Leaving Vancouver was somewhat of a wrench, but our anguish was moderated by heavy rain and cooler temperatures. Time to go South. We did not linger long in Washington State, since the weather was deteriorating, and we were dreaming of California and Arizona!
First stop after a short drive was Anacortes, or rather the RV Park by the Swinomish Indian casino. We were a good way from noisy traffic, and only one branch railway to a plant was close by. Then the train arrived, and the bridge swung to let the train through, while blocking the boats.
The bridge jammed, and the scene deteriorated into upset boatmen, and bridge folk who struggled loudly to align the train tracks. We went to bed, and of course, in the middle of the night the train finally made its noisy way past the trailer.
In the distance we could see snow-capped Mount Baker, and surprisingly, this seaside corner was very pleasant. Next morning, two bald eagles sat on a post, no doubt wondering why people go to casinos to lose their feathers.
Many of you will know that we hate freeways, and only resort to them when really necessary. Our hatred was reinforced as we headed past Seattle on I-5, with a mixture of holes that needed fixing, holes being fixed, and an astonishing amount of fast traffic.
At the bottom end of Washington is the town of Kelso, and this was a no-contest choice for an overnight, since Elaine’s maternal grandfather came from the original Kelso in Scotland. A pretty park with nice fall colours, and indeed the trees remained colourful all the way south.
No regrets as we left the freeways behind and headed West to the Pacific. This took us along the Columbia River, which, like the Fraser in BC has an amazing load of logs. The road went up and up … then down and down … winding astonishingly as it followed the contours. Indeed it remained like this for the next week or so.
Astoria is a surprising town at the mouth of the Columbia, and we were now on the south, Oregon, side. There we discovered that the “seafood feast” with baked oysters, shrimp, cod and scallops was actually sufficient for two. Good value, with an excellent view of the wide river and the impressive bridge to Washington State. Outside the restaurant we heard some strange barking, which proved to be seals, or perhaps sea-lions, although we could not see them.
Some of you may know that I have a passing interest in rail transportation, and trundling on the Astoria promenade was a genuine 1913 electric streetcar … actually from San Antonio, and lovingly restored. No wires, no third rail, just ingenuity: it pushed or pulled a box of tricks which proved to be a diesel generator to drive the electric trolley.
Finally we hit the coast, and stopped at a wonderful beach near Seaside. Lots of people were walking in wonder, and it turned out that this was the first sunny day for some time! This whole West coast of Oregon is spectacular, though renowned for fog, rain, and windstorms.
Pacific waves on a rocky shore, and the sun setting in the water, just as it did north of Lake Superior! But not quite.
But not that evening, when we stayed at Cape Lookout State Park, which lived up to its name.
Elaine saw a remarkable sight as she was taking pictures of the sunset, Just as the sun dipped below the horizon:
It was a sliver of bright green which was only there for a millisecond or so. This is the famous “green flash”. Unforgettable!
On the way back to the camp site, she was startled as something flew by. Not a bird; it was a flying squirrel.
South again, past the amazing number of lookouts and small parks provided by the Oregon State Park people. This makes stopping for a break and a view easier than the cottage-infested lakes and coastline which plague this continent.
The weather turned wild and windy, leading to warnings of high surf. Indeed, our trip has been full of warnings: Deer, elk, moose, wild sheep, avalanches, falling rocks, and the most common of all “road works”.
But here there was a new one, since everyone is concerned that a giant wave from an earthquake could strike this volcanically active coast.
Captain Cook appears again, at Cape Foulweather, which was his first landfall on his Pacific coast exploration, and indeed, it is aptly named.
Nearby is Cook’s Chasm, which is so forbidding that it could not even remotely be considered a landfall! We tried to get a picture of the famous “spout” there, but failed. In fairness, it was raining hard!
Time now for me to eat humble pie. When we were in Victoria, Elaine wanted to see the whales. However this was logistically difficult, and needed an expensive boat-ride. “Don’t worry, Elaine, the Oregon Coast is famous for its whales, and you are sure to see them”. Indeed we stopped at Depoe Bay’s whale-watching station, and other likely spots. No whales, so I hide my head in shame.
Elaine scanned the sea frequently, but not even a trace of whales. It may have been the wrong season.
But we did stop near Florence, Oregon, which has the famous sea-lion caves. Luckily I ran into a “local” who said that they were extraordinarily smelly, and anyway, there were no sea lions in the caves since it was not cold enough. She also told us where to see them, and indeed: Hundreds on the beach making an incredible barking noise, and groups of them swimming all round the entrances to the caves. This beat a pricey elevator down to the dank and smelly depths. Once again we lamented the lack of a telephoto lens.
The weather became warmer as we headed ever further south on Highway 101, past the sand hills that stretched miles inland in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. This terrain is in sharp contrast to the huge trees of the rain forest that in mainly inland, but approaches the coast at several places. The wonders of this coast never ceased, and had it been warm and sunny, we would have lingered longer. Does it ever get warm and sunny? The locals say it is foggy in summer!
Port Orford was our next stop, and we found it friendly, spectacular and above all … warmer.
This only lasted a day, and when we visited the Port Orford Heads on the cliffs, we were glad the gale was blowing us inland, and not out to sea.
No whales … but spectacular surf crashing on the rocks and small beaches.
We did not find a pixie, but did see where she lived.
Civilization intruded as we headed to the bottom of Oregon, and into California. We were sorry to leave this incredible stretch of coastline, but we had heard rumours of some fairly large trees, and passed these in the Redwoods National Forest. We had been tipped off, however, that the trees were actually more numerous and impressive in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, south of Eureka.
Totally impressive, and staggering to think that some of these started out as the Romans battled Britons about 2,000 years ago. They were magical, but difficult to photograph.
Like so many of these natural wonders, you just have to experience them.
The scenic loop through the big forest was a driving challenge, but well worth it.
More magnificent scenery as we wound up and down through the California Coast Ranges into more gentle country full of vineyards. One last driving challenge remained: the narrow winding road from Geyserville to Calistoga, which is at the head of Napa Valley. A strange night at Calistoga Fairgrounds, which was a far cry from being verdant, but was functional, and the only game in town! (There was a noisy crowd at the football game too!)
Now you may have heard of the Napa Valley, in connection with fine fermented grapes that are turned into wines we can rarely afford.
The next day we drove down the valley, and could not resist stopping in the generously large parking lot at Mondavi Winery. You might just recognize the picture!
Regrettably we missed staying longer to sample the charms of Calistoga, but did stop in Napa itself, which was also pleasant, though a little more commercial. Good Vietnamese cuisine though!!
One should really draw a veil over the next journey which took us across the headwaters of the “Bay Area”. Highway 12 was mainly under repair, or badly needing it, and we were almost pleased when we hit Highway 99 which runs down the California Central Valley. We had planned to stop somewhere on this route, but although we found a winery that made Seven Deadly Zins, we could not find a reasonable RV park. So we ran straight through to Fresno, arriving in the dark, which we have many times sworn never to do again.
John – with much input from Elaine