Are You Sure The Cool Air Is This Way?

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

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Flag of United States  , Oregon
Sunday, June 8, 2003

It was another uncomfortably hot night in Ashland, which means that I again didn't sleep very well.  While the cool snows of Crater Lake were a nice short term respite, I wanted to find some bone-chilling cold to mitigate the heat that we were experiencing.  Being from the San Joaquin Valley, I know that the place to go when one wants to experience cool weather in the summertime is the coast.  So, Dianne and I agreed to head toward the Oregon coast in order to find the elusive cool temperatures.

After another large and delicious breakfast, we planned out our coast excursion.  This was not as easy as it might seem on the surface.  First off, Ashland is nowhere near the coast.  As the crow flies, it's about 100 miles from Ashland to the nearest beach. So, getting to the coast means that there will be some driving involved. However, the Siskiyou Mountains are an effective roadblock to any straight path. Thus, one has to go north to Myrtle Creek and then go west to the coast (about a four hour drive); or go north to Grant’s Pass, southwest to Crescent City, California, and then north to the Oregon coast (about a two and a half hour drive).

Neither of these options sounded too attractive to me. So, I pulled out the map and looked for an alternate route that would provide more direct access to the coast. Fortunately, I found one that looked promising. It still involved a trip north to just past Grant’s Pass, but the road then turned due west and followed the Rogue River to Gold Beach and the coast. Granted, the map indicated that this was a minor road. But, I figured that still meant that it was paved. Plus, we had a four wheel drive SUV that could handle any potholes or minor detours that we’d have to make along the way. With these facts in mind, we set off for Gold Beach.

We headed up to Grant’s Pass and saw the turnoff for Merlin and Galice. We turned west and started looking for the Rogue. Once we got past Merlin, we found the river. There were several rafters who were being lazily carried along by the Rogue’s current.  We took a few pictures of them before continuing up the road.

The next town we reached was Galice (although calling it a town is really something of a misnomer…it’s more like a collection of rafting companies and tent parks). We soon found the sign indicating the turn for Gold Beach. The sign said that Gold Beach was about 60 miles away. Since we’d been out of Ashland for only about 45 minutes, I was congratulating myself for finding a way to get us on the coast in less than two hours.

We’d been on the narrow paved road for about five miles when the situation changed dramatically. I had been enjoying the scenery of densely populated forest, when we came upon a roadblock. The roadblock’s sign said that the road ahead was blocked by fallen trees and that we’d need to take a detour. With little choice, we started off on the detour. We soon found ourselves climbing up a hill on a one lane dirt road. I assumed that this road would end once we got past the fallen trees. But, after the fourth set of switchbacks, I got the distinct feeling that my initial impression was incorrect.

We drove about 35 miles on this dirt road; most of which seemed to be spent climbing. Along the way, we drove through some of the most pristine forest in the United States pretty much by ourselves. We saw very few (less than 10) cars as we made our way through the forest. Most of these cars were parked along the road, with their occupants strolling around, taking pictures of the landscape. The solitude was a little disconcerting, only because I kept thinking that no one would find us if we broke down or got off the road (in fact, it was about two years later that a family of four did get lost on this road during the winter, with the tragic result being that the family's father died trying to find rescuers for the rest of family...having been on this road, I can completely understand how this would happen). However, the solitude enabled me to appreciate the expansiveness and sheer beauty of the Siskiyou range.

It took about 90 minutes to drive the 35 miles from the roadblock to Agness. By the time we’d finished, I was feeling a bit queasy. But, I figured the road would become a relatively straight line to Gold Beach. I was sadly mistaken. The road became even curvier for the next 20 miles. Just when we thought we had gone through the last of the curves, another 15 mile per hour hairpin would appear. Eventually, the curves became too much for my system. We had to pull over and wait until my nausea subsided. After a half hour break, we again set off. I fell asleep as soon as we took off, in order to prevent another reoccurrence of motion sickness. By the time I woke up, we were finally pulling into Gold Beach.

In all, it took us just under four hours to take the “shortcut” to the coast. I understand that this route is not open in the winter. However, I would recommend that only those folks who plan to raft the Rogue River take this route regardless of the season.

By now, we’d decided that there was no way we were going back to Ashland through the route we’d just taken. So, we were on a tight timeline to get down the coast, into Crescent City, and back to Ashland via Highway 199. Consequently, we decided to not to stop in Gold Beach and proceed south along the coast. We saw most of the Oregon coast out of our car windows, which were rolled down to experience the wind-blown cool air. But, while our schedule was tight, we did manage to find time to make a couple of stops.

Our first stop was at Cape Sebastian State Park. We had heard that some of the best coastal scenery could be found at this point. The information we had received was good, but the detail that was left out was just how windy it could be at the park. We learned this fact first hand when we stepped out of our cars and were hit by a blast of wind that almost knocked us over. We struggled out of our cars and up the hill to the promontory point. The views were as spectacular as advertised. We could see almost all the way to California. Additionally, the rocks just off the shoreline were breaking the waves into unique patterns. Finally, there wasn’t a house in sight. Thanks to some excellent planning, the entire Oregon coast is public property. Thus, there isn’t any development to mar the scenery. It really was a special sight. However, it would’ve been better had we not been facing 40 mile per hour gusts.

We drove to the beach below the cape to see if the wind was any less. It wasn’t. As a result, we were slightly sandblasted during our walk along the beach. But, the wind did subside around the shore’s rocks. We took shelter around the rocks and enjoyed the ocean scene.

After a few minutes at the beach, we continued on our drive. Eventually, we made it into Brookings, which is the last town (or the first town, depending on which direction you’re going) in Oregon before reaching California. We were pretty hungry by this time, so we decided to stop for an early dinner. I had found a couple of restaurants in the guidebook that were highly regarded. But, both of them were closed. So, we pulled into a rather forlorn looking structure called Scampi’s Fish Trailer. The restaurant was aptly named, because the kitchen really was a trailer. The dining area was a few tables set under a tent awning. But, the quality of the food belied the simple appearance. I had a fish and chips platter that was simply to die for. I haven’t tasted fresh fish like that in years (I later found out that the owner catches the fish every morning and serves it during the day). Additionally, the restaurant advertised that it has the best clam chowder in Oregon. Having tried it, I have to admit that it’s one of the best I’ve ever had. Fresh clams and potatoes swimming in a hearty cream sauce is a sure way to make a great clam chowder. Scampi’s follows that strategy to perfection. We left Scampi’s with full stomachs and happy dispositions for having found this little gem in the harbor.

The rest of our trip was a race against the clock in order to make it in time for the play in Ashland. We zoomed through the border, slalomed through the redwoods in Redwoods National Park, and raced across the Siskiyous to get into Ashland. Fortunately, we didn’t run into any obstacles along our way. As a result, we made it back into Ashland with time to spare and much cooler body core temperatures.

As had become the pattern, we hurried inside and Oak Hill and quickly changed our clothes for the trip to the theater.  We had tickets to Romeo and Juliet, one of my favorite Shakespeare plays.  While I was looking forward to seeing the production, I wondered if the same flaws that plagued Antony and Cleopatra would haunt Romeo and Juliet. These fears were heightened when I bought the tickets and was warned me that this was a “modern” production.

We saw Romeo and Juliet in the Agnus Bowmer Theatre. This venue was in the shape of the classic theatre setting (with seats in an auditorium setting around the front of a stage). But, while the setting was classic, the production itself was (as was advertised) modern. All of the characters dressed in Armani, the “coming out” party for Juliet was a rave, and the set decoration was stark and minimalist. But, placing this classic in the modern world turned out not to be jarring. Instead, it reminded me of the timelessness inherent in the play’s themes and emotions. I wasn’t the only one who thought the staging was appropriate. Dianne thought that putting the play in the modern world helped make the characters more relevant and easier to identify. For her, who is not as familiar with Shakespeare, this quality greatly helped her enjoyment of the play.

The one aspect of this production that I found surprising was the decision to accentuate the comedic aspects inherent the play. But, even that decision turned out to be a wise one. It allowed the audience to see how this play could have been a comedy with the change of just a few lines. It also brought home the concept that there is a thin line in life between a happy ending and a tragic ending.

None of this could have been possible without superb acting. While the entire cast was magnificent, both lead roles were noteworthy for their acting excellence. Kevin Kenerly, whom I disliked in Antony and Cleopatra, seemed better suited for the role of Romeo. He still played the role with a lot of physicality. But, he also added the confused anger that plagues Romeo’s character throughout the play. As a result, it was easy to find sympathy in Romeo’s fate. But, Kenerly’s portrayal paled in comparison to Nancy Rodriguez’s transcendent Juliet. Rodriguez perfectly captured the combination of innocence, petulance, and tenderness that is Juliet. Best of all, I actually believed that Rodriguez was a teenage girl portraying herself. Her fantastic performance lifted the production above the familiar play everyone knows. 

It seemed only appropriate to celebrate witnessing an outstanding production of Shakespeare with some outstanding ice cream.  So, it was time to visit BJ's for another milk shake.  With our core temperatures again cooled, we went back to the Oak Hill for another night of fitful sleep.
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