Trip Report: Oregon
Updated: Aug 5, 2021
July 3 – July 12, 2017
Crater Lake National Park July 3 – 5, 2017 Mazama Campground, site #F29
We expected mosquitoes. Our neighbor at Mill Creek, who walked away from Mazama Campground with 17 bites, had warned us. The woman in front of me at the registration booth who tried unsuccessfully to obtain a refund due to her “mosquito allergy” served as a clue. We had purchased Deep Woods Off, unwilling to stake our skin on the purely natural ingredients our other bug spray contained. We were prepared.
It took about 20 minutes to register. I was told to drive around and look for any site with a yellow tag, and that we could take a hookup site if one was available; we’d just need to let the booth attendant know so he could adjust our bill accordingly. Wendy and I began scanning each loop for the best site. Eventually it dawned on us that really we were just looking for a decent site. Trees remained where they had fallen, rendering several sites unusable; an electrical box had been hit and left in disrepair; and many sites had standing water so deep and prominent only the most desperate late-arrivals would select them.
We ultimately found a site with an electricity hookup and minimal standing water. When Wendy returned to the car after doing a quick walk-around to make sure the site was okay, she told me she’d been bitten three times. On the butt, through her pants. It’s okay, I thought. We expected the mosquitoes to be bad.
We just didn’t expect the rest of it to be bad, too.
We headed to the dump station so we’d know where to fill up with water before returning to our site. But as we approached, something was off… and we realized the dump station was closed. No dump, no fill. “Maybe there’s another one,” I told Wendy. Dry camping is such a different experience and not one we paid or prepared for. Surely they would’ve told us if these things aren’t available, I thought.
We returned to the registration booth, where the attendant confirmed that the dump station was closed and no alternative was available. So we couldn’t fill our tank with water or use our toilet. Earlier I’d heard him tell a camper that the showers weren’t working either, but drinking water was available. So at least there’s that, I thought. Dry camping, we can do that. I was annoyed though, at the lack of communication. Mazama Campground isn’t run by the National Park Service—it’s outsourced to Xanterra Resorts—and I have higher expectations of a privately-run business.
At this point, Wendy and I didn’t want to stay here at all, out of principle. I don’t think we were alone because on the back of the sheet of paper that lists the rules of the park, there was a list of other RV parks in the area. There’s no cell service at Mazama Campground, but a sign insisted two hours of wifi could be purchased for $4. We decided it was worth it to find somewhere else to camp, but goddammit the wifi didn’t work. So I used a payphone by the registration booth to call the toll-free number for Oregon Parks. Once again I had to wait on hold then ask someone to do an internet search for me. After the 20-minute call I walked away with a couple of options—17 miles away for one park and 51 miles away for the other; but when I fact-checked them back at the car against a map, we saw they were actually more than 100 miles away.
At this point I really had to pee, so I walked to the restroom. But the two stalls it contained must have been extraordinarily comfortable because the people in them just wouldn’t leave. So I knocked on the door of the men’s restroom then used the toilet, which threatened to overflow. Before heading back to the car, I put a quarter in the payphone to call Information so I could get the number for a supposedly nearby RV park listed on Mazama’s sheet; the phone ate the quarter.
I took a deep breath and returned to the car. Wendy and I talked for a while, uncomfortable in the full sun of the Mazama Campground parking lot, and ultimately decided to stay the night and figure it out later. So we returned to our campsite, where Wendy doused herself in Off and helped me back the trailer in. It went quite well and was over in 15 minutes, despite the love tap I gave a nearby tree; my need to bat mosquitoes away while my window was down; and Wendy’s attempt to “save” me by squirting Off at them, smack into my left cheek and straight into my eye.
During our entire set-up process, we kept the kids and dogs in the van with all the doors and windows closed. Wendy and I worked as fast as we could, batting mosquitoes, hoping it would get better after the R-Dome was erected. After we’d unhitched, I threw the six-gallon jug in the van along with our water filter equipment and drove to the nearest spigot; it was capped. I drove to the next one; capped. All of the water spigots in the entire campground were turned off. I saw a park worker collecting trash and asked about it. “Oh,” he said. “You have to go to the registration booth. There are a couple of fill-up stations there.”
Worst. Campground. Ever. At least at other dry camps, there’s somewhere to wash your dishes. Here, the nearest water source was half a mile away and was designed to fill water bottles. A sign reassured campers, however, that it was “some of the cleanest water in the world.” Wendy couldn’t believe it when I told her. We wanted to see Crater Lake, but didn’t want to give any more money to Xanterra. By nightfall, she suggested a plan: Explore the lake tomorrow, spend one more night, then leave the next morning for the Oregon Coast without a reservation. I agreed immediately.
The mosquitoes were so bad that Wendy and the kids stayed inside except to run to and from the car. We instituted clean room protocols—ensuring the trailer door was closed before unzipping the R-dome. Fortunately, if the rest of my family is like chocolate to the little buggers, I’m like broccoli. Drenched in Off, I’m like broccoli and—I dunno—poo—because I didn’t get a single bite despite walking the dogs each night and morning. The mosquitoes were worst at the campground, which made me dislike Xanterra even more because I figured it was probably their incompetence that led to the problem, perhaps due to the hundreds of unaddressed puddles of stagnant water.
But Wendy and I were determined not to let Xanterra destroy our national park experience. So we left the dark cloud of mosquito-laden negativity at the site when we set off to explore Crater Lake. And man was it beautiful! Even though half the rim was closed, blocking access to all of the hikes we had planned, there was still one thing we could do—walk down to the lake. And we knew after we did that, we could leave the next day without feeling like we’d let Xanterra win.
The sign for Cleetwood Cove Trail warns that “the route is strenuous, with a steep grade made even more difficult by the high altitude.” Gulp. But it was all there was to do. And having seen the lake, Wendy really wanted to touch it. So what if it’s a mile down and another mile back up with an elevation gain of 700 feet, which the sign said was the equivalent of 65 flights of stairs? So what if it’s 6,000-feet elevation at the bottom of the trail. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, right? Yes. Not without difficulty though.
I actually got a bit tired on the way down, which I figured didn’t bode well. And we had to play a game called “find the nearest bench—OMG move! Move! Move! The mosquitoes are swarming!” on the way back up. Someone even offered Wendy a puff of their inhaler. We hadn’t used the backpacks in a while and the kids are getting heavier. This was definitely the most difficult ascent we’ve done so far. But we got to put our feet in Crater Lake. I cupped it on my face and rubbed it in my hair. I’d visited this park with my family when I was a kid, so it holds a special place in my heart. Taking the time to walk down to the lake made me feel like we did it justice.
The next morning, we hauled ass out of there by 8am—the earliest we’ve ever left a campground.
Oceanside Beach Front RV Park (Charleston, OR) July 5 – 9, 2017 Site #13
My mom loves Coos Bay, Oregon. It’s one of her favorite places. That’s why we decided that rather than arriving at our next planned stop a couple of days early, we’d drive a couple hundred miles to Coos Bay and stay for a few nights before heading to Champoeg State Park to visit with family.
Internet service ebbed and flowed as we traveled along 138 West toward the coast. Wendy searched when she could and ultimately secured us a reservation at Oceanside Beach Front RV Park, which we thought was in Coos Bay but was actually in Charleston, flanked by the bay and Pacific Ocean. Full hookups, excellent wifi, and not a mosquito in sight.
We walked down to the beach with the kids the day we arrived and they had a blast playing in the sand, running into and away from the tide, and splashing in the tide pools. The next day, we explored the town of Coos Bay, excited to see the place my mom loves so much. It’s quite small and didn’t take long. A docent at the Visitor’s Center recommended a floating restaurant just off the dock called Fisherman’s Seafood Restaurant, so we went there for lunch and it was delicious: fresh clam chowder and locally-caught fish (fried of course, with french fries). The docent also recommended a place called Face Rock Creamery in nearby Bandon. “Normally a grilled cheese is just—whatever—to me,” she said. “But I had one there and it was amazing.” Since the town also had a crabbing pier, we decided to head there the next day.
So I made sure I had all my crabbing gear, we loaded the kids in the car, and off we headed to Bandon. A couple miles in, I asked Wendy if we’d brought any chairs. “No,” she answered, “but do you really need one?”
“I dunno,” I said. “But I’d like to have them just in case we want them.” So I headed back to the RV park. Wendy gasped and my eyes widened as we pulled in and saw CeCe’s head sticking out our trailer window.
I opened the door to find eight rolls of newly-purchased poo bags strewn across the floor—their storage bag torn from its staples on the side of the Pod, and CeCe trapped on the dinette bench (having jumped over the table we’d put in her way), the screen ripped out and window gaping open.
I put the poo bags, broken screen, and random piece of looks-like-it-goes-with-the-window plastic on the counter. I moved the table so CeCe could get down, then put it back. I closed the window, petted the dogs goodbye, closed the door, and waited outside for a while to see if there was any commotion. “I’m so glad we came back,” Wendy said as I approached the car. I was too, and decided to shove all the feelings associated with the damage off to the side so we could enjoy our day out. Besides, we’d learned something—that the damage likely occurs in the first few minutes after we leave, and there’s hope in that.
Bandon is a cool little town with a floating pier and focus on local products. I grabbed some discarded fish from the cleaning station, baited my pot, and dropped it in the water. Then we walked with the kids to Face Rock Creamery, which is actually a cheese factory with a little restaurant attached. I indulged in an aged cheddar/pepper jack grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, while Wendy had a roast beef grilled cheese with a side of macaroni and cheese. The kids liked her lunch better than mine, so I actually got to eat most of my sandwich. I still had room for dessert though, so we each got a scoop of local ice cream—a gigantic one that turned out to be the $2 kid-sized version.
Stuffed to the brim, we spent the next couple of hours exploring the town. We happened to arrive on the day of the Farmer’s Market, so in addition to the one Dungeness crab I snagged, we brought home locally line-caught ling cod, black rockfish, and canary rockfish, along with some shrimp, and had a delicious dinner. (Now that we had wifi, I could Google how to clean crabs, so we actually got quite a bit of meat from our one keeper.)
On our last day in the Coos Bay area, we took our furry, orange window re-arranger to a local pet shop to get a rabies vaccination. Wendy took down the R-dome, sewed the R-dome case (which was ripping at the seams), fixed the window screen, and sewed the bag CeCe had torn. We took the kids to the beach in the evening, where Emerson reveled in grinding wet sand into his hair. Wendy gave the kids a shower while I cooked and cleaned the four Red Rock crabs I’d caught that day fishing off of the Charleston pier, we bought dinner from the on-site crab shack, then Wendy picked the crabs while I drove to Dairy Queen to buy a couple of well-deserved Blizzards.
I returned to Wendy poring over the crabs with a headlamp, banging on the rock-hard shells with a knife and trying to extract edible bits of meat from their tiny bodies. I put the Blizzards in the refrigerator and joined in. Ultimately we got less meat from these four crabs than the one Dungeness, but we considered it a success anyway and put it in a baggie for sandwiches later. Then we devoured our half-melted desserts.
The next morning, we left early and headed inland.
Champoeg State Park (St. Paul, OR) July 9 – 12, 2017 Site #A19
An easy drive along I-5 brought us to Champoeg (sham-poo-eee)—a massive state park with the largest campsites we’ve encountered so far. We’re also getting the most bang for our buck: $26/night for electric and water hookups. That isn’t why I chose this park though. It’s part of our itinerary because it’s 20 minutes away from family members who live near Tigard, OR.
Many of us—myself included—are fortunate enough to have people in our lives who’ve known us since we were born, who’ve loved us since before we even remember. For me, that’s Jan, Chris, and Aunt Mildred. I am so happy they spent the afternoon with us yesterday. Jan brought a whole picnic—fruit, sandwiches, cupcakes, and individual-sized bottles of chilled white wine. Aunt Mildred brought books and some treats for the kids, and a red hat for Darwin that both kids took turns wearing. Darwin instinctively wore it slanted juuuuust a bit to the side, taking long strides across the campsite, holding onto one of the wide-eyed beanie babies Jan and Chris had brought for the children.
I didn’t realize it while booking our site, but Wendy and I had actually been to this park before. About three years ago, we spent the day here with my parents, Jan and Chris, and Aunt Mildred and Uncle Harold. We walked along the river, toured a historic cabin, and visited a Pioneer Museum, where a docent innocently said to Uncle Harold, “Excuse me sir, have you touched a beaver today?” We could not – stop – laughing.
Uncle Harold is no longer with us and Aunt Mildred talked to me a little bit about what it’s like for her to wake up every day without the man she’d been married to for 68 years. Her willingness to so easily share something so difficult means a lot to me. I have a lot of respect for Aunt Mildred—her kindness, intelligence, openness, humor. I once asked her what she felt was most important in a successful marriage.
“Respect each other and always show your love,” she told me. I have a crap memory, but I’ll never forget that. As Jan and Chris were preparing to leave, I gave Aunt Mildred a hug and told her I love her. “I love you too,” she said, “I always have.”
Read the next trip report: Mt. Rainier National Park