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Trip Report How A Friendship Survived 18 Days in One Vehicle - 4 People, 3 States

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So many fodorites helped me plan this September vacation in Oregon. Without further ado, I’d like to give my heartfelt thanks to NorthwestMale, Gardyloo, tomfuller, Clousie, sunbum1944, ALF, mms, mjkre, BarbAnn, Bobmrg, and Brian_in_Charlotte for your patience and wonderful insight. If I have neglected to mention anyone, my apologies.

In the hope that there might be some redeeming information here, I am (finally) here to offer my trip report. DH often admonishes me to “land the plane, Sheldon!” so please forgive me if I get off track. Just skip ahead. No doubt this will take me a few days to get everything posted, so I will break it into chunks to spare us all.

So. This was an 18-day trip with another couple who are (still) our best friends, encompassing a general loop through Oregon but also including some of the Olympic peninsula and an excursion into California for the Redwood Natl Park.

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    GETTING THERE

    No way around it, it’s a long flight from Orlando, Florida, to Portland, Oregon. We took Southwest, left early, packed a lunch and snacks, and enjoyed an uneventful flight.

    One thing I struggled with in planning this vacation was the rental car. With the four of us (our friends are very tall), enough luggage for 18 days, and room for a cooler and plenty of “bring home” cargo, we needed a full-sized SUV. They were pricey, and initially I resigned myself to an off-airport site just to get a good price. Shortly before we left, I was able to get a Budget reservation at the airport for an even better price. Score! Or so I thought....

    As it turned out, Portland makes its rental car vendors rotate every 5 years, so that everybody gets a shot at an on-airport location. Budget failed to send us any notice, but as it turned out, that very morning it was their turn to move off site. Once we arrived, retrieved our luggage, and got to the car rental desks, we found that we had to go out and catch a shuttle to an off site location, where complete chaos reigned.

    I will spare you and my blood pressure the sordid details, but suffice it to say that we were there several hours before finally getting underway to Astoria. And once we were well on our way, I realized that they had botched the contract and we were potentially going to pay another $500 or so for our vehicle. Thankfully, the City Manager had been the one at site that day, and gave us his card. We called him, and I believe that saved the day. Oh, one last note - it was more than a week later that we got an automated email from Budget telling us that they were moving offsite..

    And...we ended up in a huge Suburban. Which of course gets lousy mileage. And made some of those roads we drove on a real challenge. I’ll explain about the bus when we get to Multomah Falls. On the plus side, we had so much room in there we hardly needed other lodging...

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    ASTORIA

    The drive to Astoria was a couple of hours, interesting since GPS took us across to the Washington state side and on a route that seemed to take us off the beaten path. But it got us there, and it was a fun start. We got in too late to visit the Flavel House Museum or Astoria Film Museum (old Clatsop County Jail, seen in the movie Goonies), thanks to the fiasco with the rental car.

    With some trepidation, we went straight to our first night’s lodging, Clementines Bed & Breakfast. I wasn’t sure what to expect here - being a very reasonably-priced B&B in a Victorian house about ½ block or less from the Flavel House and right at the edge of a commercial/industrial area. Google Maps didn’t paint a particularly flattering picture, either. But surprise, surprise! This was one of our most enjoyable stays of the entire trip. We only stayed one night and wish our schedule allowed for 2 - we’ll definitely plan another trip.

    You do need to be prepared to climb steps to get to the front door, reminded me of the first house I owned. Our hostess, Judith, was a complete riot and more than a match for my unruly husband. She is forthright, down to earth, and a terrific cook as well. Once she had us settled, she left us alone, and we felt that we were staying with family, only without having to socialize.

    For Judith, part of getting us settled was figuring out what we might like to do and see, and giving us her best recommendations and directions (as any good relative, lol). Based on that, we went up to the Astoria Column (yes, went inside and took the narrow circular stairs to the top), past the Goonies house, and then down to the Silver Salmon for dinner.

    At first glance, the menu seemed a bit pricey. We quickly learned that the portions are huge - easily we could have shared an entree - and that they had a very good chef. I was particularly impressed with the sauces and plate presentation. All four of us agree that this was probably the best meal we had for the entire trip. All of the staff was just so friendly while still very professional. It’s a good thing they are so far away, or I’d want to go there too often.

    Our rooms at Clementines were surprisingly comfortable - it is an older house, but very clean with lots of character. In the morning, we all gathered at the dining table next to the kitchen (family style) and chatted with Judith while she prepared a healthy and delicious breakfast. She ensured we all were introduced to each other, and it was such a congenial meal.

    Then it was off for a drive up the coast - destination Forks, of Twilight fame.

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    THE DRIVE FROM ASTORIA TO FORKS

    At breakfast, we were asked why in the world we would want to drive up the Washington coast. NorthwestMale, you did warn me! But fun is where you find it. This was Saturday morning of the Labor Day weekend, and we found a festive atmosphere in Willapa area. Oyster fishing going on everywhere!

    As we drove through town, we saw a smoker/grill in front of a very nondescript eatery, with oysters a’cooking on it. So of course we wheeled around and went in to eat. It was really a nothing sort of place. We walked in and we pointed to an empty table (they were all empty) and told “Sit there.” We sat. And sat. Eventually this burly guy came in from the grill to take our order. He had a little pad, which he studied fixedly, not looking up at us. He pointed at one of us - “Okay - you.” After momentary confusion, our friend ordered. “Next.” Short silence while we figured out the rules, then our other friend ordered. “Next.” My turn, and now I knew the rules, so I requested some of those oysters that got us here in the first place. “Next.” At this point we ran into trouble, since it was DH’s turn. Instead of ordering, he asked “Are you always this damn mean??”

    We all froze in shock, including Burly Guy. Our friend is a big guy, well over 6 feet and works in construction. I saw the panic in his face, as he tried to figure out how he was going to keep his (much smaller) little friend alive. Burly Guy looked up in surprise, and we saw that he had the most beautiful set of blue eyes... then he smiled, and laughed. Heck of a way to break the ice. Once we knew we would walk out alive, we had a great time, teasing and chatting with Burly Guy while he cooked our lunch.

    Overall, drive was actually pretty nice, in spots scenic and in others just interesting, with the exception of Aberdeen. It’s just the intersection for traffic going on to Olympia and Seattle, and I can’t really say I found much to recommend it. But once past that, you are on your way into the Olympic National Park, so it’s quickly forgotten. I think it was close to 6 hours, including our memorable stop for lunch and one trek down to the first beach we saw.

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    FORKS / THE OLYMPIC PENINSULA

    We rolled into Forks around 4pm and found ourselves in the Twilight Zone. This is a little town in the middle of nowhere that is desperately trying to stay alive by the grace of the “Twilight” books and movies. We were a week too early for the Stephanie Meyers festival, but were otherwise awash in memorabilia. There were stores dedicated to Twilight souvenirs, and the other stores still had a big selection of Twi-junk. Gotta hand it to them, they are doing what they can to survive. We did our part for the local economy.

    Our “home” in Forks was another bed and breakfast, the Misty Valley Inn. It’s a couple of miles north of town, in a quiet woodsy area. It was quite a bit different from Clementines - this was more of a very large suburban house. The landscaping and surrounding woods are beautiful, and it has a huge back deck. The hosts go out of their way to be welcoming, but we really did miss Judith. Breakfast was elaborate, and you are presented with half a dozen choices the night before. All of them are a dietary disaster - so sweet they set your teeth on edge, super rich, enormous portions, etc. And starting in the afternoon into late evening, there is a dessert table with cakes, lemon bars, etc., set out.

    Speaking of food, if you don’t plan on anything particularly appetizing in Forks, you won't be disappointed. In fact, consider yourself lucky to find something edible. It sorta makes you empathize with the vampires - maybe the whole bloodsucking thing was their answer to the dining situation here (kidding!). We did have a decent meal at a Mexican place on the main road, can’t remember the name.

    We went down to La Push in the morning, walked along First Beach, and then went back to Third Beach. It’s about a mile and a half hike through the woods, then down to a big jumble of driftwood logs you need to negotiate to get to the beach. Our timing was good, and we arrived at low tide - perfect for exploring tide pools and taking a long walk along the beach. There were some people who were camping on the beach for the holiday weekend, and it was beautiful weather for it. This is not a walk for flip-flops, although we did see some people struggling along the trail coming in as we left. Doubt they made it very far, though.

    Back to Forks for a little souvenir shopping and a bite to eat (wishful thinking), then down to the Hoh Rain Forest for the afternoon. It was very dry - we were told that it doesn’t take much dry weather to really stress the vegetation, as it relies upon an enormous amount of rainfall to sustain itself.

    We do plan to take another trip to the Olympic peninsula for a vacation specific to that area, as we really only got a quick look. But I do think we spent plenty of time in Forks.

    Tomorrow I will get into our week on the Oregon coast.

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    A WEEK ON THE OREGON COAST

    Now that we had satisfied our “Twilight” pilgrimage, we started down the coast on Sunday morning, leisurely taking our time. Since it was the Labor Day holiday, there was a goodly number of people enjoying the spectacular weather. We really only lingered once, stopping at a pub/restaurant in Cannon Beach for lunch and a beer.

    Trying to park that humongous Suburban in the cramped spot we found vacant (believe me, parking was at a premium) was really tricky, though, and actually drew a small crowd who watched DH maneuver it in without hitting anything or anybody. Funnier looking back on it than it was at the time, I suppose.

    As we got farther south, we ran into some construction that slowed us down, but we were not in a hurry. For those who might be heading that way - Lincoln City just north of Depoe Bay is where you will find restaurants, stores, groceries for the most part. We found a Thriftway just north of our condo in Depoe Bay that we liked. It is not a big shiny Safeway, but they were well supplied and had a good selection of fresh seafood, wine, and other essentials when we were there.

    For most of the week, it was foggy and cool right along the coast. Inland, people were sweltering in 90+ degree heat, which drew the marine layer in where we were. Even a few miles inland we found sunny weather, although not the heat that plagued the state farther in. We spent the week sightseeing up and down the coast; so to make it easier to pick out what you might be interested in, my following posts will deal with them separately.

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    Wow, flying from one corner of the nation to the other! We have yet to hear the adventure of 18 days in one vehicle...so four opinions on everything? :-)
    Bill in Boston
    (daughter in Florida)

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    Ozarksbill - yep, 4 opinions for sure! But the driver has ultimate veto power, including "Everybody just shut up! You're making me crazy!"

    emalloy - yes the beach was brrrrrr! But it did make for great day hikes, although at first I felt a bit self-conscious in hiking shoes and warm clothing. But any surfers were in wet suits, so I got over that. Great tidepools and in some spots there were fossils, if you knew where to look. And yes, fishing. Getting to that in a bit..

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    DEPOE BAY

    While Lincoln City has a lot of stores, it was pretty short on charm - at least driving through on the main highway. For charm, you go to Depoe Bay. For one, it has the world’s smallest navigable harbor - with a bridge at the entrance that nicely frames the boats in the pictures you will no doubt take. We did, anyway. There is a spouting horn that we tried to get pictures of as well, but never were there at the right time. We were there at the end of the summer season, and now my closet is full of t-shirts (good for Florida) and sweatshirts (more wishful thinking).

    Food was pretty “meh.” While I understand that the Sea Hag was great in its day, it is not owned by the same person and was pretty mediocre. Next to it, the Spouting Horn was much better. We never got to Tidal Raves; it was always packed. The best food came from the BBQ on our balcony, grilled while we enjoyed a drink and watched the waves crashing onto the rocks (see Thriftway, seafood).

    We stopped at the whale watching center, right in the center of town next to the bridge. Very interesting exhibits, and the staff had so much information to share. Good place for more pictures, of course!

    Remember those boats in the harbor? We drove down to take a closer look and ended up booking a salmon fishing trip with Dockside Charters. The cost was around $90 each (including license). It was the last day of the season, the seas were rough, and it was SO foggy - you couldn’t tell where the fog ended and water began. Let us just say that if you have to rowf, you should always do so over the rails.

    But we did catch two salmon (I got DH’s while he was “over the rail,” and vice versa). And, we saw a couple of whales - with visibility at 0, we smelled them first and they surfaced right next to us. We felt somewhat better when, after we returned and were having a late lunch with our friends at the Spouting Horn, the waitress breezily commented “Oh, Lars [the captain] does that to everybody - takes them way out and gets them sick.” Good times, good times. We did ship our salmon back to friends at home and had a whole salmon BBQ party the weekend after we got back. SO worth it!

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    TILLAMOOK CHEESE FACTORY

    We did NOT stop at Tillamook Cheese Factory on the way down. The parking lot and the overflow lots were, well, overflowing. Instead, we came back mid-week once the crowds were gone. The self-guided tour was very interesting, and of course we loaded up on goodies from the shop. Naturally we also indulged in some yummy ice cream....any time I can get blackberry or huckleberry ice cream, I’m in. This meant 2 scoops for me, one of each...

    We explored a bit after leaving the cheese factory, roaming more or less aimlessly along some windy road along the coast, and ended up in the middle of a sea of sand dunes with trees sticking out here and there. Totally bizarre. If you are not familiar with that area, it’s a little hard to describe it, so I’m including a couple of links so you can check it out:

    http://www.duneguide.com/sand_dune_guide_sand_lake.htm

    http://www.fs.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsinternet/!ut/p/c5/04_SB8K8xLLM9MSSzPy8xBz9CP0os3gjAwhwtDDw9_AI8zPwhQoY6IeDdGCqCPOBqwDLG-AAjgb6fh75uan6BdnZaY6OiooA1tkqlQ!!/dl3/d3/L2dJQSEvUUt3QS9ZQnZ3LzZfMjAwMDAwMDBBODBPSEhWTjBNMDAwMDAwMDA!/?ss=110612&navtype=forestBean&navid=091000000000000&pnavid=null&cid=null&ttype=main&pname=Siuslaw%20National%20Forest%20-%20Home

    If you are in the area, it’s well worth a visit. Looking out at it, you’d expect it to be hot when you stepped out of the car, but it was still pretty chilly. If we had expected this and planned on it, it might have made for a day, or a half day excursion.

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    OK, moving right along...

    SEA LION CAVES - DEVILS CHURN

    It was a dark and stormy night.... no, actually just a very foggy morning. We headed south to the Sea Lion Caves. Just north of our destination, we turned in at Devil’s Churn. Right off the parking lot there is a viewing area of a spectacular part of the coast, and there is a trail that leads down the rather steep cliff. This would have been an awesome short hike, but we decided to defer that to another trip, when the weather might be better. Sad to say, we ended up never going back, to our later regret. Our recommendation - don’t pass this up. Oh, DO pass on the coffee in the little stand by the parking lot. Maybe try the hot chocolate instead.

    The Sea Lion Caves was just a short distance farther on south. I know, a tourist trap. But surprisingly worthwhile. Some of this trip was a walk down memory lane for me, from childhood trips up the coast from San Francisco to visit relatives in Washington, and I remembered touring these caves then. It was long ago enough so that my memory predated the elevator that now takes you down to the caves (thank goodness). Normally all the sea lions are outside the cave this time of year, but for some reason that day they stayed inside. Very enjoyable.

    By the way, there is a very scenic drive immediately south of Devil’s Churn, on the inland side of the road. It will take you up on the mountain, where you can look down forever at the coast. It’s a short drive, we recommend it.

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    FLORENCE

    After visiting the Sea Lion Caves, it was about lunch time, so we continued on to Florence - to Old Town, on recommendation of the gift shop cashier at the Sea Lion Caves. It’s a bigger city by far than Depoe Bay, but old town was scenic (right along the Suislaw River) and full of interesting shops.

    Here is a link to Old Town: http://www.oldtownflorence.com/

    We ate at Mo’s - mainly for the great riverfront view. The food was okay, but more or less the average touristy seafood fare. There are other places there, and I couldn’t say how they compare. But for the view, Mo’s is worth the visit.

    While I was browsing inside a leather shop, DH was outside chatting up an older biker-looking fellow. As it turns out, he WAS a biker, and lived in Dayona Beach in our own area. 79 years old, he spends the summer in Florence (taking several months to get there), and winters in Daytona. They got along famously, and now DH is talking about “what an adventure that would be” - if he starts riding a motorcycle, I’ll worry. Meanwhile, I got some great thank-you gifts for our neighbors who were taking care of our house and cats while we were gone.

    At this point I should mention that there is a KFC in Florence. Our friend had been jonesing for a bucket o’chicken for a picnic, and they are pretty scarce along the Oregon coast. If you are of a similar opinion, there ya go.

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    Sludnik, your GPS did you a favor! US 30 from Portland to Astoria is deadly boring....I just drove it (in reverse order) yesterday. The GPS wanted me to go over the Megler Bridge to the Washington side and take state route 4 to Longview/I-5, which is apparently what you got. That route follows the river fairly closely and is quite scenic, whereas US 30 is mostly inland and you hardly see the river at all. My master plan was to take the Wahkiakum ferry from the Oregon side over to Cathlamet, but the combination of driving into the sun and wet pavement virtually blinded me and I was past the ferry turnoff before I realized it.

    Looking forward to the continuation of your saga....

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    Oh, just to correct a slight error near the beginning -

    We got into Portland on Thursday, 1 night in Astoria and headed to Forks on Friday for 2 nights. I wouldn't want anybody reading this and thinking that you can drive up to Forks for 1 night and have any time to do anything else..

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    The last two items I'll cover on the Oregon coast part of our trip are two day hikes, each only 1-2 hours.

    DRIFT CREEK FALLS TRAIL

    Just outside of Lincoln City, this trail takes you into the forest along the coast range to a waterfall and a 240-foot suspension bridge (the longest such in Oregon, I believe). This was a respite from the foggy weather, as it is slightly east and was clear of the marine layer. You'll either need a Parks Pass or there is a $5 self-pay day use fee.

    Getting there will take you along more windy roads, single car wide in spots. Given that, it was about 1/2 hour off Highway 101. We only ran into a couple of other people on the trail, so heard plenty of birds and critter chatter as we walked. It is not difficult, but it does have some elevation change.

    I found the bridge itself fascinating. It crosses the canyon 100 feet up, through the forest canopy. It doesn't sway like your ordinary suspension bridge, though, thanks to some truss stiffening design changes. Even DH, who does NOT do well with these bridges, had no trouble crossing it. I took pictures of the anchors and concrete deadmen, but the rest of my little party didn't seem all that enthralled in those aspects of the bridge..

    On the way back we split up, as the path forked. DH and my friend Cindy took the path we came in on, and her husband and I took the righthand path, which climbs higher, is narrower and apparently less used, and a little bit tougher. Both paths are covered with ferns and lush forest. The righthand path is a little longer, and they got to the point where the trails came together first despite our setting a much faster pace. They had time to sit and enjoy the surroundings, and were plenty rested by the time we straggled in.

    This won't take up your whole day, and I'd certainly recommend it. Here are a couple of links:

    http://www.sahale.com/drift.htm

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARdIJiPivnY&feature=related

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    DEVILS PUNCH BOWL

    Another good place to get out and enjoy the natural beauty of the Oregon coast is Devil’s Punch Bowl State Natural Area. It’s not too far south of Depoe Bay. Following the signs, you’ll find two main parking areas. The first one is closest to the beach access and has public restrooms. Go a bit farther, the road ends at the overlook to the Punch Bowl, where there is some additional parking, a picnic area, and a small Mo’s restaurant (yes, we got chowder and ate at a picnic table amid throngs of some sort of ground squirrels.

    We actually went here twice - first to see the Punch Bowl, then another day to spend a couple of hours walking along the shore. There were a fair number of surfers in wet suits (including one wet-suited toddler, very cute). Walked down to the far end, away from other people, to the large rocks and cliffs. The tide was down, so we enjoyed all the star fish and climbed on rocks that would otherwise be under water.

    Another couple pointed out the presence of fossils in some of the rocks along the cliff. Mostly they are on larger pieces that are heavy or crumbly, but they were pretty neat to see. We left them for everybody to enjoy, but there were a few people who appeared to be looking for souvenirs.

    A link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devils_Punch_Bowl_State_Natural_Area

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    OK, so I lied - I forgot to mention a couple more places..

    YAQUINA HEAD LIGHTHOUSE

    So..in my trip planning, I envisioned visiting all the lighthouses along the Oregon coast. Ah well, the best laid plans of mice and men....

    Be that as it may, Yaquina Head is a GREAT lighthouse. It is the tallest one on the Oregon coast (93 feet). It perches on a windswept comma of land that juts out into the ocean, a match for the rugged coast. There is a visitor center at the entrance, and don’t pass it up, you’ll miss some great exhibits. In a way it reminded me of the way that the Royal BC Museum sets theirs up.

    You can go into the lighthouse, which is set up as it would have been when occupied. There is a line to go up to the top, though - DH went up, while I walked around and took pictures. If you can only pick one, this is a good one. Of course, it comes with a complete set of ghost stories.

    http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=133

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    NEWPORT

    On our last day on the coast, we finally went to Newport. This is another one of those plans that didn’t quite fit into our plans, so to speak. We didn’t make it to the Aquarium, or eat at any of the restaurants that were on my list...and had a wonderful time. We did drive through it several times during the week, but “I just drive the car” DH got caught up in the excitement of going over the bridge every time, and we missed the good part of town. For the record, you need to get off 101 just before the bridge, heading off to your left, and then down to the waterfront.

    The streets are narrow, and it’s in a actively working area for the local fishing industry, so you will need to watch out for people trying to bring in and process catches, and tourists watching them work. We joined them, fascinated by a large piece of equipment that was deshelling tons of tiny tiny shrimp that was coming in right from the boats moored alongside the buildings.

    There are sea lions lying on the docks everywhere; it is thought that they are the same ones that used to hang out at Pier 39 in San Francisco. There are large cages set up with the doors open, and the sea lions use those freely. The purpose of those cages is to help capture sea lions who have gotten fishing lines & crud tangled up, or are injured in some way. Once they are in those cages, they can shut the door and safely sedate them to help them without having them drop into the water unconscious and drown.

    The week passed all too quickly. But, time to move on, and we were anxious to get to Redwoods National Park. This involved a leisurely day’s drive down the coast - we stopped along the way to pick blackberries, they were plentiful. Most were eaten on the spot, but we did accumulate a bagful.

    OK - tomorrow I will attempt to post a (shorter) report about the Redwoods...

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