Long Drives, Mystery Meat, and A Great Choice

Trip Start Jun 04, 2003
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Trip End Jun 09, 2003


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Flag of United States  , Oregon
Thursday, June 5, 2003

We set out from Fresno around 9 a.m. We tried for an early morning (i.e., 7 a.m.) departure, but just couldn't wake ourselves from our slumber that early. While we enjoyed the extra sleep, we condemned ourselves to driving during the heat of the day. To make matters worse, the entire West Coast was suffering through a heat wave, which meant that we’d be driving through 90-100 degree temperatures for most of the day.

The drive to Ashland from Fresno didn't seem particularly difficult, at least from a directional point of view. Simply head north on Highway 99, eventually cut over to Interstate 5, and continue heading north until reaching Ashland. I knew the trip would take about eight hours, but I didn’t expect that it would rival our drives through the desert Southwest for monotony. The drive up through Highway 99 from Fresno to Sacramento is noteworthy only for the interesting juxtaposition between agriculture and urban blight that one observes. One would think that cities would take great care to beautify the major highway running through their town. But, all one sees is a series of big box stores, strip malls, gas stations, and cheesy roadside attractions. It would be depressing if it weren’t for the wide stretches of farmland that provide some tranquility to the capitalist madness.

One might think from that last paragraph that I’m a tree hugging environmentalist that would like to nuke all cities and let nature heal the urban wounds. Actually, I enjoy cities, provided they are well planned and/or have some character to them. Such is the case with Sacramento. I’ve always enjoyed strolling around the Capital’s grounds, visiting the shops on the K Street Mall, and absorbing the atmosphere of Old Town. Given how much I enjoy Sacramento and the fact that it was lunchtime, we decided to stop in Old Town for a bite to eat. We chose the Happy Pita Café at 1100 Front St. #110. We were tempted by the thoughts of the wonderful gyros we ate in Athens. However, the gyros we ate here couldn’t have been further from those we ate in Athens. They were slathered with a mystery sauce and filled with a mystery meat that was advertised to be chicken. The whole meal was a disappointment. I’d have to say that one should avoid the Happy Pita Café.

Our stomachs unsatisfactorily full, we started the drive up Interstate 5 to Ashland. We enjoyed the drive during the first few miles outside of Old Town as we passed over several bridges which spanned the American and Sacramento rivers. But, once we got past the Sacramento Airport, the road turned north through the grasslands of the Sacramento Valley. We didn’t see anything but grassland for the next three hours (with the exception of a few gas stations). I think I would have enjoyed the tranquil setting, except the heat focused my thoughts toward the cooling I was getting out of the air conditioner.

Once we got to Red Bluff, the scenery started changing. We left behind the grasslands and entered a foothill environment. The foothills became steeper and steeper until we were in full fledged mountains by the time we got to Redding. The mountain-scape was breathtaking. But, two parts of it were exceptionally memorable. The first was Lake Shasta. I knew this lake stored much of the water that is later shipped to Southern California. But, I didn’t comprehend just how big this lake was. It’s so big that a driver on Interstate 5 crosses the lake twice when traveling in either direction. In other words, a person going north will cross part of it at one part of the trip, and then cross another part of it about 10 miles later. The sheer physical size, and the volume of water that it contains, is very impressive. The other natural feature that is impressive is Mount Shasta. Shasta is first seen as a small snow capped peak that barely stands above the other mountains. But, as one gets closer to it, one sees how massive this mountain really is. By the time the base is reached, one realizes that Shasta is really a monolith that stands majestically in the middle of a high prairie. Once we passed it, we kept glancing back in our mirrors just to take in some new feature or new aspect of the mountain that we hadn’t notice before. It was truly the natural highlight of the drive to Ashland.

From Mount Shasta, it was about an hour and a half to Ashland. We passed through more prairie before climbing again into the mountains. Almost immediately after crossing into Oregon, we reached the top of this climb: Siskouyu Pass. The descent from the pass was rather steep, but short. About 10 miles from the pass, we reached Ashland.  The first thing that one notices after coming down the Siskyou Pass is that Interstate 5 does not run through Ashland. Instead, it runs about two miles east of town. The result of this highway placement is that Ashland feels pleasantly isolated. It also accentuates the "time capsule" feel to the town that one gets as they drive into the town. The edges of town are filled with the typical box hotels and gas stations seen in every tourist town. But, as one gets closer to downtown, the buildings change to Craftsman style houses typical of the 1920’s. It was in one such Craftsman house that we were staying:  The Oak Hill Bed and Breakfast.  This B&B is close to Southern Oregon University, about 2.5 miles from downtown. We chose it primarily because its web site was the best of all the other Ashland B&B websites. We were glad to see that the actual establishment was equal to its website.  We pulled into this absolute jewel of a B&B. We were greeted at the door by Tom and Pat Howard, Minnesota expartiates, who decided on the spur of the moment to buy and house in Ashland and run a B&B.  While their decision to operate a B&B was spontaneous, their dedication to the B&B and its guests was very deliberate.  As Tom showed us around, it became clear that the the rooms were perfectly decorated, and the the gardens were lovely.  After giving us the tour, Tom and Pat talked to us about the plays we were seeing (they are volunteers at the Shakespeare Festival, so they had good insights into the productions) and other sights in the Ashland area.  It was pretty apparent to us after just an hour that we had made a great choice. 

After unpacking our bags and changing clothes, we drove into downtown Ashland.  We expected the makeup of the town to continue to be Craftsman style houses.  But, we found that the edge of downtown is made up of multi-story buildings from the 1950’s, while the core of downtown is composed of buildings from the late 1800’s. Even though all of these buildings have been modernized, one can’t help but feel like they are traveling back in time as they get closer to downtown. 

While we weren't attending any plays that evening, we had intended to go straight to the Shakespeare Festival theatres in order to familiarize ourselves with the Festival's layout.  Instead, we ended up stumbling upon Ashland’s crown jewel: Lithia Park. This stretch of wilderness starts out as an innocuous patch of lawn straddling Ashland Creek on the south side of the town’s plaza. But, as it winds its way back into the hills, the park gets bigger and the plant life becomes more varied. The lawn becomes interspersed with azaleas and other flowering bushes. Later, these plants disappear, only to be replaced by the alpine wilderness that surrounds the town. All the while, the park follows the general path of Ashland Creek. Because the creek shapes the trails bisecting the park, one always has the wonderful sound of water rushing over rocks in the background. The park’s trails extend all the way to Mount Ashland. But, it is perfectly acceptable to stay in the manicured sections and enjoy the view. Regardless of which option is chosen, it is easy to see why so many people make it a point of spending time in Lithia Park when they stay in Ashland. Ashland’s citizens deserve a lot of credit for having the foresight to create this park, and the dedication to maintain it.

After exploring part of Lithia Park, we made a quick tour of the Festival's three theatres (they are just to the south of Lithia Park).  After seeing the theatres, we found ourselves geting hungry.  Seeing that downtown Ashland has a lot of restaurants, we decided to try the first one we saw:  The Plaza Café (so named because it sits in Ashland’s downtown plaza). We took advantage of the Café’s outside tables to enjoy our dinner on the banks of Ashland Creek. We had an appetizer of hoison barbeque wings along with an entrée of grilled salmon tacos for me and a grilled chicken Caesar salad for Dianne. The prices were a bit high, but the food was exceptionally fresh and delicious.  As we headed back to the car after dinner, we found ourselves tempted by ice cream at the Ashland Fudge Company.  We each purchased a small cup of ice cream, and drove back to the Oak Hill B&B.  We finished off the ice cream, and went to bed.
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