When December rolls around, Mo and I usually get a craving to be at the ocean. When the memories come up and I check the calendar, almost every year during December we manage a drive to the coast. We had a stroke of luck that made the decision about when to go very easy. Daughter Melody called me one day last September, practically breaking my eardrum through the phone….”Mom, Mom, I am getting tickets for the four of us to Mannheim Steamroller.” The show in Eugene was scheduled for December 4th, a perfect day for us to drive north to go to the show with Melody and Robert, and then head west for the coast the next morning.
The “farmhouse” at Hauser Lake where our family played the Mannheim Steamroller records every Christmas Eve
Mannheim Steamroller Christmas music has been part of my family history with Melody since her dad and I bought a new Christmas album every year to be opened and played on Christmas Eve. Melody has great memories of those times at the farmhouse at Hauser Lake in Northern Idaho. We only had a 2 1/2 acre farm but it was enough for her to have a horse. The house was tiny, with only wood heat, and built in 1886. Good memories!
Traveling north to Eugene on Interstate 5 can be surprisingly tense, but this time the traffic wasn't bad and there was no snow or rain to interfere. Fog settled into the valleys but for about an hour before we got to Eugene it was clear.
In the past, when traveling through Eugene, we have often camped for free at the Valley River Center. It was a wonderful place to stay and we always enjoyed being right by the river with access to the River Walk. Sadly the city of Eugene has passed strict laws about overnighting in parking lots, and the mall had to discontinue their practice of letting folks check in for free for up to 2 nights in 30 days.
We decided that staying at the Armitage RV Park was the most convenient location for us. Arriving at check in time around 2, we found that most of the sites were reserved. Glad we made a reservation! A nice supper of leftovers in the Moho was perfect for us. I was tickled that I remembered to tuck in our little laundry room Christmas tree. With a heavy roly poly base and no decorations that can fall off, it was perfect for the MoHo dining table.
We helped Mattie settle in to spend the evening on the pillows before we left for Melody's house across town. Visiting with Melody and Robert a bit while they ate their supper was nice and then all of us piled into their car for the short trip downtown to the Hult Center for the Performing Arts for an evening of wonderful Christmas music.
The Hult Center is a beautiful venue, and the show was sold out. Mo wasn't familiar with the band or their music, and I was delighted that she enjoyed it thoroughly. The concert was beautiful, great fun, and brought Melody and I to tears a couple of times with happy memories evoked by the music. After the show we said goodbye to the kids and drove through the fog back across town to Mattie and the MoHo.
Day 2 December 5 Thursday
We woke early so we could have a bit of breakfast and coffee and be at Phil and Joanne Hartwig's home by 7:45 AM. Phil had to go to work by nine so we wanted at least an hour to visit. It is great seeing both of them. We have been friends since 1977 when Phil and I worked together in soil survey. The visit was wonderful, and Joanne's home was all sparkly and decorated for Christmas.
Sue and Joanne in 2019
Sue and Joanne in 1988
Back on the road by 9, we headed west toward the coast with no big plans for where me might stay. I thought of Shore Acres and the famous light show and suggested that we try for a site at Sunset Bay State Park on the Cape Arago Highway south from Coos Bay. If there hadn't been an opening, we could retrace our steps and go back to the Casino in Coos Bay if necessary.
There was plenty of space in the park, and we settled in easily by 2PM. It was the second time we would use our new big heavy surge protector. Both Armitage Park and the state park had iffy looking pedestals, so we were happy for that extra layer of protection for the electrical components of the MoHo.
The rain came and went, but we still managed a nice little walk down along the bay on the beach. Mattie got to climb rocks, her favorite thing. We then decided that an early dinner would be perfect before we drove the 1.5 mile south for the early opening of the Christmas Light Show.
I checked the blog and decided based on our own recommendations from our previous visit in 2014 that the High Tide Cafe would be our best bet for supper. It was even better than we remembered, with an award winning clam chowder that truly was the best either of us could remember eating.
My supper was some excellent shrimp with a sweet hot sauce, and Mo had cod fish and chips that were excellent as well. We loved looking at the late afternoon light on South Slough through the restaurant windows.
The view of South Slough where Mo and I had tried to kayak back in 2014
In the fall the winds are more quiet, and if it had been warmer and if we had the kayaks with us it would have been a perfect place to paddle. When we visited in 2014 it was springtime and the winds were so strong that we never did find a place to paddle the Slough. Thoroughly happy with our supper choice we returned along the highway to the MoHo, dressed warmly for the chilly evening, preparing for our walkabout at the light show.
The Shore Acres Holiday Light Show has been an event since the early 80's with many people volunteering to make it the spectacular show that it now is. Our State Park receipt gave us free access to the show and we breezed through the entry kiosk with a wave.
A community tradition was born in 1987 when the Friends of Shore Acres decided to “string a few lights” to help celebrate the holidays. That first season, 6,000 miniature lights, one Christmas tree, and the decorated Garden House drew 9,000 visitors.
Now, at least 325,000 lights (mostly LED), 30 large landscape lights, dozens of small landscape lights, 30 large holiday trees, dozens of lighted sculptures, and a beautifully decorated Garden House draw – on average – 50,000 to 70,000 visitors each season. Numbers vary with the weather. Inside the Garden House, scrolls of names are a tribute to business supporters, members and the more than 1,500 volunteers who make it happen.
We have visited the Shore Acres gardens in the daylight in the summer but this was a completely different experience. With 350,000 lights in the gardens and along the paths it is like a Christmas fairy tale. The historic Garden House was lit beautifully and hot cider was offered with cookies as folks came in from the cold to warm up a bit.
The reflections of lights on the ponds were beautiful. The pathways were easy to follow, and there were quite a few folks wandering about enjoying the display. The one thing that seemed to be missing to us was music. There was nothing coming from a speaker anywhere to add to the Christmas spirit.
We thoroughly enjoyed the show. I took photos with the phone and with the camera on hand held night shot and got a few images that at least can remind us of how beautiful it was.
Day 3 December 6 Friday
We took our time leaving Sunset Bay, knowing that technically we weren't supposed to check in to our reserved site at Harris Beach until 4PM. Leaving at noon we took our time driving the coastal highway in the rain, stopping for a sweet little visit in Bandon. There I succumbed to my favorite clothing shop and purchased a couple of sweet items.
We also spent some delicious time wandering the aisles of a the great bookstore before ambling down the street in the rain to the Coastal Mist chocolate shop.
Remember the surge protector? Mo hooked up the rig at our site at Harris Beach and then asked me to plug in the surge protector. UhOh. Famous mistake familiar to RVr’s, we left it behind at the last campsite. Darn!
Wondrously, the skies were open enough that we could take a walk on the beach with Mattie before settling in for the evening. Rain had been predicted for our entire trip so walking the beach in decent weather was a huge plus. We ate supper at home, knowing that the following night would be our big dinner celebration at O'Holleran's, a famous steak house in Brookings. I slept incredibly well with the wild winds rocking the MoHo and the sound of the crashing waves on the rocks below the cliffs of the park.
Day 4 December 7 Saturday
The next morning was quiet and beautiful with some open skies and again no rain predicted until later in the day. We had time to hike down the South Beach trail, and with my two sticks, I managed to get both up and down the trail without too much difficulty. Definitely need the sticks for balance. The downhill is a bit rough, but uphill isn't much of a problem.
We took our time walking in the sands and letting Mattie play as we soaked up the intensity of the very high seas generated by the storm.
That evening it began to rain, and it was hard to make the decision to go to the light show in the rain. We decided to first fortify ourselves with dinner rather than getting all wet at the show and then going to eat. It was a good decision since the bar was filled and all the bar tables and restaurant tables were reserved.
We were lucky enough to get two seats at the bar and had a fabulous dinner. I haven't had a steak that good since we were in Reno years ago. Rib Eye with Blue Cheese. Mo had a New York that was excellent as well. It is sometimes hard to get a good steak and we were in the mood for it. Great dinner in a very festive environment. The bar is all decorated top to bottom with lights and garlands, and the atmosphere is so much fun. We met a man sitting next to us who is from Grants Pass, and turned out that he also is a geologist. Every Christmas when we come to this bar for our ritual Irish Coffee after the light show, we meet someone interesting.
It was pouring hard when we drove to Azalea Park for the show. The Nature’s Coastal Holiday web site answered my messenger question almost immediately, saying they had to remain open even in the rain for all the out of town people who had come to see the show.
For only $2.00 we walked into a wonderland of more than two million lights...yes 2,000,000 LED's lighting the shrubs and pathways, with Christmas music piped throughout the park to accompany the happy cries of little kids and old grandmas in their wheelchairs. I forgot my sticks this time, but the ground wasn't too rough and I managed. Thank goodness Mo doesn't mind me grabbing her arm now and then to balance myself!
Even with raincoats and umbrellas, we were soaked when we returned but very happy that we had walked the show. With all the rain, it was hard to take photos without getting the phone all wet, but we have lots of images from our previous visits to Azalea Park for the Christmas lights.
That night as we slept the rain let up a bit and the ocean didn't sound so incredibly loud. I slept well again, all cozied up in the MoHo with warm blankets and the little heater coming on as needed. It wasn't near as cold as the previous night had been. When we woke, the skies had cleared and I had time to take Mattie for a walk to the edge of the cliffs overlooking Harris Beach for one last look.
It was a perfect little trip to ring in the holidays with beautiful music, some family hugs, and two fabulous light shows. On another amazing Christmas note, the day we returned home I received a phone call from Janet at Sunset Bay State Park. She had found our surge protector and all she needed was our mailing address. In a few more days we had that big yellow boy back safe and sound. Sure nice that we didn’t have to buy another one! We have a note in the rig that says, “antenna up”. We are now adding “surge protector” and “blue water filter”. We left one of those behind one time as well, but never got it back. At least they are less than 20 bucks to replace, unlike the surge protector. All is well that ends well!