We spent the month of July traveling around the Northwest in our camper van, Cashew. As we finished the first half of our trip, living in a van started to feel really natural. We had our routine figured out. Traveling in a 30-year-old van slows things down. You can’t cover miles as quickly. Driving it takes more effort and energy. Our seats are uncomfortable and we don’t have air conditioning. Cashew has helped us to embrace the journey, and not just think about how many hours it will take to go 400 miles.
After leaving Astoria, Oregon, we spent the next 6 days driving down the Oregon Coast. The Oregon Coast is basically one long series of state parks and it was absolutely gorgeous. Our first overnight stop was at Cape Lookout State Park. Our friends from Astoria joined us and we explored the beach and grilled a bunch of delicious vegetables.
As we made our way south, we really appreciated short drives and frequent stops. One of our best stops was when we randomly had lunch at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. As we were walking down to a beautiful little cove, we saw a grey whale come to the surface. We hurried out onto some rocks and for the next 45 minutes we watched the whale slowly swimming back and forth, frequently coming to the surface. We had our perfect viewing spot all to ourselves.
Our next overnight stop was Sunset Bay State Park. We spent two nights there so we had a lot of time to hike around. Sunset Bay is adjacent to another park called Shore Acres. We were able to walk along the coast to Shore Acres, which was formerly the home of a wealthy Oregonian family. They built their mansion on cliffs overlooking the sea. The mansion has since burned down but you can still tour the gardens. I wasn’t expecting to admire rose gardens and lily ponds on our tour of the coast but it was lovely. We also did some more wildlife viewing. We met a park volunteer who let us use his telescope to see the different seals that were off of the coast but just out of eye sight.
Our last overnight stop in Oregon was Humbug State Park. We hiked up Humbug Mountain and had a random meet up with a guy who used to work for the same tour company as Matt and I. It is a small world.
Oregon was so beautiful that we were a little sad to cross into California. Our last few days on the coast were spent at Redwoods National Park. We camped at 2 different places, Del Norte and Prairie Creek. While we missed the Oregon State Park facilities, we appreciated the evening ranger programs at both campgrounds and we learned more about the local fauna. We didn’t see a lot of wildlife in Redwoods but we did see a huge pile of feces on the trail that we are pretty sure came from a mountain lion. We were excited. Seeing the giant redwoods is also amazing and truly humbling. I would highly recommend it.
After our final goodbyes to the Pacific Ocean, we turned east and drove to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Lassen still had a lot of snow so the road across the park was impassable. Our campground was covered in fallen trees, most of the toilets were closed, and we couldn’t find any running water. It seemed like Lassen had a rough winter. The scenery totally made up for the sad campground though, and a friend met us for a hike from Summit Lake to Echo Lake.
The next day we left California, and ended up at an RV park in Fernley, Nevada. We don’t stay at a lot of RV parks and we immediately noticed how it felt like an RV ghost town. We hardly saw any people because everyone was inside their RV’s. This just reinforced why we love our camper van. It provides us with a comfortable living space but doesn’t completely remove us from the outside environment. We did appreciate the RV park’s spotless laundry and shower facilities and we took full advantage of them.
Route 50 through Nevada is nicknamed the “Loneliest Road in America”. According to Wikipedia, Life Magazine gave the road this nickname in 1986. It was intended to be negative but Nevada officials turned it into a marketing slogan. The marketing worked on us and we decided to drive it. We filled our gas tank, filled every water vessel we had and even bought 2 spray bottles, figuring we could spray each other if we started really craving air conditioning. We loved the scenery and the total lack of traffic. We spent an amazing night at a hot spring on BLM land, just off of Route 50. An old cattle tub was our private soaking pool. We saw jackrabbits, burros, coyotes and antelopes. The sky was constantly changing and we watched storms move across the valley, a rainbow emerge over our van and then the clouds turn colors at sunset.
The next day we visited Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park. After they stopped making charcoal in these ovens, they served as shelter and hiding spots for travelers and stagecoach bandits. We spent the night at Cave Lake State Park where we were joined by a friend. She also is the person we bought Cashew from. She drove her new camper van and it was both a human and van reunion.
The Loneliest Road brought us to our final destination, Great Basin National Park. Great Basin is home to many bristlecone pine trees, the oldest living organisms in the world. They have found bristlecone pines that are over 5000 years old! We also hiked to the only glacier in Nevada, although it is covered with rocks so you can’t see the actual ice. The next day we did a hike to Johnson Lake. We had just the right dose of excitement when we were high above tree line, a thunderstorm was coming and we lost the trail.
Leaving Nevada we had a long, hot drive across Utah and Colorado. We will continue to live in the van for the rest of the summer, but we will not be traveling as much. We will be spending the month of August in southern Colorado, volunteering at a land trust and hot spring.
Have you ever been to the Northwest? What are some of your favorite Northwest places?