Celebrating Oregon’s 150th birthday party.
Celebrating Oregon’s 150th birthday party.

“A lazy person should never think about going to Oregon,” wrote Elizabeth Wood, in her diary entry for August 3, 1851.

Elizabeth was traveling on the Oregon Trail, which settlers looking to forge new lives out West had traversed since 1841.

Her words were prophetic and set the stage for things to come. In the last 150 years, Oregon has matured from a wild and unruly frontier to a bustling state full of citizens who have worked hard and found success, materially and personally.

Valentine’s Day was especially sweet for Oregon this year. The state began celebrating its 150th year of entering the Union on February 14. Birthday events are planned throughout the Beaver State, with all 36 of its counties taking part in remembering their heritage.

Fur trappers, loggers and fisherman were some of the first to recognize Oregon’s vast untapped wealth. Lewis & Clark’s Corps of Discovery in 1804-06 couldn’t have dreamed of the changes their exploration would bring to the territory when President Thomas Jefferson sent this directive to Meriwether Lewis on June 20, 1803: “The object of your mission is to explore the best direct and practicable water communication across the continent for the purpose of commerce.”

Today, Oregon is reaping the rewards of the initial exploration by Lewis and Clark  that helped build up the state. The sesquicentennial celebration affords a great opportunity for visitors and Oregonians alike to discover this state. Living here may require a hardy soul, but you’re on vacation! So let’s make it easier on you and give you the lazy person’s guide to the top historic attractions in Oregon. The Welcome Mat is out.

Oregon Trail, the True West Way

The main artery, I-84, for the most part follows the historic Oregon Trail. This freeway transits the state from east to west, allowing tourists great vistas and a good understanding of the geography of the country, as it follows the Columbia River—the only river to cut through the Cascades—to the Pacific Ocean.

Along the way, four interpretative centers share in-depth information about the Oregon Trail and the pioneers who settled this part of the West. Each center’s exhibits are based on their location along the Trail: Baker City, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (near Pendleton), The Dalles and Oregon City.

Many surprises await you along this route. A stay in the restored, 1889 Geiser Grand Hotel in Baker City is highly recommended. Hamley Steakhouse in Pendleton, decorated in authentic 1890s frontier ambiance, can’t be beat for gourmet Western cuisine. The views of Mount Hood and the Gorge are awesome along this drive. Stop in Hood River to sample some of the fine Full Sail Ale at the brewery before continuing to the Hood River Hotel, a small town country inn with charm and character.

Rendezvous at These Fur Outposts

Fort Clatsop, Lewis & Clark’s winter encampment near Astoria, comes to life with re-enactors beginning in mid-June and ending Labor Day weekend. The replica may have burned down in 2005, but the spirit of history lives on. That same year, the Fort-to-Sea Trail opened, re-creating the route the Corps may have taken to reach the Pacific from the fort. (If you’re visiting the third weekend in August, take a detour to Seaside, where a Salt Makers party is held to commemorate the salt camp the Corps built to augment their provisions for the trek home.)

Clatsop is not the only fort remembered. The city of Astoria is named for fur trader John Jacob Astor, who established the headquarters for his Pacific Fur Company here in 1811. You can visit a replica of this fort.

By the 1830s, the Hudson Bay Company dominated the Pacific Northwest. The chief factor of its Columbia District was John McLoughlin, known today as the “Father of Oregon.” His kindness in providing supplies to settlers on the Oregon Trail eventually cost him his job, and he retired in Oregon City, where you’ll find McLoughlin’s restored home today. (The End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center is 10 blocks north of this site.)

Do-Not-Miss Blowouts

Flowering shrubs and 50,000 pink Caroline Testout roses decorated the Lewis & Clark Exhibition in 1905. Portland knew how to exhibit roses, as locals had been part of a rose society since 1888. After the Lewis & Clark event drew in crowds, Portland Mayor Harry Lane decided to put on what is today the Portland Rose Festival. The event has flowered ever since 1907, and this year’s festival will be held on May 28-June 14.

The Pendleton Round-Up (September 16-19) is a PRCA rodeo gearing up for its 2010 centennial celebration, and it is enhanced by the Indian pageant Happy Canyon. All-in-all, the event is a testament to the native and cowboy cultures that have survived in Oregon for more than a century.

Smaller happenings worth checking out are the Dufur Threshing Bee, where late 1800s equipment threshes the wheat (August 8-9), and the Hells Canyon Mule Days in Joseph, where local ranchers celebrate the sturdy pack animal that has served Oregon Country since the U.S. Army and gold rushers depended on them back in the 1850s (September 11-13).

Oregon, the Beautiful

The state is a kaleidoscope of diversity: the untamed Oregon coast, the high desert of Central Oregon, the agricultural plateau east of the Cascade Mountains, the gold rush area surrounding the National Historic Landmark Community of Jacksonville in southern Oregon and the Painted Hills, part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in eastern Oregon.

Are You An Oregonian?

To encourage travel throughout the state during this birthday year, TravelOregon.com has developed a game, “I am Oregonian,” which will be available to play April through late summer. To qualify as an Oregonian, one must meet criteria in five categories, including visiting one attraction. Once you submit your proof to the website and your five activities are certified, you will receive an “I Am Oregonian” certificate, signed by Gov. Kulongoski.

To help plan your trip of the historic sites you want to visit and the scenic byways to drive on to reach these destinations, you can build a custom itinerary on the website.

Oregon is growing up! Come celebrate with her.

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