Saturday, June 23, 2012

Discovering the Southern Oregon Coast

June 18-23, Brookings and Bandon, Oregon
Harris Beach State Park--Brookings, Oregon
When we crossed the border into Oregon from Klamath, California, we both felt an emotional tug as it has been nearly ten months since we left Oregon on our first year of living full-time in our motorhome. Even though I have never been to the Southern Oregon Coast, it looks very much like the Oregon Coast I know and love: a rugged coastline with bluffs overhanging rocky shores, wind-shaped trees, and often deserted stretches of beach. We were also lucky to have sunny weather with highs in the low 70s and very little morning fog--a rarity here.

Our plan was to stay three days in Brookings at Harris Beach State Park and then move northward about 80 miles to Bandon where we booked three days at Bullards Beach State Park. Since school is now out and summer has officially begun, it is not too easy to find sites at the state parks on the coast, but we lucked out.  Oregon State Parks have an excellent reputation of being well-maintained and managed parks with large sites in lovely settings.  Harris even had full hook-ups with 50 amps, sewer, and cable for $27 a night.  We are also impressed with the full offering of recycling bins as so many parks on the east coast and in the south had no recycling available.

Another "welcome to Oregon" experience for me was a visit to Fred Meyers, a Northwest one-stop shopping store that carries everything from groceries to paint (kind of like a Super-Target). Having lived in Corvallis for almost thirty years, one becomes quite familiar with Fred Meyers as there is no Target or Walmart in the area.When my boys were little, I could practically do all my Christmas shopping at Freddies.  I didn't realize I missed this store until we saw the sign in Brookings and felt at home. I have to say the Brookings Fred Meyersmay be the best I have ever been in as they had several aisles of organic fruits and vegetables and a full seafood case. Okay, enough about this little highlight, but a good grocery store goes a long way when you are traveling around the country and you are not a Walmart shopper.

The seaside town of Brookings was smaller than I had imagined, but thankfully still non-commercial like many of the Oregon coast towns--very few chain stores or restaurants--except Fred Meyers, Ace Hardware, and a Dairy Queen. The park had a great trail to the beach or you could walk down a steep road to get to the sand. We opted for the trail and were impressed with the dogs adeptness at choosing the best rocks for descending down a fairly windy and steep path. The only drawback both days we went to the beach were the strong winds. I forgot how much the wind can blow on the beach.  Our site in the park was well-protected by trees so we didn't notice how hard it was blowing until we reached the sand. I asked a local about the frequency of such wind conditions and she said Brookings was usually less windy because it is a harbor, so we must have just been unlucky about the strong wind.

One of our reasons for coming to this area was to ride the jet boats down the Rogue River.  This is something Vic did many years ago and he was anxious to do it again. The mouth of the Rogue River is at Gold Beach where the jet boat tours begin. You can choose three different lengths of trips from 64, 80 or 110 miles. They were all between 5 and 8 hour trips ranging from $50 to $100. I wanted to go for the longest one, but being more prudent with our money had us choose for 64-mile ride upriver. The Rogue, one of the original eight rivers named in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968,  flows 215 miles westward with its source at Crater Lake. Because of the act, several dams on the river have been removed or modified and sections of the river require special permits to protect the river from overuse. Archaeologists date the river's earliest inhabitants to history about 6500 B.C. from artifacts of their nomadic and hunting lifestyle. In the 19th century, clashes between the Native Americans and settlers arose from the development of the Applegate Trail through the Willamette Valley (an Oregon Trail alternative) and the discovery of gold (hence the name Gold Beach) as part of the migration southward during the California Gold Rush. Sadly, many of the Rogue Valley Indians were removed to the newly established Siletz and Grand Ronde reservations in the northern part of the state. As settlers began to fill in the area, a notable development was the creation of mail service via boat up the Rogue. Since 1895, the United States Post Office has operated mail service by boat on the Rogue, one of only two in the country with the other being on the Snake River in Eastern Oregon. We were able to experience the historic mail service firsthand as Jerry's Jet Boats holds the contract for mail delivery so our boat met up with a mail truck at a small dock in Agnes and exchanged large bags of mail. 

Another interesting part of the Rogue history occurred as a result of  Zane Grey's influence, the famous novelist and fisherman, who lived on the Rogue in the mid 1920s. Several of his western novels included events that took place on the Rogue making it a popular attraction for some of Hollywood's famous actors of the 30s and 40s such as Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Tyrone Power, Bing Crosby, Shirley Temple, and Ginger Rogers. Jerry's Jet Boats had a small museum with photos of some of these celebrities staying at rustic little cottages and enjoying fishing adventures along the Rogue.

Our jet boat ride ended up being on a perfect day. The wind laid down and the temps rose to the high 70s inland with barely a cloud in the sky. The best part of the trip was definitely the wild life which included a large family of sea lions, two deer, at least ten Great Blue Herons, a half dozen Bald Eagles, one river otter, and the proud display of one large Chinook Salmon caught by a passing fisherman on another boat.  This was definitely a day I yearned for an SLR camera with a zoom lens.

Day three at Harris Beach State Park seemed to come early and we packed up for a drive of less than two hours to Bullards Beach State Park in Bandon.  The two parks seemed quite similar with roomy sites and 50 amp hookups--although we did not get a site with a sewer. Bandon is another small, quaint town--smaller than Brookings--with no notable franchise places, not even a Fred Meyer. L

Bandon is perhaps best known these days for its world class golf resort: Bandon Dunes. We took a drive through the resort and were surprised at the size of it. There are four distinct courses here now with the first, Bandon Dunes, being built in 1999. Not being golfers, we have only heard about the resort's fame; apparently it is similar to the courses in Scotland, where the game of golf was born. The secluded shoreline, bluffs, dunes, open meadows, and exposure to the elements offer a challenge to even the most experienced golfers. And, at $275 a round, it must be good golfing.  
One of the amazing Bandon Dunes courses--internet photo
Bandon Dunes main lodge
A lily pond adjacent to one of the courses
A young doe wandering on the Bandon Dunes grounds
About 4:30 a.m. on our first morning in Bandon, we were awakened by the pitter patter of rain hitting the motorhome roof. Its gentle, but incessant sound was distinctly Oregon rain.  Much of the rain we have experienced in the last ten months has been short downpours with sunbreaks to follow the same day.  This rain sounded like it might stick around awhile and sure enough we had two full days of it.  We couldn't feel too sorry for ourselves not being able to do some outdoor activities as about one-third of the campers here are in tents. They had a heck of a time staying dry and entertained, especially those with small children.  We looked for a Red Box ($1.00 video rentals) to no avail, but found a small section of the local grocery store with DVD rentals for $3.00.  (We had no satellite reception and no channels on the local antenna to entertain us.)  After finding a great little cafe on the water for clam chowder, we cozied up in the motorhome and watched a fairly engaging collection of recent release movies: Rebound with Catherine Zeta Jones--a cute movie featuring Jones as a "cougar," better than we thought it would be; Higher Ground with Vera Varmiga--both a slightly creepy and  fascinating look at one woman's journey with faith via fundamentalist religion;  The Space Between with Melissa Leo--a poignant look at a post 9/11 world that brings together a flight attendant and a 10-year-old Muslim boy; and lastly, maybe my favorite of the four, a movie called Take me Home about an unconventional road trip across the United States in a taxi. There you have it--our almost two days of rainy weather movie parade.

On our last day in Bandon, the sun was peaking through a gray sky and there was no pattering on the roof.  Suffering from two days of "motorhome fever," Vic took the dogs for a long walk in the park and I took a bike ride. After the ride, I made arrangements to meet with some local Portuguese Water Dog breeders I knew about from seeing their stud dog in the national magazine called the Courier.  It turned out they had one stud and three bitches (two were his sisters) and they also do some traveling in their RV. Two of the dogs were from an Australian breeder called Bluegrace and the stud dog happened to be the son of a dog I fell in love with a few years ago called Deuce--small world.  The brother-in-law and his wife were also West Coast Swing dance instructors, one of our favorite dances. We enjoyed about an hour in an open area near the park talking and sharing PWD stories as well as travel and dance adventures. One central topic that I was interested in finding more about is their commitment to a raw food diet for their dogs, a Bluegrace imperative. It was useful to learn how they make it more manageable by looking for cheap cuts of meat or sales and preparing 12-16 oz. daily portions of meat chunks for their dogs.  Bluegrace advocates the inclusion of almost any raw bones, but these folks err on the side of caution in this respect and bone much of the meat. I was also curious about the cost which for them runs about $5 a day for two dogs. ( I need to get in with some hunters and find a source for elk and venison scraps.)  I must admit the dogs's coats were shiny and silky.  Makes sense to go the raw food route since it is what they would eat in the wild, but not too convenient on the road. Our dogs eat grain-free kibble (Wellness Core) which is at least a high quality dry dog food diet. I am inspired, however, to throw in more meaty bones and eggs to supplement the kibble.  

Neil with his two Portie girls, Vanilla and Nygella (Bluegrace dogs)
Ray and his Porties, Al and Sadie ((Sunnyhill and Driftwood dogs)
Our final adventure of our last day here was to see the Coquille Lighthouse, one of eight original lighthouses on the Oregon Coast. The skies were growing dark with the threat of more rain, but it was fun to imagine the lighthouse serving as a beacon over a hundred years ago to those brave mariners who sailed the Pacific Coast.

The Coquille Lighthouse circa 1896
Piles of driftwood from winter storms cover the Bandon shores 
We are excited to be returning to the Willamette Valley tomorrow where we will stay for the next month to reunite with friends and, hopefully, my son Brooks who promises to make a trip down from Astoria. We are keeping our fingers crossed for sunshine in the valley.  

Sunday, June 17, 2012

High on the Northern California Coast

June 13-16, Mendocino, Humboldt, and Del Norte Counties, California
False Klamath Cove sea stacks 
The title of my blog serves several purposes--the main one is to get more blog followers! But in all serious,we have been getting high on this part of our California experience both in terms of geography and general attraction to the area. I always wondered what it was like here as I have heard stories going back to my own pseudo-hippie days in Missoula, Montana, to much later stories my former students told me about what it was like to try to study at Humboldt State. Vic added contrasting stories from his youth when his family came here to tent camp in Richardson Grove State Park in the Redwoods as a break from their urban lifestyle in the Sunset District of San Francisco. I also have to laugh when I think of "The Redwoods" as many English teachers in Oregon used a well-known sample essay called "the Redwoods" every year to improve word choice and voice in our students' writing. The notorious essay went on and on about how big the trees were, how much fun it was here, and what a really great trip it was--with no specific details. So now I get to fill in my own details.

We started this leg of the trip by staying overnight at a Harvest Host site, the Jaxon Keys Winery and Distillery in Hopland, just south of Ukiah in Mendocino County. The drive there on Hwy 20 was very scenic, especially rolling past the lake region: Clear Lake, Lake Mendocino. Once we reached Hwy 101, we drove fewer than ten miles south to the winery which turned out to be a fantastic place to overnight. The manager, Vicki, requested that I come to the tasting room to sign in which I did while Vic was setting up the Big EZ (pretty simple when you are boondocking).  Since it was only an hour from closing, I thought I would also do a quick tasting so I could support the business with a purchase. I was unprepared for the beauty of the winery's historic setting which used to be a sheep farm and hop farm before prohibition. Hops were a major crop in the area--hence the name Hopland.  The late 1800s restored farmhouse has a wrap around porch with sweeping views and a water feature. I ended up having a wonderful time chatting with Vicki and Bill, a wine club member from Oakland who was staying in the guest house. It occurred to me that this routine, sipping Syrah in a beautiful setting while Vic sets up "camp," might be a perfect strategy to follow for Harvest Host stays in the future. After about an hour, Vic came to find me in the tasting room and was also captivated by the charm of the farmhouse and the quality of the vino. After closing, Vicki put cushions out on the wicker furniture and turned on twinkly lights so we could enjoy the use of the porch later that evening or for breakfast. Super friendly place.

The view from our motorhome at Jaxon Keys Winery

Jetta and Rico take a  moment to pose in front of the Petite Syrah grapes
From Mendocino County, we drove north on Hwy 101, parallel to the Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile alternate route on old Hwy 101--not sure how good that would have been for traveling in the motorhome. We had not done much research on where we were going to stay and were a little surprised to discover that none of the state parks in this area was big rig friendly (most websites listed 31' maximum).  This reality became a little more understandable as we drove on the "new highway's" twisting and turning roads with 6 and 7% downgrades. The GPS on my phone said the trip would take three hours and it took us almost six. We also had to deal with road construction and wind, making the journey a bit more challenging but still worth it as we oohed and aahed over the impressive size of the trees and the beauty of the scenes along the Eel River. Our second discovery was that the private parks south of Eureka were pretty expensive, so we decided to stay at a more reasonable one in Eureka ($35 vs. $50), Shoreline RV Park and use that as a base from which to explore the area. (The park was adequate with roomy blacktop sites, but as often is the case, their website made it seem much more deluxe than it was--and the shoreline was a slough.) 

Another popular attraction in Eureka is its notable Victorian architecture and lumberjack history.  No surprise that the man who built the house below was one of Northern California's first lumber barons.
The Carson Mansion in Eureka, now a private club,  considered to be "the most grand Victorian home in America."
The Pink Lady mansion in Eureka, wedding gift to the son of the Carson Mansion owner
Aside from checking out the town of Eureka, we were anxious to take a hike in the Redwoods, check out the town of Ferndale, a picturesque little town with antiques and Victorian homes that is popular for movie sets, and maybe explore a beach in the area. The coastline near there turned out to be more cliffs than beach and the wind was still howling so we headed inland and further south to Fortuna. We discovered a lovely hiking area through old growth forest just south of there. I felt almost dizzy as I looked up two or three hundred feet to the tops of the trees that were swaying in the wind. I didn't realize how much the treetops move when they are so tall.  But my favorite part of the old growth forest is the lush forest floor covered with sword ferns. There were also thimbleberry plants, one of my favorite berries for jams if you have the patience to pick them, and clover-like Redwood sorrel with pinkish flowers blanketed the base of several trees. Since the temps were so cool (low 60s), we chose to take the dogs with us for the day (to scare away the mountain lions and bears J.)

When I checked in at the RV park in Eureka, I learned that the 22nd annual Oyster Festival in Arcata (about seven miles north) was happening this weekend.  After checking out the festivities on the internet, Vic and I decided we would go to it on the way north to a more inviting campground in Klamath. We both love oysters plus the Arcata Farmer's Market was happening at the same time. The day was perfect, with a high of 70 predicted; the festival was in full swing when we arrived around 11:30 am.  Imagine the smell of  burning charcoal, grilling oysters with all kinds of sauces, and random whiffs of the biggest local crop: marijuana. Grateful Dead style live music, plenty of local beer and wine, dreadlocks, crazy hats, and hula-hooping girls rounded out the scene.  

Take note of this great recycling effort! The shells are put back  in the water to help restore oyster beds.  
Our "more inviting" campground turned out to be even better than expected, especially since they honored our Passport America membership reducing the cost of one night to $15. This park, the Golden Beaver RV Resort, a no website, no-frills park, is situated in a gorgeous spot directly on the Klamath River just off Hwy 101. Most of the blacktop sites with full hookups have a view of the river as they are all "pull-ins" rather than "back-ins" so you face the water. The manager here may be the friendliest one I have ever met. He repeated several times that there are only two rules here: use common sense and have fun. We are also only a mile and a half from a boat launch where we can launch our kayaks if the weather warms up a little. 
Our site on the Klamath River at Golden Bear RV Resort

Our finale for the day (after enjoying the Oyster Fest for a few hours) was taking a walk on the beach just south of Crescent City about twelve miles north of here. It was fairly windy but it was a warm wind. The coast beaches here look a lot like Oregon and make us feel like we are very close to being back home. Even the dogs seemed to act like they were back in familiar territory as they raced along the shore off-leash kicking up sand and chasing each either in the waves. It is good to be almost back in the Northwest for the summer!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A mini-adventure in the Sierra foothills

June 10-13, Plymouth, California

Our travels north to the Redwoods and onward to Oregon took a northeast turn for a few days as we had another alluring opportunity to visit our Illinois friends Mike and BJ who had driven their motorhome across the country in less than a week to visit family east of the Sacramento area. On Sunday, the 10th, we left Vallejo where we attended the Woofstock Dog Show, and made about a three-hour trip to Plymouth, about 40 miles south of Folsom along what some refer to as Highway 49's Mother Lode Gold Country. Vic and I had been to the Sacramento area many times (mostly the airport) to visit family in the Bay area (and his parents even lived in Placerville area in the 80s), but we were unprepared for the beauty and fun attractions—namely kayaking and wine-tasting that are a well-known part of this historic region.

Mike and BJ have scouted out this area several times in their visits to Folsom to spend time with their daughter and family, so we were in good hands for this mini-adventure off the beaten path. They chose to stay at a lovely RV park in the middle of Amador County wine country:  Far Horizons 49er Village RV Resort, a 10/10/9.5 rated park with a nightly Good Sam rate of $50. (We like to keep our average nightly cost under $30 so we will make up for this little splurge with some boondocking and state campgrounds in the weeks ahead.) We were able to get a back-in blacktop site with full hook-ups including cable right next to Mike and BJ. The park is built around a small lake with a fountain which was full of ducks and brand new ducklings—cute.  There were plenty of other amenities including pool, hot tub, cafĂ©, and dog area and the sites were nicely shaded and quiet.  But, truthfully, we didn’t spend much time at the park!  Mike and BJ kept us busy with a full agenda.

Our first night at the park we drove back into Folsom for a terrific meal at their daughter Keri’s home where we also met their son-in-law, granddaughters, and visiting cousin from Longview, Washington. We also did a pretty good job sampling some of the local Syrah and Zinfandel while we got to know this other half of their family (as we met their son and other grandchildren when we visited them in Illinois.) BJ’s daughter is a middle school math teacher so it was interesting to learn about the school climate and challenges in the local area. Of course, school had just let out and Keri and her girls were getting ready for a cross-country trek in her parents' motorhome to visit Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, and the Badlands en route back to Illinois, so talk of pay cuts, furlough days, and overworked teachers seemed untimely. I also enjoyed talking with BJ’s cousin, Virginia Lee, who is a painter. I shared with her my secret to desire to take up painting and she gave me hope that I could learn as she has taught art classes for almost fifty years. (Anyone who knows me realizes my style would have to be abstract and highly impressionistic.J) Like this:
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Internet photo of Lynne French oil painting
Day two in the Plymouth area took us north again to Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, about an hour’s drive. Keri had planned to spend the day there with three girlfriends, also teachers enjoying their first days of summer, and their children, and we were invited to join them with BJ, Mike, and Virginia Lee. The temperature was forecast to be in the high 90s, so being on the water was a good choice.  A major bonus was the park’s easy access for kayaking with no restrictions on licensing or quarantines due to the threat of Quagga and Zebra Mussels, invasive, non-native mollusks that have been discovered in some California waters recently. I was surprised by the beauty of the lake (actually a reservoir) with the snow-capped Sierras to the east and pastoral foothills below. Of course, somewhere out past the dam lies the infamous state prison made famous by Johnny Cash in his song “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Folsom Lake--State Recreation Area

We were here on a Monday, so the park was not too crowded but probably could get that way on the weekend. The park has several different areas for picnicking, sand volleyball, badminton, camping, along with rentals of kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, and inner tubes.  I was also pleasantly surprised that dogs on leashes were allowed and that this rule was lax enough in the areas away from the main beach that many dog owners let their dogs swim and play fetch off-leash. (We opted to leave our dogs in their crates back at the motorhome, but would definitely reconsider given another opportunity to visit this inviting recreation area.)  

Vic and Mike unloaded our kayaks right near a sandy opening along the water, launched them onto the lake quite easily, then pedaled them to where the larger group was lounging on the beach, so everyone who wanted to try them had the opportunity. (We were especially pleased that Keri pressured her mother into getting out in a kayak.) There wasn’t much wildlife to see besides lots of geese in the water and squirrels on shore, but it just felt good to be out on the water which was surprisingly clear and temperate enough for me to take a good swim in it. (Vic usually requires water about 10 degrees warmer than me. . . .)  We spent most of the day having fun in the sun with lots of good sunblock on as the temps reached 99--but it didn't seem like it along the shore with a light breeze, low humidity, and ample shade trees.

Back to the campground for a casual meal together using John and Sharon's (of Heyduke blog) quick pizza dough recipe (with pesto, American bacon, red peppers, and spinach), a local bottle of Barbera, and a long game of cards called Phase Ten. BJ was the big winner just before we might have all turned into pumpkins at midnight.

We had originally thought we would only stay one night, then extended it to two, but we still hadn’t taken advantage of the local wine tasting opportunities. Spending a third day seemed like a perfect way to round out the experience. Our plan was to start the day with a late morning hearty breakfast at the Dead Fly Diner before making our way through the local wine country. There are 36 wineries in about a ten mile radius and we visited twelve of them in a five hour period. The area is best known for its old vine Zinfandel, and more recently, Barbera, Syrah, and Sangiovese varietals as well as some Viogniers and Chenin Blancs. We found something we really liked at about one-third of the wineries, but other stops often made up for it with incredible views and flowers, or gift shops with interesting chotskies.

When we returned to the motorhome, I took our cooped up dogs for a walk in the campground and ended up visiting with two couples who shared some surprising commonalities with us. One couple had a nine-month-old, black curly Portuguese Water Dog puppy (Gucci) which they intend to show and train for water trials, and the other couple (sister and brother-in-law of the Porty couple) actually bought what I would call our big sister motorhome. There were two 2010 Phaetons on the lot at Sierra RV (in Reno) when we bought ours last April; one was 36’ and the other 40’. The salesman tried to talk us into buying the 40’ Phaeton which was identical in exterior paint color and interior style, but we stayed with our choice of the shorter motorhome. Well, apparently a few months later in July, this couple got a great deal on the 40’ and there it was in the same park. As we tend to do with other Phaeton owners, there was much to share about service, maintenance, and issues related to the ongoing problems Tiffin owners have had with the driver’s side slide floor, wet bay floor, and cap rail fissures. (See my previous blog entries from April of this year.) In spite of what seems to be an endless list of problems, we are still very happy with Tiffin Motorhomes.  Someone once told me a motorhome going down the road is like an earthquake on wheels, not to mention the intense exposure to intense sun, dust, salt air, and squished bugs—things happen and it is pretty great that Bob Tiffin will back his product with free replacement parts and service even when they are often out of warranty.

With our three days complete, we reluctantly said our goodbyes to Mike and BJ as they headed out on their northern tour of National Parks with daughter and granddaughters aboard.  With plans for only a three-hour drive to Hopland, about ten miles south of Ukiah in Mendocino County, we were able to enjoy a leisurely morning before starting our next leg of the journey north and westward.
Wild Turkey at one of the wineries