Great American Roadtrip

Coast Guard Rescue and Nehalem​ Bay

Tuesday morning we found ourselves with several hours to explore Fort Stevens before driving to nearby Nehalem Bay State Park to meet Clara and her friend Lia later in the afternoon.

We drove to the South Jetty observation tower to spot ships crossing the Columbia River bar and arrived just in time to witness the United States Coast Guard rescue a teen stranded on a sandbar at flood tide. A gaggle of birders flocked with the Oregon Park Rangers, the Clatsop County Sheriff’s Office, the Warrenton Fire Department, and the Warrenton Police Department to watch the rescue unfold.

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MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Astoria

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Watching the rescue with Park’s Department and Sheriff’s Department

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USCG helicopter maneuvering over South Jetty

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Post-rescue prepping for landing

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Landing to let teen reunite with his family

After the excitement was over we turned our attention to the surfers catching late morning waves along the jetty.

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Looking south on Clatsop Spit

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Surfer heading out

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Catching a wave off Clatsop Spit

Oregon_Coast - 22We walked the trail out to the South Jetty for a better view of the Columbia River and to spot endangered migrating brown pelicans.

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The trail to bird nesting area

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Brown pelicans

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Brown pelicans over South Jetty

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We packed up our site and headed south on Highway 101 towards Seaside, Oregon as we waited for our check-in time at Nehalem Bay State Park. We hadn’t been to Seaside in well over 15 years. We enjoyed a leisurely afternoon wandering through town and grabbing a quick lunch before heading to Nehalem Bay.

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Beach at Seaside, Oregon

We arrived at Nehalem State Park with plenty of time to trick out our campsite with hammocks, chairs around the firepit, a canopy over our tableclothed picnic table, candles and fairy lights and a regulation cornhole game set. Clara and Lia arrived in their Volt from their first road trip just in time for dinner.

After dinner, we walked over to check out the horse campsites. Not being equestrians, we didn’t know camping with horses in a state park was a thing. But apparently, it is. And the sites looked really nice.

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Horse Camp? Who knew?!

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Campsite Corral

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Camping with horses

With wine glasses in hand and sand in our shoes, we navigated our way through trails of tall grasses across the dunes to the beach at Nehalem Spit for sunset.

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Clara and Lia through the dunes

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Dunes of Nehalem Spit

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Beach at Nehalem Spit

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Tawny

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Clara and Lia

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Tawny, Clara, and Marc

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Riding into the sunset

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Heading back to camp

As the sun set the temperature dropped and the marine layer quickly rolled onshore like a foggy quilt to tuck us in for the night. We kept it at bay with Lia’s pyro-maniacal campfire-making skills complete with toasty s’mores. It was a sweet ending to an already sweet day.

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Lia the “Fire Queen”!

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Clara roasts a perfect marshmallow

 

 

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Smoke, Fires, and Coastal Detours

We were to travel to Eureka, Montana the last week of August for my friend Karl’s 50th surprise Virgo Barn Dance Party at his Frisky Chicken Ranch (aka Tobacco Valley Ranch). His better half Nikki had been planning it for over a year. Hoards of friends would be coming from around the country and the globe to celebrate a milestone birthday with live bands, brews from Homestead Ales, dips in Dickey Lake, and other sundried shenanigans.

But about a week ago, while we were in Maui dodging Hurricane Lane, Nikki contacted us with a heavy heart to call off the party. The smoke from the British Columbia fires as well as from the nearby Howe Ridge fire in Glacier National Park had left the air quality in Eureka “Hazardous” and “Very Unhealthy” as categorized by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. We heard stories from home about the smoke from the BC fires in Seattle as well. We decided we were going to try and go anyway, even if the party was postponed until next year we love Karl’s ranch and we hadn’t been since August of 2014. We closely monitored the air quality authorities across Washington, Idaho, and Montana. It was bad. We made the decision at the end of the week that we’d abandon our plans for a road trip to Eureka with a side trip to Silverwood Theme Park and improvise a camping trip to the pristine salty air of the Oregon Coast.

We were lucky enough to reserve the last campsites available at Fort Stevens State Park and Nehalem Bay State Park during the busy last week of summer. Our r-pod was already packed and ready to go, so Tawny and I hooked it up and drove ourselves Fort Stevens arriving in the late afternoon. We quickly set up camp, had a surprisingly good dinner at the unassuming South Jetty Dining Room and Bar and then went to catch the sunset on the beach with the skeletal remains of a 112-year-old shipwreck of the Peter Iredale.

Oregon_Coast - 1Oregon_Coast - 3Oregon_Coast - 4Oregon_Coast - 5Oregon_Coast - 6We returned to camp, decorated our Pod with lights, built a fire, and watched the dusky shadows of bats chase emerging stars on a calm and warm summer night. Tomorrow Clara and her friend would be driving their first road trip to join us at Nehalem BayOregon_Coast - 8

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Whales & A Sandy Sunset

After a full day of sand in our shorts, sun on our backs, and a simple dinner we returned to the beach like nesting turtles to watch the sunset. As we stepped out onto the and we saw the unmistakable spray of a whale’s spout on the horizon not far from the shore.

We believed them to be either grey or humpback whales very close to the shore. Whales are common in this area but not usually at this time of the year. Many locals were noting how unusually close to shore they were. Some saying they could actually hear the whales song.

While the whales were spouting in the evening light we decided to hike once again up the Giant Sand Dune of Pacific City and watch the sun set from that impressive vantage.

While I retraced my steps from earlier in the day Clara and Morgayne decided to take on the steep sand-walled ascent. The views on the way were similar to those earlier in the day, but bathed in magic-hour light. As I walked through a small wooded area towards the top of the dune I encountered a deer making its way home for the evening.

As the girls reached the top we all spotted the deer again, running across the steep west facing slope off-limits as far too dangerous for us.

In the warm bath of sun-set light the girls finally let me take some pictures of them before running off to film their own set of Instagrams, and Snapchat stories to share with their friends.

As the last rays dwindled across the sky we made our way down the great dune and in for the evening. Campfires were set along the beach with families cooking late dinners, playing games, and listening to music. It was a near perfect day. But we could just make out the encroaching cloud of a front on the horizon. There was a storm coming as we lay heads down securely in our trailer for the night.

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Hiking Pacific City’s Giant Sand Dune

Wednesday brought us spectacular weather which we spent at the beach. Before the day warmed we decided to make the trek up Pacific City’s Giant Sand Dune which is part of Cape Kiwanda State Park.

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We hiked the saddle to the left of the dune which was a little less steep, but possibly no less work slogging through deep hot sand.

We were told to stay to the right of the fence, which didn’t seem to deter many people. But several park rangers were on site managing a prison work crew repairing the fence so we didn’t deviate from the beaten path as we made our ascent, each step punctuated by a stunning view of the Pacific.

Front the top you could see 360 degrees across Cape Kiwanda and Pacific City with Chief Kiwanda Rock (Haystack Rock/Haystack Arch) dominating the view.

The girls seemed in Heaven, loving the views and loving the sand. It has long been a dream of Clara’s to look across rolling dunes and have the experience to roll or run down a large sand dune. Here was her chance.

We ran down the dune, hot scalding sand on our bare feet. At the bottom of the dune we found ourselves in the tide pools at the base of the cliffs of Cape Kiwanda where we cooled our heels before heading back to our car parked on the beach and a day of relaxation watching the surfers and boogie boarders in the Oregon sun.

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The Dory Boats of Pacific Beach

We had been told to watch out for the returning dory boats of Pacific Beach. “Stay clear of the boats when they are landing on the beach, listen for the horns and move out of the way. Dory’s don’t have breaks”. The boats are known to rush the beach at high speed, catch a wave and land well onto the beach so awaiting vehicles with trailers can winch them back home. The 100 year old traditional fleet of uniquely flat bottomed boats heads out most mornings from the reserved stretch of beach between Haystack Rock and the Giant Sand Dune of Pacific City and returns on the midday tide.

Unfortunately we were here a week before the 57th Annual Dory Days Festival July 15-17 sponsored by the Pacific City Doormen’s Association. While sponsored by the Doormen’s association we did notice a few boats being “manned” by Dorywomen as well.

We were lucky enough to catch the dory boats landing with their catch limit of what appeared to be black rockfish. We tasted their previous days catch later that day in the form of fish tacos ordered at Ben & Jeff’s Tacos shack in town.

 

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Tillamook & Haystack Rock

A scenic Highway 6 took us out of Portland and landed us in Tillamook, Oregon land of cheese, dairy cows, rivers, and rugged green hills along the Pacific coast.

We intended to hit the Tillamook Cheese Company and pick up some curds or a block of cheddar before heading south to Cape Kiwanda for a few days.Before we arrived at the Tillamook Cheese Company we drove past Blue Heron French Cheese Company and decided to stop there first. They had a petting zoo (which I wasn’t about to go near) but Clara and Morgayne picked up the first chicken they found and subjected it to various torturous photos shoots before heading inside for cheese samples. Inside, Morgayne found a piano and sat down to entertain the tourists with a song.

From there we tried to go to the Tillamook Cheese Company but it was a zoo. Hoards of cheese loving tourists crowded outside, the parking lot was gridlock, and the RV parking was full. We decided against it and instead headed another 20 minutes or so south to Pacific City and our destination Cape Kiwanda. We checked in at Cape Kiwanda RV located directly across from the main beach at Cape Kiwanda State Park and Recreation Area. The sun was coming out so we set up camp amidst an abundance of bunnies that freely roamed the campground. This one is apparently named Basil and lives in the bush next to our spot.

After we shared part of our lunch w/Basil we took advantage of the sunny weather by heading to the beach. As soon as we walked onto the beach, saw Haystack Rock and the Pacific City Giant Sand Dune we decided we should book more time here. Rain was in the forecast and we all thought it better to avoid going on to Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park and the dunes there where we’d be sitting in the forest in the rain a mile inland from the ocean. Pacific City offered a few more restaurants, and indoor pool at our current spot, and a 2.5-3 hour shorter drive back to Seattle on Saturday. We cancelled reservations at Honeyman leaving that for another time, and were lucky enough to be able to extend our stay at Cape Kiwanda. With the remaining vacation booked we relaxed and took in the spectacular views and some vitamin D.

After the beach headed to the Pelican Brewery to have dinner on the deck and watch the sun set over Cape Kiwanda and Haystack Rock. Pelican Brewery has some fine beer (and they make their own root beer as well). But the wait was long, and the food overpriced and mediocre. But the views and the sunset didn’t disappoint.

 

 

 

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Edgefield Anniversary

We stopped at Edgefield in Troutdale, Oregon for lunch at the tail end of our Great American Road Trip in 2013. Tawny and I had been to McMenamins Edgefield 22 years ago when we were first dating. We stayed in the historic hotel, ate at the fancy Black Rabbit Restaurant, and drank beers in their movie theater. This year, on our anniversary of 17 years, we decided to head back on our way to the Oregon coast.

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We arrived early to navigate the narrow driveways and parking lots of Edgefield with our travel trailer in tow. Last time we were here we nearly got trapped in a narrow driveway with another car coming our way. The other driver had to edge her Prius into the bushes so we could squeeze past. As we slowly rolled by her I apologized for thinking I could bring this rig into this lot. She was very gracious about the whole thing, apologizing that she couldn’t pull her car over any further. It was just after we passed her that we realized the other driver was Zooey Deschanel. Star struck, I secretly hoped we might have another chance sighting of her on this stay. No such luck.

We were too early to check into our room so we headed to the 102 degree spa pool on a hot day. It was a sweatbox but relaxing all the same. Afterwards we got to our room, changed and spent our afternoon and evening exploring the many side attractions of the quirky resort: glass blowing, ceramics studio, gift shops, the winery & distillery, many gardens, blackberries, fire pits, and finally took in a movie (Finding Dory) and dinner at the Power Station theater and restaurant during the movie.

It was nice and relaxing day to celebrate our anniversary. There were several weddings that were happening on the estate that same evening. It gave us pause to reflect on the our 22 years together and the similar adventures that await those young couples.

Somehow during the day we had made reservations for a morning tee time at the chip & putt golf course. We rousted the girls out of bed and headed to the course. Morgayne had never held a golf club before and Clara had only hit at a driving range. Both were surprising naturals and held their own against Tawny and I (who are a couple of hacks). My only redeeming moment of triumph was an impressive birdy on hole 4 of the East course on a 30 foot chip onto the green that luckily rolled into the cup.

 

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Mount St. Helens & Silver Lake

Having planned our summer road trip during winter we found ourselves in June – just a few weeks prior to leaving – having to make adjustments to shift our trip forward a few days. We called around, adjusted reservations, and were lucky enough to find a place on short notice just a few hours outside of Seattle.

On Friday July 1st we rolled our R-Pod into Silver Cove Resort to a warm, partly shaded campsite along the canals connecting to Silver Lake. We found the resort friendly, clean, and they gave us a great spot with a few trees from which we could hang our hammock in the late afternoon sun.

Saturday we headed into Castle Rock to find a pharmacy for Tawny. She’s had perhaps one of the worst colds ever and hadn’t been able to shake it. Castle Rock is a tiny little town with a disproportionate number of antique and second-hand stores. We made the rounds and found ourselves a dozen new vinyls as well as some other gems and trinkets.

From Castle Rock we headed back up Spirit Lake Highway, past our campsite, and on towards Mt. St. Helens. It’s been just over 36 years since the volcano erupted on May 18th, 1980. I remember it well. I was about 10 years old and on a field trip on North Vancouver Island with my mother who was pursuing a Masters Degree in marine biology at the time. We were out collecting varied specimens of Chlorophyta, Phaeophyceae Ochrophyta, and Rhodophyte (or green, brown, and red algae. We were more than 600 miles away that day and at about 8:35 AM we heard a huge explosion. Some thought it may be military exercises nearby. Somebody else joked about it being Mt St. Helens since it had been in the news so much lately and it was just a matter of time. Nobody took it seriously, but somebody – perhaps my mother – said, “Take note of the time, it just may be St. Helens!” Indeed, it was. After returning home to Anacortes we learned that my father and sister said our dogs had gone crazy at the explosion (250 miles away) and that they hadn’t head the explosion. Apparently the sound wave traveled up and over major metropolitan areas such as Seattle. Days later we got a phone call from my grandmother in Tulsa, Oklahoma telling us their cars were dusted in ash from the explosion. That awesome power left a lasting impression on my 10 year old psyche. One I’ve never forgotten.

Even so, I’d never been to Mt. St. Helens and yet today I find myself unscripted and unplanned within a 45 minute drive to the Johnston Ridge Observatory (so named after volcanologist David Johnston, who was at the researching the mountain when it erupted).  Memorized there are his last words “Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!”. It must have been a spectacular way to go. Unfortunately, he remains were never found.

The devastation of the area is still evident and stark, but softened by a colorful blanket of new life flourishing in the form mountain lupine, paintbrushes, lupines, and mountain daisies.

We arrived just in time to listen to a forest service ranger give a synopsis of the events of May, 18th, 1980. The power and devastation of this mountain was awe-inspiring. Many observed in silence while trying to wrap their heads around the statistics the ranger rattled off; “Spirit Lake was swept away like a squeegee up the side of the mountain, and then dropped back to its current location 200 feet higher and twice the size than it was before”, or “They measured the mountain in the days before the eruption using state of the art equipment and over the course of 60 days it grew at a rate of 5 feet a day, one day adding over 17 feet!; they initially thought the equipment was faulty.”, or “The mountain lost nearly 1,200 feet in altitude that day i.”

We hiked a nearby trail, took in the panoramas, watched a short movie, and read the placards at the interpretive center before heading back down the valley to Silver Lake and our campsite. We built a fire and grilled our dinner over the open coals before finally making the last glow of the day, and the last glow of the coals toast our marshmallows, into to tortured dreams of impending lahars (rhymes w/s’mores).

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Oregon Trail: Day 9 – America’s Birthday

What better way to start America Day than with coffee in your cup and bacon and eggs in your belly. 
After breakfast a snafu thwarted our plans of hanging around a pool and barbecuing all day long. Instead we did a little research (asked the neighbors), packed up the cars with beach food, drink, and floatation devices, and headed about 40 miles west of Yakima on Highway 12. We were looking for a place to cool ourselves from the sweltering triple digit heat of Yakima by planting ourselves on Rimrock Lake. Rimrock is notorious for having steep rocky slopes and limited swimming spots but the neighbors gave us some tips about where to go.
They must have shared the same advice with everybody else in the Yakima Valley because every nook and cranny of lake access was full. We continued to drive Tieton Rd around the lake and eventually found a forest service road that from the GPS looked like it could reach the lake. We put the Pathfinder in 4WD and headed down the road…but it got narrower, steeper, and more rutted as we went until it because impassible. We turned around defeated. 

As we got back to the main road and were just about to head back and give up I spotted another lake (and forrest service road) on the GPS just down the road a bit. We decided to give it a try and to our surprise found ourselves at a nearly deserted Clear Lake where we were able to escape the heat of Yakima (temperature was about 93 at 3000 feet of elevation) and the crowds.

 
  
We spent our afternoon swimming, grilling and eating hot dogs, and catching a little sun before headed back to Yakima to grill up dinner for Julie’s extended family.      

We spent our evening making ribs, corn on the cob, grilled asparagus, and potato salad. It was hot outside but with some sprinklers on we were able to cool it enough to enjoy Julie’s mother’s green thumbed yard and decorate for the occasion.

      

                
After dinner we did some had some safe and sane fun with glow sticks in lieu of sparklers in the front yard after sunset. 

   
    
    
 Happy Birthday America! USA! Nothing makes you appreciate your freedom more than another Great American Road Trip and the 4th of July is a fitting way to draw another adventure to a close.

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Oregon Trail: Day 8 – Land of Wine and Cherries

Walla Walla is only an hour from Pendleton. We had preselected a few wineries to go to (there are hundreds to choose from) but hoped the few we had selected wouldn’t entirely bore the girls.
The first was Amavi which we had selected randomly for the view. We knew nothing of their wines but really enjoyed their Syrah and Cab and bought a few bottles.   

   
The second was Sleight of Hand Cellars which we had chosen for its vinyl collection…thinking the girls could choose albums to play while we were there, and they did (Clara played The Head and the Heart). As well as their alternative/rock aesthetic as they profess to be “Punk Rock Wines for Punk Rock Minds”. 
   
    
We really enjoyed their wines, as well as their graphic labels and clever t-shirts (which we bought a few of – as well as a few bottles of wine).

    
 Last, on the way out of town was L’ecole #41 which is a winery we’ve enjoyed for years but never had an opportunity to visit. These are great wines although these small winemakers of Amavi and Sleight of Hand can certainly hold their own against them.

   
 For lunch we stopped in Walla Walla at a little place called Cugini Italian Import Foods based on the Yelp reviews we saw on it: 4.5 stars with hundreds of reviews. We had to check it out. We never would have found this place (located in a rural residential neighborhood) on our own. Nor would we have been likely to randomly pull in on our own as the exterior isn’t necessarily enticing. But the food (very slowly prepared – our lunch took 90 minutes) was as Clara put it “It tastes like Italy”. Tawny’s burrata with house salami and eggplant tapenade was moan inducing. My “Godfather” panini with soppressata was worth killing for. A cucumber and tomato salad tossed in their homemade pesto accompanied it. And each sandwich came with complementary spumoni afterwards. 
   
    
    
 
With our bellies full we drove on towards to meet our long time friend (and Clara’s Fairy Godmother) Julie in Prosser where her brother Jimmy is working at the Zirkle Fruit Company. He is currently processing and packing cherries and invited us to a tour of the packing plant. It was really fascinating to see all the engineering and care that is taken to get cherries from tree to table. 

                  
I was surprised how many quality control stations there are repeatedly checking the size, firmness, and color of the cherries. These are premium cherries most of which are headed to markets in Korea, Australia, and Japan. 

         
At 109 degrees we drove on towards Yakima stopping briefly in Zillah, WA to see the famous Tea Pot gas station. And then noticed the Church of God building nearby. Its the Church of God, Zillah, WA. Get it?

   
  

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