14th - 24th August 2008

As we continued westwards along the Columbia river through Oregon, the landscape changed dramatically.    We'd passed from the moonscape of the eastern end of the Columbia valley into countryside still rugged but more varied and green.   The banks of the river were lined with small historically interesting towns, established on the basis of river transportation.      On our way to join them at their home in Salem, we made time to visit a few spots Kate and David had recommended.
Our first stop was beautiful Cascade Locks.   However, we weren't brave enough for Harvey to take his chances on the slick surfaced, historic "Bridge of the Gods", in the strong crosswinds.  

The riverfront was a hive of activity.    Not only was there a historic paddle steamer to visit, a regatta was taking place, of some kind of sailing dinghies with which we were unfamiliar.    Similar to hydrofoils, as they picked up speed in the strong winds blowing up the river gorge, the boats would rise up on two large fins or blades and plane across the water at high speed.    We learned that the town was a hot-spot for all kinds of wind based watersports due to its strong and reliable winds.

Cascade Locks' famous "Bridge of the Gods"

Hermann the Sturgeon

Next stop was Bonneville Dam and historic fish hatchery.    The hatchery's main purpose is to try to stem the decline in the Columbia's native fish, due to the damming of the river and over-fishing.    Along with various breeds of trout and salmon, we were able to take a close look at the river's native sturgeon, the biggest, Hermann, being the star of the show.   

By early afternoon Harvey was parked on the driveway at Kate and David's house in Salem and we were grateful when they ran an extension cord out to our campsite, so we could use our air-conditioning.   We were in the midst of an Oregon heat wave and boy was it hot.   

Kate had been busy baking a birthday cake for Christine, in her favourite variety of chocolate.  Once David got back from work, we all sat down to a delicious birthday dinner of rack of lamb, leeks and potatoes.   The perfect welcome for Welsh visitors!

Happy Birthday Christine!

A feast fit for a Welshman!

Kismet cools off!

Next morning it was time to walk off all that delicious food and we headed with Kate and Kismet, their German Shepherd, to a local riverside park for some exercise.    Mostly Kismet did the work, leaping into the river to retrieve a stick and running around having fun whilst we sought out the shade after our hot walk.   We were almost tempted to leap into the river after the stick ourselves, it looked pretty inviting in the heat.

Of course, Friday night is curry night, so back at the house Phil set to work with his curry pan.    Again this had to be walked off at Silver Falls State Park the next morning!

Walking off the curry!

Mexican Fiesta Night.

More fine dining lay ahead.    This time we prepared a Mexican style feast.   We may have over-indulged but Kismet was there, ready to drag us around the park to recover!    In the interests of being able to do up the top trouser button, we couldn't visit too long with Kate and David if they were going to spoil us like this!

The next day our friends were off to help a friend paint his house but kindly loaned us their car to take a trip to the city of Portland.    It was definitely easier to find a parking space for the car in the city and leave Harvey safely on the driveway!   

We toured the city's highlights during a walking tour which took us along the riverfront, through the Sunday market, past beautiful oriental gardens and to a trendy bistro for lunch.    We visited the city's famous Powell's bookstore, which took up a whole city block and sold both new and used books.   We left with a lighter wallet and a couple of heavy shopping bags!

Before we left Salem, Kate and David gave us some pointers about places we should visit whilst in Oregon.   Particularly interesting was the information about the Forestry areas, which they themselves planned to tour in their new slide-on camper.   This new knowledge led us to some wonderful, uncrowded campsites deep in the forest.    It was great to have the chance to catch up with our cruising buddies again and we really enjoyed their hospitality.

Harvey peers out into the Pacific mist

Of course, we couldn't start heading east again without taking Harvey to see the Pacific Ocean, to complete his coast-to-coast trip.    After all, the coast wasn't much more than an hour away.   Unfortunately it wasn't the best day for the visit, a damp rainy day.  As we approached the shore, the coast was shrouded in thick sea mist.   We didn't linger long at the Pacific shore and as we headed inland again, we quickly left behind the fog and then the rain as well.

As we made our way eastwards through the Willamette valley, we made a couple of interesting finds.   First we spotted a RV store which had on the shelf the replacement for Harvey's broken welcome light cover and also a replacement grill for the water heater cover, an item we'd lost on our travels.    

Soon afterwards we discovered a County Campground where we decided to spend the night.    The United States had a bewildering array of campground providers, National Park Service, State Parks, National Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Corps of Engineers to name but a few and now we'd found a new one, the Counties.   All of these in addition to the countless private campgrounds and of course welcoming Wal-mart.  We were grateful for the abundance of excellent campsites in the country, although finding the information you needed to track them down wasn't always easy.

We were even happier to discover that the campground lay right on a river between two lakes, keeping the fisherman busy catching supper for a while!

We continued heading west and the next night, decided to try out the National Forest Service.   We selected a campsite called Walton Lake.    Getting to the site involved an 18 mile detour, fortunately along a paved road.   On our way we passed a field full of tents, with two fire-fighting helicopters nearby and began to fear that our 18 mile drive would be in vain.   Luckily the fire was contained and although relatively close to our chosen campground, we were out of the danger zone.     As we canoed and fished our way around the lake, the helicopters often passed overhead carrying large bags of water to fight the fire.  A night of heavy rain gave the fire-fighters some much needed help.    

Whilst fishing we, several times, heard a very loud bellowing noise and became a little nervous about its source.   Luckily we were still out on the water when the two large bulls producing the noise, decided to take a stroll through the campground!      We had no idea where they had escaped from.  The fishing at Walton Lake was fun but the catfish quickly became annoying as they ate all our bait!

On the advice of members of the fire-fighting team, we decided against taking the direct route back to the highway.   This was an unpaved route through the forest and we were learning that whilst Harvey coped just fine with good standard gravel roads, once they became a little worn and a washboard effect was created in their surface, the resulting bouncing wasn't kind on Harvey's suspension.    We stuck to the paved road and eventually arrived at Oregon's Painted Hills.  Our destination lived up to its name with leeching minerals giving the bare mountainsides the appearance of having been swiped with several colours of paintbrush.

Sabre-toothed cat-like animal skull.

Next stop was the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, another part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.    The visitor centre had on display a stunning collection of fossils found in the John Day River Valley, one of the richest fossil beds in the world.  In this area, fossil records have been discovered for an almost continuous period from 54 million years ago to 6 million years ago.   Displays at the centre reconstructed the varied habitats which had existed in the area from subtropical rainforest to savanna.   It was also possible to see the work area where experts worked on preservation of fossil finds.
Last stop of the day was at the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site in the town of John Day.   This building was a combination of general store, Chinese herbal medicine surgery, temple and boarding house, as well as being the home of the company's two owners Lung On and Doc Hay, immigrants from China.   On the death of the owners in the 1940s, the building had simply been locked up and abandoned, when the relatives of the owners could not be traced.    

A visit to this amazing building was like taking a step back in time.   The shelves were still filled with items for sale, both those imported from China and American products.    Herbs used to treat patients were still neatly lined on the walls of the apothecary.   Even the frugal living quarters of the two men were untouched.   The meat cleaver Doc Hay kept beside his bed to defend himself in the case of racist attack still lay in place.    The building gave an amazing insight into the tough lifestyle of the large wave of Chinese immigrants drawn to the area in search of gold.    Under Doc's bed a large quantity of uncashed cheques had been found, presumably from patients Doc knew were unable to pay for his services.   Despite their tough start in Oregon the two men were ultimately became respected citizens of the town. 

Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site

Inside the Grocery Store

On recommendation from a Forest Service Ranger, we headed to remote Lake Magone, to set up camp.   As soon as Harvey was settled in his campsite and leveled up, we were on the water in our trusty canoe again, in search of fish.    

Unfortunately we were out of worms for bait but at Christine's suggestion we pulled an ancient bag of shrimp out of the freezer.    As we were unsure whether it had been purchased before our trip to the Bahamas or after, we decided the safest option would be to use the shrimp for bait.   Initially Phil was skeptical but when Christine immediately reeled in a couple of good-sized trout, he quickly abandoned his fly rod in favour of the bait!

Tranquil Lake Magone

I told you the shrimp would work!

Unfortunately we were having so much fun fishing, that we ignored the approaching big black cloud for just a few minutes too long.    By the time we'd paddled back to shore in the deluge, we were soaking wet, sitting in icy cold water and extremely cold.   At least we had a tasty fresh trout supper to warm us up!

When the rain stopped next morning, we took a walk around the lake.   We were curious to notice that with the exception of ours, all the vehicles in the campsite had been left with there bonnets (hoods) up.   The campground host explained that a creature called a pack rat, which lived in the forest, like to climb into small dark spaces and chew on anything it found there.    Engine compartments and their apparently tasty insulation material were at particular risk, hence the bonnets were raised to allow in the light.

Concerned for Harvey's welfare we rushed home and raised his bonnet to protect him from pack rat attack.   Not long after, we spotted a pair of chipmunks enjoying themselves clambering all around the engine.  Despite our best efforts to chase them out, they were very persistent and obviously enjoying themselves.  Hmm.....

After another less successful, equally chilly but drier fishing excursion on the lake, we were invited by our new campsite neighbours to join them at their campfire.   They were having an annual family reunion at the lake and although mostly of local origin, members of the family had travelled quite some distance to be there.   We were quickly included in their party and Phil was taught the perils of mixing British Bass beer with Irish Whisky in the same glass.    As we left to make our way home, we realised just how dark it was out there in the wilderness, we hadn't seen this little light pollution since crossing the Atlantic Ocean.   

The next morning was a little trying, what with the matter of Philly's hangover and then a small petrol crisis.  We were headed north through the Blue Mountains and Harvey was getting peckish.    Eventually in a place called Dale, we found a small local store with a gas pump but their prices were horrifying.    Checking our map we spotted a larger town about 18 miles away and calculated that we had enough petrol left to make the trip.   We drove away without filling our tank.   This proved to be a bad choice.   

On arrival at Ukiah we found that there were indeed, as advertised, two gas stations.   One was for commercial customers only and needed an account card to fill your tank, as the station was unmanned.    We moved on to the second gas station, which we found also to be unmanned.   We made enquiries and it turned out that the sole operator of the gas station had headed to the larger town over 50 miles away for a spot of shopping and wasn't expected back any time soon.     Uh oh! 

Harvey was running on fumes and the next gas station was in 56 miles.    We hung around in the hopes that an account holder at the commercial gas station would show up and we could buy some petrol from them but the place was deserted.     Finally we realised our only option was to pour the gallon of fuel we had in our Honda generator into Harvey's tank and pray we could make it back the 18 miles to the store in Dale, hoping they too wouldn't close in the meantime!   

We made it back to Dale before we ran out but at 15 MPG consumption, it was an expensive bad decision!  As it happened the store in Dale was fascinating, having been in business since the 1920s.   It had a display of old photographs and stuffed animals hunted by the owner.   They even provided a facility to cold store your prey after a successful hunting trip, so despite the trauma it turned out to be an interesting stop.

By the afternoon we were in the Wallowa Mountains, heading 12 miles down a gravel road in search of a campsite on the Lostine River.    It was worth the trip, the campground was peaceful, each site had a huge area of woodland to itself and ours backed right on to the river.    Out came the fishing rods, with little success it has to be said.    

Whilst fishing it was fascinating to see the huge salmon making their way up the river from the Pacific Ocean to spawn.    They weren't interested in the bait, guess they had other things on their mind and they looked a little tired and battered.    Not surprising when you considered the long and difficult journey they had made upstream from the Ocean.

Lostine River

Our new fishing buddies Brent and Cindy, from Boise, invited us to share their campfire and a few stories with them.    We were grateful, as it sure was cold at 9000 feet once the sun went down.

Next day we took a very beautiful drive through the Wallowa Whitman forest to a campsite called Indian Crossing.   We shared the road with hundreds of motorbikes.  Presumably the bikers were taking a break from the bike rally we'd spotted in the quaint town of Joseph, to enjoy the scenic, winding mountain roads.   Once we hit the gravel roads, however, we were alone.   Bikers obviously liked gravel roads even less than Harvey! 

Again we found ourselves in a beautiful, spacious and private campsite, which backed right onto the river, all for $6 a night.   The campsite did have a couple of downsides though, namely foul-smelling toilets and a hand pumped water supply, which required superman muscles to operate.  Apart from that, however, it was idyllic.    

We took the two mile hike to the "Blue Hole" a deep stretch of river in a rock canyon, where again we could see the poor weary huge salmon heading upstream.   A roaring campfire in our riverfront garden that evening rounded the day off perfectly.

Downstream of the blue hole.

Hells Canyon

Before leaving Oregon to return to Idaho, we had one more visit to make.     We had to see for ourselves Hells Canyon, the deepest canyon in the country, deeper even that the Grand Canyon, yet far less well known.    From the rim the view was stunning.  Across the canyon's ten mile width the river which created it couldn't even be seen at the bottom.

Before crossing the border, over a huge dam, back into Idaho, we had to get our last spot of fishing in Oregon.    We stopped on the baking hot banks of the Oxbow reservoir to try our luck.    Phil reeled in his limit of bass, meanwhile Christine wrestled with a huge catfish which had taken her lure.    We learned that bass taste delicious and catfish can beat Christine in a wrestling match!

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