After "The Silence of the Dogs" next door, I left Bellingham on
June 3 for a six-week solo camping trip around the West. I
didn't have a definite schedule for this trip; I was just going to play
things by ear and see what happened. I had a few months before I was
supposed to go back to work in Portland, and after spending the winter and spring driving
around foreign landscapes in New Zealand and Australia, I was looking forward to
visiting a lot of my favorite places in America – kind of like seeing old friends again.
Above: Packing up my Toyota truck for my "Around America, Part 2" expedition.
On my way out of Bellingham, I stopped at my favorite camping store, R.E.I.
and got lots of equipment and a national parks pass. I was heading that day to Olympic National Park, a
terrific place that for some reason is never very crowded. Maybe I'm strange, but I really don't
think some of the more popular national parks in the U.S., like Great
Smoky Mountains, Mt. Rushmore, or Crater Lake are very interesting, and I don't
understand why so many people flock to them.
Frankly, I don't even think a place like Yellowstone, which many consider to be the ultimate National Park, is that
great. Yes, the geysers there are fascinating. But you can't see
much because it's flat, it's very cold most of the year and, worst of all, it's
absolutely teeming with visitors during the few warm months in the summer.
On the other hand, there are some really terrific but lesser-known national parks in the U.S. that are much more interesting, and a lot less crowded.
I've visited about 200 of the 394 national parks in the U.S. and some of
my favorite, lesser-known parks include:
After a ferry ride across the Puget Sound to the Olympic Peninsula and a quick dash up to Hurricane Ridge for
a view of the Olympic Mountains, I camped the first night in a rainforest at Sol Duc campground
in Olympic National Park, then headed over to the Hoh (pronounced "Hoh")
rainforest the next day. I've camped at Hoh a lot during the last 30 years and I
always see something different each time I visit. This time it was a
close-up view of an elk.
Willie Nelson was happy that, after spending two months in Bellingham, I was On the Road Again. So was I.
In the morning at the Hoh campground as I was eating a blueberry muffin, a 600-pound elk (yes, I weighed it) wandered into
my campsite and started walking over to me. I thought it wanted some food, silly me. When I slowly started walking
over to the elk to offer a friendly greeting, it charged at me so I beat a quick retreat. I had
heard that elk can be dangerous and that you should never look an elk directly in the eye, because
they interpret that as a threat. For the next 20 minutes, the elk, which
seemed as big as a horse – well, O.K., maybe a skinny horse – had me
pinned near my truck and wouldn't let me walk away. During this impasse, I
decided to name it "Lawrence" (get it, "Lawrence
Elk"?). Lawrence was pretty feisty, and since I knew that a lot of folks
get injured by elk each year, I kept my truck between us until Lawrence got bored
and wandered away.
I've had several Close Encounters of the Elk Kind in my life but have never been charged
by one. Actually, as I learned later, "Lawrence" was probably a
she. Since it was calving season, I think Lawrence was just being protective of her nearby
calf, but she sure scared the crap out of me. And worst of all, she had bad breath.
Above left: My first stop was Deception Pass, north of Seattle, separating the mainland (near) from Whidbey
Island (far). The tide churns through here at up to 10 knots, making it a pretty exciting place to sail through (as I've learned the hard way).
Above center: Riding the ferry into Port Townsend on the Olympic peninsula.
Above right: The majestic Olympic Mountains of western Washington, from chilly Hurricane Ridge. Yes,
that's snow in the foreground.
Above left: Olympic National Park has a lot of great campgrounds, including this empty one at Sol Duc.
Above right: From a parking area in the park, you walk a mile through the rainforest to reach Sol Doc falls.
Above left: The windy Rialto Beach, also part of Olympic National Park.
Above center: Sword fern on the Hoh trail after a morning shower.
Above right: And here I am after morning shower. The Hoh rainforest gets over 100 inches of rain each year
and, as you can see, the here logs grow pretty big.
Above left: Hiking through the soggy Hoh Rainforest on my way up to the glaciers.
Above right: So far on this trip, I've been attacked by mosquitoes in Louisiana,
sand flies in New Zealand, kangaroos in Australia, and now a belligerent 600-pound elk in the Olympics. I kept my truck safely between us.
Caution: Flying Boomerangs Ahead
Despite the unruly elk that were wandering through the campgrounds at Olympic National Park, I
spent about a week there enjoying the mossy trails, lush foliage, and the huge yellow banana slugs that
slithered through the campsites, before continuing on my southward voyage down Highway 101 into Oregon.
Sheryl Crow had just released her album, C'mon, C'mon, after I got back to the
U.S. I played it non-stop as I drove down the sunny Oregon Coast highway. Here's Soak Up The Sun.
Going south, the first city you hit on the Oregon coast is Astoria, which probably has
more "interesting things to see per capita" than any city in Oregon. There
are only about 10,000 people in Astoria but largely because of its geography,
located at the mouth of the Columbia River, there are oodles of neat things to do
here. Let's see... you can visit Fort Clatsop (Lewis & Clark's winter
home in 1806), the Maritime Museum, and the Astoria Column (a high tower that
provides one of the best views in Oregon), all of which I did. You can also visit the
elementary school where they filmed Arnold Schwarzengger's movie "Kindergarten Cop," which I didn't do.
After a few days of camping at Fort Stevens State Park outside of town, I said "hasta
la vista, baby" and continued south on U.S. 101, also known as the Oregon Coast Highway.
Fortunately, the weather was glorious during the next week, so I took my time and stopped at a lot of
places that I'd never seen before. I've driven the Oregon Coast Highway dozens of times in
my life. However this time, unlike on all my other trips, I purposely
wasn't on a schedule – and that made all the difference, as Robert Frost would
say. Or was that Arnold Schwarzengger?
Above: Yachats (pronounced Yaw-hots) State Park is one of my favorite stops on the central Oregon coast.
As many times as I've driven the 360 miles of the Oregon Coast Highway,
I still haven't come close to seeing everything on it or near it. It really is one of the
most spectacular drives in the U.S. I don't recommend driving it during
July or August, though, when the highway, the motels, and the campgrounds are
all packed, and when you're likely to get stuck behind a constant stream of sluggish
RVs. June is a good month to drive it and September is even better.
Anyway, this was mid-June and it wasn't very crowded at all with nary a
plodding RV to be seen. I even thought about writing a book someday about the Oregon
Coast Highway, but then, I get lots of funny ideas.
While traveling down the coast, I finally learned how to throw the boomerang that I had bought
a few months earlier in Brisbane. As I discovered, Oregon's beaches are a great
place to throw a boomerang because errant tosses can't do much damage, except to
your ego. My boomerang even came back to me a few times and once almost hit me in the
head. I'm sure I looked foolish throwing a boomerang and then, after it started coming back to,
running like heck to get away from it.
Above left: Ruby Beach on Washington's Olympic coast.
Above center: I finally reached Oregon and spent a couple of days camping near Astoria. This
is the lightship "Columbia" that operated at the mouth of the Columbia River until 1979, the last operating lightship in the
U.S. It's now part of the Maritime Museum in Astoria.
Above right: Astoria has lots of interesting sites, including the Astoria Column. That's a mural
on the outside depicting Oregon's history.
Above left: Walking 133 steps up the Astoria Column gives you a great view. In the distance are
Lewis and Clark's 1806 winter encampment (left) and the mouth of the Columbia River (right).
Above center: Heading down the Oregon coast. I ate lunch and enjoyed the view here at Yachats, one of my
favorite stops on the central coast.
Above right: Heceta Head State Park, one of the 70 state parks that line Oregon's 360-mile coast.
Above left: I got an interesting tour of the Heceta Head lighthouse. For a hundred bucks, you can spend the night in
the old lighthouse keeper's house nearby, which is now a B&B.
Above center: One of the most interesting plants on the Oregon coast is called Darlingtonia. It's a carnivorous plant,
something like a Venus fly-trap. In fact, there's a whole Oregon State Park devoted to it, just north of Florence.
Above right: One of my favorite Oregon State Parks is Honeyman, a few miles south of Florence. There are lots
of lakes and high sand dunes here, and a nice campground. I first camped at Honeyman when I was crawling around in diapers and it hasn't changed much since then. Come to think of it, neither have I.
Above left: The beach, as I discovered, is a great place to throw a boomerang.
And to get hit on the head by a boomerang.
Above center: Tahkenitch Creek, during a 4-hour hike across the Oregon dunes.
Above right: Cape Blanco State Park near Port Orford, on a glorious afternoon. The weather was great
so I spent three days camping here.
Above left: Irises near the beach.
Above center: The Cape Blanco lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse on the Oregon coast. Tours
are given daily during the summer. I spent about 20 minutes up there.
Above right: The "marina" at Port Orford, Oregon is a busy place. There's no harbor
here, so every afternoon all the boats are hoisted out of the ocean and carted ashore.