Oregon 2015, Part 5: The Fire Lookout Tower

Gold Beach, Agness, Eugene, Portland, Oregon (Map)

Summer 2015


Headed in the direction of California, we were still about an hour away, but it was time to turn inland. We briefly entertained buying supplies to make dinner, but we didn't think it was worth it. How long could grabbing something at a simple restaurant take?

Sure enough, it was another endeavour of over an hour. I should have simply insisted on groceries or fast food, but I made a mistake. And now it was time to race away from the seat of Curry County.

The reason we were in such a hurry was because of the great accommodations tonight - accommodations that were so promising that I was kicking myself for wasting the evening in a dim restaurant.

The road inland followed the river precisely with every crook and bend, as this was the only place to put a road in this wilderness. With us being in a hurry, every curve was taken at the greatest speed possible, as if I was trying to qualify for a race with my time.

The sun continued to set, but it looked promising that we could get there mere minutes before that yellow globe disappeared.

The river road had now turned into a forest service road that cut up into the mountains. Going into this, I had asked someone who'd been here before what the road was like, but I was also trusting that the road had stayed the same. As we drove on these twisting gravel pathways, I was ecstatic that the road was good enough where I wasn't too worried about the barrier-free drop to sure death on my driver's side. We were headed up to a 3500-ft ridge and the valleys and canyons beside this road acted as clear evidence.

The nervousness of not totalling the rental car, not being a total boob about time management and not dying while driving up here, all added to the joyful 1.5 hour drive. When finally we came to a clearing and there it was - the gate to the "Lake O' Woods L.O." - I exited the car and breathed in the aromatic trees after my sighs of relief.

The above picture shows the last bit once we unlocked the gate. I had to move one dislodged rock that might've given us trouble, but then booting up this hill, we'd made it to the clearing surrounding the fire tower with the sun still shining.

I couldn't believe the rental car made it and that there was now all of this empty space to enjoy. Looking into approximately 10 of these fire towers going into this trip, this was the only one I could find with an open date while I would be in Oregon - and now I could see why. For all of $59 (with $9 of that being an online reservation fee (wanking motion)), you get quite a peaceful, great experience.

This was another case of where I wish I had more time in Oregon. Arriving late, I certainly didn't want to get going first thing tomorrow morning as was the plan. In fact, I wanted that gate to stay closed and to lounge up here with a good book until the next day or maybe the day after that (or maybe even the day after that!).

Of course, those thoughts popped up when leaving the next morning or now in hindsight. Walking up the stairs to the elevated tower this evening, I stood along the concourse, awestruck as I took in all of this grandeur and the cool accommodations to boot.

The fire tower had everything you would need: a bed, table, propane stove, radio, kettle, logbook and a topographic map of the area. There were even candles for studying the map after night quickly fell.

This fire tower was the reason I couldn't go to that Portland Timbers soccer game. The only game they had scheduled was on the only night this fire tower was available.

As much as I wanted to see that old stadium, there was no way I could complain about my decision now. (It was also interesting to think about the contrast between a rowdy soccer stadium and the tranquility of here.)

It's not like there was all that much to bring in from the car since we were only spending about 11 or 12 hours here. Soon enough it was time to prop up some chairs and crack a cold one by the day's dying light. The fire tower website warns about frequent thunderstorms up here, but there was hardly a cloud in the sky except for those right on the horizon.

Looking out over all of the forested hills and all of this wilderness, surely there were some remote cabins, but save for going to the one side of the fire tower and seeing a few lights down in tiny Agness, there was a feeling of not too many other humans being anywhere in sight. There were cabins along the Rogue River before the forest service road, but once on the NF-3336 that led up here, there wasn't an obvious driveway or cabin trail to be found.

I stayed up longer than I normally would have, on account of this place being so special. Even as I had 5 or 6 hours of driving ahead of me tomorrow, I threw caution to the wind and resolved that I'd sleep on the plane.

This meant that sunrise came quickly. Rumbling out of bed and out onto the now cool concourse around the fire tower, the sunrise wasn't the craziest, but I was happy that I got up for one last hoorah.

Oregonians are lucky to have access to places like this - although I know we have the two snowshoe cabins in Gros Morne, I often look for other cabins to snowshoe or hike to as well. If I lived in Oregon, you can bet that I'd been to all of these fire towers by now.

Sadly it was time to return to reality instead of setting up life in the Lake of the Woods Lookout Tower. Then again, I'd go mad if I only had that picnic table to ride, so maybe this was for the best.

Going downhill, we stayed on the same road for a bit, laughing at how it was now a casual and comfortable drive. There was even time to get out of the car and smell the fragrant trees, something that was so strong that the sweet smell was noticeable at 25mph with the windows down.

After a half hour we would take a left onto a different forest service road. It was interesting how this road worked itself out of the mountains, starting with switchbacks and big curves, then letting up for a bit, then having only one or two big turns, then letting up a bit further, until it eventually straightening out (relatively).

Going through the Rogue River National Forest, our road then followed a river with a handful of enticing campgrounds in groves and upon flats. In addition to staying longer at the fire lookout tower, I also wanted to simply call it a day in one of these lazy groves.

Alas, it was onward towards breakfast, but we ended up in a town I came to quite like. Powers was a little sleepy village set upon a grid, with locals at the auto repair shop and the market, but with otherwise quiet streets.

I parked the car down the road just to walk a bit more and take it all in. This wasn't the touristy, oceanic towns of the past few days and this wasn't the 'old west' towns at the start of this trip. I liked Powers simply because I had figured on those two other town types in Oregon, but Powers was different than what I expected.

There was a great little cafe on one of the side streets, not changed or gussied up for tourists, but rather the place that people from around Powers seemed to eat their breakfast. The type of place you ask the waitress about how long it's been there.

We inhaled our hash, gravy, biscuits and eggs; while some kook told the waitress about how the sewer project in Powers was corrupt and funnelling money, and how it involved the Bank of NY Mellon, Barack Obama, Congress & Joe Montana. My food was extra delicious and the coffee was excellent because of how long I had to wait for it this morning. I finished up both while amused with this rambling guy.

From Powers it was about an hour's drive through farmland to start, then lush foothills with tiny towns that you barely noticed before they were gone. Eventually we came to a bit of a bigger city where I had the location of their local skatepark in my GPS. Going into this trip, I used the great SkateOregon.com to scout out parks along the way and thought Winston's park looked half decent for this area of Oregon.

I don't know if it was the heat (it was a scorcher) or the two kids harassing me, but I only had a so-so time. I found it weird that the local kids were so enthralled with me when they've probably seen Chase Hawk or Tom Dugan before, but whatever. After I ignored them, they grew tired of me & I then had the place to myself. I rode the 9-foot quarter poorly, much to my own amusement.

I pulled the car onto the I-5 before I knew it, failing to get Taco Bell beforehand. No trouble though, as we found one with ease in the next big city (Roseburg). In addition, all of the old timers who came into this Taco Bell were recognized and greeted by the staff! Now where I find this hacky and sad when it happens at McDonald's and Tim Horton's, I was suddenly asking myself if I could see myself retiring in Roseburg and being greeted as I stop for my daily chicken quesadilla.

(I don't know though, part of the reason I stopped in Winston was because Roseburg's skatepark didn't look that great.)

Anyway, next up on the food tour was driving right into downtown Eugene to try their Voodoo Donuts. Where I hadn't tried the late night Voodoo Donuts in Portland, I decided I had to give these a go for you guys, my loyal 5 readers. And what did I find? Well I don't understand how you pride yourself on funky donuts and then have stale Fruit Loops. Like, really? Keep them in a sealed container. Buy less of them. How does that happen?

So the donut was fine enough with its overdose of frosting, but I was really surprised at the lack of effort otherwise. Also, I forget what Shelloo got, but she was equally unimpressed.

Driving the last 2 hours from Eugene to Portland, there was a bar I wanted to go back to from that night spent walking around Portland (it was closed on that Monday night, but just seeing the outside, I wanted retribution as we had time today).

This bar was in the above building, the Ladd Carriage House. William S. Ladd was a businessman and two time mayor of Portland, who came to the city after finding San Fran too built up and Portland still in early development. In Portland he would build a vast empire of businesses and accumulate such wealth that as someone who loved horses, he set out to build a "palace" for them upon his estate. Ladd brought in an architect from England by the name of Joseph Sherwin, to oversee the construction of his carriage house in a stick style in 1883.

On its eastern side, the carriage house had three floors that provided housing to those who took care of his horses and his estate. The rest of the building had a ground floor area for his carriages and his horses, set below a soaring, second-story hayloft.

Ladd would die in 1893 and his estate would be picked apart and most of the buildings demolished over the next 20-30 years. The carriage house would survive though, finding different uses as a shop, residences, a warehouse, artists studio and even a boxing arena. By 2007 though, the carriage house was starting to get rundown and local developers had plans for a soaring condo upon this block. A demolition permit was applied for, but before anything ever happened, preservationists stepped in with a plan to move the carriage house two blocks, let the condo build their 5-story underground parking garage, then move the carriage house back atop the garage. This move was completed in 2008.

Saving this building means that one of the last examples of the large estates that once existed upon the area of modern-day downtown Portland still survives today.

I can't express how appreciative I am that the developers didn't pay the movers to accidentally mess up. Walking into the bottom floor Raven & Rose Restaurant and then taking the stairs up to The Rookery, we found such a gorgeous space in the old hayloft. As someone who loves the lingering buildings of past times - the one old home that used to be a row of houses, the one-story store surrounded by skyscrapers, the decorative gate for a long-lost mansion - I was smiling ear to ear to be sitting at a windowside table sipping a bourbon concoction under this soaring roof.

Afterwards we walked past that thing Mike Ardelean gaps in Road Fools 2. I could definitely gap it, but I've since seen someone 180-bar it and yeah, that's going to be a no for me dawg.

Hoder 360'ed it in the Shook video & that's also a no. Mostly because I oddly can't 360 much considering how long I've rode bicycles.

On this second night in Portland, we didn't stay at the bar/hotel again, but rather The Palms Motor Hotel based solely on their amazing neon sign. As soon as I saw this sign online, I booked it. The only thing was that the reviews were only so-so, so I didn't commit to two separate stays, but it ended up being totally mediocre and passable.

As for dinner, wandering around Portland worked much better tonight. There was only modern townhouses right by The Palms, but a short walk up the street brought us by a wing spot. At Fire On The Mountain Wings, the wings were delicious and tastier than your average bar wings, along with cold, varied beer and a relaxed atmosphere. I'm not much of a wing guy, but I'd go back if I was in the area. It was one of the better meals of the trip.

As Fire On The Mountain was a little busy to drink pints, we then went back down the street to the Tiki bar we passed earlier. I was psyched to send Donnie & Steve another picture of me drinking a Mai Tai - since they've stayed upset you can't get one in Windsor - but the Mai Tai I ordered came in a freaking pint glass.

We weren't looking for the craziest night out on the town as I had an early flight the next morning & Shelloo had to get up to drive me to the airport. Regardless, we clearly hit on the wing spot, but missed on the tiki bar. We should have went over and checked out the options on nearby Mississippi Ave instead.

The next morning came soon enough & on my flight to Detroit, I was surrounded by people in Oregon Ducks gear as they were taking on the Michigan Wolverines, and boy was I happy. Usually I'm so sour in airports because Toronto and Halifax are so boring and blasé, but the excitement of the American sporting event helped things along greatly.

But anyway, that's Oregon. I recommend you go. Then again, this isn't like when I recommend Minnesota or Arkansas, many people have went to Oregon or have it on the short list of places to visit. In fact, I caught some flack for waiting for #50 to get Oregon. Oh well.

As always, thanks for reading.


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