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On The Road Again

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:

  • Olympic, in Washington

  • Lassen, in California

  • Canyonlands, in Utah

  • Craters of the Moon, in Idaho

  • North Cascades, in Washington

  • Cumberland Island, in Georgia

I hope to visit at least a few of these places on this trip.  And if you're interested, I've posted more of my opinions about national parks on this page:  My 10 Favorite National Park "Hidden Jewels."


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.



After spending two months in Bellingham, I was On the Road Again, this time with Willie Nelson.


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.



Left:  My first stop was  Deception Pass, north of Seattle, which separates the mainland, where I'm standing, from Whidbey Island (far side). 

The tide churns through here at up to 10 knots making it an exciting place to sail through, as I've learned the hard way.




Above left:  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 Duc falls.



Above left:  The windy Rialto Beach, also part of Olympic National Park.

Above right:  Sword fern on the Hoh trail after a morning shower.



Left:  And here I am after a morning shower. 

The Hoh rainforest gets over 100 inches of rain each year.  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 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), see the Maritime Museum, and climb 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 Schwarzenegger'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 Schwarzenegger?


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 right:  Heading down the Oregon coast.  I ate lunch and enjoyed the view here at Yachats, one of my favorite stops on the central coast.



Left:  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:  Honeyman, a few miles south of Florence, is one of my favorite Oregon State Parks.  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.  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 right:  Tahkenitch Creek during my four-hour hike across the Oregon dunes. 



Left:  Cape Blanco State Park near Port Orford, on a glorious afternoon. 

The weather was great so I camped here for three days.





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.



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