A horrible thing happened to me recently. I discovered the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten in in my entire life.
The reason this is horrible is that it’s located in Bend, Oregon. Bend is a delightful, quirky little city in the high desert region of Oregon. Sadly, I can think of no really plausible scenario that will find me back in that neck of the woods. Which means I’m destined to go through Spork withdrawal.
Spork is a fascinating restaurant that serves a fusion of cuisine from Latin America, Africa and Asia. Just as a spork is a combination of a spoon and a fork (and no, there are none of these handy utensils to be had in this place), Spork combines food in ways most people would never think to combine them, and the results are absolutely delicious.
Even better, these meals are extremely affordable, incredibly plentiful, and come from locally sourced, seasonal, humanely raised ingredients.
I had the Lomo Saltado, which the menu describes as “Peruvian stir-fry with wok-seared bavette steak, red potatoes, sweet peppers, onion, grilled tomato, soy, crema, radish, fried egg, green onion and jasmine rice.” My mouth waters just describing it to you.
Dear husband had the Thai Steak Salad. “Grilled bavette steak, greens, cabbage, beansprouts, herbs, fried shallot, toasted coconut, and nam jim sweet-spicy tart tamarind dressing.”
The casual atmosphere was amazing, too. It features international décor that, just like the food, manages to blend together perfectly in unexpected ways. We sat in an elongated wine barrel, near African wood carvings interspersed with Mexican tapestries. And the international music fit the restaurant as if it were composed for it.
Woe is me. I found an amazing place and will most likely never get to return to it. But I’m telling you, folks, if you are ever within 300 miles of Bend, Oregon, make it a point to go to Spork, even if the line is stretching out the door, as it often is.
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On the way home from our travels in Central Oregon, we were driving up highway 97, admiring the views of the many snow-capped dormant volcanoes visible in the distance. The area we were in was relatively flat, and had been for some time, but then, about 9 miles north of Redmond, Oregon, the scenery changed in a startling way. This deep, deep canyon opened up, just like that. This merited further investigation.
Fortunately, the Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint is right by the highway, on the south rim of the canyon. And from there, you can also walk out on the Crooked River Bridge, which is 295 feet above the canyon floor. It’s a beautiful area. I was really glad we stopped. Check out this video about it.
Despite the beautiful surroundings, I got this odd vibe from the place from the very start. Perhaps it had something to do with this weird little sign in the parking lot.
I mean, yes, it’s a deep, deep canyon, and one should be careful. But this sign seems to indicate that a) dogs are more valuable than children, b) there isn’t a waist-high wall protecting you from the drop off, when in fact there is one, and c) an awful lot of Oregonians must be “helping” their valuable dogs over that wall to plunge to their deaths.
And then, to add to the strange atmosphere, there seemed to be more cars in the parking lot than people in the park. Where had all these folks gone? I shuddered to think.
But we did encounter two people. Along the path that leads to the cliff, there were a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses, armed with their ubiquitous pamphlets. This struck me as a rather odd place to stand if your goal is to increase your flock. We probably were the first people they had encountered in hours, and they could tell just by looking at us that they would be wasting their time even trying to talk to us, so they didn’t.
I don’t know. Maybe a lot of people go there who are in despair. It kind of bugged me to think that this duo was attempting to proselytize to people who are vulnerable. But I suppose any help is better than none. Perhaps their intentions were good. (I do tend to forget that, when crossing paths with people who are trying to convert me, because I would never presume to do that to someone else. I believe everyone should choose their own spiritual path.)
Anyway, then we approached the cliff. I was almost afraid to look down. I half expected to see a bunch of dogs along with the owners of the parked cars, all in a grisly, twisted heap. But no. Nothing but the beautiful river below.
After enjoying this view, we then walked out onto the Crooked River Bridge. This two lane bridge used to be highway 97’s bridge across the canyon, but traffic has since increased, and Oregon’s Department of Transportation began constructing the current highway bridge in 1990. I could imagine Model A Fords puttering across this old one, and it made me smile.
After we left, I still couldn’t shake the eerie feeling about the place, though. And then I started doing research for this post, and here’s what I discovered.
According to this article, in 1961, Jeannance Freeman and Gertrude Jackson decided that Jackson’s children were interfering with their love affair. So they took the children to this park. Jackson left the vehicle, and came back to discover that Freeman had stripped her son of all of his clothing and then beat him unconscious with a tire iron. Jackson then took off her daughter’s shirt. The couple then threw both children, still alive, off the bridge. (Fair warning about that article, though. There’s a rather disgusting image of what one assumes is the son, now inexplicably clothed, dead on the floor of the canyon.)
Jackson later turned state’s evidence and was sentenced to life in prison, while Freeman was sentenced to death. She was the first woman ever sentenced to death in Oregon. The sentence was later commuted to life. Jackson only served time for seven years, and Freeman was released on parole after 20 years, but violated that parole by threatening a new lover with a knife because she refused to go to the store to buy cigarettes. She died in prison in 2003.
So, yeah, that’s the crooked story of the Crooked River Bridge. Needless to say, none of that information was put on a cheerful little information placard in the park. It’s a place well worth visiting, but don’t be surprised if it feels a little bit off to you, for a variety of reasons.
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The first time I went to Portland, Oregon, I vowed to visit Voodoo Doughnuts, one of the many quirky and iconic shops in the area, but as I explained in this post, it just wasn’t meant to be. And so, my voodoo dreams having gone unfulfilled, I was doomed to wander the earth feeling as though I had some unfinished business. I felt incomplete. It was even worse than never having gone to my high school prom.
So when I realized we’d be passing through Portland again on our way home from our fabulous Oregon vacation, I told my husband that if it was the last thing I ever did, I would be going to Voodoo Doughnuts. Even if I had to throw myself from the moving car. Even if I had to crawl there on my hands and knees. That voodoo-flavored influx of sugar and carbs would be mine, or I would die trying.
To add to the pressure (as if dear husband needed more convincing) I read from the website menu as we approached Portland. “Of course we need to get a Maple Blazer Blunt. Who wouldn’t want to try a doughnut doobie?” “And we’ve got to get a Voodoo Doll, and an Old Dirty Bastard, simply to be able to say we ate one.” “There’s a doughnut with captain crunch on top! And one with fruit loops! And grape dust! And cayenne pepper! And bacon!”
By the time we got there, I had worked myself up into such a frenzy that you’d have thought I was a 6-year-old going to Disney World. I was practically fidgeting in line. Fortunately the queue wasn’t as long as it was the last time around.
Still, I sure wouldn’t want to work there. The joint was jumping. I bet they’re exhausted at the end of a shift. But they do that voodoo so well. (Sorry. Had to.)
So, were the doughnuts all I had worked them up to be in my mind? Of course not. Nothing is ever as good as you imagine. Heck yeah, they were great, and all, but there were no fireworks, no marching bands. And I’ve been avoiding sugar as much as possible for several months now, so this particular orgy of pure gluttony kind of left me feeling sick. So there’s that.
But who am I kidding? I’ll be back. If only because we discovered further down the road that we had neglected to get the Old Dirty Bastard after all.
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“What are you doing?” I asked. I had been lost in a hypnotic, rural, car passenger reverie when my husband decided to do a u-turn in the middle of nowhere. (He’s always taking me down weird alleyways and along remote winding trails. Thank goodness he’s not a serial killer, or this blog would be toast.)
“Covered bridge,” He said. (Bridges. I can’t seem to get away from them.) And sure enough, there was a cute one, spanning a babbling brook. Of course we had to stop, because someone had been nice enough to put it there, just for us. You just never know when someone is going to be nice like that.
And voilà, our trip was enhanced by the Crawfordsville Covered Bridge, built in 1932. And the cute factor almost went off the charts when we discovered that this bridge was located along the (I kid you not) “Over the River and Through the Woods Scenic Byway.”
We had to take a similar detour in the midst of our vacation for a sign that said, simply, “Big Tree.” This one required some walking, but it was a beautiful woodland setting with delightful company, so absolutely no complaints here. And when we got there, we craned our necks and said, “Yep. That’s a big ol’ tree.” (It happens to be the biggest ponderosa pine in all of Oregon, which is saying something.) It was also by the pretty Deschutes River, so there’s two things we wouldn’t have seen were it not for natural curiosity.
I think it’s important to allow for flexibility in any journey, because you never know what you’ll stumble across. I’ve attended quirky little festivals that way. I’ve seen abandoned castles that way. I’ve made friends that way. And I’ve certainly made many, many memories that way.
May you experience random u-turns in life, dear reader. I truly want those adventures for you.
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In 2016, I wrote a post entitled “A Romantic Vacation for One” in which I discussed the bittersweet experience of traveling alone along the romantic Oregon Coast. I visited the Devil’s Punchbowl and “imagined my man standing behind me with his arms around me.” But at the time there wasn’t even a glimmer of hope of that on the horizon.
I gave the post a positive spin, though, and concluded that I still had an amazing time in that beautiful place. But who was I kidding? I was desperately, painfully lonely. I felt as though I were mere inches away from a chest-heaving cry most of the time. It was always a very near thing. A great deal of my energy was devoted to not completely losing it in public.
While I refuse to go so far as to say that everyone needs a significant other to complete them, I have to admit that my most recent trip to the area with my husband was an entirely different event. It’s so much more fun to share experiences with someone else. Companionship adds a whole new dimension to travel.
I made it a point to stop by Devil’s Punchbowl again, to fulfill my dream of having my man’s arms around me. It felt as though I had come full circle. It was good.
I only wish I could have gone back to visit the 2016 me to whisper in her ear, “Hang on. Things are going to look up.” I know she’d have drawn a great deal of strength from that.
So, if you’re feeling lonely, dear reader, please hang on. You never know what the future holds. I’m pulling for you.
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On our way to the Oregon coast, in our last moments in Washington state, we came upon a rest area called Dismal Nitch. For the name alone, we had to stop. It was a beautiful place, on the north bank of the Columbia River, just before it opens out to the mighty Pacific Ocean. How had it earned such a dreary name?
From this spot, we could look at the beautiful Astoria-Megler Bridge, which, at just over 4 miles in length, is the longest continuous truss bridge in North America. But that bridge didn’t come along until 1966. And while the Columbia looked relatively calm during our visit, it was wide and quite obviously powerful. I’d hate to have to cross it in a canoe. While watching a harbor seal coast quickly past, I thought about how relentless nature can be. We may vacation in nature, but nature itself never takes a day off.
By the time the Lewis and Clark Expedition had reached this point in 1805, I’m sure they had learned that lesson on multiple occasions. By now they were nearly to the Pacific Ocean, and had experienced any number of trials and tribulations. But it was here that a bad winter storm pushed them up onto this rocky shore with its steep banks, and they were forced to huddle in the wind, rain and hail without fresh food for 6 days.
One of the placards indicated that in one of his journals, Clark had complained about being forced to eat only salmon while stuck in this place. My first reaction was, “must be nice!” but I’m sure that after a while, one would, indeed, long for some fresh vegetables and a different flavor. I suspect that it was nearly impossible to keep a fire going in that exposed, blustery place, too, so sushi it was for the entire crew.
When the storm finally broke, Clark declared himself happy to leave “that dismal little nitch”, and that is how the place got its name. It is now a part of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, which has 5 scattered locations both in Washington and Oregon.
So, if you’re ever in the area and see a sign for Dismal Nitch, it’s worth a stop. If nothing else, you can prop yourself on the hood of your car, take in the glorious view, and quietly thank the universe for planes, trains, automobiles, bridges, gore-tex, convenience stores, flush toilets, and the explorers who were willing to blaze a trail so you wouldn’t have to.
(And yes, I know “nitch” is actually spelled niche. But I guess they went with the journal spelling, so I’ll go with the sign, just this once.)