Off on another adventure: Tuesday, maybe, weather and expected arrival of ordered essentials being the deciding factors, we will depart our city in a roundabout way toward Western Wyoming. We like to meander our way toward a vague destination, making the destination just another stop along the way.
The weather forecast will improve by the time we roll down our driveway. Due to a miscalculation on my part estimating when orders would arrive from B&H (new external HD), NGS (maps) and Amazon (travel books, Garmin Topo map, and a new 2.5″ foam mattress topper with cover- easier to find without than with), our scheduled departure was today. Hah, procrastinating the orders (when confronting decisions, I postpone) actually worked in our favor, weather-wise. Since we plan to travel west to go east via the Olympic Peninsula (bypassing my nemesis of I-5 through the Seattle traffic), we wanted to be sure of sunny skies. Even overcast would be preferable to the downpours of today. So the route is as follows:
Day 1: Bellingham to Bow Hill Blueberries to pick up half a flat then meander through the Skagit Valley and Whidbey Island to the Port Townsend ferry. Highway 101 will take us to our first overnight stop, tbd.
Days 2 & 3: The next morning we will head toward Sun and Sands RV park south of Lincoln City where we will rest several days looking for agates at Fogerty Beach State Park. Along the way, we will try to find the beach where Toller can run in Ocean Shores.
Day 4: We will be on our way to camping east of Eugene, maybe at the Blue Pool along highway 126. We want to drive the Aufderheisen Scenic Byway, America’s first scenic byway.
Day 5: This is the day we leisurely drive the Aufderhausen scenic byway which, in its serpentine route will bring us to highway where we will take an offshoot road to Waldo Lake, one of the clearest, purest lakes in the US.6
Days 6 & 7: Crater Lake National Park, our next destination, is a short little jaunt away, for photography and exploring.
Day 8: We are on the road to Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge along rural highways and gravel roads. Boondock camping?
Day 9: We will be exploring the Steens Mountain Loop, a very scenic drive with several overlooks into glacier-carved valleys on the eastern flank. Our campground will be at Page Springs near Frenchglen. If the aspens are in peak color then we will stay at one of the campgrounds along the Steens Mountain Loop.
Day 10: Our route is a meandering drive on gravel roads and rural highways to the Pillars of Rome. Dispersed camping?
Days 11 and 12: Two days to explore Succor Creek State Park, Owyhee Canyon and Leslie Gulch, very remote destinations that are becoming more well-known.
Day 13: This is is our first day into Idaho. We had watched a TV show about a scenic backway that will take us from Oregon into Idaho. We also want to see Silver City, a fairly intact ghost town in Idaho. This back door into Idaho will bring us to the Snake River Birds of Prey refuge.
Day 14: Today will be a day exploring Bruneau Sand Dunes.
Day #1*Wednesday*September 11:
Whoa! As with all plans, ours went all to h***. After all orders arrived, fall gardening chores completed, tasks assigned to daughter/caretaker, camper packed, maps organized, electronic gizmos updated and batteries charged, truck fueled, oil freshly changed and food prepared, etc., we were on our way. We departed at 9:30 am to catch the 11:30 am Whidbey/Port Townsend ferry (reservations required, $25.20 total fare for standard vehicle (20′ or less: we are within it by 6″) with driver and passenger, 65 + discount, overheight with the camper on.). The route we followed meandered through Skagit County farmland until we met Highway 20 which will temporarily end at the Whidbey island dock near Fort Casey State Park. It will pick up again at the PT ferry dock where it terminates at the junction of the coastal and Hood Canal portions of 101.
Our first overnighter was at Potlatch State Park along the Hood Canal section of Highway 101, where we parked at the less developed area in space # 70 for a quieter night’s sleep. There, the main site amenities were missing so we made do with a vault toilet rather than the flush variety but the water faucets weren’t shut off. The waterfront was muddy, not rocky or sandy along Hood Canal. Hindsight advises the next time to boon dock in Olympic National Forest or at any of the Lake Cushman sites or camp at the much nicer Dosewallips State Park near Brinnon (see last camping spot October 21). Both campsites are $23 for a standard site (no hook ups) but the Dosewallips state park is much nicer: lovely maples, very large sites and the Dosewallops River nearby.
Day #2*Thursday*September 12:
We wound our way south and west aiming for Cape Disappointment State Park near Ilwaco/Long Beach. We followed 101 until the junction with 108 which segued into highways 8/12. We bypassed Aberdeen when we chose 107 to bring us onto Coastal Highway 101. Along the way we bought diesel at the Elma Shell, Elma, WA: $50.00 to top off the tank.
Long Beach, Washington is very dog-friendly. Its very long beach is open to dogs off-leash. It is also open to vehicles who drive along the sandy beaches. Fast. Or, stuck. Toller, our two year old Chocolate Standard Poodle/German Shorthaired Pointer cross, quickly ran circles until he flopped down exhausted. He was wary of the waves that rolled onto the beach allowing himself to just venture in the shallows where the waves were receding before the next big one crashed onto the sand.
Toller at Long Beach
Toller and Tony at Long Beach
We secured our standard, no hook-up spot at CapeDisappointment State Park, space 225 ($23) by O’Neil Lake where we were the only ones as most people elected to camp closer to the ocean at Benson Beach. We did have one neighbor across the road in the hiker/biker site who was quiet and didn’t run a loud generator. We were within a short walk to Waikiki Beach and the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse which is a more scenic area. We took a short walk to the North Head Lighthouse complex where the lighthouse keeper and assistant lighthouse keepers’ homes are available to rent.
Cape Disappointment State Park is the most visited state park in Washington. 1882 acres are abutted by the Pacific Ocean, Baker Bay and the Columbia River. Cape Disappointment, named by Captain John Meares in 1788 while searching for the mouth of the Columbia River, is where the Columbia meets the Pacific. This is also where the Lewis and Clark Expedition first saw the Pacific.
Day #3*Friday*September 13:
We returned to 101 then drove over the Astoria-Megler Bridge to Oregon. The northern beaches and towns of the Oregon Coast seem too touristy so we make for just north of Depoe Bay with one detour that has us backtracking due to a mudslide. We enjoy the Three Capes Scenic Loop and made it just to Cape Meares before we had to return to Tillamook to resume our southern route. We overnighted at the Sun and Sea RV Park, one of the very few RV parks we stay at as it has very clean bathrooms and is sited on the beach. It caters mostly to big RVs and is a splurge for us. Even with the Good Sam Club 10% discount it is $35.00 for a “forested” site. It does offer full hookups, a laundromat, wifi, small store, and quick access to the beach. Our space was number 57 with neighbors a bit too close.
That afternoon and the next morning, we explored Fogerty Creek State Park, our favorite state park along the Oregon coast. Fogerty Creek runs through it to the ocean terminated in a jumble of a rock outcropping, suitable for climbing. On each side, accessible by a trail on each side, under Highway 101, there is a small and a larger crescent-shaped beach. The storms and ocean waves change the beaches but agates can be found on either side. The smelt sands differ from most Oregon Coast beaches which are very fine sand ground over the eons by the relentless pounding waves. It helps to be present at low tide but I have found many agates on the incoming or outgoing tides.
Day #4*Saturday*September 14:
Highway 20 from Newport takes you through the coastal mountains to the Corvallis/Albany area then continues through the Cascades into the eastern limits of the Great Basin and Oregon’s dry side. We took this route to explore the lakes and rivers of Oregon’s Central Cascades. Tonight’s camping spot was yet to be decided so we first stopped at Cascadia State Park, about 15 miles east of Sweet Home. There was a big loud family picnic so we moved on to check out House Rock, a USFS campground. It was down in a hole, the smoke from campfires creating a haze and the canopy of large trees made it seem dark even in the afternoon. We returned via the very winding highway to Cascadia. More expensive at $17 for a standard. no hookup site, it had nicer sites and flush toilets and showers. We chose number A4 next to an old nurse log.
Day #5*Sunday*September 15:
South Fork Santiam River
South Fork Santiam River
We explored the South Santiam River which flowed next Highway 20 and was part of the park. The ranger pointed out an access along the north side of the highway with a trail leading to a large boulder-strewn part of the river that was very photogenic. I found a ledge that was part of a boulder arrangement allowing me to handhold my 24-70mm lens to capture the up river section. These images are reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest: I love the quiet rivers, big boulders, fern glades as a photographic package. There are so many compositions along the focal lengths to keep me enchanted for some time.
Our next destination was the Aufderheide Memorial Drive. We drove the very winding Highway 20 to its junction with Highway 126. Following this road south, we stopped at Sahalie Falls, a very dramatic and scenic waterfall that we unfortunately arrived at when the sun shone directly on it. I did a quick composition nabbing a rainbow without jamming my tripod on too many toes. Eventually, 126 turns right, passing the town of McKenzie Bridge. Less than five miles past the town is the beginning of the drive. Evidence was there that would justify it being a scenic drive as mentioned online but the fall color had yet to peak. It had more road bikes on it than cars. The route loosely followed the McKenzie River and the North Fork of Middle Fork Willamette River. It terminates when it meets Highway 58 from Eugene.
We passed by a large number of USFS campgrounds to settle in at Waldo Lake, one of the clearest lake in the US rivaling its southern neighbor, Crater Lake. It is also second to the better-known lake in depth (420 feet). We chose Shadow Bay as it is the first one and is less popular than North Waldo. Site number 67 ($10) was a short distance to the lake and close to a vault toilet.
Day #6*Monday*September 16:
Tony and Toller at Waldo Lake
Early the next morning, we awoke to fog so grabbed the gear to shoot some moody photos of the islet offshore. The fog didn’t last long but it was quiet and peaceful. As the dawn became day, we noticed a man made structure on the islet made of logs. There are trails that wind around the lake revealing views of the Sisters but we were unable to see them from where we
There was no direct route to Diamond Lake and Thielsen View campground so we returned to Highway 58 from Forest Road 5897 heading east to US 97, This would take us to the westbound East Diamond Lake Highway which can also take you to the north entrance of Crater Lake National Park. We are not particularly fond of 97 but we weren’t familiar with the many USFS roads that may or may not have taken us to Diamond Lake. We drove by several lakes but one, O’Dell looked like it was more of a resort and summer home type. Crescent Lake will wait for the next time as it was further off the highway and I saw no sign for a resort.
Campfire at Thielsen View
Thielsen View Campground, on the northwest side of the lake across from a resort, was rustic (vault toilets) but very scenic with a view of, you guessed it, Mt. Thielsen. We chose site B-4 ($7.50) one of the more scenic sites right by the lake. This is one of my favorite camp-grounds on this trip: spacious sites, pine tree canopy, and lots of free firewood from diseased trees. Blue skies make for uninspired images as does a breeze to ripple the lake so I shot a few frames for the memories. We built a campfire to roast real meat and veggie hotdogs.
Day #7*Tuesday*September 17:
Crater Lake National Park
The fog returned so there would be no sunrise over or behind Mt. Thielsen. We broke camp, noting the site number for a return visit. Crater Lake was just a short jaunt south on Highway 138. The scenic drive circles Crater Lake, mostly on a narrow road, often with narrow shoulders sagging precipitously to a drop off. Since it was still foggy, we slowly made our way counter-clockwise toward the Visitor Center. We parked at several overviews which afforded us views of Wizard Island up close. It was cold and rainy so we went to the park headquarters/visitor center near Mazama campground.
We watched an informative video on the making of Crater Lake. Essentially, there was a buildup of hot magma that pushed up through Mount Mazama. The mountain, unable to contain the pressure, erupted, the sides caving in and plugging the former magma chamber. Eons of melted snow and rain have resulted in a lake that is 1943 feet deep, the deepest in the U. S. and ninth deepest in the world. Its water is also very pure.
Our overnight accommodations were at Mazama campground as Lost Creek was closed for the season. The prices weren’t adjusted for teh season as a standard site (no hook ups) was $29. However, age 62+ has its goodies and one is the $10 NPS/USFS/BLM Golden Age Pass which lowered the price by half to $14.50. We chose site F-2 as it was distanced from the larger RVs and the construction work in the closer loops. The cold rain and strong winds continued so we took a quick look at Phantom Ship from an overlook then returned to our warm camper, ate soup and went to bed.
Day #8*Wednesday*September 18:
Beautiful blue Crater Lake from Cloudcap
We awoke to a sunny but cold day. We decided to make the loop clockwise because coming from the north, we were too close to the outside edge. It was icy in places on the road and in the parking lots. The true blue of the lake was revealed in the sunshine. We stopped at a few overlooks then drove to he highest paved road in Oregon which ends a mile off the Rim Drive on the east side of Crater Lake at 7,900 feet. You could see almost the entire lake from this vantage point. The photo at right was taken with my 14-24mm at 19mm.
We left the park and the Cascades for Eastern Oregon. Rim Drive connects with Highway 62 at the southern entrance which brings you to Highway 97. Along the way, we stopped at an overview where the lightning rod tip of Mt. Thielsen stood above the valley floor fog. The Chiloquin Highway is a shortcut which goes through the small town of Chiloquin connecting with Highway 858 or the Sprague River Road. There was very little traffic on this road and even fewer on a more scenic road that more closely followed the Sprague River (Drews Road).
Drews Creek, USFS campground
Eventually we connected with Highway 140 which would lead us to Drews Creek, the USFS campground I chose. Campgrounds in this area near the main roads are scarce. There were a few that were miles up USFS roads but we had driven many miles and didn’t want to overload the exhaustion factor. 140 (Klamath Falls – Lakeview Highway) would bring us to Lakeview, Oregon’s highest (elevation) town for fuel and groceries. Drews Creek was all ours for the evening. A number of cars drove by probably going to Drews Reservoir or Dog Lake but they didn’t disturb us. This campground was rated a 9 by Moons for its scenic value but I believe that is too generous. Yes, the pine trees provided a nice canopy, the vault toilets were charming (but smelly) and the pine litter was great for Toller to run on. Oh, and it was free.
Day #9*Thursday*September 19:
We awoke to a foggy morning. We began to drive slowly into Lakeview for groceries, propane and fuel but the fog soon lifted allowing us to watch the numerous raptors we saw the day before in the ranchers’ fields after the alfalfa was cut. Lakeview has had a Safeway since 1939. It was a decent size store and we were able to stock up on items we couldn’t find in the smaller towns we passed through. We then bought diesel for the truck and propane at the Shell on 395. Turning east on 140 (it joined 395 in Lakeview for a few miles), we drove to the Plush-Adel Road, bypassing the Plush Cutoff. We chose that route because we wanted to travel a more scenic route skirting Crump Lake, a shallow alkaline lake in Warner Valley. Since it was long past the morning golden hour, we drove on through. We passed through Plush, stopped at the Hart Bar Interpretive Site for information and vault toilets, and the Camp Hart CCC which had a nice campground.
BLM Sunstone Collection area signage
Since we had questions about the Hart Mountain National Antelope Preserve and the BLM Sunstone Collection Site, we drove on up the winding gravel road (The paved part of Hart Mountain Road ends at the CCC campground.) to the headquarters. Beautiful views but big drop offs. We also saw some antelope once the road reached the summit and plateau. Alas, no one was home at the HQ so we returned to the Warner Valley. We decided to head for the sunstone area to look for Oregon’s state gem.
It is a long way on a gravel road that tends to washboard, about 25 miles long. The road has several forks but is well-signed. There is now an improved campground/picnic area with vault toilets and canopies. We talked to someone who showed us what to look for as he had amassed quite a collection. They were small but he said they were plentiful. After a few hours, we each had a pocketful of small pale yellow crystal-like stones. We chose the host spot at the CCC campground with only one other camper. The skies were clear, the stars were bright and the night quiet.
Day #10*Friday*September 20:
Hart Mountain Road vista into Warner Valley
Sunny again today so we again headed up to the antelope refuge. Today we are going to look for agates and jasper at Flook Lake. We will also look for antelopes up on Hart Mountain. The views from the road that climbs to the top is expansive overlooking Warner Valley and the chain of lakes supporting birdlife (and probably amphibians/reptiles/insects, too). Again, no staff at the HQ but it was open for using the toilet (flush) and picking up literature. All the older buildings, including two residences, were built by the crew who lived at the Camp Hart CCC during the 1930s.
Flook Lake is a few miles past the HQ (take the road on the left) heading for Highway 205 and Frenchglen. It is a flat alkaline lake reached by a ¼ mile long rutted single track. It is permissible to collect eight pounds of rocks per day per person but no digging allowed as it is on refuge land. We each went in a different direction finding agatized tan and red jasper, a dark purple agate and some interesting rocks which we can’t identify. The lake was bare except for the scattered rocks and scant vegetation. We saw no signs of life but the desert reveals its residents at night.
Flook Lake rock hounding
Once we sated our rock hounding appetites, we continued our drive to Page Springs, our next campground. We stayed there a few days last April during our two weeks in Eastern Oregon. Once you leave the refuge, the road becomes the Rock Creek Road which passes through the large holdings of the Rock Creek Ranch. There wasn’t a lot of traffic and the road had sporadic washboarding. We arrived at Page Springs to a full up campground. The host allowed us to camp under some aspens where we still had ample space between us and our neighbors. We paid the senior rate of $4. Then the trouble began. Our pop up began to unfold only on one side so we immediately flipped the switch to OFF. We could do nothing at that point as it was getting dark so we spent a very miserable night sleeping in the truck, thankful that Hallmark was open on Saturdays.
Day #11*Saturday*September 21:
At 9:00am we called Hallmark RV to inform them of our camper’s malfunction. The specialist gave my husband some pointers but these failed to raise the roof. He then advised us how to lower the roof on one side. Tony has an engineer’s mind and had packed the tools needed for the job. I busied myself cleaning out the truck, walking Toller and routing us to Fort Lupton, CO. We also discovered that the Steens Mountain Loop we wanted to take was partially closed by a landslide. We had been looking forward to this since last April as the loop doesn’t usually open until summer. The aspens weren’t in their full glory so this was a small consolation.
South entrance road to Succor Creek State Park, OR
Gravesite of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, son of Sacajawea
We drove to Burns for fuel and groceries then headed east on Highway 78 (Steens Highway). The rain didn’t help the mood in the truck. But, there was little traffic and the miles went by quickly. 78 terminated at Burns Junction and Highway 95 (Idaho-Oregon-Nevada Highway) We saw a sign announcing the grave of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, Sacajawea’s son who was born during the Lewis and Clark Expedition. We drove the few miles to his gravesite which had a few other tombstones and a few buildings for company.
95 makes long twists on its way to Idaho. Succor Creek State Park was on our must see list so we drove on the rough road to the campground. Our GPS didn’t match the miles posted and the sky was darkening not only due to the hour but the approaching storm. We stopped at an area that had been been previously used as a campground because of the scattered fire rings. It is also a rock hound’s destination for the prized thunder eggs. On the way out we discovered some agates on the road. Unfortunately, we couldn’t linger so we continued our eastbound journey through the park (and found the campground a mile or so down the road). This is definitely a place we want to return to. The wind was blowing the hard-driving rain into our faces as we got settled in for the night. I decided to sleep on the floor on the extra cushions and Tony slept in the truck’s cab with Toller in the back seat.
Day #12*Sunday*September 22:
Montpelior Canyon, a USFS campground
Boon docking at Succor Creek State Park
I awoke early, not only because of the cramped sleeping quarters but because I knew that early dawn might bring the LIGHT that we photographers are always seeking. The sky was dark but promising. I set up my gear and waited. Right time, wrong place. A rosy halo circled a black cloud and I had no foreground elements. I grabbed my tripod/camera and ran out to the bluff overlooking the valley. Too late for the dawn drama but the clouds remained and I continued to press the shutter using the 70-200mm to bring the landscape closer
Succor Creek Road ended at Highway 19 which brought us into Idaho and Highway 95. We turned off on Highway 55 then followed Highway 78 from Marsing loosely along the Snake River, passing through the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area and passing by the Bruneau Sand Dunes. Farewell until next year.
We joined I-84 at the 112 on ramp then joined I-86 when they split. In Pocatello, we hit their rush hour which wasn’t too hurried to take yet another interstate (I-15) southbound. The interstate relay ended when we opted for Highway 30 into Wyoming. Outside of Montpelior, ID, we spent another cramped night at Montpelior Canyon, a free USFS campground. Space 11 looked good as it was close to the single seat vault toilet, was roomier without overhanging branches and was close to a very small stream.
Day #13*Monday*September 23:
Another uncomfortable night sleeping on the floor and in the truck cab. My husband was really miserable due to his bad back and lack of sleep. I didn’t hurt but was cold all night as where I slept on the camper floor blocked the heater fan. Back on Highway 30/89, we drove into Wyoming just a short drive from our campground. We had a few flashbacks as from where we joined I-84 in Idaho, we were driving almost the same roads that we traveled almost a year ago on our way to pick up our camper. Traffic has been light since we left the interstates which is one reason we travel the back roads rather than freeways. The other reason is to avoid semis.
At Hoback Junction, WY, we joined 191/189 which would bring us to I-80 via Highway 372 to Green River. As usual, there was a strong wind, the speed limit too fast and too damn many semis, double trailers in the majority. I gritted my teeth and tried to enjoy the scenery that only an interstate can provide. At least, Wyoming is a sparsely populated state so we didn’t have to pass by too many population centers and the uniformity these exits provide. I know Wyoming is a beautiful state which is why my benchmark map had many notations of photo-worthy stops and the folder on my Mac had many pdfs and images of where we wanted to go. But, freeways are meant to get as many people to as many population centers as possible so we passed through Green River, Rock Springs (booming oil town), Rawlins, Laramie and Cheyenne. Three of those cities are in the top ten of the windiest cities in our country.
Site number 2 at Vedauwoo, USFS campground
Vedauwoo, a USFS campground, was a likely candidate for our next stop. It was not that far off the freeway, had very cool rocks (the Native Americans’ legends say that some mischievous spirits dumped them there and we could use our Golden Pass for half price. It was still windy so we found that site number 2 was sheltered from the wind somewhat and cost $5. It was sunny but cold. The vault toilet was clean, the water pump worked, and there was a garbage dumpster. After a couple of nights of dispersed camping, we had a full garbage bag.
Day #14*Tuesday*September 24:
A cold windy clear morning put us in a better mood for our last leg to Hallmark RV, several hours away in Fort Lupton, CO. We wanted to further explore the granite and quartz rock jumbles that were scattered around us. But, we said we would be at the plant in the morning and we were unsure of the road conditions in the aftermath of the floods from several weeks ago. We decided to exit I-80 in Cheyenne for Highway 85. We were familiar with it from before and we didn’t want to chance that one of the I-25 exits was closed. 89 goes directly to our destination.