Fort Stevens State Park
It was a big 100 miles or so to Astoria. The highlight of the day was lunch in the Tillamook Cheese Factory. As in ice cream for lunch. Somehow I managed to convince Dave that it was a good idea. So we each got two huge scoops, one chocolate and one other. Dave got Mint Chocolate chip and Mudslide. I got Butterscotch and Udderly Chocolate. The clear winners were Mudslide and Butterscotch. I hope the next time I consult my previous blogs. If I had, I would have realized that I got Udderly Chocolate in 2011 and it wasn’t as good as Dave’s Mudslide. What are blogs for, if not reference? They also reveal that we are very consistent with our ice cream choices.
We found our way to Fort Stevens State Park out on the peninsula where the Columbia River runs into the Pacific Ocean. It was the most convenient place for a reservation but we were hesitant about the fact it has over 500 campsites. Fort Stevens was built during the Civil War and was operational until 1947. I wasn’t too interested in the military aspects of the place. But it contained the wreck of the Peter Iredale, that shipwrecked in 1906 and I really wanted to photograph that wreck. The campsites are certainly not private but there is a lot of foliage. Rain was being predicted and our site has a full hookup.
As soon as we were set up, we went to see the wreck, only a mile from our campground. It was still a big chunk of real estate, outside the surf at low tide, in it during high tide. On Friday, it was totally surrounded by people. It was not conducive to projecting a tragic, forlorn feeling. We took some perfunctory pictures and went north a few miles up the South Jetty to the Columbia River. Every direction I looked, there were bridges and land in the distance. Some of it was Washington, some of it was Astoria. It was a gray afternoon, no dramatic light. We did the best we could and returned to camp.
Saturday was another gray day with light showers. We went out to the wreck; the tide was splashing on the vessel’s ribs. But we did not expect the 20 mph blasts of wind by the open sea. There was someone windsurfing but I couldn’t photograph him because I’d have to face the lens into the wind. Not a good idea in the sand. We took a few shots and drove across a few bridges to Astoria.
We found our way to the Astoria Column, a city landmark. However, as we rose up the hill it sits on, we ascended into a heavy fog. That didn’t slow us down. What slowed us down was climbing the 164 (Dave counted them) steps up a spiral staircase. It was very foggy at the top, but it would lighten up a tad now and then.
The gift shop sold light little balsa-wood airplanes and people were flying them off from the top of the column. When we had returned to earth, I collected a few of the fallen planes, gave them to a family with a child who was going to top and told them I’d try to photograph the planes as they let them go. The first one fell in a death spiral. The next two flew well but I had the automatic focus on and couldn’t focus on the small, rapidly moving plane. It was fun anyway.
As our luck was running, the fog cleared up a little as soon as we descended from the column. So we got some nice shots of the surrounding area.
The Twilight Eagle Sanctuary was the final spot on my itinerary that day. It’s supposed to be a good spot to see Bald Eagles. There was some confusion between the Garmin and the directions I had noted down from some reference book. There was a lot of traffic moving quickly on a Saturday afternoon and we passed a car that had apparently gone up a steep embankment and flipped. We finally got to a quieter road and found a small, decrepit lookout. Tall pines lined up against meadows, bogs and inlets, a good spot for birds. But no eagles. Photographically, we were batting zero for the day, but as usual, we managed to entertain ourselves. We are easy to amuse.
The sun returned on Sunday and we decided to walk the mile to the Peter Iredale wreck. But we had lolled around too long before the walk. The wispy fog in the trees had dissipated and the wreck was totally surrounded by beachgoers. It was a nice walk nonetheless.
A few chores took up most of the afternoon, then we returned to the wreck. Too many people. We returned to the South Jetty and walked around the point from the Columbia to the ocean. There were many birds, mostly gulls but some other gull-sized bird with a racous call. There were loads of pelicans, gliding close to the water and then suddenly diving in. There were a few people on the beach, fishing, walking or just watching the water go by. A nice way to spend an afternoon.
We set the alarm for 6:20 to get up and check out the wreck one more time. But it started raining during the night and when the alarm went off, I looked out the window and went back to sleep. Forget it! Next time! Dave, however, got up and went out. So check out his blog to see another try at the Peter Iredale wreck.
Monday was a 150-mile drive into Washington and the Olympic Peninsula.
The weather was pleasant and the road was curvy and interesting to drive. It’s always a pleasure to coast along the coast through small towns, ranches and farms. And then enter narrow channels where US-101 winds through tall trees. A harbinger of the weather we would have occurred the very moment we entered Olympic National Park: a few splatters of rain.
We were somewhat apprehensive as we had no reservations. Non-prime season is both good and bad – good because we have a chance to get into great places; bad because we might not get in at all. Our intended destination was Kalaloch, a wonderful coastal campground. Our fallback was South Beach, an overflow campground 3 miles south. When we reached South Beach, it was closed for the season. In fact, it closed the day before.
We went in to the nearby ranger station and were heartened to find that Kalaloch was totally on a first-come, first-served basis. We drove up and there were plenty of empty spaces – under dark groves of trees. The primo spaces are right on the coast and most of them were taken. We found one we liked but while we were moving there, a Volkswagon bus snuck in there. Damn! But after thinking about it for 10 minutes, they left. Yay! We were in. After getting set up, Dave explored a dark, muddy 120-foot tunnel leading from our site and discovered a tiny balcony overlooking the beach and ocean. He dragged the chairs out there and, voila! We had a site with a fantastic view. It called for cocktails and we responded.
We headed off for one of our favorite hikes on Tuesday. Lake Quinault is a large lake 25 miles south of Kalaloch. It has several campsites but none of them can accommodate our 26-foot rig. The weather was variable, with clouds piled up here and there. We got on the 4-mile trail and entered a primeval forest. The sun was filtering through the trees, highlighting different spots. Except for a few birds, the forest was silent.
We eventually came to a great photographic spot: a bridge looking down on some interesting rock shapes, with Vine Maples dangling over the water. We spent about half an hour trying different exposures and compositions.
Another nice thing about the hike is the final mile is along Lake Quinault. It began to sprinkle, so we put on our rain jackets, which of course stopped the sprinkling. I soon took off my jacket because it was too hot. The Lake Quinault Lodge is at the end of the trip. The lodge has an enormous expanse of grass from which one can enjoy the view in Adorandack chairs, sipping tea or exotic drinks. The flocks of kayaks and beach chairs in candy colors caught my eye and we dawdled away another 15 minutes. It started to sprinkle again and we headed back to the car, reaching it just before it started to pour. Perfect! We found a good spot that overlooked the lake and had our coffee and cookies while the shower wore itself out. We had several more showers before we got back to camp. Then we took a shower when we returned.
After dinner, sunset was close so we went out to walk on the beach. Dave has a favorite tree to photograph here. The unfortunate pine selected a section of cliff to take root. But the land collapsed under it and while roots are still connecting it on both sides of the empty space, the roots directly under it are hanging in air. The tree looks like it is scrambling to move over onto solid ground.
Our final treat of the evening came later. I usually open the door before bed and peer outside to see what the sky looks like. A cloudless sky was fully stocked with stars. There was no competing light from nearby towns and the moon hadn’t risen yet. It was chilly, but we laid on the picnic table and stared up for 15 minutes or so. One oddity: in that amount of time, neither of us saw a shooting star, a satellite or a plane. No moving objects at all.
Wednesday was a relax day. We enjoyed a sedentary life until 3 p.m. when we drove up to Ruby Beach. There were quite a few people there, scrambling around the enormous logs that wash up on the beach. It’s a tough place to photograph but we poked around to our satisfaction. The tide was coming in and I always enjoy watching people play chicken with the waves, never knowing when a big one would soak you. This is a stony beach at high tide; no sand. I love the metallic, hissing noise each wave makes as it goes out over the stones.
It was sunny when we got back so Dave dragged the chairs out to our “balcony” overlooking the beach and we enjoyed smoked Tillamook cheddar with Roger and Noreen’s apples (thanks again!) and a glass of Chardonnay. This is the good life!