We arrived home last night after almost two weeks on the road, on a wonderful journey defined mostly by rivers and mountains. Both Tom and I had been to Oregon and Washington before, but it's been 20-30 years, so it was as if it was new to us. Plus, we saw new areas we hadn't seen before. And, it was fun to have our two teenagers in tow, both of whom had never been to either state.
As with so many California journeys, our trip started with us heading out on I-5. It was fun to drive by a very snowy Mt. Shasta and a very full Shasta reservoir. We stopped briefly in McCloud, a town Tom and I fell in love with 15 years ago, when I was pregnant with Adam and we traveled there for a short vacation. The town looks rather downtrodden at the moment, but the scenery really makes up for it. We also stopped to hike in Castle Crags State Park, where we looked way, way up at spires where the Pacific Crest Trail goes by, and we were all secretly thankful we weren't hiking on THAT trail. We continued up I-5 and ended our first day's travels in the Klamath National Forest, camped by the Klamath River in a campground called 'Tree of Heaven.' The campground was small and private, and we enjoyed a swim in the river before dinner.
The next morning, Day 2, we packed up and drove over the mountains and into Oregon, shortly coming into Ashland, where the Shakespeare Festival was in full swing. We spent the day exploring Lithia Park and the town of Ashland (I had visited 25 years ago and found it much the same, though clearly weathier), drove down the road a bit to visit both the Rogue River and Emigrant Lake, plus the Dagoba chocolate factory (which is now owned by Hershey, darn it). We checked in to a hotel (Adam was annoyed by the fact that every hotel and store had a Shakespeare-themed name, giving the town a slightly Disneyland feel) and got ready for our theater experience. We saw "The Odyssey" at the Allen Elizabethan theater, and it was 3-1/2 hours of pure brilliance. The kids were riveted and we all loved it.
On day 3, we packed up early and headed up to Crater Lake National Park. Tom had been here as a 14 year old; the rest of us had never seen it, and I was really looking forward to exploring it. We stopped in the visitor's center, picked up a sandwich, and ate our lunch looking out at the lake. Then we joined a Ranger Walk up to the rim and along it, trekking through snow piles all the way. All through Oregon, and especially at this location, we were amazed by all the wildflowers that ringed every roadside. Wildflower season in our part of CA is late winter to early spring, so it was fun to see so much vegetation in bloom in late July. Of course the flowers and vegetation at Crater Lake are subalpine, as snow stays around here through the year. We enjoyed hearing the ranger talk about the history and ecology of the lake, and we enjoyed throwing snowballs, and we enjoyed the walk and the beauty of the place. Afterward, we traveled down the north side of the park to Diamond Lake, where our reserved campsite was waiting, right on the edge of the water, with snow-capped peaks all around us.
On Day 4, we headed up to the capital city of Oregon, Salem. We have friends who live in Monmouth and teach at Western Oregon University; we were planning to have dinner with them and see their alpaca ranch and home. First we explored a little of Salem, which we didn't find all that pretty; we did enjoy a walk on the Willamette river and some hand-churned ice cream downtown. We much rather preferred the little towns to the west of Salem - like Monmouth, and Independence, both cute mid-1800's towns surrounded by farmland. We saw blueberry farm after blueberry farm, the bushes so laden with fruit that it put our bushes to shame. We had a great dinner with our friends, Charles and Maren Anderson and their two delightful daughters. Charles and Tom were in grad school together at Cal; Maren and Charles got married about the same time we did, and moved to Oregon around the time we had Adam. Their kids are younger then ours, and fun to follow around as they showed us around their farm, chasing chickens and the donkeys and the alpacas, which in their newly-shorn summer coats looked for all the world like Ewoks.
The next morning, we opened the curtains to our hotel and looked down at the parking lot and discovered a crime scene. Hoards of police cars, trucks, police tape everywhere, news crews, and a dead body loosely covered by a sheet, all two floors underneath our window. Later we found out a 25-year-old man was shot and killed at 3:30 in the morning. We heard nothing, thankfully, but it was shocking to wake up to this. We packed up as soon as we could and got moving, very subdued and sad about this turn of events. Luckily we were planning to meet the Andersons at a local farmers' market, so we had something to look forward to and to put our minds on. We enjoyed not one but two markets a block away from each other, and bought all the berries our car could hold. We also found one young farmer selling tomatoes and peppers that he grows in a greenhouse (it's not hot enough for long enough, otherwise) and we bought all he had, for our dinners the next two nights. Tom and I couldn't get enough berries, we ate a pint every chance we could. We found all kinds of new (to us) berries - Josta, red huckleberry, red currants. Marionberries might have been our favorite, though the farmers in Oregon seemed to find them too common to care much about. We loved them. After saying goodbye to our friends, we drove up to Portland (marveling at Mt Hood in the distance the entire way), and had lunch and walked by the Willamette. You know how sometimes you feel a little out-of-place in a new city? Well, it was the opposite for us in Portland. Everywhere you look, there's a beard like Tom's, or hair like Adam's. We felt right at home and enjoyed a fabulous farm-to-table lunch with local coffee and beer. Then we drove out to the Columbia Gorge, hoping to hike waterfalls, but the traffic was so bad that we ditched that idea and went on up into Washington and to Kalama, where our friends the Hoffmans have both a home in town and on the Kalama river. They generously offered us their river house for two nights, and words cannot express how much we loved this place. Right on the Kalama river, which sung us to sleep each night, in a perfectly appointed and lovingly decorated home, where we could do five loads of laundry and cook some meals on a real stove instead of a camp stove. It was just the respite we needed.
The next day, the Hoffmans arrived to entertain us, Kalama style. April and I first met when we were both singing in the choir at First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley back in the mid-1990's. She and her husband Greg were like kindred spirits and we enjoyed spending time with them so much. April and I were part of a book club and enjoyed cooking for each other and hanging out with a group of friends we knew from church. The Hoffmans lived for a time in Seattle, and then back near us in the Bay Area for a short time, and now they are back in Kalama for good. April is in the process of renovating a historic building in downtown Kalama, which will be a showcase for the furniture that she rescues and reupholsters, as well as her artwork and those of other local artists. April has the most innate sense of style of anyone I've ever met, and everything she touches becomes gorgeous and creative, hand crafted in the most high-end way possible. Her storefront, which is called Ella Gray, will be open by the autumn, and if you're ever in Kalama, I highly recommend a visit. Anyway, April and Greg and their two sons, as well as some neighbors and family friends, came up to the river house to take us tubing down the river. What a fabulous day we had! I was personally terrible at tubing, as my arms are too short to reach the water and direct my tube the way I wanted it to go, but I managed to make it over some rapids without bailing and meandered the rest of the way down the 52 degree river, while Tom and the men drank cold beer as they floated and the kids practically raced down. Adam jumped off a 40-foot bridge into the water (after watching the Hoffman boys do it). We had a wonderful evening meal, made from the farmers market produce we bought the day before, and then spent the evening by an outdoor fireplace, catching up. It was a perfect day.
We reluctantly left Kalama and our friends to travel up into the heart of Washington, knowing that the area we really wanted to explore was up north, in the Skagit Valley. We drove up trusty I-5, openmouthed past views of Mt St Helens and Mt Rainier (completely covered in snow), past Seattle, up into farm country until we reached our campsite, in Larrabee State Park, on the Samish Bay, just south of Bellingham. This campground was large, and FULL, but our reserved site was actually a walk in, and we were perhaps the length of a football field up a hill, to a perfect private nook. It was an ideal spot, despite the walk to the bathrooms, and we were thrilled until we saw the train tracks, not 200 yards below our campsite. We could only hope that the trains did not run at night. We drove into Bellingham and saw the Spiderman movie with popcorn for dinner, before returning to the park and watching the sun set over the San Juan Islands. It was gorgeous. We got ready for bed, perfectly happy. And then the trains started. Every half hour, long long freight trains, until about 2 am. It was not a very nice night.
We had planned to camp here two nights, but we just couldn't face the trains again. So quickly I found another campsite on a sheep farm and creamery on Whidbey Island. We wanted to explore that area anyway, so it worked out perfectly. I found this campsite on Hipcamp, which I joined back when I was planning this trip. Hipcamp shows you all kinds of alternative camping areas all over the US, as well as state parks. It's a neat service and fun to see what kinds of places you can find near you. Anyway, as soon as we knew we'd be camping elsewhere, we packed up and headed south through the little towns of Edison and Bow, which completely charmed us. This area is in a flat valley, ringed to the east with the North Cascade range (long and snowy), and the west with the bay and islands, and further on, by views of the Olympic Peninsula range (craggy and snowy). The cropland is rich and fertile, and we saw the most idyllic farms surrounded by fields of diverse crops. Edison boasts a wonderful breakfast spot called The Breadfarm, which was a yeasty heaven on earth. We fell in love with these tiny, sleepy farm towns with the majestic views. We realize we were visiting their perfect summer window (which is SHORT), and we should probably go back in February to see how it really feels to live there. But on this visit, the weather was sunny and cool and everything was green and there was water everywhere and the people were friendly and we just loved it. We drove onto Whidbey Island via the Deception Pass bridge, and we stopped and ranged around the state park there, exploring the waterways underneath the impressive structure. We continued south down the island, stopping at farm stands to get eggs, raw milk and cream, fresh peas, and grass-fed beef for our camp meals. We stopped in Coupeville, a tiny fishing village, to have lunch, and explored a military fort and lighthouse at the south end of the island. We reached the sheep farm by late afternoon. We set up camp next to another couple who are traveling the US with their Airstream trailer and dog; they have been on the road since 2015! The sheep camp had an outdoor shower and kitchen, and a very adventurous walk down to the bay and the beach; we watched bunnies in the lawns and enjoyed the adolescent turkeys cooped up with the chickens, learning how to gobble. We smiled at the sound of ewes going in for milking and wished for a chance to taste the cheese, but the shop was closed. We got the best tent-sleep of our lives on that farm, that night.
Day 9, we packed up and set off for the ferry that would take us from the south end of Whidbey Island to the mainland. We had to wait a bit, but what an exciting thing, to drive our car onto a huge boat, and then get out and watch our trip across the bay. Then we drove into Seattle to spend the day. Seattle was Kate's favorite place of the whole trip, and I can see why - it's a charming big city set on the side of a hill that slopes down to a bay, and it has interesting people and good food and plenty to look at. Sound familiar? We decided Seattle was a lot like San Francisco, and kept expecting to see a trolley laboring up a nearby hill. We decided to play tourists and spend the bulk of our time in Pike's Place Market and the surrounding wharf. The market is huge, nine acres or something, and was crammed full of people. We enjoyed looking at all the fish available for purchase, and all the local produce, and we bought some handmade pasta and some veg. We talked to some locals who recommended that we eat lunch at the original Ivar's, down by the water, so we walked down there and had fish n' chips. Then we rode the huge ferris wheel that would give us better views, we were told, than the Space Needle. That was fun. We wanted to see the Chihuly installation but decided that we'd had enough of crowds and cities and headed back out of town. It's funny how much we didn't want to be in cities on this trip (Kate excluded, she would have loved more time in Seattle and Portland). After camping in so many wonderful wild places, it just seemed weird to be in crowds. We anticipated staying in the city longer so I had booked a hotel there. We cancelled that reservation and decided to head out to the Washington coast (just beautiful) and then back down to Oregon. We managed to get a hotel room in Astoria so we stayed the night there. Adam and I went out and explored the town a bit, and I had last been there when I was about 24, and I have to say it looked shabbier than I remembered it. But the bridge across the Columbia from Washington to Astoria was spectacular and was the longest bridge we crossed on our trip.
We packed up the next morning early and headed for the Lewis and Clark National Park. This is where the explorers spent the winter before heading back across the country again. The park is a gorgeous place with interesting buildings and with well-labeled plants (which I appreciated very much) on our walk down to the Netul River, eating some wild salal and red huckleberry fruits on the way. We then drove to Tillamook and had a grilled cheese and ice cream cone at the factory there, an intensely crowded spot - interesting in this day and age, where artisan cheesemakers are everywhere, but oh well, we liked our mainstream ice cream anyway. Our reserved camping spot was at Bullard's Beach state park, but we decided to drive further than that and hope to find camping closer to the CA state border. Highway 101 on the Oregon coast is a spectacular drive, one that both Tom and I have done before, but was new to the kids. There are all sorts of little towns and villages along the way, and all the while this amazing coastline to look at. It takes a while but it sure is scenic. We started to get a little nervous about finding another camping spot however, as everything seemed full, and we had little cell phone service to research our options. (I was continually marveling that our mothers used to plan trips like these without the internet. HOW???) It got later and later, and all of us were tired of driving, when we finally spotted a small sign that led to a campground about 10 miles off 101 up the Rogue River (here we were seeing this river again, but now on the ocean side!) and we were able to set up camp, cook the Pike's Place Market produce and pasta that we'd been holding onto, and even get in some stone-skipping on the river before bed.
Our last day consisted of driving back into California and the long 10 hour slog home. When you first cross the border from OR into CA on 101, it doesn't look that different - winding roads through woods and fog. Then the magnificent redwoods start to dominate the landscape and you think, ahhhh. THIS is California. Then you travel through weird and wonderful little towns like Arcata (I'll be back to visit you again one day Arcata, I loved you!) and then finally you reach valley, where the temps start to rise and the hills are crispy and brown and dominated by grapevines. Before long you're back into wall-to-wall traffic and big cities and rush hour. It does get a little depressing. After the clear skies, tall trees, and moderate temperatures of the PNW, not to mention the sight of water everywhere, it's hard to rest your eyes on hazy brown hills and freeways. But we were of course glad to get home, glad to get laundry started, glad to have our own bathroom and beds. We found our water heater broken (bummer) and a bumper crop of tomatoes needing to be harvested (exciting) so today has been busy. The repair guy has come, I've harvested and roasted peppers for the freezer, plus canned five pints of salsa using our tomatoes and peppers. Tom harvested cucumbers and is in the process of making bread 'n butter pickles. The air conditioning is on, blech, but the cat is happy and sleeping on our bed - apparently she was disconsolate the entire time we were gone. We've aired out the tents and sleeping bags and transferred all the rocks we collected from all the rivers and lakes we visited into a special place in the garden. Kate's back on her computer, and Adam's back hanging out with friends. The washing machine is going non-stop. Back to reality.
We traveled a distance of just under 2500 miles.
We visited eight national and state parks: Castle Crags State Park (CA), Klamath National Forest (CA), Umpqua National Forest (OR), Crater Lake National Park (OR), Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (OR & WA), Larrabee State Park (WA), Deception Pass State Park (WA), Fort Clatsop Lewis and Clark National Park (OR). We drove through many, many more, and wished we had the time to explore them, especially Mt Rainier and Mt Baker.
The highest altitude we reached was over 7100 feet on the rim of Crater Lake (OR).
We crossed 39 named bridges and hundreds of unnamed ones. The longest bridge we crossed was the Astoria Megler Bridge between Washington and Oregon, over the Columbia River, at four miles long.
We spotted a license plate for every state EXCEPT these ten: Hawaii, Rhode Island, Delaware, new Jersey, Vermont, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Alabama, and North Dakota.
We wished we had tracked how many cannabis storefronts we saw. There was at least one in every town in Oregon, often two, and similar amounts in Washington, very much like the old liquor store on every corner. Marijuana is legal recreationally in both states. We saw what California is going to look like now that it is legal here, too. I have to say, not terribly attractive, honestly.
Crops we saw actually growing: sunflowers, olives, grapes, hay, corn, hazelnuts, almonds, raspberries, blueberries, silage corn, rice, peaches, grass seed, walnuts, onions, Christmas trees, marionberries, blackberries, ornamental trees, turf, lilies, dahlias, timber, broccoli, potatoes, alfalfa, and strawberries.
We also saw beef cattle, milk cows, goats, sheep, alpacas, and chickens, on farms throughout our trip.
We all agreed that the River House in Kalama was the most beautiful spot; I think because not only was it physically beautiful, but it was also full of love and there was respite for us there in the middle of our trip and we were cared for so graciously by the Hoffmans.
The other places that we listed as most beautiful: Mt. Shasta, Crater Lake, the Umpqua River, Chuckanut Bay with a view of the San Juan Islands (south of Bellingham), the agricultural plains of the Skagit Valley ringed by snowy mountains, the Willapa Bay south of Aberdeen, the Oregon coastline (the southern portion in particular), and Seattle.
Next possible road trip adventure: the Baja peninsula in Mexico?