May to July 2003

Locusts on Wheels

Greetings from the Pacific Northwest!  We’ve been spending the last two months or so exploring the Cascade Mountains and the coastal areas up here, in much more detail than ever before.  But we’ve still just scratched the surface.

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 As you can see from our heading for this letter, we’ve been doing some mighty fine eating recently!  While in Oregon we hooked up with our friends Trent and Melissa McGee, in Grants Pass, and they have introduced us to fine dining, northwest-style.  We stayed with them for parts of 6 days, and had a total of 16 eating opportunities (eat-ops) with them.  Over that period, the rascals took us to 4 breakfasts, 2 lunches, and 2 dinners, all of them culinary masterpieces.  I think I got that right; it begins to get hazy after all those biscuits and hash browns and pancakes, oh my!  We had a wonderful time with them, not only eating well but getting in some really great motorcycle riding as well.  They know every back road in their neck of the woods.  While in southern Oregon the weather turned very hot, but we were staying up almost 2000 feet, which helped a little.  Trent & Melissa have acreage, with horses and a pond (complete with frogs, geese, ducks, koi and catfish), two friendly dogs, and three huge cats.  Our meek little ones were totally cowed (somehow that doesn’t seem like the right word – how do you cow a cat?).  The Grants Pass area is lovely and interesting.  We bought local jam at the growers market and took a jet ride on the Rogue River (totally cool; I hadn’t expected to like it as much as I did – we saw beaver, bald eagles, Canadian geese and bunches of other little critters).  Marionberry pie is terrific. 

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Our last message was sent from the Klamath River in northern California, and we reached Grants Pass by first heading up the coast.  Cool and lovely, the rhododendrons were still in bloom, along with foxglove, lupine, wild radish, yellow broom, mustard and poppies.  There was smoked salmon for sale along the road.  The southern Oregon coastline is beautiful; a place to think of settling in for awhile……….  It’s quiet, isolated, rural and relatively unspoiled.  We went through Smith River, the Easter lily capital of the world, but saw little else in the way of development (and Smith River wasn’t much to speak of).  Also went through Port Orchard, a little bigger, and a spot a person could settle down in.

We were officially in Grants Pass to have service work done on the coach, and when we’d finished with our chores and with visiting, we headed for higher ground, as the heat was truly yucky.  We ended up camping below Crater Lake for several days, along the Rogue River.  What a marvelous creature that river is; beautiful, wild, in a lovely setting, very much alive.  We enjoyed our time there a lot.  We took a day’s ride up to Crater Lake, which was great fun.  The north entrance opened the day we were there, as they had finally been able to shovel out all the snow.  What a difference from being down on Interstate 5!  The visitor’s center was opening that day, as well.  But the road along the east side of the lake wasn’t expected to be usable for at least another month.  And this was mid-June!  We tromped through the snow to the edge of the lake, had lunch in the Lodge (Lynn and Susan, you would have been amazed – Rick had GREENS on his salad!  And enjoyed it!), and enjoyed the cool, crisp air.  It was clear and beautiful.  Over the years, we’ve tried twice before to get up to the lake, and both times gave up:  either too early to be open, or too foggy to bother.  But this time we hit the jackpot.

We went through the North Umpqua River Artificial fly Area (no real planes allowed?…or do they mean zippers?), and passed a sign saying CAUTION BURNING AHEAD; I’ve heard of throwing it to the winds, but actually burning it???? – sounds risky.

We finally came back down out of the mountains because we had business to take care of, and no cell phone signal up there in the woods.  But it was finally cooling off, and we weren’t as uncomfortable as we had feared.  We stayed for a few days in Sutherlin, tying up some loose ends, and then moved on to………ta-da:  JUNCTION CITY OREGON.  Why Junction City?  Why would anyone want to go there?  A very good question.  Junction City is a mecca for motorhome people who own Safari/Monaco or similar type coaches.  This is where they are built, and there are people here who specialize in aftermarket stuff for us.  We had decided to have some additional cabinets built, and also wanted to look into having some work done on our couch, or perhaps replacing it.  So we were there, or in the area, for about a week.  How joyful.  We mostly camped in a county park nearby, which was on a lake and really a very nice place.  And we took some pretty rides on small roads with lots of wildflowers and ferns and such alongside the road.  But those of you with motorhomes will know what I mean when I say…..when you’re having work done, you spend a lot of time parked overnight in parking lots and side yards in rotten areas of town.  Usually very near the train tracks.  But we made the most of it.  One of the trains was run by an elderly woman; we saw her go by several times; it was a VERY local freight, running in the Willamette Valley.  But we were close enough to Eugene to go see a couple of movies, and they are so far behind the rest of the world that we were able to catch “The Gangs of New York “ and “Frida”, both of which came out late last year.  Both excellent, particularly the latter.  Also during this time, Rick tackled a long postponed project and re-did our bookcases to make more space available.  So one week later, with new cabinets, bookcases, and a newly stuffed sofa, we beat feet out of town.  

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Moving north, we headed back over to the coast, where we knew it would be cooler, ending up in Tillamook.  We’ve been through there before, always raining, and this time was no surprise.  But we enjoyed ourselves, buying cheese and ice cream (locusts have to be ever diligent so’s not to lose their reputations…..), and spent several delightful hours at the Air Museum just south of town.  This place is a real treat.  The museum is housed in a WWII-era blimp hangar, and it has an excellent collection of early aircraft, all of them still flyable.  The hangar is wooden, and it’s really cool to be standing inside and looking up.  Huge!  The original roofing contract was bid in acres – seven of them, and the hangar is almost 1100 feet long.  There are two of them at Moffett Field in the San Jose area.  Pass them all the time, without really thinking about it.  Try going inside one! 

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Moving northward, we settled for several days outside Astoria, actually in a Washington campground right across the Columbia River.  This is a relatively undeveloped area, with small fishing centers and little towns trying to promote tourism; very quiet and comfortable.  Had one very clear day and we took advantage of it to get out see the sights.  Astoria is a charming town, still less than 11,000 folks so it’s a good size, but with style and class.  They have recently redone the Columbia River Maritime Museum there, and it’s a beaut!  Not large, but excellent in its coverage of the interface between the River and the Pacific Ocean.  This is one of the most dangerous confluences in the world, and the subject is covered extremely well.  The mouth of the Columbia is called the graveyard of the Pacific, with good reason.  On another occasion, we’d been on the Outer Banks in North Carolina, which has a similar reputation.  It’s a terrible understatement to say how much respect you gain for ship captains just looking at these exhibits.  On the Columbia, it’s intriguing to learn that there are river pilots; they’re the captains that come on board to take the freighters on down the Columbia.  But when they get to the mouth, they hand the ships over to the bar pilots, and there are only a few of these guys.  They are the individuals who are qualified to take the freighters across the bar and out into the ocean.  And the Coast Guard is represented in two ways:  by helicopter and by rescue boat.  They are very busy folks. 

 Astoria in general shows the evidence of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial; it’s very positive, of course.  Fort Clatsop is all spruced up, and what a pretty place it is!  The fort is very small; those fellows were very close together that long winter of 1805.  the interpretive center has excellent films and exhibits.  We expect this to be true all along the Lewis and Clark Trail for the next many years.  What a treat for all of us.

The fish and chips in Astoria are very good, and so was the view from the Astoria Column on the top of the highest hill in town.  The column itself is also pretty neat, showing in bas relief the entire history of the area; we didn’t climb to the top, but a few did. 

The score is now Mice – 3, Cats – 0.  Jeremy seems to be working on a Catch and Release Program; Agnes is simply a Non-Starter.  Sometimes though, between them they seem to scare the little critters off as we didn’t see this last one after the big chase scene in the middle of the night. One of them did hang around awhile though and was busily turning one of our oven mitts into a nest. We dug out the mouse traps, set one, and it actually worked. It seems apparent that the occasional mouse in the house will continue to be a part of our life on the road.

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Continuing in our quest to visit the volcanic peaks of the Cascades (or at least some of them) we spent several days in the Mount St. Helens area.  It’s well worth all the time you can manage to spend there.  There are excellent viewing spots and very good information centers.  Twenty-three years after the eruption, some plants and animals have returned; they are not introducing any thing at all, everything has evolved by itself.  And the sight of the mountain, from various angles, is awesome.  The entire episode is well documented, of course, and there are first-hand stories of individuals’ experiences.  Something that both of us noticed was a display showing the relative size/force of the eruption of this volcano in relation to others throughout history.  The Mt. St. Helens eruption was comparatively small.  If it had happened a couple of thousand years ago, in a desert somewhere, it would hardly have made a blip on the screen.  But here and now, in the crowded I-5 corridor, the impact was tremendous.  There are comparative photos, showing the beauty of the area prior to the devastation, and it’s not hard to see why the area was so popular for hikers and campers.  It will be again in another generation or two.

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We’ve also visited Mt. Rainier, a truly beautiful area.  We had one lovely, hot, clear day followed by a cold and windy one.  Shows just how changeable the mountain is.  You read about how dangerous it can be, and how quickly lovely can turn to nasty.  The first day out we had far too much gear with us on the bike.  So, day two, of course, we didn’t take our sweatshirts, Rick took the front shield off the bike, and we went about a thousand feet higher and into major snow.  We went into an area that had just opened up two days earlier, it was much more remote, a totally wonderful experience, but it made us realize we had gotten a bit lazy about taking protection with us.  So our third day out, when we decided to take the back road up to Mt. St. Helens (amazingly close at hand), we thought we were better prepared.  But as we climbed higher and higher, it got colder, and then it really started in to rain.  We finally gave up and came back to camp.  I call these three trips Hot, Cold, and Aborted.  Probably about normal for this area!

Summer is here.  As full-time travelers, we sometimes forget the change when school lets out.  We’re used to mostly empty campgrounds, no tour buses, and no crowds at popular places.  Taint so now!  Our campground near Mt. St. Helens was a state park.  A lovely place, full of families there for the weekend.  We were camped one night between folks with 4 girls, and folks with 4 boys – and 2 girls.  They were all quite delightful, no complaints; but it sure is different 

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We had forgotten just how different the Northwest is, in all the ways you know about, but don’t often think of.  We are in the Puget Sound area now, just across from Seattle.  It used to be that you thought of this area as Boeing-country.  But no longer:  it’s the land of Bill Gates and friends.  Cyber cafes are everywhere and the internet rules the world.  (Cell phone coverage is excellent, needless to say.)  The work ethic here is phenomenal; you see it everywhere.  And the clean air, clean earth philosophy predominates.  Around here, you can even get organic espresso; does anyone care?  We took a ferry ride from Bremerton to Seattle; the boat docks right downtown, within walking distance of Pioneer Square and the Pike Street Market – and Safeco Field, the home of the Seattle Mariners.  We got tickets for a game later in the week, which should be fun.  We’ll report in later as to whether or not it was raining and they used the retractable roof…  When the weather is nice, as it has been during much of our stay in the area, it is easy to see why people enjoy living here. Lots of water and green hills, snow covered peaks visible on three sides, wonderful and varied opportunities to do things in the outdoors, lots of public transportation, etc, etc.  But, then it rains a lot too, and that can become tiresome.

We’ve been staying in a park outside Port Townsend, and a lovely little town it is, with the entire downtown being recognized as a national historic district.  We’ve wandered around to our hearts’ content, eating in bistros, checking out the galleries (but we don’t buy anything anymore….. no place to put stuff!).  we’ve also taken in a couple of movies at the Rose Theater, a historic old theater which has been recently been restored.  It’s a real charmer, beautiful and intimate.  It shows independent and foreign films, much like the Palm in San Luis Obispo.  These little theaters are few and far between, but when you find one, it’s a treat to be able to enjoy them.  We really had a good time. 

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We also stumbled across and were able to attend a couple of performances at the American Fiddle Tunes festival that was held over the 4th of July.  They were fun, and we saw some talent.  But it sure wasn’t the Live Oak Music Festival that we have loved so much over the years.  The overall level of performance was rather disappointing.  These people don’t know how to get down and boogie!

When we leave here (tomorrow) we’re headed to Mt. Vernon, above Seattle, for a couple of days.  There’s a Moto Guzzi motorcycle rally there this weekend, and we want to prowl the bikes.  Then we’re headed into eastern Washington/northern Idaho, to take a series of seminars in Moscow.  After that we’re off to Glacier National Park, beginning our slow journey back towards the Mississippi River.  We’re enjoying our time in the Northwest, but beginning to be anxious to get out of the foggy, grey weather and into the sunshine east of the Cascades.  But this is indeed lovely country, and we’ve been enjoying our time here.

We hope you all are enjoying your summer, and if you’re traveling, be safe.

Rick and Kathy


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© Rick & Kathy Howe 2001-2018