Fort Clatsop and the Astoria Bridge

We departed Cape Lookout with the intention of making it well up into Washington that day. We wanted to drive over the long bridge over the mouth of the Columbia River in Astoria, and we wanted to stop at Cape Disappointment State Park on the Washington side to see if it would be a fun place for a future vacation.

On our approach to Astoria, we discovered that there was a Lewis & Clark National Park site on our route, so we decided to check it out. Turns out it was the site where the Corps of Discovery spent the winter after arriving at the Pacific, before their journey back to St. Louis in 1806.

Of course, due to the government shutdown, the visitor center wasn’t open.

We found a way around to the trail behind the visitor center, and were able to see a recreation of the original fort.

It looked cold.

Then we made it to the Columbia, and the super scary tall bridge that goes over the mouth of the river.

Then….we made it back to WASHINGTON!

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Cape Lookout and Tillamook

Our final yurt stay was at Cape Lookout State Park, and we decided to stay 2 nights there so that we could explore Tillamook for a day, which was just about 10 miles from there.

Cape Lookout is one of 3 notable capes on a short stretch of the Oregon coastline, and it is a beautiful place to be sure.

We spent some time hunting for agates at the beach, which we’ll post about later.

We were so glad to have a dry evening so that we could have a campfire! Although we were accosted by some VERY bold raccoons. Sadly, none of our photos of said fuzzy raccoons were acceptable.

Our day in Tillamook was rainy and dark so we were happy to have some things to do inside. First, we had breakfast at the famous Tillamook Creamery!

This place is AMAZING! We ate breakfast there, then spent a few hours at the local public library (which was gorgeous, but alas, we took no photos) and we returned to the creamery for lunch and ice cream! We also took the self-guided tour of the cheese factory upstairs in the new swanky visitor center. This place has CHANGED since the last time we were there, about 15 years earlier! It’s expensive, but also fun. And delicious.

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The Yurts of the Oregon Coast

We arrived in Oregon on a rainy, grey, chilly day. It definitely felt like home, and an appropriate welcome back to the Pacific Northwest. We stopped just after the border at a beautiful welcome center at Crissey Field. The ladies volunteering there were gems, and it was a beautiful visitor center, with informative and interactive exhibits about the local marine wildlife. Good job, Oregon.

We drove past a sea stack arch, and had to stop to take a photo, but boy oh boy, the weather was terrible!

We discovered a few days before heading back to Oregon that basically all of the state parks on the coast with campgrounds had yurts to rent. Since the weather had pretty much permanently turned for the worse, this seemed a very inviting option, so we tried one out at Bullards Beach State Park.

This was the perfect solution to our wet camping problem. We could still feel like we were camping, we had all the right equipment, including bedding, we would still be in beautiful places near the coast, and the cost of the yurts was significantly less than hotels would have been. And we would be warm and dry! Hooray! That first night in our yurt, we learned to play cribbage, and created a bit of a monster in Charlie, who took to the game right away…

In the morning, we were surprised during breakfast by a flock of wild turkeys. They wandered into our campsite and hung around for a while, making funny little noises and pecking at the ground.

Before we left, we checked out the historic lighthouse in the park and found a slimy friend.

Our second yurt stay was at William Tugman State Park at Eel Lake, just north of Coos Bay.

Eel lake is a beautiful, peaceful freshwater lake where folks like to fish. They have a steelhead nursery there, and the lake was named because of a preponderance of….eels. On our visit, it was calm, misty, and mysterious. We enjoyed the quiet.

We met a few amphibious friends here.

Our third yurt stay was at South Beach State Park, just South of Newport
While in the area, we visited Depoe Bay, where there is a whale watching station with volunteers to answer questions and man a series of interpretive exhibits. Brad spotted a spout way out and the volunteer said it was the first they’d been able to see in 3 days due to the nasty weather. Hooray!

We also visited the Hatfield Marine Science Center, which was AWESOME! It’s a by-donation place, and they had amazing things for the kids to do and learn. What a great thing to do on a rainy afternoon!

While at our yurt stay at South Beach State Park, we just happened to look up at night to find a clear sky and a lunar eclipse going on! What luck!

We explored the beach at South Beach State Park a bit before heading up to our next yurt stay…it was a beautiful expansive sandy beach!

Yurts are awesome! We all agree. You can stay toasty and warm, and DRY (they have electric heaters!), and they have lights, and mattresses, and covered porches! Oregon, you gotta good thing going here! We might need to spend some future summer going from yurt to yurt (which is what we did for our 5 nights in Oregon).

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Wine Country to Redwoods

Well, we were not given a very nice day to spend in California Wine Country, but we tried to make the most of it. We visited the Alexander Valley Winery first thing in the morning. Kinda weird to be doing a wine tasting at 10am, but hey – if they’re serving…!

This guy was great. He even managed to include the kids on this event, which would seemingly have been very grown-up-only.

Tasting carmel and fudge from a local artisan shop.

We might have purchased a few…ahem…several bottles of wine that day.

Then we rejoined the coast and headed into California Redwood country. We drove the “Avenue of the Giants” scenic roadway on our way to Eureka and stopped at a really awesome visitor center along the way. Hidden gems off the beaten path!

It was really rainy…

The Travel Log

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Monterey to Wine Country

We were glad to spend a rainy day in the aquarium. After leaving Monterey, we drove up to the other end of the bay and stayed at a state park (I think it was “South Beach”, but not sure) and it was one of the worst camping experiences of the trip. Not only was it rainy (which we were prepared for, both practically and spiritually), but our reserved spot was taken when we arrived and we accidentally chose a spot that was right next to a HUGE group of noisy, disrespectful, annoying middle schoolers. Oy. AND, there were devilish raccoons in that campground that snuck up on you and surprised you. NOT GOOD! We high-tailed it out of there the next morning.

We drove past a lot of beautiful scenery on the way to San Francisco, but it was so rainy and foggy and gross, that we didn’t take many photos.

But then we arrived at the Golden Gate Bridge. That was pretty cool.

We drove through this horrible rain to a wholly unremarkable RV park in Calistoga, in California Wine Country. Hoping to make it to at least one winery the next day for a little taste…

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Monterey Bay Aquarium

Brad and I had been to this aquarium many years ago (maybe 15…?) and we remember loving it then. We were excited to show it to the kiddos. The place is even better than before, and we had a spectacular day. We learned all about sea otters, lysen albatrosses, giant sea bass, sea turtles, abalone, sardines, deep sea exploration, kelp forest ecosystems, and lots of other things. We enjoyed lunch at the new cafe, gazing out into the bay at otters and sea lions. It was a great day.

Before we left, we were treated to a spectacular full-arc rainbow out over the bay.

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A Day in Monterey

Our good weather karma had worn out, and we were looking at the last rain-free day in a while, so we took it as an opportunity to explore Monterey on foot. We got up and marched down the hill from our peaceful campsite toward the San Carlos Cathedral, an historic building, and part of the original Presidio in Monterey.

We didn’t go in, since there was a church service in session when we arrived.

Next, we found the biggest playground we’ve EVER SEEN!

The kids had a fun time playing here, but we had much to see, so after a bit, we continued to the old Fisherman’s Wharf…

We could hear (and see with binoculars) the sea lions hauled out on the pier under the current and working fisherman’s wharf, just across the bay, and we could see and hear them covering the breakwater in the distance as well.

From the end of the pier, we had a great view of several sea otters, foraging and eating, and rollicking about in the calm waters just off the wharf.

We enjoyed a picnic lunch in that spot, under the watchful eye of…

We finished our day with a walk through Cannery Row (more of a touristy candyland than a historic site these days) and visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium office to purchase our tickets for the next day. Then we rode the trolley halfway back to our campsite and hauled our weary selves up the hill. It was a good day.

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Big Sur to Monterey

We had planned to spend a few days in and around Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, but the weather was looking grim…so we left our campsite a night early, had a squishy walk around the nature trail in the morning, and headed north.

Thankfully, when we emerged from the park and started working out way up the coast again, the weather improved and we even saw a little sunshine!

We had a lovely picnic lunch at Point Lobos, where we did a little hiking, watched some scuba divers and some harbor seals, and learned about the whaling trade that used to be prevalent in the area.

We made it to Monterey after a surprisingly lovely drive along the dramatic coastline.

But we knew that the rain was following us…

We found a DRY! camping spot at Monterey Veteran’s Memorial Park, a little more than a mile’s walk from the city center.

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From Morro Bay to Big Sur

After one of our most restful hotel stays of the trip in Morro Bay, and a chance to do our laundry, we moved on up the coast, planning to make it to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park by the end of the day.

We stopped at an elephant seal rookery along the way and were amazed to find thousands of elephant seals right up on shore, just feet away from us! They were LOUD, and HUGE! It was truly amazing to be there and watch them interact with one another. It was mating and birthing season, and we were told that 2 calves had been born just that day, one only 2 hours before we arrived. The calves made noises that sounded like human screams, and it was hard not to laugh the they would open their mouths and emit muppet-like sounds. But the big boys of the group, they sounded menacing, and their deep gravelly voices carried a long way.

We stayed and endured the cold, windy, misty weather for a long time in order to take in this amazing site, then kept moving up the coast.

The coastline started to look quite dramatic when we neared the Big Sur park lands. We stopped long enough to hike a little way up to Salmon Creek Falls, a beautiful water fall in a rushing stream just near the road. Then we tried another trail nearby, but it started pouring, so we gave up and went back to the car to dry off and warm up. Fog had rolled in along with the rain, and the scenery was eluding us.

Well, it rained pretty much the rest of the day, and setting up camp at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park wasn’t too much fun. But at least we had a warmish, dryish place to sleep!

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La Purisima Concepción Mission

We had been on or around El Camino Real quite a bit in our southern California wanderings, but finally, we visited one of the historic missions on this famous route from Mexico up to San Francisco.

We left San Diego, drove like mad to get around L.A., and stayed overnight in Ventura. The next day, we took our time and wandered up from Ventura, through Santa Barbara, to Pismo Beach, and eventually to Morro Bay. That afternoon, we stopped to visit the La Purisima Concepción Mission just outside of Lompoc. This is one of only 2 of the historic missions that are actually state parks, and not owned/run by the Catholic Church. We had no idea how incredible this site was until we stumbled into the visitor center right as a volunteer docent was about to give a tour. What luck! This lovely woman took us around the site for almost 2 hours, and we got to see places we wouldn’t have if not on the tour. Much the site was rebuilt/restored during the 1930s as part of the CCC, including the church, the solder’s quarters, the priest’s quarters, the craftsmen’s quarters, the infirmaries. Periodically, they open the various buildings on special days to show remnants of everyday life and work, including olive oil pressing, lye soap making, tallow candle making, leather shop, blacksmith shop, carpenter’s shop, etc.  The restoration is meant to show how the mission looked during the 1820s, a few decades after it was founded, and after it had moved from it’s original location due to an earthquake that damaged the original buildings about 4 miles from the current site. They even had a few animals (heritage breeds), the same as they would have had in the time period, so there were some chickens, a turkey, some pigs, steers, a burro, and 2 horses. It was fascinating! We learned that the Spanish pushed up from Mexico in a bid to find otter fur, after learning that the Russians were after these pelts. Who knew?!? (we didn’t…)

After a visit to the mission, we drove to Pismo Beach in search of some Monarch butterflies. There is a grove of trees there where the monarchs gather each year on their annual migration. Sadly, we did not see any butterflies. But we did have a nice walk out to a beautiful beach, and then decided to make our way to Morro Bay for the night, by way of San Luis Obispo, where we had a delicious meal of Pho and some yummy ice cream treats for dessert.

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