If we thought April was busy, May was even more so and looking ahead at what we have planned over the next couple of months, we’ll be doing a lot of traveling and sightseeing – this retirement stuff can be tiring! But we have no regrets and are loving every minute of this lifestyle.
We spent some time with Lucille's cousin Gene's wife, Susan (Gene was away on business) on a beautiful afternoon, joining her at Tara Firma Farms in Petaluma. Owned and operated by Tara and Craig Smith, this eco-friendly farm offers guided tours on weekends and invites guests to stroll around the farm whenever they want. Just two years ago Tara and Craig were successful insurance agents (Craig still is in the industry although when he has time to do so is a mystery.) Their goal on their website: “Working in harmony with land and animals, we offer our community real food that balances the needs of our environment with the needs of our nutrition.” To achieve this, they have researched the types of feed and other nutrients necessary for their cows, pigs, and chickens as well as what they use to grow their produce so that the end products are healthy. You can also sign up to receive regular deliveries of their products, based on your individual needs, ordering online and delivered right to your door. Craig said they hope to have enough produce and meat to feed 500 families a month - when we were there, they had bypassed the halfway point.
We learned the difference between farm-raised and pasture-raised – in some farms, livestock and poultry feed and forage in one particular area most of their lives. At Tara, the animals are rotated among fields, moving into areas that have been planted with especially tasty and nutritious greens or whatever the animal requires. When that pasture has been grazed out, they are then moved to another so they have a fresh supply of healthy food.
You are invited to get up close and personal with several of their animals and critters there, including holding the baby chicks (no squeezing though.) Speaking of baby chicks, they get in a fresh batch every three weeks. The local post office will call to let them know their order has arrived but Craig said he can tell it’s the post office calling because the chicks are all peeping in the background.
The tour ends in a building that houses coolers with beef and chicken as well as eggs and produce, all available for sale. Craig and Tara make sure that each family leaves with one of their products as a give-a-way. The day we were there, we got a dozen pasture-raised eggs – you can’t get much fresher than that.
A trip to the San Francisco area is not complete without a visit to Alcatraz Island. Ferry reservations are recommended. Even though it was a weekday when we went, crowds were lined up most of the day waiting to take the ferry. After a short ride across the bay, we arrived at the island. The first stop is a brief orientation on what we can see and do there, where facilities were located, and other items of interest. Most everything you visit is up a steep hill so be prepared to do some walking. There is a tram available on the dock to help those with mobility issues. Part of the island was closed off to the public because this is also a nesting area for several types of sea birds and they were actively increasing their numbers. The only young’un we saw was a Canada goose Mom and her chick.
Interesting to note about Alcatraz: This rugged rock was inhabited by sea birds and when first discovered by a Spanish explorer, he named it “Isla de los Alcatraces” (Island of the Pelicans.) Over the years, the name became anglicized to Alcatraz.
Gold was discovered along the American River. To protect its resources from other countries, in 1850 President Millard Fillmore declared it a military installation with troops permanently stationed there by 1859 defending the bay. During the Civil War in 1861, it helped to defend the Union state of California from the Confederate army.
Originally planned as a defense site, it because a good prison location because of its isolation. By 1861, it was declared the official prison for the Department of the Pacific. Fast forward to 1934 when it became a federal prison, housing as many as 310 prisoners at one time but it was never filled to capacity.
There were four cellblocks. “A” Block was never used during its federal penitentiary years. “B and C” Blocks were general population while “D” Block was known as the isolation block. Ninety officers covered three 8-hour shifts, with many of them living on the island with their families. It was interesting to read about life amongst the families there, how the children would play outside the block walls – life went on outside those walls. An audio tour, included in the price of admission, is available when touring the cellblocks – very informative.
Thirty-six prisoners attempted to escape during the years it was open as a federal penitentiary. Out of those thirty-six, all about five were recaptured or otherwise accounted for. Three who were unaccounted for participated in the same breakout and were the basis for the movie Escape from Alcatraz starring Clint Eastwood.
Because of deteriorating buildings and high operating costs, the prison closed in 1963 and there are no plans to open it again. Its equivalent is now located in Florence, Colorado.
Time to leave the Petaluma area with our next destination Redwood Acres Fairgrounds RV park in Eureka. This is a basic RV park convenient to town and located within the fairgrounds complex. The fairgrounds is a very popular multi-use area – during our stay we saw folks using the buildings for crafts, roller derby, quilting, reunions, a church, outdoor facilities for BMX racing and dog training, an area for horse stables, and a track for stock car racing – there seemed to be something going on most of the time.
While in the area, we visited Humboldt Bay Maritimes Museum – a very small museum with a collection of many things maritime-related. Unfortunately, the volunteer staffing the museum knew very little about what was there and couldn’t answer our questions. Sequoia Park Zoo is also small but nicely laid out. The day we visited, admission was 50% off – good deal! Our favorite stop there was watching the white-handed gibbons frolic around their cage, hooting at each other as they swung from the vines.
The Blue Ox Millworks was quite the interesting stop. Part woodworking shop and part school, we kicked off our visit listening to Viviana Hollenbeck, wife of Eric who founded Blue Ox nearly forty years ago. She demonstrated several of the foot-powered machines used to cut, shape and sand wood. Blue Ox is known for its Victorian millwork and replicating damaged patterns, matching them to the originals. When we mentioned the ‘cottages’ we toured on Jekyll Island, she said they’d done work for one of the restored buildings there.
Blue Ox also provides alternative education for high-school students, teaching them blacksmithing, ceramics, printing, and woodworking. We went on a self-guided tour of the main building which included several old pieces of equipment. Eric was quite the inventor – if he was trying to match a design, he’d create a machine to make it easier. The saw mill was quite interesting, as were the smaller blacksmith and machine shops.
Fort Humboldt State Historic Park was also an interesting stop, with displays throughout the grounds on the early logging industry. Some of what we learned there: On display is the largest steam donkey built (a machine invented by John Dolbeer used to haul cut redwood logs out of the forest. Up until that time, mules could handle logs but the giant redwoods posed a whole new set of problems.) Workers made less than $40-70/month which is comparable to $880-1500 today. Pole railroads used concave wheels to fit log poles. Railroad ties were made from redwood. The first grape stakes were from old growth redwood. In 1852 Capt. James Ryan beached his steamboat after it was nearly destroyed entering the bay. A saw mill was built around the ship using the steam engine for power. Lumberjacks prized their axe above all else, taking it to church, using it to shave stubble from their face.
We learned the meaning to words and phrases used by the lumber industry. A timberbeast is a lumberjack; tin pants are waterproof trousers because they were stiff in the morning; zooglers are animal handlers (horses and mules); a misery whip is a crosscut saw (using it was physically demanding, thus the misery); fly bread is raisin bread (self-explanatory – ugh!) Folks came to Humboldt in search of gold but instead found their ‘gold’ in redwoods.
A short distance up Hwy 101 is the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, a one-mile loop winding through an old-growth redwood forest – a perfect day for an easy hike amongst giants which dwarfed the many trilliums in bloom. Not far from there is the Newton B. Drury Scenic Drive, a very scenic 10-mile alternative to US Hwy 101, passing through the heart of the redwood forest. After a quick stop at the Prairie Creek Visitor Center, we continued driving, spotting a herd of Roosevelt elk. We took a short hike around the Circle Trail and gawked at the Big Tree. Another nice hike we did was Trillium Falls. By the way, the Drury Scenic Drive is an RV-friendly drive which we found preferable to that section of US Hwy 101 which parallels it - quite a hill to negotiate on Hwy 101 compared to the levelness of the scenic drive.
Next stop was Smith River, just on the California/Oregon state line. Friends Sam and JoAnn invited us to park on their property which overlooks the Pacific Ocean – what a beautiful setting. We’d met them at our first Habitat build in Alpena, Michigan in 2004, saw them again when we were all in Alaska at the same time in 2005 - we had several years’ worth of happenings to catch up on.
They are so close to the Oregon state line, we walked to the Oregon visitor center that afternoon, then walked back along the beach. On our second day there, they took us on a tour of the area, visiting several of their friends’ huge properties (part of one was declared a wildlife sanctuary – lots of wading birds spotted), went north on US Hwy 101 stopping at various scenic overlooks, including Arch Rock where we’d overnighted back in 2005. After picking up lunch at Subway, we enjoyed it at Harris Beach State Park, finding a picnic table overlooking the ocean – it would be hard to find a restaurant with such great ambience. On the way home, we stopped at Azalea Park in Brookings and saw the Capella by the Sea Chapel, done by E. Fay Jones, the same architect who designed the Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, as a tribute to Lorraine Williams. Her husband Elmo Williams commissioned the work to be done in honor of Lorraine, who had passed away after 62 years of marriage.
After thanking our gracious hosts for a wonderful stay there, we headed up the coast to Seal Rock, staying for several nights at the Seal Rocks RV Cove. Most of the sites have a view of the scenic Pacific coast. We felt lucky – even though ours wasn’t listed as an ocean view, we had a spectacular view of the coast from our front windshield.
We packed in a lot of sightseeing the few short days we were at Seal Rock. There are two lighthouses in nearby Newport – Yaquina Bay and Yaquina Head Light Station.
Yaquina Bay’s lighthouse was the first in the area but was only operational from 1871 through 1874. Once the Yaquina Head Light Station opened up, the Bay’s lighthouse was put out of business. We learned that 100 gallons of oil, stored in a butt (nautical term for barrel) lasted about a month – they used about five canisters of oil per night to keep the light lit.
Yaquina Head’s light station was activated in 1873 and automated in 1966, eliminating the need for station attendants. It must have been interesting to have lived on these nineteen acres, with not only maintaining the light station but tending gardens and livestock.
Also at Yaquina Head are several trails and other neat places to visit. Cobble Beach is accessed by a whole bunch of steps – not bad going down but a good workout coming back up. Walking on the cobble stones is a challenge but the reward is getting out to the tide pools during low tide to search for marine life clinging to the rocks or floating in the pools.
Quarry Cove had artificial tide pools created when rock was quarried from this area for the lighthouse. Nature has since taken it over, with the ocean currents filling in the tide pools with sand.
We walked along the historic Newport waterfront where fresh seafood can be purchased. At the dock we spotted several male sea lions – the females stay out to sea all year and the males go out between June and August to mate, then they come back to the shore or beach. Males can weigh up to 1,000# and females 250#. You can hear them barking from blocks away.
A stop in the Newport area is only complete after enjoying a cup of clam chowder at Mo’s for some of their world famous clam chowder – excellent!
Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Visitor Center is located in Newport. This part-aquarium and part-laboratory isn’t visited as often as the nearby Newport Aquarium but is nevertheless still informative and entertaining. We snagged a peek at their elusive octopus, did a little exploring in the touch-tank, and checked out the several exhibits.
On a scenic drive going north up the coast, we stopped at Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area. This huge punchbowl was most likely formed by two sea caves collapsing and waves relentlessly carving out the area – really cool to see during high tide and had we been there during low tide, worth a walk down to look up into it. A quick stop at the Boiler Bay Scenic Viewpoint to see more of the picturesque Oregon coast. And our favorite – Depoe Bay, with the world’s smallest harbor, measuring a mere 30 feet wide – that’s right, just 30 feet. It was amazing to see boats navigating in and out of this harbor with the immense waves at the mouth. We watched several boats coming and going – rock and roll and not for the faint of stomach!
Also in Depoe Bay are the spout horns – waves crashing against the rocks find their way into holes worn away by time with water rushing out and upwards, similar to a spouting whale. We lucked out and were there when the tide was just right. Not only did we get to see the spouting horns several times, we got sprayed in the process – what a hoot! We worked up an appetite doing this and walked across the street to Fuddy Duddy Fudge for some great ice cream and fudge for later.
Oregon has state parks all along the coast – a quick stop was the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay, which has a viewing platform for whale sightings (none while we were there) and several displays about the whales seen along the coastline.
Time to head up to Fort Stevens State Park in Hammond where Karen and Galen arranged for us to get a two-week workamping hosting job. But first a stop at Tillamook Cheese in Tillamook – we enjoyed the ice cream samples given out at the entrance, then took the tour again – always fascinating to see how the cheese is packaged for shipment. Several varieties of their cheese are available to sample as you enter the gift shop. After we had a quick lunch in the motor home, we went back for dessert, this time a full-sized scoop of their ice cream.
Karen and Galen met us at the ranger station and led us to our site where we got quickly set up, then hopped in their truck to have dinner in Astoria at the Wet Dog Café. There we met Bill and Margaret, another fulltime RVing couple who are joining us on the cruise and also staying at Fort Stevens.
On Day Two, we met Barbara, the volunteer coordinator, who welcomed us to the area and gave us the required documents to complete as well as our volunteer vests. Our primary job during our stay would be litter patrol of four of the campground loops and whatever common areas we had time for and check to make sure the restrooms were stocked with adequate supplies. (We won’t bore you with details on any of this but we are wondering about something. After cleaning trash out of the fire pits for almost two weeks, it boggles our minds why some folks throw dirty diapers or bags of dog poo in the fire pit for the next camper to find.) We certainly got in exercise walking the loops and the common areas and got to visit with some of the campers during our strolls.
A little bit about Fort Stevens – This 4,200-acre park may be the largest in the Oregon state park system. In addition to over 500 campsites, yurts and cabins for rent, there are miles of hiking and biking trails, wildlife platforms, lakes for fishing, beach access to both the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean, the historic fort and the wreck of the Peter Iredale (more on this later.) We could have spent our two weeks there just exploring corner to corner and not seen it all.
Named for Territorial Governor General Isaac Ingalls Stevens, the former military reservation guarded the mouth of the Columbia River from the Civil War through World War II. It typically takes about two hours for the self-guided walking tour. On the tour, you’ll see several concrete gun batteries, a steam plant, various guns and cannons, a mine casemate and mine commander’s station, and the sites of the former chapel, hospital, barracks and other buildings. Volunteers conduct tours of one of the batteries as well as a narrated tour in a WWII-era 2.5 ton military truck as it makes its way around the grounds. Fort Stevens is well worth a stop but if you stay at the campground, make your reservations early – the park fills up quickly and stays that way the entire season.
As part of our volunteer hosting, we spent several hours manning a table at the Mine Casement one afternoon during the Memorial Day weekend celebration. To encourage folks to visit several areas of the historic fort, a map was handed out when you paid your admission. You then proceeded to find the different stations on the map and got a stamp for each one. After you had so many stamps completed, you turned that in to the gift shop for a prize. During World War I, mines were placed in the Columbia River, attached to a command station by wire. At the casement, someone would be in the tower calling the coordinates if they spotted an enemy vessel in the area and whatever mine was near that vessel would then be detonated. No vessels ever came close so no mines were ever detonated and all mines have since been removed.
The water surrounding the Hammond/Astoria area is known as the Graveyard of the Pacific. The Pacific Ocean and Columbia River meet at the Columbia River Bar, a navigational nightmare. Since 1792, approximately 2,000 ships have sunk in this area, including the Peter Iredale in 1906. The British sailing ship was en route to the Columbia River when it spotted the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, just south of the river’s entrance. Combine the dense fog, not yet daylight and the dangerous bar –these events led to the ship running aground on the sand bar but no lives were lost. The rusted hulk is quite eerie-looking rising out of the beach.
The Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria is an excellent place to learn more about the Columbia River Bar and how it is navigated, as well as learn more about the types of sailing ships in the area, the huge salmon-processing industry when commercial salmon fishing was still present there, and a tour of a former lightship (lightships were used in place of lighthouses when having a lighthouse wasn’t feasible.) Be sure to watch the video about Columbia River Bar pilots and how they risk their lives to board and disembark from commercial ships before they navigate the bar – you need not only your wits but agility and good reflexes (and good insurance!)
While in Astoria, enjoy fish and chips at the Bowpicker – all they serve is lightly-breaded albacore tuna, fries and drinks. We weren’t sure if we’d like tuna fried and breaded but it is really very good. They are located across the street from the Maritime museum.
Nearby is the Flavel House Museum – located on the steepest street in Astoria (steps are built into the sidewalk to make it easier to walk up or down the hill.) Captain George Flavel was one of Astoria’s most influential citizens in the late 1800s. Captain Flavel was a noted bar pilot on the Columbia River and a prominent businessman who had this house built as his retirement home. Tickets are purchased as the Carriage House (built for the family in 1887 for their carriages, sleigh and buggies,) then you proceed to the 11,600 square foot home, consisting of two and a half stories. Guides are available to answer any questions as you view the rooms on two floors. The woodwork is spectacular and resembles exotic hardwoods such as mahogany and burl rosewood but is actually faux wood grained Douglas fir done by a master craftsman.
The absolute best deal for visitors is the Astoria Riverfront Trolley, a restored 1913 trolley car that travels a 2.6 mile route along the riverfront – a narrated tour for a mere $1 a person – wotta deal! Our conductor pointed out several points of interest, including the ‘herd’ of California sea lions lounging around some of the docks.
Another fun thing to do is stroll through the Astoria Sunday Market that runs from May through October. There are at least 100 vendors selling fresh produce, flowers, crafts, spices, popcorn, freshly baked goods and so much more. There is even a food court with entertainment – different musical groups play each week.
Look up in the hills to see the landmark Astoria Column, rising up 125 feet. What makes this column unusual is that artwork circles the column, noting milestones in history, mainly between 1792 and 1818 – pivotal areas in Astoria’s history. Dedicated in 1926 at a cost of $27,133, it was restored in 1995 for one million dollars and the staircase replaced in 2008 at a cost of $600,000. 164 steps will get you to the top and a 360 degree view of the area. For those keeping their feet on the ground, the view around the plaza at the column’s base is also quite impressive.
Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery have quite a presence here. The expedition’s purpose was to establish the most direct route to the Pacific Ocean by rivers, starting off at the Missouri River’s source. They would make scientific and geographic observations along the way, and also learn about the Indian tribes they encountered. Six hundred miles and three and a half years later, they found themselves on the Columbia River at last. Fort Clatsop is a replica of the expedition’s winter encampment from December 1805 to March 1806. The visitor center has an orientation film and exhibits and a short trail leads to the replica. There are living history and ranger-led programs but we visited late one afternoon and were on our own.
Cape Disappointment State Park on the Washington side of the Columbia River has a Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center but the day we visited, we stopped and saw the two lighthouses – the Cape Disappointment and the North Head. There’s a bit of a hike to visit the Cape Disappointment lighthouse but the view was worth the hike, including that of Deadmen’s Cove that we passed on our hike.
Restaurants we recommend around Fort Stevens: South Jetty Inn Restaurant in Hammond has the best crab cakes west of the Mississippi. They sell out quickly so we called in advance on our return trip to make sure they had some. This is where we had our celebratory 40th anniversary dinner – great choice!
Stephanie’s Cabin Family Restaurant in Astoria –not only do they not charge extra if you split a meal, but they’ll even divvy up the cost between the parties. Great food and service.
Serependity Café in Warrenton used to be a bank – in fact, the vault is still there. They are open for breakfast and lunch. We enjoyed breakfast there one morning along with Karen, Galen and new friends Mike and Sylvia, who also were hosting at Fort Stevens but were on their way home to Alberta.
And so ends another busy month. Coming up we spend a few days in the Columbia River Gorge area, visit Mt. St. Helens, spend some time on the Olympic Peninsula before heading over to Bothell, north of Seattle, where we will store the motor home while we are on our cruise up the Inside Passage of Alaska.