This year’s biannual Epic Trip took us on an adventure up the Northwest coast of Oregon and Washington, and over to see two volcanoes and the Painted Hills. We were a diverse group of cars this year, made up of BMWs, Porsche, a Fiat, F-type Jaguar, Audi and a Lexus SUV. As always, this was a trip to remember.
The adventure started in Crescent City, California. Returning participants as well as first timers came together in the morning for the drivers’ meeting to discuss and review the details of the day. We were then ready to hit the road. Our first stop was at the historic Cape Blanco Lighthouse, Oregon’s oldest operating lighthouse. We were able to participate in a fact filled tour which included climbing the spiral staircase to the lantern room. From there, we continued up the coast, taking in the gorgeous views along the way. We stopped at a few overlooks in order to get pictures of the numerous iconic rocks that dot the coast. Aside from the cold temperature and heavy wind, the skies were clear, affording us some amazing vistas. Following our lunch stop in Bandon, Oregon, we crossed the Coquille River and made a quick stop to check out the Coquille River Lighthouse. We then carried on up the coast toward Newport, Oregon, admiring the construction of the iconic Yaquina Bay Bridge as we crossed over it, and then stopping to explore the Yaquina Head Lighthouse. Here, we were not only able to take in the beauty of Oregon’s tallest lighthouse, but we were able to observe a whale swimming off the coast, as well as a couple of bald eagles flying by. We definitely saw more at this stop than we had expected. Our final stop of the day was the Devil’s Punchbowl. Unfortunately, our timing for this stop was not as good as the previous, as the tide was out. This meant we missed the water show put on as the waves crash into the carved out rock, but the view still made the stop worthwhile.
Day two started with a stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory. We were unable to see the actual factory in action, as the newly remodeled factory had not yet opened. However, we were able to tour the temporary museum in which the entire cheese making process was explained. Then the best part, of course, was sampling the cheese and ice cream. Our next stop was at the Tillamook Air Museum. This museum is located in the former U.S. Navy blimp hanger, which was impressive to see. After checking out the small collection of planes, we continued northward. A couple of participants made the detour to see Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, Oregon before joining the rest of the group for lunch. Following lunch we explored Fort Clatsop Historical National Park. A few of us took on the challenge of trying to become Junior Rangers as we explored a few of the park’s trails. Our final stop of the day was in the historic town of Astoria, Oregon. Here, the group split up and ventured out to see the various sights the town has to offer. The majority toured around the downtown area, taking in all the shops and historical buildings. The other popular stop was the Astoria Column. This tower sits atop a hill, overlooking the mouth of the Columbia River. For those who were willing to climb the 164 steps to the top, they were afforded beautiful 360 degree views of the area. And it was the perfect day for such an endeavor as the skies were clear and you could see for miles.
Our tour away from the coast and into Washington State started on day 3. The plan was to see some of the beautiful sights the Olympic National Park has to offer, while enjoying some beautiful back roads. However, the day had a few surprises in store for us. The drive into the park was smooth. We took a short hike in the Quinalt Rainforest, where we were able to take in a taste of the beauty this rainforest has to offer: old growth trees, long hanging moss, various formations of fungus and a river. Our next stop was a picture stop in front of a waterfall along the side of the road. This is where things got interesting. The smooth paved road come to end, leading us onto a packed gravel road. There were no signs indicating the pavement would stop, so we carried on, thinking this would be merely a short section. However, the gravel only continued. Drivers were given the option to turn back, but everyone decided to take it slow and see what would happen. By the time we reached the waterfall, all the cars were covered in dust. After pictures were taken, it was decided we would continue forward, as the road looped around to our next stop at the Maple Glade Rainforest Trailhead, and it was known that the pavement would begin again, eventually. Despite the unfortunate and unexpected “offroad” conditions of the road, the area was beautiful. By the time we finally reached pavement again, the cars were dusty and we had lost a good amount of time due to the slow pace required to drive safely, but everyone seemed to be in good spirits and ready to explore the next trail. The group decided to take the longer trail, which led through various landscapes as well as an old deserted barn and house. Once back to the cars, our next stop was lunch. Following lunch, it was decided to skip the Timber Museum in order to allow more time up at Hurricane Ridge. We hit traffic on our way to the Ridge due to construction, but found a fun back road to take in order to skip some of the slow down. However, when we came to where we would make the turn for the road to the Ridge, the road became gravel again, due to the current construction. A vote was taken by the group to bypass Hurricane Ridge, as we had experienced enough “offroading” for the day and it was unknown how much of the road to the ridge would be gravel. So everyone, with the exception of the F-type Jag, decided to head to the hotel early. When we all came together again for dinner, we learned that Jag made the right decision, as he informed the rest of the gravel road was only a small section. The driver of the Jag and his passenger were able to experience the awe-inspiring beauty of Hurricane Ridge, which had to have been spectacular, as the skies were crystal clear that day.
After a day of unexpected road conditions, we were happy to return to the guarantee of paved Seattle roads on day 4. However, with the certainty of pavement, came the traffic that also comes with driving in a big city. We hit the road early in order to catch the morning ferry from Kingston to Edmunds, Washington. Once off the ferry, we did our best to caravan into Seattle for our first stop at the Museum of Flight. Since our group was so large, we were able to arrange to have a private group tour of the museum. Once the tour was over, much of the group split up in order to take in the plethora of exhibits the museum had to offer, from the history of flight, space travel, Vietnam and World War specific exhibits, large aircraft and even a children’s area. From the museum, the group split for lunch, the majority heading to a 21 and over lunch venue and the rest heading to the wharf. Following lunch, each participant was free to explore Seattle for the remainder of the day and all of day 5. The most popular spots to visit were the Space Needle, Pike’s Place, the Seattle Zoo and the Aquarium, the Gum Wall, and the Microsoft Campus.
The group came back together the morning of day 6 and we made our way out of the big city to visit Mt. Rainer. Unfortunately, this was the first day we experienced cloudy, misty and overcast skies. While this shielded our views of Mt. Rainer, it did not diminish the fun. The group took two routes to the Mt. Rainer National Park entrance. A few cars decided to the stick to the well-traveled, yet fun and twisty main road, while the majority of cars ventured onto the unknown backroads with the hope of finding some fun spirited driving. As it turned out, a few of the sections of this road were made for spirited driving; other sections were rough and full of potholes. Everyone met up again at the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center, where we took a lunch break. As we made our way down the volcano, we made a couple stops to take in the sights. The first stop was at Comet Falls, where many of us hiked down to the misty viewpoint. We then stopped at the National Park Inn and explored an interpretive trail detailing the history of Longmire and the natural surrounding area. We then made our way to Mt. Saint Helens where we would be staying for the night.
Day 7 started with a trip to the Visitor Center at Mt. Saint Helens. Once again, we had cloudy, overcast skies blocking our view of the volcano. During the time we explored the area around the visitor center, the fog lifted, affording us views of the lower landscape at the base of the volcano. Then, after watching the informational video at the Visitor Center, the clouds broke a little, allowing to catch a partial glimpse of the snow covered volcano before heading off to the Columbia Gorge. Once again, some of the group went off for a spirited route, while the rest of the group stayed on the main roads. Once at the Columbia Gorge, we were hoping to take the historical road along the gorge, in order to stay off the freeway and enjoy more of the sights, but due to last year’s fire, most of the highway remained closed. We took in as much as we could, which included the Vista House for views of the gorge, Latourell Falls, Sheppards Dell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Maltnomah Falls. We all came together again that night for dinner in The Dalles, where we shared stories and adventures of the day.
From The Dalles, we continued southbound toward the Painted Hills. A stop was made at Erikson’s Aircraft Collection, which is a museum of privately own aircraft. The group then stopped for lunch before continuing to Painted Hills, which is one of three units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
Once again, we found ourselves on gravel road, as the road that led to the vista point and trailheads turned out to be unpaved. We were easily able to get to the first overlook and trailhead, where we could get some great views of the various colors painting the hill and mountain sides. It was clear to see why this is considered one of Oregon’s seven wonders. After taking in the wonder, we made our way to that night’s hotel. This night, we enjoyed our last dinner together as a complete group, as a couple of group members would be leaving to make their way home the following day.
For the last day of our adventure, we headed to Smith Rock State Park, another of Oregon’s 7 wonders. Known for its sheer cliffs of tuff and basalt are ideal for rock climbing, it was certainly a sight to see. The group spent a little time hiking and taking in the breath-taking sight, before heading to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Here we were able to take a bus to the top of the Newberry Crater, caldera. Here we were able to gain 360 degree views of the area and see the effects of the years of volcanic activity in the area. After saying goodbye to those leaving from this point, the group split up for the last time, with much of the group taking the spirited back roads, while the other drivers stuck to the main roads. The plan was to meet for lunch in a sleepy town in the middle of the Willamete Forest, however, the planned lunch destination closed early, and the only other restaurant in the area being a 21 and over establishment, meant the group with kids was left to carry on to find a new lunch spot. As there was no phone reception in the area, the groups were left catch up later in the day at the hotel. After lunch, a quick stop was made to drive through a historic covered bridge. And finally, once in Eugene, a few of us made a visit to the Cascades Raptor Center. A nature center and hospital, taking in injured raptors, participants were able to see various types of birds and learn about their stories of survival.
The remaining group members came together for the final dinner of this year’s epic trip. Sharing the highlights and bloppers of the week’s adventure, participants made plans for caravanning home the following day and said their last goodbyes.