This Fourth of July, my family and I decided we’d attend a single-A baseball game in Keizer, Oregon. The Salem/Keizer Volcanoes are a single-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, and for just $12 you can get up close and have great views. Following the game there would be fireworks. We could have just hopped on I-5 and been there in about 90 minutes, but we chose to make a day of it and take the back roads. It’s a lovely drive if you ever have the chance and want to see some of the Willamette Valley’s gorgeous scenery.
From I-205 we exited at Stafford Road and headed south and followed signs to the Canby Ferry. For $4 you have a quick hop across the Willamette River on a cable-drawn ferry. They allow you to hop out of your car and onto the observation platform. The road then takes you into Canby where you turn right on Knightsbridge follow signs towards I-5. You’ll pass by Fir Point Farm on the right which is a nice stop for a milkshake, fresh produce, or go see their pet goats climb the trees. Continue on to the pioneer village of Butteville and maybe stop in the historic old store. Follow signs from here to Champoeg (pronounced sham-poo-ee) and stop at the historic pioneer visitor’s center adjacent to the state park. The large red building contains a nice little museum, free to visitors, which shows what life was like for the early white pioneers who settled the area. An historic flood in 1861 wiped their newly built town away, but left this homestead intact, including a barn dating to around 1860.
From Champoeg, go right and then left on French Prairie Rd. Right at the stop sign, then left at the next stop sign onto hwy 219 towards St. Paul. As it was the Fourth of July, St. Paul was filled to the brim for their annual rodeo. As we crawled through town, the smells of barbecue filled the air, reminding me it was close to lunchtime. Once past St. Paul, we continued down the back highway (one lane each direction) and eventually turned right on Matheny Rd then right on Wheatland Ferry Rd. This area is filled with farmer fields growing trendy crops of hops and hazelnuts – for the craft beer and trendy foods found on all restaurant menus nowadays. We took the Wheatland Ferry – another quick $2 ride across the Willamette near banks of the river filled with families out enjoying the holiday.
We were now on Hwy 221/Wallace Rd heading south. We took a right on Zena Rd where the views changed to the rolling hills of Polk county dotted with oak trees. There are dozens of wineries here with vineyards growing their famous Willamette Valley grapes. We took a left onto Hwy 99W and continued south as I clicked photos out the window, then at a small little brown sign indicating a right turn down a gravel road to Baskett Slough WLR (wild life refuge.)
From the informational kiosk, there is no wildlife to be viewed, you must do a relatively short 2 mile hike. I must admit, I am not a hiker. I am fine on level ground, but my aging feet, recent knee surgery, and overweight body does not like hiking uphill. I did manage to make it to the top with a few stops for breath, and loved the views there as I could get some better photographs. We didn’t see much wildlife, as it was mid afternoon, but we did see an extremely slow moving snake. (I would have preferred a deer or rabbit.) The refuge is dedicated to a local man who loved bird watching, and who was killed in the attacks of 9/11. Notes on the hike: there is a good uphill climb. Not for people in wheelchairs. No jogging, bicycling, or pets allowed. There is poison oak on the sides of the trails, so do not venture off trail. You will be rewarded with beautiful valley views.
Return via the way you came down the gravel road, but turn right onto 99W. It soon intersects with Hwy 22 where you can choose to head into Salem like we did to attend the game, or you can head further south towards Corvallis, or head west towards the Oregon beaches.
We headed for the Volcanoes stadium in Keizer where we stopped for dinner, and then attended the game. On the Fourth, they do a big celebration honoring the military, then follow the game with fireworks. As an added bonus, there was a spectacular sunset while we were enjoying the game.
Baseball, History, Scenic Sights.
Willamette Valley has so much to offer and even locals need to remember to venture off the freeway.
The shortest path is rarely the best path.