ and a vocal advocate for Oregon Territory.  He resigned from the Hudson Bay Company in 1846, he and his wife settled in Oregon City. He served as mayor of Oregon City in 1851 and died in 1857.  Both he and his wife are buried next to the McLoughlin house.  McLoughlin’s story is epic and intimately entwined with the Oregon Trail.  

The National Park oversees the residence, but the McLoughlin Memorial Society maintains it.

My short visit has only made me want to return.  Oregon has much to offer in historical venues, beautiful vistas and of course, phenomenal wine.  Visit Travel Oregon.

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