Thursday, July 16, 2015

Beating the Heat on the Southern Oregon Coast

If you weren't already aware, Oregon was hit with some high temperatures early this summer.  We apparently set a record for the hottest June, breaking the previous record of 1992.  I find that alarming.  And as a result, the air conditioner for my home office was dragged out of the box and was installed toot sweet. The temperature that everyone was alternately terrified or thrilled by depending on your attitude was the 102 predicted for the 27th, but the clouds came in the night before and actually kept us down to a chill low 90's. But that same day, Pendleton, out in eastern Oregon, broke it's own standing record since 1961 with a whopping 109 degrees. This number and others were rattled off by the tv weather people as if it weren't absolutely insane. 109 degrees?? 109?!?   I mean, isn't that Nevada desert weather?  Shouldn't livestock and old people be dropping like flies all around the region?  When I ask this question of my friends, I'm reassured that animals are smart and will find some shade and just rest through the day.  But what if there are no trees?  Have you been out to Pendleton lately?  It's not what I would describe as wooded, being mostly open pasture lands..  Well, I guess I'm overreacting, because I didn't hear about any significant deaths in the media, but I definitely decided to postpone the six day trip I was planning out to eastern Oregon on July 5th.  

I had made these plans back in May when the idea of blistering temps wasn't really an issue.  As the date of my departure approached and local temps had climbed into and stayed firmly in the mid 90's, my mind went back to some of my previous summer trips out in the high desert.  The mornings are fine and you often start your day at six because the sun is up and so are all the birds and bugs.  But by 9:30 or 10, the thermostat starts rising and you need to plan your movements accordingly.  If you're hiking or treasure hunting or even just hanging by the river, shade needs to be utilized and lots of water needs to be ingested.  I've come up with a variety of cooling strategies involving wet bandannas, spray bottles and generally just dunking your clothes in water and then putting them back on.  This is all well and good, but my days often resulted in my hiding under any nearby trees, or under a tarp canopy rigged next to my truck, and fighting the onset of heat exhaustion.  So I have survived on these trips in the past, but the question this time was:  knowing in advance that the temps were going to be severe, would I be able to have a decent trip or would I just be torturing myself?  I chose not to risk it, to postpone that week of wonderful places to see to the first week of October. At least at that point I can light a fire if I want to and have some nice cool nights as well as moderate temps in the day.  

But in the meantime, what was I going to do with this time I'd scheduled off from work, and how the hell was I going to get away from these dreadful temperatures?  You got it, head to the coast.  It's about 30 degrees cooler and even a bit foggy.  Our hot temps here in the Willamette valley tend to create foggy conditions at the coast, so I was so ready to go grab a couple days of typical NW early spring weather.  I decided to head back down to the southern coast because I fell in love with it the first time I explored it just a couple of years ago.  I had been to Cape Arago then, as well as Port Orford, Bandon and Gold Beach, and I decided on a pretty similar route this time..  

Got up early on Sunday July 5th, packed the truck and headed south on I-5.  Was torn between heading east on highway 38 along the Umpqua River, which is my favorite beach highway so far in Oregon, or checking out highway 42, which is a little further south and getting to see a new road.  The curiosity won out and I gassed up at Roseburg, then headed east on highway 42.  It wasn't particularly scenic, but nor was it that crowded.   It was mostly two lanes at the beginning and when it became a single lane, I just pulled over to let a few people pass.  I enjoy my drives out of town too much to let tailgating drivers piss me off.  All in all, I wasn't too impressed with this road, that is, not until I got to the town of Coquille.  At that point, the road to the coast turns to 42S, and runs another 18 miles through very pretty farmland and coastal sloughs until it ends at Bandon.   And the temperature had now dropped considerably, so the air was cool and wonderful.

I'd been driving about four and a half hours in the heat, and was feeling pretty rough at this point.  I had planned on heading south to Gold Beach and camping on the Rogue River, then working my way back north the following two days, but the enticing proximity of Edson Creek campground lured me in and I decided to head there and call it a night.  This really sweet little campground is 5 miles north of the town of Port Orford, and 4 miles west of 101 on Sixes River Rd.  There isn't running water and it has vault toilets, but it's really pretty and serene.  It's a very modest $6 and there are 27 sites.  I chose a grassy spot on the second meadow which I had to myself, with the creek to my back.  I set up my truck, made some food and just decompressed.  Walked down to the creek and fished out an entire cut up watermelon that previous campers had dumped in the water, clearly mistaking it for a trashcan. Have I mentioned how much I like people?  But the creek was lovely and I took a few pictures, then went back to the campsite for a nightcap and some quality reading in the back of my truck until I fell asleep. The one thing that is a little bit of a drag about the Edson campground is that a forest service road continues past it along the west side and seems to be a pretty popular road to parts unknown.  There was a fair amount of coming and going along it which can be a little jarring when you're trying to chill or sleep, but all in all it's bearable, and tends to die down at nightfall.  As always, my first night in the truck isn't my best sleep, so I attempted to sleep in a little later in the morning to make up for it, at least until my neighbor's chatter woke me up.  I was on the road not too much later, heading out to the lighthouse at Cape Blanco, just a couple miles north.  Was beautiful and blustery, I snapped some photos, then headed south.  

                                          Edson Creek
                                          Cape Blanco lighthouse and headlands
                                          Douglas Iris

Stopped in Port Orford at the southern tip of town at the public beach.  Headed down to the beach and took some pics of the vultures on their fishy carcass, some rocks, gulls, and swallows. So glad to be here, with the lovely gray skies, and the waves and the salt spray and the call of the birds. 
Man, I love the coast.  

                                          Turkey vulture on mystery fish              

                                          Heerman's gull

                                          Immature western gull
                                          Bullwhip seaweed
                                          barn swallow

Kept heading south and stopped a few more times at various beaches, then rolled through Gold Beach.  Got a cup of coffee and headed south to Pistol River, driving up to and around the lovely Humbug Mountain along the way.  I wanted to hike that trail on my last trip and this one as well, but the top half of the mountain was covered in fog, so I knew I wouldn't be able to see any views.  I probably should have just done it anyway; oh well, next time.  I pulled in at Pistol River, loaded my camera and gear in my back pack and hiked down to the south side of the beach.  Brought along Teds, my intrepid travel companion through thick and thin.  This is what happens when you really love animals.  Like, "should have been a veterinarian" loves animals, and yet you're allergic to most of them.  Sigh, maybe in my next life.. Until then, there's Teds.

                                          Pistol river emptying into the Pacific
                                          Immature western gulls

                                          Western sandpipers

Found some playful immature western gulls eating in the surf as well as a pair of western sandpipers and a few sand dollars kindly left by previous visitors in the rocks. Thank you, don't mind if I do. Took some pics of waves crashing and then had this creeping fear that I'd left my lights on. This happens to me all the time, and often at the coast, where the gray rainy weather necessitates lights, and then I'll drive home to sunny Portland, and not even think about checking them.   This very thing took place on my last trip to Cannon beach in May.  The next day the battery was dead and although I had AAA jumpstart it, I still had to buy a new one later that day at Les Schwab.. You people, with your newer cars where the lights turn off automatically, you don't know what fun you're missing.  So here I was, with the very real fear and no memory whatsoever of turning the lights off. Shit! Shit, shit, shit.  I decided that if I just hoofed it back to the parking lot, it would have only been about an hour and I should be fine either way.  That beach was way longer than it looked, but I eventually got back to the river and climbed over the dunes to find my truck safe and sound with the lights off. Sigh of relief.. Was a good thing really, as I needed desperately to change into something cooler.  The day was still overcast but much warmer than when I'd dressed at the campsite, so time to transition into shorts.

I really love being on the road with my little home in my truck. I become that person who changes their clothes in ten seconds between cars driving by, the person who can quickly pee behind any bush without anyone being the wiser, and the person who pulls down the tailgate to fry up a quick sausage on my single burner stove.  Then I quickly pack it up and I'm on my way.  I'm a good gypsy, a good traveller, but of course I'm also totally on my own, doing whatever suits me.  Sometimes I want company, sometimes I don't. I often find people to talk to on the road, at campgrounds or pullouts, I've had some good talks, met some nice people, and it makes it more interesting, hearing their stories.

So I'd decided to head back north to Gold Beach, and any points in between. I stopped at a couple beaches along the way, looking for tidal pools, rocks of interest, shorebirds, flowers, driftwood, seaweed, any and all of it looked good through my camera lens.  I took off my shoes and wandered around into the water at spots; the Pacific was pretty cold, but refreshing.

                                          Dudleya Farinosa aka sea lettuce
                                          Pigeon Guillemot, kind of my new fave sea bird

By the time I got back into Gold Beach it was late afternoon, and I decided I should head up to my campground to make sure I was going to get a spot.  I took a right on Jerry's Flat Rd on the south side of the Rogue River and headed east about 9 miles on a curvy and pretty stretch of road.  Lobster Creek campground is on your left, and you can drive through the campground and come out to the day use area on the huge gravel bar there at the curve of the Rogue.  You can camp out there for free if you want to, there were a couple of campers and a tent out close to the river, but there is no tree cover on the gravel bar. I decided I preferred the shade and privacy of a campsite and headed back in to choose the site across from the bathrooms and the host's RV.  There are only seven spots here, but there is running water and plumbed bathrooms, so I was fine with the $10 fee.  I  backed in under the two huge myrtle trees and set up camp. Made some food and had a chat with a fellow named Ted who was two spaces up.  He was a cool older liberal guy who had quit working at the age of 39 and been on the road ever since.  He was admiring the "simplicity of my set up", as he put it, and we talked about all sorts of things until he went back to his trailer and left me to my Indian curry packet and a fried sausage.. Ahh, camp food.  That night I slept better, although there was a lot random traffic on the road, which was apparently right over me up the shaded embankment.  I made it through the night, and woke up to lovely sunshine dappling through the trees.  I picked some myrtle leaves for drying, packed up and headed back to town.  Apparently you can use them like bay leaves, so I'm excited to experiment.  Lovely trees.
                                          Lobster Creek campground and the gracious myrtles

I planned to head to Floras Lake as I passed back through Port Orford.  The temperature was warmer but still so pleasant compared to what I'd been suffering through in PDX.  I did the nature walk at Floras Lake, spotting a savannah sparrow and what I think were some pine siskins, one sort of nesting right on the path.  I skirted through the woods to avoid scaring it in case it was hurt. Went out to the edge of the lake and watched two windsurfers try to get going.  Walked out to the ocean and enjoyed it's sheer emptiness and space, as the occasional gull or cormorant swept along over the waves. It's a nice place to sit and gather your thoughts.  Headed back to the parking lot to once again peel off some layers, then head north to Bandon Beach.  

I drove in through the beach loop drive, and parked at the top of the stairs, climbing down onto Face Rock beach just a bit south of my last sojourn onto it.  Last time I had parked downtown and walked south from there.  I found that same spot today as I walked north up the beach.  That was where the interesting rock formations were, as well as most of the wildlife, from tide pools to birds to harbor seals.  The incoming tide prevented me from going any farther north, but I found the point where I had seen my first and only marbled murrelet two years ago, so that was cool.  Today was all about the pair of oyster catchers feeding on the rocks and the pod of harbor seals that eventually showed up.  The water was lovely and I stood in it up to my knees snapping photos of everything.  It was perfect weather and a great beach to stop at.  I climbed the stairs back to my truck, talked to some ladies behind their birding scopes, asking if they had seen any puffins today.  They said they thought puffins were around but tended to stick to the front of the rocks in front of us. Of course they did, those devious little sasquatches!

                                          Mourning Dove
                                          Pine Siskin
                                          Savannah Sparrow
                                          Beach at Floras Lake
                                          Bandon beach seaweed
                                          Harbor Seal
                                         American Oystercatcher

I dusted the sand off my feet, and headed north to Coos Bay where I stopped for a Whopper, fries and a medium soda (this is medium, it's like 20 oz??).  I do this a couple of times a year, almost exclusively on my camping trips, when I've run out of food.  It was disgusting and tasty.  My plan was to leave Reedsport heading east on 38 no later than 3:30pm so I could make it back to PDX with enough time to unpack and relax.  I turned east on schedule, resisted the temptation to pull over and take more photos of a drowsing elk herd at the Dean Creek elk viewing area.  Something about the way they're always there, conveniently near the walkway makes me feel like its a zoo and sort of depresses me. But it's a really pretty stretch of greenery, and they do have a bathroom.  With a bladder my size, I know where every frickin' bathroom in the state is.  I should make a pamphlet for other frequent bathroom break victims; it's what inquiring minds want to know.

This drive is really one of my favorites, especially the early portion where the Umpqua is wide and glorious. It becomes narrower and shallower and after you cross over it some miles in, the river bed that's now on your right side becomes littered with large rocks, almost more rock than water it seems. The temperature began to rise as I crossed the hills and approached the inland valley,  and as I approached Elkton and then Drain, I was growing acutely warm as well as drowsy.  I foraged in my bags for a can of Dr. Pepper and dumped it in the cup over the remains of ice from my previous soda.  It gave me enough caffeine to get me through, although I eventually had to took a caffeine pill too.  It was hot and with no air conditioning, this was going to be a long drive.  Highway 38 dumps you out on I-5 at Cottage Grove which is about 125 miles south of PDX.  And I would be hitting Eugene and then Salem at rush hour.  But I was lucky, and other than the usual game of Frogger in two lanes, I didn't hit any stopped traffic until I was approaching Portland.  I promptly exited the highway and took back roads home.  Was home by seven and got the truck unpacked and got some sushi from Fred Meyer for dinner.  I had a really wonderful two and a half days taking in the southern coast, cooling off and seeing some new sights.  Another place I intend to keep visiting, and next time I'll climb Humbug Mt. with or without the sun.  Go check it out, it's waiting for you. and happy trails!

and if you would like to see the photos larger, just click on them to see the whole photo stream.

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