The Columbia River from Reeder Beach on Sauvie Island

The Columbia River from Reeder Beach on Sauvie Island
The Columbia River from Reeder Beach on Sauvie Island

Sunday, March 19, 2023

03-08-2023 The Last Leg and More Adjustments


Morning at Bayport RV Park

When the morning arrived for our departure from Bayport RV Park on Scappoose Bay in Warren, Oregon, the skies were threatening, but there was no snow predicted for the route we chose.

Cornelius Pass is a decent route that passes by the main urban area of Portland to the west, crossing a low mountain as it approaches Highway 26 and continues south toward the upper portion of the Willamette Valley where we planned to spend two days in Dayton.

Google suggested route from Bayport to Dayton

I checked the webcams, read the Facebook Group for Cornelius Pass, and declared that we could take that route and avoid returning south via Highway 30 and Interstate 5. Even though Mo was driving, the roads required navigating to the extent that I didn't have the opportunity to open the phone camera for photos. So I have no record of this trip.

The density of housing in parts of Aloha is surprising

We crossed Highway 26, the main route to the coast from the city. We were aghast at the wall-to-wall row houses and apartments that seemed to extend for miles around Hillsboro and Aloha on the western perimeter of the city of Portland.

Google is notorious for sometimes routing over impassable roads, and when I saw an extremely curvy road on the projected route I said, "No No! Keep going straight, that road is too curvy". The alternate route I chose seemed to be a bit less curvy and hopefully, we could navigate a way to Dayton that would be a bit less challenging. All was well until we saw a sign for an 18 percent grade ahead. Eighteen Percent??!! I think the steepest sign we have ever seen was 16 percent on the road into Calistoga in California.

We kept on going, and climbed a narrow road into some steep hills (which felt like mountains) to an elevation of 2,000 feet or so, with fairly deep snow on either side of the road. In one short section, within a distance of no more than 2 miles, we saw 4 newish SUV-type vehicles smashed into trees and telephone poles, some appeared to be climbing the poles. So much for avoiding the curvy roads. And no, I don't have a single photo of this experience. Somehow I had no clue that the Willamette VALLEY had steep curvy snowy mountains here and there on the perimeter.

Looking south toward Dayton from the hills

We breathed a sigh of relief as we entered the actual valley toward the community of Dayton and our reservations at the Dayton RV Park. Searching Google again for the actual address of the park, I was redirected to several other RV parks, but no Dayton RV Park. I dug out the reservation papers, which also had no address for the park, then went to the park website and discovered that there was no address listed there either. Finally in the small print somewhere I found the phone number of the RV park and called.

A sweet lady answered the phone and gladly offered the address, yada yada yada...Dayton, Nevada. NEVADA?

It seems we somehow made a reservation in Dayton, Nevada instead of Dayton, Oregon. I would expect that an RVr who has traveled for any length of time has had a similar experience. Now what?

I started calling around, and after a few parks with no openings, found one for 80 bucks a night, with this caveat, "Oh, by the way, we have some construction going on but the framers don't get loud until after 9am.". Thanks anyway, but no thanks. This kind lady pointed me to the nearby state park suggesting they might have an opening on a rainy, out of season, Monday night.

We found Champoeg (pronounced Shampooey) State Park on the map and headed east, hoping for an opening, or at least a spot in a handicap site. That little blue card has saved us more than once in full parks at the last minute.

Arriving at Champoeg, we saw the dreaded "Campground Full" sign, but continued in, hoping for a cancellation or an ADA site. Found a ranger who checked and then sadly confirmed that there was no available space anywhere in the park for us, but said we could stay awhile until we could search for an alternative.

Mo and I settled in for lunch, and about 20 minutes later the ranger returned, saying her boss ranger had found us a site and had to wait a few minutes to be sure that the cancellation was real. Sure enough, it was, and we were directed to a full hookup site 34 in the B Loop, with the added benefit of that site being open for us for the two nights we hoped to stay.  

Site 34 B in Champoeg State Park

Champoeg State Park was a perfect location for a home base as we visited the area around Dayton.  During her research, Mo learned that the Dayton area was well known for a large number of excellent wineries.  We thought it might be fun to sample the famous Pinot Noir grapes of this part of the Willamette Valley much as we dove into sampling the Old Vine Zinfandels in Lodi, California.   

Mo also discovered a well-known four-star restaurant located in Dayton that we thought might be a fitting end to her birthday trip.  As we settled in for the rest of the afternoon, I took advantage of the very slow internet signal on the phone to research a few wineries and the famous Joel Palmer House restaurant.  There were so many wineries to choose from but most of them required a reservation or wouldn't be open when we were planning to visit.  We settled on a plan to visit the Stoller Family Estate, open for tastings on Tuesdays without a reservation.

We then checked for possible reservations at the Joel Palmer House and when we saw that dinner there was fixed at $375 per person, decided we didn't need to visit this 4-star restaurant, no matter how good it was.

Bike Trail adjacent to Champoeg State Park and the Willamette River

We spent some of the rest of the afternoon enjoying a walk along the beautiful bike trail adjacent to the Willamette River which borders the park.  With the cloudy chill outside it was nice to return to the MoHo for the evening.  It had been a crazy kind of day that ended quite well.

loop A still closed for the season

The next morning dawned beautifully, with sunshine and puffy white clouds in the sky.  We took Mattie for another long walk through the park and along the river.  The bike trail continues for a few miles in either direction, with the destination toward the east about two miles being Butteville General Store

We decided that it would be best to leave Mattie settled in at home while we drove to explore the surrounding area before traveling to the winery.  

Lots of informative signs around the park

Champoeg State Park is beautiful, but I was most impressed with the Visitor Center.  Meandering through the stunning exhibits taught us about the history of the town of Champoeg, completely flooded and destroyed in 1861, rebuilt and flooded again in the late 1800s.  

Inside the beautiful visitor center at Champoeg State Park

The exhibits taught not only the history of the area, but also the history of Oregon statehood, and the people who supported it and who were against it. I learned much that I didn't know about Oregon as we walked through the center.

Surprised at how little I knew of Oregon state hisotry

In addition to human history, there was much on the natural history of the area, including the plants, the geology, and the animals that make the park their home.  

There were sound recordings that accompanied this map

Native American history was covered as well, with an especially interesting map of the various dialects of languages that were used throughout Oregon.  So much to learn.  I think we spent at least an hour exploring the Visitor Center.  There is a museum nearby that has more exhibits about the pioneer history of the area, but it wasn't open yet for the season.

Save this for a warmer day and the famous ice cream

After visiting the center, we drove a couple of miles east to check out the Butteville Country Store.  We originally thought maybe ice cream was in order, but it was early in the day and it was chilly so we weren't tempted. I took a photo of the store from the outside, thinking maybe a hot summer day would make it more inviting.

Family owned since 1943 and a vineyard since 1993

Continuing toward Dayton, we found the Stoller Estate Winery on beautiful hills overlooking the valley.  The tasting room was gorgeous, and the proprietor was informative and welcoming.  There were only a few people who came and went while we were there, so it was uncrowded.

Beautiful view from the tasting room at Stoller Vineyard

We chose a wine flight for me, a glass of red blend for Mo, and a lovely sandwich for two.  The sandwich was delightful, with ham and turkey, arugula lettuce, gouda cheese, and a yummy aioli on perfectly baked bread. 

Best known for the Pinot Noir Rosé

The wines ranged from some lighter rosé to some lovely Pinot Noir wines.  The rosé made from their pinot grapes was the driest rosé I have ever tried, but delicious.  We settled on a bottle of Pinot to take home, deciding that we needed something to commemorate our visit.

Lovely farm adjacent to the vineyard

The vineyard was beautiful, with spectacular views in all directions, and made for some lovely photo opportunities with the huge puffy clouds that signaled rain to come.

Historic Joel Palmer House restaurant

On the way home, we stopped for an outside visit to the famous restaurant in Dayton.  I walked up to the imposing door, and the people inside were gracious and let me look inside.  What kind of restaurant is really worth $375 a plate?  It was beautiful and historic, and the chef was really kinda cute. 

Chef/Owner: Christopher Czarnecki

I doubt if we would ever return to eat there, especially since they are famous for using all kinds of locally sourced mushrooms in the dishes.  Mo isn't a fan of mushrooms.

Heavy rain accompanied our late afternoon return to the MoHo, and we were treated to a few rainbows as well.  Mattie was happy to see us, and Mo braved the rain to take her for another walk.

rain and rainbows on the way back to the MoHo

We planned to return home on Wednesday morning, via Interstate 5 to Grants Pass.  I checked weather cams, weather apps, road cams, and everything I could to attempt to find a window of opportunity to get from this part of the state to our home a couple of hundred miles south in Southern Oregon.  I saw that snow was predicted for our campsite, and before going to bed we put in the slide to avoid any possible snow accumulation on the slide cover.

Snow at Champoeg SP on March 8

Sure enough, when we woke on Wednesday, it was snowing, with a bit of accumulation on the grass, but the roads were merely wet.  I checked the weather and road conditions again, and we had a short travel window opening up on Interstate 5 between Roseburg and Grants Pass during the early afternoon.  

Timing our departure in a way that would allow for a stopover at daughter Melody's home in Brownsville near the interstate, we left by 10 AM.  On days like this one, we are exceptionally glad that we have an RV sewer dump at home.  There was no need to get out in the snow and use the sewer connection we had at our site. 

The trip home was surprisingly uneventful.  Mattie adores Melody, and as usual, as we approached Melody's home, she started yipping and singing and wiggling ecstatically.  Our visit was short but sweet, and I loved seeing some of the home projects that Melody and Robert have been doing with their 110-year-old house.

By the time we reached the four highest passes between Roseburg and Grants Pass, the road was clear, with no ice, no snow, and no rain.  We pulled into the driveway at 4:30 PM with a sigh of relief. Home looked great, and the house was warm and welcoming thanks to the ability to program the heater for the end of vacation mode earlier in the day.

Sue and Mo happy walking the trail on the last day of the trip

Despite the challenges, the weather, and the shifting plans, Mo's birthday trip turned out to be a complete success.  

Monday, March 6, 2023

03-03-2023 Visiting Columbia City and St Helens Oregon

This amazing kayak entry system was at the Scappoose Bay Marina. 

When Mo planned our trip, she originally set us up with three days at Reeder Beach on Sauvie Island, 2 days at Bayport RV Park in Warren, 2 days at Anderson RV Park in Vernonia, Oregon, with two final days at the Dayton RV Park in Dayton, Oregon. 

We loved our time at Reeder Beach, although if you read the previous post, you saw that we were only there for one night.  On Thursday we stayed at Reeder Beach until the last possible minute for checking out since our next park was less than 24 miles away and we were not supposed to check in until 1PM. 

The day was pleasant enough, with clouds and rain, but no snow and no real wind to speak of.  The Bayport RV Park is located at the Scappoose Bay Marina on Scappoose Bay in Warren, Oregon.  The park is clean and pleasant, with electric and water at some sites, and an excellent dump that we decided was worth every penny of the $15.00 fee.  The fee was more reasonable at $30 per night than many we have visited lately.  Did I mention that our previous site at Reeder Beach was $50 per night?

Site 11 at Bayport RV Park

A web image of Bayport RV Park with our site circled in red

We settled in for the afternoon and decided that an afternoon trip to our next reserved RV park might be a good idea.  We had read about the little mountain town of Vernonia previously on Nickie’s blog.  Anderson Park, owned by the city, sounded lovely and I made a reservation for two nights. 

There are several ways to approach Vernonia.  From the south, the road north from Highway 26 between Portland and the Oregon coast is narrow and winding, but not very long.  From the north, the route we originally planned, Highway 47 looked winding and long.  From our location, near Scappoose, the Scappose-Vernonia Road looked winding and narrow but it was only 20 miles or so to reach Highway 47 just north of Vernonia.

Traveling in the Tracker, we had no problem with snow or narrow roads, but even so, the curves and drop-offs with no shoulder weren’t fun in the passenger seat.  The more we drove, the deeper we saw the snow on the side of the road, the more we decided that, nope, this wasn’t a route we would be comfortable driving in the MoHo.

Once we reached the Vernonia and found Anderson RV Park, we were less than thrilled with our reservation.  Unlike Nickie’s experience, the park was jam-packed with big rigs, big dually pickups, and what looked to be permanent residents.  Our reserved site 11 was very tight and hemmed in on both sides by 40-foot fifth-wheel rigs.  It wasn’t a place where we would want to sit outside much.  With the predicted snow, we realized that our two days in Vernonia would be spent in the MoHo.  We explored the town a bit and noticed several cute coffee shops and the murals that Nickie photographed, but with the cold weather walking the town wasn’t at all inviting.

Highway 47 north of Vernonia on a stormy afternoon

We decided to return home on the northern route via Highway 47, thinking that might be a little bit less stressful. Within minutes a storm blew through, with hail, rain, and high winds.  Trees were bending and breaking, and I said, “Gee, I hope a tree doesn’t fall on us.” The words were barely out of my mouth when we were stopped by a tree in the road, and a Direct TV guy working to remove it.  We thanked him and continued north through the forest.

Highway 47 from Vernonia is a bit less narrow than the Vernonia-Scappoose Highway but no less curvy.  It also climbs over a high ridge at more than 1500 feet.  The prediction for snow was anything above 500 feet in elevation. 

By the time we reached Clatskanie and the Columbia River, the sun was slanting through the rain, creating a magnificent rainbow.  After a day trip that was daunting even in the Tracker, we decided that we needed to cancel our reservations in Vernonia.

I called the park the next morning, and the friendly person who answered the phone was delightful.  She totally understood our unwillingness to travel any of the roads to Vernonia in the snow and refunded both nights, even though we were technically outside the 48-hour window for a full refund of our reservation.

Apologetically fuzzy photo of swans nearby on Scappoose Bay showing how close the snow was to us at Bayport RV Park

Whew.  Now.  What to do about the next two days?  Looking around at our pleasant RV Park, we decided that the best bet was to simply stay put right where we were if possible.  The Marina office wasn’t open, and we rarely saw any kind of park employees around but I finally did get through on the phone to speak with someone.  She was also delightful, checking to see if our site was open for two more days and telling us we could go online to the website and add the additional days without paying any extra fees.

With all the decisions handled, we finally relaxed a bit mentally, and then headed out in the Tracker to explore Columbia City and St Helens. It was a short three-mile trip traveling the two-lane Old Portland Road between Warren and St Helens.

These two small towns are located along Highway 30 which parallels the Columbia River north from Portland to Astoria.  Mo was born in North Dakota but by the time she was a year old, her family moved to St Helens to be near Mo’s maternal grandparents.

Houses in St Helens built by Mo’s grandfather

We meandered around a bit and eventually found the houses that Mo’s grandfather built. The blue house was built first and the gray one at a later date.

This house on 17th Street where Mo and her family lived, was located just behind the above two houses her grandfather built.

Sentinal Mist Building in St Helens

Mo had me photograph the old Sentinal Mist newspaper building where she worked during high school. The Sentinal Mist was also a printing establishment where Mo’s boss, Don Bemis, was the manager. Don’s wife, Sybil, was the manager in the front office.  Mo worked for both of these people while attending high school in St Helens.

When the Sentinal Mist was sold, Don Bemis established the Bemis Printing business in downtown St Helens and operated it until his death. Seeing the Bemis name on this building brought back fond memories for Mo.

Beautiful Columbia County Courthouse in St Helens

We then parked near the city square where we learned that the town of St Helens is also known as HalloweenTown.  We also discovered that there is a large annual celebration in the town during the Halloween season. 

There are pumpkins everywhere, and even a pumpkin-themed totem pole currently residing in the waterfront park.  The pole is moved to the town square during the Halloween celebration.

The quirkiest thing we found was a vending machine selling St Helens Halloween memorabilia in front of a closed gift shop. Many of the gift shops in town were closed during the off-season, but there were a few interesting coffee establishments and some open restaurants.

Waterfront Park along the Columbia River and the Lewis and Clark Trail

We found a Thai restaurant, and after checking out the reviews decided that we would return to St Helens that evening for an early dinner.

Historic buildings along Strand Street near the waterfront

The theater on First Street where Mo saw her first movie, “So Dear to My Heart”

We still had much to explore, however, and after meandering around St Helens a bit we got back in the car to drive north toward Columbia City, where Mo’s family moved before she was three. 

Historic L Street Bridge in Columbia City

Imagine sledding down this road on a snowy day in the 50s

Our first site after we drove into town was the beautiful stone bridge on L Street.  This bridge is special to Mo.  She and her siblings would sled from the bridge down L Street on snowy days. The city closed L street sometimes so kids could sled safely.

Mo’s childhood home today

Mo’s family home in the ’50s

Just a block from the L Street Bridge, located at 4th and M Street, is the Columbia City house where Mo lived until she graduated from Oregon State University in 1962.

One of Mo’s old photos of a ship on the Columbia River

The home overlooked the Columbia River and Mo often speaks of the huge ships that navigated the river all the way to Portland.  Empty ships made a thumping noise that rattled the front room windows of the house. Her stories of growing up in Columbia City and playing with her younger brothers on the river are wonderful.  When the family gets together there is a lot of laughter when these stories come up about river adventures.

Columbia City has several small and charming parks along the river.

We enjoyed meandering both towns and talking about Mo’s life when she lived there.  We went back to the RV park for an afternoon rest before returning later to St Helens and the Lotus of Bangkok restaurant for supper.  The service was excellent and the food was delicious.

We sat by a window and before long an older couple sat down at a table beside us.  The gentleman has lived in the St Helens area since he was sixteen, and he and Mo shared some stories.  It was interesting to listen to his description of how the towns have changed over the years. 

Paved paths at the Scappoose Marina wetland area

When we extended our stay at Bayport RV Park, we decided that a rainy Saturday was a perfect day to relax in the MoHo.  I wrote and processed photos, Mo read, and we went for a couple of walks on the paths that are adjacent to the marina.

My camera couldn’t capture the immensity of this old white oak

The ancient Oregon white oaks, Quercus garryana, are huge, with their canopies spreading wide in open areas of the landscape. 

As the rain lessened on Sunday, we again drove to Sauvie Island to explore the western part of the island.  We then returned to the Vernonia-Scappoose Highway to find the Bonnie Creek Waterfall.

Bonnie Creek Falls

I read about the falls and discovered that the Bonnie Creek Trail which is about a quarter of a mile up the road from the actual waterfall isn’t the best place to view the falls.  The falls are on the left side of the road at a narrow turnout.

We mistakenly passed the turnout initially but turned around at the Crown-Zellerbach trailhead for Bonnie Creek Trail.  The rain was beginning to come down again, but the small waterfall was still quite lovely.  It isn’t easy to get down to the base of the falls, with slippery moss and crumbling rocks surrounding the fall. 

The rock cliff on the opposite side of Bonnie Creek was dramatic.

We were happy to return home to the cozy MoHo and very  happy that our jello plans all worked out perfectly for this portion of Mo’s birthday trip