19 April – Managed a peaceful night in our boondock spot – there was no traffic on the road after about 11pm. Back down into Fort Bragg first and then back on to Highway 1 which followed the coast until we got to a very gnarly bit of road (only 20 miles) but it took going on an hour, being narrow, steep and windy all the way. At Leggett the road then joined into Highway 101 and we followed this to Garberville where we went off on to the ‘Avenue of the Giants’ – the original 101, which is supposedly one of the worlds most famous roads. It is a 30 mile stretch of road which goes right through the redwood forest. These are no ordinary trees – these are truly giants – towering up to 300ft tall with wide girths to match. This was a very famous route in the 50’s but it seems that time has stood still, because all the tourist outlets look like they haven’t changed with the times and are now quite dilapidated, but they don’t detract from the wonder of the road. All along the highway are pull-offs with small tracks to points of interest. We managed to find one that was off the road enough to stay for the night.
Across the road was a small river – the Eel River – we were able to get down on to the banks. This little river had the capacity to be quite a raging torrent judging by the debris that was quite high up in the trees. We read later that it had caused torrential flooding in 1964, wiping out entire settlements in its wake.
We were joined by an English couple in an “Escape” rental camper – a small van which just has a small fridge, toilet and tiny cooking space and a pull out bed – but as they said, it was cheap and was getting them around.
20 April – Very gloomy weather again today. Headed through more of the forest road – these giant trees tower on both sides of the road which weaves this way and that between them; you wouldn’t want to have had a few when driving here as a roadside tree would take you out for sure. The little settlements along the road don’t have a great deal to offer so we just stopped off in the forest to do a short loop walk around some points of interest. The forest hasn’t been logged since civil action put an end to it in the early 1900’s. It is now left to it’s own devices, so as trees fall they are left to rot down in their own time (which can be several hundred years) and there is little human interference. When you see these giants on the ground – you get an appreciation for just how big they are.
After leaving the “Avenue” we joined back up onto the 101 and then left again to visit the small town of Ferndale. A very pretty town with a street full of Victorian buildings. It was Easter Sunday, so not a lot was open – just one incredible gallery with wrought iron sculptures and all sorts of other items also from wrought iron. Had lunch in a little cafe with an interesting menu – Bob had quite a job trying to get through how he would like his coffee. The food was good though and the atmosphere quite unique.
Back out on to the 101 and next stop was Eureka – another town with an interesting ‘old’ part. Not much was open, but the one shop that was, was a bookshop with new and old books. What a find – it was incredibly well stocked. Managed to get a true English dictionary (a necessity for playing scrabble), a couple of interesting books for Bob and a couple of free ones as well – these were advance copies of new publications intended for dealer feedback comments.
Continued on the road again and near Trinidad we came across a rest area which allowed stays of up to 8 hours, so we made use of that and although we were a bit longer than the 8 hours, nobody came along to check. There was another large RV there as well; looked like a family with a load of teenage kids – the teenagers all got out and set up tents in the bush alongside the carpark. A truck also came in later-on, but fortunately didn’t run it’s engine all night.
21 April – Moved on from the rest area and went through another smaller scenic drive – the Redwood Scenic Byway – similar to Giants but a little more open in places. Passed by an open meadow with wild elk grazing. A few stags were sitting down but there were about 10 or so smaller elk (females and last year’s young) quite close to where we stopped. Weather mixed again today, with sun, rain and everything in between. Crescent City was the last settlement in California before crossing the state border into Oregon. Stopped off at the welcome centre in Oregon which was a massive new building built right near the beach, but unfortunately it was closed for the Easter Break and not due to open until the 23rd. The lobby area was open and from there we could see inside that there was screeds of information that would have been really useful to us. We tossed up whether we would stay in their carpark overnight which is often allowed, but decided against it and went into Brookings.
Just outside of Brookings booked into our first State Park in Oregon at Harris Beach, with some sites overlooking the water and others sheltered in the trees; we opted for the latter as it was quite blowy and wet. Good facilities, this one even had a laundry which makes it so much easier than having to find one in the towns and often they are pretty mucky.
22 April – After getting all the domestic chores out of the way, we checked out of the camp towards lunch time and headed back down into Brookings township to stock up on food; a new supermarket chain – Fred Meyer – meant we had to explore all they had to offer. The Azalea garden was next on our list – just a small park with a whole collection of azaleas and rhododendrons – all in flower and looking a very pretty picture. A quick drive down to the wharf area and then back out on the main road to continue northwards. Commenced a leisurely run up the coast on good roads with pretty coastal scenery. Settled on Cape Blanco lighthouse campground for the night – it was in a lovely sheltered area back from the coast a bit – which was just as well as the wind was blowing a howling gale out at the lighthouse itself. The State campgrounds are well maintained and their facilities are very nice and clean and seem to be of a similar standard from camp to camp. Nearly all of the campgrounds that we have stayed at have ‘Camp Hosts’ – normally a couple who volunteer to stay for the season in their own fifth-wheeler or sometimes a bus. Their job seems to be to keep the facilities clean, check that people have paid, sell firewood and deal with enquiries. In exchange for this they get to stay for free for the duration which can be several months. Not a bad idea. This particular camp had two sets of hosts – one ‘off-duty’ and one ‘on-duty’.
23 April – Another wet day in Oregon. Left the rather windy Cape Blanco camp after making use of their hot showers and headed towards Coos Bay. The road meanders back and forth to the coast and is much easier travelling – as Bob says, it is amazing what a difference another 18 inches of road makes. Quite often we are travelling through forests – spruce, cedar, fir and alder abound here. They are not as majestic as the redwoods but are certainly plentiful. Our guidebook informed us that the region around Coos Bay was known as Little New Zealand because of the thousands of sheep that graze the hills and meadows – I should say it is more because of the gorse, which has been quite prolific around here and looks quite pretty as it is in flower at the moment.
This area is also known for it’s cranberries and we passed several large ‘bogs’ where they are grown. It seems that big artificial bogs are created – like large ponds with high sides, the ponds are kept significantly wet to create a bog like atmosphere for the plants to grow (they are only tiny but grown together en masse). I guess that come September when they harvest them, they flood the ponds completely and just float off the ripe berries.
It was still wet when we passed through Coos Bay – primarily a logging town on a big inlet. Only stopped off at a hardware store to buy an electric heater – for those times when we are at campgrounds where we get electricity. The hope is that it will be a bit more effective than our gas furnace. Time will tell – but it should just take the dampness out of everything when we have this constant rain.
Headed out to the mouth of the harbour at Charleston for lunch – treated ourselves to fish and chips from a small stall on the wharf. Enjoyed them in the warmth of the van as we watched a great blue heron fishing on the banks of the marina.
Decided that we would try and get our generator looked at; it suddenly conked out the last time we tried to use it with symptoms of fuel starvation and wouldn’t start again. Managed to find a very obliging place – the poor guy had to work out in the rain but he did manage to fix the problem. The wire to the fuel pump had broken – that area is very cramped to work on and he couldn’t find the other end of the wire as it came out of the control box, but managed to hook a new one in without taking out the entire generator, which would have been a very costly job. Good American service again!
It was quite late in the day before we were ready to head north again, so meandered further up the coast – this time we had big sand dunes on the coastal side of the road – this area has been turned into a state recreation park so people can take their ATV’s and play in the dunes. Couldn’t easily find a place to free-camp, so ended up at another large State Park campground besides a very pretty lake, which in the season would be packed with campers enjoying boating, swimming and fishing in the lake.
24 April – It is very hard to get motivated when it’s cold and miserable in the morning, so we had a slow start to the day, spending the morning sorting emails and reading, before deciding to move off. Continued meandering up the coast, going past one of the many lighthouses on this coast and then stopping for lunch beside a small lake. We have timed our run up this bit of the coast badly as a month either way and we would have been sure to see the grey whales migrating. In the peak of the season there can be as many as 20 an hour sighted from the beaches and vantage points. The scenery changed today, the coast is still visible, but we also have many little lakes to our right (very pretty and fringed with forest), also we crossed several large rivers with quite elaborate ‘art deco’ period bridges on them. From 1933-42 Roosevelt’s New Deal policy came up with the idea that work needed to be found for the thousands of people who had lost their livelihood, so alongside the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) for single young men, programmes were set in place to build roads, bridges and all sorts of socially beneficial projects to develop the more remote parts of America. The bridges that we crossed today on the Oregon coastal road were built under these contracts and were impressive.
The small town of Florence was another stop for us – a selection of old buildings along the waterfront were quite quaint and after chatting with one of the local shopkeepers for a while continued on our way. I have seen ‘salt water taffy’ advertised a lot at seaside towns, so finally decided it should be tried – it just seems to be soft toffee available in all sorts of colours and flavours and doesn’t seem to taste particularly different to regular ‘candy’.
The coast after Florence became decidedly built up, with settlements every few miles – lots of accommodation places and restaurants and interesting coastal houses. Tried for a while to find a suitable boondocking site and settled on a rest area just off the highway where hopefully we won’t get moved on. It does say at the entrance that it is open from 9am-10pm but I can’t see why anyone would bother to check up at this time of the year.
25 April – An uneventful night apart from a lot of rain – Bob’s DIY fix back at Santa Cruz seems to have done the trick – so far no more leaks from the bathroom ceiling. The temperature dropped considerably overnight: on with the layers again! Coastal driving again today, this time taking a 30 mile (supposed loop road) out along the three Capes of Kiwanda, Lookout and Meares. The coast along here is well settled, with holiday homes and fishing villages. Our first stop was at Cape Kiwanda and a walk up to the top of a sand dune for some spectacular views of the ocean. Funny weather today – sunny one moment, wet and windy the next. Made the most of the dry intervals to get out and about.
Last stop of the day was Cape Meares and a visit to the lighthouse. Built in 1890 to run on kerosene and later converted to electric operation, it was fully operational until 1963. The glass came all the way from France for the lenses and the whole building was erected kitset style – the numbered pieces still visible today. There were several volunteers on hand to give us a guided tour.
Our loop road turned out to be closed at one end so had to backtrack a little to get to our intended stop for the night – a Harvest Host freebie at the Tillamook Air Museum. This place is not easy to miss – coming down the road all we could see was this huge building with Air Museum on the roof. Getting up closer and we could see just how massive it was. Built in 1942/3 it was a hanger for blimps – the photo on the wall shows eight of them lined up inside. Altogether the US Navy had 17 of these hangars covering both coasts; the blimps were used as surveillance on the oceans looking for submarines (both Japanese and German) and fleet protection. The US lost no ships whilst they were under the escort of these blimps. The other outstanding feature of it is that it is built mainly out of wood because the steel and aluminum materials had been diverted to the war effort. A few of these hangers still stand, and remain the largest open span wooden buildings in the world – it took several months to complete the first one in very trying weather conditions, but it’s partner was built in just 29 days as they had worked out all the obstacles associated with constructing such an immense building.
The aircraft which dwarfs our camper in the picture below is a B377 ‘Little Guppy’ built from two Stratocruisers and intended to carry general freight. The tail section of the plane hinges right up to allow loading. Similar sister aircraft were built specially to carry Saturn booster rockets for the moon landing programme.
Following decommissioning of the Tillamook Naval Air Station in 1948, the giant hangers were put to a variety of uses, including aircraft storage, timber processing plants, more recent airship developments and simple storage. It was whilst storing some thousands of hay bales that Hanger A caught fire in 1992 and was burnt out in a great inferno. Hanger B remains and in 1994 took up a new role as the current air museum, which is shortly to be closed in order to remove the precious and still flying exhibits to a more suitable inland climate at Madras in inland Oregon. The huge hanger has been placed on the historic places register, so it will be interesting to see what becomes of it in the future – a wintertime store for recreational vehicles is it’s only current secondary use.
26 April – Apart from some rain overnight our campsite was quiet with no traffic. Bob spent the morning having a leisurely look around the museum while I got started on our tax returns – great that we can do all this online from over here. Whilst planning our route, Bob had to choose between this visit and another air museum at McMinville which has the ‘Spruce Goose’ on display. As we had seen that aircraft some thirty years ago at Long Beach, and Tillamook has one of the remaining airworthy Lockheed P38 Lightnings as well as an A26 Invader medium bomber from the Korean War period, a modern era Tomcat and a German WWII Focke-Wulfe 190, this was his choice. When it was set up this museum would have been a hive of activity getting all the displays and exhibits in order and developing the collection, but the passage of time has seen the attention wane somewhat and it is now looking a little dated and tired. The thirty mainly WWII aircraft on display were complemented by some interesting but eclectic wartime exhibits from different theatres and a few tired looking military vehicles. These precious remnants of once huge fleets of equipment deserve the improved attention that apparently awaits them in the near future.
We had an extremely short distance of only 6 miles to go from one Harvest Host to the next – Blue Heron Cheese company. With a short stop in the town of Tillamook to pick up supplies we headed out there to get settled for another night. The shop on site was wonderful – wine, cheese, preserves, sauces and relishes were all able to be sampled and as well as local produce there was a lot of imported items as well. Couldn’t resist getting a bit of local cheese, along with some nice mustard and special blue cheese dressing to keep our taste buds zinging. We settled in for another wet night.