The Oregon Coast

Camping is about roughing it in nature.  The guy in the half-million-dollar motorhome with the heated floors parked in the campsite across from us knows all about roughing it.  He suffers from getting only 89 channels on his satellite TV, which he must watch on his RV’s tiny, 60-inch TV screen.  For him, that’s roughing it.

For us, roughing it means no cell and internet coverage.  To remedy that issue, we drove 14 miles down to Florence, Oregon, where the Verizon people have so nicely placed one of their cell towers.

We figured we’d just find a Starbucks, order a brew and a hot chocolate and sit there for hours happily sending postings from our hotspot-linked laptops.  Unfortunately, the only Starbucks in Florence, Oregon, is a coffee counter located in the Safeway store.

Dianne suggested we head to the local library, which we did.  We grabbed a table in the back where we could quietly type away on our laptop keyboards, reviewing and deleting hundreds of spam emails.  The joys of 21st century civilization.

Now, let’s talk food.  Mo’s is a chain of seafood restaurants in towns on the Oregon coast, and their signs brag about their chowder.  One of their eateries was in Florence and we decided to try it out.  We parked in their lot and headed for the front door where a sign said “closed.” 

Mo’s here no longer opened on Wednesdays and Thursdays.  We had to settle for seafood at an alfresco table on a street in downtown Florence.

On the Beach

The next day, we (Dianne) decided that if we were going to spend all this time on the Oregon Coast, we should get out and walk on the coastal sand and do some “tide pooling.”  I grew up in the Arizona desert where Tide was a laundry detergent. 

My knowledgeable wife, who lived her formative years in the Great Basin Desert, explained to me that tide pooling involved looking for sea life in the pools of water that collect around shore rocks when the tide goes out.

Problem was that the shoreline near where we were camped involved miles of just flat sand.  No rocks.  No pools.  No problem, she insisted.  Instead of wading around the rocks, we would just walk the beach and see what happened. 

Like most Americans, who will cruise the parking lot looking for a close-in spot at the workout center, we drove (not walked) to the beach and parked at the far end of the day-use area lot.  From there, an overgrown path through a tunnel of brush led to the five-mile-long stretch of sand.  Three kids and their mom were walking south on the beach, and we decided to follow them, a hundred yards behind.

Walking on the damp sand left by a receding tide was easy.  We strolled along, inhaling the salty sea air and feeling the gentle caress of the ocean breeze.  Between fingers of misty fog, the sky displayed the bluest shades we’d seen yet on the coast.

A bit over a mile from our starting point, we reached the cliffs bordering the south end of the beach. 

There, in pools formed by the cliff-fallen rocks, we saw starfish and sea anemones.  We were tide pooling, and Dianne was happy as a clam that didn’t make it into Mo’s chowder.

Finally, Mo’s

On our last full day in Oregon, we headed 40 miles back up the coast to the town of Newport where we would meet up with Dianne’s niece who lives a bit farther to the north in Lincoln City.  Without the trailer in tow, we took the opportunity to stop at as many scenic overlooks as we could.

We watched gulls forage for food and waves break over rocks.  We walked down to the Devil’s Churn, a narrow, rocky inlet filled with foaming froth as the waves broke in. 

In the town of Waldport, we stopped at a bakery Dianne had read about.  The writer bragged about their sourdough bread.  I figured it was just paid, advertorial hype, but apparently the locals believed in the product. 

On a Saturday morning, more than a dozen stood in line waiting to get in and spend their money.  Dianne joined the line and an hour later, came out with four loaves of sourdough plus cookies, cinnamon rolls and a new ballcap.

Reaching Newport, we had a brew at a local brew pub, then wandered by the shops and fish processors along Bay Street.  We walked the sidewalk partway across the picturesque Yaquina Bay Bridge…

…and then hiked out to the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, the only wooden lighthouse in Oregon.

Come mid-afternoon, we decided to have lunch (or was it dinner?).  Newport has not one, but two Mo’s restaurants – the Original and one known as the Annex.  The Annex version sits on the waterfront, so we headed there. 

Of course, we tried their chowder, opting for the version served in sourdough “bowls.”  While the chowder we had at Buoy 9 near Fort Stevens was our favorite, this was good enough that Dianne bought a bag of “starter,” which is a “just add milk” condensed version of the soup.

While waiting to hear from the Lincoln City niece, we drove out to the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, Newport’s second lighthouse. 

It was cold and the wind was howling, so we didn’t spend much time there.  We still hadn’t heard from the niece we were supposed to meet, so at 6:00 p.m., Dianne sent a “sorry we missed you” message to her and we headed back to our campsite.

California Bound

With over 200 miles to cover, Sunday would be our longest travel day on the coast.  We got up before the sun, ate breakfast, packed what needed to be packed, drained the black and gray water tanks, slid the slide out in and headed for the California redwoods. 

For camping, I could have reserved a spot at my choice of three California State Park campgrounds, none of which have hookups.  One has a 21-foot trailer-length limit would have been tight for our 22-foot trailer.  Of the other two, only one has a dump station.  We can get by without water and electric hookups, but for our weeklong stay, we need a place to dump sewage.  Plus, deep in the redwoods, we’d need to use a generator to recharge the battery, which is noisy and takes time. 

Instead, since we are elite, gold-plated, premier, diamond-encrusted KOA royalty, we opted to stay at a nearby KOA.  They gave us a nice enough site and we have full hookups.  We don’t plan to spend much time around camp anyway.

That said, we spent the entire day Monday at the KOA never leaving the grounds.

Hello Verizon

I spent Monday morning working with Verizon trying to find out why with three bars of LTE coverage, my download speeds were less than 2.5mbps while Dianne’s phone was getting 40mbps downloads.  The Verizon folks, even the one who spoke English, were nice, but they couldn’t solve the problem. 

Come afternoon, I finished a murder mystery book I had been reading about musically inclined crustaceans (“Where the Crawdads Sing).  Dianne read the book and said it was a real page turner that I would enjoy.  She was right.

Tree Time

Today would be our introduction to the redwoods.  The KOA provided handouts with descriptions of some hikes and drives in the area, and I had some topo maps of the Redwoods National and State Parks.  We chose to hike the Boy Scout Tree Trail that leads to the famous Boy Scout Tree. 

(Okay, I’d never heard of it before, either, but I once was a Boy Scout and if the organization had a tree, I wanted to see it.)

We followed the KOA directions up the narrow access road that led to the trailhead where only a few other cars were already parked.  Packs loaded, we set off up the 2.8-mile trail that led past the Scout tree and on to a small waterfall.

We walked into the forest up the wide, dirt trail where neither bikes nor dogs are allowed.  With trunks reaching 20-plus feet in diameter and heights taller than a 30-story building, it was like walking down a street lined with brown-barked skyscrapers. 

We’d stop along the trail and listen.  There was nary a sound.  Not a bird singing.  Neither chipmunks nor squirrels racing about.  No deer, elk, coyotes, bears nor big-foot sasquatches rustling distant leaves.  It was just dead silence, a rare treat in our world of constant noise.

I brought only one camera body, which had my wide-angle lens attached.  I hoped that with this, I could somehow capture the magnificence of the setting.  The effort was futile because the grandness of the redwoods goes beyond the five senses.  It’s all about how it feels to be dwarfed by such towering grandeur. 

“It makes you feel insignificant,” a fellow hiker summed it up later in the day.

The feeling of insignificance ended at the Boy Scout Tree when we were invaded by a class of about a dozen fifth graders here on a field trip with their teacher and chaperones.  While they broke the spirit of the place, it was fun to see their exuberance as they climbed the tree bark and raced around the perimeter of the 23-foot-wide fused double tree (class record set by one young man was 19 seconds).

Escaping the hoard of 10-year-olds, we continued up the trail to Fern Falls, which late in a drought year wasn’t flowing much. 

Then it was back down the trail where we frequently met other hikers coming or going.

Back on the roadway, we stopped at the Stout Grove where a half-mile trail loops through the redwoods.  From there, it was back on the highway to home where sandwiches of barbecue pork would appear accompanied by some of the worse box wine ever.

“Tastes like rubbing alcohol with a touch of raspberry,” Dianne declared.

Bad wine is just part of the roughing it element of camping.

Back for Gas

It was raining this morning, which made it a nice day for playing catchup in the trailer.  The precipitation ended, and after a bit after lunch, we made a 21-mile shopping run up to Bookings, Oregon.  There, Dianne could buy groceries with no sales tax and I could fill the tank with gas that cost at least $1.50 less than what it cost in California.

On the way back to camp, we stopped by a seafood market by the harbor where Dianne could by some clam chowder to go.  We then walked around, admiring the flotilla of fishing boats moored there.  These are the guys who brave it all to keep all of us supplied with fresh, wild-caught sea food.  Thanks for your service, I was tempted to tell them.

Departing, we passed a statue of a mermaid at the corner of the docks parking lot.  Daryl Hanna definitely did not pose for this one.

With time to kill, we decided to stop by yet another lighthouse, this one, the Battery Head Lighthouse in Crescent City. 

We had to wait for the tide to roll out before we could make the walk up to the structure, which was one of the most picturesque we’ve seen yet.

Back at the trailer, Dianne and I cooked up a delicious meal of clam chowder and the black cod we bought fresh off the boat back in Newport.  Well, my lovely wife actually did all of the cooking, but I ignited the grill and opened the wine.

We all have our jobs to do.   

More Redwoods

As we all know it’s best to not drop portable hard drives onto the hard ground. 

When traveling, I use a small, portable hard drive to back up my photos and other files from my laptop.  Since the laptop stays in the trailer, we keep our backups in the truck.  That way, if a redwood crushes the trailer, I’ll still have my backup.

Loading a few things in the truck, I set the backup drive on the truck tonneau cover.  It got caught on something else, and when I picked up the something else, the hard drive tumbled to the hard, hard ground.  I thought it had survived, but alas, after working for two minutes on a three-minute backup, it died.

Fortunately, we carry spares of darn near everything, so I pulled out another portable drive and started the tedious process of backing up a couple thousand photo files, Quicken files, Excel files and Microsoft Word files.  It took pretty much all morning, but by lunchtime, all was well. 

In the afternoon, we grabbed cameras and headed down Highway 101, stopping at overlooks and taking scenic detours that would be impossible to do pulling the trailer.  One scenic detour was the narrow, unpaved Coastal Drive south of Klamath.  We got views of the Klamath river…

…saw the remains of the old bridge that was wiped out by a torrential flood in 1964.

We were treated to lofty views of the ocean…

…and we stopped by the site of a historic, World War II radar station disguised as a farmhouse.

Farther down the highway, we took a detour onto the Newton B. Drury Parkway through Prairie Redwoods State Park.  Here stands “The Big Tree.”  Getting to it required a hike of about 100 yards, and that’s as far as most visitors ventured.

After admiring the tree, we took a look at the nearby direction marker and decided to walk on. 

After viewing more big trees and even bigger trees, we returned to the truck and headed down to the park’s visitor center where Dianne added a Redwoods mug to our ever-expanding mug collection.  (I had previously added a Mt. Hood mug to the collection.)

Then it was back to camp where we could enjoy more of our Spanish boxed wine with a steak dinner.  Yum.

One Final Redwoods Hike

Ronald Reagan was widely quoted as saying that if you’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen them all.  I absolutely loathe admitting it, but he was somewhat right.  There’s not a lot to see on a hike through the redwoods except redwoods, ferns and more redwoods.  It’s a fantastic experience the first time (and pretty nice the second).  But after a few miles of trees, trees and more trees, it gets a bit repetitive, repetitive and more repetitive.

For our last hike, we decided to do the Little Bald Hills Trail, an out and back trail that climbs 1,800 vertical feet up to a wide, forested ridge.  We’d have redwoods down low…

…before climbing into a forest of Douglas firs and Port Orford cedars. 

Knobcone pine, black huckleberry, hairy manzanita and azalea follow, intermixed with open (bald) splotches of grass. 

Up high, we even got a few openings where we could look out at the neighboring hills, which, of course, were all totally blanketed with trees. The hike was about five miles to the park boundary and five miles back. 

A backcountry campground stands at the three-mile point. 

This would have been a nice place to bunk down back in our backpacking days.  Fortunately, the thief who broke into our storage locker last year stole our backpacks and tent.  That provided us with a suitable excuse to admit that our shlepping 50-pounds-on-the-back, backpacking days are over.

Back at our sipping 12-ounces-from-a-can, trailer campground camp…

…Dianne cooked up some chicken fajitas.  With no margarita fixings available, we did the next best thing and paired our Mexican treat with that Spanish boxed wine – the stuff that Dianne proclaimed tasted like “rubbing alcohol with a touch of raspberry.”

Plans Change

We were supposed to go from the redwoods to Lassen National Park for a three-night stay.  Instead of sitting in the trailer, I’d be hiking through the forest or standing atop Lassen Peak.  Unfortunately, a 5:45 a.m. phone call on Saturday morning resulted in a sudden change of plans.

Dianne’s oldest living brother has been diagnosed with stage-4 bladder cancer.  The pre-dawn call from him told us that things were far worse than expected. Dianne was charged with personally relaying the unhappy news, face-to-face, to her parents. 

They live in Grass Valley, a small city located about 60 miles north of Sacramento. We were going to stay in Grass Valley at the county fairgrounds RV park for a two-night parental visit after Lassen, but because of the urgency of the situation, we cancelled our Lassen reservation and booked two additional nights at the county fairgrounds.

The Crescent City to Grass Valley distance was more than we wanted to drive in one day, so we booked an intermediate stopover at a new KOA in Red Bluff, a half-hour’s drive south of Redding, California, where Dianne’s brother is hospitalized.  That allowed Dianne time for a nice long visit as we passed through town.

The KOA in Red Bluff was one of the nicest KOAs we’ve ever visited.  It was also one of the most expensive KOAs we’ve ever visited. But it offered all the amenities we wanted like full hookups and clean restrooms.

To top it off, the location just off Interstate 5 gave us a constant din of traffic noise, interrupted when freight trains ran down tracks on the other side of the park.  For even more money, we could have had a back-in site by the fountains where the sound of the water might drown out some of the noise.

We filled up with fuel on our way out of town.  California gas is known for being bloody expensive, and it was.  In Crescent City, unleaded fuel cost nearly (or over) $7.00 per gallon.  While there, we drove 20 miles north to Brookings, Oregon, to top up the tank at less than $5.50 a gallon. 

At $6.399 per gallon, Red Bluff fuel was cheaper than Crescent City, but it still cost over $114.00 to fill a ¾-empty tank.  When I was growing up, a $5 bill would fill the family Buick and we’d get change back.

Our site at the county fairgrounds campground (which cost half what the KOA cost) is nice enough.  We’ve got full hookups and the restrooms are old, but clean and spacious. Best of all, we’ve got Ponderosa pines in every direction.

I’m sitting in the trailer alone today.  Dianne, her sister and her parents are driving up to Redding to see the brother/son for perhaps the last time.  It will be a sad evening when they return.