On the day of the autumn equinox, summer's end passes with a joyous celebration of one of Hood River County's most cherished commodities: pears. Though apples are in abundance, the Fruit Loop boasts their fine tradition of pears, and celebrates each year, the annual harvest. The Fruit Loop is a 35-mile scenic drive through the Hood River valley's orchards, forests, farmlands, and communities. Aside from being one of the most gorgeous, relaxing, and colorful areas in the Columbia Gorge, there are activities throughout the year.
Each year on this first weekend of fall the local farms and orchards all offer festivities, celebrations, special foods, desserts, gifts, and more. The area is so large that it would take us a week to hit every place around. The first time Terry and I went to it was in 2007. On our way, we'd crossed The Bridge of the Gods into Stevenson, Washington for breakfast at the River's Edge restaurant. Sadly, this quaint little cafe no longer exists. A mill caught fire during the night in Stevenson, and the smoke was still pluming from the remains. The day was already overcast, but by the time we got to the Hood River Valley, the clouds were breaking, and full sun was on its way.
Parkdale has grown just a bit, but it's a tiny train stop town that features gorgeous views of Mt. Hood from the orchards.
The first farm we visited was Rassmussen Farms. It was there that we stocked up on corn, and some pears. After loading it all up, and packing it all into the truck, we headed out to the corn maze. Mazes have always attracted me, and still do, so this was a lot of fun. The maze was quite easy, designed for kids, but it was still fun to be inside among all that tall corn. The skies above were as blue as could be and the day turned out to be incredibly nice. Rassmussen Farms usually offer some kind of entertainment such as music, the corn maze, and their pumpkin patch. They also have a Halloween funland for kids that begins in October.
The Draper Girls Farm was our next stop on the tour. We usually always hit the Draper Girls farm, as it was the first place we discovered. It's a unique little stop right on Hwy. 35, and so easy to find. We always load up on pears and fruit there. The Draper Girls farm has one of the most breathtaking and dramatic views of Mt. Hood framed in geometric rows of pear orchards. Their lot is very quaint, well-decorated, and there's almost always a petting zoo of sheep, goats, and sometimes chickens and pigs for the kids.
Cody Farms was our next stop, and has since become our favorite place in the Loop. I call them the "farm on the corner" because their barn sits right on the street corner. Once you turn the corner and pull into their lot, you can see the expanse of orchards. The Cody people are so friendly, and offer great advice on fruit, what's in season, what keeps the longest at home, and anything else you can think of regarding their produce and anything else in the region. Their barn store is super friendly and has a wide variety of pears. We learned that Concorde and Comice pears tend to last quite awhile in the fridge. They also generously offered free 16 oz. cups of fresh squeezed pear cider. You can't beat that price, and the flavor was out of this world. We went on a hay ride of the orchard that lasted for about a half hour. I wished that it would have lasted for an hour it was so relaxing and pleasant.
The Apple Valley Store was our last visit, and we look forward to going there every time we visit the Loop. During special festivities and events they offer outdoor BBQ, music, and exquisite desserts such as their famous pear dumplings. I love the marionberry shakes. Take note that they have recently opened a BBQ house in Parkdale for regular visits. The food is great, and well worth the stop. The Apple Valley Store is a great respite from life. There are many picnic tables outside, and you feel like you're seated in someone's grand back yard. It's a very pleasant and personal experience. They also have a store where you can buy lots of great things.
During the months of October and November, there's never a lack of beauty in the orange and yellow valleys of Hood River County. One of our favorite events is the Heirloom Apple Days Celebration at Mountain View Orchards. We attended the Swiss Eidelweiss Day at Mt. View Orchards. The Swiss Bavarian-style cookout features the best sausages and "Erd und Himmel" (Heaven on Earth) apple potatoes. Also on the menu was homemade Strudel and Bratzele-also heaven on earth, plus fresh cider and coffee served near warming torches near the picnic area. The smell of sauerkraut was in the air along with the autumn spice of gathered apples in the various bins around the orchard. Though a bit chilly outside, the day was bright and crisp, and as beautiful as any day in the latter part of October could be. Of course, we had to stock up on apples and pears. It just isn't possible to go and visit without leaving with an armload.