Camping with the Giants

The Oregon Coast is one of our favourite drives, and even though we knew late October weather would likely be drizzly and foggy, we opted to turn left off the freeway and follow along the ocean. It rained, it misted, it was grey and monochromatic; we drove down through patches of thick fog and swooped back up into clear skies. We took two days to drive down through Oregon and every corner brought its own different kind of beauty.

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Our first night we stayed around Lincoln City and Stephen backed in to our site, in the pouring rain.

The next day, we stopped at a campground in southern Oregon, near Bandon. WE decided to stay for two nights, to give ourselves a chance to relax and enjoy the beach.

We went for a stroll to the ocean, and Stephen could not resist dipping his toes in the Pacific. Yes, it was as cold as it looks.

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There is nothing pacific about the ocean along the Oregon coast. It’s a beast. We stopped at a lookout, observing large signs for “ROGUE WAVES”, “DANGER” as we made our way down. Water pushed through this little channel to create a blowhole, but we couldn’t safely get past to watch it – every minute or so we would hear a thunderous roar.

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This is one of many stone bridges that carries traffic along the coast – a thing of beauty and an architectural marvel.

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Our third day we were blessed with clearing skies and a bit of sun. This is a quintessential Oregon and northern California seascape – giant boulders flung out from shore.

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One of the things we have discovered as we travel is that each experience is a stand-alone one and often cannot be repeated. They are meant to be enjoyed at that moment and then stored as a memory.  Ten years ago, as we drove down the Oregon coast, we stopped by a nondescript roadside shack and had one of the best crab sandwiches we had ever eaten. There was a big pot outside boiling up Dungeness crab caught offshore and the sandwiches (about four inches of fresh crab stuffed into a potato bun) were served on red plastic trays with red-and-white checked waxed paper and crinkle fries. That  unassuming food memory ranked right up there as one of the best ever.

This time around, we stopped by the shack with great anticipation. It looked exactly as we remembered.

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We ordered just one sandwich, at twice the price and half the crab. It was good, but not memorable – definitely a time and a place. The other thing that caught our eye was this display:

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In the time we’ve been away, there have been two horrific mass shootings – the Pittsburgh synagogue, and the Florida yoga studio. Seeing this defiant display made my skin crawl, but there was no point in discussing the 2nd Amendment with the folks at the crab shack about the connection of guns and those tragedies – their position is clear. As so many people keep asking, “What will it take?”

One of our last memories of Oregon was a coffee stop at the small town of Bandon – a pretty seaside town close to our campground. This sculpture caught our eye – made entirely of plastic objects washed ashore from the ocean.  We have seen many volunteers picking up garbage along the roadsides and the beaches – a strong indication of civic pride and concern for the environment.

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And now – we are camping in the northern end of the California Redwoods – the United States’ only park that is designated as being both National and State. We are camping in Jedediah Smith National Park – right in amongst these staggering giant trees. Luckily for us, the campgrounds are half-full this time of year, and our experience has been incredible.

We had a bit of a rocky start though – we got an “F” on backing up. Back and forth, front and back we went, the trailer going every way but the way we wanted it to, and our frustrating levels rising to an unhealthy level. No kind soul to bail us out, so we just kept trying and trying, and finally, the rear end of the trailer began to ease into our site. Stephen was backing up and I was directing and although we seemed a bit close to a tree, I did not want to discourage our progress – I figured we would straighten out and all would be fine. Oh boy – I got us into an unbelievable jam  – we were far too close to the tree and then we tried to back up a bit to get out and although our trailer was clear, the box at the front was wedged in tight- we couldn’t go forward or backward.  I  honestly thought our only way out was to cut down the tree, but assumed since this was a protected forest, that would be frowned upon.

I ran to fetch a ranger, and by the time we got back with reinforcements, Stephen had figured out a plan. We would unhitch, then reattach at a different angle – exactly the plan the ranger came up with. No trees were harmed.  This is how our trailer is currently situated in our site. As someone wisely noted, “you’ll never do that again.”
We’re getting there – we can learn this.

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The California Redwoods defy description and our photos won’t begin to capture them. They would have been entirely logged by now, but for the conservation efforts that begin in 1915 and ramped up again in the 60’s. The result is that many protected first-growth redwood forests are available for the public to enjoy.

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Most of these trees are 500 to 600 years old; some are 2,000 years old. They grow up to 350′ tall, and incredibly their root system is only five to six feet deep, so although their roots are heavily interconnected, they can topple in heavy winds. As we walked through a trail, we came upon one of the fallen giants,  a nurse tree that supports a small forest on top of it.

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One of the many root ends we walked by:

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This tree was showcased with a nice wooden boardwalk around it, but there were no signs to indicate why it was considered special.

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These massive fungi grow on a number of trees, and they in turn support more plants.

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Within this park, there are very few trails that can be accessed from the campground – you have to drive to them. One of the highlights is the 10-mile narrow gravel road that goes right through the park, with parking spaces and pull-offs along the way.
This will give you an idea of the width of the road – drivers took turns pulling to one side to allow others to pass.

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Yesterday we had a very illuminating political conversation with one of the park rangers, a young woman originally from northern Minnesota, with French-Canadian roots. She told us she cried when she voted in the 2016 election as she felt neither candidate was palatable. She is devastated by what the last two years have done to America,”everyone is fighting with each other”.

Prior to 2016, the National and State parks were being gutted, with no new hires and not enough money for proper maintenance and educational programs.  Since 2016, there has been a lot of new ranger jobs, and more resources flowing into the system. While those initiatives may not have come directly from Trump, and she is by no means a fan of his,  she wants that momentum to continue.

An interesting insight to ponder – what do you do when you have no clear choices in front of you?

As for us – our choice is to leave tomorrow and head  two hours down the coast to another section of the Redwoods.

Travelling to “the end of the pavement.”

The “end of the pavement” is a wild 26-mile stretch of rainforest on the west coast of Vancouver Island,  anchored by Ucluelet on Barkley Sound on one end and Tofino on Clayoquot Sound on the other.  The main body of water is the open Pacific Ocean which  creates changeable, tempestuous weather.  In our four days there, we experienced sun, fog, drizzle, rain, heat and cold – sometimes all in one day.

Cautionary signs warn of unsupervised beaches, rogue waves, treacherous rip tides and dangerous swimming conditions.

It’s hard to imagine the danger when the waves roll in softly and the surface is like glass.

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Clouds add drama, and the ocean looks a little less enticing for a swim.

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Waves have kicked up a bit but these are still a pale shadow of what is to come a couple of months from now. From November to February tourists flock to the coast to watch huge gales blowing in from the Pacific. This stroke of marketing genius called “Storm Watch” has enticed full houses with reduced rates, gumboots and slickers and cozy fireplaces to return to after a chilly and drenching experience.

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The “end of the pavement” used to be “the end of the dirt road” – a twisty dirt and gravel  nail-biter of a logging road  that would take two-and-a-half to three hours to drive from Port Alberni through the mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The remoteness attracted early pioneers, misfits, hermits and hippies. Rough-and tumble camps were set up right on the beach and rumour has it a young Margaret Sinclair (Justin Trudeau’s mother, and pre-Pierre) might have been one of the early  beach campers. My own parents were among the intrepid tourists who braved that road, although they did not partake of the beach camp lifestyle.

By 1972, the road was paved and tourists began to arrive in numbers to visit the newly-opened Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. This shiny new road and the National Park helped to seal the fate of the beach camping and some of that local colour was lost.

The beaches and old-growth forest remain unchanged and that is still the main draw. We camped at Green Point Campground in the National Park and since we only booked in early June, we considered ourselves lucky to nab the last walk-in site. This campground is absolutely gorgeous, offering a delicious mix of large, private treed sites with the conveniences of plug-ins and hot showers.  Sites are booked early, or as one woman noted, “it’s worse than trying to get concert tickets.”

Our site was one of 20 walk-ins – cars are left in the parking lot and wheelbarrows are available to lug your stuff to your site, about a two-minute walk in the woods. It worked out just fine, but now we know for the next time to plan a little further in advance.
This was our site – our tent tucked in between two huge  stumps. We fell asleep listening to the ocean waves crashing on shore below us.

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This area is home to a large population of bears, cougars and wolves. Just a few days ago a pack of wolves killed a local resident’s dog – a good reminder that we’re not hanging out in a city park.

Rules in the campground are strict – they ask for a “bare” campground – tent, camp chairs and lantern are the only things to be left unattended. Those choosing to ignore the rules are kicked out, so you can imagine our chagrin when we returned to our campsite to find a note letting us know our plastic water jug was a no-no.

The Park staffer was very understanding when I apologized. She told us they pride themselves on not having lost a bear (to being necessarily put down after becoming habituated and dangerous) in 18 years. She hauled out the evidence of what might happen when you leave out attractants.

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Surfing is huge here and the beaches are long, so at least from our vantage point, there appeared to be room for everyone to take turns catching a wave, without the aggression that can mar some surfing areas.

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They start ’em young here – this little girl was learning the basics from her dad, while her mother recorded the event from shore.

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A group of surfers arriving, with a little boy doing what little boys do really well – running around with a stick.

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Hiking is another huge attraction, with numerous trails to choose from. Our favourite is the Wild Pacific Trail, near Ucluelet. It can be walked in chunks or as a whole – about 8 km. in total – and much of it runs right along the ocean.

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Every bend on the path brings another viewpoint that is slightly different.

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The lighthouse.

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A gnarly tree with unusual local fauna.

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The Rainforest walks are located between Tofino and Ucluelet – 1-km. boardwalk loops on either side of the highway that feature old-growth trees, nurse trees, bogs and moss-draped branches. This is forest bathing in the truest sense of the word – we came out feeling disoriented and over-oxygenated.

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The requisite tall-tree photo

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We loved this part of the path – constructed from a fallen log.

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Grice Bay was described to us as being a “hidden gem” – accessible by a scenic 10-minute drive from the highway to a sheltered tidal cove. It was a calm and peaceful switch from the spectacle of the Pacific, and we intended to have our picnic there but discovered piles of broken beer and liquor bottles littering the area, as well as an unpalatable smell. It may well be a local party hangout. The Park is so pristine and well-cared-for that this was unexpected and jarring.

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We spent a bit of time in both towns, primarily to pick up a few groceries, access wifi or treat ourselves to a dinner out.

Tofino is the better-known of the two towns and has more amenities in the way of shops, restaurants and adventure tourism. The setting is lovely and compact, but the strains of tourism are starting to show – this is a destination that feels at capacity.  We lived in Banff for two years and the crush of tourists clogging the streets, taking up every available parking spot and filling every restaurant seat grew very tiresome. I imagine Tofino locals must feel the same way after a while.

This woman, apparently unimpressed with the popularity of Tofino, has posted a warning sign to anyone who might consider blocking her driveway or trespassing on her property.

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You can’t argue with the setting; hopefully the town can keep a bit of a leash on development, and not spoil the very elements that make this area so appealing.

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Ucluelet seems to have a bit more of a local flavour – it has a good range of accommodations and tourist attractions, but is geared more to daily life.

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In both towns and along the beach strip, accommodations are pricey. The crown jewel of this area is The Wickaninnish Inn, described as possessing “rustic elegance on nature’s edge.” Their spa has been voted by Travel & Leisure readers as being “the #1 Spa Worldwide.” This strikes me as being incredible – surely there is a spa in Bali or the Maldives or Mustique that competes? Spa prices are available upon discreet inquiry, but rooms during Summer Season run from $560 to $1800.

We mustered as much attitude as we could, decked out as we were in our campground finery, and walked through the lobby to the beach below. Nicely appointed, but not intimidatingly beautiful.

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This is a particularly blessed part of British Columbia, and is our fourth trip out to the coast. Every time we come we always say the same thing, ” we should come here more often.”

This will be our last posting until the end of October. In the meantime, we will be housesitting, doing some family visits, and planning for our next big adventure.

We’ve bought a trailer, and are planning a seven-month trip through the Pacific Northwest and southwestern United States as well as two months in Baja.

Thanks for following us this summer and see you again in a couple of months.