Day 29: Portland, Oregon – Tree Museum and Japanese Gardens
So I find myself in Portland; what to do? After some frantic Googling (I planned my day for once) I found worked out how to use the MAX (their light rail system) and where he nearest stop was. I drove down and ended up parking the middle of a construction site, which made for quite a lengthy and complicated walk across the road to the station. Caught the train and sat back for the ride into the city. Nice trains these, very fast, quiet and spacious. A lot of the time they share the road with car; sometimes they have their own grade but still cross the road at intersections, and some times they have their own right-of-way alongside the highway.
I took the train all the way through the city and into Washington Park where we zoomed into a tunnel. There were some interesting passengers on the train; one was a big old lady, and while she looked like she'd suit a park bench just fine, I rather liked the idea that she was secretly very rich and just dressed this way to blend in.
At Washington Park I hopped off and the train sped away. The sound effects of it screaming away into the tunnel was amazing and went on for quite some time, as did the whoosh of air it took with it.
I found a lift and decided that "S*" must mean the surface. It seemed to work and the readout on the lift gave my heat in feet above sea level. The doors opened and I was at the bottom of a huge park.
At this point I cursed myself for not taking any notes on how to get to the Hoyt Arboretum, but after a bit of wandering I found it. It wasn't too hard; just head for the trees! I soon found myself in an absolutely amazing wonderland of trees. The park boasts that they have over 1,100 species of trees and over 8000 specimens; I wouldn't be surprised if those numbers were on the cautious side either.
I made a beeline for the conifer section, although my navigation was rough at best; ever since they put the sun on the south side my sense of direction has been 180 degrees out.
The park was amazing through, and a fantastic place to visit on a gray winter day. The trees were massive, to understate things a little. I also quickly discovered that there is a lot more to the conifer family than just pine and fir trees. I saw pines, larches, spruces, firs, redwoods, sequoias, hemlocks (apparently it's not just a toxic plant), cedars, and more that I can't remember.
It seemed every corner I turned there were more trees, towering higher and higher.
I ended up getting hopelessly lost and I'm sure I retraced my steps a few times without realising it; I suspect their maps were made for a similar, yet completely different park, since what you see on the map is not quite what you get in reality! Also doesn't help when North is sideways, and someone has moved the sun. I did however find some amazing roots…
At some point the sun came out for a bit which was nice. That combined with a bit of thinking I even managed to work out where on the map I was, and it was nowhere close to where I imagined I was! But then with scenery like this, I didn't mind too much if I was lost:
I was trying to weave my way through all the different conifer sections and head in the general direction of the Winter Garden; I was curious how one makes a nice garden in winter. Well I rounded a corner and there glowing in the afternoon sun were a stand of silver birches. Fantastic, I didn't care if that's all the Winter Garden was, they'd hit the nail on the head.
My madness had further direction and I hiked through the woods for a while until I descended a steep path (by this time I was well off the map) and ended up at the Portland Japanese Garden. According to the web, this is one of the most highly regarded examples of Japanese gardens outside of Japan itself. Now I'm not usually especially into Japanese style gardens, but this was something else and I couldn't help but be impressed.
I won't pretend to understand the meaning behind much of it, but the overall effect was amazing. Some things I could appreciate, like the nail-less construction on the gates (I'll forgive them for using screws to affix the hinges), or the beautiful form of their main building.
The stone gardens were pretty, but a bit too abstract for me. The temptation to walk across the stones would just be too great!
I suspect towering conifers aren't traditional Japanese garden material, being about ten thousand times higher than ever other plant in the garden, but they'd been integrated very nicely.
The paving was also very nicely done too, as had the various shelters and retaining walls.
There were also many fountains, including one that was the bamboo equivalent of a drinking bird.
One final look:
The Japanese Gardens were compact, but there was a lot to see. Could easily spend an entire day here, more so if you had someone to explain everything to you. I however had to get back to the MAX so I hiked my way back through the woods. I reckon I easily walked 5 miles around the park.
Back on the train I carefully worked out which stop I needed to hop off at from my very crude street map without any street names. I actually did very well and found what I was looking for, even after taking a deliberate detour via a church and a monster craw fish.
The Church and the Tower. Look carefully and you can see a couple of wind turbines on the tower.
I also finally got a picture of a UPS van. These things are kind of weird, they seem to consist of little more than steel checker plate and a steering wheel inside, and usually don't have doors. I also found some amazing funnels or something on a building.
And the crawfish, which was a giant inflatable crab (I think). Since he was inflated he'd gently flex his legs in the wind, which was quite eerie!
And my destination? Powells Books, the world's largest book store according to them. Each day they purchase over 8000 used books. That's buying, used books. I doubt any book store in Christchurch could sell that many new books! The store takes up an entire city block! They've split everything up into colour coded rooms and have info desks in each room, since you will get lost. I had been given a list of books by a friend so set off to find those for her; in NZ apparently they're impossible to track down. At Powells they had half an isle dedicated to the series!
There was an odd sculpture across the road and as I waited for the lights I noticed that almost everyone there was reading a book, or clutching a Powells bag. Portlanders love to read! But then with winter being 5 months of rain and gray, and having such an amazing book shop so close, can you blame them?
I even managed to find a few books for myself, and have since found myself thinking "oh if only I was still in Portland, I could just pop down to Powells and buy that book". The other amazing thing? Their prices were really good; new paper backs were usually $8 or less, used ones for half that, and some of the Lake Wobegon books I got were only $1 or so. Of course I'll probably pay for it in excess luggage, but never mind.
I headed back to the MAX stop and had some Mexican at a corner restaurant before hopping on and sleepily whizzing through Portland and into Gresham as night took hold. Staggered into the motel, utterly exhausted! What an amazing day!