Sunday, December 17, 2017

‘Tis The Season

We’re set up in our winter home on the Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.  Refuge PadFrom our secluded site surrounded by forest, we can hear the fog horn in the nearby harbor and on quiet nights, the pounding of the surf.  Our site, on a former cranberry farm, has full hookups, a laundry room, workshop, and a locked gate.  We’re just down the road from the picturesque town of Bandon, and 20 miles from the Oregon coast’s largest city, Coos Bay. 
After ten years of spending the winters in Texas and Arizona, we’ve come to enjoy the winter weather here.  It rarely freezes or snows, daytime temperatures hover in the 50s, and while it rains, it’s the price we’re willing to pay for all the green forests and grass.  On days when the weather gets depressing, all it takes is a trip to the beach to be energized by the crashing waves, screaming gulls, and howling wind.
Wildlife vanAs volunteers for US Fish & Wildlife we’re involved in a number of projects, but our favorite activity has always been showing visitors the marine mammals at the Simpson Reef overlook near Coos Bay.  With our van decorated with coastal wildlife, Swarovski spotting scopes, and spiffy uniform jackets and hats, we head out to the overlook on most good weather days.
The reef is special place; here you can usually see all four of the major Seal and Sea Lions on the North American Pacific Coast.  In this picture you can see Harbor Seals (small gray ones), Northern Elephant Seals (BIG gray ones), California Sea Lions, and on the rocks in back, the light brown Steller Sea Lions.Shell Island Dec 2017
Other frequent visitors to the area are Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and this time of year a flock or “parcel” of Black Oystercatchers.Black oystercatchers
Hatfield1We managed to fit in a trip to Newport and the Hatfield Marine Science Center, one of the country’s leading marine laboratories.  We spent an afternoon in the visitor center, filled with interesting and interactive exhibits.  Hatfield tankThe displays and tanks held colorful aquatic plants and animals, but the highlight of our visit was the feeding of the Giant Pacific Octopus.  Although it wasn’t yet a “giant” it was entertaining.  As soon as a crowd began to gather near the tank, the octopus knew it was feeding time, became excited, and moved to the front to watch.  Then, as the staff member stood at the tank telling us about the octopus, first one tentacle, then another would slowly creep up the glass and up her arm to where she held the food.  octopusWithout missing a beat, she would gently grab the tentacle and with the sound of suction cups popping, pull it from her arm.  Eventually her talk was finished and the octopus received a large clam, which disappeared quickly into the tentacles.
We had a great Thanksgiving holiday thanks to a visit from our daughter Kim,Charleston Lighthouse her husband Bill, and their friends Brian and Patty.  They found a waterfront VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) with a great view of the Cape Arago lighthouse.   We took a tour of Bandon, which always includes a stop at Washed Ashore.  Here volunteers make art from beach trash and their art is displayed around the world.  Their work is amazing – like this whale skeleton made of white plastic bottles and cups.Bill & Brian
On Thanksgiving Day we traveled up the road to the Three Rivers Casino and a buffet with unlimited Dungeness Crab.  Thanksgiving DayWe kept a fair number of the casino staff running back and forth emptying our shell-filled buckets.  We heard a rumor that there was also turkey and ham on the buffet, but since the crab didn't run out, we couldn't be sure.  The next day Brenda and Kim created a memorable Thanksgiving dinner of smoked turkey, ham, and all the traditional sides.  The food was magical – it had to be to have vanished so quickly – and the table setting that Brenda created would make Martha Stewart envious!Thanksgiving Table It’s hard for us to believe that we’ll soon be celebrating our 13th Christmas on the road.  But once again, we’ve hauled out the decorations and Brenda has turned the motorhome into a Christmas wonderland.  We’ve had another remarkable year of experiences and memories.   As we enter year 14 we’re thankful for our health, our ability to do what we love, and for our friends.  Brenda and I wish all of you a merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, and fulfilling new year.Christmas 2017

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Traveling Back to Oregon

Powell 1Leaving our friends in Montana, we climbed into the Bitterroot Mountains and past the recently burned landscape up to Lolo Pass and into Idaho.  Here we found one of those great places to spend time that they show in the RV commercials – high in the forest, huge spaces, next to a roaring river, and an electric hookup!  Located about twelve miles from the pass, the Powell Forest Service campground has paved sites, picnic tables, and a fire ring, all for $10/night with the senior pass.
Descending from the mountains into the Clearwater Basin is always an amazing experience.  From miles and miles of winding, forested road along a roaring river, tClearwater Crossing2o an open valley with low mountains in the distance, then back along a narrow canyon and the Clearwater River.  We passed through the small towns of Koskia (Koos-kee), and Kamiah, and settled into a week long stay at our favorite park in the area, The Clearwater Crossing RV Park in Orofino.  We were able to get our favorite site on the river, with a great view and the sound of river right outside our door. 
Weippe SignThis is Nez Perce and Lewis and Clark country, and it’s difficult to travel anywhere without seeing historical signs.  Near here, above the river valley, is the little town of Weippe.  Near here in September 1805, the first members of the Lewis and Clark Corp of Discovery emerged from the Bitterroots starving and weak.  The Nez Perce, who were gathering Camas Root for food, welcomed and fed them Camas and dried salmon.  While they didn’t starve, they didn’t exactly fare well, either – they weren’t accustomed to high fiber, gorged themselves on the Camas Root and became very, very sick.  As Clark wrote “I am verry Sick to day and puke which relive me.”  The Nez Perce must have wondered about these white men who spent days lying around, passing gas, puking, and running into the bushes to relieve themselves. 
Leaving Orofino and the river, we climbed up a winding road with many switchbacks to get to the “Palouse”, miles and miles of rolling hills covered with wheat fields.  Stopping on the way, we looked back into the valley:Clearwater Canyon View
This is an area that looks more like Iowa than the Northwest; miles and miles of fields with farms tucked in among the hills.  The Palouse produces 125 million bushels of wheat each year.Palouse Farm
Headquarters SignWe continued up and into the backside of the Bitterroot Mountains, back into forest and to the end of the road at Headquarters, once a town but now just a place with empty buildings and a fire station.  From here, we drove back roads looking for wildlife and came upon this beautiful lake:HQ Lake
Along the road we found this White Ash tree with its contrasting berries:White Ash Berries Close Up
Heading home, we stopped along the road above the river valley to enjoy this view:Orofino Panorama1
Just downstream from Orofino is Dworshak Dam, at 717’ the third-highest dam in the country.  Built on the North Fork of the Clearwater River, it was controversial since the river was one of the best Steelhead Rivers in the country, and it would be too tall for fish ladders for returning fish to spawn.  A compromise was reached, and today below the dam is one of the largest “mitigation” hatcheries in the country.  Here, Steelhead and other migrating fish are raised and released for their 1000 mile migration to the ocean and back to spawn in the Clearwater River.  It’s a great place to visit with a large visitor center and tours of the dam and generators.  Dworshak Dam
From Orofino, we headed north to Spokane for a brief stay at Fairchild AFB.  Stocking up on groceries, we headed south to the Columbia River where we spent some time at a great Corp of Engineers park, LePage COE park.  Located where the John Day River interests the Columbia, the park has long, paved pull through sites with a great river view.  50A electric and water hookups, all for $12.50/night with the senior pass.  The site was outstanding, and the views were amazing:LePage COE View
The Columbia is a huge, fast flowing river that, as we later learned, was here before the mountains on each side were formed.  Towns are crammed into any near-level area along the river.  One of the larger, The Dalles, is a good-sized community focused around a huge dam and power plant:The Dalles ViewIn The Dalles, we visited the Columbia River Discovery Center and Museum, one of the finest we seen.  There were numerous rooms of interactive exhibits, historical artifacts, and educational material.  We spent hours exploring the different galleries, and truly enjoyed the museum and the view from outside:Musuem View
Museum Rear View
Columbia Gorge View
Our next stop was in the Willamette Valley to visit the Woodburn Outlet Mall, a huge collection of stores, to stock up on tax-free winter clothing.  It’s a pretty area of farms, with Mt Hood standing tall on the horizon:Mt Hood View
We’re back at the Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge for the winter.  While Scat on Sewerhooking up the sewer hose, I found this fox scat on top of the sewer fitting.  I knew they were intelligent, but his attempt to use the sewer apparently fell short when he couldn’t figure out to unscrew the cap.  But nice try, Mr. Fox!
Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

A Trip to Star Valley

We plan on spending the winter on the Oregon Coast once again, but decided to take a trip to Wyoming to visit our good friends Don and Betty and make a stop in Montana on our way back.  We spent our first night on the road near Medford, OR, in the wildfire smoke-filled valley.  The visibility was down to less than a half mile and the air tasted of smoke and burned the eyes.  We drove east to Klamath Falls, where the air began to clear, and from there into Idaho where the weather changed and the smoke started to dissipate.  We spent a few days relaxing and shopping in Boise, one of our favorite towns, then headed east into Wyoming.  We turned onto Idaho 34 at Soda Springs and began a scenic drive over the mountains into Star Valley.  At around 6200’ elevation, it’s hard to believe it’s a “valley”, at least until you see the 9000’ mountains to the East.  Star Valley
Don and Betty own a lot in the Star Valley Ranch, a huge RV resort outside the small town of Thayne and about 60 miles south of Jackson.  Besides the RV Resort, there is a housing subdivision, an area of small ranches, and two golf courses.  It’s an impressive development; you can read about it here.  And, it’s still growing!Star Valley Map
With Don and Betty as our tour guides, we traveled down the valley taking in the sights.  We drove back into the mountains along beautiful wooded roads where the leaves were just beginning to turn.  This is an area where sheep are grazed in the summer, and we came across this sheepherder's wagon, complete with spare tire and solar panel.Sheepherder Wagon
Mountain Road
Brenda & Betty
Thayne Mountain View
Old Barn
Driving down to Afton one evening for dinner, Brenda suddenly yelled “Moose!”.  Sure, we thought…..but lo and behold, there was a moose running along side of the road!  We turned around to get a closer look and saw that he was a handsome young bull:Moose on the Loose
Moose Closeup
We had dinner that night in Afton, a town that leaves no doubt that you’re in Wyoming’s wild west:Downtown Afton
We always enjoy our time with Don and Betty, but the weather was getting colder and it was time for them to get ready to return to Arizona for the winter, and for us to head for Montana.
We always manage a visit to the Missoula area when possible to see the friends we made while volunteering at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge.  So after spending a few days visiting Idaho Falls, we headed up I-15 to Dillon.  On the way, we passed through an area of early snow in the mountains:Wyoming Mountains
In Dillon, we came across this old or made-to-look old saloon with the mountains in the background:Dillon MT Saloon
From Dillon, we drove through over Big Hole Pass, across the valley, and over Lost Trail Pass down into the Bitterroot Valley.  The valley has been hit hard this year by wildfires, and we were fortunate to arrive just after rains had dampened the fires and reduced the smoke.  The mountains have a light dusting of snow, but smoke is still in the air and small areas of wildfire are still visible:Bitterroot View
We spent a week here visiting friends and enjoying the area.  Since then, we’ve headed west over Lolo Pass and traveled down into the Clearwater Basin.  It’s an interesting place, and we’ll be posting an update soon on our travels – so stay tuned!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

An Unexpected Trip North

Our last blog was titled “The End of Summer”.  As it turns out, we’re just not done with summer adventures yet.  In early July, a lightning-caused fire began in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, in the coastal range east of Brookings.  Because it was in a designated wilderness area, no aircraft, vehicles, or power equipment is allowed.  In addition, the fire was located in inaccessible terrain, so it was left to burn itself out.  Except……that now it’s over 100,000 acres and threatening not only homes along the Chetco river, but the town of Brookings.  The fear is that the “Chetco Effect”, also known as the “Brookings Effect” will cause a blow up of the fire and it will jump the current fire lines.  After days of darkness, smoke, and ash fall, our US Fish & Wildlife volunteer coordinator called and told us to leave immediately and head north to Bandon.  Which we were happy to do.  Our view from the deck where we talked to visitors was getting a bit scary:
Fire View2

Fire View3

Smoke over Brookings1

Smoke over Brookings4
In the park, the view was even worse:
Smoke over Park
View through trees
The smoke made staying outside uncomfortable, and then ashes from the fire began to fall.
Ash on Car Hood
Ash on Motorhome
We didn’t need our “Eclipse glasses” to look at the sun, even at midday:
Sun through Ash Cloud
On Monday the 21st, we all gathered to view the eclipse.  The rangers had been planning for months, with evening programs to educate park visitors, signs to remind folks, and even giving out “eclipse glasses”.  We were ready for the big event, with banners, music, and a live streaming video from under the eclipse path.  As it turned out, hardly anyone showed up, the video wouldn’t work, and worst of all, we never saw any change in the fog and smoke filled sky.  It didn’t even get dark!  Or more correctly “darker”.  So we salved our sorrow by going to the local bakery where they make a two-pound pecan-laden sticky bun to die for.  So the day wasn’t a total loss.
Keith & Brenda Eclipse Sign
Because of the fire and smoke, the normally crowded and busy beach was nearly deserted.  We hadn’t seen the beach this empty since we started here in early May:beach panorama
We’ve left Harris Beach State Park with a lot of great memories.  One visitor we’ll always remember was this beautiful lady who was escorted down to our deck by Jon, her driver.  Ruby and some other ladies had made the trip from a senior citizen home in Medford to escape the heat and visit the beach.  Sitting with us, she asked Jon where the rest of the ladies were.Brenda and Ruby  He replied that they didn’t want to get out of the car.  Turning to us, she said “those fuddy-duddys!  All they do is sit around and gossip; you can’t get them to do anything!.  I get out and walk at least one mile a day”.  Which may not be all that remarkable, until you know that Ruby recently celebrated her 98th birthday!  Ruby was a delight to talk to, telling us about her career as a teacher and a “teacher of teachers”.  She’s an inspiration to all of us seniors – after all, who wants to become a fuddy-duddy?
We’re getting ready to take a break and travel for a while visiting old friends and new places.  Check back with us and see what we’re up to!