For several days now the weatherman has hinted at lovely spring weather just over the horizon, and we thought it would be great to take a day trip and just enjoy the sun and warmth. It’s been such a long, cold spring, with very little sunshine. With a 70 degree forecast for last Sunday I decided that a nice little road trip to explore the Applegate Valley and Jacksonville would be fun. We woke to gray, cloudy skies and a thermometer that struggled to get to 50 degrees. Around 11 there was a bit of a break and we decided to make the break ourselves and go for it. I made egg salad sandwiches and loaded up our backpack picnic kit with wine, chips, and cherries, and we jumped into the Lexus for a comfortable car trip over the mountain.
Even though it was cloudy all day, we had a good time and enjoyed doing something different for a change from gardening and working around home. Although we do drive to Medford fairly often, there are some side trips around Southern Oregon that we still haven’t seen. The Applegate Valley is one of those trips. The route took us over 140 as usual, but we left the main highway to travel through Eagle Point and then took another side road from Eagle Point through Gold Hill to avoid the standard Interstate 5 route to Grants Pass and the beginning of the Applegate Valley Trail.
The trees on the west side are fully leafed out now, with myriad shades of verdant green. Most of the flowering trees are past their prime bloom while those we have at home are just barely starting. I think Rocky Point is at least a full month behind the Medford area when it comes to the spring season. We ambled along Highway 234 west through the Sams Valley, crossing the Rogue River with a stop for photos of a local bridge.
The river was running wild and full to it’s banks, but even with all our rain this year, I haven’t heard much about flooding. Continuing west through Gold Hill, we found ourselves in the midst of some kind of “Gold Hill Days” with the main street north completely closed off by vendors and booths and many antique cars. If it had been a bit easier to park, and if the day had been sunny and warm, we may have allowed ourselves to digress from our planned destination and check out the events. Instead, we routed back over the river and under the interstate to wander peacefully along meandering old Highway 99 until we reached the turnoff for the Applegate Valley just south of Grants Pass.
The Applegate Valley Wine Trail is one of Oregon’s newest “appellations”, with a climate that is warmer and drier than much of the Willamette Valley wine areas. The vineyards follow the river along the higher stream terraces and support Chardonnay, Syrah, and some Bordeaux red wines. Oregon is famous for some of its Pinot Noir’s, so the valley offers something a bit different. Mo and I enjoy good wine, but sometimes the pretentious aspect of “wine tasting” will keep us from dropping into these little wineries. This time was no different, we drove by the beautiful signs, enjoyed the gorgeous views, and enjoyed the ride without stopping for a taste. I think that sometime I would enjoy touring the wineries with friends, or even with a group. Our summer neighbors in Rocky Point often travel this route and come home with cases of really good wine. I think we may go with them sometime to get our wine tasting feet wet. Except for our little foray in the Finger Lakes District of New York last fall, the last time I really did some extensive wine tasting was in the Napa Valley back when the pours were free!
Of course, I have no such reservations when it comes to nurseries. Near the tiny town of Murphy, we passed a riot of color along the highway and within seconds, Mo whipped around and we checked out the most beautiful nursery full of hanging baskets I have seen in years. The owners were wonderful about me walking around taking photos, but I still felt I should at least buy something token to thank them for just being there. She laughed when I told her we were from Klamath Falls, since she had raised her children in Klamath, and was really loving her long growing season there along the Applegate. I left with some perfect fuchsias for the baskets waiting at home for sunnier, warmer weather.
After a nice stop for Abby on their grassy lawns (doggie bags of course!) we continued down the highway south toward Ruch and Applegate Lake.
Another thing that Oregon is noted for are the covered bridges throughout the state. There are several along many of the routes that we drive, and some folks even make a tour of seeing them all. South of Ruch, only eight miles north of the California border, is Oregon’s southernmost span, the McKee Bridge. Built in 1917 by John Hartman of Jacksonville, it served mainly for mining and logging traffic until 1956 when it was finally declared unsafe for vehicular travel. In the early 1980’s, townsfolk were troubled by the strength of the bridge, and in 1985 more than $40,000 was dedicated to repair the bridge and keep it open for pedestrians.
The bridge has a 122 foot span, 45 feet above the Applegate River and is supported by a Howe truss with beautiful flying buttresses. The scenic little park, built by the CCC in the 1930’s nestles into the west bank of the river by the bridge. An amazing special touch were the wooden panels installed on the original bridge siding, specifically dedicated to folks who wanted to add their own touch to the bridge, aka graffiti. The best part was that the graffiti was actually confined to the dedicated boards!
It was here that we found a perfect place to pull out the sandwiches and wine. I guess I should have taken photos of the signs posted on nearly every single tree and table and fence post, proclaiming loudly in capital letters, NO ALCOHOL. Thank goodness I don’t have as many readers as Al, who was lashed for talking about lemons, or Rick, who was castigated for doggie’s off leash, because I opened my bottle of wine and poured it into the little plastic picnic glasses with relish. We sat by the river at the substantial old picnic table for a long time, enjoying the water and our lunch. We were even treated to watching a couple of folks walk down to the river, drop in their lines, and seeing a good sized trout jumping on that line after the first cast!
After relaxing, walking, eating and just enjoying the park and bridge, the hour was getting late, but we didn’t want to miss a visit to Applegate Lake, just south toward the California line. So much of the history of the Applegate River and valley are associated with gold discovery, and gold mining, and there are still many folks who dredge parts of the Applegate River for gold. On the banks of the lake, which is dammed, are several campgrounds, and we wanted to check them out. The day was still cloudy and dark, and the campgrounds were very nearly empty. We saw one park, right on the lake, that was basically an asphalt parking lot on the beach and could only imagine just how crowded it might be in summer. The other two parks weren’t very rig friendly and too far from the water’s edge to comfortably carry down our kayaks. It might be fine to go to the parking lot campground early on a weekday in the summer to try kayaking the lovely lake with it’s complex shoreline.
The rain didn’t start up until we drove through Ruch on the way to Jacksonville. I love Jacksonville, an historic little town with shops and restaurants and beautiful trees. The Britt Festival is held here each summer, and Mo and I have been to many great shows on the lawns of Britt. Today, however, we just drove through, deciding to save more explorations of Jacksonville for the last of summer Whole Town Garage Sale. Jacksonville is lovely, and also very expensive. The homes are either new and gorgeous, or old and even more gorgeous, and I swoon over the perfectly restored Craftsman bungalows, many of them which serve as Bed and Breakfast establishments.
By the time we got back to Rocky Point it was late evening, still light thanks to the summer twilight, but late nonetheless. I was glad that we made our little trip in the “big car”, rather than in the little tow car. The Lexus comes out for special occasions and local trips, but will never be towed behind the motorhome! It’s comfortable and roomy, although I have to say that the big leather seats in the MoHo are my favorite. That’s a good thing, since within less than a month we will be embarking on our Alaska journey and I will be in those seats for several weeks!