Old 99 and a stop at Weasku Inn
The call of the wild hooted at me last weekend. Where to head this time? A picture of a goat standing on a swinging bridge in Selma got me thinking. I began wondering about Selma and felt the “small e” excitement start to build.
I didn’t figure the goat would stick around long enough for me to catch him swinging, but I planned to walk the bridge, which spans the Illinois River. It has its own Facebook page. Not the goat, the bridge.
Always one for the slower go of back roads, I struck out on Highway 234 to Gold Hill from Highway 62. Instead of the I-5 onramp just out of town, I remained on Old 99, or Pacific Highway, a historic byway originally assigned in 1926. It existed as the main north-south route until I-5 muscled in. Two-lane remnants remain for Model Ts and golf carts. Just kidding. I drove a romping 45 to 50 mph from Gold Hill to Kerby. For a pictorial highway nostalgia trip, see www.bygonebyways.wixit.com.
As we entered Grants Pass, I recognized a favorite historic lodge named the Weasku Inn. That’s Native American for “we ask you in.” Not. An original neon sign with a leaping trout sets this one apart. Built in 1924 for fishermen and other outdoor types, the inn was a couple years early to enjoy the success that would follow with the new highway. Weasku Inn is currently owned by the folks at Country House Inns, who run several inviting Southern Oregon overnights, including the Lodge at Riverside and the Riverside Inn in Grants Pass, the McCully House Inn and Wine Country Inn in Jacksonville, and Wildlife Inn by Wildlife Safari in Winston.
Years had passed since I stopped to look around the rustic lodge and beautiful grounds. I met General Manager Paula Turley, who assured me that as far as possible the owners have maintained the original lodge. I must say, the atmosphere intimated that if I waited long enough, Clark Gable would enter robustly, smoking an unfiltered cigarette and holding a stringer of trout. I would introduce myself. He would hand me the fish to clean.
Anyway, the giant stone fireplace radiated heat from an earlier fire. Antique cabinets displayed samples of our early love affair with the great outdoors. And, yes, Clark with wife Carole Lombard stayed there often. In fact, after Lombard’s passing, Gable secluded himself in room No. 4 for weeks. Other celebrities walked where we walked and fell in love with our Rogue River, including David Niven, Walt Disney and Gabby Hays. Who? You know, the crusty sidekick in old westerns who called everyone a mangy sidewinder and sounded like he had a mouth full of chaw but no teeth. Strolling the grounds as acorns pelted us, we walked to the river before continuing on.
We did finally make it to Selma, I think. Since I wasn’t sure, we picked our way over to Kerby, where I wished I’d had Paul Fattig handy to open our eyes to this, his town of eminent domain. Unfortunately, the Kerby museum was closed. In fact, we had trouble figuring out which establishments were open. We’d pull off the highway in hopes of discovery, then see that reality didn’t have anything to do with the sign out front. We’d get back on the road and scoot along until a sign for an art gallery got our attention.
“Is it open?” I asked with good reason. They were, indeed, and preparing to celebrate their Artober Fest Oct. 19-20.
We stopped at Lake Selmac on the way back. It’s the lake so named by combining McMullin Creek, a few miles east, with Selma, after a town in Iowa. Hey, I just report these tidbits.
Though I glimpsed pastured goats, the bridge remained elusive since there was no billboard telling me, and I’d missed my nap. The drive proved rewarding, however, when I saw a farm-stand sign announcing “SWEET CRON” for sale.
Peggy Dover is a freelance writer in Eagle Point. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.