In the previous post, I said we were leaving Washington State and heading back east — a decision helped along by the ever increasing difficulty of finding a campground with vacancies. I’ve shared before why we don’t make reservations too far in advance. We feel the advantages out-weigh the disadvantages. However, during certain times and at popular destinations the disadvantages become more prevalent. So we left the damp cool temperatures of the Pacific Coast and headed for the warmer arid desert where we hope to find less people.
We chose a destination 717 miles away to an unworldly place in Idaho featuring lava fields, cinder cones, caves, and sage brush. Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve has been on our bucket list for a long time and we thought now is as good a time as any to check it out. However, this post is not about Craters of the Moon, but rather, as the title suggests, it is about our three day journey to get there. I will certainly share our experience at Craters Of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in an upcoming post, but for now I hope to point out that the journey can be just as fun as the destination.
It was a Friday morning. The GPS was all set. We knew we had traffic to contend with as I saw the red lines on the screen, but after some white-knuckle driving around Portland, Oregon, we started making good time along Interstate 84 through the Columbia River Gorge. The views were spectacular as we followed along the river’s bank.
We saw a sign for Multnomah Falls and pulled off at exit 31 at a large parking area between the east and west bound lanes. Multnomah Falls, at 620 feet, is the largest of a series of waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge. Lewis and Clark passed by these falls on their way down the Columbia River in 1805 and made notes in their journal describing how they appeared.
A short walk from the parking lot through a tunnel underneath the interstate and railroad tracks took us to the lodge and visitor center. Another five minute walk and we found ourselves standing on Benson Bridge which spans the falls. Wow, what a magnificent view! It is Oregon’s tallest waterfall and receives over 2 million visits annually. It’s a busy place due to the easy access and proximity to the interstate so we didn’t bother going inside the gift shop, lodge or visitor center due to the crowds. However, we did spend a good while gazing at the falls. It was truly a jaw-dropping sight.
We continued our drive on Interstate 84 until we made a turn toward the Hood River Valley. At the foot of the majestic Mt. Hood lies the Hood River Fruit Loop — a self guided tour along a 35-mile scenic loop where 29 members offer fruits, vegetables, wines, flowers, ciders, and a variety of foods at roadside stands.
One member of the Hood River Fruit Loop is Montavon’s Berries — a blueberry farm that offers u-pick. Grammi and I love blueberries. We love u-pick. So when we saw that Montavon’s Berries was a Harvest Host member we were excited for an opportunity to stay the night.
We arrived before 3 o’clock that afternoon and was met by the host. He showed us where to park and we easily backed into the spot for the night. No unhitching from the truck required. Surrounded by blueberry fields and a picturesque view of Mt. Hood, we felt we had found the Garden of Eden.
We started picking berries right away in this paradise. They were plentiful, plump, perfectly ripe, and delicious. We meandered around the field, going from one bush to another, until we had picked a few pounds. Our host refused to take payment for the berries we picked, saying we were their guest and there was no charge for guests.
We weren’t the only campers staying the night. Three other RV’s were parked nearby. The host stopped by to say hello. They were very friendly and welcoming. We had a good time in the evening sitting around and sharing stories with everyone as the sun fell below the horizon.
The next morning held clear skies and the view of Mt. Hood was stunning. We lingered about and enjoyed our time. Grammi decided she still had a little more space in the freezer for berries, so we went in the field once again. It was nearly noon before we packed up and finally said our goodbyes.
The drive to our next overnight stop was shorter than most. We only traveled about seventy miles to our next campsite at the Army Corp of Engineer campground at Le Page Park. Located off I-84 at Exit 109, the campground sits near the confluence of the Columbia and John Day Rivers. We spent time at the sand beach in the park and took a dip in the water. It was refreshing and we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon.
The next morning, continuing east on Interstate 84 we saw a change in scenery. The lush green forest gave way to sagebrush and barren mountains. We turned away from the interstate near Baker City toward another Harvest Host location at Copper Belt Wines and I wondered to myself how anyone could live out here — let alone operate a winery. It was a desolate landscape with a disparate beauty.
We came to a fork in the road. We stopped, not sure which way to go. There was no cell service and the GPS wasn’t working. In the distance we saw a pickup truck speeding toward us along the dirt road — leaving a trail of dust in its wake. The serendipitous meeting with our host and owner of Copper Belt Wines got us back on track. We were soon set up in an isolated spot at the winery with an expansive view across the desert.
That evening we walked to the tasting room to sample the wines. There is space enough for four RV’s on site and it ended up that all the sites were taken. There was another couple present for the tasting. The owner said that the Harvest Host guests kept his business going during the pandemic. It was good to hear that the host owners benefit as much as the guest.
We chatted while tasting the wines, which were really very good. We learned that the owner is a very experienced winemaker having worked for other wineries before starting his own. The grapes come from vineyards he owns at other locations, but the wine making happens at this site. Feeling the call to watch the sunset, we bought a bottle of Pinot Noir and said our farewells. Sitting with a glass of wine, we listened to the howls of coyotes as we admired the days end. Though this place was a bit off the beaten path, it was still worth the stop.
On our final leg to Craters of the Moon, we turned from the interstate highway. It was our longest day of driving — six hours along U.S. Highway 20. There were long lonely stretches between towns. We were in no hurry. We took our time and enjoyed the drive — enjoyed the scenery. Looking across vast high desert flats with distant mountain ranges we saw wild horses and pronghorn antelope standing in the sagebrush. The desert holds a rare beauty.
We arrived at Picabo Angler Silver Creek RV Park and finally dumped our holding tanks before finding our site. Picabo is a small town. There is a country store that is pretty much the center of town. It is where gas is sold. The post office in located inside as well as a tackle shop. A fishing license can be purchased there. There is a counter to order food from the grill and a few tables that get packed during the lunch hour. It has everything we might need for the next three nights.
I hope you can see that we make the best of our travel days. We try not to rush to our next destination but rather take our time and chill out. We have the attitude that we will get there when we get there. It took me a long time to come to that place in my life. It’s a good place to be and is much more fun.
Until next time — happy days and safe travels.