Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Sue and Mo at Harris Beach
Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Friday, June 19, 2020

06-16 to 06-19 2020 Escape to the Coast. Finally!

On a Tuesday morning, in heavy rain, we pulled the MoHo out of the driveway and headed west toward the ocean. We were grateful that Oregon loosened some of the restrictions on campgrounds in our state, including some of the state parks and private RV parks.  With our original reservation cancelled for the Turtle Rock RV Resort back in mid-March, there was no guarantee that our rebooked visit would happen.  The rain didn’t bother us as it came and went as we traveled Highway 199 toward Brookings. Like a typical summer rain, the sun would shine through the heavy clouds often enough that I had to keep taking off my sunglasses and putting them back on to see.  We are used to the route, and pay little attention to the narrow, curvy sections that can be daunting to drivers not familiar with the highway. 

We were somewhat surprised at all the RV traffic heading in both directions, some going to the beach, others returning back inland.  Somewhere along the route, I noticed that a large number of vehicles had California plates.  Oh wait, we were actually IN California when I saw that.  Well, no matter whether you are from California or Oregon, traveling to this section of coast requires traveling in both states.

It felt a bit strange to motor right through Brookings, past Harris Beach State Park which opened just two days prior but had a sign stating “reservations only”.  Friend Nickie won’t like that, for sure.  We have adjusted to the need for reservations in the last couple of years at many of the locations we like to visit, but others not so much.  It is one of the big changes in RVing life that makes spontaneous trips a bit more difficult.

View from Site 54 at Turtle Rock

Our destination was another 30 miles north, just south of Gold Beach.  Neighbors on our street told us about the RV park that they love, Turtle Rock RV Resort and Spa. The park is located right next to Highway 101, with a short trail to the beach, full hookups, and hot tubs at some sites, and nice looking cabins.  Being used to state parks and their more open, spacious, and usually private campsites, we were a bit surprised at how close the sites were spaced at Turtle Rock.  When we arrived, the park was very nearly full, and our site facing Hunter Creek was very close to rigs on either side of us, with our included metal fire ring in a strange spot behind the rig, right next to the other camper’s picnic table.  Weird.  Ah well, we are at the beach and that is what matters.

I notice as I write this blog that I didn’t take any photos of the campground itself.  I remember thinking at the time that I should have done so, but just couldn’t bring myself to walk around the crowded area taking pictures of all the big rigs with all the people.  Once again, I saw how popular our coast is with people coming from California, with 80 percent of the rigs bearing California plates, along with some from Utah, Montana, Nevada, and even a few from Oregon.  Since we usually travel the coast during winter, I forgot what a popular place it can be in the summer.  Mo and I laughed, remembering how much Judy (Bird Lady of Blogland) disliked her stay as a volunteer  for 3 months at our favorite Harris Beach.  She was there in the summer and said it was crowded, noisy, filled with kids and thoughtless campers, and was always foggy.

We didn’t have thoughtless campers, although there was a very large family that gathered just outside our bedroom windows on the first night for their campfire.  Thankfully they were quiet by ten, and although we didn’t talk to them beyond the polite “hi’s”, they weren’t a problem.  Except for a couple of loners like us, it felt weird to have so many people close enough to see the whites of our eyes when we stepped outside.

After settling in, we leashed Mattie and headed for the beach.  The skies had cleared earlier in the day and the beach was beautiful.  The small trail is easy enough without the huge sand dunes and longer distances required to get to the beach at some of the bigger state parks, so we appreciated that.  The other thing we really liked is that this beach, just a mile and a half south of Gold Beach, is long and open, with some pretty rocks, but no big cliffs that limit how far you can walk along the shore.

Mattie loves the beach, and now it has become one of the words that we have to spell around her so she doesn’t get crazy excited.  It isn’t the water that makes her day, it is the soft sand.  Sure enough, when we said beach she was ready to go.  The minute we turned her loose on the sand she did the crazy running in circles thing that she loves.  Nice thing about this beach is that not being a state park, there are no leash laws in effect, and we only had to leash her if someone with a dog was nearby.  She did get a bit carried away and her excuse for not listening to us call her was the wind.  Mo did have to leash her a bit to get her to calm down, and finally she settled down.  It is so much fun to see her running in the sand.

Dinner that first evening was an easy dinner cooked at home, ribs and salad.  The night was windy but other than that very quiet, and the park is dark enough without the obtrusive night lights that can be so disconcerting in some RV parks.

The next day was a simple repeat of our first afternoon, with a slow morning, exploring the park and another long walk on the beach.

Turtle Rock really does look like a turtle if you view it from the right angle, and Hunter Creek flows into the ocean gently. 

The creek did surprise both of us and Mattie when she thought it was just a shallow thing she could jump.  Oops.  Suddenly we saw an animal swimming fast and hard against the current and it was a few seconds before we realized it was Mattie!  She doesn’t like to swim, but if forced to she is a strong swimmer.  Thank goodness.  We were looking for agates and only looked down for a minute when she thought she could jump across the creek to visit the two women walking on the other side.

After our beach walk, we drove to Gold Beach to check out the town, and possibly find a restaurant with some good fish and chips.  We like our fish lightly breaded with a crispy coating rather than the thick beer batter that seems to be so popular.  With a bit of asking around, we found an open restaurant, with plenty of social distancing, and some very good fish and chips with the light non greasy coating we like.  The Landing North was a good choice for our first indoor visit to a restaurant since the beginning of the COVID lockdowns.

Driving around Gold Beach a bit to explore the town after dinner, we didn't find many places that were open.  Unlike Brookings, there isn’t a particularly interesting shopping area.  There is a gift shop at the Mail Boat Museum, where I bought a wonderful thick zippered sweatshirt and we enjoyed the museum.  There are a few small “antique” stores along Highway 101.  Only one small shop was open and the wonderful book store/coffee shop that I have visited in the past was still closed down for the shutdown. Gold Beach seemed very quiet on this Tuesday evening.

Back home at our site, Mo unloaded our firewood and we decided to move the metal fire ring to a more reasonable spot closer to our picnic table and not in a weedy hole where it had been.  After supper we had a wonderful fire while watching the sunset.  This time I did remember the marshmallows, and enjoyed roasting them to golden brown perfection in the coals.  I have discovered that I can buy marshmallows, cook maybe 4 of them, and then stick the bag back in the freezer without losing any quality.  Mo doesn’t eat them and I can only manage 4 at the most and until I learned the freezer trick I would have a bag of dried out unused marshmallows after every trip.

We decided that since the weather was so gorgeous, and we were in right there in Gold Beach, it would be a good time to take the famous Mail Boat trip to Agness.   I ordered the tickets online, with a code sent to my phone for the first run the next morning.

There are several different trips offered, but we chose the shorter trip that doesn’t include the whitewater portion of the river that is accessible east of Agness.  We wanted the shorter trip mostly because we didn’t want to leave Mattie in the rig for more than a few hours, and partly because a shorter trip seemed like a nice way to spend a day without wearing ourselves out completely.

The weather was perfect for our trip, with clear skies and high winds, which don’t affect the jet boat mail boats in the least.  We arrived a bit early to walk around the port area, enjoying the signs telling the story of the Rogue River, the historic Mary D Hume, the beautiful coastal bridge, and the famous mail boat run to Agness. 

The Mary D Hume built in Gold Beach in 1881 with the Patterson Bridge across the Rogue

The beautiful Patterson Bridge

It was a beautiful day on the river with plenty of social distancing on the bigger boat that does the 64 mile round trip to Agness.  The boats that do the 100 mile trip are a lot smaller and people seemed to be sitting a lot closer together on those boats.  Our boat had benches that were around 12 feet wide and the river captain made sure families sat together at opposite ends of the benches, with alternate seating in front and behind us in the middle of the benches.  Only one man wore a mask.  The wind was so strong that hats weren’t an option and masks would have blown right off our faces. With that wind I am reasonably certain that a droplet of anything filled with a virus wouldn’t have a chance of actually landing on us.

When we arrived at the Cougar Lane Lodge, we walked uphill to a beautifully redone resort for lunch (not included in the cost of the trip).  There were big picnic tables set 10 or 12 feet apart and families were distanced much more than is required.  We shared a hamburger with some truly tasty fries and a beer and some lemonade.  Yummy!  We had an hour and a half at the restaurant, then walking around the river a bit before boarding once again for the downriver ride.  It was hot and sunny as we boarded the boat, and we both realized that we had neglected to use sunscreen.  It is easy to forget when it is chilly and windy and we haven’t been outdoors for a bit.  Our faces the next day told the story of that forgotten suncreen!

The ride back downriver was faster then the upriver trip, with less commentary by the boatman.  We saw wildlife all along the way on both directions, but with only a phone for photos  and a fast moving boat, I was unable to catch any kind of pictures that are worth posting of the harbor seals, sea lions, otters, eagles, ospreys, egrets, killdeer, cormorants, deer, Roosevelt elk, and racoons. 

By the time we reached the port back in Gold Beach, we were both ready to be out of the wind and off the boat, thankful that we had opted for the shorter trip. With such a big filling lunch, we didn’t need a big dinner, and simply ate a few leftovers to keep evening hunger at bay.  Once again we had a beautiful fire and a subtle sunset before settling in for another windy night.  Not once were we able to open our awning due to the winds.  I have some really cute lights for that awning, red peppers that I bought back in Florida a dozen years ago, but I never seem to put them up because the few times we have hookups, it is either windy or stormy.  Maybe someday we can put out our awning.  We replaced the old one last year, but have only put it out once since we got it.

All along the Rogue are huge groves of Myrtlewood trees seen on the left side here

The winds finally died down on Friday morning, as we were heading back south and east toward home. The inland weather was predicted to be hot, in the high 90’s by the time we returned to Grants Pass and this time the traffic was almost exclusively heading toward the beach.  We saw so many RV’s on the road, with lots of trailers, big rigs, little rigs, campers and cars with carriers.  Even though we thought the beach was crowded during the week, it was just a tiny bit of the deluge of people that were at the Oregon coast on the weekend.  We saw news stories about the overload of people crowding the beaches and parks.  Everyone is tired of staying home and traveling in an RV and going camping seems to be extremely popular right now.  At least you can cook at home in your rig, use your own bathroom and social distance as much as you are willing when traveling in an RV.  Our local RV sales outlets are saying that they are selling trailers faster than they can bring them in.  I guess this summer the roads will be incredibly busy, especially in places that are accessible like the Oregon coast. 

I fell in love with our river all over again, from a completely different perspective.  We took the jetboat ride from Grants Pass downriver in 2018, and through the rapids.  The forests are different from the coastal side of the river, with huge groves of myrtlewood trees, Douglas-fir, alder, hemlock, and giant chinquapins. It is thick and lush with the moisture from the coastal breezes unlike the drier landscape in the rocky canyons just west of Grants Pass. I am glad we went to the coast when we did, and had a chance to enjoy the beautiful lower section of the Rogue.

Now it is time to think about where we will go next.  Maybe the Cascade Lakes?  Maybe Medicine Lake?  Who knows.  But it won’t be Hyatt Lake or Howard Prairie where we camped last year.  Reports are now with our drought that all the boat launches are closed and they are begging people to go harvest the fish dying in the low lying ponds that are left of these two reservoirs.  Sad stuff.  So far it is a cooler spring, but we are still in a long term drought in Oregon.  Today as I write we are having an unseasonably cool and cloudy day here in Grants Pass, with a predicted high of only 68F.  The coming week will be cool as well, with temperatures only rising to the low 80’s by the 4th.  I am not complaining in the least.  Home is wonderful, flowers love the cooler weather, and the longer we have unseasonable cool weather, the less likely we are to have summer and fall fires.  Let’s hope for the best.

It is good to be home.

Monday, June 1, 2020

05-31-2020 Sunday at Hart Antelope Refuge

The winds continued through the night, but we slept really well until about 2 am. A bit of conversation in the dark about our plans for the next day and then Mo fell asleep, but I wasn’t so lucky. I finally got up around 4am to shift positions from lying to sitting which seems to help the leg pain when it hits me like this in the middle of the night.

We got up around 6 to a cloudy day that seemed a bit threatening. The winds had stopped, but there had been just a light patter of rain during the early morning hours although nothing seemed very wet when I stepped outdoors at dawn. Dawn comes a lot earlier this far east, even though we are in the same time zone as we are at home in Grants Pass. Surprising what a just a couple hundred miles can make when it comes to daylight times. After a quick breakfast we were on the road by 7:45

Even though on the previous day we had decided that driving southeast through the featureless desert wasn’t an option, Mo saw a camera marker on the refuge map that indicated the drive might be worth it. There aren’t a lot of roads to explore that go into the higher mountainous areas of the refuge at this time of year, with many roads gated. We did know that the Martin Canyon road had a sign saying it wasn’t officially open until June 15, but the gate was open and unlocked. We decided that our destination for the morning would be Desert Lake marked by the tiny camera on the map. I did mention to Mo that Desert Lake was only an intermittent lake and probably didn’t have any actual water in it.

We drove back up the hill and were surprised that it only takes about 15 minutes to get to the headquarters. Once again we turned south on Blue Sky Road and headed for the Martin Canyon turnoff that we had seen the previous day.

The road was only moderately rough for the most part, meandering across wide alluvial fans and descending gently into depressions and drainages that could hardly be called canyons. I was glad that I had the BLM map because the refuge map wasn’t very clear about the route to Desert Lake, with Martin Canyon road not showing on that map. We knew to turn east at the crossroad with Old Military Road, and then turn again south toward Desert Lake on another road with a strange name that for the life of me I can’t remember. Here is a link to the map.

Back Road to Desert Lake

It was so incredibly quiet except for the birds. The views of the spectacular desert landscape was worth the nearly 7 miles of rough road we took to get there. Colorful wildflowers were everywhere. We saw sulfur lupine, death camas, prairie lupine, various versions of white and pink low phlox, and tansy leaved evening primrose ‘Oenothera tanecetifoli’, which was especially thick on the roadbed.

As expected, the lakebed was dry, but a ridge of volcanic rock on the western side of the lake streaked with orange and chartreuse lichen was spectacular. The rocks were thick with birds that I didn’t recognize but the many types of songs indicated many different kinds of birds make their homes in the rocks. Bright white streaks of bird excrement painted the rocks as well as the lichens.

The one bird we did see and recognize in the low grass in the middle of the road was a horned lark. Of course, no photos since she was bouncing around in the grass so quickly I couldn’t get her on camera. They are ground dwellers, feeders, and nesters, so it may be she had a nest nearby in the dirt because she didn’t want to move out of the way of the car.

We also saw three sage grouse females walking in the sage and then flying low across the brush. I tried to get photos of them, but once again no telephoto, and fast moving birds in the sage didn’t allow very good photos. Still, I’m including one grainy shot because sage grouse are pretty special and are one of the protected species in this refuge. If you want to photograph the amazing sage grouse mating displays in the spring you are required to have a special permit to film birds in the “leks”, or mating grounds of the sage grouse.

We returned the same way we came, passing Old Military Road, turning west on Martin Canyon Road, and then back north on Blue Sky Road to Lookout. Once again, the expansive views were spectacular.  We decided that the next time we came to Hart Mountain we would plan to come just a bit later and explore Black Canyon Road and Military road into places yet to be found.

View to the northwest from Lookout with The Steens on the horizon

We saw only a few pronghorn this time compared to the large herds we saw in September 2013

Our plan for the second half of the day was to return to the Visitor Center and then travel east on the “main” gravel road toward Steens Mountain to Flook Lake. Daughter Melody visited this area last year, camping at the edge of the lake in a tent and bringing back her legal 7 pounds of rocks.

Flook lake is another dry lakebed at this time of year, and there are many surface deposits of small pieces of agate, jasper, petrified wood, and opalized fossils.

We drove across the dry lake, parked on a slight rise, and brought out the chairs for a great lunch of leftover steak sandwiches.  After lunch, we took our time heading back along the playa looking for rocks from the Tracker windows.

Something funny about the landscape at Hart Mountain is the way it can shift and change in ways that are disorienting.  I was the one driving to Flook Lake and yet on the return trip, even though I knew exactly where I was going,  I still got disoriented. I could see Hart Mountain and Poker Jim Ridge, knew I was traveling west, and still had to double check to be sure I was going the right way. It was a very strange feeling and left once we reached the top of the steep hill going down to the Warner Wetlands. I made maps for a living, have a great sense of direction, and have spent a lot of time alone in wild places. Just a heads up, be sure you have a good map and some kind of GPS unit that works without the internet if you plan to wander around this part of Oregon. There is NO cell signal anywhere for a long distance.

Some people asked for a bit more information about the campground. It is operated by the refuge and there are 14 sites, including a camp host site which wasn’t occupied when we were there. I am not sure if that is because of COVID or if it is just too early in the season. The campground was originally a CCC camp developed in 1937 for young men who came west to help build the Hart Antelope Refuge. There is still a building nearby that looks like an old bunk house. At the main visitor center there are beautiful stone buildings characteristic of the CCC style.

There is no shade, the sites are dirt, but are widely spaced with nice metal fire rings and picnic tables at each site. There is a spigot for potable water at the picnic facility which states specifically that camping is NOT allowed under the shelter. When we arrived on Friday night the only occupants were a big motorhome and a small trailer. Throughout the weekend, a couple of campers came and went, but on Sunday night, to our surprise, there were 8 rigs in the campground. Still can’t quite figure out why all those people showed up at the end of the weekend.

I tried in the last post to describe how I feel about Hart Mountain, but I think part of it is the absolute aloneness, miles and miles of nothing and so much open space with no humans. We saw only one truck all day on Blue Sky Road.   The rest of the day we were completely alone. I always feel we are lucky when we return from these forays unscathed. Thank you to the powers that be.

Although, speaking of unscathed, we didn’t quite make it through the trip without an issue. After returning home around 3 in the afternoon, it was cool enough to nap and read a bit. As dinnertime approached, the cloud cover increased to a dull sort of gray. We ate our bean soup and Mo built one last great fire for our sunset watch. We had been pretty happy that our house battery charge stayed above 12 all the time. We ran the gennie before dinner for just an hour to top the charge.

We came in after the sunset and the charge had dropped to 9. What?? Ran the gennie again but as soon as it stopped the charge would drop like a stone. We pulled in the slide, pulled up the jacks so the lack of power wouldn’t interfere with using these operations. We went to bed. It was the darkest night ever.  We still  aren’t sure if there was a wire  loose or if the water level in the batteries was low. (update: water was low, Mo tightened all connections, and so far the batteries are again holding a charge here at home in the MoHo shed.)

We slept well  Morning came early with the sound of rain. We waited until 6am to start up the engine to at least heat up our coffee. Please note, with the rig on “store” instead of “use”, it is impossible to light the stove because the gas doesn’t run if there is no power. We didn’t realize that until we tried, thinking the gas should work no matter since we do not have electronic ignition on the stove.  We thought it would work since we always need to manually light the stove.  Preparing to travel was quick with the slide and jacks already stored.

We were on the road by 6:30 AM on Monday morning, taking a different route south through Adel to reach Highway 140.  It was a perfect choice.  The lakes of the Warner Wetlands extend south from Plush all the way to the highway and in the mixed morning light and partial cloud cover the views were mystical.  No photos once again, since I was driving, and pullovers on that section of road are rare. In the future I would always choose to travel to Plush from the western cutoff for the first views of Hart Mountain and to leave via the more eastern road to Adel so as not to miss the views of the wetlands.

As we continued west through Lakeview Mo suggested a good hot breakfast at a restaurant.  Sounded great, except any restaurants that might be open would also be much farther west in Klamath Falls, and would require masks and who knows what else.  We decided instead to find a good pullover and cook our own breakfast.


The summit of Highway 140 where the Gearheart Mountain road heads north into the Gearheart Wilderness was perfect.  The skies opened up to brilliant blue, the trees smelled wonderful, and we had the large bathroom stop entirely to ourselves with the Forest Service pit toilet still closed for COVID.

Breakfast was superb, much better than anything we could find in a restaurant.

Google Maps of our Trip