Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Day 103 - Olympic National Park, WA

We woke up after a lovely night's sleep listening to the waves crashing at the beach. Our campsite was only a few yards from the shoreline so after packing up, we headed down to explore.

The beaches on the Oregon and Washington coast are beautiful. Rather than the pristine beaches we were used to seeing, these are rugged and natural, they feel untouched by humans and give an insight into what beaches maybe should look like without people around.

We loved seeing all the driftwood lying around on the beaches although the sheer scale of it looks like a whole forest has fallen. The information stations around the beaches say that all the driftwood is completely natural and has probably traveled down rivers and out to sea from locations miles away from where it finally ends up on the shoreline.

Today we were exploring Olympic National Park. We're starting to realise just how unique every National Park is in the US, no two parks are the same and when visiting a new park, you never know what to expect. We expected Olympic National Park to be similar to Big Bend but rather than being a desert in the South, a wilderness in the North. We were surprised that as well as being a large area protecting the mountains, it also covers a large amount of the shoreline on the Washington coast. Kalaloch and Ruby Beach are both part of the National Park as well as many other beaches all the way from the border with Oregon up to Canada.

There were also a number of lakes protected by the National Park, including Crescent Lake which we visited. The areas around the lakes are known as rain forests. I found it a little strange since a rain forest to me is along the equator, incredible hot and where lots of monkeys live. There were no monkeys here but the sheer amount of rain these ares have makes them a rain forest. In these areas, the moss drops down off the trees giving it an eerie feel similar to what we saw in the Redwoods.

Most of the mountain area in Olympic National Park is inaccessible, it is a wilderness that the only way you could see it is by back country hiking for several days and even then, there are some areas you still can not reach. We traveled along the Hurricane Ridge scenic route, the only route that goes into the mountain area of the park and did a couple of short hikes at the end of the road by the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center. Although it was smoFy from the fires, the scenery was stunning. We loved the way that so many habitats are covered by Olympic National Park, coastline, rain forest, pine forest, mountains and even glaciers are all present.

Around the edges of the National Park there are towns and cities, a couple of them we visited including Forks (were Twilight was set) and Port Angeles. Apart from the hardware store which we really needed to fix the camera, there wasn't a lot in Forks to see and if we came again, we wouldn't bother to visit instead we would try Quileute Indian Reservation. It is a 30 minute drive from Forks and is a traditional Indian village located on the coast (it's where the wolves live in Twilight).

Port Angeles is a bigger city and we enjoyed watching the boats on the harbor including on from Alaska that must have been doing a tour of the Alaska, Canadian and US coastline, something we would like to do one day.

Our campsite was in the Olympic National Park, along scenic drive to Hurricane Ridge and was called Heart O' The Hills. It was a first come first served campsite and although we arrived on a Friday, we thought that we were out of season and would be fine finding a space. When we arrived, the campsite was nearly full, we had one of the last sites but we had a good site. It backed into the forest where Lee went looking for firewood and was lovely and peaceful at night despite being really full.

Day 102 - Mount St Helens, Centralia and Olympic National Park, WA

Today we were visiting Mount St Helens who some people (not me as I'm too young) will remember it erupting in the 80s. The smoke was still impacting our views but the drive to Mt St Helens was incredibly pretty and we learnt so much about the volcano and the impact it had on the area, it basically completely reshaped the whole landscape. You'll notice from the video that part of the impact area is green and full of trees. This is an area that has been cleared and replanted by the Forest Service and lumber companies. The inner circle of the impact area is still very bare of trees and you can see the trees lying on the ground. This is the National Park area where they have chosen to let nature repair itself to see what happens.

We entered the park at Castle Rock and drove along the 504 to the Johnson Ridge Observatory and then turned around and came back again. You can enter the park at Woodlands and drive along the 503 to Randle and then pick up the 12 but I had heard that the drive wasn't as pretty and the views not as good.

We spent a lot longer than we planned in Mt St Helens but we were having too much fun. We knew we were not going to make it to our campsite in time to cook so we decided to stop off en route to grab some food. We drove past a town called Centralia where we found a bar called O'Blarneys to grab some chicken wings for Lee and a sandwich for me.

Centralia was a cool town. The bar was very local, everyone knew everyone else but they were all friendly. Lee was even told he looked like Kiefer Sutherland, the best compliment he has had for the entire trip! Or maybe his life?!

The town was pretty too, there were lots of murals and flowers on display, a group of Amish women and children selling art work and crafts and a railway line which kept Lee happy. The town seemed to attract a lot of bikers who were passing through on their on travels and the odd Hot Rod that rolled down the high street. Even the homeless in this town seemed to be happy, the one man shouting to another that he was so happy today as he wasn't dead.

After dinner, we then hit the road to our campsite. It was located in the Olympic National Park right next to the sea in a campsite called Kalaloch. We would have to explore the area more tomorrow as it was 8:30pm when we arrived, the sun had gone down but there was just enough light to pitch the tent, take a quick look at the sea and then start a small fire to keep the bugs away.

Lee Special - Voodoo Doughnut

As part of her research, Sam stumbled across a small chain of doughnut shops called Voodoo Doughnut. They are best known for their crazy flavours and outlandish names: Gay Bar, Cock and Balls, and Triple Chocolate Penetration being just a few examples.

To our delight, there was a Voodoo within walking distance of our hotel in Portland, OR. So, early(ish) one morning we headed there to pick up a selection. The shop itself was pretty cool and the doughnut options bewildering.

It would have been very easy to buy a dozen or more, so we gave ourselves a strict limit of 4 - which we planned to eat and subsequently rate over a few days.

I definitely wanted to try the Maple Bacon, and the Miami Vice Berry was a special edition, so we got one each. The menu being so vast, we asked our server to select two of his favourites, and the foursome was completed with a Homer and an Old Dirty Bastard.

If you're into watching people stuff huge sugary food items into their gobs and giving feedback through half-full cakeholes, check out our video below:

Day 101 - Tillamook Creamery & Portland, OR

We left Newport and it was still foggy and cold outside. We had planned to continue along the 101 to Canon Beach which is known for the famous rock in the Goonies but as we were driving along, the weather was getting worse rather than better so we decided to change plans. Rather than driving a long way just to see some more white fog, we headed to Tillamook, a cheese factory that was recommended to us the night before by our friends in the bar.

It was a good decision to make the as a webcam showed the fog was so bad at Canon Beach, we would have been disappointed when we couldn't see the famous rocks.

Tillamook was a lot of fun. It is a huge site with a restaurant, multiple ice cream stands, a huge shop and a free self-guided tour of their cheese making factory with free samples. It was a weekday but the place was heaving, it was so busy, we didn't have the time to queue for the samples. Instead we bought a couple of small cheeses from the shop. We've struggled over here with finding strong tasting cheese, we thought that the Tillamook cheddar might change our perception of the cheeses in the US but it was fairly tasteless, nothing like the cheddar we have back home. We need to keep searching!

From Tillamook, we headed inland to Portland. We started off this morning in Newport where it was 55F and when we turned up in Portland, it was 91F, the good weather was finally back! 

During our journey to Portland, there were 2 things we learnt. 

1) There are a lot of small, independent road side coffee sellers in Oregon

2) You don't pump your own gas at the gas stations in Oregon, the pump jockies do this for you. 

We stayed in a small modern hotel called The Jupiter. Although the rooms were small, the beds were super comfortable and you could draw on the door. There were all sorts of extras in the room, many of which you had to pay for such as the wine and water but there was a free condom next to the bed. It was branded with the hotel logo so not one someone had left behind. It did make us wonder what type of establishment we were staying in. 

We only had an afternoon to check out Portland (PDX to the locals) so we grabbed an Uber to the North West 23rd area (known as Trendy-3rd). This is an arty area with a laid back feel. There were lots of boutique shops, many selling art and antiques and a couple of nice bars and restaurants.

We then walked to the downtown area which seemed really buzzing with people and shops. Lee found an app called Explore Local that we used to locate bars, shops, restaurants and entertainment either local to where we were standing or in an area we knew we wanted to head to. The app turned out to be really useful as given the limited time we had, we didn't want to be walking about searching for places to go. 

We quickly noticed that Portland has a lot of breweries and Lee couldn't help but stop off in one or two to try out the beer. With all the beer tasting he is doing, he'll be an expert by the time we come home! 

Next we visited the largest independent book store in the world, Powell's Books. We both picked up maps and agreed to split up to explore. Lee went off to the cat section and then to science section to look at the astronomy books and then listened to an author talking about her experiences of coming out as gay. I headed to toilets which took forever to find and then to the cookery section where I looked through the books planning all the foods I will be cooking when I am back in our kitchen. 

We spent 30 minutes in Powell and we probably saw less than 1% of the store between us. It is huge! 

For dinner, we picked up an Uber and headed over the river to South East Division Street. There were a number of bars and restaurants here but the one we were planning to go to was Pok Pok. This Thai restaurant chain which can now be found in several states, first started right here in Portland. We had to wait for a table so we went over the road to Pok Pok's bar called Whisky Soda Lounge. When our table was ready, they called the bar who then sent us across the road.

The food in Pok Pok was good. It wasn't like the Thai food we have had at home and having not been to Thailand, we can't tell you how authentic it was but the Fish Sauce Wings were really unusual but tasty and the curry really tender with a little kick.

After dinner, it was time to go back to the hotel to see whether we could find any other surprises in our room.  

Day 100 - The Oregon Coast & Newport, OR

After a good night's sleep in the Oregon Sand Dunes National Recreational Area, we packed up and continued our journey along the Oregon coast road, Highway 101.

We stopped off at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park. This is usually a prime place to see migratory whales in the summer and winter. There were loads of information stations around telling you about the different whales they can be seen and how to spot them. Unfortunately it was the wrong time of year for us so we didn't see any whales but we did take in some lovely views.

We continued along the 101 until our next stop at the Sea Lion Caves. Entrance was $14 each so not cheap but as well as being a tourist attraction, it is also an animal sanctuary, we didn't mind paying our money as much knowing it was going towards a good cause.  The cave is America's largest sea cave and to reach it, you have to go down 208 feet in a elevator. Once at the bottom, you are literally in the cave with only a few metal wires between you and the animals in the cave. It is cold and it is smelly but it is such a unique experience to see the sea birds and sea lions relaxing, playing and sleeping in a cave inside the cliff, you soon forget about the discomfort.

We spent about an hour in the Sea Lion Caves watching the animals, reading the exhibits including the bones of a big old Sea Lion who had crawled all the way into the back of the cave to die and taking in the views before hitting the road again.

For our next stop, I was desperately trying to find a place called Thors Well which I had read about online. We couldn't see any signs for Thors Well as we drove along so as soon as we got to the marker on Google Maps where it was supposed to be, we pulled over to take a look. We had stopped in Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. From the car park, we walked down the path that took us to the shoreline and then hopped onto the rocks for a closer look. From the car park, we could see loads of people on the rocks and commented just how dangerous it looked but once we got to the rocks ourselves, we realised that it wasn't that dangerous if you were sensible and stayed away from the waves and watched where you stepped.

Thors Well is a bowl-shaped hole in the rocks on the shoreline, it was probably a sea cave before the roof collapsed. It is supposed to be most spectacular during a storm where the waves crash over it and water seems to disappear down into it. We were not there during a storm but it was cool to see the hole filling up and emptying.

By this point, we were hungry and a little chilly so we did a quick search for somewhere close by that did good clam chowder, in a bread bowl (the only way to eat clam chowder!). We found a place called Salty Dawg in Waldport which was just a little further down the 101 so we headed there. We arrived and started to worry that maybe we had come to the wrong place. From the outside, it looked like a social club in a shack, inside was a little more welcoming but the best part was the clam chowder which tasted so good and came with cheese on top and other seafood (prawns and crab) as a surprise in the bowl.

So full that we could barely walk, we headed back on the road to our destination for the night, Newport.

Newport is a seaside / port town with a big fishing industry. We stayed in the Hallmark Hotel where all the rooms have balconies overlooking the beach. The hotel was located near Nye Beach but also within walking distance of the Historic Bayside.

We liked the little touches offered by this hotel - locally produced taffy at reception when you check in, free tea, coffee, hot chocolate and hot apple cider (non alcoholic) all day and the rooms had fridges, microwaves and a bag of pop corn for you to pop yourself.

We headed out to Nye beach which was about a 10 minute walk from the hotel. It reminded me of my home town of Hastings. There were quirky sea themed houses, cute little nic-nak shops, fish and chips bars and of course, the beach. Unlike Hastings it was a sand beach and in better weather, would have been lovely to chill out on. Instead we went to an Irish themed bar for a spiked coffee and a beer.

We then walked to the Historic Bayside which was about a 15 minute walk on the other-side of town. Along the way, we came across a local brewery that Lee had to try out. The beer was good but the best bit was watching the tractor competition on the TV. Pumped up, modified tractors with sexy names were in a competition to see who could pull a weight the longest distance. The weight seemed to move down the trailer the further the tractor went making it more difficult. Who knew such a sport could be so entertaining. It was mesmerising watching them and we both agreed not to leave the bar until there was a winner.

We reached the Historic Bayside which on the side of the road closest to the water, had fish factories and on the other-side, bars, restaurants and tourist shops. We watched a couple of guys crabbing off one of the piers, they didn't catch anything but we did see a couple of seals (who may have stolen their crabs) and some jelly fish.

We decided to have dinner in one of the locals bars where we sat at the bar and met a local couple who had moved to Newport from California (for the weather!!), a guy from Portland visiting Newport for business and Joe and Siobhan, fellow travelers. We really enjoy sitting at the bars in the US as you get to meet so many fantastic people and learn so much, its much better than sitting on a table on your own.

We headed back to our hotel where we enjoyed a night cap in the bar before heading back to our room to enjoy our comfy bed and sea view.

We had researched the weather before our trip to help us with packing, Lee even had print outs of the temperature chart across all the states for each month. We knew it was going to be cold in Yellowstone and we expected to need warmer clothes once we reached Maine at the end of September but we didn't expect to see such cold weather on the Oregon coast. The temperature in Newport was 55F / 12C and the constant thick fog made the air feel damp and cool. We had to dig out the colder weather clothes from storage (i.e. the bottom suitcase in the boot of the car) and had taken to wearing long trousers, unheard of so far on our trip. We both really hoped that the coast was a blip and we would get some warmer weather soon!

Monday, 17 September 2018

Day 99 - Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, OR

Tonight we stayed at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, one of the largest expanses of temperate coastal sand dunes in the world.

We stayed in Eel Creek Campground which was a very short walk to the entrance of the Dunes. As we arrived, we checked out our site and thought there must have been a mistake, it was huge! There was no mistake, the sites here are really large, built for both RV's and tents making it a lot easier when you book.

The toilet block

The facilities were basic with no hook ups and no showers but there were flushing toilets and even soap, something we haven't had in toilets for a while! 

After pitching, we walked up the dunes. Walking up sand dunes is incredibly difficult, aside from the steep climb, the sand is constantly moving under your feet pushing you back down. But once at the top, the view was stunning and it was well worth the climb. 

Unfortunately, we didn't get any videos or photos of us coming back down the dunes which is much more fun than going up them. The camera was hidden away to protect it from getting any further sand inside the lens. I slid on my bum like a slide whereas Lee went for the giant steps and just hoped that he didn't fall forward. 

Whilst on the top of the dunes, we met Matt, a fellow traveler road tripping around the US. We headed back to his campsite and shared travel stories, Matt was heading down from Washington to California and we were heading in the opposite direction. Matt had lots of great advice on what we should see in Seattle, most of which we managed to do. We hopefully gave Matt some advise on the Redwoods and California. 

Once the sun had completely gone and it was dark, we headed back to our campsite where we headed to bed after another long day. 

Day 99 - The Oregon Coast (Highway 101), OR

We left the Redwoods on another foggy morning and headed North to the Oregon border. Whilst there was a damp feel to the air as a result of the fog, it wasn't particularly cold whist we were in the Redwoods, when the sun came out and burnt through the fog, it was actually really warm. We were colder at night in the Sequoia National Park.

As soon as we went over the Oregon border, we noticed cannabis sellers, some even just a few feet from the border line. In 1973, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize cannabis and in 2015, selling of marijuana in licensed dependencies became legal. 

We traveled along the 101 coastal road in Oregon from the border with California to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area where we were spending the night. The road was full off offshoots taking you to different scenic lookouts and beaches. Unfortunately the fog meant that many of these were just a sea of white but we did manage to find a couple views in between breaks in the fog. 

The Whale

A not so good view

We had hoped to stop off for a lunch in a town called Port Orford. We drove along the main high street and couldn't see anywhere to stop so we headed out to the Lifeboat Station for the view of the shoreline and to stretch our legs. It was a very quaint and pretty fishing town but a bit of a funky vibe from the interestingly decorated stores and homes. It was just a shame we couldn't find a bar or cafe to stop off for a little longer. 

We continued along the 101 to Bandon. This was a slightly bigger town and a lot more touristy. We enjoyed walking around the harbor which was full of art work and sculptures, watching people crabbing on the pier and checking out some of the unusual shops. This town had a really nice mix of old school sea side town with a modern and interesting twist. 

The journey from Bandon along the 101 took us through some huge lumber yards, piled high with what looked like pine trees. It was sad to see so many trees lying there but then our wood has to come from somewhere and at least it is more sustainable than other materials like plastic. 

Our final stop before the Dunes was another town along the 101 called Coos Bay. We weren't planning on heading into this town, we were actually looking for somewhere to fill up the growlers. I had read online about a brewery located in this town called 7 Devils Brewing Company which did really good beers and had a really nice ethical approach to its business. We stopped to check it out. Whist Lee tried a couple of beers to help him decide which ones to put in the growlers (of course), I had a lovely locally produced coffee, just what I needed before the final drive to the campsite.