August 29 Monday The Dahlia Festival

dahlias_57Seems as though there is always some kind of festival going on during the summer months.  Usually named for a flower, a fruit, or a vegetable, these festivals are really worth the effort.  The Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California and the Asparagus Festival in Stockton are some down-home country festivals that got completely out of control.  Thousands of people crowd the hundreds of booths and the original concept is lost.  Can you count the Apple Festivals and Strawberry Festivals that are dotted all over the United States and Canada?  A google search will open your eyes to that one!

dahlias_60Our short little camping trip north was inspired by one such festival.  The difference with this one is that it isn’t a town or village thing, it is a chance for a local grower of dahlias to open their land for just six days a year to the adoring public.  I had no clue just how adoring the public was until we arrived at the parking lot on Monday morning and found row after row of cars, buses, vans, and fields filled with folks admiring the dahlias.

Silverton seedsLet me backtrack a bit. When we woke up Monday morning, the skies were cloudy and overcast and the temperature was in the low 50’s.  A very light mist created a chilly, damp atmosphere.  Remember I said I only brought shorts?  Even though the forecast was for 85 degrees and sunshine for the entire week, I should have known better.  Digging around in the few clothes I brought delivered my kayak pants, just in case, so I donned the kayak pants and the one sweatshirt I managed to pack, and I was ready for the day in spite of myself.

Silverton seeds-9Even though I had no WiFi in the park, my iPhone had 5 bars and 3G, so I loaded up google maps to locate the Swan Island Dahlia Farm. It was just about an hour north in Canby, an agricultural paradise between I-5 and the mountains in the northern part of the Willamette Valley. We took our time, and when a sliver of lavender blue appeared in the distance, we ambled off the course to find amazing fields of annuals grown for seed by the Silver Falls Seed Company

I used to grow annual larkspur for drying, and always had trouble finding seed that was an individual color not a mix.  Lying in front of me were gorgeous fields of blue, lavender, pink, and rose, all perfect tall lush flowers of larkspur.  Other fields were filled with godetia, one of my favorite little annuals, and other flowers that I didn’t quite recognize.  In a way I was delighted to have subdued skies so the colors would show up more dramatically in the photos.

dahlias_32It wasn’t long before we arrived at the Swan Island Dahlia Festival, to join in the admiring crowds with their oohs and aahhs.  Even little kids were getting into the thrill of seeing a truly amazing huge dahlia bigger than a dinner plate, amazed at the sensory overload of row after row of flowers bred in every conceivable shape and color.

Swan Island Dahlias is the largest and leading dahlia grower in the United States. The farm is now located in the town of Canby, in the rich soil of the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The farm was originally located in Portland, Oregon, with some buildings on Swan Island, which is where the farm derived its name. There was also a roadside stand in Sellwood, a suburb of Portland, so the business was known as both Swan Island Dahlias and Portland Dahlia Gardens at that time.

dahlias_28Swan Island Dahlias was moved to Canby, Oregon on rented land in the 1940’s. Around 1953, 20 acres of farmland was purchased in Canby, and the business was relocated to its present site. This particular bit of information was helpful because Mo grew up near the real Swan Island and picked beans there and she couldn’t understand why the dahlia farm in Canby was called Swan Island Dahlias!

If you have ever grown dahlias, you know how much work they can be.  A difference in this part of Oregon is that the climate allows you to actually leave your dahlias in the ground over the winter and still have flowers come up in the spring.  Where I lived, I had to lift my hundreds of dahlias one by one every winter, divide them and pack them carefully in sawdust in the root cellar.  I treasured those flowers, believe me.  So I was like all those little kids ooh-ing and aah-ing through the fields, thrilled and amazed, and especially excited when I would find an old friend variety among the bunch that was still in cultivation. 

dahlias_51After we wandered the 40 acres of fields, we visited the big storage shed where one of the granddaughters in this family owned business demonstrated how to arrange dahlias while she talked about every possible cultural need.  Many folks asked lots of questions and I was amazed at her knowledge. Grandpa passed away in 2007, but the family carries on with this beautiful family business.

dahlias_101Thoroughly overloaded with dahlia heaven, we were still in for a big surprise when we entered the indoor display, with three rooms of dahlia arrangements.  I knew about the indoor rooms, but imagined something a bit like a county fair, with vases of flowers.  What an understatement.  The huge displays in the three large rooms were mind boggling, huge lush over-the-top craziness, piles of dahlias of every color and type.  Hundreds of flowers in a single arrangement and literally hundreds of arrangements.  It was a great way to pick your favorites and then go to the order desk to buy tubers for spring delivery. It’s a good thing I don’t have a lot of room or a long growing season, or I would have parted with a good chunk of money.

dahlias_144When we finally left the farm, the sun was warming up a bit and we ambled around Canby to explore the town and the area.  We found Molalla River State Park, a perfect place for Abby to run in the off-leash dog area, with many trails along the river, but no overnight facilities.  Just north of the farm, we found the Canby Ferry crossing the Willamette River and saving many miles of travel for folks going north.  The ferry is free for pedestrians, but we just chose to sit on the bluff above the river and watch for awhile.  I couldn’t help comparing the gentle crossing with the wild currents of the Yukon River at the ferry in Dawson City.  This crossing took all of two minutes, and the cars lining up on either side of the river had at most a 5 minute wait in line. I love how these remnants of older times appear on the back roads of Oregon.  Many of the old ferries have been replaced by bridges, so it was nice to see this little piece of history still in operation.

Capture 37 milesWe traveled home through Silverton, with a stop at on of my favorite grocery stores for a few supplies.  Back in camp, we decided we had time for some good biking on the beautiful trails and enjoyed the emptiness of the day use area even though the campground was still full to the brim.  No one was swimming, and no one was out on the bike trails either, and the waterfall trail was nearly empty.  Abby is pretty good at going along on the leash while we bike, but now and then she gets a bit excited and crosses over to the wrong side.  We have learned that if I stay in front of Mo, Abby will try to keep up with me and not dawdle.  The best part of this for Mo is that Abby actually helps pull her up the steep parts of the trail!  I finally said, “My turn to have Abby, this hill is steep”!  We switched, and I couldn’t believe just what a difference she made.  Mush! Abby!!

Home to camp and grilled veggies and another beautiful campfire.

The rest of the dahlia photos are linked here

Tomorrow: We meet Russ and Donna and hike the Mackenzie River waterfalls

 

August 28 Sunday Camping at Silver Falls State Park

Capture 255 milesIt has been less than two weeks since we returned from our long trek to Alaska, but a short three day jaunt to a beautiful Oregon State Park seemed just so simple.  We planned this trip for a couple of reasons: For one, we loved Silver Falls when we visited in the spring of 2010.  The real reason for the trip, however, was to see the dahlias in full bloom during the Swan Island Dahlia Festival nearby in Canby. 

I grew hundreds of dahlias at one time, selling cut flowers at a weekend farmers market along with my dried flower bouquets and fresh herbs.  It was a good time in my life, but oh sooo much work.  Here at Rocky Point, I don’t have much opportunity to grow dahlias, although I still plan to at least try. Mo and I plan to downsize by 2020 or so, and my one request is that we do so in a place where I can putter in a real garden with a real growing season and grow dahlias. 

As we readied for the short trip, 255 miles total, everything seemed just incredibly simple.  The MoHo was spotless and lovely, and I only needed clothes for three days and two nights. With the temperatures predicted for the area in the mid 80’s, shorts were in order, and I didn’t even bother with sweats or long pants.  (Oops, we live in Oregon for pete’s sake!). Food was simple as well, just two dinners, a couple of breakfasts, and some hiking food for daytime.  Gee.  We were loaded and ready to go in no time. After the long preparations for the Alaska trip, this was such a delight.

overlooking Upper Klamath NWR from Westside RoadWe took our time getting on the road, enjoying the warm, sunny morning. Dressed in shorts and sleeveless tops, we were glad to have returned home to Oregon in August to enjoy what Laurie and Odel called the “elusive Oregon summer”.  Yes, it IS elusive at times, but less so on the east side of the mountains where we live. 

heading west on Willamette Pass hwy 58 smog in our future :(Fire is a given in the west, and as we crossed the Wood River Valley just north of home and the Upper Klamath NWR, there was smoke evident to the east and north from the many fires ignited in Central Oregon over the past couple of weeks.  The route is familiar and a bit boring at times, especially north on Highway 97.  The soils are deep pumice from the eruption of Crater Lake (Mt Mazama) more than 7,000 years ago, and the vegetation is dry lodgepole and ponderosa pine.  Only after the route rises to Willamette Pass does the timber begin to thicken and darken to lush Oregon green.

The Willamette Valley is the heart of Oregon, even though the actual area is very small when compared to the entire state.  Eugene is the largest city south of Portland in this valley, and as we entered Eugene we noticed the brown pall of smoke in the air from burning fields of blue grass, from dust rising from busy plows, and yes, from cars.  I think that is actually smog, although being raised in Southern California I do know that real smog is a bit uglier than what we found on the Eugene skyline.

Silver Falls Campground near site 79hurry up Mom!By the time we got to the park, it was evident that even on a Sunday afternoon, this was a very popular place.  I am glad that we made a reservation back in April, since the park was completely filled for the entire week!  It was warm and sunny, and we were glad for a shady site with power and water to enjoy the late afternoon.  Jeremy was really anxious to get out of the rig and explore, and I put on his fancy city harness and he was out of the rig before I could get down the steps.  He is funny, sitting quietly for the harness, and the minute the last snap is done he jumps down to the door knowing it it time! Even at 15 years old, I think he might want to explore farther than I would want, so I keep him harnessed when we are camping for safety.

paved bike trail from the campground to the dog areaAs the evening progressed, we took the beautiful paved bike trail to the dog exercise area, a special treat in a state park because this one if for dogs off leash!  To our surprise, on this warm Sunday evening, there were no dogs there.  Families were everywhere, with children playing in the swimming area along the Silver River, bbq’s going at every picnic table, volleyball and soccer games in progress. The park is within easy driving distance of Salem, Albany, and even Portland, and from what we saw on this Sunday afternoon, it is a popular place to spend a Sunday.

popular swimming area on a warm Sunday eveningThe presence of huge, extended families with grandmas, grandpas, babies, aunts and uncles, all enjoying the afternoon together was heartening.  Most of these families were speaking languages we didn’t know, but with the din of so many conversations that really didn’t matter. The language of a park on a Sunday afternoon is universal, after all. We had a great time letting Abby run uphill, hoping to wear her out.  Later in the day, we expected to have to leave her in the rig while we hiked the waterfall trails where dogs are not allowed.

the dog exercise area is leash freeThe Silver River was low at this time of year, and I was surprised to see just how lovely the falls looked even with less water.  The stream slips over South Falls in a clear, wispy ribbon, much different from the crashing torrent we experienced in April last year.  The trails were full of families, dads carrying babies in backpacks, grandpas with canes (me with my walking sticks!) 

even with the river fairly low, South falls is lovelyOne more time I did a stupid crash, this time thank goodness without the camera in my hands!  Stepping out of the MoHo I missed the step and bent the weak ankle one more time in a direction it doesn’t particularly like and went down.  I know to hold on to the door handle, and had a good grip, so didn’t go all the way down.  Mo laughed again, saying I must have bones of steel because with all these stupid falls I don’t seem to break anything. Who knows what that is about.  This time again, it was a big divot I didn’t see because it was UNDER our entry rug.  Sigh.  Hold on tight and keep your eyes down, I guess.

We chose a camp on the A loop again, but it was more open than I might have liked.  Our neighbors were right behind us, with their campfire so close to our back window that I had to close the night shade all the time so they couldn’t see inside.  Our fire was far enough forward in the site that we could sit there without being in their back pocket, and we were glad that the folks directly on our other side seemed to be indoor types, so we had a bit of space to ourselves.  I couldn’t believe how many kids were in  that campground, and dogs, and bikes.  It was some kind of biking heaven, I guess, with tiny little kids on trainers with helmets bigger than they were.  The sound of screaming, laughing kids and barking dogs was almost deafening.

home for a couple of nightsSo often, in this lifestyle, we hang with retired folks in sedate RV campgrounds that are quiet and calm.  We are retired ourselves, and live in a community that is composed mostly of retired folks or summer visitors.  My grandkids are all teenagers now, and as I sat at our campfire watching all those kids, I realized just how insulated we can be from the din of family life.  Have I used the word “din” a lot?  Hmmm.  Sunday afternoon at Silver Falls State Park was a lovely and noisy place.

Next: the dahlia show!

The rest of the photos are linked here