Wyoming Adventure, Day 6

What trip to Yellowstone would be complete without seeing Old Faithful? Well, that was our adventure for the day. We headed over and got to see one eruption with front seats (after some waiting). The girls pretended to be excited by the false starts but it’s clear they didn’t get it. But then the eruption happened and they got why we were there.

We also explored the amazing lodge where I’m sure I bored the girls to tears with stories of my childhood where my sister and I got locked out of our room in our pajamas and the loge staff had to find our parents. The lodge is still as impressive now as it was as a kid, however, and I still yearned to climb all the way to the top.

After the lodge, we had lunch on a bench in front of Old Faithful. Talk about an epic lunch. The girls were scandalized by all the people who were getting off of the boardwalk and sticking their hands in the runoff from the geyser. Ella because she’s such a good rule follower, and Maddie because she’d seen the sign warning about breaking through thin crust and getting scalded. Either way, we were glad to have such well behaved daughters.

After lunch, we checked out the discovery/education center where the girls learned a little more about the park (as did we). We weren’t there too long before we decided to wind our way around the wood boardwalk and explore the other geysers, hot pots, pools, terraces, and variety of algal rafts (aka scum) until the girls were actually tired of hot water and stink. They loved it for a good 90 minutes though, given the variety of different ways that hot, stinky water can come out of the ground.

Done with the loop

After Old Faithful, we drove north to Grand Prismatic to try and see the splendor of it’s amazing colors. Turns out, so did plenty of other people. There’s a short walk up, but the sheer size of the pools is amazing. Giant, turbulent pits of boiling death. It must have been amazing to watch the eruption, but I’ll take not getting burnt over a close up seat.

Just as we were about done at Grand Prismatic, something funny happened. I lifted Ella on to my shoulders so she could get a better view for a picture. When I lifted her up, her shoe caught my elbow and flew off the boardwalk and down into the moist runoff of the geyser. It was well out of arms reach and I sure as hell wasn’t going to get off the boardwalk out of principle (and fear). But I sure as hell couldn’t leave a purple and pink Croc sitting in this amazing piece of nature. So I carried Ella back to the car (she was so embarrassed) and grabbed my tripod and ran back. I was able to extend my tripod to it’s fullest, lay flat on the edge of the boardwalk, and extend my arm out and extract the Croc. The smugness I felt for my problem solving wasn’t shared by many because it was on the downhill side and during a lull in foot traffic. A few people chuckled at my misfortune but offered no support or congratulations. Tourists.

Here’s a recreation:
Saving a shoe

And here’s another of the Grand Prismatic. Epic.
Grand Prismatic

We decided to make a grand loop of the trip, so we headed towards Madison, then to Canyon Village before winding back to Fishing Bridge. We got a surprise between Madison and Canyon though when it started to snow. In July. No biggie. It didn’t last long, and by the time we hit Canyon, it was just heavy rain, which lasted most of the way back to camp. We sat in traffic in the Hayden valley, which is apparently the norm, but we also saw some great herds of bison, and an elk, which didn’t cooperate for a photo.
Velvet Elk

When we got back to camp, the rain had passed. The girls played among the lodgepole pines, and even put together a pretty spectacular fort with some other kids. That, after all, was one of our motivations for getting a camper; the quick, fleeting friendships that occur within a campground. Anyway, the girls were having a grand old time when a Xanterra van pulled up and two contracted employees got out and said the kids couldn’t build stuff because it damaged the scenery or something. Oh, and we couldn’t take it down because they had to do it. But they had a flyer for us. This is what you get when you contract out work in the national parks. Miserable lackeys who hate fun. I was telling another park staff about it later, and she remarked “yeah, that’s why we’re called Xanterrorists.”
For the record, I hate the privatization of National Parks and such. This type of work should be a calling, not a job. Imagine if someone outsourced the clergy at your churches, synagogues or mosques. That is what the parks are; temples to the glory of this land.

Wyoming Adventure, Day 5

Today we left the Tetons behind and drove north to Yellowstone. I mean, after one last trip to the lake with coffee. The morning was beautiful and we finally had the weather we’d been hoping for.

Michelle and the tetons

It was a relatively quick drive, and the SW corner of Yellowstone was not a place I was all that familiar with. But when we arrived at the entrance, we clearly weren’t alone in our excitement. There was a huge line of vehicles waiting for their turn to get a picture with the sign. We opted out, knowing we’d be in and out of the park at least a few times.

Entering Yellowstone's south gate

We stopped briefly at Moose Falls to see the falls. We were all excited, and sitting in the car was getting old.
Moose Falls

It didn’t take very long to reach Bridge Bay campground, and after winding our way through the massive collection of loops, we arrived at our very steep spot and spent quite a while trying to park the camper in a way that wasn’t too scary. None of us were the happiest about the angle, but I guess we’re all here so it held it’s spot. Note to self – get more wood blocks for balancing, leveling, etc.


After situating our camp, we headed over to Fishing Bridge RV park, where Kathy and Dave were camping. The Fishing Bridge campground I grew up with had closed years ago because of bear problems, and the newer namesake RV park only allowed hard-sided campers due to the risk. (of note, a few weeks after we got home, a hiker was killed by a bear not far from the RV park)

Racing at Fishing Bridge

After settling in, we walked over to the Fishing Bridge general store, the nature center, and took a look at the lake. The nature center was a lot of fun for all of us, and the kids got a chance to see what they were going to be looking for over the next week. I got excited looking at the lake bathymetry model and the big lake trout mounted on the walls. We meandered back after picking up some trinkets and local beers and had dinner at the big camper. We played amongst the fallen lodgepole pines.

After dinner, the four of us decided to drive up the Hayden Valley to see if we could see some wildlife as sunset approached. We first stopped at a roadside stink pot so the girls could truly experience Yellowstone. Peeeeee-yew.

Who smelt it dealt it

We lucked out because a bear had just killed a bison and had been feeding on the carcass for the last day. Traffic made it clear that we were in luck, and we managed to park and join a gaggle of people who had been cordoned off a safe distance away from the bison pile. As luck would have it, we managed to see the mom and the two cubs that were with her. They could be challenging to see in the sage, but we got a positive sighting, along with a herd of bison, before heading back to camp. What a thrill! Less than a day in the park and we’d already seen a Grizzly.

Girls glimpsing their first grizzly

Of note. We did not roll away that night. So apparently our chocks, blocks, and leveling legs all held.

Oh, and how freakin’ amazing is the Hayden Valley? I could die!

Wyoming Adventure, Day 4

We thought July 6th would be a write-off day. The girls spent the night with Kathy & Dave so Michelle and I could get up early and head in to Jackson to try and sort out the van. We still didn’t know what would happen since all shops had been closed over the holiday weekend. So we left camp full of apprehension and a certainty that the day would be an expensive one.

Fortunately, that bleak feeling was quickly diminished by the stunning beauty of the Tetons. Our drive back to town put us on the plateau nearly alone. We saw maybe one or two other cars and got sublime views of the mountains.


We couldn’t call a tow truck until we got to town and were certain the van hadn’t been towed. Fortunately, it was there, and there wasn’t even a ticket on it. Apparently my hand written plea worked. Or maybe no one was working over the holiday weekend. We called the AAA approved truck who let us know that there were only two shops in town that were AAA – the tire shop, who would be so busy as to not get around to the van for a day or two, and their shop. So we went with them. And they were able to order a part from Twin Falls and get things working that day. It was the alternator and the battery terminals were bad. Watching the van get loaded on the flatbed, then hauled through town was something.


Michelle and I got coffee at Smiths, the Kroger grocer for the area, then strolled through the backroads of town where I continued to bore Michelle with childhood memories of where I remember a playground being, and this one time when I though I heard a kid getting spanked by wait staff at a restaurant, which seems preposterous now, but I remember being on my best behavior the rest of that trip. We also stopped by a paddling shop and looked at 14′ rafts with angling frames. They had one on sale for $4000 which would have been a lot of fun to take on the Snake if we had time to do so. I was actually really bitter about not getting to canoe from below Jackson lake on the river for a bit. It’s one of the reasons I brought the canoe, but travel is full of surprises.


We continued to walk around and got a t-shirt for Hilly (which we’ve somehow lost), a few clothes for Michelle, and a sweet jacket for me that was on clearance. We then met up with the rest of the crew and walked around town for a bit, then had lunch at Snake River Brewing, which was excellent except for Michelle’s cold and unmelted grilled cheese (which she sent back).


When we got back to camp, there was a note from the rangers that they had confiscated our empty water jug because there’s a no coolers outside campers rule in the park. I guess I get it, but it’s an empty water jug. But while we’re talking about coolers, the insulated growler that I filled with ice water in Burley still had a lot of ice in it. Not bad!

The rest of our stay we talked about what was next. Yellowstone. Which is probably good since we had showers for the rest of the day.


Wyoming Adventure, Day 3

July 5th started with the slam of the bear-proof dumpster door. It was chilly and overcast. I hooked up the dead battery to the solar panel, hoping it might charge enough to start the van. Michelle and I walked down to the lake front and checked out the marina at Colter Bay. The visitor center was nice, and we looked in to renting a boat, but the weather didn’t inspire confidence.

Girls in

We headed back to the campground and had breakfast. The girls had cereal and some gigantic and delicious blueberries that Kathy had brought, and Dave made cheesy breakfast sandwiches for us. What a great way to start a morning.

Michelle and I then tried to sort out the cooler, where we discovered that lots of the contents had frozen, even things like the lunch meat, eggs, and yogurt. We removed food that we wanted to eat the next few days. So in a way, the dry ice was successful, but maybe a little too successful.

The girls and I went back down to the lake to explore for a bit, then on our way back to camp (it had started to sprinkle), we saw a scruffy fox running down the road, listening to the grass on the roadside. Then, it pounced in to the grass, pulled out a mouth full of greens, and dropped a vole on to the pavement. The fox quickly picked up the vole, took a couple big bites, then swallowed it. And with that, it kept running down the road. What a sight!


We all piled in to the rental van and headed towards Jenny Lake for a hike. We encountered a large herd of elk near the Moran Junction, and went for a hike along part of Jenny Lake. We took some photos, but then headed towards String Lake for another hike. We ate lunch before the hike at the trailhead, and the girls played the classic game of walking from fallen tree to tree without touching the ground. They befriended a couple other kids who were there with their family, but had to leave when they got their kayaks and headed for the lake.
As we hiked up String Lake towards Leigh Lake, we encountered a bull moose cross the trail, then cross the lake. I was able to grab the girls so they could see it as it crossed the lake. While it was on the far side of the lake, munching on greens, there was a snap of wood and the moose jerked its head and looked in to the trees. I looked where the moose was looking and saw the back of a grizzly bear as it fumbled through the brush and soon disappeared in to the trees. Its fur was wet from shoulders down, and it’s back line was so very recognizable. Michelle wouldn’t let me cross the bridge to see if I could find it again.
We hiked the rest of the way to the Leigh Lake portage, which was an amazing view. The portage is right by Boulder Island, which is a very picturesque scene with the Tetons rising behind it. We goofed around on some boulders, and the girls were able to climb to the top (with some help). We slowly made our way back towards the car, still hoping for another glimpse of the bear.
It kept threatening to rain, so Michelle, Kathy, and Dave hung out at the campsite and the girls begged to go swim. I stopped by the marina to try and get a fishing license, but in Teton, you need both a park and a Wyoming state license, and they only come in 1-day and 1-year options. At 4pm, and knowing the girls were going to be swimming, it wasn’t worth the money. The girls did swim in the lake, which shouldn’t surprise me since I did the same at their age. But as they swam, I watched a huge bank of clouds slowly engulf the Tetons and pulled the kids out of the water as the weather turned ugly.
We had Salmon two ways for dinner. Brown sugar glaze, and mayo/garlic rub. Both were delicious, and you can never go wrong with grilled asparagus and couscous. I love how well we eat while camping.

Wyoming Adventure, Day 2

We thought we were waking up early on day 2, but thanks to the time zone change and the incredibly effective curtains, it was actually 7:45am. We had planned to be on the road by then. So we woke the kids, took a quick shower, and hoped in the lines for the continental breakfast. It was… better than nothing. It turns out that if you wait until that late to eat, you’ll be joining everyone else at the hotel.

The van smelled horrible (like slaughter facility bad) and we picked up more dry ice to ensure that the cooler would remain cold. We tossed the cilantro because it froze and was very stinky. We did get on the road by 9:30am, but that delay meant that Kathy & Dave went from 50 miles behind us to 80 miles ahead of us, even though they were on the high route through Arco. Our route was uneventful, but it was fun to wind back & forth across the Snake River while Michelle read Percy Jackson. Good road trip reading.

We stopped in Twin Falls, ID for lunch at the Fred Meyer. We all picked out our own meals and the girls miraculously picked a rainbow of colors of mostly plant material. Everyone was full and happy as we left Twin Falls and drove across rolling hills of barley, wheat, and potatoes towards the back side of the Tetons. We decided to take the Pine Creek road. May have been a bad choice.

We were stuck behind a motorhome from Florida on a windy, small road, but the route was gorgeous. Eventually we passed the RV and had an unrestricted view of the valley as we climbed an ever steeper road towards Teton pass. Things started to warm up and we shut off all accessories, including unplugging all the phone chargers. The oil temperature light came on just as we were peaking at the pass, and the van really struggled to climb the last mile. I think we never got above 15 MPH during the last stretch, and Michelle and I were both very nervous and started to regret the scenic route. At times, we’d look up the valley and think “that can’t be the road. That’s way to high/steep!”
Wyoming Adventure
We stopped at the pass to let the van cool down and to take in the amazing view of the valley and Wilson below. The girls bravely stood on rocks high above the valley while Michelle tried her best not to scream. It made me proud.

Wyoming Adventure

As soon as we started driving down the steep grade, the cool air was able to bring relief to the car’s temperature. But once the oil started to cool, the brakes started to warm. We kept the van low gear most of the trip down, but the air was full of hot brake smell, and we had no way to tell if it was us or the cars and trucks ahead of us. We finally made it down to the bottom and the van was back to normal. Once we were in the valley bottom, we made our way through Wilson, navigating between all the revelers on the Snake River, and made our way in to Jackson Hole. Kathy had said the town was busy, but neither of us was prepared for what a circus the town was.
Welcome to Jackson

I dropped the ladies off in Jackson so they could enjoy the town and I would set up camp and come back in for a 4th of July dinner. As I left town and rounded the corner and climbed on to the plateau, my heart nearly burst with joy as the Tetons came in to view. Seven months later I still get goose bumps as I write this thinking about the view. The mountains were certainly beautiful, but the sage, the aspen, the river, the grass, the sky all opened up some long dormant memories and I felt a feeling of belonging I did not expect. But this is why I wanted to come back to Wyoming. I took a picture, but as you can see, it does not do it quite the justice it deserves.
Wyoming Adventure
The drive was amazing, and I was the first to get to see antelope, buffalo, etc, and texted back and forth with Michelle about what license plates we saw. I was greeted at the RV park by hosts from Oklahoma and Texas who were awaiting my arrival since Kathy and Dave had already arrived. Our site was in the L row near the bathroom. I set the camper up and moved the food in to Kathy & Dave’s trailer, and put the cooler in Dave’s truck. The food was still well frozen.

As we drove back towards Jackson to meet the ladies, the alternator sounded like it was working hard. 10 miles out of town, the battery light came on. We turned the AC off to Kathy’s dismay, and limped in to town. Right as we enter the town, the car died. I was able to restart it and pull in to a parking lot, where it died again. The battery and the alternator were toast, and it was the 4th of July and the next day was Sunday. AAA offered that they could tow us somewhere, but no one was open until Monday. Talk about SOL.

Michelle, thanks to the marvel of smart phones, was able to find and rent a minivan in less than 15 minutes. So while I was still swirling in despair, Michelle’s quick thinking meant that we weren’t stranded an hour away from the campers and stuck on a weekend. Crisis (mostly) averted.

We wandered around town and ended up going to a fancy Mexican restaurant that Kathy & Dave thought they’d seen on a Food Network show, but given that the show was supposedly about dives, this place must not have been it. The food was freakin’ delicious. I had carnitas tacos and two AC Golden lagers. The meal and beers helped me come down off a borderline nervous breakdown, but so did knowing that we at least had a car to keep us moving for the weekend.
Hatch dinner
After dinner, we made our way back to the campground, which kind of stunk. Someone’s sewer connection must have been loose. It was a little warm, but we opened up the windows and crashed.

Enjoying the hell out of a weekend – May edition

When the weather is great, we sometimes question why we aren’t capitalizing on the time to get some camping in. However, this weekend we have no regrets about staying home and getting the most out of the weekend.

Friday afternoon

Grabbed a beer in the sun with my sweetheart while she finished reviewing a document and kept Kona entertained. Then we picked up the girls and their friend and enjoyed the sun for a bit until it was time to pick up the race packets for Michelle and Ella’s Cinco de Mayo 10k. We grabbed dinner afterwards and the kids continued to play until 8, when we headed over to Miguel’s to jam in the basement. The girls hung out with his twins and Brian, Miguel and I fumbled through several songs over the course of the next couple hours. It was a blast, and it felt great to play the bass. Brian is far better (even rusty) than either of us.


We started the morning with Ella’s last soccer game of the spring season. It was at Chapman Elementary’s awesome turf field. The other dads and I enjoyed playing on it and took turns taking shots on goal until the game started. Ella played forward for much of the first half and tried to stay on ball but never got in to a scoring position (you have to go to where the ball should go). But in the second half, she did some excellent defending and the girls managed to win 5 to 1 against a richie-rich NW Portland team. Not bad for a bunch of girls from NoPo.

After that, we crammed some wings at Fire on the Mountain before heading home to do some extensive weeding and yard work in the front yard. We all griped, but we did a great job, and topped it all off with some deep hemlock mulch that looks and smells great. The girls powered up for the race with a dinner of pasta, sauteed vegetables and fried eggs. Michelle and I watched the Timbers game (So close!) before crashing.


MG and I dropped Michelle and Ella off at the starting line for the Cinco de Mayo 10k, then headed to Washington Park to play on the spectacular playground. No one was around (amazing for an area with over 1M people), so we let Kona wander. She was not happy about a dog fresco on the side of a building and barked at it for a good 3 minutes. I captured the second half where we got close to the picture.)

After the park, I showed MG the Vista bridge and we wound through some fancy Goose Hollow neighborhoods. We grabbed some coffee and hot cocoa then got back to the finish line in time to watch Ella and Michelle cross it. Amazing work Ella! We partied at Pioneer Courthouse Square for a bit, then grabbed brunch at the Bad Habit Room (delicious) before heading back home to relax for a bit. Michelle volunteered at Potluck at the Park and the girls and I went back to Washington Park to play until the start of the Timbers 2 (T2) game. We were able to get tickets in the Key Bank section in the second row and watched the warm up just feet from the players, including several Timbers players like Will Johnson, Gaston Fernandez, Jeanderson, and Norberto Paparatto. The game was great to watch from that close venue. Being away from the Timbers Army, we could actually hear the sound of the ball on cleats and the players talking to each other. Hell, we were only feet from them.

After half time (and down 0-2), we discovered that Diego Valeri, Maxi Urruti, and Jorge Villafana were a few rows behind us taking in the game. We couldn’t resist and took the girls up to meet the players. We felt intrusive and did’t ask for a picture until after the game when we got one of the girls with Urutti. After that, I chased the girls around while Michelle finished talking with the other attorney we brought and nearly ran in to Villafana. I said hi and complimented him on his play this season. Then we headed home to seriously crash from the long weekend.

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.

Cliff Pool, Little North Fork of the Santiam River

There are just some days you don’t want to forget. Saturday, August 2nd 2014 is one of them.

After scheming on some ideas of how we could have a family meet up with the Eivas, Beth found Cliff Pool on the Oregon Swimming Holes App. The description was hard to pass on, though admittedly, the navigation was a little challenging. We agreed to meet there around 11am on Saturday. My crew rolled up a little before 11am, but the route down to the river seemed treacherous and the listed mileage in the instructions didn’t match. We drove around a bit more until we decided that we had probably been in the right place the first time. We waited a bit to see if our friends would arrive, but decided that given the complexity of the instructions, we might not ever see them. We packed up anyway, and wandered down the cliff of a trail, taking several trips to get all of the gear down. The trail at the very end is actually a cliff. There’s rope to help, but it’s very loose dirt and rocks fall frequently while you scale down. Ella ended up getting a cut on her leg from one of the bags careening by her as it fell (which resulted in a shattered snorkel mask), but we made it. The river was lovely, and while making the last trip, the Eivas arrived at the top. I helped shuttle the kids down and then it was time for a swim.

The scenery, as you can see, is amazing. We camped out just below a big pool in the river that was very clear and quite deep in the middle. There’s a lovely set of falls that carve out a nice bowl in the rocks, and the rocks provide some excellent diving opportunities. It’s no more than 10 feet, but still great. Above the falls, the river continues through a series of pools, boulder gardens, and is just a charming scene.

We took turns swimming, basking in the sun, snorkeling, floating, and snacking. The water was much warmer than I had expected, though after hours in the river, my core certainly chilled down. Great for a hot day. Beth and the kids also explored up the river, making the harrowing crossing several times and returning safely and triumphantly.

I want to specifically mention the snorkeling though. My daughters got to see baby native rainbow trout swimming around them and had a chance to view a different type of aquatic environment. The boulders, fish, rocks, and other swimmers made for quite a scene. The kids enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as Travis and I. At various parts in the falls, there were cutouts in the rocks where you could drop below the roil of the water and watch as fish danced around looking for food. In the upper falls, there were several large trout, including one beautiful native that must have been at least 18 inches long. Travis and I also walked up stream about 1/3 of a mile and snorkeled downstream. Bumping, bobbing, and sliding over rocks, we followed the current, moved between channels, and watched fish question our presence in the river. It was amazing how many fish, albeit small, there were throughout the short stretch of the river. At several points, we’d just look up at each other with a stupid grin and start laughing at how awesome it was to be drifting down the stream. We thought maybe we should try out some spear fishing and maybe start a new trend in Oregon.

We had some fishing gear with us, and Mirabess caught her first fish. It was a cute little trout that had to go back, but what an exciting first. After the kids were played out and the sun was falling behind the hills, we packed back up the treacherous cliff and headed back to Salem for a dinner and beers at Gilgamesh Brewing. The day was perfect. The weather couldn’t be better, and it all started with some uncertainty about the safety of the trip and the likelihood of actually finding our friends. Now I’m reflecting back at how awesome the day ways and how much fun we all had. Thank you friends, and thank you summer.