Oregon Coast

Seaside to Coos Bay, Oregon – October, 2015 Barely more than a month after leaving the Atlantic Ocean we arrived at the Pacific. We don’t have any desire to travel that far, that fast very often but it was nice to know we could and it was still a pretty relaxing journey.

We were excited to see as much of the pacific coast as we could while it was still warm enough to enjoy. We had driven down the Washington coast and stopped at Astoria, Oregon one long weekend 8 years before. For this reason and because a friend recommended the town we started this journey in the town of Seaside, Oregon and spent the next 2 weeks traveling about 300 miles down highway 101 in Oregon.

The coast was amazing. Every curve brought another spectacular view. There are constant opportunities to stop and stroll another beach. Here are some of the highlights from north to south.

Seaside is a fun town and our favorite stop was at the Seaside Aquarium. It has a pool full of seals and you can buy anchovies to feed them. They are smart little buggers and when they see you approach with food, the whole lot of ’em put on quite a show trying to get your attention so you will throw them a snack. They are absolutely adorable!

We enjoyed a drive out to Cape Meares and a visit to Oceanside. In Oceanside a portion of beach is inaccessible during high tide so they have built a tunnel to it. It is awesome to come out of the dark tunnel and see the pretty, secluded beach.

Depoe Bay is known for gray whale sightings. We didn’t see any whales from town so we stopped at several other places they are often seen. We finally spotted some from Otter Crest Wayside Park. We saw a half dozen at a time and they kept popping up all over the place so I’m curious how many there actually were. Unfortunately the overlook was 500 feet above the water and it was impossible to catch a good pic of them.

They were amazing to see though and it was hard to tear ourselves away. But we finally did to visit nearby Devil’s Punchbowl State park. Very Cool!

And the views there were amazing.

Newport was a great little town. Their historic bayfront was pretty cool. They have a large population of sea lions that were quite amusing to watch and would have been more so if the smell (I presume theirs) was not so atrocious.

Cape Perpetua had Thor’s well and several blowholes. It was an awesome display of the ocean’s power.

Shores Acres State Park had a beautiful beach but the highlight was the formal gardens.

We stayed in 5 different campsites but the 2 most notable were boondocking in Chinook Winds Casino parking lot which is right next to the prettiest beach.

And our last camp in Oregon which was one of our favorite boondocks to date. There is free camping all along Bastendorf Beach Road which is more suitable for small rigs. But at the end of the road is a large parking lot with plenty of room. The county does have an RV park also but just ignore that and keep going. The area probably gets crowded in the summer but in October, even on a weekend, there were less than 10 rigs with plenty of room to spread out. An awesome beach was a short walk away but right in front of the parking lot is this view of the mouth of Coos Bay.

A few of our other favorite things about Oregon were the number of very cool old bridges.

I found Oregon’s birds funnier than your average birds.

And no sales tax!!

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake, Oregon – October, 2015 What a magical place Crater Lake is! And to think we almost missed it. By coming to Oregon so much later than we originally planned I thought we would have to pass on an item very near the top of our bucket list. After all it often snows at Crater by early October and we don’t do snow any more. But as we got nearer Jim pointed out that the weather was holding out pretty well. Lows were in the 30s but highs were sometimes reaching the 60s still.

We planned to pass through Bend, Oregon on our way through to the coast and Crater is only an hour and a half south of there. We debated several options. The main campground at Crater closed at the end of September but there seemed to be some boondocking options at Annie Creek snow camp. In the end we decided to stay near Bend which is at a lower elevation and enjoy slightly warmer nights, then make the 1 ½ hour drive to Crater to explore for one day.

Just before arriving in Bend the landscape changed dramatically. We had finally reached the part of Oregon that looked like we expected; BIG trees, lots of ’em, mostly evergreen. We enjoyed the drive to Crater early on a Thursday morning, arriving around 9 am. We spent the day driving the Rim Drive all the way around the lake.

Each pullout seemed to offer a more beautiful view than the last. And every time you thought the water couldn’t get any bluer, it did. Even from hundreds of feet up you could see the coastline under the incredibly clear water.

The day started out pretty overcast. The temperature stayed around 52 all day. When the sun was hiding behind the clouds it felt more like 30 and we kept adding layers but when the sun chose to shine, which it did for several hours around lunch, it felt more like 70 and we were stripping down to our t-shirts.

We walked the rim at Rim Village and visited the beautiful Crater Lake Lodge.

What a great place it would be to enjoy the sunrise.

We ate the soup we’d brought for lunch among the pines then hiked the Sun Notch Trail for the best view of Shipwreck Island.

The park has been experiencing the worst fire in its history but it is now under control. We passed a forest of what looked like burnt toothpicks on the way in and we drove through a small amount of smoke. The signs say it will continue to burn until a good rain or heavy snow finally put it out. But it didn’t appear that the fire got anywhere near the rim. The views were stunning even when you were looking away from the lake. The mist in this pic is actually smoke.

We are so very happy that we didn’t miss this opportunity to visit Crater Lake. Sure we expect to visit again for a longer period of time someday. But life is unpredictable and if that opportunity eludes us we will still have some amazing memories of this day and beautiful photos to remind us of the experience.

In Bend we stayed at our first Thousand Trails campground. They now participate in Passport America so we got it for $28 per night. The sight was water and electric and offered pretty good privacy tucked in to the trees but we were expecting this previously members’ only campgrounds to be a little fancier. To be fair, it had a lot of amenities that we didn’t take advantage of including a heated outdoor pool and hot tub that were still open.

Since this first visit we have stayed at more Thousand Trails and discovered they are just like any other campgrounds, some have better sites and amenities and some are a bit rustic. We have since joined their club. They currently offer zone passes for only $550 per year and had a buy one zone, get one zone free deal. You get 30 days of free camping with your pass so as soon as you take advantage of that you just got 30 days of camping for only $18 per night. After that, you can camp an unlimited number of nights for $3 per night. I estimate we will use it at least 90 nights just this winter and expect it to save us over $1000 in lot rent during that time.

There are some rules that are designed to limit peoples’ use of the parks so that everyone has a chance to enjoy them. You can stay up to 4 nights at a park then move to another and continue to stay at various parks 4 nights at a time. Or you can stay at a park up to 14 days. But any time your stay exceeds 4 nights you have to stay out of the system for 7 nights before you can stay again. So you can stay in the parks 2 out of every 3 weeks if you’d rather not move often.

Even though we bought the pass in Oregon we were almost finished visiting the northwest so we chose the southwest and southeast zones so it includes pretty much the entire southern half of the US. I was assured I shouldn’t have any trouble getting reservations in California throughout the winter and so far I haven’t. I’m certainly prepared for the possibility that I might not always get into the park of my choice, especially on the weekends.

Heaven

Cheyenne to Flaming Gorge NRA, Wyoming – September, 2015 Jim appeared mildly alarmed when I looked at him one afternoon and stated “I want to be more adventurous in our sleeping arrangements.”  Relief registered on his face as I went on to explain I thought we should be more daring in choosing boondocks. We were about to make our way across Wyoming and I had my eye on a couple of free camping arrangements. The weather was perfect for boondocking and Jim was agreeable.

Our first destination was Cheyenne. We expected to get there around lunch and needed a place to leave the trailer while we explored the town, then we planned to move on first thing the next morning. I saw Sierra Trading Post listed under overnight camping on my Allstays app. It looked great and a heck of a lot better than a Walmart. When we arrived we discovered it had a huge empty lot for RVs. The employees were also incredibly friendly and the store was pretty great too. They sell sporting goods and apparently do a huge amount of business online. The further you went into the store the bigger the discounts got.

I wanted to check out Cheyenne’s free botanical gardens. What we found was a lovely park that included walking trails, a lake, and the gardens. A big part of the gardens were closed for construction but what was left was very nice. My favorite part was the children’s garden. It was beautiful and extremely well planned and appealed to the child in each of us.

We returned to our home in the parking lot. We were joined by a motor home and a semi later that evening. It did turn out to be one of the louder places we have slept. Semi-trucks carrying goods to and from Sierra’s warehouse drove right by our rig all night long. But this minor inconvenience was worth the savings.

Our next stop was Flaming Gorge Reservoir. We aimed for a dispersed camping area on the west side of the lake called Buckboard South. I had reviewed the satellite image and thought it looked pretty safe. We actually did have some close calls on the road in and could have found a better route to our campsite if we had scouted it better, but it all worked out. We had a great spot right by the water with this view.

Which got even better at sunset.

We didn’t see another sole the whole first day. The next day we went for a walk and discovered a neighbor just a half mile from us. While kayaking we discovered there were about a dozen campers on the peninsula. The best campsights were at the very end but they also had the nearest neighbors. I liked our private site back in the cove.

We finally got our replacement solar panels installed. While working on the roof we discovered we had an audience, this pronghorn.

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We also saw about a million rabbits. They looked like a cottontail but were as big as jackrabbits.

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But the best part about this boondock in the middle of nowhere was the night sky. I woke up at 2 am one morning and stepped outside. It was amazing! I had been dying to play with the settings on my new camera so I dragged it and a tripod outside for about an hour. Jim was sound asleep and every time a fish jumped behind me I just about had a heart attack. I have a lot to learn about night photography. I believe a bit of beginner’s luck was involved when I captured a shooting star directly over my rig.

Not 20 minutes after I got back to my warm bed I heard a lot of scuffling noises outside. The next morning we discovered coyote tracks around camp and their hairs on our grill. Glad I didn’t run into them while I was out there!

Roots

Curtis, Nebraska – September, 2015 Jim has always wanted to visit the area his father was born and raised in but it was so far out of the way that we never could swing it. When we realized our chosen route west would take us right by Frontier County Nebraska, just south of North Platte, it was a done deal.

When I started researching the area I looked up the county website. It said that the largest town was Curtis, population 939, and the county seat was Stockville, population 25. Say what?! Turns out the county only has about 2000 residents, half of which live in Curtis. The county was organized and Stockville was named the county seat in 1872. Some years later land developers started the town of Curtis and persuaded people to move there. The town of Stockville barely survived but retained its county seatedness.

I first planned to stay at one of two state parks that are 30 plus miles from both Stockville and Curtis. But thankfully I called the Curtis City Hall to see if they had any other suggestions and they informed me they had 4 electric sites at Mill Creek Park on the edge of Curtis. They were first come first serve so we decided to stop there first and see if we could get one of the sites before we headed to a state park next. We arrived late on a Thursday morning and lucky for us there were still 2 electric sites left. The best part was they were free for the first 3 nights and only $5 per night thereafter.

Jim didn’t really know a lot of specifics about his father’s upbringing there. Both his grandparents on his father side immigrated to the area as children and then met and married and had his father. He had some names and dates of birth and had found some census data online. He had heard his father speak of Curtis so he thought that he likely lived near there. We hoped if we were lucky we might find some real estate records that would indicate where exactly in the county they lived. His father left to serve in WW2 and didn’t return to Nebraska to stay after he got back. His grandparents also moved away from the area before Jim was born.

I couldn’t wait to see the county seat with only 25 inhabitants. We headed there first thing Friday morning to see what we could learn. It was a bit of a ghost town with a few pretty cool abandoned buildings.

The courthouse wasn’t much to look at but the people inside were incredibly friendly and went out of their way to try to help us. They had typed lists that were supposed to represent land records and we did not find the names of any of Jim’s ancestors on them. They searched their school records and didn’t find his dad’s records but did incredibly find a record that showed where Jim’s great grandfather, Peter, enrolled his grandfather, Harry, and several siblings in school in the year 1900. The district no longer exists but they showed on a map approximately where it once was.

In short, we explored every little town in the county and searched all three of the cemeteries we found without finding any stones with his surname on them and left knowing little more than when we got there. It was fun though to know that we were driving the same roads and seeing many of the same buildings that existed during his father’s childhood in the 1920’s and 30’s.

By luck we were in Curtis during their annual Fall Festival. This included a calf roping contest Friday night and a rodeo Saturday night in the very park where we were camped. I took a walk around the park Friday afternoon and the calves seemed most interested in me when I tried to get their picture.

They were interested in other things later that night when I got this pic of one.

The rodeo was fun but it lasted a lot longer into the night than we did. Thankfully we were too tired to be bothered by the noise. The festival also included a Saturday morning parade, a quilt show, and lots of games and rides for small children in another town park. We really enjoyed our stay here. The people were friendly and the landscape had a raw beauty that grew on us.