Big Planes & Big Wines – McMinnville, OR
She was one-of-a-kind, built by Howard Hughes, a genius (a madman?) in the service of war. She was also big, the largest aircraft ever built for her time (1947). Her tail stands 79.1ft (24.1m) tall, the size of an eight-story building, her length spans a substantial 219 ft (66.6m) and her wings a jaw-dropping 320 feet (97.5m), sizes that rival even the very biggest aircraft built today….but that’s not even the most interesting part. What is absolutely astonishing, what makes this bird totally unique and unlike anything you’ve ever seen is that she was made of wood!!
Due to a war-time limitation on use of metals she was constructed of birch, mostly. A long painful, detailed construction of ~9 layers of thin veneers bonded together, formed and coated with an aluminum spar varnish. Dubbed the “Spruce Goose” no-one believed the shiny grey monstrosity would ever fly, and it was touch and go right up to the moment she actually lifted off. She only flew 70 feet over the water for around a minute, but history was made.
I’ve wanted to see this aircraft ever since I watched “The Aviator” several years back, and turns out she’s housed in the little town of McMinnville in NW OR walking distance from a cute private RV Park. As an added bonus this area is the heart of Pinot Noir production in the PNW, boasting over 300 wineries all within short drives, enough for several lifetimes of tasting and even the most discerning sommelier. In other words, the perfect place to hide away a long holiday week-end.
Which brings up an interesting little RV tip….
Those of you who follow the blog know how much we love public camping. We’re almost fanatic about it, but we have one major exception. We’ve developed the habit of checking into a private park for the big holiday’s (Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day etc.) mostly to avoid crowds and families. I don’t begrudge these folks their time out and I love that public spots get used, but during the bigger holidays they get overrun and we prefer to slip away to somewhere quieter.
So, welcome to our hideout weekend of big planes…and big wine…
Evergreen Aviation And Space Museum
The Spruce Goose is the main reason we came to this place, but what I didn’t know when we arrived was how much more there was to see at this superb museum. In the main building I was amazed to see around 30-40 impeccably restored planes underneath the wings of the big bird, as well as a large outdoor walking area, a 3D movie theater and an entirely separate building dedicated to the entire history of Space Travel. Just about everything is covered here from the original Wright Brother’s Plane to an actual Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, reproductions of early space capsules to modern-day rockets. You can even land the Space Shuttle in a simulator (oh yeah…I totally did and I rocked it, baby!). Honestly you could spend several days here if you wished, but dedicating a full day to this place is an absolute minimum. Put this one on your list, folks!
Note/ A Museum Pass costs $25/adult ($24 for seniors, $23 for youth, 5 and under free) and includes all buildings and one movie. Hours are 9-5. Outside grounds are free and open to the public at all times.
Willamette Valley Wines
By wine standards this is a brand new area dating back only ~50 years. Everyone thought is was impossible to grow grapes in Oregon, but the temperate climate and interesting soils of the Willamette Valley have proved otherwise. Turns out the cool, mild climate is ideal for Pinot Noir and within the short space of a few decades wine-makers have flocked to the area to get on the boat. This is now THE area for Pinot Noir in the PNW and with over 300 wineries it’s hard to drive a block without a tempting spot to stop and taste. For those too lazy to drive around, there are no less than 12 winery rooms within walking distance of each other just in downtown McMinnville alone. I mean, it’s insane!!
With so many mind-boggling options to chose from we did the most logical thing and narrowed down our choice by dog-friendliness. Granted it may not have been the most sophisticated selection method, but with pooch in tow it ended up being the most enjoyable (for us) which, after all, is what drinking wine is all about. In downtown McMinnville we had an excellent, but small selection of tastings at the outdoor tables of R.Stuart, followed by a superb and very extensive tasting right opposite at Terra Vina (the ladies here were a barrel of laughs, very knowledgeable and big doggie lovers to boot). The next day we took ourselves for a country drive and ended up at the extremely scenic Bryn Mawr where we enjoyed yet another extensive tasting with a view to boot. We had many more on the “list” (including a few recommended by blog readers) but never made it further.
Our very short intro to Willamette Wines has left us wanting for much, much more. Pinot Noir can be a tricky grape, but the valley does it well and there’s enough interesting soil (terroir) to provide an amazing variety of tastes. Tastings are also generous at only ~$10-$15 for a slew of (typically) 8-10 options, plus most places will deduct the price of tasting from anything you buy. I’m gonna have to start training the dog to carry wine bottles….
Food, Glorious Food
A place with this many wines backs it up with almost as many good restaurants. We only managed one night out at La Rambla (very good), but we heard excellent feedback from many other spots such as Thistle, Community Plate and Blue Goat. Clearly, we’ve got alot more eating to do next time we come back.
But…Not So Much Hiking
Given we passed three solid days of tasting, I’d hoped to bleed off a few calories with a hike, but sadly we didn’t find many good spots to go with doggie near town. The trails at Miller Woods turned out to prohibit dogs, and even the downtown park had weird dog-banned areas. It’s the first time I’ve seen such prohibitive dog rules in Oregon, a surprise in a state that is (in general) hugely dog-friendly. We ended up walking around the extensive grounds of the Air Museum by our RV park, but that was about it. Clearly this place is best for wines and not the waist 🙂
That about wraps up our long week-end of big planes and debauchery. Today we’re moving north to stock-up for a few days before we hit the WA coast for our lighthouse hosting jobs this week-end (oh yeah, we’re totally psyched!!). By the time you hear from me again we should have our ass in the sand and our feet in the cool waters of the crazy coast….see you there!