Fields of hops, fish of dreams

Two Willamette Valley towns celebrate their natural and manmade treasures
Dining and lodging around Monmouth, Oregon

Drive any backroad around Independence, Oregon, during the growing season, and you're sure to see lush fields of hops, the vines clinging to strings 18 feet tall and festooned with the resinous golden green cones prized by brewers. So broad are the hop fields, in fact, that it may surprise you to know that Independence, southwest of Salem, is no longer the "hop capital of the world" (as it was known in the 1940s). But that doesn't stop the town from celebrating its favorite agricultural product with a festival in the fall.

Just next door, Monmouth maintains its 143-year-old ban on alcohol sales, although city fathers will admit there's no pressing need for it. At this point, being the only dry town in Oregon is more about tradition than anything else. And tradition, brushed with a blush of nostalgia and energized by a thriving arts community, is at the heart of this pair of historic Willamette Valley towns.

Independence is especially appealing on a warm September day. Laze by the river, or stroll the historic downtown, with its new trees and period lampposts hung with flowers and hand-painted banners. Best of all, visit on September 28, when two signature events take over Main Street.

The Hop and Heritage Festival has everything from food and craft booths, displays of antique farm equipment, and a petting zoo to―naturally―a beer garden. Just up the street, troll for art at the third annual Salmon Run, organized by the River Gallery (184 S. Main St.; 503/838-6171) to benefit scholarships for local art students. Guests can purchase a foam-core salmon ($25) and decorate it or have an artist embellish it for them.

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