Thursday, July 31, 2008

Traveling the Left Coast

Oregon is the best west coast state for a casual tourist to drive. Of course, I’m disregarding Alaska, an anomaly whose size, weather conditions, rugged or mushy terrain, and limited accessibility make it incomparable to anyplace else in the U.S.

Oregon, unlike either Washington or California, has an abundance of small cities and comfortable towns along her north-south auto artery, easier for a car-bound stranger to negotiate than either the huge cities or trackless wastes of California. The corporate footprint is present, but generally not overwhelming in Oregon towns, and the traveler looking for a “mom and pop” motel, restaurant, or grocery can find them in places like Medford, Cottage Grove, and Albany.

The climate, except for the broad Valley of the Mighty Willamette, is cool in the summer and mild in the winter, and there are rest stops at intervals of 20-plus miles all along the well-maintained freeway corridor, which begins with a convenient bypass around the metropolis of Portland and enters California at the rugged Siskiyou Pass. The mountainous scenery through most of the state’s southern half is lovely, and the northern half’s flat plain (the two contiguous valleys of the Columbia and the Willamette), while not as beautiful as the mountains, is attractive in its own way.

If you’ve got time and you’re in no hurry, the beauties of the Oregon coast offer a completely different, and delightful (though heavily populated) kind of scene. The entire coastline is park, owned and administered exclusively by the state.

Washington is also much easier on the traveler than California, but it is wetter, often colder, more crowded, and less given to public works than Oregon. California is an ordeal to travel, although it’s interesting watching the Golden State’s intensifying problems, chiefly ecological and financial, intensify into a death spiral.

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