Camping: Lost Creek Lake, Crater Lake, and the Redwoods Part II

After a warm visit to Lost Creek Lake, we ventured south of the (Oregon) border to the Redwoods. Specifically, Jedediah Smith State Park. We ended up in Site 2, with a towering giant of a tree right in the campground. It was humbling to see how the trees dwarfed even some of the larger campers, but our trailer certainly seemed smaller than it had just the day before (and hauling it over the mountain passes).

I admit that I was somewhat nervous about taking the girls. You never know what might interest them, and even though they are giant trees, would they capture the girls attention? Imagination? I had been to the Redwoods about 18 years ago, and while they impressed upon me, you never know how other people will experience things. So I cheated a little by having the girls watch Return of the Jedi prior to our visit. The Endor scenes were filmed right where we were staying, so I figured the Star Wars connection might interest the girls. It was a risky ploy though – what if they were disappointed when no Ewoks were to be found?

Luckily, I worried needlessly. Both Michelle and the girls enjoyed the giants. I think the wandering (and playing) in Stout Grove captured the girls attention. We were able to scramble on some of the fallen trees, hopping from log (understatement) to log. Everyone else wandering through the grove shared the same awe, craning their necks to each tree. I don’t think the girls took away a sense of the scale, but they certainly got from it the kind of excitement and enchantment I had hoped for.

Now, the trip itself. We arrived on a Sunday evening, set up camp, and checked out the ranger station to get a sense of the park. The girls picked up their junior ranger study guide and we some firewood. S’mores, yo. We helped the girls with some of the misc. ranger guide activities (locating certain species of plants, etc.) The girls got very good at identifying poison oak, which was everywhere in the park. Amazingly, there is both shrub-like poison oak, and climbing-vine poison oak. So even Ewoks in their trees had to deal with some of the vines, climbing up 50 or more feet in to the air.

The first morning, we ventured over to Stout Grove, crossing the seasonal foot bridge. Oddly enough, a band of orange suited correctional rehabilitates were working on the bridge. They seemed to genuinely be enjoying the work and the coolness of the Smith River. MG probably still doesn’t quite understand the idea between prison, rehabilitation, and work crews. But not for lack of asking about it.

As I alluded to, Stout Grove is amazing. While it can get busy, it’s also very quiet, and with the exception of a few girls joyous shrieks, it’s a shrine to these amazing creatures.

Later that afternoon, things had warmed up and we needed to cool down. We headed up the Smith River to a place called Myrtle Beach, where two of the Smith River forks rejoin. I don’t think you could have designed a cooler swimming hole. We camped out at a pool below a bridge with steep rocks on both sides. Someone had set up a rope swing from the bridge, and people were swinging and plunging in to the deep, clear pool. I had to try, and try again, and again. It was a blast. The swimming was fantastic too. The girls and I played in the cool water, following young cutthroat trout around, chasing a loose shoe downstream, and just generally savoring summer. I’m certain this place will remain in my memory as an idyllic summer day. The kind we hope for when we go camping with the kids. But even our hopes fell short for how wonderful the day was.

On day two, we ventured in to Crescent City for some food, cell coverage, and hopefully, some beach time. There was not beach time to be had with the cold cloud cover and wind. So we headed south to see the mouth of the Klamath and visit a drive-thru tree. Hokey, yes, but we managed to thread the minivan through the still-living giant.

It was certainly more of a success than visiting the Kalamath, which was also socked in. Still, we tried to instill in the girls how important this river was to the politics of the region and to understanding how we as a society can try to live with both nature and the myriad of competing human needs. I don’t think they get it yet, but in a couple years, when we’re listening to the radio, we can remind them that they stood on a Yurok dock at the mouth. And, as she seems to without fail, MG got sick. We stopped back in Crescent City for meds, ran up to USA Liquor near the border for a haul of booze, and headed back to the campground. MG’s illness cleared up so we played in the Smith River at the campground for a few hours then we ended up back in Crescent City for dinner at a Mexican restaurant on the strip. After dinner, we hit up the pier where we watched people catching crab, and then spent probably no where near enough time at the playground. But, you know, it was getting dark and we still had to get back to camp. For S’mores. And packing.

On the morning of our departure, Michelle and I assumed our roles. I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but Michelle tends to prep the camper for storage while I “run” the girls. It seems to work well because it allows us to arrive home without the need to unpack the trailer, and it’s ready to leave for the next trip. So while she was hand-mopping the camper floor, I took the girls back to Stout Grove and we ran, climbed, and fake light-saber fought amongst the giants. The girls spent more time looking for fairy houses while I took pictures and developed a crook in my neck from gawking up. After about 45 minutes of activity, we headed back to camp to help collapse the camper, pick up the site (keep it crumb clean), and set off on the long marathon drive back to Portland.

We stopped for lunch in Grants Pass, where the temperature was in the 90s. The drive between there and Roseburg was hilly and challenged the van to keep speed and A/C, but we managed to make it all the way to Albany listening to the Splendid Table podcasts where we had to stop for dinner. We stopped at Block 15 and pulled off a pretty spectacular parallel parking job with the camper. Refreshed, we made the last leg of the journey in to Portland, sweaty, tired, and not entirely eager to return to work. It was an epic drive, but gave us ample time to plan for the next odyssey, Yellowstone in 2015.

The whole photo gallery from our Redwoods trip is online at Flickr.

Camping: Lost Creek Lake, Crater Lake, and the Redwoods Part I

This July, the family loaded up in the camper for an epic journey to visit new parts of Oregon and to visit the legendary Redwoods. We’d been planning for 5 months, so we had a pretty good idea of our itinerary. We decided to shorten the initial drive by stopping off at Lost Creek Lake, where we stayed at the state park over the 4th of July weekend.

The reservoir was down considerably, and the campground wasn’t very close to the water. However, we did rent a pontoon one of the afternoons and ventured up-river to avoid the high-wake from water skiers and lake jerks. East of the bridge is a “no wake” zone, so we tried to quickly make our way to safety when a combination of large cross-wakes and a rather sudden deceleration plunged the bow, Michelle, and the girls briefly under water. It was a scary moment as the front of the boat briefly submerged. We recovered and sped to the safety of the no wake zone.

Once we reached the no wake zone, the girls jumped in and swam to a nearby sandy-looking shore. We tied the pontoon to a log and swam and played on the shore. The shore was an interesting mix of ash, pumice, and charcoal. It took a bit to realize that we were playing in an old volcanic eruption. How cool! After a while, we trolled up the lake, catching and releasing some trout, and pulled out again to light some sparklers (it was the 4th, after all), swam, had dinner, then headed back in as the sun was setting. It was a wonderful voyage.

Each morning, I would get up between 5am and 6am and drive down below the dam and fish hatchery to try my luck on the Rogue. It’s the 4th major Oregon river I’ve tried, and for once, there were lots of other people around angling for some early Summer run Chinook or late Spring steelhead. I didn’t have any luck besides an impressive strike where the fish leaped over a foot in to the air before ditching the spoon. But I didn’t see anyone else having luck either. And right below the hatcher, there were people standing shoulder-to-shoulder doing this odd jerking technique which I learned from a fly fisherman is called “flossing.” He shuns the practice, which is akin to just snagging fish. Odd.

On the 4th of July, there was also a kid-focused parade. The girls didn’t have bikes, but they loaded up their scooters with flags, garland, and tried to keep up with the bike parade for a while. How often do you get to follow a giant beaver around a campground?

On the 5th, we continued up the Rogue towards Crater Lake. We stopped at the Rogue River Gorge, a cool cut in the basalt near Farewell Bend CG. We learned more about the Mt. Mazama eruption that deposited all the pumice, ash, and charcoal that we’d been playing in the day before. Then we continued up to Crater Lake to take in the impressiveness of its blue. I insisted that we hike down to the lake, which was busy and dusty (who knew everyone else would be out on the holiday too?). We soaked our feet at the bottom for a bit, avoiding the inevitable climb back up until MG needed to pee. Michelle took her to the outhouses by the dock, but they were so incredibly dirty and gross that they just decided to hike up. Ella and I caught up with them less than two minutes later because Michelle had decided to hold MG over the edge of the trail so that she could pee down the cliff. It would have worked fine if she hadn’t lost her shoe, which fell about 15 feet down the steep slope. I was able to rescue the shoe, and then we hiked on, listening to MG complain about how much pain she was in for about half the climb. Finally, we picked her up and carried her. Ella was a champ though, and both girls spirits were reignited when we had early appetizers at the Crater Lake Lodge.

After the lodge, we hit up Lost Creek Lake for one last swim before journeying on to the Redwoods. Since the Redwoods are a primitive site, we filled up the tanks with water and took a last shower. On the way south, we stopped by the Oregon Vortex. It was … interesting. Wrapping up a few more details, we stopped at a Walmart in Grants Pass to get more mouth-numbing medicine for Ella (who was being a total trooper with her brand new braces), some groceries, and a half-rack of Sierra Nevada Torpedo (which we left on the camper battery and drove for a couple miles around Grants Pass). The road to the Redwoods was very dry, and we saw a dead black bear off the highway outside Cave Junction. The road gets very interesting as you cross the boarder in to California, but the last few miles were exciting as we wound our way down the Smith River.