Since 1955, drivers on Highway 101 along the Southern Oregon Coast have been able to walk among the dinosarus (23 if I counted correctly) at the Prehistoric Gardens between Gold Beach and Port Orford, Oregon. Being a road-side-attraction-junkie, I thought it important to bring my family there too. I assured Hanane and Sophia that the dinosaurs would not eat them (but at times it felt like I lied) and off we tramped into the rain forest (after buying a pretty reasonably priced ticket for each of us – $32 total for the three of us to get some photo ops with the dinosaurs). We were there in the off season, so we were alone with the dinosaurs – if there had been crowds, the price might have seemed a little high…so be warned.
I love roadside attractions, not least because they are relics of a bygone age…back in 1953 you could buy a piece of land, move your family there, and start building concrete dinosaurs and charging the public admission (or build Disneyland for that matter) – today, that would be impossible unless you had a team of lawyers and a billion dollars – so there won’t be any new roadside attractions like this popping up anytime soon (unless society collapses).
But, back to 1953 – that’s exactly what Ernie Nelson did. He was a mill equipment supplier in Eugene who dabbled in sculpture, but he decided instead to bring dinosaurs to life and create a theme park. Each of the dinosaurs were created by hand and most of them took years..the brachiosaurus (brontosaurus back in the day) is 86 feet long and 46 feet tall!
No trip up (or down) the Oregon Coast is complete without a stop in Tillamook, Oregon. While we haven’t had the opportunity to do all the fun things Tillamook (the town) offers, we stop every time at the Tillamook Cheese Factory – the tour through is fascinating – even if you know how cheese is made – and the sampling is divine. Trying 8-10 types of cheese where it is made, side by side is fun no matter how many times you do it – but the crowds in summer can be a bit overwhelming. In other seasons, you can really take your time as you enjoy the cheese. Even better than the cheese (okay, that might be an overstatement) is the Tillamook Creamery where you can get fresh, delicious ice cream in dozens of flavors – straight from the source. Since the Tillamook Cheese Factory has proved to be such a tourist hit – other foodie centers have sprung up – Blue Heron French Cheese Factory, Debbie D’s Sausage Factory, Werner’s Smoked Meats, Pacific Oyster, and some great farmer’s markets. Tillamook is a great foodie destination which also offers a wide variety of outdoor activities from kayaking to mountain biking to fishing and crabbing.
The Tillamook Air Museum beckons from beside the highway just south of the Cheese Factory. Situated in a massive hangar called Hangar B which was designed to house blimps during World War II. Hard to imagine but blimps patrolled the whole Pacific Coast back then protecting us from Japanese Submarines…the hangar is massive…you could play seven football games at the same time inside it! It houses a large collection of aircraft ranging from early aircraft to fighters, helicopters, and even a blimp. Inside there is a theatre and a little cafe – but my advice is to get your meal somewhere else. The admission price is worth going once, but beyond that, probably only if you are a real aviation nut.
When I brought my family from Morocco in 2013, we were going to settle in the San Francisco Bay Area but I found that no one wanted to hire a guy in his 40s who hadn’t worked at a fortune 500 company unless they wanted to pay far less than it took to live in the Bay Area. We tried to make things work in Sacramento for a few months – but already, the tech plague had caused rents to go up too much there – with resources dwindling, I found the cheapest place on the Oregon Coast and set off to build a business or two. I wrote this shortly after we settled in.
Out of all the places in the world – we’ve chosen to live on the Oregon Coast. This 363 mile (584 km) stretch of mostly undeveloped land on the Pacific Ocean offers long sandy beaches, stunning wild shorelines, and more than a few interesting roadside attractions. What it does not offer – is warm ocean to swim in – which is, perhaps the reason we will eventually leave for warmer climates…but only time will tell.
We live in the ‘undiscovered’ city of Reedsport – a bit of a backwater slightly inland from the shore and so a few degrees warmer, less foggy, and slightly less rainy in the winter. Our town has about 3000 people in it and lies directly between Coos Bay to the south (the largest city on the Oregon Coast with 16,000 residents) and the quaintly hip town of Florence to the north (Florence has book festivals, a great waterfront, and the best indy cinema on the coast). We travel to both cities frequently because Reedsport has only two small grocery stores, a new brewery, and not much else in terms of shopping or entertainment.
The Oregon Coast is broken up into three sections – the North Coast which goes from Astoria to Lincoln City, the Central Coast which goes from Newport to Florence, and the South Coast which goes from Reedsport to the California border. Each section offers unique experience, though, to be honest – there are a few things quite notably lacking such as places you can have a beer and look at the ocean from a deck. Oregon is strange in this way…we are extremely backward when it comes to some simple amenities. I’ve grown used to it but one of the complaints I quite frequently hear from visitors to the Oregon Coast is about how bad our service in restaurants is…you are lucky if someone says hello when you go in and it’s not rare to have to ask for silverware. Every place has it’s idiosyncrasies…
One of the beauties of Oregon law is the Beach Bill of 1967 which grants free beach access to everyone. You may have to pay for parking, but you won’t have to pay for the beach here. Just bring your jacket or wet suit.
We live (like most people on the Oregon Coast) about a minute from Hwy 101 which traverses the entire state from North to South. My sister lives less than a mile from Hwy 101 in the Bay Area.. to get from her house to mine she just turns right on 101 and then drives for 10 hours before turning left onto our street. Along Hwy 101 in Oregon there are over 80 state parks. Along the way there are beaches, lighthouses, the Oregon Dunes, surf breaks, and more than a little wildlife including bears, elk, deer, beavers, birds, salmon, steel head, and more.
The history of the Oregon Coast stretches from indigenous people arriving in pre-history to the arrival of Lewis and Clark in the early 1800s to the only attack on the mainland USA in World War II when a Japanese midget submarine bombed the Oregon shoreline in an unsuccessful attempt at starting huge forest fires. Today there are great roadside attractions like the Dinosaur park in the south, the Tillamook Cheese Factory, and the Sea Lion Caves just north of Florence.
There is a lot to see here…we’ve been exploring for three years now…and we are only getting started.
My Volkswagen Vanagon went into the shop yesterday for some much needed repairs – in celebration of that, I’m going to post this memory of our first camping trip in her from back in October of 2016. My goodness, how far we’ve come since then.
Oregon’s weather is always a danger when you plan a camping trip and if you plan it in October at a state campground on the coast like Sunset Beach State Park- the danger is magnified quite a lot.
Despite hot sunny days the week before, as we came close to our first planned outing in our new Vanagon (which we named Misefrou) the forecast called for rain, rain, and more rain. I’d been stowing gear in the van for two weeks and getting everything ready…I’d bought an Add-a-Room tent from Bus Depot and installed our old school Coleman refrigerator ice box. One block of ice keeps it going fr 4-5 days. It’s a great piece of gear. We had a propane burner and a butane burner – plenty of food and snacks, three heavy pendleton wool blankets, cook gear, folding camp chairs, a little teak table with detachable legs, a nice carpet to sit on in the add-a -room, games, my ukulele, and I made sure to put the girl’s sleeping bags in. We had a lantern and a couple of battery powered lights. I had my solar panel charger for our phones.
To keep things simple, I left Hanane out of the planning and told the girls to each pack a bag with clothes that could be worn in layers, toothbrushes, and a book.
I forgot a couple of things I never used to be without…my swiss army knife (with can opener) was in my other bag – so to open cans I had to resort to grinding the top of the can off on concrete – easier than it sounds and effective, but not ideal or as easy as a can opener. I also forgot to pack my sleeping bag! I didn’t bring my water bottle, which was a mistake because I didn’t hydrate nearly enough, and I didn’t bring a sponge or dishcloth for washing dishes. In addition, it would have been nice to bring a coloring book and crayons for Sophia and to buy firewood before leaving home because the tiny $5 bundles of firewood in the camp tend to burn like shit – green and not at all seasoned properly.
The add a room was awesome – heavy and bulky, not terrible to set up but not more than a 15-20 minute job. If you have the space for it and the time to set it up – it doubles the size of a van. Hanane brought sheets which was nice, but they were that clingy polyester cotton blend, I think they call it cottonelle – not a good fit for a van or camping…or even for a bed in my opinion. I like cotton linen sheets and not much else. Lucky for us, it was not raining on the day we arrived – a little cold, but dry to set up the add a room. It rained at night which was alright, we had a little fire and got an early night’s rest – for about two hours.
Sunset Beach campground does not offer much in the way of privacy between camp sites…in fact, despite the beautiful surroundings, I wouldn’t go back unless it was a group camping experience with friends and family filling an entire section of the camp – we had empty spaces around us when we arrived but the neighbors from hell showed up at about 10pm. I’d put the curtain up in front of the van so the headlights shining in when they backed their tent trailer into their space weren’t that big a deal. The man was yelling at his wife to be louder as she directed him – she said ” I don’t want to wake those people up, they are right there” of course we were already awake so I got to hear Mr. Asshole scream ” I don’t care if I wake them up” – Oh great. They had two couples in the tent trailer and someone sleeping in the car. At 2am the person in the car accidentally set off the car alarm and so we had flashing brights and honking horn in our face for five minutes while he tried to wake the deep sleeper in the tent trailer (Mr. Asshole) to shut off the alarm. Then it happened again. They woke up at 5am to go crabbing and woke us up again.
Day 2 was lovely. We hiked the coastline from Sunset Beach to Shore Acres State Park Botanical Gardens. The coastline was stunning and we had a picnic at Shore Acres. Back to camp and it was starting to drizzle a bit. We bought more wood and tried to have a fire, but the green wood wouldn’t burn hot and we decided to go to bed. The RV campers nearby had their gas generator fired up so they could watch a game and the expensive RV buses on the other side must have been searching for it as we watched their Satellite dish spinning and spinning like it was on the Mars Rover. So, we went to bed hearing bar-room cheers and soothing sound of a gas generator over the noises of nature which presumably might have still been there. The rain on the roof of the van blocked all that out finally.
It rained heavily. Hanane decided she didn’t like the upstairs bed – which is okay. It took me a while in my old bus to adapt to sleeping in a pop top. The rain stopped in the morning after breakfast. We tried to dry off the add-a-room as we packed it, but it will need to be air dried on the next sunny day. It was nice that the rain let up while we packed up. It started again as we drove off.
It was a good test run. We learned a lot and had a lot of fun. Sophia proved herself ready for the ukulele and for learning to play chess. Lessons learned by me:
Bring my Swiss Army Knife
Bring water bottles for the whole family
Cotton sheets or no sheets at all – also bring pillows
Make sure the campground offers privacy between sites
Camping has changed a lot since I was a kid. Campgrounds used to be full of families setting up tents, having fires, doing fun outdoorsy things, playing games, and stuff like that. Campgrounds now are filled with mostly far too expensive mobile homes, trailers, and 5th wheels mostly filled with retirees and seniors and instead of the old school camping activities…it is people sitting in their recliners watching TV in their home on wheels. I, personally, think that sucks but like the election of 2016 – there isn’t anything we can do about it.