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.


12-15-2020 through 12-19-2020 Another December Escape

When winter comes, our best option for a short getaway is to head for the coast.  We had barely returned from our Thanksgiving trip when Mo said, “Can we make a plan to go somewhere again before Christmas?”  Ummm….took me an overnight minute but by the next morning I was ready to search Harris Beach for a reserved campsite.  Harris Beach is beautiful, and close.  Just a bit over 2 hours for us from Grants Pass.  I guess that is why you will see more photos and blogs about Harris Beach than just about any other location we have traveled.  So be it.  If you are bored…just move along.

With all the sites being full on our last trip, we didn’t want to take a chance.  Reservations are so easy, and for me personally it is much less stressful to know I have a place to land.  Especially when the weather is stormy I really don’t want to be wandering around hunting for somewhere to by dark.

The weather report for our four days at the ocean was grim.  Wind warnings, gale warnings, high seas and king tide warnings were many.  Still, we have camped at the coast enough to know that in between all these dramatic events the skies can clear unexpectedly and the sun will break through.  We planned accordingly.  I think I packed more outerwear and footwear than I have in a very long time.  Four days, four weeks, if it is cold and variable, I need all those alternatives to being wet.  Glad I did.

As we departed from home around 11, the skies were that gloomy gray dull that I like least of any, and the rain was spotty.  Just enough to be wet and boring, but the trip down the Smith River past the Jedediah Smith redwoods is a familiar one.  I usually like to drive home from the beach since the steep drop-off to the river is on the passenger side in the east bound lane.  Mo was happy driving to the beach that morning.  We switch off as needed, taking turns.  I function better earlier in the day so usually leave later trips to Mo.  We avoid night driving most of the time anyway and especially when traveling in the MoHo.  Lucky for me, Mo is still a great night time driver if need be.

Much of B Loop and part of C Loop are closed for the winter.  We are in A2

We arrived at our site in the A Loop and were delighted to see that most of the row was still empty.  I was relieved to see that unlike our last campsite at Harris Beach, the campfire ring was a decent height.  Mo had loaded up enough wood for four nights of campfires, in spite of the rainy forecast.  After settling in we put on our coats, including Mattie, and braved the inclement but still dry weather to go check out the beach.

It was just a little short walk to the overlook and we managed to walk down the path toward the big rocks before I had to give up.  Steep rocky stuff is out of my range now, especially when wet and slippery. 

Mattie did NOT want to turn around.

The view was great from that spot, and we could see that the beach was almost completely empty.  After walking back to the MoHo we picked up the car and drove down the steep road that leads to the main beach at the park. 

Mattie was in heaven, running wildly the minute there was space for Mo to let her off the leash.  The high tide had brought in some interesting tidbits that someone decided to arrange into a lovely still life that just begged to be photographed. 

Mattie ran and played and climbed rocks, her favorite thing to do other than running wildly in soft sand. 

Back home we settled in with some TV shows cast from the phone and a nice little steak on the BarB as the rain held off a few more hours.  By dark, the rain was coming steadily.  The rain drumming on the roof was as soothing as ever and we slept in much longer than usual the next morning.

We knew that Wednesday, the 16th, was to be the most intense day of the storm and we planned accordingly.  Snuggling in with hot coffee, some news on the TV and cozy sweats we enjoyed the indoor day completely.  I had come fully prepared with all my handmade Christmas cards ready to address and mail.  It was much more fun writing little notes and stuffing the envelopes in the MoHo than it would have been back at home. 

I started making Christmas cards back in the early days of COVID in the late spring.  The most fun is deciding which cards go to which friends.  The worst part of this is that if I make a similar card in the coming years I might not remember who got which ones the last time around.  I guess I need to keep better notes!

It rained all night but the next morning on Thursday the skies had cleared somewhat.  I decided to see if the Brookings Post Office was open and was delighted to find not a single person in the line and a friendly postmaster who checked each of my cards for weight and thickness. 

The skies were clear and beautiful as we piled into the Tracker for the short trip south to Crescent City and our favorite fish and chips restaurant, the Chart RoomWe stood in line with Nickie and Jimmy last September for our outside dining only fish and chips.

It was still outside dining only but the big difference was the weather and the lack of the long line of people waiting to order.  Although the sun was just as brilliant, the air was chilly and we wore coats.  Very few people in line and we had no trouble snagging a nice picnic table with a view.

We decided to check out the beach that we had attempted to visit last September.  At the time, it was too crowded and there was no place to park.  This time there was plenty of parking, but with the high tide coming in quite close there wasn’t much walking room.  We weren’t impressed with this particular beach, actually called Crescent Beach.  The sand is more like dark brown silt and while the surfers are fun to watch, the homeless tents and garbage strewn around was less enjoyable.

After lunch we drove north of town along the coastline to the remote headland trails at Point St. George.  I have written about the amazing historical lighthouse that is just barely visible from this point in a previous story here. There were a few people parked but only a few hikers walking along the beach.  The beach was gorgeous, wide open and clean with big breakers roaring from the high tide to keep us company.

Home again to a lovely evening with the rain holding out long enough that Mo built us a great campfire to enjoy before retreating to the cozy MoHo. As usual, Mattie had to have her own camp chair and blanket for fire time.

Most of the next day was sunny and beautiful with enough time to walk the beaches once again.  We were surprised at how the temperatures moderated after the rain and the winds were almost non existent.  It was a gorgeous day and we enjoyed every minute of it.


Mattie found many mini mountains to climb

For our last night in camp Mo once again built a beautiful campfire and we opened a bottle of champagne to enjoy by the fire and to drink with our truly delicious fish and chips.  It is great when a good dinner is enough to last for two great meals.  I am pretty sure that the Chart Room fish and chips at 14.95 each is one of the tastiest and best deals ever.























Saturday morning dawned gray and foggy once again and we took our time getting ready to leave. Even though we have an RV dump station at home, it is a bit easier to dump right there at Harris Beach.  It is a good dump with a perfect angle for a complete clean dump.  RVr’s will know exactly what I mean.  It is also easy to get to and rarely busy.  It’s the little things that matter when out traveling!

The trip home was uneventful, except for one minor detail.  In Kerby, about 25 miles west of Grants Pass, there is a fair style food booth with hot dogs, hamburgers, curly fries and yes, corn dogs!  Best corn dog I ever ate was at the Albuquerque Balloon Festival in 2019.  Mo said, “Hey, want a corn dog ?”  I didn’t exactly slam on the brakes in the middle of the highway, but I did find a way to turn around and get back there.  Yup…Albuquerque quality corn dog.  Once every year or so isn’t that bad for some truly delicious junk food.  Then again, I might have to be sure to remember that place is there on our next trip to the beach!

11-24 to 11-27-2020 Bandon Thanksgiving and a night at Harris Beach

Don’t forget that you can click on any photo if you wish to see if full resolution in my gallery

Site A47 had more privacy than we
expected

Between the time we made our reservation and our trip to the coast, COVID numbers began rising in Oregon and the governor once again shut down restaurants for indoor dining.  One of the reasons we chose Bandon over Brookings for this trip was to have an opportunity to spend some time in the little shops and restaurants that make Bandon so charming.  The weather forecast was for rain most of the week, so we wanted to have other things to do than walk the beach.

We traveled north via I-5 toward Roseburg and turned west toward the coast via Highway 42.  However, instead of following the Google Girl directions to stay on Highway 42 all the way to HWY 101 and then back south, we thought the quicker route along 42 S made more sense.  In hindsight, Google Girl sometimes gets it right and we don’t.  I spent most of the time hanging on while Mo navigated the very narrow, very winding road toward Bandon.  It was not fun for me, but I think it might have been for her.  She used to drive a TR7 among other sports cars.

Don’t try this route in a motorhome

It rained a bit along the way, but the afternoon was dry enough that we had time to enjoy a walk along the beach after we settled into our site.

The campground is about a mile from easy beach access at the Coquille River Lighthouse


We were a bit disappointed in the condition of the lighthouse

Adjacent to the town of Bandon, the Coquille River empties into the Pacific Ocean. The river extends inland a great distance and was a natural link to the virgin stands of timber in the area, but the bar at the mouth of the river, formed by the interaction of the river and ocean, was a major obstacle for ships entering the river. At times, only a few feet of water would cover the bar, but vessels still attempted to navigate the river in hopes of reaping the rewards that lay upstream. In 1880, Congress passed a bill funding the construction of a jetty on the south side of the river’s entrance that created a deep channel, resulting in a rapid rise in the number of ships entering the river.

A lighthouse at the entrance to Coquille River was the next logical step for improving navigation. Congress appropriated $50,000 for the project on March 3, 1891, but it would be four years before land was purchased, plans were solidified, and the construction crew was assembled.

In 1939, the Coast Guard assumed responsibility for Coquille River Lighthouse and decided it was no longer needed. An automated beacon was placed at the end of the south jetty, the dwelling was disassembled, and the lighthouse was abandoned. The lighthouse stood neglected for twenty-four years, until Bullards Beach State Park was created on the north side of the river. The grounds of the original eleven-acre light station were included in the park, and the park assumed responsibility for the lighthouse.

Over the years there have been several attempts at restoration, since park funding isn’t sufficient to maintain the old lighthouse.  In normal years, the lighthouse tower is open for visitation from May through September, however at the moment the old lighthouse looked quite sad.

The air smelled so incredibly fresh, and the surf was loud enough that we could hear it in camp across the dunes at least half a mile from the beach where we were camped. 

There were high tide and surf warnings posted for the next couple of days so one evening we drove through town in the dark to the south jetty where we could watch the huge noisy waves breaking over the jetty rocks.  Lots of warnings for “sneaker waves” kept me alert and when a big one came roaring in I immediately jumped back into the car.

It rained off and on that first night and the next morning dawned cloudy and wet. We settled into the MoHo for a cozy morning before driving the a mile south to Bandon to explore the small town.  The rain came and went all day, usually with a downpour at just the moment we would head for the car after visiting a shop.  About half the shops in town were open, with masks and social distancing, and we especially enjoyed the beautiful Second Street Gallery, Winter River Bookstore, and the Coastal Mist Chocolate Boutique, where we had two tiny cups of creamy drinking chocolate, to go of course. 

This photo is from last year when there was still inside service

The rain poured down as we ran to the car with our little cups of chocolate. I also purchased my first ever macaron (not a macaroon).  I wasn’t impressed, although I do think that maybe the high humidity at the ocean makes it hard to make a light crispy meringue cookie. Who knows.  I don’t have to try again.

We then meandered around the famous Cranberry Sweets.  The store has been in Bandon for more than 50 years and specializes in all sorts of cranberry confections.  I learned that more cranberries are grown around Bandon than anywhere else in the west. Although Bandon is referred to as “The Cranberry Capitol of the World”, more research informed me that most cranberries come from Wisconsin and Massachusetts. Five states grow almost all of the country’s supply of cranberries with Wisconsin producing more than half of all cranberries in the US.  Massachusetts harvests another third, and New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington produce most of the rest.  So much for “Cranberry Capitol”.

Still, the shop was charming and old fashioned, with lots of candies and confections behind the counters.  The hostess told me that they usually had lots of samples around the shop but due to COVID we had to settle for a little bag of free stuff. 

I decided it was time to get some fish and chips to go and tried out Tony’s Crab Shack where I was politely told that Tony didn’t fry ANYTHING, and perhaps I might like to try to fish tacos. Made with fresh caught crab and halibut, they were delicious.  Everything in town was take-out only, with all the restaurants closed for inside seating. We returned home in the pouring rain and it continued to rain all night long.  Funny how wonderful rain on the roof of a motorhome can sound, especially when accompanied by the roar of the ocean.  Great for a good night’s sleep!

The next morning was Thanksgiving, and we woke to beautiful clear skies.  I had precooked much of our dinner, and simply had to reheat the turkey, bake the sweet potato, mash the potatoes, cook a pot of Stove-Top stuffing, and open a jar of gravy.  It wasn’t gourmet, but was completely and totally delicious for the two of us and our socially distanced Thanksgiving dinner.

On our first day in camp I discovered the tsunami evacuation trail.  The path is narrow with signs leading to an area high on a heavily timbered hill behind the campground where people are instructed to assemble if the tsunami warning horns go off.  It would do no good to attempt to drive out of the campground in that situation since most of the highway is in the tsunami zone.

It was a lovely little trail, with moist moss, and lots of mushrooms in the duff under the trees. 

On this beautiful morning it was a perfect time to share the trail with Mo.  Mattie loved the trail and we enjoyed walking in a place where there were no dogs or people around.  Mattie gets so excited when she sees other dogs and always wants to “play”.  That entails lots of energy and training time, trying to get her to sit and calm down.  Walking around the campground can be challenging sometimes when all I want is a nice simple walk.  The trail was perfect for that.

It was surprising how full the campground was on this holiday weekend.  By the time Thursday rolled around, all sites were full and everyone seemed to be having a great time celebrating.  We even saw an outdoor TV broadcasting a football game. 

After our early afternoon dinner we went for another great beach walk, and were amazed that the weather was so perfect.  There was very little wind and the temps must have been in the 50’s.  Beautiful day. 

Home again to the MoHo where after many years of hearing about it, I actually figured out how to cast the phone to the TV with the included app on my Samsung phone.  We turned on Netflix on the phone, and with our unlimited Verizon plan we were able to watch movies and even live television on the big TV with the right apps.  My daughter Deanna told me about this capability a long time ago, but I never managed to figure it out until this trip. On a chilly evening having some TV was great entertainment.  The Verizon signal in the park was perfectly adequate to stream a movie.

Bullard’s Beach State Park has some beautiful picnic areas

On Friday morning we took our time with a lazy breakfast, a little bit of news, and some reading time before packing up.  Checkout time wasn’t until 1PM, and we only had a little over two hours to travel along the coast south toward Brookings and Harris Beach State Park.  I didn’t make a reservation for Harris Beach, thinking that winter on the coast would be open without a problem.  We planned to arrive around 2 in plenty of time to snag an open site before evening.  Things have changed in the camping world!  When we arrived the park was completely full except for one site, the only ADA site in the park, number 37 in the B loop.

I must say I was grateful for once to have my little blue disability card to hang from our windshield.  We settled in to enjoy our last evening on the beach and Mo built a nice big campfire.  Only problem with the campfire is that the ADA site has a very tall metal fire ring, I suppose so that it is safer.  It took a very long time to get that metal warm and I spent campfire time in LOTS of clothes and blankets trying to warm up.

One of our favorite holiday treats are the wonderful lights at Azalea Park in Brookings.  We knew that this year the big light show wasn’t happening, but the city of Brookings was attempting to do something at least and made arrangements for businesses that usually displayed their lights at Azalea Park to put lights up on both sides of Highway 101 and down into Harbor.  We hopped into the Tracker at dusk to go check out the show.  I must say that it was a bit of a bust.  There were a few nice lights near Fred Meyer, but the rest of them were scattered along the road with lots of space in between displays.  Oh well, at least they tried.  We heard the next morning that someone had stolen one of the big displays on the very first night of the show, the 4 piece Dragon.  So sad.  Maybe that is why so many businesses chose not to display their lights in the unprotected lots along the highway.  Eventually the dragon was recovered.

Here is a photo of the dragon from the park show last year

The next day we didn’t have to check out until 1PM and with no rush to get back home we enjoyed every last minute of park time.  I took Mattie around the campground, and walked out toward the overlook that has such a beautiful view of Harris Beach.  I felt no need to climb down to the water. 

There were so many people on the beach I was amazed.  More people and dogs running around on Harris Beach than we have ever seen even in summer.  I guess as many people have said, RVing is the great COVID escape and everyone and their dog or dogs is on the road and filling up the campgrounds.

We left in brilliant sunshine, driving as far as Cave Junction about 30 miles west of Grants Pass before we encountered the fog.  Grants Pass is often foggy in winter, sometimes without any lifting in the afternoon.  This was one of those days.  I always say, if we must have fog, we might as well have it at the beach.  It was nice to get home to our cozy house, the steamy hot tub, and TV without having to figure out the casting thing.  It was a great four days of ocean time, and a perfect way to handle a quiet Thanksgiving for just the two of us.

07-16-2020 Exploring the Lakes and an Evening Kayak

Our plan when we went to bed was to rise early, eat a decent breakfast, and get on the road quickly.  We wanted to arrive at Elk Lake, our chosen location for a morning kayak, before the winds started up and the sun got too hot.  Even though the temperatures in this part on the east side of the Cascades are a bit more moderated than the part of Southern Oregon where we live, it can still get hot.  Predictions were for another gorgeous sunny day with highs in the upper 80’s.

Elk Lake Sunset  View Day Use Area

I completed a lot of internet research on most of the lakes in the chain before we left home.  There was no way to do any last minute research however, since I had no access to the internet at the campground.  I had 2 bars of 4G which could manage telephone calls and text messages, see emails but not their complete contents, and see some posts on Facebook for random moments in the early part of the day.

My research pointed me to Elk Lake, which in internet photos looks deep and blue surrounded by the gorgeous peaks of South Sister and Broken Top.  I was at least smart enough to download the google maps for the area before we left home in Grants Pass so we could navigate properly along the entire length of the Byway. 

We were on the road by 8:30, with only a slight breeze, and decided to skip exploring any of the lakes and campgrounds along our route so that we could get on Elk Lake early.  The road into Elk Lake Sunset View Day use area from the north is rough gravel, with some steep areas and sections of washboard.  I’m glad we didn’t plan to take the MoHo back there.

When we arrived at the site, it was gorgeous as expected, but the winds were kicking up and to our great surprise, there were a lot of people already in the parking lot, at the picnic tables, and launching all manner of kayaks and paddle boards.  I had no clue that many paddle boards are now of the blow up variety, and the whooshing sound of the pumps was a bit startling. 

We looked around a bit, checking out the outlandishly beautiful people with their beautiful rigs and boats and thought, “Hmmm, a LOT of well to do people around here.”  That was to be our refrain for the entire day as we traveled to the several lakes and view sites along the Cascade Lakes Highway, and the closer we got to Bend, it seemed the people were even more fit, attractive, and on the young side.  I have nothing against young, attractive, fit people, in fact it is great to see so many humans enjoying outdoor pursuits, but it was still a bit daunting, and not particularly our scene.  In addition, the lake was another big round body of water without a lot of interesting shoreline. 

We decided instead to continue south back toward the Hosmer Lake Loop and check out some of the campgrounds along the way.  We thought maybe we could launch on tiny Hosmer Lake before continuing our explorations.  We checked out Little Fawn campground on the south end of Elk Lake, but it was dusty and rocky, completely full, and quite a distance from the water.  The day use area by the campground was also full of cars, and more people packing their paddle boards and kayaks the several hundred yards across exposed lakebed toward the waters of Elk Lake.  Nope, not our spot for either kayaking OR camping.

When we arrived at the South Campground near Hosmer Lake we found more dusty, rocky, gravel roads and more people packed into the cramped sites with all sorts of watercraft.  Ah well, we weren’t planning on camping, just hoping to get on the waters with our boats before the day got too warm to enjoy.

What a surprise when we arrived at the tiny, cramped boat launch to discover at least 50 cars, all packing in and lining up one by one as we arrived all the way back to the intersection between the launch and the campground.  The lake looked like a playground of boats, paddleboards, fishermen, and people!  I walked down to the launch and talked to a few people, asking if they knew the lake. Five of the several people I talked to said it was their first time on this particular lake, and 3 said they had never kayaked before and this was their first kayak!.  Much like RVing, I think active people who want to get out and about have discovered kayaking.

Sadly, we decided to let this lake go as well, but as we were leaving Mo said, “I wonder when all these people will go home?”.  Since it seemed most were on day excursions from Bend, the likelihood of the place being this crowded in late evening was slight.  We decided to take our chances and finish our explorations of the other lakes and campgrounds in the area before going back home to our camp. 

We checked out the campgrounds and RV resorts at Lava Lake, at Little Lava Lake where the Deschutes River begins, and then turned back north to find Sparks Lake at the base of Mt Bachelor near the northern end of the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway.

Little Lava Lake

Little Lava Lake was quite lovely, and a few campsites were a bit tempting.  We also thought if we didn’t find somewhere else to kayak we might return to the shallow beach at the boat launch site. I started keeping track of the campsites that we would choose at Little Lava Lake Campground if they became available for the next time we wanted to camp and kayak in the area.  If one should wish to camp, the good level sites at Little Lava Lake are #10, #11, #13, and #15.  Others are small and very uneven.

Lava Lake

The Lava Lake campground also had just one site along the edge of the lake but I didn’t write down the number because the lake was a lovely shade of green!  Maybe we didn’t want to camp there ever. 

Back north again toward Elk Lake, we checked out the Elk Lake Campground and found sites #7, #8, and #13 to be the only acceptable sites that would tempt us away from our home base at Crane Prairie some time in the future.  

We drove on north again toward Sparks Lake, and there was a beautiful wide viewpoint at the Green Lakes trailhead that climbs toward South Sister.  Only problem was that cars were lined up all along the road for about a mile on either side of the trailhead. 

A very popular place on a Thursday in July!  We pulled into the parking area across from the trailhead, noticed the sign saying parking allowed for 15 minutes only, and took every precious minute to hike into the meadow full of penstemon and sedges with Mattie.  The view of South Sister to the north and Mt Bachelor to the southeast were breathtaking.  No wonder this is such a popular place only 30 some miles from Bend, Oregon.

After our little walk, we traveled the very rough and rocky road from the highway to Sparks Lake.  The campground is called Soda Creek, and is a few miles from the lake.  We chose sites #4, #6, #10, and #13 for future reference.  We discovered a few rigs parked in a dispersed camping area on the extremely dusty and busy road to the boat launch on Sparks Lake.  Even free, with a view of the lake, wouldn’t tempt us to camp there in all that dust and noise. The lake itself was also incredibly crowded with kayakers and paddleboarders, and the water was quite low.  Pretty, but not for us.  With the crowded parking lot and thick dust, we didn’t get out of the car for photos, but this website has some lovely pictures of the lake and the area nearby.

As the day progressed, and we viewed so many lakes and campgrounds, we decided that we were really lucky to be in the lovely, spacious, open, and reasonably quiet campground at Crane Prairie Reservoir.  From the internet research, I never would have chosen Crane Prairie, but after visiting, it will no doubt be the campground to which we return in the future.  Just for reference, our favorite sites at Crane Prairie are #103, the ADA site #107, and #113.  All of these sites are on the Blue Loop, but for big rigs and family groups the Red loop at the upper edges of the park have the most privacy and space, but no view of the water or easy access to the beach. The Red loop also has several large nice pull through sites.

By the time we returned back to camp, it was 1 or so, and again we settled in with our books and cool drinks to enjoy the breezes and shade as we read.  I spent more time gazing at the water than actually reading I think.  We also took Mattie for another swim.  She went in at first, but wasn’t as enthusiastic this time as she was yesterday.

We ate an early supper and planned to leave after dinner in time to arrive at Hosmer Lake around 6:30. This time our plans worked out perfectly.  When we arrived at the boat launch there were less than half a dozen cars and only a few people coming off the lake, and only a very few launching for an evening on the water.

Hosmer Lake turned out to be everything I had expected to find in the Cascade Lakes.  The water was crystal clear, and the lake meanders from a small lower lake, through a narrow channel lined with bullrush and wocus and then meanders northeast toward a rugged area of lava which hides a waterfall. 

We didn’t get out of the boats to see the waterfall.  A fellow boater told us that it was pretty, but not spectacular, and required some hiking through the rocky jumble to see it.  We sat awhile trying to hear it to no avail.

We continued back to the main channel and continued north to the lake.  I asked a couple of returning kayakers if the lake was very far away.  One person said it was a long distance, and another said it was just ahead.  My trusty google map wasn’t exactly visible in the bright late evening light and the lake shows quite dark and green on the current google image.  To our surprise we arrived at the large part of the lake within 15 minutes and it was truly gorgeous.  The water was clear and somewhat shallow, surrounded by nothing except timber, mountain views, and marshland. 

One lone boat with two men fly fishing were spotlighted by the early evening sun.  Hosmer Lake is exactly the kind of place we love to kayak, and we will definitely return in the future, hopefully during a time of year when there are a few less visitors.

After only an hour and a half on the lake, we were back home at our camp by 8:30, as the winds started to die down and the sun set at 8:47.  I knew the exact time of the sunset because I also knew that the comet Neowise was expected to be visible in the northwest sky about 90 minutes after sunset.  Mo built another nice campfire and we sat with our wine and marshmallows waiting for darkness and a chance to see the comet.

We weren’t disappointed.  Walking down to the beach, we hunted the skies for the Big Dipper which seemed to be in the wrong place compared to what we are used to in Grants Pass.  After a bit of searching, we saw the comet. It was somewhat faint in the still glowing northwestern skies, but we could see the comet and the tail if we looked carefully.  There was no way I could get any kind of photo, but there are so many great ones that people have posted that I didn’t feel like we missed much.  At least we got to see in in person.  Later, when we returned to Grants Pass, even though the comet was supposedly visible, we never saw it again.  In Grants Pass we are in the western part of the time zone and at the time that the comet is visible, there is still considerable light.  There also was a bit of haze from a California fire and of course the lights from the small city of Grants Pass are still bright enough to cause some interference.  I was glad we were in the mountains with less ambient light for at least one night so that we saw the comet.  I doubt either of us will be around in just under 7,000 years when it returns.

After three days we deemed our Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway trip to be a great success. We settled into bed after our long day and evening knowing we had until noon to have a leisurely breakfast the next morning before breaking camp and traveling south toward Klamath Falls for another night out before going over the pass toward home.

07-15-2020 A Day at Crane Prairie Reservoir

Crane Prairie Reservoir is a large, shallow reservoir  created in 1922

We woke slowly after such a dark and quiet night.  There are so many different lakes in the chains of Cascade Lakes that we had to make a decision whether we wanted to explore or to stay home on our firs day.  After spending yesterday driving, we decided that we would stay home and enjoy our local campground and lake for a day before attempting to explore any more of the beautiful Cascade Lakes that were scattered along the Cascade Lakes Highway
Kayaking in the early part of the day always seems best.  Usually the winds aren’t strong and the sun is still not high overhead.  It can get really hot out on the water in a kayak without much protection.  We launched right after morning coffee with a plan to stay out on the water for a reasonable amount of time and then return home for a more substantial breakfast.

It was a personal test for me.  Could I still manage to get in and out of the kayak?  On the previous day, when we loaded up the boats at home, I was relieved to find out that lifting the boat and strapping it down didn’t cause me any problems.  My arms are still strong enough and my legs can still hold me up ok for that job, especially early in the morning when I am strongest.  The test yet to come was getting back out of the boat, and that thought was in the back of my mind as we slid out onto the water.  Getting into the boat wasn’t a problem at all with the shallow, sandy beach. 

Notice the underwater fire pit

South Sister on the left, Broken top in the middle, and Mt Bachelor (famous ski mountain) on the right

Before the dam was built in 1922, the area was covered by prairie and served as a habitat for cranes, which was the inspiration for the name of the lake. The construction of the original rock-filled dam flooded most of Crane Prairie and parts of the nearby forest, killing many trees. In order to recover timber, the reservoir was drained on a regular basis. Because of leakage through the original rock-filled dam, in 1940 the Bureau of Reclamation rebuilt the dam as an earthfill structure 36 feet in height and 285 feet in length. When full, the reservoir has a capacity of 55,300 acre feet.

Crane Prairie Reservoir is part of the larger Deschutes Project by the Bureau of Reclamation, which also includes Wickiup Reservoir, Haystack Reservoir, the Crooked River Pumping Plant, and North Unit Main Canal. The project was created to supply irrigation water for a total of 97,000 acres of land in the vicinity of the town of Madras which is north of Bend, Oregon.

In late summer, the reservoir is lowered as water for irrigation is withdrawn from it, leaving large areas of the lakebed exposed. We were especially lucky on this trip because our timing was just right.  The lake was very full, and yet as we drove past Wickiup on our way south, that reservoir was so low there was no water at the west end. Both lakes have moderately alkaline water with a high mineral content, slightly higher than the waters of other lakes in the region. Sometimes during the summer the water’s pH level is exceptionally high, caused by the algae that often reach bloom proportions. Much like Klamath Lake, phosphorus concentration in the lake is high and the lake will sometimes turn green as pea soup.  Our camp host told us that about two week previous to our visit the lake was completely green. One of the issues with having to make reservations to camp at any of the local campgrounds is that there is no way of knowing when you make the reservation whether the lake will be low and the water might be green. 

We discovered that Crane Prairie Reservoir is one of the most important wildlife viewing areas in central Oregon. The lake is dotted with tall stumps of the flooded trees which now provide nesting places for osprey and the reservoir is home to the largest nesting colony in the Pacific Northwest. Other species of birds include bald eagles, cormorants, blue herons, kingfishers, sandhill cranes, and Canada geese. In 1970, the Crane Prairie Osprey Management Area was established here to protect this special haven.

On our first morning kayaking the lake, we paddled south toward the outlet of the Deschutes River.  Our plan was to stay out only an hour before turning back, making sure that all my parts were working properly and that I wouldn’t get worn out so much I couldn’t get out of the boat.

It was a lovely paddle, with mostly calm winds and clear water until we approached the southern end of the lake where algae was accumulating in the water and the bugs found us.  As the sun rose higher, it was time to turn around.  We didn’t make it all the way to the river, but there is always next time.  We did see an eagle, cormorants, ospreys, and several types of ducks. 

Once we got back to our little beach, I made a small attempt to rise from my boat, and realized that my original plan for getting out of the kayak was needed.  I simply slid my legs over the side and rolled into the water on my knees.  It worked perfectly.  Looks like I will be able to continue kayaking for a bit longer without having to worry about getting in and out as long as we find nice smooth launch sites with no current to take the boat away while exiting.  I was thrilled to say the least, and all that underlying worry was gone.

We settled in after our late breakfast in our chairs, opening our awning for some nice shade and read our kindles to while away the hours until we decided it was time to do a bit of exploring in the car.  Cultus Lake wasn’t too far from where we were camped and it looked like an inviting place.  Within a few miles, we were driving up the graveled road to the resort and were shocked to find a completely different atmosphere from our laid back family campground.  Cultus Lake Resort was busy and crowded, and the beach was full of people with all sorts of water craft and kids.  It was noisy. 

The lake itself was quite lovely, deep and dark blue and I would imagine with it being a lake rather than a reservoir it might not turn green or lose water to an irrigation project.  We checked out the nearby campground, which was incredibly tight and crowded, and completely full.  I think it might be a nice place at a different time of year, but in spite of the beautiful lake, we weren’t particular entranced and made no plans to return.  Our favorite kind of kayaking includes inlets and side streams and waterways that we can explore and this pretty blue lake seemed to have every shoreline completely visible from where we stood at the parking area.

Back to camp after our foray we had another easy supper of great food brought from home.  As evening approached the afternoon winds died down a bit and we again launched at our little beach.  This time we paddled in the opposite direction, around the small peninsula at the other end of the campground toward the Crane Prairie Resort and a full hookup RV campground.  The camp looked quite extensive through the trees, and the little store was small and tidy.  We had visited the resort the previous afternoon so had no need to get out of the boats.  When we checked it out we saw that on the door was a sign saying only 4 people at a time were allowed inside and only if they were masked. 

It was a perfect sunny warm day in a quiet campground with a great view and a sweet little beach.  Perfect kayak weather, dark night skies, and a roaring campfire and roasted marshmallows to complete the evening. We needed a good night’s rest because our adventure for the next day included an early departure with plans to kayak the beautiful Elk Lake as early in the morning as we could manage.