Along the Columbia River (Aug 5 2016)


Tillamook Bay is quite large, with several small towns along it. It looks like it would be good for kayaking, plus I think all the bays have good clamming and crabbing. We might have to come back during the crabbing season.

It’s a non-stop drive up to Fort Stevens, past more seaside resort towns, estuaries, rivers… Oregon is one wet state!

A turnoff takes you to the State Park and the mouth of the Columbia River. It’s incredibly chilly here. A guy in the parking lot is all bundled up with waders, knit cap, waterproof parka, etc. and ready to go fishing IN the river. Brrr.

I guess this is a great birding spot, too, with hunting allowed during the season. (“Do not shoot towards the land,” warns a sign. Yikes. Sounds like a dangerous place to visit during the season!)

FortClatsop3A different turnoff from 101 goes inland to Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark ended their journey and set up their winter camp. They traveled all the way from St. Louis out to the Pacific Coast (1804-1806) back when Thomas Jefferson was president and looking at the map, it seems like they were on the north side of the Columbia River, getting to the Pacific on the Washington side. They named that Cape Disappointment and reading their logs, they were completely NOT taken by their destination. Bitch, bitch, bitch.

There was “Dismal Nitch” and “the steepest worst and highest mountain I ever assended.” Lewis was especially a sourpuss. I am not surprised he committed suicide a few years later. “It was actually because he had financial problems,” Big Dog mansplains and I think, “Maybe he had financial problems because he was such a downer.”

At the same time, I am sure it was really tough for the travelers. Of the 108 days they spent at the fort, it rained every day but 12, people suffered from colds, flu and other ailments, clothing rotted, fleas infested bleeding, there was little food and I guess because they had to be indoors so much, they had plenty of time to write their many complaints. There is a collection of artifacts and replicas in the visitor center, and next to it, a re-created fort where docents show you some of the stuff they had to do to survive — cutting logs for log cabins, making buckskin clothing…


Astoria, another port town and the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies, is a short distance away and the main town at the mouth of the Columbia River. As a working seaport, you see all sorts of giant, colorful tankers heading up river. Sunset Magazine did a nice story about this town so you can read all about it there.

We do not stop but keep going towards Portland, stopping at a wayside for a quick lunch in the RV.

Is that Mt. Hood off in the distance? It’s the tallest mountain in Oregon, rising to 11,250 feet, so it might be.


We stop at Big Dog’s childhood friend’s house near Mount Tabor, a very nice residential area in an older part of town.

My friends had told me that I would probably like Portland and I wish I had had more time to explore the town, but after dinner with F and C, we have to move onwards to Salem, to J’s place.

J is Big Dog’s friend from his university days. A potter at that time, J helped Big Dog on some construction work at his Victorian.

We get to his enclave and Bailey immediately takes to him! Since we started taking her on our trips, many people have complimented us on our “beautiful” “gorgeous” “cute” dog/puppy and many kids have asked if they could pet her (adults, too!) so she has gotten used to being touched by strangers (without growling or biting!) but you can tell that she is just putting up with it: her body is rigid and she walks away the first moment she gets. But with J, it was different. As we drive to his home, she has her head out the window and he comes up and starts playing with her. She doesn’t even flinch. Next thing you know, she’s wagging her way into his home as if she’s known him forever!



Oregon Caves (July 6 2015)

Because we were so close to Oregon Caves, we are in the Park by 10:30 and are signed up for one of the first tours through the Caves. The only way to get inside the cave (despite the name, the main cave is a single system) is to go on a tour and tickets are only available at the Park, on a first-come, first-served basis.

Big Dog is worried about having to pee while on the tour and has a little plastic bottle hidden in his pocket. If he needs to use it, at least it will be dark enough!

OregonCaves2Soon, we are going in, with the ranger and a couple dozen other people. It is chilly!

While not at the scale of the caves at Carlsbad, this one has many beautiful highlights, too. Like a river that runs through the cave. It’s called River Styx, appropriately enough.

It’s nice to get back to the warm outside! We take a stroll through the Chateau, a six-story hotel built in a rustic, woodland style. There’s a little stream running right through it, too!

OregonCaves22“Wow, we were really lucky,” I comment. “Being in that campground last night and getting to the Caves early enough.”

On the way back down we pass car after car, all heading to the Caves.

199 goes back to the California Coast, through the Smith River National Recreation Area, part of the Six Rivers National Forest. Yes, this is River Country!

SixRiversWilderness2The trees start changing – you begin to see redwoods – and the temps start dropping as you approach Cresent City.

It’s cool and foggy. We are back on the coast!

MouthofKlamath1The road from Crescent City to Klamath is new to me and Sprockets, but the landscape is familiar. Redwoods, ocean, grey skies.

There’s an overlook at Klamath where we can see the mouth of the Klamath. The fogginess brings with it a unique quiet, as well as the melancholy of a roadtrip’s end.


The Mobs of Crater Lake (July 4 2015)

The couple who rescued our screenhouse yesterday are heading to the town of Merrill, just across the Oregon border.

“It’s the cutest town and they have a nice Fourth of July parade,” they tell us.

We don’t know if we’ll make it in time for the parade but decide to head in that direction. But first, there are more caves to explore, more walks to take and more stuff to see.

PetroglyphCave1Like one of the largest panels of Native American rock art at Petroglyph Point.

PetroglyphCave4Or Captain Jack’s Stronghold. The Modoc tribe used the lava beds as a defensive stronghold during the Modoc War of 1872-73 and this is where they held off the US Army for five months.

WW@CapnJackStrongholdCapnJackStronghold4Those Modocs were tough! And I thought Tule Lake was hell for the Japanese Americans. The Modocs fought long and hard to stay here, in this barren land, where summers are hotter than hell and winters are colder than hell! They holed up in lava beds and caves, starving, rather than be driven out by the settlers.

CapnJackStronghold1I want to go and visit the internment camps but Big Dog is not interested. Guess I’ll have to do it on my own, some other time. Instead, we drive by Tule Lake, a paradise of birds, and lush farmlands. It looks like they are growing rice here, from the irrigation canals.


Merrill shows up just in time for lunch, at a local restaurant called Pappy Ganders. The parade must be over because the town looks pretty deserted.

From Merrill, we continue up 39 to Klamath Falls. On the edge of the city, there’s a house with little birdhouses for sale in the front yard.

birdhouseforsale1“It said 5 dollars!” and I make Big Dog stop so I can go and buy one. Up close, I realize that, yes, these really ARE 5 dollar birdhouses – none of them are very well crafted – but I get the best of the lot anyway, from a toothless, scary-looking man with unkempt hair.

The city of Klamath Falls looks big and boring so we just keep going north along Highway 97, on the eastern edge of Upper Klamath Lake. After the road splits and we’re on 62, things become more forested. This must be the foot of the volcano that created Crater Lake.

CraterLake3When we enter Crater Lake National Park and get to the Visitor Center, we are shocked. The place is mobbed with people, most of them East Indian. Add in the Chinese and the place is a zoo. The East Indians for some reason travel in huge groups – are they multi-family groups? Each one is at least a dozen people so they seem to overpopulate the place.

Of course there are no campsites available but the ranger say there are several outside the park, so we drive along the Rim, taking in the sights, most of them crowded with loud and happy mobs. Big Dog is sorely disappointed.

CraterLake18Finally, we find a spot that seems deserted and stop there. In this quiet, I finally understand why the indigenous people came here on vision quests. There is a divine beauty and an air of intense spirituality. Crater Lake is meant to be visited alone – with no other people in sight.

CraterLake8We don’t know where we’ll spend the night. The campgrounds might all be full by now. Big Dog turns off at the Union Creek Trailhead and finds a level-ish clearing. This will do, I shrug, but when Big Dog returns from his scouting mission, he wants to leave.

“The place is full of mozzies. I got nailed all over my legs just on that little walk!”

They have just found out about me and are starting to come at me, too.

CraterLakeroadSo we continue down, along the Rogue River, and soon come to the Farewell Bend campground. There is one last spot available! It’s already getting dark so we quickly make dinner and settle in for the night.

Lava Beds and Lava Caves (July 3 2015)

Medicine Lake is a pretty little lake.When we walked along its shores at sunset the day before, it was calm and quiet with a few fly fishermen, mothers reading to their children and couples strolling. The afternoon’s last light lit up the other side, also fringed with trees and small meadows. The water level here is low, too – as most lakes are in California in this drought – but not miserably low like some.

CH@MedicineLake1In the morning, we take out the kayak. There are a few motor boats out already but not enough to be obnoxious. Most of the visitors here seem to just want to take it easy. It’s a nice hour or so of kayaking – just enough to create blisters at the base of my thumbs – and there’s a dip in the lake afterwards to substitute for the missing showers.

“Do you want to stay another night?” I ask Big Dog.

“No, we better move on to Lava Beds. It’s still the 3rd.”

We are already into the Independence Day Weekend, but alright.

ModocVolcanicByway1LavaBeds1You have to go down another dirt road to Lava Beds, but thankfully, only for 16 miles.

The landscape is completely different. Whereas Medicine Lake was wooded and cool, it is now open and HOT. We find an unoccupided campsites that’s pretty level and has a pad where we can set up our screen house and then head off to see the sights of Lava Bed. Which are not really lava beds at all but are the caves created by lava tubes. We know all about them from our visit to Volcano National Park in Hawaii years ago.

LavaBeds2LavaBeds4Big Dog read up on Lava Beds before we left so we are prepared with gloves, knee pads and flashlights. We don’t have hardhats but we don’t expect to take on the more challenging caves. The park guide rates them from easy to moderate to difficult and we decide to do the easy and moderate ones.

The visitor center also has flashlights, gloves, and even hardhats. And an unusual number of Asians. In my experience, Asians are usually the smallest minority at National Parks.

Part of the demographics mystery is solved when the ranger gives us leaflets on the Tule Lake Internment Camps. Ahhh, so that was the draw.

As you might well know, during World War II, Japanese Americans in the United States were incarcerated in camps in the interior of the country. President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the deportation and incarceration with Executive Order 9066, and all people of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the entire West Coast, including all of California and much of Oregon, Washington and Arizona.

As the war continued, in both Europe and the Pacific, the War Department hoped to recruit “loyal” Niseis into military service and circulated a questionnaire designed to assess the “Americanness” of the respondent. The final two questions on the form asked whether one would 1) be willing to serve in the armed forces and 2) forswear their allegiance to the Emperor of Japan.

Most camp inmates simply answered “yes” to both questions, but others gave negative or qualified replies. Many worried that expressing a willingness to serve would be equated with volunteering for combat, while others felt insulted at being asked to risk their lives for a country that had imprisoned them and their families. Some believed that renouncing their loyalty to Japan would suggest that they had at some point been loyal to Japan and disloyal to the United States. Can you imagine what it must have been like for people who had been upstanding citizens to suddenly have their lives so scrambled, property taken away and imprisoned?

The Tule Lake camp was specifically for those who did not take the loyalty oath. Wouldn’t that really make these Japanese-Americans more “American”? They were the ones who understood what an injustice this was and were not going to bow down. The more Japanese Japanese-Americans were used to following authority, no matter what, right or wrong, but these citizens felt that it was so wrong for the United States to imprison them for their race that they did not swear to be “loyal” unconditionally. I doubt any of them wanted to defect to Japan, though after decades of living as Americans and suddenly forced to sell or abandon your property because of your racial heritage, some might have thought, well, maybe I AM Japanese, no matter what my citizenship says.

LavaBedCave2Sorry for the rant. I am digressing, because Lava Beds is really all about caves. There are a couple dozen caves here that we can explore. Some are easy and for the casual visitor, others are a bit harder, and then there are those that are for the real enthusiasts. Talk about DARK! At one point in one of the caves, I make Big Dog turn off his flashlight just to see how dark it is. It’s darker than dark. As dark as dark can be. This is what it will look like when you are buried alive!

insideLavaBedCave2Caves mean bats and Lava Beds is also an important bat habitat. Before going into any of the caves, you have to answer a questionnaire to protect bats from white nose syndrome. But don’t worry. Even if you’ve been into caves in Europe or east of the Rockies in North America, you are not banned. You just can’t take any clothing or equipment from these caves into the western caves.

Lookoutview1Back at the campground, our things are all awry. The wind blew our screenhouse away and kind campers next door had retrieved it for us and weighted it down with their spikes. Thank you, kind campers!


Trains, Mule Trains, Mules and Mule Deer (Apr 29 2014)

GrandCyn60.JPGIt’s the last day at Grand Canyon and we get up early to get parking at the Main Visitors Center, but we rushed for nothing. At 9am, the parking lot is still pretty empty.

From here, we take the Orange Shuttle to the end of its route and walk back along the Rim. From South Kaibab Trailhead, down the switchbacks to Ooh-Aah Point. There are plenty of older people walking these trails, many with walking poles that look a bit like ski poles. They seem to have become very popular over the last few years.

A family of hyper-amped up Japanese run and skip down the steep trail, paying no attention to anything up ahead.

“So typical,” grimaces Big Dog. It scares us both – they look like an accident waiting to happen.

OohAahPt4.JPGOoh-Aah Point is mobbed by a huge group of school kids. They are not as cute as the two French boys we also meet on the trail. The older one is a teenager and a bit self-conscious, but the younger one who is about 10 or 11 is completely unselfconscious and cute as a button. Apparently, no one has told him that the entire world does not speak French because he asks me where I’m from – in French. (I am happy to have understood his question and been able to reply, though it probably did nothing to change his linguistic world perspective.)

One day, I’d like to hike down to the Colorado River, but Big Dog doesn’t think he wants to do that.

“How about a mule train, then?” I ask and he considers it until we cross paths with an actual mule train. It looked like great fun for me but too uncomfortable for Big Dog.

GCmuleride10.JPG“A river trip would be better. Plus, with the mules, you’re just seeing the same scenery from different heights. You’d get more from a river trip with the ever-changing scenery,” he says. However, at $200/day or more, it’s highly unlikely either of us will ever do this.

GCsign3.JPGThere are plenty of mules but also plenty of mule deer, who are, incidentally, not a cross between mules and deer! The name comes from their large, mule-like ears. The tourists go nuts when there’s one in sight, surround them and get too close. And feed them, despite all the warning signs.

GCmuledeer4.JPGGCmuledeer8.JPGBack at the Visitors Center, we eat, drink water and then take a shuttle to the Village area to check out the Grand Canyon train. There’s a real American train “otaku” on board with us, wearing a striped engineer’s cap.

GCtrainstn1.JPGThe station is small and well-preserved, but the train ride does not go along the Grand Canyon rim like we had thought. It takes you from Williams TO this station, thus Rails TO the Rim. Not Rails ALONG the Rim.

From the Bright Angel Trailhead, we walk down to a natural tunnel. It is incredible how many fit and active old people there are. It’s very encouraging. Plus, you don’t see many massive fatties in these parks. Guess massive fatties aren’t the outdoorsy types. Or even traveling types. How can you be if the couch is your best friend?

GCBrightAngelTrail4.JPGGCBrightAngelTrail5.JPGUnlike the Winter Roadtrip, this trip has not been about American Culture. It’s been about nature’s artistry and the wonders of the wilderness and we have soaked in much during the past couple of weeks.

Including dirt, dust and smells.

I really want to shower. I really NEED to shower. And there are camper services just outside the Mather Campground! Sure, it costs $2 to shower, but you get 8 minutes and even though Big Dog would have wanted to share that time, men and women are in separate sides so I get my very own 8 minutes of nice, warm showering.

When I start showering, I’m the only person there, but as I get ready to leave, another person enters and begins showering IN THE VERY NEXT STALL! Out of a dozen stalls, all empty except mine, she has to be in the very next one? What is up with that??? Water splashes in from her stall and it is a bitch to dry myself and get back into my clothes without getting all wet.

“I want to see the sunset! I think it’ll be a good day for it. We can drive to a viewpoint, watch the canyon colors change while having our beers,” I suggest.

GCsunset5.JPGBig Dog drives Sprockets to a viewpoint, east of the Visitors Center, but it’s a bit of a dud. Both the sunset and the beers. The canyons didn’t redden and “pop” like we thought they would, instead, turning into more shadow, and the beers were…just mediocre and better for their labels than contents.

GCsunset3.JPGWe stop at Yavapai point before the campground. The sunset is better here and there are throngs with cameras. On the west side of the museum, more people are sitting, staring at the setting sun.

GCsunset6.JPGGCsunset7.JPGGCsunset14.JPGGCsunset15.JPG“It’s just going to disappear behind the canyons and then everything’ll get dark,” says Big Dog. No, it’s not quite like a beach sunset.


Grand Canyonitis (Apr 28 2014)

GrandCyn16.JPGIt’s great to be able to spend so much time here. It’s great not to feel rushed and I love the ability to just BE and soak in what the place is all about instead of running around frantically trying to see all that you can in a day or two.

And today’s SUNNY! Even better than the day before! So this is the day for the massive Rim Walk – from the Bright Angel Trailhead to Hermit’s Rest. It’s probably 10 to 13 miles of walking and depending on where you are, you see different perspectives of the Grand Canyon.

GrandCyn28.JPGOne can easily get Grand Canyonitis here. It’s my made-up name for the affliction of the eye that makes you think every new view is somehow better, making you take another exceedingly similar photo. My case of Grand Canyonitis must be pretty bad because I make Big Dog hand over the camera again and again, probably taking the exact same shot he just took.

GrandCyn18.JPGGrandCyn22.JPGGrandCyn25.JPGGrandCyn26.JPGShuttle buses run 3 routes and most people hop on and hop off. We try to time it so that we get to the vista points between the busloads.

We walk mostly in silence – neither Big Dog nor I are big talkers anyway, and somehow silence seems to suit the grandeur of the place more. It’s only when we come across a couple dressed identically that we start poking each other and giggling. The couple kind of looked alike, too, so it was doubly eerie to see them in matching hats, jackets, packs…and even jeans and shoes! Did they get a 2 for 1 discount?

GrandCyn37.JPGGrandCyn45.JPGGrandCyn52.JPGAlong the way, we meet a French guy on a bicycle who is on is way from Alaska from Argentina (Patagonia.) He was trying to sleep on a rock but people kept wanting to talk to him.

The end of the trail is Hermit’s Rest – a very busy stop with souvenier shops, snack bar and so on. It also has a filtered water filling station. These are placed around the Park for people to fill their water bottles. It’s a wonderful way to decrease the number of plastic bottles. Plus, we are able to fill our big water jug at these taps.

GCHermitsRest.JPGOn the way back to the campground, we stop at The Market to catch their WiFi and have a peek inside. It’s a BIG store! And food prices are actually quite reasonable! I even pick up a 6-pack of Grand Canyon Beer.

Tonight’s evening entertainment is watching the couple at the next site and making up stories about them. The woman is on the phone forever – she looks like a stressed out professional. Maybe her husband is already retired or maybe he just wanted an outdoor weekend, but she is not at all into it. He makes the fire, cooks the dinner, cleans up – while she remains on the phone. Then, they split, leaving a stack of papers that fly around (we chase after them) and bags of food that a raven is all too happy to enjoy (we chase it away.)

Getting the Lay of the Grand Canyon Land (Apr 27 2014)

GrandCyn3.JPGWoohoo! There’s sun! (Okay, and some clouds, but…) It’s still cold but not miserable like the day before.

Deciding to walk around the Village, we drive out to the Vandercamp Visitor Center. Vehicles over 20 feet are not allowed in the parking lot but Sprockets manages to wedge into the last available parking space.

An old curio shop doubles as a historical museum of sorts with memorabilia and time lines of the Grand Canyon. Hopi House near by is another Mary Colter creation – she must have been one busy architect here. Hopi House is a gallery-shop of lots of very cool authentic Indian crafts and jewelry – and maybe a few made-in-China knock offs. The building is not as cool as the Desert View Tower, however.

El Tovar is the original lodge and all dark wood and curved shingled roofs outside, dark wood, fireplace and trophy heads on the inside. Right outside is the terminal for the Grand Canyon train.

GCtrain1.JPGThere’s a mid-century type two-story complex and the Bright Angel Lodge, a log cabin-y lodge with a few individual cabins. On the rim, the Lookout House and Kolb Studio are perched right on the edge. The Kolbs were brothers who made films and photos back when the park began and a film shows you how challenging it was to do what they did – carrying tons of big, heavy gear on mules and so on.

GrandCyn7.JPGSome parts of the Village are fine – and the vistas are always dramatic – but a lot of it is very tacky. There are shops in every single building selling nearly the same stuff. Food and beverages are way overpriced. And, of course, the mobs of tourists. They are the same types we’ve been seeing everywhere.

North Americans, all types of Asians, tourists from the Middle East, South and Central America, and of course, tons of Europeans.

Who’s NOT here? The very original residents and uranium miners, I guess, although they are trying to bring mining back into the Grand Canyon, of all things!

But, this is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, so it should come as no surprise that this would be a sort of UN with so many languages, so many tourists from so many countries.

Some things you can only find in America… Like the “no guns” sticker.

From the Village, we walk the rim as far as the Yavapai Geology Museum with its grand lookout view.

GrandCyn11.JPGBack at camp, I make rice with creamed shrimp for dinner.

While washing dishes in the bathroom, I meet a couple of French girls, changing clothes.

“It’s too cold to change in our tent,” they say. They’re on a roadtrip from Miami to San Francisco and tent camping here. Their English is impressively good and they are even nice enough to speak English to each other while I am there! Now how many Americans can do that in France? (Or Mexico… Or…) Language opens all sorts of doors. The more you have, the more doors you can open!