The Travels of a Journalist—54 -Exploring botanic gardens in Portland and riparian splendor in NW Oregon
Posted on February 4th, 2011

By Shelton A. Gunaratne ©2011
Professor of mass communications emeritus@ Minnesota State University Moorhead

 In spite of continual rain, on Tuesday (1 Aug. 1989) afternoon, my family””‚wife Yoke-Sim, son Junius and daughter Carmel””‚and I went on a 134-mile roundtrip tour from Longview to explore the attractions in Portland (pop. 582,130), the administrative seat of Multnomah County. Portland is the third most populous city in the Pacific Northwest after Seattle, Wash., and Vancouver, B.C. The Portland Metropolitan Area has a population of 2.2 million.

I organized this half-day tour to suit the interests and tastes of my mother, then 76, and my elder sister “Rani” who were visiting us. I was keen to take them sightseeing in Oregon and Washington as much as I could during their short stay.

After reaching Portland, we began our exploration with a visit to the 62-acre National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, popularly known as “The Grotto” (8840 Skidmore St.)  Run by the Order of Friars Servants of Mary, USA Province, it strives “to provide a welcoming presence and a beautiful environment conducive to peace, quiet, and spiritual inspiration.” The term sanctuary was what attracted me to this Catholic Shrine that some 200,000 people visit every year.

The heart of the shrine is Our Lady’s Grotto, a rock cave carved into the base of a 110-foot cliff.  Its center features a life-size marble replica of Michelangelo’s PietƒÆ’†’ . The upper level of the Grotto introduces the visitors to manicured gardens, religious artwork, and beautiful panoramic views of the Columbia River Valley, the Cascades and Mount St. Helens. The Grotto was opened in 1924.

Figure 1:Attractions we visited in Portland, Ore. (1 Aug. 1989)
A=Downtown Portland; B=”The Grotto”; C=Mount Tabor City Park; D=Leach Botanical Garden; E= Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden; F=Washington Park

Our second stop was the 196-acre Mount Tabor Park, designed and built circa 1903 around a dormant volcanic cinder cone. It was Portland’s largest park until 1947 when the newly created Mount Forest with its 5,100-acre size, grabbed that distinction. The peak of Mount Tabor lies at an elevation of 636 ft. The Tabor cinder cone is part of the Boring Lava Field, which has been dormant for more than 300,000 years. The park administration has cut away a hefty chunk of the cinder cone at the peak to facilitate a basketball field and an amphitheater with the associated parking space. Mount Tabor is also known for its reservoirs (built from 1894 to 1911), three of which qualified to get into the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.

From the dormant volcano, we drove to the 16-acre Leach Botanical Garden (6704 SE 122nd Ave.). Established in 1931 as “Sleepy Hollow,” the garden exhibits some “2,000 hybrids, cultivars, native and non-native plants, including alpines, medicinal herbs, rock garden plants, camellias, and 40 genera and over 125 species of ferns.” The garden began as landscaping for the private home of botanist Lilla Leach and pharmacist John Leach,

Our next stop was the 9.5-acre Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden (Southeast Woodstock Boulevard). The garden exhibits “more than 2,500 rhododendrons, azaleas, and other plants in a setting of small lakes, paved and unpaved paths, fountains, and small waterfalls.” We found this spot, near Reed College, to be a delightful place with lots of ducks on the lake. Carmel and Junius enjoyed chasing and racing with the ducks. The garden originated in 1950 as a rhododendron test project.

Picture 1: A panorama of the International Rose Test Garden in Portland, Ore.
(Photo by Piccolo Namek. Source: Wikimedia Commons, 7 Jan. 2010)

 Washington Park (West Burnside Street), southwest of downtown, was our final stop. All of us found the park’s 4.5-acre International Rose Test Garden a joy to behold. It contains some 7,000 rose plants of about 550 varieties. Opened in 1917, its rose collections include the Shakespeare Garden, the Gold Medal Garden, the Royal Rosarian Garden and the Miniature Rose Garden. Carmel and Junius found happiness in the Penguinarium of the Washington Park Zoo, which we had already visited on 25 July””‚the day we came to Portland airport to pick up my mother and my sister.

All in all, we found Portland to be a green-conscious city. We deliberately focused on a surfeit of botanic gardens at the expense of a multitude of other attractions. Washington Park itself is a 410-acre expanse of mostly steep wooded hillsides with numerous other features.

Riparian splendor

We spent an entire Saturday (5 Aug. 1989) doing what I dreamed about since my internship at the Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard in 1967″”‚to experience the riparian splendor on a drive along the Lower Columbia River Highway No. 2W (or U.S. 30).

We left Longview at 9 a.m., crossed the Columbia River over to the Oregon border, and headed west along the south shore of the self-same river.

Along the 40-mile stretch from Clatskanie (pop. 1,710) to Astoria (pop. 10,045), U.S. 30 and Columbia run parallel to each other like the proverbial yin and yang. This is the “stretch of riparian splendor” in my parlance. At Clatskanie, a town of Scandinavian people incorporated in 1891, we saw the Flippin Castle. Thomas J. Flippin who commissioned this castle atop the city hill in 1898 is supposed to have said, “A man’s home is his castle, and so I built mine to look like one.” Flippin was an early day “gypo” logger and sawmill owner.

We released all the riparian energy we accumulated through the stretch of riparian splendor when we reached Astoria, where the Columbia River releases its flow into the Pacific Ocean after a 1,243-mile journey from the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia. The river also demarcates most of the boundary between Washington and Oregon.

We visited three star attractions in Astoria””‚Columbia River Maritime Museum, Astoria Column, and Fort Clatsop National Memorial. 

Astoria, incorporated in 1876 and named after millionaire Joseph J. Astor, is the administrative seat of Clatsop County. Rolf Klep, an avid collector of marine artifacts, founded the museum (now located at 1792 Marine Drive) in 1962. The museum’s collection, made up of artifacts collected since its opening, has grown to more than 30,000 objects, 20,000 photographs, and a 10,000-volume research library.

Astoria Column (located at 2199 Coxcomb Drive), a 125-ft. concrete-and steel structure built in 1926, stands on the 600-ft Coxcomb Hill overlooking the mouth of the Columbia River. A 164-step interior spiral staircase leads to the observation deck at the top. However, because the column was under repair during our visit, we could not climb to the observation deck. The column commands a panoramic view of the ocean, rivers and mountains.

We ate lunch at Fort Clatsop, the site where the 33-member Lewis and Clark Expedition wintered from 7 Dec.1805 until 23 March 1806. To get to the fort on the Washington border, we followed Route 30 to its western terminus and joined the Oregon Coast Highway (U. S. 101), which climbs a 360-degree access road onto the Astoria-Megler Bridge over the Columbia River, and crossed into the state of Washington. The scenic beauty that Nature unfolded for us as we crossed the bridge gave us untold pleasure.

Next, after we returned to Oregon, we turned south on U.S. 101, crossed the bridge over Youngs Bay to Warrenton and further south to Seaside (pop.5,900), Oregon’s largest and oldest holiday resort. Railroad magnate Ben Holladay built a summer resort named Seaside House in the vicinity in the 1870s. The city derived its name from Seaside House and was incorporated as such in 1899. On our stopover in Seaside, we enjoyed our walk on the boardwalk along the wide beach, which we reached via Broadway, the city’s main drag.

About 62 miles south of Astoria along U. S. 101, we stopped at Tillamook (pop. 4,675), where we visited the cheese factory of the Tillamook County Creamery Association. We were delighted to taste samples of its cheddar, gourmet ice cream and yogurt, just like the million others who visit the factory every year. 

From Tillamook, we drove west on SR 131 (Cape Meares Loop or Three Capes Scenic Route) to fulfill our desire to eat dinner in the scenic splendor of the Cape Meares State Park, which we reached via Netarts and Oceanside””‚a drive of 12 miles on the west loop. SR 131 indeed was an astoundingly scenic route. At the state park, Carmel and Junius paid particular attention to the Octopus Tree””‚”a massive Sitka spruce with branches growing like giant tentacles from its 50-foot base”””‚and the Cape Meares Lighthouse

Figure 2: Our tour of Northwest Oregon (5 Aug. 1989).
A=Longview, WA; B=Clatskanie; C=Astoria; D=Seaside; E=Tillamook; F=Oceanside; G=Cape Meares; H= Timber; I=Pittsburg; J=Apiary; K=Rainier (all in NW Oregon). Distance covered=260 miles.

My mother and “Rani” were getting uneasy as the nightfall darkened the skies. So we returned to Tillamook and drove northwest on SR 6 (Wilson River Highway No. 37) through numerous twists and turns, and steep slopes. We continued along the curvy road that connects the towns of Timber, Pittsburg and Apiary to reach Rainier, Ore., on Interstate 5. Yoke-Sim did most of the arduous driving on the risky SR 6 well known for its traffic accidents. When we returned to Longview, Wash., after the day’s 260-mile excursion, it was past 11 p.m.

Everyone was tired.  No one cared to complain. We went to bed straight away to rest and recuperate.    


One Response to “The Travels of a Journalist—54 -Exploring botanic gardens in Portland and riparian splendor in NW Oregon”

  1. Kurt Says:

    Please do continue with your articles, Shelton. They are getting better all the time, as you reveal to your readers more of your own thoughts, emotions, and reactions.
    Your friend, –Kurt

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