Recently I have seen many “2017 wrap up” posts in which traveler writers share their 2017 highlights and ask their audiences to share theirs.
It was much to my surprise that one morning I found myself responding to one of these questions with “A visit to my hometown to show my Significant Other where I grew up”. I couldn’t believe what I was writing. A trip to Roseburg, Oregon was the highlight of my travel in 2017? Roseburg, a small town of 20,000 residents nestled in the Umpqua Valley of Southern Oregon and where I lived the first 18 years of my life, seems hardly worthy of that distinction, but last year it was.
Many years ago, I started visiting my home state as a traveler. It never occurred to me to consider my hometown as a travel destination solely for its attractions. In my mind, it is just Roseburg, where I grew up. It was a place to visit because I have family there, not because it is loaded with attractions.
As we arrived in town, and drove to my dad’s house, I found myself pointing out landmarks to my Significant Other, JD… My friend’s parents used to own that hotel… This interchange wasn’t here when I grew up… My grandma used to live in that trailer park… I had my first job at the Windmill bussing tables… and on it went, regaling JD with stories of my town, and pointing out important childhood landmarks.
Lighthouse Bakery and Café
This continued on the way to lunch at Lighthouse Bakery and Café, a brightly lit place in the rolling hills of Umpqua, Oregon. I pointed out a llama farm, which brought back vague memories of some girl’s parents who owned it. It was familiar, but I couldn’t remember why.
The Lighthouse opened in 2009, long after I was gone, and was crowded even on a Tuesday afternoon. Upon entrance, the owner greeted my dad and his significant other, Ellen warmly and while they chatted I looked around in wonder. That day, I ultimately ordered the Powerhouse, a vegetarian sandwich with guacamole, onions, lettuce, spinach, tomato, and cucumber on homemade honey wheat bread. All bread at the Lighthouse is made in a brick oven and has been since 1998. Roseburg never had anything like this when I was there.
After lunch, we drove up the Umpqua River, to see the former home of home of my maternal grandparents; I noticed a few more houses along the route, but other than that, it didn’t seem like the land had changed. What had changed was that it was so much prettier to my adult eye. The blue of the river was a sight for sore eyes, the rolling hills were serenity and peace for my soul.
As I took in the scene around me, my young life flashed before my eyes; driving to my grandparents’ house for Christmas, tentatively feeding the cattle handfuls of hay, going down to the river full of anticipation, and once there, fighting disappointment that the water wasn’t warm enough for swimming. I had traveled all the way from Chicago; four hours on a plane, and three hours in a car to get to a place only to go back in time.
Somehow it was comforting that some things hadn’t changed, that the house of my childhood was still standing, that the grass on the hills just east of that house still look dry, that Abby’s pizza still has taco pizza, a childhood favorite of my sister’s. I was delighted to see that the forest ranger office that used to dispense Christmas tree permits was still open.
Winchester Dam Fish Ladder & UCC
Our last stop that afternoon was the fish ladder at Winchester Dam which was built by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife as a way to count fish going up stream. A brief Internet search revealed that the first dam was built in 1890 and that it is in the National Register of Historic Places. It is mainly different types of salmon including Steelhead, Coho, and Chinook that pass through the nine levels of the ladder to make it over the dam.
From the top of a steep and narrow staircase that leads down to the viewing area, you can see the “Old Winchester Bridge” which was a main thoroughfare before I-5 was built. Under that bridge is Amacher Park, campground and launch site for tubing expeditions down the Umpqua River.
At the bottom of those stairs is the viewing area; large picture windows under the dam through which you see the rushing and swirling water and salmon struggling to make it to the next level of the ladder, and eventually over the dam.
One night we had dinner with my oldest childhood friend and her family. My JD and her husband, both Midwestern men hit it off immediately. They live just above the Winchester Dam, and we dined al fresco, riverside in their backyard to the sound of water under a clear sky.
To get to their house, we drove past Umpqua Community College (UCC), site of a school shooting on October 1, 2015. I had taken swimming lessons there every summer up until junior high school, and later AP English classes in the classrooms. The main thing I remember about the NPR coverage of the event is that commentators often pronounced “Umpqua” incorrectly, “Oomp-qua”. It is pronounced “Ump-qua”. To drive by and know that it was the site of a terrible tragedy is still surreal to me. In my childhood mind nothing happens in Roseburg.
Fall Creek Falls Hike & Departure
Among so many highlights over those two days was a hike up the Umpqua River. We drove about an hour east to get to Fall Creek Falls. It was a joy to get onto the trail and into the woods, surrounded by lush, damp greenery including old growth Douglas Firs; occasionally stumbling over roots, or clambering over a fallen tree whose trunk was five feet in diameter, stopping to take in a view, take a picture, look at a snake, all the time steadily trekking upward toward the waterfall. We didn’t go to the top of the waterfall, but the view from the bottom was equally majestic; powerful water pouring over the side of a cliff face into a shallow wide pool whose water was just as cold as it was in my childhood. No swimming here!
Our last stop the next morning was Dutch Brothers coffee, a drive-thru coffee chain out west. Because he had never been, my JD’s coffee was free. We also got an air freshener with our coffee. This was so random and given with such cheer, that I couldn’t help but be happy as I left Roseburg. Happy also because I had finally been able to do what had eluded me all these years; see my hometown through the eyes of a visitor.