Category: General Article
GPS Coordinates to Hood River: 45.4188248, -121.9072895
Reporting: Myles Myers, Oceanscape Network Volunteer
Oregon is filled with scenic road trips perfect for the warmer, sunnier Spring and Summer seasons. The Hood River County Fruit Loop was established in the mid-1960s to promote sustainable agriculture in Oregon. Most of this driving tour is located inside the Columbia River Gorge Scenic area, starting at the town of Hood River, heading south to Parkdale and then back again. No matter where you go on the loop, the snow-capped Mount Hood is always visible and there are plenty of scenic vistas where you might want to stop to snap some photos.
How long you spend exploring the loop’s features is up to you, but organizers suggest at least a full day to see it adequately. It’s smart to plan your route ahead of time, as some of the participating businesses may be closed if their particular crop is out of season. For the purposes of this article, we chose stops which would allow Oceanscape Network users to see the variety of vineyards, farms, orchards, wineries, bakeries, country stores and ranches represented along the loop’s approximately 40 mile (64.3 km) length.
Starting at the town of Hood River, our first destination was Pearl’s Place, a small farm store hidden behind dense fruit orchards just west of Highway 35. The open air store front was lined with baskets and crates of freshly-picked fruit, with jams, jellies and candies nearby. Primarily a pear orchard, I was impressed by the selection of peaches — by far one of my favorite fruits. Eating a peach in the parking lot drenched me with juice, but this must be a common hazard at Pearl’s because they actually had a large sink nearby for cleaning up afterwards.
Further down the highway was the Gorge White House, a historical farm with great guest facilities including a large gift shop. Although they also had a selection of fresh fruit, what really caught my eye was the huge variety of flowers. The gardens behind the store were in full bloom, painting the otherwise green landscape with bands of yellow, red, pink and blue. The experience was similar at the Lavender Valley Farm down the road. Nestled between two low hills, the valley floor was nothing but an unbroken field of purple. The bees were so numerous here that I could literally hear them before I even got out of the car.
Not all of the Fruit Loop’s treasures grow out of the earth, however. One of best surprises I had that day was the Cascade Alpacas farm.
Although Oregon may be better known for sheep’s wool, alpaca fibers are an excellent example of a renewable resource, too. Durable and soft, it can be made into a variety of clothing and other items. I spent about half an hour feeding grain to an extremely friendly (pushy) group of alpacas in the barn and then wandered over to the Foothills Yarn & Fiber Store. I was impressed by how many things are made from this wool, which I personally found to be softer and lighter than sheep’s wool.
I followed the alpacas with visits a vineyard and several more orchards. (Unfortunately, the hazelnut farm was closed because I was there out-of-season.) I finally ended up at the Apple Valley Country Store and Bakery. Although not intentional, this turned out to be an excellent choice for a last stop after spending a hot day on the road. Their selection of pies, jams, syrups, jellies and mustards was pretty amazing — and they had numerous sampling stations so you could taste before you bought. The staff there told me that they’d expanded into the restaurant business a few years earlier, so I made the short drive to the Apple Valley BBQ in Parkdale where I had an early dinner of barbecued pork and garlic parmesan french fries.
The Fruit Loop and similar driving trails are excellent ways to experience Oregon’s agricultural bounty. If you’re interested in exploring the Fruit Loop too, I suggest you take the following things with you:
An ice filled cooler, in case you want to store any perishable items you might buy.
A knife, reusable utensils, paper towels or napkins, and wet wipes for cutting into, eating and cleaning up after some very juicy fruit samples.
A camera. Most of the stops on the Fruit Loop attractions allow (even encourage) photography, so snap away. Plus, the wilderness area and its wildlife may also present multiple photo or video opportunities.
Money. Most of the attractions provide free samples, but this will only make you want to buy more for later (trust me on this).
You can learn more about the Fruit Loop, including seeing an event schedule for the various attractions, by going to hoodriverfruitloop.com.
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