Landscapes: Oregon’s Willamette Valley


The dream of a new life in the West beckoned and yet there was no easy way to go in those days…you had to walk.  Choices essentially were to the southwest via the Santa Fe Trail or northwest via the Oregon Trail.  Having been to both areas, I would have, if I had had a vote, opted to head to Oregon.

The Oregon Trail was the only practical way for early pioneers to get across the mountains into the Northwest Territory to what became the states of Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho and Utah. The largest migration along this route took place in the 1840s with travel continuing until the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869.

Travel was difficult and pioneers encountered many hardships. In fact, one in ten people died during the 2,000-mile journey. Think about that next time you complain about the four hour plane trip, or the long days driving on the Interstate highway system in your air conditioned car with your music playing.

My desire to make the trek to Oregon is planned. We will be moving there in about 18 months when Sam heads to college and Graham retires. So last year we made a trip out there to see the “winter weather”, the horrible rain we had been warned about by people who have never been but “know.”

When we drove from Portland into the Willamette Valley (we were told to rhyme the valley name with “damn it”)  as we drove to the coast, I couldn’t help noticing that even in March, everything was green. This is an area where the rain fall during the generally mild winters provides for a fertile agricultural area with a good growing season.

The state of Oregon has a population of about 3.8 million people with 40% living in cities in the Willamette Valley. Portland is largest with 550,000 in the city and an urban area of three counties with a population over 1.5 million. Salem, the state capital, and about 47 miles south of Portland, has about 155,000. Another 35 miles south is Corvallis with 55,000 people. Another 45 miles south are Eugene with 155,000 and the adjacent city of Springfield with 58,000. This totals up to over 2 million people in the state living in this river valley. The rest are scattered in smaller towns along the Pacific coast and in the high desert part of the state east of the Cascades.

Amazing land use controls and strong dedication to the environment has provided protection to agricultural areas. Within ten minutes of downtown Corvallis are numerous farms, with farmstands and pick-your-own produce available in season. I am looking forward to abundant fresh and local fruits and veggies when we move here

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Another issue that comes up is climate. Many people have asked why we want to move to the northwest, assuming long and cold winters. Weather.com offers a way to compare the weather pattern in two locations, so we looked at Corvallis and where we live now, in Huntington, WV.  Basically we see that the winters are warmer in Oregon and the summers are a bit cooler, and Corvallis gets about TWO inches more than Huntington. 

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The other concern people share is how will we handle all the rain.  I have lived in many places, but generally the weather pattern was similar in almost all of them…..precipitation all year but a lot of summer thundershowers, with a drier autumn. Oregon in comparison generally follows what is called a Mediterranean climate, with most of the rain happening in the winter. The reason we chose to visit this time in March was to see the “winter weather”.

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Each days started with dark gray skies and the drizzle would mist for 10-15 minutes and pause. The clouds scuttled across the sky; I suppose being so close to the Pacific Ocean has high level winds moving pretty rapidly. In the afternoon it seemed that the clouds rose and began to thin, with holes breaking open. Blue skies became visible and sunshine streamed out. Then it would drizzle again, and clear again.

In the ten days we were in Oregon there was no day with a solid overcast as we get for days on end in West Virginia and many places on the east coast. I think I can live with daily periodic sunshine.

And I’m also excited that we can pack MORE than will fit in a Conestoga wagon, send the household goods by truck, and make our own way west, planning stops in several beautiful locations along the way.

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