Our Oregon Adventure (August 13 – September 5, 2017)

On August 13th we packed up and moved 84 miles to Fort Stevens State Park in Hammond, OR in the Northwest corner of Oregon. Phil had reserved the second-largest site in the park but, unfortunately, all the sites were back-ins. Due to the narrow driveway and pressure to get out of the way of another RV following behind him, it took Phil several tries to get properly aligned on our site. Phil later noticed that he had snapped off our neighbor’s plastic site marker while backing into our site but had done no damage to our truck. Although the site’s driveway was rather narrow, the site itself was very large so we had plenty of privacy. We had no cell service and, due to the surrounding trees, we also had no satellite TV reception.

With our first night’s stay in Oregon, we achieved the 29th state we’ve camped in since beginning our full-time RV adventure 22 months earlier.

After getting set up, we drove to the nearby Fort Stevens. Fort Stevens had served as a military outpost from the Civil War through World War II, protecting the entrance to the Columbia River. We first looked at exhibits in the museum, including video footage of interviews with soldiers who had been at the post when a Japanese submarine fired several shells at them during WWII. We then explored the remains of several artillery batteries.

On Monday, August 14th, we began our day exploring the small town of Astoria, OR. We drove to the highest point in town and climbed the 265-step spiral staircase up the 225’ tall Astoria Column. From the observation tower, we could see out across the Columbia River and the surrounding valley.

We next drove to the John Jacob Astor elementary school where the movie Kindergarten Cop, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, had been filmed. As we were leaving, we spotted a buck munching on the bushes in the front yard of one of the neighboring houses.

We crossed the four mile long Astoria-Megler Bridge to Washington. This is the longest truss bridge in North America and was the last completed segment of US Route 101 between Olympia, WA and Los Angeles, CA. We spent the afternoon at Cape Disappointment State Park, in the extreme SW corner of Washington. The cape was named in 1788 by British fur trader John Meares who was sailing south in search of trade. After a storm, he turned his ship around just north of the Cape and therefore just missed discovering the Columbia River. Cape Disappointment is reputed to be one of the foggiest places in the United States but it was fairly clear when we were there. We first walked down to the North Head Lighthouse but it was closed for renovation. We then drove to the North Jetty and walked along it before stopping for our picnic lunch. After lunch, we visited the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center where we viewed the many exhibits related to the Lewis and Clark exploration. Our final activity was a hike up a steep path to the Cape Discovery Lighthouse, one mile each way.

We then returned to Astoria and strolled along the riverfront boardwalk. We ended our day with dinner in Warrenton, OR at Doogers’ Seafood and Grill. We each had a cup of clam chowder. For our entrees, Jason had halibut Cajun-style; Jan had calamari; and Phil had fried oysters. The food was very good and we all left feeling overly full.

On Tuesday, August 15th, we drove to the beach community of Seaside, OR. We first strolled along the shops on Broadway on our way to the beach. We then walked about a mile up the paved walkway that paralleled the ocean. On our return, we removed our shoes and walked along the wet sand and, occasionally, into the water. For lunch, we stopped at Angelina’s for pizza topped with pineapple, Canadian bacon, sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. It sounded like an odd combination but was very delicious.

Later that afternoon, Phil and Jason rode our bikes down to the beach near the campground to see the wreckage of the Peter Iredale, a four-masted steel sailing vessel that ran ashore Oct. 25, 1906 on the Oregon coast in route to the Columbia River. Much of the ship is still visible on the beach.

On Wednesday, August 17th, Jason took Jan down to the beach to see the Peter Iredale.

Then it was time for us to head to our next destination, in Portland, OR. Since we had not had a sewer hookup at our campground, Phil had to stop at the dump station on the way out. Fortunately the waiting line was much shorter than when we had arrived on Sunday. We then drove 104 miles to the Columbia River RV Park in Portland where we had reserved a site for a week. Since we had not had cell service at Fort Stevens, Phil had not been able to research the best route to the campground and had to rely entirely on his GPS. This resulted in us making some strange turns but we managed to complete the trip without any major problems. As the name indicates, the Columbia River RV Park is across the street from the Columbia River. It was also a short distance from the Portland airport and, although we were under the flight path for many planes leaving the airport, it didn’t affect our sleeping. The campground lies between the marina and a residential neighborhood. It is very well maintained but appears to cater to mostly long-term residents rather than travelers. There is very little activity in the campground and it doesn’t have many amenities such as picnic tables or a pool.

On Thursday, August 18th, we dropped off the Ram at the local dealer to get our windshield wiper arm repaired and a safety recall addressed. Then we drove to downtown Portland and explored the city using a map we had obtained at the airport when Jason arrived. Our first stop was at Voodoo Doughnuts. Jason and Jan each ordered the “Dirty Old Bastard” which was a donut coated with crushed Oreo and peanut butter. Phil ordered the “Portland Cream” which was a chocolate-coated cream-filled donut.

We then strolled along the streets of Portland and stopped in at the Patagonia store and Powell’s Books, the world’s largest new and used bookstore. After returning to our car to feed the parking meter, we walked along the Waterfront Park trail that paralleled the Willamette River. We then walked to Pioneer Courthouse Square where we discovered that auditions for American Idol were being held. After watching a couple of the auditions, it was time for lunch so we headed to an area where we had seen food trucks earlier in the day. The hardest part was selecting what to order since there were about 50 food trucks circling an entire city block. We finally decided to order Chinese food and Jason got a burrito from a Mexican food truck. We carried our food to a nearby park, O’Bryant Square, and were able to find seats on a retaining wall. Although Portland is a lovely city, it is overrun by homeless people, many of whom demonstrate mental or drug-related problems, and the city appears to simply tolerate their presence. We saw them everywhere we went in the city. Since there were lots of people eating lunch in O’Bryant Square, numerous homeless men were attracted to the park and dug through the trash cans looking for food scraps while we ate. It was both sad and disgusting.

On Friday, August 18th, we explored the Columbia River Gorge. Our first stop was at Vista House, one of the scenic lookouts along the Historic Columbia River Highway. This structure, built in 1918, stands 733’ above the Columbia River and the observation deck provides panoramic views up and down the river valley. We also looked at the exhibits in the basement dealing with the construction of the highway and the lifestyle of tourists to the area prior to the Great Depression.

We then drove in heavy traffic along the Historic Columbia River Highway until we reached Multnomah Falls. The Multnomah Falls is the tallest waterfall in Oregon, totaling 620’ in height. There are two steps to the falls. The upper falls drop 542’ while the lower falls drop 69’. We had originally planned to just make a quick stop to see Multnomah Falls and then continue on to hike at other waterfalls. However, given how long it took to get a parking spot at Multnomah Falls, we decided to simply hike there. We ended up hiking a total of 4 miles. The hike began up a steep 1.2 mile-long path with 11 switchbacks to the Multnomah Falls overlook. We then hiked past the overlook up an unpaved trail to the Weisendanger Falls and the Ecola Falls. We ended up hiking a total of 4 miles and were quite hungry when we finished. We ate our picnic lunch near the falls and then returned to Portland.

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Multnomah Falls

We stopped to pick up the Ram from the dealer and Phil was surprised and pleased to learn that all the work had been done at no charge. It turned out that the wiper arm retaining nut had backed off and the wiper arm had become unseated. The mechanic had only had to re-seat the retaining nut and the problem was fixed.

On Saturday, August 19th, we had a relaxing breakfast of blueberry pancakes before taking Jason to the Portland airport for his 2:15 pm flight back home.

On Monday, August 21st, we dropped off Jan’s Nissan for service. Our appointment was for 10 am but we dropped it off early so we could be back at our rig in time to watch the eclipse. As we drove back from the Nissan dealership, we saw many cars and RV’s lined up along the Columbia River to watch the eclipse. Being in Portland, we were only 60 miles away from the path of the total solar eclipse and were able to experience 99.2% coverage of the sun. We had not ordered the special glasses needed to look directly at the sun so we had to rely on the “old school” approach. Phil prepared a paper plate with a pinhole in the center and projected the sun’s image on another plate. This enabled us to watch the movement of the moon in front of the sun. One of our neighbors also let us borrow her glasses briefly so we could look at the eclipse directly. When the eclipse hit its peak at 10:21 am Pacific time, the sky got slightly darker and the temperature got noticeably cooler.

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Phil capturing shadow from solar eclipse
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Remaining sliver of sunlight visible as the solar eclipse approached total coverage

On August 23rd, we drove 127 miles south on I-5 to Creswell, OR (nine miles south of Eugene, OR). We spent two nights at Meadowlark RV Park. Although we had a pull-through site with full hookups, the campground was not really somewhere we would have chosen to stay for more than a couple of days.

On August 24th, we drove to Eugene. Our first stop was at Hayward Field, on the campus of the University of Oregon. Since Phil had been a long distance runner in high school, Hayward Field has a special significance to him. Although the field was originally built in 1919 for the football team, it had been used for both football and track until 1967. After the football team got a new stadium, Hayward Field was remodeled and is now one of the top venues in America for track and field. It has been the site for three Olympic trials and nine NCAA championships. Since school was not in session, we were not able to enter the stadium but got to look through the gates. Outside the field were signs honoring two legendary Oregon track coaches and Steve Prefontaine, the nation’s leading long distance runner during Phil’s high school years.

Our next stop was at the Cascades Raptor Center. Through wildlife rehabilitation and public education, the center fosters a connection between people and birds of prey, consisting of eagles, hawks, falcons, owls, osprey and kites. These hunting birds have keen senses, strong feet with sharp talons for grasping and killing prey, and curved beaks for ripping up their food. Raptors are the only birds that hunt with their feet. The Cascades Raptor Center has 39 large enclosures containing a number of each type of raptor. Each enclosure had signs explaining some of the characteristics of the species as well as an explanation as to how the specific bird came to be at the Raptor Center and why it had not been reintroduced into the wild.

After stopping at a local farmers’ market and having a picnic lunch in the park, we next headed to the Mount Pisgah Arboretum to do some hiking. We ended up hiking about 2 miles along a path that consisted of several trails. Some of the trail intersections were lacking trail markers so we ended up going off course on a few occasions but had an enjoyable hike.

On August 25th we drove 105 miles to Seal Rock on the Oregon coast where we will camp at Seal Rocks RV Cove for a week. Although we knew that we had reserved an ocean-view site, upon our arrival we found that our site greatly exceeded our expectations. We sit up on a hill and our living room windows overlook the Pacific Ocean. After setting up, we went for a short stroll on the beach. Although the forecast calls for sunny days during our stay, the daytime highs are expected to be in the low 60s. The steady wind makes it feel even cooler. It’s quite a change from the warm weather we had in Portland and Eugene.

On Saturday, August 26th, we drove 10 miles north to Newport, OR and spent most of the afternoon strolling along the historic bayfront. There were dozens of fishing boats docked in the harbor and the smell of fish was quite strong. Visiting the bayfront was obviously a popular thing to do and we had to drive quite a distance to find a parking spot. Sea lions were piled up on the jetty and the docks. Their barking was almost constant. We spent time on the pier watching them jockey for position on the small docks. After visiting some of the local shops, we had an early dinner of seafood at a restaurant overlooking the bay.

That evening, we strolled across the road from our campsite and watched the setting sun.

On August 27th we took an afternoon stroll along the beach by our campsite. That evening we watched the sunset from our living room window.

On Monday morning, August 28th, Phil drove five miles south to the town of Waldport to pick up our mail and refuel the truck. That afternoon we drove 15 miles south to the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, a U.S. Forest Service site. First we hiked the 1.5mile Discovery Loop Trail that took us through old growth forest. Next we visited the Visitor Center where we were able to observe several grey whales from the observation deck. Finally we hiked a 2.5 mile section of the Oregon Coast Trail that took us through the forest as the trail ran parallel to the rocky ocean shoreline.

On August 29th we drove 27 miles south along the coastline to the trailhead for the Hobbit Trail. We had done this hike when we vacationed in Oregon three years ago and remember being concerned after reading the posted bear and cougar warnings. The warning are still posted but we were less concerned this time. We chose to hike first to the Heceta Head Lighthouse. The trail to the lighthouse was 1.5 miles one-way and took us through thick forest with several overlooks high above the beaches. The weather was quite foggy and more humid than usual. The first mile was largely a gradual incline but the final half-mile was a steep decline. This made us aware that the beginning of the return trip would be a challenge, and it was. We were exhausted by the time we returned to our car at the trailhead so we decided to eat our lunch in the car before tackling the Hobbit Beach trail.

After lunch, we hiked the Hobbit Trail to the beach. The trail, which is only one half-mile each way, winds through the forest and ends with a tunnel through thick shrubs before opening up at the beach. We enjoyed some time walking on the beach before hiking back to our car and returning home to relax.

On August 30th we drove 38 miles south to the town of Florence. We parked in the Old Town section of Florence and had lunch outdoors on the deck along the Siuslaw River at International C-Food Markets. Then we strolled along Bay Street and visited a number of small shops. We walked along the waterfront and got a close-up view of the Siuslaw River Bridge which was completed in 1936 by the Public Works Administration.

That evening we went walking on our beach at high tide. It was sunny and the wind had died down so it felt warmer than it had all week, although the temperature was still only 62 degrees. With the tide in, we had a hard time getting around the rocks that block off sections of the beach. We thought we might be able to outrun some of the waves as they receded from the rocks but we were wrong. We ended up getting soaked up to our knees by the next incoming wave.

On August 31st we stayed closer to home and prepared for our travel the following day. We went for our last walk on our beach at low tide in the middle of the afternoon. It was interesting to note how much more rock and sand were exposed when the tide was out. We were easily able to walk out on rocks that had been under water at high tide.  We revisited the area where we had gotten soaked the previous evening and had no trouble getting around the rocks this time.

There were several driftwood huts constructed on the beach. We had fun exploring these little houses.

On Friday, September 1st, we had to leave the beauty of our ocean view at Seal Rock and drive 155 miles south on Highway 101 to the Honey Bear By The Sea campground. The campground is about 10 miles north of Gold Beach, OR. We had learned that a huge forest fire, the Chetco Bar fire, was burning five miles northeast of Brookings, OR, about 38 miles south of our campground. The fire had already burned 139,000 acres of forest and was only 10% contained. It wasn’t expected to be fully contained until mid-October. Since we needed to drive through Brookings on our way to California, we were concerned that Highway 101 might be closed at some point, There is no other reasonable route to the Northern California coast. We considered continuing our drive through the fire zone on Friday but, given that it was the start of Labor Day weekend, we didn’t think we’d be able to find another campground with availability farther down the coast. The sky was increasingly smoky as we approached the campground and it immediately affected our eyes.

On September 2nd, Phil drove into the town of Gold Beach to refuel the truck and do some grocery shopping. The skies were even smokier than at the campground but people were going about their business as usual. We decided to drive back up to the coast to get some cleaner air that afternoon. We ended up driving 45 miles north to the town of Bandon, OR where, although the air was still hazy, it was much clearer that at our campground. We spent a couple of hours in Old Town Bandon where we strolled through the farmers market and numerous little shops. We walked out on the pier and watched lots of people fishing for crabs. There were a variety of types of crab cages but there was no variety in the type of bait used; everyone used chicken leg quarters to bait their cages.

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As we walked back to our car, we visited the museum of an organization named WashedAshore.org. Its slogan is “Art to Save the Sea.” They make art work using litter that has washed up on beaches.

From Old Town Bandon we had been able to see the Coquille River Lighthouse across the bay. We drove through Bullard State Park to visit the lighthouse and the north jetty protecting the entrance to the Coquille River.

On our drive back to our campground, we spotted a sign for the Cape Blanco Lighthouse and made a six-mile side trip to see this lighthouse. We arrived too late for a tour and there was a locked gate preventing us from driving to the lighthouse. Initially we decided to just climb the nearby grassy hills to get pictures of the lighthouse from a distance. However, after we had climbed the hills, we noticed other people were just walking up the road all the way to the lighthouse so we did the same.

Our final stop was at Sisters Rock, about three miles north of our campground. We stopped to get a picture that captured the smoky haze over the beach.

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We stayed inside most of the day on September 3rd to avoid exposure to the smoke. On Labor Day, September 4th, the air was considerably less smoky so we were able to get out and explore around the campground. We first walked the various short nature trails within the campground, then walked across Highway 101 to the beach. Although this beach lacked the rocks and tidal pools we’d had at the other beaches, the wave action was more dramatic. We strolled along the sand and both got our pant legs soaked by waves that came in farther and faster than we had expected.