Sunday, December 22, 2019

Winter on the Coast

We get a lot of strange looks when we say we're spending the winter on the Oregon Coast.  But after spending years wintering in Arizona and Texas like normal snowbirds, we fell in love with the little seaside town of Bandon.  Although the weather can be dreary, it's a rare day if it freezes or snows; most days are in the low 50s, with nights in the 40s.  And there are sunny days, which we appreciate more here than we have anywhere else.  But good weather or not, we try and get out and walk the beach, view the winter storms, and visit the holiday sights.  

We're just a short distance from parks along the water, and they all have magnificent views.  From Devil's Kitchen State Park, the view through the shore pines to the lagoon is pretty neat:

Devil's Kitchen State Park

A short walk around the corner brings you to the surf, where you can see the "sea stacks" in the distance.
Devil's Kitchen State Park Beach

One of our favorite viewpoints overlooks Elephant Rock, where you can picture the head and ears and where the surf blasts through the rock on each side of his trunk. 

Elephant Rock

Even in December, many of the trees still retain their leaves and some areas remind us of autumn in the Midwest.  We visited Humbug Mountain State Park, where we volunteered back in 2014, and took a walk along the Fern Trail, where the scenery was a contrast between dark pine forest with ferns covering the ground to colorful, sunny areas where the ground was covered by Maple Leaves.

Humbug Mountain SP Fern Trail
Humbug Mountain Fern Trail

On a walk at Floras Lake State Park, we surprised these two River Otters on a quiet stretch of the creek:

River Otters

On Sundays, we enjoy the brunch at Lord Bennett's restaurant in Bandon.  The second-story dining room and large windows give diners a great view of the offshore rocks:

Lord Bennett's

Most of our Sunday mornings this time of year are spent watching football.  We're long-suffering Cleveland Browns fans, our last remaining connection with growing up in Northeast Ohio.  Our daughter, who lives in Southern California is also a fan, and even our cat likes to dress up on game day:

Pookie in her Browns Gear

It's the Christmas season, and Bandon does its best to get everyone into the spirit.  The welcome sign is decorated with lights and we attended the town Christmas tree lighting, although it was a bit difficult to see during the driving rain.

Bandon Welcome Sign

Small town events are some of the most rewarding and enjoyable.  The Bandon Electric Light Parade is always a must-see for us.  Starting with a "nog-walk" and visit to the area merchants, the parade drew a large crowd even in the rain.  Seven minutes after starting it was over.....but it was colorful, fun, and we even had a glimpse of Santa!  

Electric Light Parade

Each year Shore Acres State Park in Charleston decorates their extensive gardens in thousands of lights and displays.  Volunteers decorate the seven acres with over 325,000 lights, erect displays, and turn the gardener's cottage into a Christmas wonderland.  Each year between 50 and 70,000 people make the journey to visit the park - it is truly magical and one of the most amazing sights you will see at Christmas.  Some of the sights:

Shore Acres State Park

Looking through the window of the gardener's cottage:

View from the Gardener's Cottage

As we walked the park, each new view brought another amazing display:

The Blue Blue Whale

Gardener's Cottage

At the pond, the still water reflected the trees - it was difficult to see which was the real image:

The Tree in the Pond

And finally, more images of the lights around the pond:

Pond Views

We're enjoying the holiday season and still have some Christmas activities to enjoy.  Brenda and I wish all of you a joyous and fulfilling Christmas - may Santa bring you all that you wished for!  Thanks for following us this year, we'll be back soon!

It's Christmas!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Across Oregon - November 2019

Oregon is one of those wonderful western states with completely different environments, from desert to mountains to ocean shore.  Leaving the mountains of Northeast Oregon, we made a visit to Boise and Mountain Home AFB to stock up on groceries before we backtracked up the interstate and entered the dry high desert along the Malheur River in Eastern Oregon.  

Malheur River
Malheur River
Traveling west along the river, we came across one of the state's little known phenomena; the rare Malheur Shoe Tree.  These trees, formed by the unique minerals in the river and local soil, produce a crop of shoes that can be harvested.  We were fortunate to discover the tree late in the year when the shoes to adult sizes; earlier and they would have been too small.  After careful study, Brenda selected a nice pair of tennis shoes while I found a pair of Converse Chick Taylor high tops.  We laughed that parking under one of these in the fall when the shoes began to fall would be pretty noisy!  

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A Rare Shoe Tree

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Look at those great shoes!

We spent a night in Burns, then a few days in Bend (where everyone owns a bicycle and two dogs) then headed into the mountains, passing near Crater Lake.  The weather turned wet and cold, and climbing past the 5000' level we ran into snow.  Fortunately the road remained clear since it was a balmy 37 degrees, and after we had descended a while we stopped for lunch.  There's nothing like the high mountain forest on a foggy, drizzly day - silent except for the running water in the stream and an occasion bird singing.

Crater Lake Forest
Parked for Lunch
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Our Lunchtime View

Finally we arrived in Medford where we'd spend a week with motor home repairs and annual maintenance.  Although it doesn't compare to New England, the trees here do change colors and provide a fall atmosphere.  The Valley of the Rogue State Park was a great place to get into the fall spirit - trees were bright colored and the air had that "autumn is here" smell that makes you think of pumpkin pie.  

Rogue River Trees
Autumn Colors
Rogue River Rest Area
Valley of the Rogue State Park

The explosion of wineries across the west is amazing - it's tough to find any area that's not in a forest that doesn't have a vineyard.  The area around Medford is no exception, and we came across this pretty view of vineyards and foothills:

Rogue Panarama
We stopped on our way to the coast at the Seven Feathers Casino in Canyonville to take in their Friday seafood buffet.  Dungeness Crab, oysters on the half shell, jumbo peel and eat shrimp...and even caviar!  We ate enough that I had to pump up the tires a notch for the remainder of the trip!.  Finally arriving at Bandon, we pulled into our winter home at Robbin's Nest RV Park, a great little park close enough to the water to hear the waves and the fog horn.  We quickly set up and made a trip to the water where we watched Salmon fisherman trolling the Coquille River in front of the old Coquille River Lighthouse.

Coquille River Lighthouse'
Bandon has become "home" for us, at least for now.  The beauty of the area never gets old - the ocean and sea stacks are simply magical!

Bandon Sunset
Bandon  Sunset
That's it for now - Brenda and I hope you're enjoying life wherever you are and that you have a memorable Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Hopping in Washington - Oct 2019

We're on the road after our summer at Farragut State Park.  Our original plan was to head over to Missoula and the Bitterroot Valley to visit friends, then head south over Lost Trail Pass back into Idaho.  But winter arrived early, and faced with snow and temperatures in the low 20s, we decided instead to head south and spend a week in the Tri-cities (Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick).  This is Washington's wine country, and the landscape is covered with vineyards.  Signs for wineries, all with exotic names, are at every interstate exit.

Hops Panarama
Hop Fields
We decided to visit Toppinish, a small town that actually sits in the Yakima Indian reservation (and the course has a casino).  The town is a bit haggard, but the buildings are covered with beautiful murals depicting the history of the area.  Driving through town is like touring an art museum - some of the murals are quite impressive:

Toppinish Murals
Toppenish Murals

What makes this area unique are the "hopfields", endless rows of poles, now bare, that support the wire structure that the hop vines ("bines") climb on before spilling down.  This area produces more hops than any other area in the world; the 300 days of sun, moderate climate, and rich soil make it perfect for hops.  And with over 5300 breweries in the U.S. alone, the fields are expanding each year. 

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Hop Fields

Throughout the valley Mount Adams, far was in the cascades, dominates the skyline with a ghostly snow-covered look:

Mt Adams
Mount Adams

From the Tri-cities, we headed south along the interstate to Pendleton where we stayed at an RV resort at  Starting to see a pattern here?  Pendleton looked interesting from a distance, but was a bit disappointing when we drove the main streets.  Sometimes "historic" just means old, although some streets downtown were filled with restaurants and shops.  It's also the home of Pendleton Mills, but we didn't take the tour since the cost of a Pendleton Blanket approaches our annual income.  We did drive past the rodeo grounds, home of the famous Pendleton Rode, quiet this time of year.  

Pendleton View
Pendleton Rodeo Arena
Pendleton Rodeo Grounds

A place we're always wanted to visit but never had the opportunity is the area around Wallowa ("wal-ah-wah") lake.  Described as the "Swiss Alps of Oregon", its location in the far Northeastern corner of the state, with only a couple of secondary roads leading to it, keeps it from being overrun by tourists.  Mostly.  It was a 110 mile trip from Pendleton over the Blue Mountains into Joseph at the head of the lake, but oh my, was it worth it.

As we drove the valley toward Joseph, the snow-covered Wallowa Mountains provided a beautiful background to the farms along the road.  The clouds were obscuring much of the mountain, but even still, it was a beautiful view.

Farm and Blue Mountains
Wallowa Valley

Clouds and Mountains
Wallowa Mountains

Joseph turned out to be a picture-perfect little town. Lots of shops and restaurants, tree lined streets, and mountains in the distance. 

Joseph Main Street
Joseph, Oregon

Cowboy Sculpture
Joseph, Oregon

Driving through town brought us to the lake and this view:

Wallowa Lake
Wallowa Lake

Following the road around the east side of the lake brought us to the edge of the state park and this overlook:

Wallowa Lake Shore
Wallowa Lake View

The state park is large and has full hookup sites, so we're planning on a stay sometime in the future.  While exploring the park, we crossed a rush stream filled with bright red Kokanee Salmon, getting ready to spawn:

Kokanee Salmon
Kokanee Spawing

We've crossed the Trail of the Nez Perce since our first stay in Montana 13 years ago.  From the Clearwater Basin, the White Bird battlefield, Fort "Fizzle", the Battle of the Hole, and the Bear Paw battlefield.  So we were interested and surprised to find the grave site of Chief Joseph here overlooking the lake.  Chief Joseph was an inspiring and eloquent leader; his speech of "I will fight no more forever" was a sad ending to a proud people's last attempt at freedom.

Chief Joseph Grave
Chief Joseph Gravesite

We're currently spending a week in Boise at one of our favorite stops, Gowen Field National Guard Base campground.  From here we'll head back into Oregon for our slow trip back to Bandon on the Oregon coast.  Until then, we'll be exploring along the way so check back and see what we've been up to!  

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

A Tour de Park - August 2019

We started this blog fourteen years ago as a travel diary; the trouble is that we haven't done much traveling the last two month.  But it's also served as an aide to help us remember what we've done and where we've been since we've been on the road so long we can't always remember.  So with that in mind, and in the hope of educating others on just what it means to volunteer at a state park as an interpretive host, here's what we've been doing this summer:

This is our second consecutive year here, something we've never done at another location.  Why?  The best host site ever, a great location, and an interesting job working for an amazing volunteer coordinator.  But first, the park:

A park this size requires a large staff and there are lots of folks involved.  Besides a ranger, maintenance, and administrative staff, the park has over 50 resident summer volunteers.  there are camp hosts in each campground, museum hosts, kiosk hosts, special project and maintenance hosts, hosts for the disk golf courses, and more.  Unlike other parks we've been at, many volunteers return year after year - one couple has returned this year for the 18th year!  The big benefit from having all these people is of course the potlucks!  We typically have four tables of food plus two more for desserts!

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Our job is to develop and put on the week evening programs and hold a Junior Ranger class on Saturday.  We decide what our subjects will be, develop and print the program flyers, and post them at 17 locations throughout the park.  On program nights we set up our equipment at the amphitheater and provide visitors with a mixture of interactive activities and nature and historical videos; everything from "Bill Nye the Science Guy" to teaching the principals of "Leave No Trace".  We truly enjoy meeting families from all over the country and entertaining them and especially their children. 

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On Saturday we have a 3 hour class for junior Rangers at the museum, where kids can "feel" the furs of Northern Idaho predators and make a craft, usually corresponding to the night's movie.  One Saturday we made "Moose" hats for over 60 children - the kids looked so cute!

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We enjoy Monday mornings when we print and distribute our program flyers.  It gives us the opportunity to cruise the park and chat with the hosts.  We check out a truck from the shop, stop at the visitor center to print flyers for the counter display, host distribution and kiosks, then hit the road, visiting the park facilities and campgrounds.

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We start at the main entrance where the "camps full" sign has been up since mid-June.  Prior to the visitor center, there's a welcome kiosk where the hosts welcome visitors, issue day use passes, and direct RVs to parking for registration.  

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This year the park expanded one of the loops with 30 full-hookup sites and created a berm along the road to shield the sites.  Wildflowers were planted and quickly bloomed into a dazzling display of color.
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We drop off flyers at the Brig Museum, one of the only remaining buildings of the 776 that were built here during WWII.  The museum is housed in two of the four cell blocks, and has a number of interesting exhibits.  On one wall is the sign-in book for any of the over 290,000 recruits that trained here.  It's sad to look at the books and see how each year the signatures are fewer than the year before.  The park once held an annual reunion, but the number of WWII vets has dwindled to the point that it's no longer feasible.  

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It's always interesting when driving through the campgrounds to see what type of RVs or tents are being used.  The park has four campgrounds and they're all different.  Whitetail, the oldest, is a no-hookup campground in the woods.  Snowberry, the next oldest has 30A electric and water.  Waldren is newer with paved sites and 50A and water and has four loops.  Gilmour, the newest, has loops of both 50A and water and full-hookup sites.  The one thing all of the sites have in common is space - all of the sites are widely separated and have some shade; an uncommon benefit in an age where spaces are crammed together to make more money.  
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The camp host sites are all large and full-hookup.  One of the features of this park is that everyone, including camp host, rangers, and visitor center, have a radio.  Any problems or complaints with campers are quickly radioed in and handled by one of the on-patrol rangers, who are on duty late into the night.  

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One of the most popular places in the the park during the summer is Beaver Bay Beach.  Years ago, the park sculpted a small bay out of the lake and covered it with sand.  Since it's shallow the water temperature warms us; on the lake side of the beach the water is 800' deep and cold!  There's a nice bathhouse and parking for 160 vehicles - which is often full.

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Driving around the park gives us a chance to view some of the wildlife that lives here.  There are numerous deer, flocks of wild turkey, badger, coyote, and bobcat.  With over 4000 acres, much of it wildlife management area, it wouldn't be a surprise to see a black bear or mountain lion, and we even had a few moose sightings earlier this year.  On a recent drive, we came across this coyote pup - such a beautiful animal!

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We'll be here until mid-September, which gives us the chance to organize and prepare our programs for next year.  After that, we're planning on slow travel through Montana, Idaho's Sawtooth Valley, and up into Eastern Oregon.  So check back with us, and we're looking forward to new territory restaurants!