Oregon—Rogue River Country
Oregon was already on Melinda’s bucket list of travel destinations when a friend from college began extolling the virtues of his adopted state in earnest. Mike and Barbie Tupper have lived together in Oregon for over 30 years, and after having traveled over much of the country knew what a jewel they had here in the Northwest. As much as we were attracted to Colorado, Mike said that Oregon could hold its own in comparison. Being over twice the distance from Indiana was its only major drawback. We waited until retirement before seriously considering the trip. Once Chris retired, it didn’t take us long to begin planning this odyssey.
As life sometimes throws a curve ball, it turned out that just as we were finally planning out the details of this trip, Mike and Barbie rather spontaneously decided to move to Arizona. Having nothing against Oregon, they were just ready for a change in their environment. Even though now a full 1,000 miles away, Mike decided to rendezvous with us when we were in the area of his former residence. For the 3 days we were in the Rogue Valley, he was our tour guide, chauffeur and activity leader. Without him, we would never have come to see this place with as much intimacy. We were even introduced to the personable mayor of his little hometown of Jacksonville, among other close acquaintances of his.
Although the Rogue River runs through only a portion of it, the area between the towns of Ashland and Grants Pass is commonly called the Rogue Valley. With weather more like that of northern California than the typical Pacific Northwest climate, it’s an area increasingly popular for retirees and those looking to escape big city life.
Situated in a small corner of southwest Oregon only a short drive from the California state line, Ashland is a pretty little town, famous for its annual Shakespeare Festival. It also has 93-acre Lithia Park adjacent to the town center. Professionally designed, it is a corridor of trees, recreational areas, and Japanese gardens. It is a combination of neatly manicured, landscaped places and naturally forested, seemingly untouched areas. Trails lead from the park into the mountains west of town.
Although Mike and Barbie lived more years in Ashland, they had since moved to the larger town of Medford just a few miles north. Most recently they had lived in the small town of Jacksonville, which was a short 30-minute drive west of Ashland. It was obviously a place of fond memories and good times, and Mike was ready to show us the ins-and-outs. We headed there on our first day.
Now a town of only about 2,000 residents, Jacksonville’s heyday (if it could be called that) probably came when gold was discovered in its hills back in the 1850s. When the gold deposits were worked out, and the railway bypassed town, the city’s economy slowed. This had the unintended benefit of preserving a number of structures, both commercial buildings and private residences. The fortunate result of that happenstance led to Jacksonville being designated a National Historic District in 1966, covering over 100 buildings. It certainly had the looks of a town frozen in time. Mike told us that there are strict regulations as to modifying the exterior appearance of both the historic homes as well as commercial buildings.
The hills and mountainsides around the outskirts of this little village are intertwined with trails. Public land has been set aside for preserving the landscape and providing pathways leading into different ecosystems. These were Mike and Barbie’s favorite haunts, and he knew them intimately. We wasted little time heading up into “them thar hills.”
Although the spring wildflower season was past, we were treated to little jewels of color along the trail. With Mike having a similar fondness for them, the hiking was intermittently interrupted for a while. Chris has perfected the art of patience.
It wasn’t just the nature trails we enjoyed walking along. The quaintness of the town also held an appeal for us. It was a definite change of scenery, but equally as interesting. The private homes illustrate the care and pride the owners have and work to preserve. Many of them have been converted to B&Bs.
The highlight of our Jacksonville tour was surely the method we used to explore the town’s cemetery. A historically significant location, the town takes great pride in their cemetery. It is the backdrop of the annual Meet the Pioneers Festival, which is a very big deal in Jacksonville. Volunteers keep it neat and fixed up. Broken headstones of people long gone are being repaired by concerned citizens even today. Accessed by a rather steep and curving road, Mike had the idea to make our excursion a little easier and a lot more interesting by renting Segways to take us up there. A rental business was conveniently located just a couple blocks from the cemetery road.
What an experience that was! With eager anticipation sprinkled with a little apprehension, we went through very thorough instructions mixed in with some basic trial maneuvers. We curved around cones, did uphills and downhills, learned how to twist and turn and stop on a dime, and most importantly, how to disembark without losing control of your unit. It’s all in body posture and weight distribution, with just a slight guidance of the handlebars.
It put a whole new slant on taking a cemetery tour! We enjoyed getting Mike’s explanation of families significant to Jacksonville’s history as well as seeing the character of the setting. Taking the ups and downs and twists and turns of the cemetery roads was made for Segway cruising. It was a great way to acquire the skills of controlling a machine so different from anything one has ever experienced. In all too short a time our hour’s rental had ended. The cemetery tour was over.
Our last excursion in this beautiful valley nestled between the Cascade and Siskiyou Mountains was driving to the top of Mount Ashland. We had read that the ski area up there is also popular in the summer months, when wildflowers bloom on the mountain slopes. A dirt road leads up to the very pinnacle that provides a 360-degree panorama of the surrounding mountain ranges.
Although clear conditions prevailed in the valley, by the time we made the summit we were nearly enveloped in low-lying clouds. Small flowers were blooming in this much harsher alpine environment. We braved cold fingers to capture their valiant images.
And so, we ended our 3-day adventure with Mike here on this snow-dotted peak. In blustery winds and freezing temps we made the last few yards to the top on foot. It was a fitting place to cap off a good time with equally good company.
Thanks Mike, for making it memorable!
Now it’s on to the remote North Umpqua River.
Chris and Melinda