Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

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

Friday, April 5, 2024

03-28-2024 A Springtime Escape to the Coast

As is often the case, I am writing about our most recent trip after the fact.  Planning just 4 nights at the beach, I decided taking a laptop with me was a waste of precious time.  After all, we were sharing this little trip with Daughter Deborah, and sitting around writing during the day wasn't a great idea.  The other time I use for writing is very early in the morning, rising before Mo at 3 or 4 am to sit at the dinette to write.  However, Deborah's sleeping space is that very dinette, with the table removed, and the benches extended to make a somewhat comfy bed.  This time I made sure we had an additional pad to put under Deb's sleeping bag and she said the bed was great.

Deb is so easy to travel with.  She adjusts to our travel habits with grace, waking when we do, going to bed when we do, and enjoying most of what we enjoy.  As always, it was a delightful trip and a wonderful way to get extended time with Deborah.

Another thing that made the trip extra special for me was a chance to share with Deborah some of what we love about going to the coast.  Deborah had been through Brookings on the way to Gold Beach but had never visited Bandon.  We added a day trip to Bandon to our simple itinerary and it was a highlight of the trip for all three of us.

However, I must begin at the very beginning of our adventure.  The night before we departed in the MoHo, the three of us enjoyed an amazing performance by Melissa Etheridge at the historic Craterian Theater in Medford, not far from home here in Grants Pass.  I have seen Melissa perform live several times, the first in 1993 in Spokane Washington at the Opera House.  I was excited when I saw an ad for her upcoming tour and discovered that she would be near us.  We purchased the tickets back in January, with seats reasonably close to the front with a great view.

It was a spectacular performance, over two hours of non-stop entertainment with a bit of commentary thrown in about her experience doing a successful Broadway run.  The nice thing was that she didn't slip into the "preachy" thing that stars sometimes do and spent 99 percent of the time singing.  Mo was amazed at her prowess on the many types of guitars she played, and at the end, she played the drums as well as any I have ever heard. It was a fun beginning to our time with Deborah.

Deb spent the night at our house and the next morning we took our time with the final loading of the MoHo.  Our check-in time at Beachfront RV Park in Harbor (just down the hill from Brookings) was 1PM, and with a 2.5-hour driving time from home, we didn't have to rush. Beachfront wasn't our first choice, but with our favorite campground at Harris Beach State Park fully booked since early January when I started looking, we decided that Beachfront would be a fine alternative.

The campground is considerably more expensive than Harris Beach, $55 per night compared to $32, but still with full hookups.  The park is also not exactly picturesque, but we did have a direct ocean view out of our front window, with surf loud enough to hear at night with closed windows.  

The sites at the park are all lined up on gravel, and the front row where we were has a nice cement patio and picnic table for each site.  Neighbors are close, but we lucked out in that no one parked on either side of us until Friday night.  Also, the county parking area for the beach is directly in front of the sites.  It was whale watching week, spring break, and Easter week, and many cars came and went as people enjoyed the surf and the views.  

A strong storm kept us company on the drive to the coast but let up in time for us to get hooked up and settled in.  Mo brought in an extra chair for relaxing indoors in the rain and whomever was in that chair got a direct view of the ocean right out the front window.  As lovely as Harris Beach campground is, the ocean is much further away from the campground than it is here at Beachfront.

With the sun appearing to brighten the afternoon it was a good time to show Deborah a bit of what we love about Brookings.

Our first stop was the beautiful Azalea Park, where Mo and I go annually for the magnificent Festival of Lights at Christmastime.  I barely recognized the park without the 4 million lights we are used to seeing.  It was lovely, smaller than I realized, and the beautiful church was closed.    

The hundreds of azaleas that the park is named for weren't yet blooming, but as we walked we discovered a trail lined with rhododendrons, some already in full bloom.  The park will be breathtaking in another month, but we were happy to see even a few rhodies blooming this early in the spring.

We then drove the short distance toward the north side of Brookings to show Deb our favorite campground.  It was full except for the tent sites, and there were lots of people out walking.  Deb's vacation time is tied to spring break, so our choice of a week to go camping was definitely affected by our timing.

I had one of our favorites ready in the freezer.  The Olive Garden version of Zuppa Toscana is so delicious.  I have learned to wait to add the kale and the cream until the base of the soup comes out of the freezer.  So yummy and perfect for a cold, rainy evening.  The sound of the rain pounding on the roof of the MoHo was surprisingly soothing if a bit loud.

The next day it rained all day, with temporary high winds and lightning to keep us settled indoors most of the time.  I wanted to share a special little shop in Brookings that I love.  The shop that now houses Feather Your Nest used to be the location for an old favorite.  Keepsake Quilting was a shop I discovered many years ago when I first started quilting.  Sadly, like many other quilt shops, the owner retired and the shop went out of business.  Feather Your Nest was previously located in a little shop down the hill in town, off the beaten track.  It had now matured and the shop is a delightful spot to just "look at stuff".  However, the looking allowed Deborah to find some truly charming and inexpensive tops, and I found a few treats as well.  

After a short run into Fred Meyer for some necessities, Deb and I returned to Harbor.  The Freddy's store in Brookings is huge, with two floors, and it is easy to get lost in there.  It is also almost always incredibly busy and this day was no exception.

After our shopping spree, we drove back down to Harbor to check out the fish shop.  Pacific Ocean Harvesters has some amazing smoked steelhead, fresh live or cooked crabs, and fresh tuna, halibut, and other fish brought in almost daily.  

We knew that Thursday and Friday had a great weather forecast and when we woke to sunshine Thursday morning we were happy that we had altered our original plan and saved our day for a trip to Bandon.  The drive north was beautiful in the sunshine, with coastal views for most of the route toward Port Orford.

We stopped in the tiny town for a few minutes to read the interpretive sign at the visitor center and take a break.  Port Orford is most famous for the only "dock dolly" on the West Coast. Vessels are launched and retrieved using the huge yellow cranes, and if you are there at the right time it is great fun to watch.

As we approached Bandon I chose the oceanfront route along the beach to visit the Face Rock Scenic Overlook.  When we arrived the parking lot was nearly full, and there were several whale watch volunteers with telescopes and binoculars.  Despite the clear skies, they had no whale sightings yet that day and attributed it to a pod of orcas seen farther south along the coast.  The gray whales know that their babies are a top food for orcas, and according to the volunteers were likely to have gone farther out to sea to avoid them.

Those hairdos might indicate just how strong the winds blew at Face Rock Overlook

As always, the winds were strong at the viewpoint, and the chill wasn't conducive to walking down the many steps to walk on the gorgeous beach.  As much as I love the beach at Bandon, I have never visited when it wasn't windy and cold.  That is another reason we do enjoy Brookings and Harris Beach.  It is almost always at least ten degrees F warmer than anywhere on the coast.  They call it the "Banana Belt" of the Oregon coast for a reason.

We didn't linger long at the overlook.  We had important places to visit, the first being the famous Tony's Crab Shack, with highly touted crab offerings on the menu.  The popularity of the place was obvious without any tables available when we first arrived.  Inside dining is nearly impossible with only a half dozen or so tables, but people waited for outside tables as well.  We got lucky at just the right moment when a nearby table suddenly emptied and I grabbed it while Deb went inside for our order.  Mo took Mattie back to the car because with all the dogs and people crowding the street, it isn't fun dealing with Mattie and her reactive nature toward other dogs when she is on a leash.  It was cool enough that she could wait in the car for the time we remained in town.

Lunch was delicious, with Deb and I choosing a toasted crab sandwich and Mo opting for a well-made burger. We then walked toward Second Street in Old Town Bandon just a couple of blocks from Tony's.

Coastal Mist is a gourmet chocolate shop that I try to visit whenever we are in Bandon.  I especially love the sipping chocolate, but Deb enjoyed a yummy macchiato and Mo said the Americano coffee was good as well.  Deb treated us to a few sweets to take back to the rig for after dinner.

Mo and I visited our favorite independent bookstore, Winter River Books where I found one of those treats of "real" bookstores, an interesting-looking hardback for half the price of a Kindle book.  There was lots more to see, but the little clothing shop I have frequented for years called my name.  I just knew Deborah would love it, and sure enough, she found a couple of great items.  Deb is still working in a real office most of the time, and as a director, she needs to wear nice clothes to work.  She had fun shopping with the only problem being making a decision as to which items to purchase.

It was a fun day, and we returned late afternoon in time to relax with a glass of wine while Mo set up our first campfire of the trip.  We were entertained by new neighbors who had moved in next door to us with kids playing catch and extended family gathering around and laughing.  

We were happy that Beachfront allowed campfires and brought a fire ring to our site upon our request when we checked in.  Nothing quite as lovely as a great campfire waiting for sunset.  Even though it was a bit cloudy, the sunset was enjoyable.  It was a perfect end to a nearly perfect day on the coast.

Saturday dawned clear and beautiful and the three of us woke to the loud sound of more than 300 sea lions barking in the harbor area just behind the park. 

Deb and I took the short walk to the view across the harbor to check them out.  Of course a bit of research was required, because Mo and I had never seen sea lions in the Brookings Harbor.  It seems these are California Sea Lions, with more then 200,000 of them along the Oregon Coast.  There are only around 40,000 Oregon Sea Lions on our coast.  The main differentiating characteristic between the two is the large hump on the forehead of the male California Sea Lions.  No matter the variety of sea lions, they were VERY loud and sort of fun to watch with all the jostling for position between the big boys and some of the younger ones.

We originally thought we might drive south on this day to Crescent City for fish and chips at another favorite place of ours, the Chart Room.  After a bit of ruminating, and seeing the beautiful day that awaited, the three of us gave up on the idea of wasting much of the day driving and decided instead to spend it right where we were in Harbor and Brookings.

Deb had never actually visited Harris Beach, and that was the first thing on our agenda on a gorgeous morning.  There was very little wind and the sun was warm.  Mo and I have traveled to Harris Beach for years, and in all our visits we have never seen the beach this crowded.  There were people and dogs and families everywhere.  Little kids in shorts were jumping into the icy Pacific waters and screaming loudly.  It was a very different experience from the last time we visited when we had the beach almost completely to ourselves.

It was beautiful, as always, and even more so seeing it through the eyes of my daughter who was seeing it for the first time.  

Something a bit surprising to us was the drifts of thousands of small sea creatures that were left behind at the high tide line.  I had never seen them before, but again a bit of research yielded information about the velella creatures that are washed up on the beaches after especially strong winds.  Friends warned me that as they begin to decompose the smell is horrific.  Lucky for us, they were still quite fresh, with bright purple bodies, and funny little "sails" that felt exactly like the wings on a badminton shuttlecock.

After our long beach walk, we again settled in at home for some afternoon relaxation time before deciding where we might like to go to supper.  In the past, Mo and I loved to go to the Sportsman Bar and Grill, with outside seating.  Some time back it changed hands and was a pizza place.  Now it is called Zola's on the Water, and the menu looked very interesting.

An image of the bar in Zola's that I took from their website.  No photographer attributed

We went to Zola's around 4, and it was already crowded.  We had a drink at the bar, and after 40 minutes or so were seated at a table.  At the bar, Deb ordered an appetizer for us that easily fed the three of us.  It was something with a name I don't remember, but it was basically really good french fries, drizzled with "hot" honey, and covered with crunchy bacon and some other stuff.  It was sooooooo good and I have no idea how to duplicate it.  As filling as the fries were, dinner was a bit of an afterthought, but the shrimp in my shrimp cocktail was fresh, and Mo and Deb had flatbread pizzas which were tasty.

Surprisingly, at 6 PM when we were finally able to order, they were completely out of clam chowder, and they didn't even have crusts for small pizzas.  The excuse was that they had been slammed all day.  I guess it might have been a reasonable excuse considering the crowds on the beach.

Our last day at the beach was on Easter Sunday, and it wasn't yet 7am when we were awakened by the sound of music and singing nearby.  There was an Easter Sunrise service with a couple of dozen people on the path to the jetty singing and speaking.  It didn't last long, and I never did figure out who was conducting the service.  

After breakfast, Deb and I took the opportunity to walk the beach in front of the RV park.  With the tide out we were able to walk almost a mile down the beach before turning back. We discovered to our delight that the tide had completely washed away all the drifts of velella that were on the beach on the previous days.  We both hoped that many of them survived the temporary beach landing.

Mo was tickled because Deb and I brought back some sweet little pieces of driftwood.

We checked out of the park before noon after Deb and I made a quick shopping trip to the fish store. They had some tuna and halibut in from the previous day but sadly were out of crab.  We left and drove just down the road to Catalyst Seafood, a restaurant where Mo and I went often in the past for fish and chips.  They did have fresh crab, and Deborah purchased two big beauties for a very reasonable amount of money.

Our trip home along the Smith River on Highway 199 was gorgeous.  The river was up from all the recent rains.  We stopped for lunch at a wide place that Mo and I remember well.  It was the spot where we had to pull over fast after a blowout on the MoHo 9 years ago and wait for AAA to arrive to change the tire.

On this beautiful Easter Sunday, the river ran wild and gorgeous with the turquoise color that is so magical.  This photo is honest-to-goodness real, that river really is that color! No need for any kind of enhancements from Lightroom for this one.

Arriving home in Grants Pass felt a bit strange.  After Deb left for her home in Trail, I looked around and thought about all the times I have gathered my family to share in Easter celebrations.  Not this time. but I told the gang to be ready for next year because I don't want to miss hostessing another Easter family celebration.