Wow. I slept surprisingly well! Unlike the Walmart parking lot at Clearlake, there were no leaf blowers, no street sweepers. And the rush of traffic on the I-5 is such soothing white noise.
From Grants Pass, it is Highway 199 to the coast, going through the Siskiyou National Forest, then the Smith National Forest. When we were on this road last year, there was no agricultural inspection at the border but today there is.
There is a lot more traffic – cars, RVs and motorcycles. And more sunshine!
Back on 101 to Cresent City, where we stop for some lunch at a Mexican place (most authentic chile rellenos this side of the border!) then, another stop at Kamp Klamath, at the mouth of the Klamath River. Aaron who we met in Baja runs the camp here but he was away in Medford so we just had a peek inside.
The Newton B. Drury Parkway is a 9-mile road through Prairie Creek Redwood State Park and just as magical as the Avenue of the Giants. Unfortunately, the park was packed and we couldn’t stop by the visitor’s center for lack of parking.
“Man, there was a time when no one came out here,” Big Dog whines. “Too many people!”
There is camping here and trails to Gold Bluff Beach as well as Fern Canyon. We’ll have to come back during the off-season.
It’s so unusual to have such nice weather at the coast in the summer and it makes us stop at Stone Lagoon but it is too windy for kayaking. And just when I am wondering where the elk are this time of year, there is a wild herd in a meadow south of Orick.
From there, it is a short distance to Arcata and the end of this roadtrip, but Bailey is not getting out of Sprockets.
“More! I want more!” she pleads. Yes, we will have more. Many, many more.
Today we are going to Eugene to have lunch with Bill Harkleroad aka Zoot Horn Rollo. Music buffs will know him as the guitarist for Captain Beefheart who played on seminal classics such as Trout Mask Replica. Big Dog was friends with members of the band during his teenage years in Lancaster, California, and some of them, including Zoot Horn Rollo, did the music for his documentary on the pyramids when they all lived in Humboldt County.
Big Dog has not seen Bill for decades – they both left Humboldt in the late 70’s – and so naturally he does not want to be late. We rush out of the campground, drinking our coffee along the way.
It seems that you can camp almost anywhere in Oregon, at least in these forests. I see several cars in turnouts, with tents in the woods. At one, I see people in sleeping bags, right on the ground, tentless.
We pass more covered bridges, now spanning different forks of the Willamette River, and make it into Eugene around 11. With time to spare, I navigate us to the University of Oregon, my one-time college of choice. I have no idea why I thought that was a good idea in my senior year of high school except I was really into forests then and the idea of living surrounded by forests appealed greatly.
College football fans will know them for their team, the Ducks. (“They’re famous for having the loudest fans,” says Big Dog’s father every time his team, Cal, plays Oregon.) Comedy aficionados may know it as the location for “Animal House.”
Lunch is at a cafe on the southern end of town and we get there a few minutes before Bill shows up. He is tall, intelligent and easy going. To me, he does not look like the guy who has done all that original, creative music. I mean, didn’t everything done by Captain Beefheart feel like Creativity on Steroids? He looks more like a…sports coach? He’s open and friendly and fun. Lunch is a gas for everyone, especially the two friends reconnecting after four decades. They trade stories about growing up in Southern California, the 70’s Humboldt scene, how their lives unfolded since then.
“Since you did that music, we expanded the movie and went to Egypt to shoot,” explains Big Dog. “We spent the night inside the Great Pyramid.”
“Did you make any money on the film?”
“Are you kidding? We lost tons of money. But I always tell people that if the movie were as good as the music, it might have gone somewhere.”
Big Dog is no longer making movies but Bill seems to be on a creative roll. He shows us covers from his new albums and promises to send us copies. It’s already after 2pm when we part.
We are haing dinner with Mrs. A, Big Dog’s brother-in-law’s mother who lives in Grants Pass, so we continue south on the I-5. Along the way, we are drawn by a billboard advertising the town of Cottage Grove and its covered bridges, and get off the I-5 for a look.
Buster Keaton filmed “The General,” a train wreck movie here, so there are many references to Keaton through the town. The big draw, however, are the covered bridges.
There are 7 or more concentrated in this town and we get the scoop at the visitor’s center. 3 of them are within walking distance — one being the only remaining covered railroad bridge in the West — so we walk to them, not realizing how far they really were — too far for flip-flops anyway and my feet hurt. Plus it is hot. And now, quite late.
On top of that, as well head south, our fuel lamp comes on for the first time. Uh-oh. I had found $2.19 diesel in the town of Roseburg but that was probably too far so we get off at Sutherlin for gas at $2.37.
It’s actually 6:30 or so by the time we reach Mrs. A’s house. She is as chipper as ever, once again entertaining us with stories about her wacky friends while we have dinner at Taprock. It is getting dark when we say goodbye, without having a clue as to where we will spend the night.
We find a park by the river, away from downtown, in a residential area. Big Dog chats with a couple of joggers about the area.
“Can you ladies tell me what this means?” he points to a sign saying it is unlawful to pass out anything from your vehicle.
“Oh, that’s to discourage pan-handling,” they tell him and they discuss the homeless problem in Oregon. Is there really a huge homeless population here? Or maybe they are not as used to it as Californians?
“Do you think it’s alright to park here overnight?” he asks.
“I know some people park at Walmart but it’s full of bums and meth freaks there,” another lady adds.
We sit inside Sprockets looking out for a while — it is almost completely dark — when Bailey starts growling. I look out and can barely make out the silhouette of a grazing deer, until another vehicle pulls in and the headlights hit it. Did Bailey see it first? Hear it? Or smell it?
Just when we are ready to go to sleep, someone raps on our door and Bailey starts barking like crazy. It’s a policewoman who tells us we can’t be parked here. “Go to Walmart,” she says, and Big Dog explains how the residents thought it was okay here and how he was told Walmart was filled with bums and other unsavory characters, making us sound like decent folk who just needed a safe place to park for the night. Yeah, like sleeping in your vehicle is what decent folk do! (At least outside a campground.)
I guess I was wrong about “camp anywhere in Oregon.”
We find our way to Walmart – it’s right next to the I-5 – and see that we are not the only boondockers here. There’s a handful of small RVs as well as a couple of big rigs. I don’t see any dangerous types lurking about. They must all be asleep.
As soon as we get up, we drive back to Drake Park where there are real (and real clean!) restrooms. I make coffee for us and we take it outside to have in the sun. It’s another one of Bend’s 300 days of sunshine and a nice slow Sunday.
After coffee, we stroll around, meeting ducks and geese, wander through downtown some more…then back to our rig for breakfast of fruit and cereal before heading out. On the way, we drive up to Pilot Butte where you get a huge 360 view of the area. From this vista point you can see all the mountains, cinder cones, forests, etc. out there.
A circular marker in the center has lines radiating out to various mountains. You can even see the Southwest-ish walls of the rocks at Smith Rock State Park way off to the northeast. Mt. Washington is jagged and black. Mt. Jefferson, the second highest mountain in Oregon at 10,497 feet, is craggy, glacially scarred and snow frosted.
We get a great view of the Three Sisters, the volcanic trio rising beyond 10,000 feet. And slightly to the south, there’s Mt. Bachelor, another popular ski spot.
We backtrack to Sisters, then, take Route 242. The road gets very narrow at times and is closed to vehicles longer than 35 feet. It also goes through a lava bed. Dee Dwight Observatory is in the middle of this ancient lava flow. I say ancient but then I read that this lava is from one of the most recent examples of volcanic activity in North America. We thought the observatory was one in the astronomical sense but, no, it’s a lava rock tower from which you can see various mountains through cleverly positioned view ports. A small interpretive trail takes you through the lava bed.
Oregon, we find out, is also Land of Covered Bridges. They date back to the mid-1800s and were covered to protect them from the damp climate. During their heyday, there were about 450 covered bridges in the state, though by 1977, there were only 56. Still, Oregon boasts the largest collection of covered bridges in the West and we come to a few along this route. The Belknap Covered Bridge has been around since 1890 but the one you see today is a newer one built in 1966. The original one was washed out during a storm and flood that wrecked havoc all along the Pacific Northwest.
FR-19, known as the Aufderheide Drive, is a scenic route going south from Rainbow, along the McKenzie River. It goes by Cougar Dam where we stop for a look. There’s a display showing you how they are preserving the salmon eco-system (despite disrupting it) by creating ladders for them to go up and getting the water flowing back into the river at the right temps for the fish. Just past the dam is Terwilligen Hot Springs. Apparently there are several pools of varying temps. However, the parking lot is packed and we can find nowhere else to park so we have to blow it off. I am hoping that maybe we can go in the morning so we stop at a campground not too far from it. Cougar Crossing Campground AKA Hippie Hollow. It’s a simple campground with pit toilets and no running water but along a pretty river.
Dinner is fresh wild salmon with pasta and zucchini. The salmon attracts hoards of yellowjackets and I have to throw them pieces of the salmon skin so they will leave me alone.
In the morning, Bailey walks in to greet J with lots of wiggy-wagging. We’d be wagging, too, for the great coffee and hot showers!
Cleaned up and caffeinated, we are ready to hit Silver Falls State Park, not too far from Salem.
It’s all stunning farmland on the way, with lots of Christmas tree farms.
The Park charges $5 to get in and has campgrounds but the campground is full this summer weekend. They don’t allow dogs on the canyon trails — although there were a few people breaking the rules — so Bailey has to stay inside Sprockets while Big Dog and I go on the 5 mile loop that takes you by 7 of the 10 water falls. Some of them you walk under! Deep down in the canyon, it is almost a rain forest, with trees all covered in moss. Once again, I am impressed at how WET Oregon is.
This central part of Oregon is heavily forested but you can still see entire hillsides clear-cut of all the trees. (California tends to hide its clear-cut areas from highway viewers.) There are many active mills and you will see a few huge logging trucks as you drive through Oregon.
Highway 22 takes us to Detroit, site of a big dam. Oregon has lots of these, too, which makes sense. Lots of rivers, lots of dams, lots of lakes. As you continue towards Bend, winding through the forest, you sometimes get a peek of the snowcapped mountains – most of them one-time volcanoes – Mt. Washington, Mt. Jefferson, the Three Sisters… The road goes through Santiam Pass, near the Pacific Crest Trail (450 miles of it run through Oregon and most of the movie “Wild” was shot here), and then to the town of Sisters.
Sisters, a pretty little tourist town deep in the Willamette National Forest, is a mecca for skiing in the winter and has a sort of Aspen feel. The storefronts are 1800’s-ish Western architecture and pretty shops line the main street, lampposts festooned with flowers. It all feels kind of expensive and gentrified.
The town of Bend is not too far from Sisters, both in the Deschutes National Forest, but the outskirts of Bend are pretty bland. We are thirsty and stop at the first brewery we see, Bend River Brewery, for a sampler of 7 of their microbrews. One is called “300 days of sunshine” which is a strange name until you find out that Bend is known for its more than 300 days of sunshine.
Downtown Bend is several clean and tidy blocks. We cruise through, looking for a place to eat and settle in at the Bend Burger Co. for dinner. Since we are eating at one of the outdoor tables, Big Dog goes to get Bailey and once again, she is fawned over by locals and visitors. (All over Oregon, I’ve been impressed with how dog-friendly it is. Here in Bend, too, many places have set out water bowls for the animals.) After dinner, it’s a walk around Drake Park along the Deschutes River. It is gorgeous and there are lovely, nicely landscaped (and very expensive-looking) homes on the other side.
A raucous group is pedaling a multi-passenger vehicle through town.
“Like Hobart Brown’s People Powered Bus!”
“If the vehicle were artier, it could be a kinetic sculpture!”
But this is not like any of the kinetic sculptures we’ve seen racing during the Great Arcata to Ferndale Kinetic Sculpture Race. It is a moving PUB. The passengers are also the engine (and driver?) as well as beer imbibers. Maybe other towns have these Cycle Pub Tours, too, but it seems to be popular in Bend.
No idea where we are staying but it is too late to look around much so we just drive to a quiet neighborhood and park.
As we stroll around the ‘hood, the noisy Cycle Pub people appear. They are louder and happier than before. I guess with all the cycling, a little alcohol can go a long way.
We’re all ready to settle in for the night but the sudden burst of food in my stomach has woken up my digestive system. Uh-oh. Big Dog tells me there are porta-potties downtown so we start walking, but halfway there, we spot a porta-potty on the corner. There’s construction going on there, so it’s probably for the workers, but it’s after dark, the workers have gone home long ago, the porta-potty is unlocked, and most importantly, I am ready to GO, so without hesitation, I go in and do my business. Big Dog follows.
“You know, we were in the Old Mill section of Bend,” I tell him later. There were some cool bars, restaurants and B&Bs. We never did go into any of them. Just that porta-potty.
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!)
A 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!
In the morning, after coffee, we take a walk up a trail to the dunes. I wanted to see the dunes up close and with the unpredictable weather, who knew what we’d see from the overlook. A short trail takes you right into the silky dunes. Unlike the dunes at Death Valley, these flow right out of the woods. There are also evergreens growing in patches inside the dunes here and there. The dunes are tall and soft and Bailey jumps around with excitement. It would have been fun to have had a sled to go down the steep dunes!
It’s close to noon when we leave camp, passing more creeks, lakes and other watery things. The Umpqua River empties into Winchester Bay, home to the Umpqua Lighthouse (which we blow off, since it is very foggy right at the coast). The Umpqua River Bridge is another McCullough bridge and a “swing-span” bridge.
Our first stop is Florence, a pretty tourist town along the Siuslaw River. (Another McCullough bridge going across it!) Old Town is along the river, with shops and restaurants, many on the waterfront.
There aren’t a whole lot of legal pot shops in Oregon but every town, no matter how small, seems to have at least one. The other thing that is unique is that at gas stations they have to pump your gas, by law, and prices are a lot less than California (maybe because there is no sales tax?) In Florence, we stop at one gas station with inexpensive diesel but it is bio diesel and the attendant isn’t sure if it’s okay for our rig (we think so) and tells us to go up the street for #2 diesel. (There is also something called PUC diesel but apparently that’s only for commercial vehicles.)
We need to stop for lunch and turn off to the Darlingtonia State Wayside. It’s a lushly wooded area with boardwalks going over a mass of Darlingtonias. These are alien-shaped carnivorous plants, also known as cobra lilies. They’re probably great for bug control!
Speaking of plants, this part of the coast must be good flower growing land because there are many floral farms and honor stands with bouquets along the road.
Alsea Bay in Waldport has another big bridge but this one was a new bridge built in 1991. The old one was a Conde McCullough bridge, built in 1936, and it was the first and only large coastal bridge designed by him to be replaced. At the south end is the Alsea Bridge Interpretive Center — we had to poke our heads in to see the historical displays and bridge miniatures.
We just drive by Yaquina, Newport, Nye Beach, Agate Beach and other tourist spots. The weather just doesn’t make us want to stop. Unlike Cape Foulweather. How can you resist a place with a name like that! Apparently, Captain Cook stopped here when winds were 100mph. Today, it is just mostly fogged in.
Crossing more McCullough bridges — Rocky Creek Bridge, Depoe Bay Bridge — we drive through the town of Depoe Bay with the world’s smallest navigable harbor, then through Lincoln City, another congested town, then through the 45th parallel, halfway between the Equator and North Pole. We keep rolling right through Neskowin and Beaver (“Wouldn’t it be terrible if your family name was Beaver and they named you Harry?”) to Munson Creek Falls. A short drive down a dirt road takes you to the trailhead. From there, it’s about a quarter mile walk through Sitka spruce and Western red cedar to the highest waterfall on the coast, at 319 feet. It’s a pretty waterfall, in a jungly little canyon.
We were way hungry by now and couldn’t wait to get to Tillamook for some food! Once there (an old-timey logging town feel) we find the Pelican Brewery at the north end of town and go in for beers and food. The beers are good and so is the food – we have the smoked oyster roll and a cup of clam chowder – but the service needs some tweeking.
Breweries are big in Oregon. This state has the most craft breweries per capita; Portland has more than any other city; there are more than 194 brewing companies in 72 towns.
Just out of town is the Tillamook Cheese Factory. It’s a large touristy place, with throngs all sampling their cheeses (again, cheddar and jack only, plus curds) We taste everything and buy another bag of curds. We’re really getting into them!
I thought the Tillamook people were one company but it seems like it’s a dairy association, like Humboldt Creamery used to be. Out here, almost every farmer is a dairy farmer and there are plenty of happy black and white dairy cows.
Now it was really getting late. A few miles ahead, I spot a sign for a county park — the Kilchis River County Campground.
It’s a nice county park on the Kilchis River with several camp sites but when we find out that they want nearly $40 for the night, we bail. There’s a turnout on the road not too far away, so we just park there for the night. No one disturbs us, it’s quiet with hardly any traffic and we have plenty of privacy in the dark.
We just got to Arcata a few days ago but Big Dog wants to go on a mini-roadtrip already! He’s a restless sleeper, but maybe he’s just restless, period.
We mull the idea of going inland to Whiskeytown and Lassen, but it’s probably way too hot now, so we decide to head north on 101 for a while.
It’s overcast as we leave Arcata and the traffic is heavier with all the roadwork going on. Not to mention the summer travelers. The Trees of Mystery roadside attraction near Crescent City has throngs of visitors.
Beyond Crescent City, it is new road for me and Sprockets. Just beyond it is the Oregon border, but even before we make it to the border, we see our first billboard for a legal pot place. It’s called High Tides.
“Wonder if there’ll be tons of Big Box Pot Shops?”
“With names like Dave’s Doobtown, Stoneyland, Mary Jane’s Little Shop of Budz, Canna Emporium…”
Highway 101 as it goes along the 363-mile coast of Oregon is the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway and was designated as an “All-American Road” in 2002.
There’s a Visitor Center just beyond the border where we stop to get a bunch of maps and info. Bailey can’t go into the building but Oregon is a pretty dog-friendly state and even here, they have set out water bowls for the mutts.
We have to wait to get back on 101 – there’s a convoy of firetrucks, EMT vehicles and police cars, all flashing lights. It’s a parade of sorts. When the official vehicles pass by, we get into the line of regular cars but a big truck in front of us pulls into the left lane, so we do too and slowly drive parallel to the official vehicles. We weren’t supposed to! Now, we have to move back in – right into the parade! Crazy.
They all turn off at a memorial park just before the town of Brookings – Harbor where we stop for a bite.
Our first stop after lunch is just before the Thomas Creek Bridge, said to be the highest one in Oregon, crossing 345 feet above the creek. I read that there is a viewpoint south of the bridge so we stop there but trees block everything and there doesn’t seem to be a path to anything. Strike out.
The Samuel Boardman State Park runs 12 miles of coastline and there are little turnouts where you can see interesting natural features. It’s cold and windy and off-and-on foggy. The rocky coast doesn’t feel too different from parts of Northern California. From Whaleshead Trailhead you can see an island that looks like a whale. We also get to see Natural Bridges Cove and Arch Rock.
Many rivers come out to the Pacific on the Oregon coast, so there are just as many bridges. One of the famous bridge designers was a man named Conde McCullough and we come to the first one of his bridges at Gold Beach, where the Rogue River empties into the ocean. This is the I.L. Patterson Memorial Bridge, the first in the US to be built with prestressed concrete.
Port Orford is the oldest town on the Oregon coast (est. 1851) and a fishing village with no harbor. Vessels are hoisted from the water!
There are also many, many lighthouses on the coast, probably because so much of it is rocky and maybe also because up here, the seas tend to be rougher. But with the crappy weather, we did not spend any time either driving to the lighthouses or looking at them.
We do drive into Bandon Old Town, another rustic seaside town, stopping by the Face Rock Creamery. Like the Loleta Cheese Factory in Humboldt, you can taste many samples of their cheddar and jack cheeses. Some were quite tasty but we wound up buying a bag of cheese curds and a bright red wax-encased summer sausage. Should be good road food.
Coos Bay/North Bend is a bustling little city, with another McCullough bridge: the Conde McCullough Memorial Bridge that spans the Bay. It was the longest bridge along the coast when it was built in 1936.
The Oregon Dunes, a huge 40-mile National Recreation Area, starts after Coos Bay and you see a bunch of ATV rental places as you approach the Dunes. We pull into the Elk Creek Campground that butts up against the dunes and leads to the John Dellenback Dunes Trail. There’s a nice open area with empty sites around for us. Most of the campers were on the dunes side, in the forested areas and there were several big families so it was good that we were off on our own.
Bailey, free from her leash at last, runs around and claims the spot as ours, growling at other people and dogs walking by.