When people think of visiting the United States, they think of places such as New York, San Francisco or Disney World in Florida. Not as many think of the Pacific Northwest as their first tourist destination.
Over the years, we have travelled to almost every one of the states in the United States. The three in the north-west corner of the country: California, Oregon and Washington, are glorious places to visit. Lush forests, striking mountain peaks, a rugged coastline and many rivers and streams, are part of this region. Here are just a few things to do in the Pacific Northwest.
Once you leave San Francisco and head north, the geography of the state starts to change. A good place to visit, which is not too far from San Francisco, is the Napa Valley. This area, with its rolling hills, is known for its wines. The hot, dry summers and cooler winters are ideal for growing grapes.
If you like to cycle, it’s an excellent way to see this area of the state. The last time that we were there, we cycled a total of 32 kilometres, and the only drawback was that we found some of the hills strenuous. If you go there, be prepared for a shock. The wineries charge for wine tasting, anywhere from $15 to $25 per tasting. This was totally alien to us as wine tasting in Australia is complimentary.
A four-hour drive north, through the central part of the state, is Mt Shasta, a 14,000-foot volcano. Nearby is the tiny town of McCloud with a population of 1,000. It is a good stopover for a visit to McCloud River Falls.
There is an easy hike along the river with wildflowers, birds, large pines and redwoods, and the sound of rushing water along the way. There are three separate sections to the falls; upper, middle and lower, which were all different in their own way. The walk was a relatively easy 7km with a very decent trail and with bear proof rubbish bins, but we didn’t see any bears. It’s a very pleasant environment with plenty of lush forests.
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In the springtime, it is still surrounded by plenty of snow as we found out. The view of the lake is dramatic; a caldera 6 miles across, that was formed when a volcano erupted 7,000 years ago. It is the deepest lake in America at 1,943 feet and one of the deepest in the world. Over time the crater filled with water from rain and surrounding snow melt.
Four hours further north is Portland, ranked as one of the greenest cities in the world. The city is filled with parks and flowers adorn the streets. The city is famous for its International Rose Test Garden. The species of roses range from Grandifloras to Florabunda, and miniatures stretch for acres. New variants of rose bushes are tested for colour, perfume, disease resistance and robustness. Only after thorough testing are new types released to commercial rose growers to bring to the public.
On the coast is the town of Astoria, which is a gateway to the beautiful Route 101 drive with its dramatic and beautiful views of the Oregon coastline. The coast has countless rivers and bridges, coastal cliffs, sand dunes and pinnacle-like rock formations in the ocean. The weather can often be rainy and foggy, which may obscure some of the excellent views and raw natural beauty.
In 1980, the United States recorded its largest eruption in history, which blew part of the top of Mount Saint Helens. The landslide that resulted from the collapse was the biggest in recorded history. It flattened trees for over 200 square miles, filled lakes and rivers with huge volumes of sediment and spewed ash 17 kilometres into the atmosphere that travelled around the world. The pyroclastic flow that followed the collapse, raced down the mountain at more than 800km an hour and overtook the debris of rock and lava. If you had been 15km away, it would have reached you in just over a minute!
We saw a lot of trees that had been planted and they, along with the natural growth of trees were restoring the forest over time. We also saw many tree trunks that were still laying in the direction of the initial explosion.
Appreciating this event humbles you to the power of nature and despite how powerful we believe ourselves to be, we pale in comparison. We must remember this was just one volcano amongst the few thousand on the planet.
Washington is also blessed with lush forests, rivers and waterfalls. It is a delight for those interested in the great outdoors. If your tastes are into a hip city with an excellent restaurant and coffee culture, Seattle is the place for you. There are plenty of sights from the Space Needle to the Boeing Plant nearby, and Bainbridge Island which is serviced by regular ferry service and from which you can take in great views of the city. The island itself has some trendy shops and restaurants; it is well worth the visit.