An unexpected stop for tired traveler

Weary car campers who find themselves without a planned sleep stop on the road often settle for rest areas along the way. They catch some shuteye, maybe gobble a sandwich and a Coke, and brush their teeth in the public restroom before trying to sleep.SandStationSunset8321-2

Trying is the best word for this, as anyone who’s slept in a rest area can tell you. Besides traffic pulling in and out constantly, there’s always the glaring lights over the parking area and the sharp grumble of idling truck engines to try to sleep through.

Every once in awhile, however, we’ll find an ideal, unexpected spot where we can conk out for a few hours.

An ideal spot means easy access, clean and relatively uncrowded, with a table and fire pit and maybe a body of water to sit beside while gulping a burger. There should be at least a pit toilet onsite.

And the place is free, or at least cheap.

I found myself in such a situation recently on an extended road trip that included a sunrise photo shoot at McNary Wildlife Refuge outside the Tri-Cities area of Washington. With many side trips en route, I had driven nearly 500 miles before realizing that I needed to get some sleep if I was to be ready to photograph at sunrise.

Driving west on Highway 730 on the Oregon/Washington border, I came across a little turnout into a place called the Sand Station Recreation Area on the Oregon side.

It’s situated virtually on the banks of the Columbia River in an area known as Lake Wallula. The lake is actually the reservoir behind the McNary Dam and is on the Columbia River.

At first the site appeared to be little more than a parking lot with picnic tables, and I passed it by thinking I couldn’t spend the night there. But swinging in from the other direction, I discovered eight sites with fire pits, tables and overhead shelters for RV and car campers. Tent campers could set up in several shady spots on the grass near the banks.

Except for a pit toilet, there are no services here. But it’s relatively quiet, and you can camp right by the beautiful Columbia, do a little wading by the shore, maybe even fish a little, and enjoy sunset with a moon-rise later in the evening.

Walking along the serene shore near sunset, I watched as dozens of tiny fish suddenly leaped into the air simultaneously for dinner. They kept at their frenzied leaping for quite awhile. Apparently the recent hatch of gnats meant a good feed for the sparkling silver fish, which seemed to glow in the late afternoon light as they leaped.

The sunset was quiet and magical, with a gentle breeze pushing the clouds away from the sun as they took on brisk colors. The site was mostly empty, except for a few campers who relaxed in the approaching sunset.

Best of all, it was free. Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the site isn’t listed as a campground online. It’s first come, first served.

Summer travel schedule takes shape

Travel will be a full-time job this year, as I’ll be writing and photographing fascinating features for publication from my adventures through Idaho, Washington and Oregon as well as treks across the United States. Look for regular trip reports from every possible stop.

Here’s the schedule as it now stands. Family will be staying in, and caring for, our home and garden while we’re gone.

June 23-26: Family caRaft105Portfoliomping on the Payette River in Cascade, Idaho. Hoping much of the gang can come for this lovely and scenic spot for fun and games.

July 7-30: Olympic Peninsula loop, from east to west, starting with the Hood Canal communities and including most attractions all along the peninsula, including Port Townsend, Sequim, Port Angeles, Lake Crescent, Neah Bay and Kalaloch. We’ll wander into the Staircase, Dosewallips, Hurricane Ridge and Sol Duc areas, with the Hoh and Quinault rain forests major stops. From there, we’ll head south into the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway and explore the Tillamook Coast before heading home via Portland and the Columbia River Gorge.

Aug. 7-Sept. 9: Still tons of planning to do for this cross-country driving trip from Boise, Idaho to rural Boxford, Massachusetts for a family visit. Once there, we’ll be going into New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest and into Ogunquit, Maine for a taste of the beautiful east coast. So far, after Boxford, we’ll be camping on Cape Cod and at Newark’s Liberty Harbor, in sight of the Statue of Liberty. We’re looking at  harbor cruises and visits to Manhattan by public transportation. From there…who knows? We’ll meander back to Boise as fast — or as slow — as we can.

Full slate of travels booked for 2016

From dragging my travel trailer all around the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State to a cross-country car camping excursion lasting five weeks beginning in August, the Summer of ’16 will be packed with fascinating new adventures and stories spanning America’s favorite — and lesser-known — highways and byways.

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The travel season began early with a week-long trip to Walla Walla in mid-May, where I attended the Northwest Travel Writers Conference: Travels and Words at the historic and lavish Marcus Whitman hotel. Two solid days hearing from experienced and well-published writers and editors, shaking hands with representatives from convention and travel bureaus and destination management organizations filled my writing palette with a host of new inspiration and opportunities to engage readers with fascinating material.

Following the first day of the conference, we were treated to a lavish reception by Walla Walla’s finest at the Gesa Powerhouse Theater. Exquisite hors d’oeuvres, prime beef, great local wines, whiskey and beer and much more awaited us. Horse-drawn carriages and 1930s-era limousines provided the transportation, and we exchanged handshakes and business cards by the dozens.

eRedWingBlackbird093From there, I took a quick side trip into the Palouse area of north Idaho and southern Washington for a fast photo or two. And it had to be fast, because I was dogged by heavy rain for most of the journey.

So, unfortunately, was a group of vintage travel-trailer enthusiasts, who had come from all over the west for a rally at the campground I was staying in when the first rains hit. Hosted by the Walla Walla Tin Cans, who had invited members from the Rollin’ Oldies Vintage Trailers club to the campout, VintageTravelTrailerCoke008the rally featured about 30 ancient travel trailers ranging from tiny units little more than traveling beds to vintage Coca-Cola themed trailers, mostly ranging from 9-15 feet.

Look for a full-length feature story on the tin can folks in a future blog. Next time, I’ll be posting my itinerary of travels for the 2016 travel season, and hope you’ll follow along as I share my reports from the road.