05-19-2021 We Escaped the Snow…Mostly

When we went to bed after that gorgeous sunset we were in a bit of a quandary as to what to do.  The internet was iffy, and I had a hard time getting weather apps to show current information.  All I could see was the giant blue severe weather warning over most of the area we planned to explore on Wednesday.  It wasn’t encouraging.  There was always the chance that it was being over predicted, something that happens often.  Then again, driving the MoHo down the winding mountain road out of the snow zone didn’t sound good if the 5 inches predicted actually happened.  The 20F degree prediction for Thursday morning didn’t sound particularly good either. 

We were reasonably certain that the main snow event would hold off until Wednesday evening, so went to sleep without much worry about snow the next morning, but where did we want to be when it happened?  Did we want to simply give up and run home?  NO!  Did we want to try to run as far as Farewell Bend on the other side of Crater Lake?  Hmm, MAYBE.  Looking up the sketchy weather for Farewell Bend wasn’t possible because the only locations that would come in on the weather apps were Prospect, at a lower elevation with a decent prediction for rain, or Crater Lake with a LOT of snow predicted.

Maybe we should just stay at the RV park in Summer Lake?  But with bad weather predicted for the next 5 days we really didn’t want to be trapped for that long. When we woke up to cloudy skies and a tiny skiff of snow Wednesday morning, we made the decision.  We would drive the 5 miles east into the Summer Lake area to check for birds at the refuge before returning to the MoHo for a good breakfast. 

With the overcast skies and spitting rain and snow I didn’t bother to take the big camera, depending on the phone to document what I thought would be a rather boring quick trip around the refuge loop.  Big mistake!  My Samsung Galaxy Note20 does an excellent job with most photos, especially in good light, or even sketchy light.  However, zoomed in photos of birds are just a bit too tough even for the great phone camera. 

Mo drove and wouldn’t you know that all the good bird shots were on her side of the car.  As most people who watch birds know, staying in the car is the only way they stay around, with the car working as a great blind.  So Mo would drive, try to roll down the window, take the phone and try to focus.  We finally figured out that she could hold the phone and I could click the stylus to take the photo.  Then Mo would roll the window back up because it was so dang cold, and of course, another bird would appear.

We had a good time anyway, laughing sometimes and grumbling at each other at other times.  The water levels were low, and the numbers of birds seemed low, although it is a bit late for the big migrations.  We were a bit astounded at the variety, however, spotting lots of blackbirds, red winged and yellow headed, ruddy ducks, Canada geese with babies, a beautiful pair of sandhill cranes, with a dancing male.  As we drove deeper into the refuge, beyond the campgrounds, we began to see black necked stilts with their bright pink legs and the gorgeous avocets that we remembered from our last trip to Summer Lake a few years ago.  We saw a single swan in the distance, too far to determine which species it was, but as always the swan was beautifully graceful.

By the time we completed the viewing loop at the north end of the refuge it was getting close to 11AM and we were chilled to the bone.  Home to the MoHo and a nice big breakfast with eggs and bacon and toast and juice, a real treat when traveling.

As we were getting ready to pack up, a car appeared with two women we had seen the day before at one of the information kiosks.  They were looking for the rock. They had been up the trail and had been fooled by the fake mountain goat scratched into a smaller rock along the trail. We told them how to find the real one.  Shortly after that another car with a young couple showed up looking for the rock as well, and we told them about the trail and to be sure to look on the upside of the trail to find it.

By the time the slide was in and the jacks raised we had determined that our next stop would be La Pine State Park.  Mo took me there one time when we were visiting her brother when he lived in La Pine but we had never actually camped there.  It was only a bit over an hour away via Highway 31 toward Highway 97 and the road was wide and easy except for some rather horrific frost heaves on the pumice plateau that just about rattled us to death.

Once at the park, we first attempted to find a site in the upper north loop, where there was electric only.  We didn’t need sewer so thought it would be fine.  We attempted to settle into the rather narrow and unlevel site since there weren’t many available until we started to hook up the power.  Um…wait….20 amp?  On a very old post??  I think not!!  Not if we are paying rather than boondocking, we wanted to at least be able to run the microwave without turning everything else off. 

We retraced the entrance road and continued to the Middle and South Loop, where nearly every site was taken, but at least the few available had 30 and 50 amp hookups and the sites were paved and very level.  We picked one and settled in, grousing about the dreary skies, the complete lack of not only internet, but even a cell phone signal!  Neither of us was exactly happy with where we were.  The forest was thick second growth lodgepole with some skinny scattered ponderosa pine and everything was so flat and gray.  There wasn’t a bit of a view and the park was very crowded. It was disconcerting to discover that we had only a tiny bit of signal, enough for a text message but no access to any kind of internet, email, or maps.  It certainly wasn’t what we had envisioned for our desert trip, and as the snow flurries started falling it made it even less fun when we couldn’t track the weather to figure out what to expect.  We settled in, both of us a bit grumpy, which doesn’t happen very often.  After talking it out a bit, we decided to get in the car and try to explore the flat, featureless landscape and see what in the world people did when they visited La Pine State Park.

With just a short ride, we found the Dan MacGregor memorial overlooking a lovely trail on a wide bow in the Deschutes River.  With the sun appearing once again and the beautiful view of the river our mood began to improve considerably.  Mo had camped at a forest service campground a few miles back toward La Pine and on the road that goes to Paulina Lake.  Deciding to drive to that campground to check it out, we discovered a locked gate and a closed campground.  Not sure why it was closed, but I am glad we hadn’t planned on staying there for the night.

The night was surprisingly quiet considering how full the campground was.  I slept a bit fitfully, unsure of what the next day might bring.  The snow flurries continued throughout the night, but by morning they were gone and lo and behold the sun was shining. 

On the previous day I had photographed a map of the park with some locations that might be interesting to explore.  When we checked into the park, there was only a simple map of the campground and not a single map or brochure about the area.  Without the internet, we were basically following our noses, so I was glad I had photographed that park map. 

We drove north and found the road leading toward “Falls”, a dot on the map.  What we found was a magnificent surprise tucked away on that flat, featureless pumice plain covered with lodgepole and ponderosa.  Fall River was gorgeous, a well known river for fly fishing, but on this cold sunny morning there wasn’t a soul in sight.  We followed the trail to the Falls, not exactly sure how far it was, and as Mo asked me if I had any idea how much farther we needed to hike, both of us began to hear the roar of the falls.

It was lovely.  Brilliant in the sunshine and surrounded by thick blooming bitterbrush and grass still green from the winter.  In spite of our misgivings from the previous afternoon about La Pine State Park, the walk along the Deschutes River and the hike to Fall River Falls made a huge difference in our opinion of the place.  We might decide to rent one of the cabins with a nice RV hookup area to visit next year with our friends Maryruth and Gerald.  Just 20 miles south of Bend and not far from the Newberry Crater there would be lots to share in the area and Maryruth said they would love to rent the cabin. 

By the time we left the campground at noon or so, the snow flurries had disappeared but there were huge black clouds on the horizon.  Once we reached Highway 97 and I had cell service again, I discovered that we could expect more snow along our route to Farewell Bend west of the pass that is north of Crater Lake where we hiked last summer on our camping trip on the Rogue.

On that trip we discovered a sweet little boondocking camp site at Muir Creek, a tributary of the Rogue.  Mo wanted to see if that spot was open for us, so we set our sights for the Muir Creek Bridge.  It snowed on us a couple of times but by the time we drove in, the skies were a gorgeous blue.  There is a trailhead that is on the west side of the creek with a large parking area with room to turn around.  We parked there, unhooked the Tracker, and returned to the east side of the creek bridge to explore the campsite area.

We were thrilled to find it completely empty of campers, quiet and beautiful, and easily accessible with the MoHo.  Having scoped out the best location, we returned for the MoHo and brought her back to what I now think may have been an even better boondocking site than our previous amazing spot at Pictured Rock Pass.

Our camping spot was a perfect dream of whispering forest, gurgling creek, brilliant sunshine and blue skies.  Until it rained.  But between the rain and snow showers, the sun was warm and Mo built a beautiful fire in one of the nicest firepits we have ever seen. 

We sat outside in the afternoon sun with our kindles by the fire, reading till a shower ran us indoors, and then returning to the fire when the sun came back.  Mo had only to step out the door to keep the fire going.

I hadn’t planned on dinners for this 4th night, and we thought about driving the 24 mile round trip to Beckie’s Cafe in Union Creek.  It seemed like such a waste of precious time in the sunshine with our books so we made do.  Dinner was tuna sandwiches and pickles and was perfect.

There was no need to close any of the blinds or cover the windshield here, since there wasn’t a soul around.  The night was dark, and snow and rain came and went, but I was delighted to see that there was no snow on the ground when we woke.  Funny thing happened when I looked out the front windshield and did a double take.  It looked exactly like we were crossing the creek in the MoHo.  Our front fender was less than 4 feet from the edge of the water, but from inside it looked exactly like we were in it.

I have no idea if this perfect boondock site will remain as perfect as it was for us on this weekday in May.  Last year there was a tent and a trailer there when we visited in August.  I also have no idea if the huge crowds of RVrs that are inundating almost every available site in the west will find our two perfect boondocks, one in the desert and another in the mountains.  All I know is that for us everything was completely absolutely perfect!

The final leg of our trip home the next morning was just under two hours of familiar highway roads via the Rogue River route along Highway 62, crossing the Sam’s Valley on Highway 234 from Shady Cove to Gold Hill, and along Interstate 5 toward home.  The skies at home cleared enough that we did our usual quick unloading of the rig, putting the food away, piling laundry into the laundry room, and letting the rest of the MoHo cleaning wait for the next day.

We managed to fill up 5 days and 4 nights with a LOT.  It took me several days to process the photos, and several more days to write the stories.  Hope my readers enjoy it as much as I have, but at least Mo and I won’t have to question which day we did what.  Thank goodness for the blog to force me to write it down so that we remember.



05-18-2021 Exploring Oregon’s Outback Scenic Byway

We have traveled parts of the Outback Scenic Byway in the past, but on this trip had a specific set of sites that we wished to see.  Our original plan was to do most of our exploring on Tuesday, but with so much to see we were grateful that we found “Crack-in-the-Ground” on Monday afternoon.  Even so, Tuesday was so full that we had to repeatedly ask ourselves…”Wait…did we do that today or yesterday?”  Yes, we did a LOT on Tuesday.

Knowing we had miles to travel and hikes to find, we were back on Highway 31 by 8:30 AM.  The Tracker was on half a tank of fuel and we wanted to be prepared for anything.  Returning west on the highway to Silver Lake we found the only gas station for miles in either direction.  Leaving Silver Lake we were treated to a wonderful reminder of the dominant lifestyle in this part of Oregon.  Most of the landscape is home to cattle ranches large and small.  Seeing “real” cowboys herding cattle down the middle of the road is rare in many places, but not near Silver Lake.

Continuing north toward “Hole-in-the-Ground” I was grateful that I had downloaded the local google maps to the phone.  It isn’t an easy place to find!  There are no local signs, no directions to speak of, and Mo’s little travel book didn’t help much. 

“Hole-in-the-Ground” is a large maar, an explosion crater caused by red hot magma surging upwards under the Earth’s crust until contacting groundwater. The resulting explosion blew rock and ash into a perfect circle, one mile across. There is a drivable rim road around and two trails down to the center.

From Wikipedia: It is about 1.0 mile (1,600 m) across, a little longer N-S than E-W.[2] Its floor is about 150 meters (490 ft) below the surrounding ground level and has a rim that rises 35 to 65 meters (110 to 210 ft) above, the highest point on the east side. The crater formed during the late Pleistocene, between 13,500 and 18,000 years ago, at which time the Fort Rock Basin was a lake and the location was near the shore. Basaltic magma intruding near the surface flashed ground water to steam, which blew out overlying rock and soil, along with some juvenile material. As material slid into the hole formed, it closed the vent and the process repeated, eventually forming the huge hole.[3] Blocks as large as 26 feet (8 m) in size were flung as far as 2.3 miles (3.7 km) from the crater.[4]

Following google maps, we found a road that appeared to lead northeast toward the crater.  The route suggested ended at a large gate.  We were at the entrance to the Outpost Camp with no clue as to how to get beyond the private land to our location. 

The blue line is one of the suggested routes by Google and the red line is the route we actually found on our own. Zooming in on Google Maps was a bit helpful, but I learned that downloaded maps are only as good as the resolution at which they were downloaded, so things were a bit fuzzy.  We managed to find our way to the edge of the crater without much difficulty.  As we approached the rim, it was amazing to see the crater below us.  Without knowing where it is location, there is no hint at how the featureless ponderosa pine landscape is going to change.

We explored a bit and decided that making an attempt to 4-wheel down into the crater would be fun.  The road was narrow and fairly steep, but the challenge was navigating the large pumice sand humps and deep dips.

Things looked a bit dicey, so I got out and walked the road a bit to see if it got better or worse.  It didn’t look too bad until I saw a big side sloping curve with a very deep sandy hump and decided, nope, not gonna do it!

Mo did the backing as I walked backwards up the steep hill making sure she wasn’t going over the edge.  Some of the humps were so deep that the top of the Tracker disappeared from view!.

Once at the edge of the Crater, we drove a bit along the rim road, and although fairly level, there were large rocks buried in the sandy pumice that Mo had to navigate carefully.  We found a treasure before turning around.

It was a beautiful campsite, with rocks and fences overlooking the crater and there was a birdhouse in a large tree in the center of the site.  If you look closely at the photo, you can see the memorial words for someone who must have loved the spot. “David E Hartley, Forever Enjoy the View”.

After enjoying the views and the drive we returned to Highway 31, turning east toward Fort Rock, another important destination for our visit.  We originally planned to visit Fort Rock on Thursday, when the Fort Rock Homestead Museum would be open.  Thinking better of that plan, we thought that we could visit the Rock this day to hike and see the surrounding area and then return on Thursday when we planned to return  to Grants Pass, passing by the museum location on our way home. 

The “You are here” point on this map is at the information kiosk where we learned about the local geology of the Fort Rock area.

Approaching Fort Rock from the west is fascinating.  It does look ever so much like an old fort.  However, it is simply another great geologic feature in this fascinating volcanic landscape.

Fort Rock is a small basaltic vent that formed a volcanic tuff ring when it first exploded to the surface about 100,000 years ago.  At the time, the surrounding landscape was an inland freshwater sea, up to 300 feet deep that resulted from melting glacial waters that flowed into the area.  Over thousands of years, wave action of the lake eroded the tuff ring’s southwest wall and left terraces along the front and insides of Fort Rock.

We parked at the trailhead and were happy to see that Mattie was allowed on leash on the short 1.2 mile trail that loops through the caldera.  The first part of the trail is a bit steep and rocky, but very quickly it levels out to a nice wide sandy trail with little change in elevation around the loop.

We enjoyed the fragrance of the prolifically blooming bitterbrush and the brilliant colors of Indian paintbrush tucked among the volcanic rocks. 

In some of the lower dips along the trail we found death camas and a tiny desert lily with at least 14 petals that I couldn’t identify or find in any book or on the internet.


The hike was beautiful and easy, with surprising twists and turns that allowed up close viewing of the vents and tuffaceous rocks formed in the explosion of the vent.

We enjoyed the views across the open desert with the brilliant green circle irrigated alfalfa fields in the distance.

By the time we finished our hike, it was still early in the afternoon and we decided to make an attempt to explore some of the back roads of the Fort Rock Area.  Google Maps was only a little bit of help as we attempted to reach the road to the Green Mountain campground from the opposite side that we had tried the previous day when we drove to Crack-In-The-Ground.  We also had our Gazetteer to help with navigation but the scale was a bit too small to help much.  Still, it is a good thing to have some kind of paper map when traveling these back roads where cell service comes and goes and even downloaded Google maps can be sketchy.

We never did make it to the Christmas Valley sand dunes, or the Lost Forest east of the community of Christmas Valley.  The information signs said specifically that high clearance 4 wheel drive vehicles were “ABSOLUTELY” required to navigate those back roads.

We made a few attempts to wander the roads, running into dirt, fences, and no trespassing signs, and some rough gravel before deciding that our adventures were over for the day and it was time to return to the MoHo.  Both of us were ready for a bit of afternoon down time and I looked forward to a late lunch and a snuggle nap with Mattie.

After some time relaxing, we decided that it might be fun to attempt to find the Pictured Rock Pass petroglyphs.  The location was just a little more than 5 miles east of our boondock location on Highway 31, between mile marker 63 and 64.  We were hunting for the marker (which we had missed) when we found a lovely dirt road leading to a beautiful open camp area, perfect for boondocking. Excitedly we drove in and decided to return back to our original site and pick up the MoHo to relocate to what appeared to be a perfect place to spend the night.  We figured we could settle in and then attempt once again to find the petroglyph site.

However, as we backtracked once to the site, we discovered that our dirt road leading to our new boondock location was the one we had missed the first time around.  We were right at the petroglyph site!  Unbelievably I had internet at this remote location and found the coordinates for the petroglyph on a website.  There are no signs pointing the way, and the coordinates are for the beginning of the trail, not the actual location of the rock.  I think this may be on purpose to discourage vandalism.

After a bit of hiking and hunting and wrong turns, we found the rock.  There is a “fake” petroglyph, obviously carved recently on a nearby boulder that could confuse people.  Once we found the actual ancient petroglyphs. we were so tickled and took photos of where the rock is in relation to the highway.  It faces the opposite direction and it is very easy to walk right past it without realizing that you are looking at it.

I have chosen not to post the coordinates of the rock that I took when we found it, or the photos pinpointing the exact location in order to adhere to the thought of protecting the site.  If interested, email me directly for the information .

The petroglyphs have been dated at between 7,500 to 10,000 years ago, when ancient peoples traveled this area. The famous Paisley Caves, which are from the same era of human habitation are not too far from this site.   Again, from Wikipedia:

The Paisley Caves complex is a system of four caves in an arid, desolate region of south-central Oregon, United States north of the present-day city of Paisley, Oregon. The caves are located in the Summer Lake basin at 4,520 feet (1,380 m) elevation and face to the west in a ridge of Miocene and Pliocene era basalts mixed with soft volcanic tuffs and breccias, from which the caves were carved by Pleistocene-era waves from Summer Lake. One of the caves may contain archaeological evidence of the oldest definitively-dated human presence in North America. The site was first studied by Luther Cressman in the 1930s.

Scientific excavations and analysis since 2002 have uncovered substantial new discoveries. These include materials with the oldest DNA evidence of human habitation in North America. The DNA, radiocarbon dated to 14,300 years ago, was found in subfossil human coprolites uncovered in the Paisley Five Mile Point Caves in south-central Oregon.[2] The caves were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.[3]

After our very rewarding hike, we settled into an even more rewarding evening at one of the better boondocking sites we have experienced. 

There was a lovely fire ring, and a beautiful sunset accompanied the perfect evening.  Marshmallows topped off the night before we retired.  Once again it was a dark and quiet night.

Checking the weather on the less than perfect internet was exciting.  We had planned to visit Summer Lake the next day, possibly camping at Ana Reservoir RV Park, or returning to our perfect boondock site.  The weather wasn’t cooperating, with 3 to 5 inches of snow and a winter weather warning for most of the area around Summer Lake, Christmas Valley, Silver Lake, and most of east central Oregon.

Now what?!


05-17-2021 May Trip to the Oregon High Desert

The high deserts of Eastern Oregon are beautiful, wide open and wild.  They are definitely not warm in winter, with cold winds and snow.  We knew that by mid May, however, the weather might cooperate with our need to camp in a wide open dry landscape with views that go on forever. 

Mo has a great little travel book for things to see and do in Oregon.  In that book she found some interesting things for us to explore. Something we haven’t done in the past is visit a place called “Crack-In-The-Ground”.  Located on a lava flow in an area east of La Pine and north of Klamath Falls, Crack-In-The-Ground is just one of several interesting places to visit.  Although Mo had seen Fort Rock located in the same vicinity, I have never been there, and Mo found another not well known spot called “Hole in the Ground”. 

Between our trip to the coast in April, and this little desert trip, Mo and I settled in at home to enjoy the lovely springtime weather here in Grants Pass.  I enjoy Fall, but my most favorite time of year at this time in my life is the technicolor spring of Southern Oregon.  What I call “green leaf day” happened this year on April 17, just before we left for our last outing to Nehalem State Park with the family. 

Even though we are only 300 feet higher in elevation than the Rogue River valley floor where downtown Grants Pass is located, our green leaf day is several days behind.  I can drive down to town and see leaves popping and back up the hill to our home, they still remain hidden. 

April is filled with daffodils, tulips, forsythia and flowering plums.  By the end of the month the crabapples, cherries and dogwoods are blooming.  In May the rhodies come out in full force, the lilacs bloom early in the month, and some of the most springtime lime green leaves are turning darker and greener.  That lime green moment is so ephemeral. 

In spite of all the lush green lawns and colorful flowers and trees, we miss the desert.  Not that I would want to live there, but we both love to travel to the deserts.  Usually we manage a trip south in January or February, but thanks to COVID that didn’t happen this year.  It didn’t seem very smart to travel to an area with high infection rates at that time.  From what I hear from fellow bloggers, the Arizona deserts were rather chilly and windy this year.  There wasn’t much of a flower bloom either, thanks to the ongoing drought. 

Planning our desert fix was fun, and I looked forward to dark, quiet desert nights with the smell of sage and juniper to accompany the brilliant starlite. We decided that we would attempt to spend three or four days boondocking in a part of Oregon we have traveled, but not spent a great deal of time visiting in depth. 

Leaving around 9 on Monday morning, we traveled east over the Cascades toward Rocky Point and Chiloquin where we fueled up, making sure we had enough fuel to boondock.  We only got caught with less than a quarter tank of gas once in our travels, many years ago attempting to boondock at Joshua Tree NP.  We know now to be extra certain that we have plenty of fuel before parking, or the generator will refuse to operate when there is less than a quarter tank of gas remaining in the MoHo.  I guess it is a smart safety feature so you don’t end up using all your fuel and then being stuck without gas out in the middle of nowhere.

It was early afternoon when we arrived at the junction of Highway 31 and Old Lake Road, which leads north into Christmas Valley and on to the “Crack-in-the-Ground ”.  I had reviewed the google maps extensively and was reasonably certain that were several nice wide dirt places in the road with old fire pits that would serve us well for a boondock site.  What I didn’t see was that the road leading to Crack in the Ground included a few miles of washboard gravel, and then some seriously rough dirt roads that required high clearance. 

We managed to unhook the Tracker to get turned around, and decided to travel back to the junction at Highway 31 where there was plenty of space for parking the MoHo before returning with the Tracker to the rough road north.

It was getting a bit late in the afternoon when we finally made it to the trailhead for Crack-in-the-Ground .  Warm temperatures and clear skies made for great walking and Mattie got to run off leash.  There was a single car in the parking area but we never saw the occupants, no doubt they were hiking deep into the crack.

Crack-in-the-Ground is a volcanic fissure originally formed during an eruption in a lava field dated between 12,000 and 700,000 years ago, give or take a few. The fissure is nearly 2 miles long and averages about 30 feet deep, but in some places is as deep as 70 feet.  We read that the trail is “great” with only 70 feet or so of elevation throughout. The trail to the fissure was just a quarter mile or so, but once we arrived at the “Crack”  we were a bit daunted by the complex jumble of boulders at the entrance.

Mo decided it was a bit too much for her weak knee and ankle, so waited at the top with Mattie while I attempted to explore a bit deeper.  Even with both walking sticks, my crazy weak legs couldn’t handle the big step drops at the bottom of the crack. 

Still, I got down far enough to get a few photos and experience how dark and spooky it could be to hike the entire two miles with no way out except back.  There are bats and other critters down there, and I heard some strange screeching. 

In days past, Mo and I would have hiked that trail, but lately our rock clambering abilities have been severely limited.  Still, it was a great thing to see, even just walking along the top and looking down.  Very nearly impossible to photograph since the crack was so dark and the sunlight at the top was so very bright. 

It was great to walk in the dry sage and juniper desert.  Mattie was so very excited at this first outing that we had to keep a close eye on her, because she wanted to run ahead and stick her head into whatever smelly hole in the ground caught her fancy.  Not good, even if is wasn’t a snake, getting bitten by some other kind of critter wouldn’t be a good thing for her.  Mo finally had to put her on the leash for the last bit of the walk.

At the parking area there is a vault toilet, and plenty of space where I had thought we might camp if we had been able to get the MoHo back on that road.  I read later that RV camping isn’t allowed there.  We had no desire to brave six more miles of rough road to the BLM campground farther north at Green Mountain. 

By the time we got back to the MoHo parked at the site along the highway, the road crews were gone, the big rig that had been parked there earlier in the day had departed, and we had the entire wide open area completely to ourselves.  Even at this remote site I still had Verizon cell service and was able to get some internet to check weather for the next few days.  Things were going to shift, but at least we knew for sure that we had one more day of warm sunshine to explore in the desert.

04-20 to 04-24-2021 Another Little Beach Trip

We hadn’t planned on returning to the beach, but when Mo’s brothers said they were gathering in Nehalem for some family time we decided to go.  At this time of year the mountains are still getting snow flurries, the California deserts are getting a bit too warm, and most of the waters we love to kayak are still a bit chilly.  Another trip to the Oregon Coast was added to our calendar for the month of April. 

Ever since we have had the MoHo we try to make sure that we get out at least once a month on some sort of camping adventure.  The only years we didn’t completely succeed was when we were selling our homes and the apartment building in Klamath Falls and Rocky Point and building our present home here in Grants Pass.  It was a bit hard to get away then, especially when our lives seemed to be all about hauling the trailer around with mowers and yard equipment trying to keep all our places in order.  Whew!  So glad we have only one home and yard to manage now.

Even though we had a few warm days here at home, the weather on the coast was predicted to be chilly and possibly rainy.  What is new!?  We planned accordingly, and decided that hauling the kayaks along wasn’t particularly important.  Dan and Don recently purchased new inflatable kayaks and planned to try them out for the first time on the Nehalem River.  Last time we kayaked with them on the Nehalem, Mo and I both decided that exiting our kayaks from the water to the dock was way more work than we wanted to do.  Never again.  From now on kayaking for us will be in warm water with nice easy launches so we can get back out of the boats without a lot of pain.   I discovered last summer that if the water is warm and the launch is reasonable I can get out with a simple roll into the water. Looking forward to more kayak time as the weather warms.

After our days at the beach, with some lovely sunshine interspersed with lots of wind and chilly clouds we were glad we hadn’t bothered to load up the boats.  With only three days to spend with family, kayaking wasn’t a top priority.

Dan had saved a spot for us in Nehalem Bay State Park, in Loop F.  Loops A, B, and C are all reservation only throughout the year, but D, E, and F are first come first serve through April.  It was surprising how full the park was, with A, B, and C completely filled.  Dan and Chere, and Don and Wynn arrived on Monday to get sites for all of us so we had a place to be when we arrived.  By the time we left, most of loops D, E, and F were almost full.

Most of the state parks along the beaches in Oregon are a bit inland, with a trek over various distances of sand dunes to get to the beach.  South Beach, where we often go near Newport, is especially distant with a long sandy slog for at least half a mile to get to the beach.  Here at Nehalem Bay, the slog over the dunes is only a few hundred yards.  Still a bit difficult for old legs and knees, but at least we can get there without having to drive a long distance to an easier access point.

The arrangement was for each family to bring their own main dish but share our evening meals together.  On our first night, Wynn assured us she had plenty of soup for all.  She made a yummy tortellini soup with a rich full tasting clear broth that was a delicious and warm meal for the windy, chilly evening.  It was so windy and cold that Mo and I didn’t even bother to trek the few hundred yards to the beach.  Instead we hunkered down after supper in the warm MoHo to watch a bit of Netflix cast from the phone.  With a great cellular signal and no local TV to speak of, this is a great option for us.  Especially since we are so spoiled with recorded TV that we can barely stand to watch commercials.

The next morning dawned beautifully.  It was Chere’s birthday, but she told Dan that she didn’t mind him spending some time with his new boat as long as she got to pick where we had her birthday dinner.  The guys readied Don’s boat for its first launch while Dan explained why his boat was still at home.  Seemed there was a problem and the company has to replace the boat they sent him. 

We drove the short few miles back to Nehalem and the river launch in the brilliant morning sunshine.  The guys managed to get the boat in the water and to figure out how to get in the rubber boat.  One of the reasons for the inflatables is that Dan and Don think their ladies will have an easier time getting in and out of them than they do with the hardside boats.  I had no desire to even try.  The Saturn is a bit more like a sit on top, with a strong bottom that is rigid.  You can supposedly stand up in one.  Not me!  I’ll stick with my treasured Adirondack until I can no longer figure out a way to exit.  One nice thing about the Saturn inflatable however, is that it is self bailing.  It is actually a sea worthy kayak that can take the waves and when water gets in, it flows out without letting more in.  A nice feature.  On a warm day I would love to launch it on a beach somewhere in some nice easy waves.  Mo thought it might be a good idea to be sure to tether the thing to your body somehow in case it dumped. 

The guys and their wives went back home while Mo and I drove to Manzanita, another nearby town, to visit the beach.  Chere said that is where they often go because the parking area along the beach is right adjacent to the water, without all the dune hiking.  The beach was nice, and there were lots of dogs and people walking about in spite of the windy chilly air.  Even though the sun was brilliant in Nehalem, it was foggy and windy at the ocean.  Mattie did her thing, running wildly in the sand until she finally stopped, panting.  She loves doing that, but I have noticed that she wears out a bit sooner than she used to.  Maybe a bit like her moms.

We drove around Manzanita a bit to explore the small, somewhat upscale town.  Unlike Nehalem, Manzanita has some fancy shops, eateries, art galleries, and a coffee place that fit in perfectly with the vibe of the town.  Signs for Black Lives Matter, organic dark chocolate, hand dyed yarns, and organic candles were scattered throughout the shop.  I stood in line for a really good cappuccino while Mo waited in the car.  Couldn’t resist taking photos of the charming little place.  It reminded me of places we visited in California coastal towns.

By noon we returned to camp to meet with family for the drive to Tillamook, where Chere was excited to visit an area with several food trucks, her choice for an early birthday meal.  When we arrived, however, most of the trucks were closed and the stiff chilly breeze made outside dining less than pleasant.  We decided instead to hunt for an indoor dining venue.  The Pelican Brewery was just across the street, but with limited inside dining, it was more than an hour wait.  Chere suggested returning to Manzanita but Dan was much too hungry to wait another hour for our meal.  We searched around town and finally found a place to park right in front of The Dutch Mill Diner

 Dan and Chere with a pal

Wynn and Don

It was a 50’s diner with juke boxes, lots of 50’s music, and hamburgers and milk shakes.  I think it was a perfect choice for Chere who loves all the 50’s stuff.  Lunch was good too, and Mo and I shared our sandwich and milk shake.  We have been doing that more often lately, a great solution to the huge meals that most restaurants like to serve.

Dan and Chere’s rig with his crabbing boat parked in front. 

Dan loves to go crabbing, but he doesn’t like crab that much.  He had a successful day on Monday, but none of us were in the mood for it for dinner, so instead Dan offered his big beautiful crab to some campground walkers who were thrilled to get it.  They couldn’t believe their luck.

Returning back to camp, we rested a bit before joining the rest of the family at Dan and Chere’s place for a birthday celebration. I made a lemon cake with lemon curd filling and cream cheese frosting back home, packing the parts and waiting until this day to put it all together.  Funny moment was when we realized that the MoHo might not be perfectly level when I couldn’t get the 4 cake layers to stay upright, sliding sideways on the lemon curd filling.  Took a bit of doing, but finally the cake was good enough to take over to Chere’s for the candles and birthday song.  After cake we laughed and visited, skipping the fir since the evening was so chilly.

On Thursday, Mo took another walk on the beautiful Nehalem Beach.  The dune hike wasn’t too much, and we spent a long time out there walking and enjoying the sound of the ocean.  Mattie had her usual wild run, eventually settling down into a nice walk with us.  Mattie is almost 7 years old, and does seem to be slowing a bit in her healthy middle age.

Mo and I played some cards and as evening came we all gathered at Chere and Dan’s camp table for shared supper.  This time we did eat our own food, splitting a hot dog between us, and sharing the mac salad I had brought from home.  Again, I made all the parts at home, but didn’t build the salad until that afternoon.  It is still fresh and homemade, but much easier than taking time during a camping day to chop stuff, and boiling macaroni and eggs.  We circled around the lovely campfire for a time before calling it a night.  Once again, with the chill and our full tummies I didn’t bother to bring out the marshmallows.

When we originally planned this trip, we though it would be fun to travel east from Nehalem toward Silver Falls State Park to visit the waterfalls and maybe check out the Oregon Gardens near Silverton.  I tried to get reservations at Silver Falls, but not surprisingly, the park was completely full.  There are 12 first come first served sites in the park and we thought we might take a chance to see if we could get one.  Our backup plan was to attempt to get a space at the Silver Spur RV Park, a decent enough place near Silverton where we have stayed in the past.

With hard rain predicted for the rest of the weekend at Silverton, and no sure place to stay, we had second thoughts about driving inland.  There are very few ways to get across the coastal mountains between the Willamette Valley and the Oregon Coast that don’t involve curvy, narrow roads.  We decided that if we had to drive a curvy narrow road in the rain we might as well take the coast route home.  Somehow once we had decided to do that I felt much better.  We could check for possible open sites at any of the beachside state parks that dot the coast route all the way to Brookings.

Beachside State Park with no dunes between the campground and the beach

As expected, it was raining hard when we got on the road Friday morning, but as always, rain or shine, the Oregon Coast is incredibly beautiful.  Driving south toward Newport and Florence I realized once again that the section of the coast between Newport and Florence is my favorite.  Highway 101 in this section is curvy, perched high above the ocean with views that stretch forever.  It is here that the famous lighthouse at Heceta Head is located, one of the most photographed places in Oregon.  Of course, my only photo was through an open window in the rain this time, but I took it anyway.

Many of the state parks along the route had “campground full” signs posted on the highway, especially the ones near the bigger cities.  South Beach was full, and that is a big park!  It was Friday after all and we knew that getting a spot could be iffy.  Just about half way between South Beach and Florence, is Beachside State Park.  It is smaller and closer than many of the other state parks, and the camp sites are right on the beach, no intervening dunes.  However, the campground is sandwiched tightly between the beach and the highway, without a lot of spaces for rally big rigs.  That and its lack of proximity to a bigger town might have something to do with the fact that there were spaces available on this Friday afternoon.

We settled in and realized that it was barely noon and we had plenty of time to relax.  We walked the beach, played cards, and took a short walk or two around  with Mattie.  It was a quiet time, much different than it might have been if we had tried to go inland.

On Saturday morning we left around 8:30, traveling Highway 42 inland from the coast toward Roseburg.  In my opinion, this is one of the better roads between the coast and I-5.  This time of year everything is greening up beautifully.  I was surprised at how much farther along the springtime green was here than it had been farther north toward Nehalem.  Amazing how much difference a latitude difference of a couple of hundred miles can make from north to south.

I’ll leave you with a photo of the MOST PERFECT marshmallow I have ever roasted.  No dry crackers or chocolate needed. Mo’s campfire at Beachside was a perfect bed of coals for this one.


03-22 to 24-2021 Off to the Smith with Deborah

Once again we decided that a shared camping trip with my daughter Deborah would be a great way to spend some time in a beautiful place.  Our plan was to camp near the Smith River in California so Deb could hone her fishing skills.

Mo and I had camped at Redwood Meadows RV Resort in Hiouchi back in November of 2010 in a nice little spot adjacent to a tiny bubbling creek.  Even though there is a bit of road noise from Highway 199, it isn’t terribly intrusive and the site we like is set a bit apart from some of the other sites.  We made reservations, and during the process discovered that Redwood Meadows is owned by the same people who own the Shoreline RV Park where we camped in Eureka.  When talking with Brenda at the office while making the reservation I mentioned Shoreline in passing and Brenda made sure I received a 15 percent discount since I had camped at one of their parks.  I never asked if the discount had an ending date, but was happy for the little bit of additional savings, more than the 10 percent we usually get for AARP, AAA, or military discounts.

After spending several days with Deb in the MoHo last month, we knew how to manage the small space and enjoy being together.  This time Deb was insistent that she provide one of our meals, and had a great pot of beef stroganoff with wide noodles all pre-cooked and ready to go.  We hoped for another supper of fresh caught fish, and maybe a third night of fish and chips at our favorite spot in Crescent City, not far west from our camping site in Houichi.

Deb purchased a 2 day fishing license for California, in addition to tags for both salmon and steelhead, and came prepared with pole, bait, and a tackle box of goodies.  She read up on local fishing stories, best bait to use, and where the good holes were located.

We left Grants Pass around 11, knowing that we couldn’t check in to Redwood Meadows until 1PM.  Since it was Sunday, no one was in the office, but I knew exactly where to find the envelope with our check-in information.  I have to say that Brenda was so helpful and considerate throughout this entire process.  She called a couple of times before we left home to double check how we were doing and make sure we knew that she had saved our requested spot.  I was truly impressed with how well everything was managed at this park.

We knew the weather might be a bit iffy for a day or two during our visit, but Deb was undaunted.  She had no qualms about fishing in the rain if need be.  That first afternoon after we set up the rig Mo settled in with Mattie while Deb and I got in the Tracker to scope out where the fishing holes were located, what Mo called, “A reconnaissance trip”.

Some of the maps that Deb had were hard to understand and it took awhile to get a good picture of where the various sections of the river began.  For fishing these waters it is imperative that you know exactly where you are on the river since the rules vary by section.  Deb also discovered that the entire section of the river required barbless hooks so she needed to pick up some of those on her way to our home before we left. 

Our RV park was just a short distance from the main entrance to Jedediah Smith State and National Park, right along Highway 199 where the Smith River flows west and north toward the ocean 7 miles distant.  With a bit of wandering about we found all the fishing holes Deb wanted to try, and even saw a few people fishing in the late afternoon.

Back home we settled in for supper, a truly grand meal thanks to Deborah, with plenty for leftovers.  By the time we returned, Mo had started a lovely campfire and after dinner we sat outside to enjoy the evening and roast a few marshmallows with the super roasting sticks that Deborah sent to us as a gift after our last camping trip.  My old sticks were short, and these new ones extend to a perfect length, with two prongs on the end to keep the marshmallows from dripping off as they get hot, and metal that stays cool to the touch, maybe titanium?

After a great night’s sleep, with no problems from the highway noise, we woke to a cloudy morning with rain predicted for much of the day.  After breakfast the three of us piled into the Tracker, Deb with her gear and Mo, Mattie, and I with coffee and phones and a book to read while Deborah fished.

The first site we explored was right near the bridge where Highway 199 crosses the Smith River.  Named Society Hole, we were tickled to see the fishing symbol on the sign at the entrance to a parking area that even had a small outhouse.

Deb headed down to the river, and in spite of the chilly and damp weather was thrilled to be fishing once again.  It has been awhile since she got out with her poles.  Her favorite fishing was during her years in Texas along the coast where she fished in the ocean with great success.  She also fished successfully for trout in Pelican Bay near our previous home in Rocky Point.

She walked the rocky bar adjacent to the river, casting into the deep pools as far as she could reach, but to no avail.  We noticed that with the incredibly clear water of the river we should have been able to see a fish or two.  Not a one appeared, either visually or on Deborah’s hook.  Still, it was a lovely morning for all three of us, especially when the sun peeked through now and then. 

I spent some time walking the gravel bar as well and was amazed at the gorgeous river worn rocks.  Most of the geology of the upper Smith is in serpentine and various types of metamorphic rocks, including jade and jadeite.  I have no clue which of these rocks were actually jade, but picked up one to take to daughter Melody, who informed me if I didn’t bring her one, I didn’t love her!

By early afternoon I received an expected text message from an old friend.  Ben Marshall, a soil scientist who worked for me in 2008 and 2009 in Sonora California was traveling from Coos Bay to his family home in the Mother Lode area in California.  Ben now lives with his wife Meghan and two young boys in Maryland, where he is an MLRA Leader for soil survey.  That is the position I was in just before retiring when Ben worked for me.  I remember long conversations with Ben about how he really wanted a wife and kids, to build a family.  Ben met Meghan at a Basic Soil Survey training class and they fell in love.  Meghan applied for a job in my office, and it was a bit of a difficult thing because my supervisor was adamant that having partners in the same office was not a good thing. I told my boss, “If we don’t hire Meghan, we will lose Ben”.  The rest is history.  Meghan came to work for me as well, she and Ben got married, moved to Maryland and now have two sweet little boys. 

Ben, traveling with his youngest boy, arrived in late afternoon.  Masked and careful, even his young son, we had a great visit, catching up on old times and laughing with the memories of soil survey in those years.  It was great to see him.  It is lovely when people from a past life care enough to make an effort to visit.

Without fish for the Monday evening menu we settled in with a meat loaf I had prepared, just in case.  It was also delicious and once again we enjoyed a nice campfire with marshmallows.  Mo and I put out our awning, a new one that we replaced a couple of years ago and haven’t used since.  Often the winds are too unpredictable to leave out the awning.  This time we were protected from the wind and had no problem.  However, Mo was careful to put the awning up at enough of an angle that the rainwater would run off without pooling and causing any problems.

Another good night’s sleep and we were ready for a day of exploring more holes along the river.  This time we traveled Walker Road, a dirt track that meanders through Jedediah Smith State Park toward the river.  On our last trip through this area we stopped at the visitor center where we learned about Walker Road, but chose to skip it since we were on the way farther south and didn’t want to have to unhook the Tracker to explore it. 

It was absolutely gorgeous!  Most people traveling through this area visit the main park road or the access road to Stout Grove farther north in the park.  It was the first time in all the years we have traveled this route that we had a real reason to explore Walker Road.

Once again, the fishing area was beautiful, the river gorgeous and incredibly clear.  The morning fog began to lift around 9, earlier than we expected, and the sunshine made everything sparkle.  After a few hours at this hole, once again Deborah decided that it might be time to try another spot.  We decided to go home for some lunch and a bit of relaxation before Deb and I drove back to another highly recommended spot.  Mo and Mattie stayed home in the Moho for some down time.

This time Deb and I decided to try another route, a dirt track that showed several access points that we had seen that morning from the west side of the river. The road wasn’t too bad, but we did have to drive through a few deep pools left from the recent rains.  We hoped to get all the way to the area across the river where we had been in the morning, but the last deep pool was too much for the Tracker.

I thought I might need to double check the depth, and it was a good thing I did because the water was 3/4 of the way up the tires, with a soft mushy bottom toward the end, and deep enough to bury the exhaust pipe of the car.  I was glad Deb had some waders with her.  She never used them, but they sure helped me as I crossed that deep pool.

We had Mattie with us on this sunny, gorgeous afternoon and she loved following Deb as she fished along the shoreline.  I managed to wrangle my walker out of the car to help a bit with walking the distance over the rough gravel bar, but I think I had to carry the walker more than I used it.  Still, it was nice to sit there in the sunshine and listen to the river and watch Deb fish.

Once again, incredibly clear water, but no fish.  Deb loved every minute, though, insisted that she didn’t care that much and was just happy to be out there fishing.  It was a magical afternoon.

When we got back to camp, Mo had been visiting with a camping neighbor who had fishing gear in his truck.  He told her that all the fish were gone for the time being, with the local river guides taking vacation time until the fish come back!  He managed to catch trout by traveling 20 miles upstream to his friend’s home right on the river bank and sitting there all day.  Ah well…who knew.  Deb and I thought that maybe next time she might like to go during the Christmas steelhead season and hire a guide to help her learn the river from a local.

With no fresh fish, our plan for Tuesday evening was to take the short drive to Crescent City to visit our favorite spot for fish and chips, the Chart Room.  I knew they were closed on Monday, so we saved that trip for Tuesday.  It was a lovely drive, and when we got there I discovered that my memory of the place being closed on Monday was wrong.  It is closed on Tuesdays!  Ah well.  Instead we rambled back through town along the highway and found another place, one I still only thing of as “restaurant” because that is what I saw on the sign.

The place was funky and charming in the way the coastal coffee shops often are with a laid back vibe and lots of souvenir racks in the middle of the room, fish murals on the walls, and friendly waitresses. We had excellent service, good decent ordinary food, and yes, we ate indoors!  Everyone was masked as they entered the restaurant, and tables were more than 6 feet apart.  Even though Mo and I have only had one vaccination, Deb has had her second, and with numbers going down we felt safe enough. I had forgotten how much fun it is to actually sit in a restaurant, sharing food and background noise with all sorts of people you don’t know.  Why is that fun?  I have no clue, but it was nice to be able to dine inside again.

We went home to enjoy our last campfire of the trip, laugh about the closed restaurant and the lack of fish in the river, and spend another night together in the MoHo.

It was a simple trip, a bit less than 2 hours from home, and yet it felt like another vacation from everyday life.  Deb kept worrying that we were making the entire trip about her desire to fish.  I told her that was great!  It is always nice to have a focus for a trip.  We learned a lot and saw parts of the Smith River that we wouldn’t have seen without Deborah along.  Mo and I love our own company, but having another compatible, easy person to share a trip with had been delightful.  Deb is now hooked of course, and wants her own camping rig. She might decide that a trailer is better for her than a small van, especially since vans are becoming so popular and so highly priced, even for used ones. She spent the entire last part of the trip looking up trailers and vans.

Our trip home was uneventful.  We are used to traveling Highway 199, high on a cliff above the Middle Fork of the Smith.  Such a gorgeous river. We left on Wednesday.  Once home, we discovered that just a day later on Thursday, right near the intersection of Highway 199 and Walker Road a huge redwood fell across the highway, killing two unsuspecting people traveling along in their car.

When Deb and I first explored Walker Road we saw a big tree that had fallen across the road that was being cleaned up. Still, it never really occurred to me that those huge old trees could fall without warning on a perfectly clear, non windy day.  Of course, if you spend any time walking the redwood forests, you will see huge trees everywhere that have fallen at one time or another.  As many times as we have driven through the redwoods on our way to the coast, I never gave it a moment of thought.  I might think differently next time, but it won’t keep me from driving the Redwood Highway.