The Magic of Ashland, Oregon

Summer in Ashland, Credit Jak Wonderly

by Nicholas O’Connell

It’s easy to fall under Ashland’s spell. The magical city of 21,000 set in the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon is renowned for its Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), stylish restaurants, verdant Lithia Park and outstanding outdoor recreation. Having visited many times, I jump at the chance to spend a long weekend to reacquaint myself with the theater, rafting and restaurants. Will the place still cast a spell over me?

I book a room for myself and friend Chris Olsen at the historic Ashland Springs Hotel, which features lovely art deco furnishings, well-appointed rooms with comfortable beds and views over the town of Ashland. Located in the heart of town, the hotel makes a great base for exploring the region.

Summer in Ashland, Credit Jak Wonderly

In the evening, we stroll past Ashland’s Victorian houses and large oak trees, passing deer browsing the neighborhood gardens and teenagers with green hair riding skateboards along the sidewalks. After 10 minutes, we reach the Peerless Restaurant, located in Ashland’s historic railroad district. The restaurant boasts a magical outdoor garden and dining area, crisscrossed with strings of lights. Sitting down at an outdoor table, I opt for the king salmon while Chris favors the flat iron steak. I feel the magic of Ashland returning.

The next morning, I book a half-day, 6-mile rafting trip on the Rogue River for a great introduction to the geography, flora and fauna of the region. Momentum River Expeditions picks us up at our hotel and drives us to the nearby put-in at Fisherman’s Ferry.

Guide Tyler Pohle fits us with life jackets, helmets and gives us a safety lecture, emphasizing staying in the boat and how to climb back in if one of us falls out.

No one falls out, but we relish the thrills, chills and excitement of running the river.

After the last rapid, Tyler pulls the raft from the water near the Gold Hill Sports Park, and we head back, talking animatedly about the rapids, the countryside of the Rogue Valley and future river trips.

Later that evening, it’s a short walk from our hotel to the Elizabethan Theater, the site of so many plays I’ve enjoyed over the years. As one of Shakespeare’s most magical dramas, “The Tempest” seems a great choice for the evening.

With its majestic outdoor stage open to the sky, the theater is an amazing place to see a play. Things start promisingly with a loud and boisterous storm, the actors straining to keep from getting blown off stage. The costuming and staging bring the drama to life.

The actors manage to conjure the old magic. The oafish and inarticulate Caliban demonstrates a genius for physical comedy. He and the shamelessly conniving Stefano steal the show. They help bring back the magic of the Shakespeare festival, the words of the Bard once again echoing across the brightly lit stage and out into the surrounding hills.

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