August 20 2012 by Jason Fogelson
I don't have far to ride today, but I've got plenty to do along the way, so I stoke the boiler with a good hot (free) breakfast at the BEST WESTERN Horizon Inn in Medford, Oregon. I'll be leaving here after staying for two nights, which is one more than my usual on a motorcycle trip. I haven't lost the knack for packing, and I'm ready to ride.
My first stop today is at a location that I'd consider a tourist trap. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- I prefer the term "Roadside Attraction" to "Tourist Trap," actually. The idea of interesting, entertaining flim flam along well-traveled routes reminds me of an earlier time, and the ones that have survived are like time capsules. It takes a lot more to get a traveler to pull off of the Interstate today than it did to get a family to take a detour from the country highway. When I'm not in a hurry, I like to stop at roadside attractions to see if they still hold up in a faster-paced, more cynical world.
I ride along OR-234 to the town of Gold Hill, and follow the signs to the Oregon Vortex. I turn down Sardine Creek Road and ride a few miles until I come to the attraction's entrance. I park the Electra Glide, pay the $9.75 admission fee, and wait for the next guided tour along with 10 or so other tourists.
Our tour guide gives us a one hour tour of the attraction, the highlight of which is the "World Famous House of Mystery," a half-collapsed shack on the side of a hill. The concept of the Vortex is that the property is located at a "spherical field of force, half above and half below the ground." The guide asks us to imagine a tornado or hurricane of magnetic activity, a disturbance in the usually orderly magnetic forces that whirl around the planet. This Vortex results in some highly unusual phenomena, which have been chronicled and described by the Vortex's discoverer, John Lister. The presentation is carefully crafted, and a great piece of theater. If you accept the premise of the Vortex, you can easily nod your way along through the tour accepting every subsequent statement as true, and by the end of the tour, you've been convinced (and convinced yourself) that you're seeing people change relative sizes depending on where they stand within the Vortex. I enjoy going along for the ride, keeping my cynicism in check and letting my eyes trick my brain for a little while. It's fun, and for a tourist trap -- I mean roadside attraction -- it delivers as promised.
I climb back on the Electra Glide, happy to have escaped the Vortex with all of my magnetic qualities unaltered, and ride on to Grants Pass, population 34,000. I called ahead to the BEST WESTERN Grants Pass Inn to request early check-in today. Because I'm a member of Best Western Ride Rewards as a Harley-Davidson Owner, I've been accumulating reward points at an accelerated rate over the years. I've achieved Platinum Elite Level thanks to all the trips I've taken this year, and on occasion, it comes in handy when making a special request. I need to check in early so that I can change into clothes for my next activity.
The front desk is incredibly helpful when I check in. They have area maps with very clear directions for the local attractions, and are happy to give me a specific plan about how to get through town to my next destination. I love it when people are good at their jobs, and enthusiastic about their home towns.
I unload my gear, pack a change of clothes in the TourPak, and ride through downtown Grants Pass to the Rogue River and Hellgate Jetboat Excursions. I have made a reservation for a "2-hour Quick and Scenic" day trip, the quickest (and least expensive) of the Hellgate tours at $39. I park the bike, strip off my riding gear to reveal a bathing suit and some Crocs. I take my point-and-shoot camera in a Ziploc plastic bag and head to the dock for my 1:45 pm jetboat ride.
The jetboat is powered by three Chevrolet V8 engines that push the propeller-less boat along the water's surface. At speed, the jet boat can travel in water that's just inches deep. The boat I'm on carries about 50 passengers in 10 rows of 5 passengers each. The pilot/guide sits on an elevated platform at the rear of the boat, and maintains an informative, entertaining narrative as the boat glides down the Rogue River toward Hellgate Canyon. We see some great riverfront homes as we fly through Grants Pass. Soon the banks of the river turn more rural, and we see wildlife, including several deer, turtles, osprey and even a few bald eagles. The ride is a blast, as the pilot/guide is an expert, and the boat achieves breathtaking runs of speed. The boat drifts sideways as we follow the bends of the river, and the pilot can execute spectacular spins, dips and dives that have everyone on the boat laughing and soaked to the skin. Good thing I brought a bag for my camera. We reach the point where the river becomes a Class 2 rapid, then turn back and retrace our route to the Grants Pass dock. I'm not a fan of thrill rides, but I loved this jetboat experience. It was like a rollercoaster on the water through nature, and I felt completely safe despite the high speeds and the boat's acrobatic maneuvers. It's a total blast! Two hours pass very quickly, and before I know it, I'm struggling back into my motorcycle gear and riding back to the BEST WESTERN Grants Pass Inn.
The front desk recommends a favorite local restaurant for dinner: Wild River Brewing & Pizza. Of course -- this is Oregon, so it must be beer time. I have a delicious hand tossed European-style pizza and some salad, and I grab a bottle of Wild River Honey Wheat to take back to the room.
Today was a day full of mystery and adventure. I've got just one more full day of riding ahead. The Wild River Honey Wheat Beer helps me get to sleep quickly.
Miles Ridden: 55.6
NEXT: Central Oregon Motorcycle Trip, Day Six/Seven: Grants Pass to LaPine, Bend and Home Again