Saturday, September 26, 2020

Waiting for the Smoke to Clear at Cape Disappointment and Washington's Hidden Coast

When it comes to travel plans, flexibility is the name of the game. As our stay at Fort Stevens State Park in northern Oregon came to an end, the wildfire smoke was still lingering in the area. The air quality readings were still in the ''unhealthy'' range and coastal visibility was hazy at best. We were hoping for better conditions for our journey down the Oregon coastline. Where to go? What to do? 

A couple of factors led us to look across the Columbia River towards the southern tip of Washington state.  While following the air quality readings on the AirNow app, the air conditions seemed to be improving more rapidly to the north of us along the Washington coast. The other factor that led us (OK ... mainly me) back to Washington was the desire for a nice long hot shower. Oregon state park campgrounds still didn't have their shower facilities open due to Covid-19 precautions. Up to this past week, we had never tried out the small ''wet bath'' shower in our van. Using it for the first time revealed some water drainage issues that Doug worked on repairing during our Hymer meetup. In the meantime, Doug devised a tarp shower that we could use with our sink faucet and a wash basin in a pinch.

As our week-long stay came to an end, I began thinking about the nice coin-operated showers that we used during our Washington state parks stays. After researching Washington state park locations, we decided to take a trip across the Columbia River to check out Washington's Cape Disappointment State Park. Just thirty minutes away, we found that it had all the services that we needed along with ... 

beautiful lighthouses,

long sandy beaches,

colorful coastal flowers,

... and a luxurious hot shower for me!

Our stay at Cape Disappointment (named by an early explorer who was disappointed when he mistakenly thought that the mouth of the Columbia River was only a bay) was certainly not a disappointment for us.

But the air was still just slowly improving, and Baby Beest likes to be driven, so we continued north along Washington's Hidden Coast Scenic Byway to find another Washington state park along with some other hidden gems.

Gems like starfish and anemones at low tide along Damon Point Beach,

dramatic seascape,

friendly faces of harbor seals,

and birds enjoying crab dinners,

while I prepared our dinner from my beach side kitchen.

In van life as in life itself, there are times when things don't always go exactly as planned ...  often times they turn out even better! We were certainly not ''disappointed'' to have to be ''hidden'' for a few days as we ''waited for the smoke to clear'' on Washington's beautiful west coast!

Next up: Turn Left ... Turn Right ... And join us as we discover the beauty of the Oregon Coast!

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Hiding From the Wildfires While Meeting Up With Our Fellow Hymer-Heads

When we bought Baby Beest sixteen months ago, we didn't realize that we would become a part of a very special group ... the Hymer-heads. Hymer is the company that outfitted our van, so owners often refer to themselves by this nickname. Unfortunately the company went out of business in early 2019 leaving owners with no one to support their repair issues and questions that normally would have be covered by the warranty. That happened a few months before we purchased our van, so while the price was appealing at the time, we also had some nagging questions:

What do you do when something needs fixing? I'm depending on you for that one, Doug!
Who does Doug consult when he has questions about how to fix it??  The Hymer-heads to the rescue!!

He was happy to find a knowledgeable and supportive Facebook group, Hymer Aktiv Owners and Wannabees, ready and willing to share their  ''Aktiv'' wisdom. So when there was a chance to meet in person, we arranged our travel plans to attend a Hymer meet-up on the northern Oregon coast just after Labor Day.

Heading west from Bend, Oregon, we passed through some of the most magnificent forests that we have every seen. We passed through cute little mountain towns and admired the peaks of Mount Jefferson, Three Sisters, and Mount Washington rising in the distance. These peaks were surrounded with endless acres of fir, cedar, and hemlock trees that make up the wilderness area of Oregon's central Cascade Range. As we drove, I wished that I would have taken more pictures of the amazing beauty that surrounded us ... babbling brooks, cute little log homes, and world-class vineyards ... but I was focused on reading up on what to see and do on Oregon's famous Pacific Coast. As we drove, Doug commented about being surprised with how strong the winds seemed to be blowing ... 

On our way, we passed through Salem, Oregon, so I was able to capture my twenty-first state capitol building. The beautiful gardens that made up Capitol Park looked a little parched despite being vigorously watered ... another not-so-great sign that this area was in need of rain.

Arriving at Fort Stevens State Park, we settled in for a week of beautiful beach walking, biking, and sunsets. That night strong winds rocked us to sleep. The next morning there was a slight hint of smoke in the air that grew stronger as the day wore on. By that evening, the sun was giving us an unusual show of color ... as if it know that it would be disappearing behind a wall of smoke for the next ten days.

As more of Baby Beest's relatives arrived, there were stories of roads closed and skies darkened with thick ash as close as Portland, Oregon. The highway that we took to Salem two days before (Highway 22) now had flames on both sides of it. These flames were consuming the cute little towns that I admired just days before. But there was also a sense of relief to have arrived safely on the coast and get to know like-minded individuals ... our fellow Hymer-heads.

The Hymer-fest must go on. Even six feet apart, we were able to share travel stories, repair advice, and ''home'' improvement ideas. We spread out around the fire-less campfire ring and shared our common love of traveling wherever our Hymer Aktiv takes us.

Doug quickly got busy adding special ''fixes'' to our awning and shower. He also got recommendations for tires that Baby Beest will be needing soon. Of course, I saw some ideas for home improvements to add to my ''honey-do'' list ... a counter top extension would be very nice (hint hint).

Each morning the ''normal'' coastal fog had a heavy, throat-scratchy, cough-provoking characteristic that let us know that this was anything but normal. Listening to the local news, our hearts went out for this beautiful state as almost a million acres of forestland burned ... and for the thousands of people who lost so much as a result of these fires. In the midst of the news of the fire's destruction, it was a good reminder for us to not take for granted ... but to notice and appreciate the beautiful scenery and people that surround us ...

... like all our new traveling buddies and their cute sidekicks.
''Tad'' won the prize for the friendliest and most adorable Hymer-head ... even though he ignored all the social distancing rules!

While our trip to the coast started out differently than we expected, we are grateful for the chance to connect ''masked'' faces with the names of our Facebook Hymer ''support group''. Safe travels, and we look forward to meeting up again somewhere down the road!

Friday, September 18, 2020

Quick Visits to Seattle and Mount Rainier, Washington and Mount Hood and Bend, Oregon

Those of you who follow Rventures know that there are two things that will influence my travel direction ... a state capitol building and the chance to visit family and friends. For Doug, a hike in the mountains and the call of world class craft breweries will direct his course. I'm happy that we could satisfy both our interests as we headed east from Olympic National Park to enjoy some quick visits and beautiful views in the central part of Washington and Oregon state. Our first quick visit was ...

Olympia, Washington

Olympia, located on the southern tip of the Puget Sound, is the capital of Washington. Our route was so close that we stopped to get a quick picture in front of my twentieth state capitol building. A quick ''say cheese'', and we were on our way to our next stop ... 

Seattle, Washington

Driveway boondocking is my favorite form of camping ... especially when we are within smiling distance of dear friends ... OK, after not seeing each other for five years, maybe it was more like hugging distance. Patty was my neighbor when I was growing up and told me that she used to ''beg'' my parents to go out so that she would have the chance to babysit me and my five siblings. I am certain that it wasn't the 50 cents an hour that she earned that excited her ... she is just that special type of friend!

While we caught up on each other's lives, her husband fixed us the ultimate Pacific West Coast feast ... grilled salmon! 

Afterwards a neighborhood walk led us to a beautiful view of sunset over Lake Washington and the city. We were grateful to catch up with dear friends and enjoy a peaceful rest in their driveway before we moved on to our next destination ...

Mount Rainier National Park

From two hours away in Seattle, we could see the distant snow-covered peak. Echoing John Muir's sentiments, we too felt drawn to this ''luxuriant and extravagantly beautiful alpine garden'' for some ''mountain-top wanderings'' in Mount Rainier National Park. Our friends equipped us with maps and great hiking suggestions. Arriving at Sunrise Visitor Center, we enjoyed dinner with a view and a sunset hike to a glacial overlook.

Unfortunately, the clouds that are seen over Mount Rainier's peak continued to grow overnight, and we awoke to a dense fog cover the next morning. We decided to follow through with our plans anyway and drove to the visitor center at Paradise on the south end of the park. Two benefits from hiking in the fog:

#1 ... I felt no fear of heights as I had no idea how high we were. Mount Rainier is somewhere in front of Doug!

#2 ... Because we couldn't see any panoramic views in the distance, we paid more attention to the beauty of the colorful wildflowers that lined the sides of the trail right in front of us.

That evening we were able to get a ''first come'' site just down the road at Cougar Rock Campground, and do a quiet hike along the Paradise River to a Carter Falls. The next morning, the sun reappeared, so we repeated our hike up to Panorama Point ... this time with brilliant views as far as the eye could see while still stopping to observe wildlife, glacial ice fields, wildflowers, and waterfalls!

We stopped to see the reflection of Mount Rainier on Reflection Lake before heading to our next destination ...

Mount Hood, Oregon

From the yard of our next Boondockers Welcome host, we could see another familiar mountain in the distance ... Mount Hood.

Doug did his research and decided that Timberline Lodge and Ski Resort at the base of Mount Hood would became our next destination.

Recognize this building? The exterior view of this historic lodge was used in the 1980 classic movie ''The Shining''. With no threat of becoming snowbound ourselves, we were able to enjoy some great hiking. For the more adventurous, mountain biking and skiing/snowboarding were possible if you are willing to climb a little ways up to reach the large patches of glacial ice still present on the mountain. The Pacific Crest Trail passes close by the resort, so we hiked a portion of it, before taking advantage of free overnight parking in the resort's large parking lot.

Looking out over the vast forest lands that surrounded us, we noticed a smoky haze from a distant forest fire starting to spread across the horizon. We hoped that this beautiful area would be safe from those fires as we headed for our next destination ...

Bend, Oregon

Ask a craft beer lover, and they will say that the quality of the local water helps make a great beer. If this is true, the Deschutes River must be delivering some high quality water for the many small craft breweries located in Bend, Oregon. Through the years, this town has gained a reputation as a great craft beer destination.

We settled in among the juniper trees at another Boondockers Welcome host home over Labor Day weekend and found out that it is not only the craft beer that draws people to Bend. There are amazing amounts of hiking and biking trails in Bend and the surrounding area. Rock climbing and whitewater rafting opportunities are also popular and plentiful.

We explored the downtown area and enjoyed a walk along the Deschutes River Trail, before visiting one of Bend's largest and most famous breweries, Deschutes Brewery. While it lived up to its reputation, we found that the two smaller breweries that we visited in the following days, Monkless Belgium Ales and Wild Ride Brewing, were equally enjoyable.

But it was the amazing amount of hiking trails in the surrounding area that makes Bend a favorite ''let's go climb a mountain'' destination. With so many trails leading up to spectacular views in the Bend area, how does one choose?? I let Doug decide, and I think he picked the one who's name alone was guaranteed to freak me out. Misery Ridge Loop Trail (yes ... Misery) at Smith Rock State Park is often picked as the #1 favorite hike in the Bend area.  And yes, I was freaked out ... by the shear beauty that surrounded us!

After a slow start (this retired nurse had to come out of retirement to assist an injured hiker), we started up the rocky trail and were treated with scenic vistas at every turn. It was challenging at times, but the panoramic views and interesting rock formations kept us going.

What does this famous park icon look like to you?

''Monkey Face'' is a favorite landmark in the park and is also a popular challenge for the many rock climbers that frequent the park. I'm sure that the views from the top of the monkey's head are spectacular, but I'm not going to put that on my bucket list any time soon!

With temps approaching 90 degrees after our hike, it was time to cool off while trying out another craft brewery, Monkless Belgium Ales. From the patio we could see lots of people floating down the Deschutes River near the Old Mill District. It was fun to see so many people enjoying a nice day on the river while still (sort of) socially distancing.

The wide variety of outdoor activities in the central part of Washington and Oregon made this a good travel choice, especially during these times.  Whether taking in great views or sipping great brews, our quick visits made us appreciate all the special people and places that surround us ...

... in Seattle,

... at Mount Rainier,

... at Mount Hood,

... in Bend,
or wherever RVentures takes us next.

Hopefully that smoke in the distance doesn't mean trouble for this beautiful area ...