When I finally come to the end of my occasionally heart-stopping journey, I float in calm water for a bit and watch an osprey feed her chicks on a tree along the banks of the river.
Then it's back to civilization, for another dose of culture, and beauty of another kind.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Elizabethan Stage.
(T. Charles Erickson)
Details: Ashland, Ore.
GETTING THERE: Connecting flights from Washington to Medford, Ore., about a 15-minute drive from Ashland, begin at about $328 round trip. United and America West fly from BWI, Alaska Airlines from Reagan National and US Airways from Dulles. Ashland is about 280 miles from Portland, Ore., or Sacramento.
WHERE TO STAY: The lowest-priced rooms at the Ashland Springs Hotel (212 E. Main St., 888-795-4545, www.ashlandspringshotel.com) are small, but for ambiance and convenience, it's a good choice. Doubles begin at $109.
The Plaza Inn and Suites (98 Central Ave., 888-488-0358, www.plazainnashland.com) has less charm but bigger rooms, and is also within a few blocks of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival theaters. It also offers amenities like an outdoor hot tub and lays out the makings of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches after theater performances. Doubles begin at about $139 during the theater season, mid-February through October.
Charming luxury suites a few blocks from festival theaters, with balconies overlooking a rushing creek, are available at the Ashland Creek Inn (70 Water St., 541-482-3315, www.ashlandcreekinn.com). Prices begin at $195 in high season, May through October.
B&Bs with widely ranging prices are a good and plentiful option in and around Ashland. Contract the Ashland B&B Clearing House (541-488-0338, www.bbclearinghouse.com) or the Ashland Bed and Breakfast Network (800-944-0329, www.abbnet.com).
For seniors, Elderhostel has extensive operations in Ashland, in cooperation with Southern Oregon University's Senior Ventures program. The university has built special dorms with double beds and private baths, usually sold as part of a theater package, and also offers regular dorm-style rooms with shared baths. Details: 800-257-0577, www.sou.edu/siskiyoucenter/seniorventures.
WHERE TO EAT: Thai Pepper (84 N. Main St.) offers upscale Thai in pleasant indoor or outdoor seating areas. Entrees range from $13 to $21. Peerless (265 Fourth St.) prepares Pacific Northwest cuisine, using fresh local produce, meats and fish. Entrees begin at $18. Cucina Biazzi (568 E. Main) serves Tuscan food; pasta begins at $10, other entrees from $18.50.
For a truly unique experience and blowout gourmet food, consider driving up the highway a few miles from Ashland for New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro (2210 S. Pacific Hwy., Talent, 541-535-2779). Looks like a dive from the road, but inside it's a find, with a French-inspired menu and an extensive wine list. Entrees range from $22 to $38. Call as far ahead as possible for reservations.
For casual dining and microbrews, try the Standing Stone Brewing Co. (101 Oak St.), where sandwiches start at about $5.
For an exceptional breakfast or lunch, try Morning Glory (1149 Siskiyou Blvd., a short drive from central downtown). Entrees for either meal start at about $8.
THEATER TICKETS: Plan well ahead for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, since the theaters routinely operate at well over 90 percent capacity. You can order tickets online (www.osfashland.org) or by phone (541-482-4331). Prices generally range from $29 to $55. Productions in 2005 will include two world premieres, "Gibraltar" by Octavio Solis and "By the Waters of Babylon" by Robert Schenkkan.
For tickets to performances at the Britt Festivals in nearby Jacksonville: 800-882-7488, www.brittfest.org. The Chamber of Commerce (see below) has links to other theaters in Ashland.
INFO: Ashland Chamber of Commerce, 541-482-3486, www.ashlandchamber.com.
-- Cindy Loose