Thursday, January 10, 2013

Winter Wandering in the West (Part 3)

We arrived in Corvallis damp but happy. With the combination of rain, 100 percent humidity and dew point temps in the camper for several straight days, it was not possible to keep everything dry. Water was beading up on every surface. Ventilation did not help because the outside air was as wet as inside. The main casualty was our bedding and mattress. The dew was just running off the walls and dripping off the ceiling and the bedding was there to soak it up. The main problem was around and under the edges of the bed. We always had a dry place to sleep, but given enough time without the weather changing, eventually everything would have gotten soaked. Thankfully, we had a warm dry house to live in for a while and dry everything out. Our takeaway was that the camper just was not the right solution for the climate we were in. Warm weather- ok; cold and dry weather- ok. Cold and humid, wet weather- not ok. Other than the condensation problem on the coast, the camper was great and worked just as we expected.

Firs inside and out added to the season's ambiance.

Our time in Corvallis was filled with fun, family time. It was my first Christmas outside of Minnesota in my entire life of 63 years. I had a hard time believing it, but it was true. Both our kids and my brothers two kids, who are close to each other in ages and temperaments were there along with my neice's husband. My brother's house was large enough to accommodate everyone in a bed (or couch). The house was decorated for Christmas and we really felt right at home.

 The first order of business was the traditional crab dinner on Christmas Eve. My brother and I went to pick up his crab order at the local seafood supplier. On walking in the door- bad news! No crab! The season would not start this year until December 31 and the shop had not been able to get any California crab. After a few minutes of panic and what to do scenarios, the solution was uncovered. My nephew was still in Portland, travelling down to Corvallis that day. Could fresh live crab be found in Portland? Yes it could- tragedy averted.

Fresh Dungeness Crab cooking in the pot.

A feast for the season.

Delicious with lemon and butter.

On Christmas day, the tradition was a walk on Nye Beach at Newport followed by hot chowder at the nearby chowder house.

Rocky loves the beach.

Looking one way- peaceful...

looking the other way- drama.

Land meets sea...

The family...

Two families.

We had rented a house in the coast town of Yachats for a few days. The kids stayed a couple of nights before jobs took them back to their home towns. It was a fun time of family meals, walks and games. It was really fun to experience my brother's family Christmas traditions. All in all a great family Christmas.

The view in front of the house.

My favorite house in Yachats.

Cape Perpetua

The view from Cape Perpetua

Looking for migrating whales.

We took a walk on the 804 Trail- the original coast highway.

The moon setting on our last morning in Yachats.

After Yachats, our next stop was Seattle to see our daughter's stomping grounds these days. We had some good times sampling local eateries and hanging out before saying goodbye and heading out for the long drive home.

We spent New Year's Eve camped at Frenchman Coulee near the town of Vantage in central Washington. The Columbia River flows nearby. The area topography is very dramatic resulting from massive floods eons ago. We were again all by ourselves and had a very quiet New Year's celebration.

The Columbia River.

Old Vantage Highway.

Cooking has gotten much more efficient since our first camp in the Rockies.

The morning of New Year's Day, we took time for a short hike around the area to check out the interesting rock formations and the views.

The "feathers."

Eventually, we hit the road again. Driving conditions were generally good but the weather was not conducive to camping. Temps below zero, high winds and blowing snow convinced us to find motels in Bozeman and Bizmarck for our final two nights on the road.

I don't think so.

Visibility was variable...

North Dakota in winter- 'nuff said.

We finished the trip, having covered nearly 5000 miles, visited 14 states, and used 345 gallons of gas. We saw so many places that we would like to return to one day and we are already wondering about what's next just over the horizon. Many thanks to all who gave us advice and hospitality along the way.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Winter Wandering in the West (Part 2)

A view of the city and the Golden Gate from the Marin Headlands
 After spending a few nice days (and celebratory meals with our son) in San Francisco, we continued our journey up the pacific coast road to Corvallis, where the family was gathering to celebrate Christmas with my brother's family. Before we start that story, though, I need to chronicle Rocky's San Francisco misadventure.  (Click photos for a larger view).

The Tacoma is very easy to navigate around the city- one of the reasons we chose it.

 Our son lives in a nice first floor flat across from Buena Vista Park. The park is a great forested hill in the middle of San Francisco with spectacular views of the city and the bay. It is a popular place to walk dogs, and many owners let their dogs off leash to socialize with other dogs while the people do the same with each other. There are many paths for walking, most going steeply uphill or down- great exercise for both dogs and humans. We enjoy taking Rocky there for walks.

View of the Bay from Buena Vista Park
One morning, we took Rocky as usual to the park for some exercise. He had a great time as usual, meeting dogs and sniffing all the interesting scents. We saw him eating something (not unusual- he is a master forager). We quickly admonished him and moved on, not thinking twice about it.

A few hours later in the apartment, we began to notice behavior changes- he became very agitated, lost bladder and muscle control, developed a fever, bloodshot eyes, became hyper-sensitive to sounds. We took him outside and he calmed down but didn't want to move. When we brought him inside, he got super nervous again. A friend of our son's mentioned a similar incident with another dog and suggested we take him to the vet. There was an emergency vet office not far away, so after debating for some time, we decided to take him in.

The people there were very nice. A vet tech came out to interview us. No sooner did I get the words, "Buena Vista Park" and "ate something" out of my mouth, then the tech said immediately- "oh I know what the problem is- marijuana! We see it all the time." I was stunned. Our dog was stoned!

Evidently, homeless people hide their pot in the park and dogs can find it- they love the stuff. While it seems funny now, it turns out that marijuana exposure in pets is toxic and interferes with their nervous system- resulting in red eyes, poor motor function, an irregular heart beat and/or poor temperature regulation.

Rocky in a calmer mood.

If caught immediately, liquid charcoal can be administered to minimize the effects. In our case, the vet tech said there was nothing to do at this point but let time pass and he would most likely fully recover. This turned out to be true, but it took over 12 hours and a subsequent good nights sleep. The next day, Rocky was good as new. There was no charge for the vet visit since we didn't see a vet- an awesome service! We decided to memorialize the event by renaming Rocky. His new name? Stoner. Just kidding.

With Rocky restored to his normal self and our son's education achievement suitably commemorated, we set off for Oregon. The day was beautiful. The trip across the Golden Gate bridge was as clear as I've ever seen it.

We followed Hwy 1 as it split from Hwy 101 in Marin and our adventure was on again. We passed by the Green Gulch Farm, where I had spent some time many years ago as an instructor for a land conservation retreat and first became exposed to Buddhism. That brought back some good memories. Turnoffs to Muir Beach and Muir Woods passed by- we have been to both on earlier trips. Our first stop was at an overlook where we could see both the city and miles up the coast- what a beautiful day! The weather was just great- sunny and 50's.

The city is visible in the far distance.

The day was extraordinary.

We got back in the truck to continue our drive. The scenery was great- a combination of coast views and rural landscape. We stopped briefly at Point Reyes- a very cool place. It is amazing to see the famed San Andreas fault laid out before you, plain as day, and realize it runs right through some of the most populated areas of the country. Los Angeles and San Diego are moving north along the fault while San Francisco is moving south.

The goal for the day was to see the sunset at Albion (trying to relive an earlier experience- always a questionable endeavor) and then find a place to camp. As it turned out, the sunset was less than spectacular as clouds were moving in and obscured the setting sun, but it was still beautiful. We decided to camp at Van Damme State Park. We were by ourselves, continuing a trend of the trip.

Sunset near Albion.

The next day dawned with clouds and rain. This would turn out to be the weather for the rest of our time on the coast. While we knew going in that rain was the likely weather, our first day had spoiled us. But we soon adapted and the rainy weather became just the way things were.

The second day was filled with one scenic vista after another. As suggested by several folks, we stopped at Roundman's Smokehouse in Fort Bragg. It was good advice. We bought some bacon, sausage and some smoked sturgeon for good measure. As they say on their website, " We'll smoke anything!" The sausage went for breakfast, the bacon went into spaghetti sauce (I know- what?) and the sturgeon was a gift to my brother.

Photo from Roundman's Smokehouse website

Here is a montage of scenic views from the day:

Bridge at Russian Gulch

In the afternoon, we reached redwood country. We drove the Avenue of the Giants in a pouring rain. The trees were majestic and the rain and mist added to the spiritual atmosphere of the place.

We reached Redwood National Park after dark. The park was experiencing a power outage so there were no lights anywhere. We were feeling our way to the campground when suddenly out of the dark we saw shadows of large animals on the road- elk! A small herd was crossing the road right at the entrance to the campground. We continued on to find a campsite- again the only ones there other than the park host- set up in the rain and went to bed. In the morning, we heard bugling. Evidence of the elk's presence was all around the camper- we were parked in their territory.

On the way out of the park, we got up close and personal. Neither Kathy or I had seen wild elk so close. It was quite an experience.

Two young elk sparring.

Nice rack on this old guy. Yes, we were in the truck.

After leaving the redwoods, we returned to the coast for another day of scenic vistas:

A scenic detour on gravel near the mouth of the Klamath River- originally an access road to facilities used to monitor the coast for invasions during WWII.

Cape Blanco- local boosters call it the most western point of the lower 48. It is the most western point you can drive to (Cape Alava in Washington is generally considered most west). Very windy too.

Seven Devils Park.

A side trip to the South Slough National Estuarine Reseach Reserve near Coos Bay.

 Our final camp on the coast was at Honeyman State Park. This park had quite a few people camping- our first experience of the trip with people in a campground. Even so, we didn't have neighbors. Had a nice hot shower and managed to set up the tarp well enough to permit cooking out of the rain.

 In the morning, we toured around the park a bit before leaving. It looked like a great park to visit in the summer, with dunes, fresh water lakes and great facilities.

We had a tip from my brother about the Darlingtonia State Botanical Preserve- just off the highway. Nice place for a walk in the rain.

More pitcher plants than you can shake a stick at.

Another tip was to stop at the Sea Lion Caves. The place looks like the worst kind of tourist trap from the road. Not a place we would normally stop. We are glad we did. What an experience! The cave is the largest sea cave complex in the world, reached by an elevator that travels down over 200 feet through the rock. During the winter, it is filled with sea lions- nearly 300 the day we were there. With the waves crashing in and the sea lions roaring, the noise was deafening. A very cool site.

A view from the sea cave of Heceta light house in the far distance.

After the sea lions, we continued on to Corvallis,with a stop at Mo's Annex in Newport for some tasty seafood chowder.

To be continued...