Friday, March 27, 2015

Spring Comes to Bishop's Close

Venerable wall with Kenilworth ivy
Cherry blossom petals drift from the sky. Japanese currants and barberries spill from the top of a venerable stone wall while Kenilworth ivy and tiny geraniums snuggle between the stones. A miniature grotto shelters a small spring-filled basin. Leaves are just beginning to fledge on a massive wisteria vine, hinting at the coming profusion of flowers. This is the parking lot at Bishop's Close.

Also known as Elk Rock Garden, this beautiful property perches high on a cliff above the Willamette between Portland and Lake Oswego. Once a family estate, it was donated to the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon in the 1950s with the condition that the garden be opened to the public. Even the family dog is welcome here (on a leash, of course).

This is one of the best places in Oregon to truly find spring. Hellebores are beginning to give way to epimediums, windflowers, and primroses. The camellias and daphnes are still going strong while the impressive display of magnolias is just beginning. Flowers are everywhere, leaves are unfurling, and the winter mess is being whisked away by dedicated gardeners. The clifftop view across the river includes Elk Rock Island and, in the background, Mt. Hood. Regardless of the color of your thumbs, you will find peace and beauty in this outdoor sanctuary.

Garden areas include sweeping lawns, a magnolia walk, and a Japanese-inspired garden built around a lovely stream. The overall garden style is not terribly formal, in keeping with the forest setting. The plantings near the house are orderly and carefully groomed, gradually loosening as one gets further from the center. At last, the garden blends smoothly into the surrounding tangled woodland.

If You Go
Bishop's Close is just off of Highway 43. Head south on Macadam out of Portland toward Lake Oswego and turn left onto Military Road, or go north from Lake Oswego and turn right. Military Road can be tricky to find; watch for the stoplight. Once on Military Road, take an immediate right onto Military Lane. Continue through a neighborhood of impressive homes to the end of the lane. The grounds are open from 8-5:00. Unfortunately, picnics are discouraged, so enjoy lunch elsewhere.

Check out the Elk Rock Garden website to find maps, directions, and a gallery of photographs. This site also explains the estate's history and lists the plants found in the garden.

The paths at Bishop's Close range from broad, smooth pea-gravel walkways to narrow trails and stone stairways that are suitable for mountain goats. As a result, only part of the garden is accessible, but it is still well worth a visit. As noted above, even the parking lot deserves a stop.
Photos in this posting by Austen and Sally Case. Edited by Austen.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Three Trout Ponds and a Century of War: A Spring Break Destination

Ride your bike to a shipwreck. Hide out in a military bunker. Cook fresh-caught trout over a campfire. This must be Spring Break in Oregon.

This is, of course, Fort Stevens State Park, located on the northwestern tip of the state where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. Military installations have been built in this strategic area since the Civil War, and they remain in various stages of decay for our modern-day exploration. Preservation ranges from shiny-painted, new-looking bunkers to installations that are so unstable, they have to be roped off for safety reasons. Pick up a free map, as these defenses were built up over many years and they cover quite a large area. Only the Civil War earthworks are a reconstruction; the rest is original, spanning the Victorian era to the end of WWII. While the map offers excellent descriptions, many mysteries remain for your discovery: odd bits of foundations, random holes, and buildings not labeled on the map. Bring a flashlight, as many of the rooms tunnel into darkness.

Coffenbury Lake
Back at the Fort Stevens Campground, you can rent a yurt, pitch a tent, or park your RV. Pick up a campground map, as this is home base for a variety of adventures. Three small lakes are located near the camping area. Coffenbury is the easiest to find, located right next to the beach road, and it is often heavily stocked with trout. Two nearby lakes, Crabapple and Abbott, offer paddling and some fishing; look for a small road leading out of the Coffenbury parking lot to find these tiny lakes. Much of the campground is accessible, including several yurts, and there is accessible fishing at Coffenbury.

We always bring our bikes to this campground. A network of trails leads all through the park, passing wetlands, isolated little Battery Russell, and, yes, the wreck of the Peter Iredale, a ship that beached here in 1906. A longer bike ride (or a short drive) leads along the Columbia, where you can sit on a sandy shore and watch huge ships pass in and out of Astoria. Bird watching is also excellent here where the river meets the sea.

To find Fort Stevens, take US 101 north from Seaside or south from Astoria and turn toward the little town of Warrenton. Excellent signage will direct you toward the campground or the fort itself.

If the state park is full, or for a different camping experience, try the KOA across the road. They offer cabins and RV spaces, as well as semi-sheltered tent sites with small roofed areas. The KOA is perfect if your idea of camping includes a swimming pool, a hot tub, wifi, and a gift shop. There is also a simple restaurant where you can begin your day sitting next to a stranger, tucking into those large, rubbery disks so often sold as pancakes. They are included with your camping fee, so eat up. This is ballast for your activity-filled day at Fort Stevens.
Battery Russell

Fort Stevens
Fort Stevens
Fort Stevens