West to East chronicles: The road to Salmon

  • Tom and Judy luxuriating in Kirkham Hot Spring, near Lowman, Idaho, a terrace that flows into the south fork of the Payette River.

Judy and I are renewing our nomadic creed for our longest road trip since we began our Epic Van journey in 2015. We pledge to use best practices learned over nearly 100,000 miles of wandering to make our journey from Oregon to Maryland, and back to Arizona, our most rewarding adventure yet. For us, best practice revolves on slow rhythm and simplicity: wake up rested, stop for a few minutes every day and appreciate our natural heritage and neighbors; witness our history, through trails, landmarks, museums and roadside oddities; read something from a book and share one together; improve healthfulness through diet and hiking, and blog about it a little bit more! So here goes, ongoing installments of West to East chronicles (starting from the bottom, most recent on top):

Tom and Judy luxuriating in Kirkham Hot Spring, near Lowman, Idaho, a terrace that flows into the south fork of the Payette River.

September 5 – Blah camp turns to wow

We do yoga at Cascade Lake under layer of clouds in late morning, our first shelter from sun since we arrived in Idaho seven days ago. We’re headed for Salmon, Idaho, about 240 miles east. After lunch and blogging in Cascade, it’s already 3 p.m. Getting to Salmon isn’t happening. I see a cluster of camp symbols on our atlas, east of Lowman. We’ll pick one and have chair time before sundown. Led by intuition, I pass by several shaded campgrounds, confident of bigger stands of trees ahead. Wrong assumption. It’s 5:30 p.m., time to settle into to Kirkham Campground. Seems there’s more pavement than trees. Circling for a camp site, we see a day-use area and discover a HOT SPRINGS sign. We rush to park and pay, slipping into bathing suits we seldom use. We descend from the day use area into a cluster of terraced pools emptying into the south fork of the Payette River. We choose a partially shaded pool with smooth recliner-style rocks to support us. Water temperature was perfect, warm, about 110 degrees, but not sweaty. All that for $7.50 a night.

A plane taking off from Jackson Creek Airport five miles up the creek from Yellow Pine.

September 4 – Bryant Ranch and Henry Ford

We stay an extra day in Yellow Pine so Judy has a web  connection to find out if she will be exhibiting at the Tempe Festival of the Arts in December. Unfortunately, Periwinkle Polka Dot, which sells upcycled clothing for girls, is wait-listed. Judy and her business partner, Tami, may have to sell on Etsy for the holidays. Judy, Ann and I hop on ATVs for a visit to Bryant Ranch. We stop and say hello to Barry, who’s tying down his plane at Johnson Creek Airport after doing some business in McCall this morning. There have been about 20 takeoffs and landings already, a lot of air traffic for a day after Labor Day.

We climb a road to Bryant Ranch and the White House, perched at the southern end of the airstrip, an alfalfa field the family donated. The White House and occupants almost took a direct hit from a plane crash not so long ago. Our friend Teri gives us a tour of their family home, a two-story home, built in 1925, furnished with the first bathroom plumbing in Johnson Creek. (A Lennox wood furnace, original equipment, still warms the home.) Teri points to a photo of a 1920s Fordson tractor, a rare prototype model given by Henry Ford to H.H. Bryant for his alfalfa field. Decades later, the tractor was donated to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. (Henry Ford married H.H. Bryant’s sister, Clara Jane, in 1888.) Teri says family members still use the home as a timeshare in spring, summer and fall, but never in winter. We return to Yellow Pine, say goodbye to Jeff and Ann and leave at 3:30 p.m. for the 65-mile drive back to civilization in Cascade, via the South Fork of Salmon River. The one-lane forest service road, repaved in sections and with roadbed improvements, is a lot easier on The Epic Van than the 40 or so miles of washboard to McCall. By the time we get to Cascade and resupply with food and fuel, it’s sundown at our overnight camp at Cascade Lake.

Jeff and laptop on the perfect Yellow Pine, Idaho porch.

Sept. 3 Jeff and Ann’s porch

Jeff and Ann fell in love with Yellow Pine on a backroad motorcycle adventure. Jeff, a paramedic and former director of an emergency medical-transport company, and Ann, a nurse, with specialties in emergency-medical response and search and rescue, worked in Denver, where they raised two daughters. Jeff came to know central Idaho when he responded to a large fire in 2006, which threatened Yellow Pine. Jeff and Ann rolled into town on motorcycles in 2007 during Harmonica Festival weekend, agreeing to stay and treat anyone who needed medical help. They found the remote town intriguing and began scouting for a place to live. Like Judy and I, Jeff and Ann decided to leave city jobs in their late 50s and begin a new chapter in life. While Judy and I have completely disconnected from work, Jeff and Ann are always on call in Yellow Pine for medical emergencies, from April to November. Fortunately, they take time off in the winter to pursue their passion for trail bikes in the McDowell Mountains near Phoenix. Although they ride boldly in their four-wheel-drive Sprinter and we wander with tenderfeet in The Epic Van, the four of us immediately hit it off. The crowning feature of Jeff and Ann’s home, which they built, is a broad enclosed porch on south and west. It’s the perfect place to share a lifetime of work and family stories and bask in deep solitude. Jeff asks, “How’s your Zen doing here?” It’s usually very good on the road but it’s off the charts here.

A hard-cider bottle marks the hole at the Yellow Pine Golf Course. Sparkly balls help you find you misplaced shot among brush and downed branches.

August 31  – Game trail and golf in Yellow Pine

We begin our morning in Yellow Pine, Idaho, camped at the home of Jeff and Ann Forster, friends we met camping at Cochise Stronghold in Arizona during our first year in The Epic Van. Ann was our guide on a three-mile game trail circling Yellow Pine, population 50ish. The town, at 4,700 feet, is a flat surrounded by steep mountain ridges in the Boise and Payette National forests. We pass above the outskirts of town to the north and say hello to Sherry Gordon, who spends hours removing noxious thistle near her cabin. On the edge of town, we stroll past an outfitters’ home and horses and say hello to Margaret Libby, who wants to finish home remodeling before cold weather sets in.

On the eastern edge of town, we walk through a sunny forest floor as Yellow and Ponderosa pines filter midday heat. Along the southern edge of the game trail, Ann directs us to the “Bathtub,” a granite bowl in the riverbed scoured by spring runoff. It’s near the confluence of Johnson Creek and the East Fork. We watch amateur prospectors sifting gravel in a sluice box, then climb up to the trail finish our walk along the East Fork. Clear, sun-sparkled water rolling over smoothed granite is tinted pale green.

A golf tournament, which benefits the community of Yellow Pine, is scheduled a half hour after the Boise State football game ends. Those who celebrated a big victory over Florida State at the Yellow Pine Tavern join a dozen or so golfing pairs gathered near a tent at the first hole. The only rules: Best ball and one club-length limit when moving a golf ball from an obstructed lie. The 18-hole course is on Forest Service land where “the fairways aren’t fair and the greens aren’t green.” Only minor alterations – patches of compacted gravel for putting surfaces and tee boxes marked with rocks – have been made.

Legend has it that distances for the holes were determined by how far a softball could be thrown. Bonafide golfers who loft shots can avoid some of the rocks, tree branches and brush surrounding the putting surface. (I couldn’t.) Jeff, Ann, Judy and I laughed our way through the round. An ATV loaded with beer, soda and meatloaf sandwiches kept us refreshed. It was a Labor Day event we will never forget.

Teri, (clockwise, from left) Ann, Diana, Tom, Chuck, Barry and Jeff, at the great taco picnic on Jeff and Ann’s lawn.

September 1 – Red and blue picnic

Lorinne, barkeep at the Yellow Pine Tavern, a favorite of locals, came by with a question about submitting her state liquor-license renewal to Boise. She came here from Berkeley, a blue-state woman in a relationship with Doug, a red-state man and outfitter. They share a love of camping and navigate political differences over President Trump. Ann and Jeff mention that guests for tonight’s taco bar/corn roast will be similarly split.

Judy and I cook the groceries we brought from McCall, while Jeff and Ann prepare table and settings for an evening picnic on their lawn. We welcome Chuck and Teri, a couple who love to hunt and fish together. They left Boise to live at Bryant Ranch full time. Barry and Diana, own Wapiti Meadow Ranch on Johnson Creek, a vacation destination with cabins and guided fishing tours. Barry, a former commercial pilot and outdoor tour operator, flies to McCall, about 50 miles by road, taking off from a park-like grass airstrip nearby. Fifteen minutes in a plane to run errands is more enjoyable than a couple of hours on washboard road, he says. We learn about the history of Bryant Ranch and family ties to Henry Ford, enjoying conversation with grilled Mexican street corn, roasted chicken tacos, coleslaw and black beans. At the end of the evening, we tell Chuck and Teri we hope to see them again at a winter reunion of townies at Sue and Steve’s place in Yuma, dubbed Yellow Pine South.

Elliott the Elk sticking his nose in a truck window for a pet. (From IdahoNews.com)

September 2 – Elliott the Elk and Deputy Dave

Dave, a Valley County sheriff’s deputy, stops by to say hello. “Did you hear about Elliott on social media?” We say no. Elliot the Elk, domesticated as a calf, was hanging out too close to forest service campgrounds in Bear Valley. Two lariats could not hold him, but a net cannon brought in by fish and game employees did. Elliot’s capture coincides with the start of archery season. Dave reported cars parked everywhere along forest service roads as bow hunters stalk elk up mountain. Labor Day weekend is a stressful time for Dave, who pursued violators of forest service rules near Deadwood Reservoir.  “Too many flatlanders think they can go anywhere.”

Tom hiking the Rail to Trail along the Weiser River near Cambridge, Idaho.

August 29 – Rails to trails on Weiser River

I’ve been looking forward to this day since we left Arizona on July 15. I finally get to use my new TrailLink app, $29 a year, and walk a piece of the Weiser River National Recreation Trail, 84 miles of bike and hike trail along an abandoned Union Pacific Railroad line in southwest Idaho.

Judy and I get up at 6 a.m. to avoid a forecast high of 95 and find our segment of the trail between Cambridge and Midvale. We begin at 8:30 a.m. under the shelter of high clouds with temps in the 70s. We immediately lose the rail trail, wandering onto a farm-service road that leads to a cobbled flood channel of the Weiser. We backtrack to the rail trail, at about 4,600 feet, and the flowing portion of the Weiser, sluggish in August. We stroll south for several miles on packed gravel, walking along tall grass, sagebrush and farms above. We see grouse, pheasant and a coyote. Judy takes a photo of bear scat. On the way back, a cattle herd matches our footsteps for several hundred yards, escorting us to the border fence. Were  they looking for a snack?

We get back to The Epic Van at noon and eat lunch. In McCall, Idaho, we get Labor Day weekend groceries. Judy shops for more yarn. We spend the night in Crown Point camp at Cascade Lake, off  Idaho 55. I mention our hike along the Weiser rail trail to our camp host, who lives in Boise. She looks at me incredulously. It’s WEESER, not WYSER.

A bear paw and vials of Chinese medicines in the Kam Wah Chung in John Day, Oregon.

August 28 – Kam Wah Chung: historical treasure

We reluctantly depart our paradise in Dayville, Oregon, at 10:30 a.m. As we drive along the John Day River valley past lush alfalfa fields and bulky cattle, we organize our day. Shade will be our most important priority with temps expected in the low 90s. We find sheltering cottonwoods to post our nomadic news, call family and have lunch at a park next to Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site. It’s almost 2 p.m. We really need to make some miles to reach a camp near Ontario, Oregon, but it’s almost impossible for us to leave a heritage site without exploring it. We go to the interpretive center and sign up for a tour of one of the oldest and best preserved Chinese mercantile stores in the West. The partnership of Ing “Doc” Hay and Lung On and their remarkable store, which served as a house of worship, pharmacy, general store, library, gambling and opium den, music hall, mail-order outlet and hotel is fascinating. Their devotion to community is worthy of a separate post. We did get to Ontario, Oregon, but had to give up our plan of camping along the Snake River, settling for a Walmart. We called to confirm that RVers are welcome.

Tom dining at the Fish House Inn and RV Park in Dayville, Oregon.

August 27 – Missed Barnhouse, found camp gem

Our agenda: Finish yoga in Springfield, Oregon, by 9 a.m., tour lava fields near McKenzie Pass at midday, fix our broken waste-disposal nozzle and wash salt off The Epic Van in Redmond by 5 p.m., and camp somewhere near Mitchell, Oregon, before sundown. We cruise in our air-conditioned bubble as shadows lengthen and temps in the 90s linger. We’re bound for Barnhouse campground in Ochoco National Forest. There’s no sign for a camp along U.S. 26, but there’s a Forest Service road to the south. I take it, but we can’t connect to Mr. Google to confirm the location. Judy worries that it’s getting dark in the Ponderosa forest. How do I know this is the road to Barnhouse? I smell it, I declare. Judy is unimpressed. We turn around after three miles. (Later, we discover our turnaround was two miles short of Barnhouse.) It’s almost sundown when we arrive at Fish House Inn and RV park, a quaint oasis in the heart of Dayville, Oregon, population 145. David, our camp host, gives us an overflow spot for $25. It was on the front lawn, and we had it to ourselves. If you are visiting John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Fish House camp is the place to overnight. Rate with hookup is $35 a night.

Two catwalks lead visitors above portions of Sweet Creek near Mapleton, Oregon.

August 26 – Heading east: Waterfalls to Walmart

We go east on Oregon 126 toward Mapleton, crossing a bridge on the Siuslaw, then doubling back on the river to find Sweet Creek. We hike up past waterfalls lined by alder and maple in filtered sunshine and temps in the 70s. Jumpers plunge into pools, but exit quickly to sunbathe on basalt banks.

We walked back to the trailhead with Janet Runger and a friend. Janet displays her assemblage art at Crow’s Nest Gallery & Studio in Toledo, Oregon. We promise to visit her gallery next year.

On our way to Eugene, we realize that the beep in The Epic Van may be from a dying carbon monoxide monitor instead of a low battery. By the time we buy it, it’s nearly 6 p.m. We face the nomad’s dilemma. Too late for chair time at camp. Do we pay $30 just to snooze comfortably at a county park or camp at a Walmart in Springfield? Most Walmarts welcome RVers, but when we called this one, the assistant said no. There are no signs prohibiting overnight parking. By 10 p.m., we were the only camping rig left in the parking lot. That’s very unusual. Luckily, we slept in peace.

Camp tea, which we perfected with friends Jen and Reg in the Redwoods.

August 25 – From morning to starlight

We finally do all-day camp. It’s Sunday, our fourth day of sun and temps in the high 60s. Outdoor-loving folks under 35 and middle-age parents and their kids go back to the city. There is much less energy. Old-timers are lounging and hosts are manicuring campsites.

It’s a well-rounded day of yoga, blogging, reading (The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren), walking the Captain Cook Trail with Judy and seeing some tide pools, putting together Swedish meatballs on cauliflower, sparring with Judy over the proper placement of logs during a five-hour campfire, enjoying tea with scotch and gazing at constellations with the help of SkyView Life. It was the perfect finale to our Cape Perpetua visit. It’s definitely a four-star camp, our highest rating.

If you don’t have time to camp, stop at the visitor center, walk a few minutes through old-growth rainforest and behold a nearly 600-year-old Sitka spruce.

Dinner by sunset at Ocean Beach, near our campsite at Cape Perpetua in Oregon.

August 24 – Half-day camp and sunset dining

When we stay for more than three nights at a camp, we spend at least one them for all-day camp. Saturday was our day to park The Epic Van.

Unfortunately, we hear beeping about 10 a.m. Must be a low battery warning. That will require some early evening drive time.

We agree on half-camp day: a ranger-led tour at the visitor center on trees and forest as inspiration for art. (Didn’t know panic comes from the Greek god whose sounds from the woods frightened man and beast.)  I take a short hike to the top of the cape on Saint Perpetua trail, about 800 feet above camp.

We make the most of the two hours of recharging. We refuel, pick up some beer, dump our tanks, get lots of firewood and finish with sunset dining at Ocean Beach. Never would have seen it without that beep.

Tom hiking on the Alder Dune trail.

Aug. 23 – Can’t get enough dunes

I love to walk in dunes as much as Judy loves chair time at a warm California beach. I’ve sunken my Keens along with Judy into the towering peaks of Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, the sand and woodland of Indiana Dunes National Seashore, the scorching heat and ripples of Imperial Sand Dunes Recreational Area near Yuma, Arizona, and my favorite, the endless snowy gypsum crests at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.

Our hike today begins a few miles north of Florence from the Alder Dune day use area. It’s a four-mile round trip to a viewpoint on Sutton Creek with views of lumpy sage-tinted coastal dunes. The trail cuts through a sandy scrub-woodland zone. Salam and beach pines dominate; visible sands dunes are rare. To build roads and expand commerce along 100 miles of dancing sands on the central Oregon coast, the Forest Service introduced European beach grass in the early 20th century. For more on the unintended consequences of imported grass and broom, look for Judy’s upcoming post on Oregon dune history.

Aug. 22 – One happy Down Dog customer

We go south, traveling along wind-carved Sitka spruce, sheer basalt bluffs and sun-sparkled parcels of beach to the grassy sand dunes of Florence. We make phone calls to Arizona, wish Judy’s sister Nancy a happy birthday, and find a comfortably warm yoga spot at Miller Park.

I’m very happy with beginning yoga from our new yoga teacher on Down Dog. She does a great job of describing positions and giving points of emphasis on better form as we roll through a session that focuses on core strength. It’s more aerobically challenging than our old app, but in a good way. Great lower back stretch, too.

Judy is mildly irked by the testerone-fueled one-upsmanship of teenage guys swooping up and down a skateboard park on scooters. “We own this place. Get down to the park,” they tell a friend by phone. (Are they saying something about acid? Oh, dear!) “We’ll be here all day.” I remember summer days of freedom when I was a teen chasing a good time in central Illinois, but often came up short. Give the guys a break, I say.

Our Cape Perpetua campsite is surrounded by green.

Later Aug. 21  – Finding perfect camp at Cape Perpetua

We head south on the Oregon coast along U.S. 101, enjoying sea islands, rolling surf and gentle rain. Problem is we’re noticing scores of recreational vehicles and camp trailers as we scout for a five-night camp south of Lincoln City. We’re putting our faith in unscripted travel to the test during peak season. We roll into Cape Perpetua campground in the Suislaw National Forest on Wednesday at 4 p.m. There are five open sites, confirming my hunch that pleasant sites without hookups for power and sewer are available on weekdays. (Our camp filled by Friday night.)

It’s too rainy to get the chairs out so I cook ahead, putting together a ginger soy pot roast with quinoa, carrots and green beans. Judy reads aloud from Heart Earth by Ivan Doig. The forecast is sunny for the rest of our week.

Whalen Island Campground, where we lingered and watched the gulls in the mist.

August 21

We liked camp so much at Whalen Island Park in Tillamook County that we spent the whole morning.

From our bed, we watched steel grey clouds descend into the Sand Lake estuary and listened to raindrops tapping on our windshield.

Sea gulls landed on the opposite shore but didn’t seem to linger. A camp host said the gulls cry out if eagles, ospreys or red-tail hawks are patrolling above. Kayakers are nice to watch, too.

We often see campers roll out at 7 or 8 in the morning. We seldom do, having the luxury of time. The best moment of the day sometimes occurs before I finish my tea and leave The Epic Van.

Camp fees at Whalen Island are $38 a night, including RV dump and fresh water. I’d give the place three stars.

Summer weekdays are especially nice. It gets crowded on weekends.

August 20

Judy and I pledge to do yoga more regularly on this trip, but morning temps were in the mid-50s, too cold for our Arizona-acclimatized bodies. We figured it would be warmer in Tillamook, Oregon, by late morning, and it was. We set up mats on a tennis court and opened our new, cheaper yoga app, Down Dog. (Our old favorite, Yoga Studio, raised its annual subscription rate to $100. Down Dog is $35 a year.)

Our session was doomed from the start. First, clatter from construction on a home nearby made it difficult to hear our new instructor. Second, intermediate yoga on Down Dog was more impossibly pretzel-like than our old yoga app. Then, a woman sits down for lunch nearby and tells us she’s a yoga teacher. Flooded with insecurity, I stiffen and stumble, unable to follow unfamiliar commands from my virtual yoga teacher as a real one looms. Nate called. The midday sun roared out. We quit in the middle of our planned 60-minute session. It was the first time since we began doing yoga together four years ago that we rose from the mat in defeat. Later at lunch, Judy downloaded a beginner yoga session from our new app and discovered a feature to slow the speed of spoken instruction. Breath in, let your heart rise. Breath out. I must present my yoga spirit to the world,

One of the cool squirrel bridges over the streets in Longview, Washington, where we attended Squirrel Fest with the Dahls.

whatever the place.

August 19

We crawl out on our estimated 8,000 mile journey, departing Longview, Washington.

The friends-and-family phase of our journey from Arizona, through Death Valley and Yosemite, over to Carmel, Calif., and north along the Pacific coast is complete. (See Judy’s post for how she got her mojo back for details.)

I wake at 8 a.m., run 2.5 miles and walk a mile on the Lake Sacajawea loop, breakfast on Leslie Dahl’s fine homemade granola, sort surplus books that must be sent back to Arizona because of two recent visits to Powell’s City of Books in Portland. (Meanwhile, Judy is preparing to ship a record-setting stack of gifts bound for six locations.)

We hit the road at 11:15 a.m. By the time we finish mailing at UPS and the post office, refilling propane, dumping waste water, buying groceries and having lunch in the Safeway parking lot, it’s 2 p.m.

Our original destination, a camp near Lincoln City, Oregon, about 150 miles away, conflicts with mandatory afternoon “chair time,” which begins at 4 p.m. Our revised destination is Big Eddy Park near Vernonia, Oregon, about 35 miles from our starting point. We register and park by 3:50 p.m., then lounge under red cedars and big-leaf maples. It’s sunny with temperatures in the mid-60s. Beers are out. Dinner prep is under way. A new north-African stew recipe featuring ras el hanout, amaranth, chicken, sweet potato and red peppers met with Judy’s approval, and mine. Everything is glorious at Big Eddy, except the $5 “transaction fee” for one night stays with no reservation.

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