Oregon Part 2: Creepy Campsites, Giant Pancakes, & Puddle Jumping!
If you read part one, you've likely gathered that Oregon has captured our hearts. We have more to share as we wander inland to Portland before being drawn back to the coast. We continue that pattern a few times, experiencing the national/state forests then snaking back out for sun, sand, and sea. In this section of our trip we encountered the rain Oregon is notorious for. Surprisingly though, we made the most of it and at times actually enjoyed it. Or, perhaps that's what sentimental memories do to a person - forget the annoyances and remember the pleasures. Either way, I'm diving in to Central Oregon and just like the northern half, it did not disappoint.
Oregon Part 2 Map: Where We Visited/Stayed/Camped
Lost At Lost Lake
Continuing from our previous post (find it here: Oregon Part 1: Northern Coastline), we headed inland to Portland via the slow road (as usual) and the forecast predicted one clear night before the commencement of dreaded precipitation. Here I must digress. We're asked fairly often if we ever wish we had more space. And the answer to that is no, because we're usually only in the van to sleep, cook, or eat. Rain, for people accustomed to living in the high desert (us) also generally forces us inside. "Inside", with toddlers, generally progresses like this: Yay, music and books and coloring!----> tolerable/kids getting bored----> slightly annoying----> get them OUT of here. That progression, at best, takes about 2 hours. Thus, when significant precipitation is in the forecast, we generally attempt to have additional, covered, non-van space on the ready. An awning helps, a patio is even better, but a hotel with a pool and hot tub, well, that's nirvana. We are weak, we know it, and we are a happy disgrace to #vanlife. Whatever.
So back to the story (are you still with us?). Back on the road we originally had planned to camp in a campground but it ended up being full. So we pressed on and ascended a random steep gravel road. As we slowly putzed our way up the rocky terrain, we discovered a couple different turns but nothing felt right. We regrouped at Lost Lake, and with our spotty 4g noticed a road via Google satellite that appeared to dead end. Assuming this was a campsite, we fired Spud up, crossed our toes, and made our way there.
Anxiety, excitement, and nerves all roll into one big ball of anticipation as we make our way to backcountry sites like this. We never know if it's going to be creepy, beautiful, have other campers there, have views, or perhaps it'll be a spot that we can sleep at then jet from at the break of dawn. Then sometimes it's dang near perfect.
The trees closed in on us, scraping and scratching at Spud's deteriorating paint. Was this a warning? Were the trees grasping at us, urging us to whip a u-ey and go back the way we came? Finally, Spud crested the last hill to our "google site." Situated on a promontory with views all around, there sat a perfectly built fire ring, a small area for a van (or tent), and low lying bushes and trees. To us, solitude at its finest! As you'll see below, we enjoyed a happy hour while listening to music (yes, Gregory Alan AGAIN), took the stereotypical back-of-the-van photos, ate dinner, and threw the boys in the top bunk for some shut eye. This could have easily been the quietest night of sleep we've encountered yet (and I'm writing months later in Hawaii).
You wouldn't believe me but nearly everywhere else we've camped or slept has one or a combo of: highway noise (will happily cut tires to anyone who jake brakes), loud neighbor campers, early risers, late night partiers, car exhausts that could be heard in space, dogs that bark, doors that slam shut, airplanes, trains, fireworks (or gun shots), road noise, bass/music, and the list could go on. Even in the most remote or free spots we've found, there is usually some sort of noise. Queue Chip saying "let's just make Spud a hard top." It gets old after awhile, especially because generally one gets away to escape everyday noises. That hasn't been the case for us but we try to "be one" with theses sounds. This spot though was so silent you could hear a pin drop. Hallelujah!
Similar to our experience in Seattle, Portland was far less difficult spent in a hotel versus trying to find a place to van-camp. We scored a great hotel on points that included free breakfast AND a happy hour (two drinks plus salad bar, soup, and chips). I'll likely always remember this hotel as the one where Reid learned how to swim! Don't worry, a proud parent won't forget to post the video below. But in a nutshell, we loved Portland to visit. It was cloudy and rainy much of the time but as we drove around, I enjoyed the mix of skyscrapers, quaint houses situated on prominent hills, quirky neighborhoods, and beautifully constructed bridges carrying vehicles from one side of the Willamette/Columbia river to the other.
We were on the hunt for the best indoor activity in the city and stumbled upon one of the most-loved in Portland. Since we still belonged to our local science museum in Durango, which is a member of the ASTC Travel Passport Program, we were able to visit The Oregon Museum of Science & Industry (OMSI) for free! Our membership also includes other participating science or children's museums across the globe (hint, hint!). OMSI had an AWESOME toddler area, probably one of the best I've been to, but the entire place is interactive, fun, and sure to bring out the imagination in anyone despite your age. Our children were exceedingly entertained for three hours with little to no supervision which is a HUGE win for us parents. It's probably the most Chip and I had spoken uninterrupted since before the start of our trip! Our advice: Don't miss it if you're in town with kids!
In between our free breakfasts and evening "receptions" at the hotel, we managed to hit up a few recommended hot spots to eat. Portland's famed collection of food trucks being one! After reading countless reviews, we made the choice to eat at Nong's Khao Man Gai. We loved the backstory on this place, and the food was pretty tasty (especially that broth!).
People continued to mention doughnuts also. "You haven't tried the doughnuts yet?" They'd say. Well, you don't have to twist my arm (or anyone else's in this family) so we made our way to Pip's Original Doughnuts & Chai. Can you guess what we ordered?
All other time in Portland was spent swimming and wandering around the neighborhood near our hotel. We loved every minute. Here's that swimming video I was telling you (bragging to you) about.
Tillamook State Forest & Tillamook Cheese Factory
We were reluctant to leave our warm and dry hotel room in Portland but were ready to bid adieu to city life. After Chip denied my request for another night at the hotel, I mentally prepared for what was about to come: 24 hours of downpour conditions. Truth be told, if it's going to rain, we'd rather have that than a case of the on/off again sprinkles. It makes you feel like much less of a wuss for staying in the van when you can literally only see 10 feet in front of you. We staked out a few locations in Tillamook State Forest which is on the way back to the coast. We stopped at one along Jones Creek and discovered the main campground was closed. Not more than a few hundred feet along though were "primitive sites." Those were even better, bigger, and are free (you know we like the sounds of that!), so we parked at the first one we encountered (#1) and didn't budge until the next day.
The rain didn't stop these crazy jibs from playing outside much of the day. We donned every single piece of rain gear and seized the moment. Feet and dump trucks splashed in giant puddles, we took walks, we picked up trash. The few toys we have (coloring books, cars, and books) were saved until the very last "our kids might go crazy, give them some toys" moment. The "real" rain picked up after 7 pm and did not let up until morning. I will never forget the persistent sounds of the pounding rain on Spud, the kind that's heavy enough to make you wonder if it's actually hailing. It was ear-shatteringly loud (and we weren't even on the top bunk). Thankfully the boys didn't wake up throughout the night (or at least we couldn't hear them if they did!).
After our successful rainy van-camp, we peeled out of our site by 9 am and hightailed it to the Tillamook Cheese Factory. Here, we decided a celebration was in order for a successful this-could-have-sucked-so-bad-but-didn't night of camping in rain. So free cheese samples and two big scoops of Tillamook Ice Cream it was. At 9:30 am. The breakfast of champions, right??? We popped the top, spread out all of our soaked crap from the day before, and hung out in the parking lot catching an hour of sunshine to dry out.
Cape Kiwanda & Proposal Rock
Cape Kiwanda screams "Stop and play on my beach and jump around on my sand dunes". We found it to be such a cute town and an even better beach. What we loved most was driving Spud straight into the sand to park. We haven't had many beach driving opportunities so we took this one and made a run (er, drive?) for it! Chip discovered a surf shop right along the beach where he splurged on a wet suit, a necessary piece of gear to even enter the water on this part of the coast. He was so eager to give surfing a go that he almost went out in the picturesque surfing waves of Cape Kiwanda. Instead, though, he saved it for our long stint in Manzanita (previous post). Also, and you'll see below in the photos, but this is a great spot for sand dune jumping, kiting, sledding, or just plain ol' having fun! The sand dunes rise straight up from the sea and don't seem to stop until you're legs and lungs are desperately begging for some respite.
Beverly Beach State Park & Newport
Beverly Beach State Park might have been the one and only campground that was nearly sold out when we arrived. There are a ton of sites too. It was a little too busy for our taste but made up for it with cool neighbors and close proximity to the beach. Here, Bennett and I jumped on the opportunity to sign up for a Beach Clean-up put on by Solve Oregon. These clean-ups can humble a person, and push you to be more kind to our earth. Because of this trip, we are more aware than ever the things we are doing as a species that affect our wildlife, forests, marine life, health, the list could go on. It's too much to digest at this point so I'll leave it at that and elaborate in a later post.
On a lighter note, Chip also perfected his "Westy Stove Top Brownies" made right in our saucepan. If I haven't mentioned this before, he is our live-in chef. He cooks three meals a day, ensures we have a cold beverage at happy hour (don't worry, it's not nightly), AND he makes brownies (sometimes from scratch!). Ladies, this is the life. Ya feel me?!
Next stop the following day was Newport, Oregon. Can you guess who might have been pleading for food (after he already ate two waffles and a banana for breakfast only an hour prior)?? That would be Reid. He reminds us often (but politely) that he's "just really really hungry right now." 99.9% of the time we comeback with "Well, lunch is _____ hours/minutes away so you'll have to just be patient." But on this particular morning, we said screw it, let's get some panclocks (that's what we call them but we mean pancakes)! When Chip came back to the table and said he only bought one pancake we all frowned. Until it arrived. Behold, the Coffee House pancake:
Despite our lack of pictures, Newport was cool. We meandered through two very distinct areas - the bayfront with fish markets, cafes, and docks to wander about (the highlight here: crabby seals that bark and lazily rest on the docks). Then on the other side of town are narrow streets with colorful storefronts and inviting restaurants all leading to the main spectacle - Nye Beach. Dare I say it's another pretty Oregon beach??
Lastly, a thirty minute drive south we made a pit stop to see Devil's Churn. The boys had fallen asleep so Chip and I snuck out of Spud, gently closed the doors behind us, and rushed down the path to witness the churn sans toddlers. Living up to its name, Devil's Churn is a crevice (once a crack but now much wider) where the ocean violently funnels in. A sight to see, peering down and witnessing the power of the sea crash up against the basalt rock before finally reaching the end where the "churn" takes place and makes its way out only to forcefully repeat itself.
Suislaw National Forest - Middle of nowhere
Our last story in this post can be best described in a timeline format. Taken from our instagram account, here is this particular week's version of camping for free on National Forest land (as I've said, it's rare to find a perfect camping spot but I suppose that's what adenture is all about):
3:07 pm Drive down Nat'l Forest road. Find no spot and only a mean-lookin' dude toking home-rolled cig sitting on the hood of his Honda Prelude giving us a look that says "I will cut you." Turn around (swiftly).
3:24 pm Begin driving up next forest road.
3:48 pm Think we found a spot after other attempts but realize there are large, fresh animal bone remnants laying around, a man-made fence with 15ft high netting, a tree with a bullseye target on it, and random radio tower remnants (very Blair Witchy).
4:19 pm Drive some of the way back down and pick the first "mediocre" spot we saw 55 minutes ago.
4:30 pm Pop the top, enjoy happy hour with tunes while the boys play in the hammock.
5:37 pm Eat grilled cheese.
6:55 pm Watch sunset.
7:22 pm Put kids to bed and hunker in for some Netflix with spouse.
8:45 pm Pitch black. Hear car coming up the gravel road and cross fingers they continue driving. Curse our luck when instead it rolls right into our campsite to apparently shack up for the night. Make myself visible in the front window trying to look "mean." (Chip)
9:30-11 pm Lie awake in bed praying fellow campmate is not an axe murderer. Listen to spouse snore. Think about putting dog bowl we found outside for the "we have a rottweiler" effect. Fall asleep instead. (Lindsay)
8:07 am Roll out of campsite lickety split and notice we are above a blanket of clouds. So beautiful that we decide it's all worth it.
Whoever is still hanging in there, thanks for tagging along with us as we document the memories and photos of our time in Oregon.
Next, we will wrap-up with Part 3 which includes scenic capes along the coast, a three day camping event with 500 other vans at Descend on Bend, and an unforgettable campsite with our favorite views yet. Stay tuned for more!