Rubbing Elbows with the Mega-Wealthy and a “Darling” of an Island

We are settled into the lovely Neopolitan Cove RV Resort in a city that has been called the “crown jewel” of southwest Florida, “well-known for its high-end shopping, world-class culture and sophisticated dining”.  This city has the 6th highest per capita income in America, the second highest proportion of millionaires in the US, and showcases some of the most expensive real estate around.  This is Naples, Florida and no, not where you would normally find us, rubbing elbows with the mega-wealthy, out on the town for a night of elegant dining.  My silk suits and fashionable pumps have gone the way of my stressful corporate job as have Terry’s suits.  We much prefer hiking boots, walking shoes or bouncing about on our bikes these days.

I was not going to be quieted until I knew I would be within striking distance of a day-trip to the darling of an island I had heard so much about, and Naples offered us this springboard when other locations were already booked.  Florida is snow-bird haven so if you hesitate, you lose, when it comes to making winter RV reservations.

There is no denying the striking beauty found in Naples.  We have oohed and aahed our way through the charming historic district, both on foot and bikes while on our way to the Naples Fishing Pier, one of the city’s better-known landmarks, tucked away in a residential neighborhood.  It is where we have spent much of our time, walking the white-sand beach and enjoying picnics, while waiting with the locals and tourists alike to take in the spectacular sunsets, and there have been a few of those.

Even in the lap of luxury, white-sand beaches and stunning sunsets to entice, there was nothing I wanted more than to head to Sanibel Island and breathe in the symbiotic essence of J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, the most visited wildlife refuge and one of the hottest birding spots in the country, with ~ one million visitors yearly.

The story of how this sanctuary came to be is one built on passion and a reverence for the world’s natural resources.  The man, Ding Darling, was best known for what paid his bills, a career as an esteemed editorial cartoonist, appearing in 150 newspapers nationwide, which earned him two Pulitzer Prizes. But it was his passion for nature and wildlife that breathed life into this most precious of refuges.

In the early 1940’s, Ding was distressed by news that the State of Florida was ready to strike an agreement with developers to sell off over 2200 acres of Sanibel Island’s virginal mangrove wetlands.  He sprang into action and with the help of a few friends, convinced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lease the land, protecting this important wildlife habitat.

When Ding passed away in 1962, admirers and friends came together to form the J. N. “Ding” Darling Foundation.  Their 5-year struggle to take these leased lands, acquire them, and place them under the Federal ownership of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service secured these pristine wetlands for an abundance of wildlife, our enjoyment, and secured the profound legacy of this very special man – J. N. “Ding” Darling.

Land meets sea, saltwater melds into freshwater, and temperate climate kisses tropical warmth as you step inside this wildlife preserve.  The 4-mile drive takes you through sea grass meadows, tidal flats, and mangrove forests, with birders and photographers waiting around every curve to share their knowledge and love of this precious refuge.

We arrived as the gates opened at 7am.  The quiet beauty of this place greeted us and we knew we had come at the perfect time.   We meandered along the drive, stopping when yet another unique bird made her appearance.   We then walked four miles of trails in the hopes of finding a few other hidden treasures. Neither alligators nor the resident crocodile greeted us, although we are assured of seeing plenty of both during our stay later this month in the Everglades.

I could not entice some of the birds to get within my lens’ reach, particularly the roseate spoonbill, who is on the top of my “up-close and personal” to see list.  For that treat, I urge you to check out Raven and Chickadee’s (better known as Eric and Laurel) post on Sanibel Island, or Ingrid of Live, Laugh, RV, who didn’t have to trek to Sanibel to see this “pretty in pink” beauty.

Sanibel Island is best seen on bike, sporting 22 miles of paved trails and is the ultimate way to afford stress-free travel, as the roadways onto and off the island get pretty congested.  Some of the best shelling beaches in the world can be found here at Sanibel, although we could not attest to the variety of shells we had seen in photos.   That might be because I didn’t practice my “Sanibel Stoop”, digging with a net along the shoreline for these little treasures.

Artistry on Sanibel Beach
Artistry on Sanibel Beach

From Naples we head to Midway Campground in Big Cypress National Preserve, where we venture into the swamplands of the Everglades.  I am told we may be without both cell phone and internet coverage so until we return to civilization once again, have a wonderful week! 🙂

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Sparkling Sapphire Gem ~ Crater Lake National Park

Phantom Rock moored in Crater Lake

After a week at our “service bay” home, we were on the road once again to continue our exploration of Oregon.  Thankfully before leaving Junction City we were able to enjoy an evening with friends John and Janie.  We are heading inland for a time, with our first stop being Crater Lake National Park, where we met up with friends Paul and Nina and their RV buddies Alex and Ellen, a delightful couple.  This is one of the true beauties of the RV lifestyle, slow-paced, with opportunities to meet new folks and reconnect with others.

Golden meadows and Mt. Thielsen from bike path

We have settled in the Umpqua National Forest, Diamond Lake Campground and are having one of our first experiences with “boondocking”, goin’ naked, no hookups.  We’re not nearly as well equipped as our friends, who both have solar panels on their rigs, Paul and Nina sporting 600 watts and Alex and Ellen a whopping 1000 watts.  Paul jokes of suffering from “watt envy” when Alex speaks of his solar power (lol).

Besides a visit to Crater Lake NP, which is a definite must, there is much to do here.  An 11-mile paved bike path encircles Diamond Lake, providing fantastic views of the lake, the meadows, and dramatic Mt. Thielsen with her horn-shaped peak.  Although we have not done, kayaking would be a great way to explore the lake itself.

Me – first views of Crater lake
Terry overlooking Diamond Lake and Mt. Thielsen, from Mt. Bailey trail
Cleetwood Cove on Crater Lake

The six of us, plus pooch Polly, set out to tackle Mt. Bailey, a strenuous 10-miler to the peak.  Mt. Bailey often gets overlooked standing so close to Mt. Thielsen, but she deserved some love too, all 8368 feet of her.

Although we did not summit, 7 miles for me was not bad, and the views were spectacular.  I am discovering that months lived at sea level have taken their toll on my hiking at 7000 feet.

Pumice Castle

Fire season has come to Oregon, along with many other western states so our first views of Crater Lake were rather hazy, with smoke collecting in the caldera.  We went back on a clearer day and hiked up to Watchman Tower for some better photos.

While a detailed post of Crater Lake National Park is definitely warranted, I will let one who has written before me speak more on her virtues instead.  Our friend Nina has written an excellent piece, which you should check out here.

I will leave you with my initial thoughts as I stood looking down into this magnificent deep blue lake for the first time.

Crater Lake

Long before your birth

a violent volcano stood.

So angry her nature

a catastrophic eruption occurred.

~

When dust and ash settled

You emerged in her wake.

A timeless vision of pure beauty

Sun, snow or rain.

~

Your penetrating sapphire depths

the most intriguing of all.

A refreshing drink of your waters

an elixir for the gods.

~

Ancient winds whisper your secrets

‘tho you hold some in reserve.

Beckoning us closer

with your hypnotic allure.

                 © LuAnn Oburn 2012

The formation of Crater Lake began roughly 7700 years ago, after the cataclysmic eruption of 12,000-foot Mt. Mazama, perhaps the most massive volcanic explosion in the past 640,000 years.  This breathtaking lake and its deep sapphire color is the cleanest body of water in the world, cleaner than over 80% of all water flowing from our taps, I have read.  With depths reaching 1943 feet and widths ranging from 4.5 to 6 miles, she is an impressive sight, not to be missed.

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Foggy Fishing Port ~ Newport, OR

rv travels
Marina with RV park in background

Culture shock has set in as we move from our snuggly little camp site in Florence to a large paved RV park in Newport.  When plans change in the middle of peak season this is what you deal with, but we are not complaining as the Port of Newport RV Park sits right on Yaquina (Ya-KWIN-a) Bay with a lovely marina and the historic Yaquina Bay Bridge, all to be seen right outside our window. Other items in the plus column are great shower and laundry facilities, mighty friendly staff, surprisingly quiet park, and the Rogue Brewery rubs elbows with the marina, should you be interested in craft beers.

Welcome to the Dungeness crab capital of the world – Newport!  This city of roughly 10,000 residents boasts a historic working waterfront with one of the largest and most productive commercial fishing fleets on the West Coast.  We were given a tip for a great place to eat on the waterfront, owned and operated by some of the fishermen’s wives, Local Ocean Seafood.  The food was as good as promised, but for us, besides the bustling marina, a few interesting shops, and some neat murals painted on the sides of several buildings, we found the area to be somewhat garish, with the tourist trappings of a wax museum and Ripley’s Believe It or Not tossed in among what could be a cool little bayfront.  Although  Newport may be a tad bit touristy and busy for us and may not make the ‘definitely got to come back here’ list, it does have some things going for it (more on that in a minute) so definitely check it out if you are in the area.

Sailor’s knot
Colorful fishing net spool
Ocean mural on the bay
Looking forlorn…missing out
Part of the fleet

Newport averages 156 sunny days, below the national average of 205, and I would venture to say that with those sunny days comes a little (or a lot) of fog. Unless I am driving or determined to get a clear photo of something, I don’t mind the fog.  In fact, when walking or hiking, I love the fog.  Fog gets a bad wrap, depicted as menacing in many fairy tales (don’t go into the scary, foggy forest) but I find it quite magical and mysterious.  In Newport there are many opportunities to walk along the windswept beaches in the fog, with the only sound being the distant foghorn guiding the seafarers safely home.  Being blanketed in pure whiteness is like a metaphor for living in the present; look behind you and there is nothing; look ahead the same.  Stillness and the feeling that right here is all there is settles in over me.

In and around the city we found plenty to keep us busy and would recommend the following:

Base of Yaquina Bay Bridge

1)  Historic Yaquina Bay Bridge

Oregonians love their bridges, and rightly so, as they have some of the finest we have seen.  The historic Yaquina Bay Bridge spans the Yaquina Bay with a length of 3223 feet and she is quite the looker.  This Art Deco beauty, completed on September 16, 1936, is one of 14 designed by Oregon bridge engineer Conde McCullough along Oregon’s Hwy. 101.  I couldn’t stop taking pictures of her in various lighting, she is that lovely!

Art Deco beauty – Yaquina Bay Bridge

2)  Lighthouses

If you like lighthouses you are in for a treat, as there are two of them, and a little  mystery surrounds them we have read.

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse was built in 1871 and decommissioned a mere 3 years later and is believed to be the oldest building in Newport.  She fell into total disrepair as she sat empty but was lovingly restored as a navigational aid in late 1996, now being operated by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

This sweet little lighthouse sits 161 feet above sea level with a 51 foot tower and when originally built, had a 5th order Fresnel lens.  It is the only existing Oregon lighthouse with the living quarters attached.

Stories seem to differ about why she was taken out of service after 3 short years. The most likely reason seems to be that her beam was blocked by Yaquina Head so a new lighthouse was built there instead.  Perhaps poor planning on someone’s part?

Yaquina Head Lighthouse

Yaquina Head Lighthouse, the “new and improved” lighthouse, was first lit in August, 1873 and is still an active beam, although her light was automated in 1966.  Her first-order Fresnel lens, visible 20 miles out to sea, is still stationed in the tower for all to see.  This 93-foot tower is the tallest on the Oregon coast but because the award for tallest lighthouse is measured from ocean to tip of tower, Yaquina Head does not garner the grand prize, only sitting 162 feet above sea level.   Cape Blanco embraces that honor with a clifftop of 245 feet.

Tours offered at the lighthouse are conducted by volunteers in period dress and I must say, they do her history proud.  Through them we learned that many of the original buildings were destroyed in 1984 instead of being restored and the original 2-story lightkeeper’s quarters was replaced by a 1-story structure.

There is a superb Interpretive Center operated by the non-profit Friends of Yaquina Lighthouses which we believe is a must-see.

Sea stacks off Cobble Beach

3)  Road Trip

Within a few short miles north or south of Newport is some stunning coastline which should not be missed. Cobble Beach sits at the base of Yaquina Head Lighthouse and has some great sea stacks, noisy sea lions, and a cobbled-stone beach (as the name implies).  Just down the hill is Quarry Cove, a real stunner, with a gentle beach popular with paddleboarders.

Quarry Cove

Historic Nye Beach is a burb of Newport and her first resort area, dating back to 1866.

Nye Beach

Sitting oceanfront with interesting galleries, boutique shops and restaurants, you have easy access to the beach dubbed “The Most Romantic Beach” by Sunset magazine.  We are going to go back and stick our toes in the sand before we leave the area to see if we can feel the love.

Head a few miles north and make a quick stop at Devil’s Punchbowl State Park for some interesting rock formations.

Devil’s Punchbowl

Press on just a little further (few miles at most) and Cape Foulweather, not living up to her name this day (yeah, picture time), provides more eye-popping shoreline.  Just north of the cape is Depoe Bay, nice for off-shore views and whale-watching we are told, but far too touristy for our tastes.

Cape Foulweather coastline

South Beach State Park, just a mile south from where we are staying, has some nice walking/biking paths and a great stretch of beach begging you to take a walk in the fog or put a kite in the air.  Although we have not been, we are told Beverly Beach State Park, 7 miles north of Newport, is a great area to explore as well.

4)  All Things Fishy

Hovering on the fringes of our RV park, within walking distance, are NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) Pacific Fleet, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and the Hatfield Marine Science Center, or walk over to the public pier and watch the locals drop their crab traps into the water.  We did not see anyone pull up an empty trap, which is why this foggy fishing port may be called the Dungeness crab capital of the world.

Mirror image

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Hike, Bike, Kayak ~ Eugene’s Triple Treat

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.  ~  John Muir

historic covered bridge
Currin Bridge – built in 1925. Only Lane County bridge with white portals and red siding.

If you are an RVer, by definition you are probably a nature lover, and we are no exception.  We feel blessed to be able to have these experiences and are finding Eugene to be a city that shares our passions – hiking, biking, and kayaking.

Eugene, city of ~156,200 residents and home to the University of Oregon, is known for biking, running/jogging, rafting, and kayaking.

biking
Row River Trail

We read that biking is so popular here that in 2009 the League of American Bicyclists named Eugene one of the top 10 “gold-level” cities because of its “remarkable commitment to bicycling” and in 2010 was cited the 5th most bike-friendly city in America by Bicycling magazine.  Eugene is definitely being added to our come-back-again list.

Thanks to a tip from RV buddies Nina and Paul of Wheeling It, we hiked the Ridgeline Trail to the summit of Spencer Butte, an in-town hike on the city’s south side.

outdoor adventure
Spencer Butte summit

This 5.5 mile round-trip hike is fairly easy for the first 5 miles, with the last 0.5 miles a moderate scramble over rocks to the summit.  The views overlooking the city are quite nice and it’s a great place to share a picnic.  As we headed down I overheard a woman telling her young son about how rattlesnakes in the area like to sun themselves on the summit’s rocks.   It wasn’t more than 15 minutes later but what should I find right in front of me but a Northern Pacific rattlesnake. Since I wasn’t about to get close enough to grab a photo and he was just as anxious to get away from us, here is what he looked like. Terry and I agreed that we hadn’t really thought much about rattlesnakes since leaving Arizona but hey, why wouldn’t they want to hang out in a cool city like Eugene?

biking
Dorena Lake

We managed to squeeze in another great bike ride, this time on the Row River Trail.  Although technically in a suburb of Eugene, Cottage Grove, it is an easy 20 mile drive to some great biking action.  If you choose to make the loop around Dorena Lake, you could be happily spinning for 34 miles .  We stopped at the 20 mile mark and enjoyed a picnic lunch along the lake instead.  This trail is nicely paved and takes you past not only the lake but great meadows, horse properties, and historic covered bridges – a fabulous way to spend a day!

Mosby Bridge – built in 1920

The McKenzie River flows beside the Armitage County Park where we are staying and was a very convenient and lovely river to kayak.   The put-in point we opted for was 8 miles upstream from us.  Class I and a few Class II rapids mark this stretch of the McKenzie, just enough to keep you on your toes, a gentle reminder to pay attention to hidden boulders, fallen trees, and swirling eddies.  We had a blast but with the swift current, our fun ended too soon.  Next time we would opt for another put-in point which would extend the journey another 15 miles and add several more Class II rapids we are told.

McKenzie River put-in point
kayaking
Mama and her ducklings

If exercising is not your thing, Eugene has a plethora of offerings.  They are also known for their arts program so there is something here for everyone.

Luscious, mouth-watering wild blackberries

If you just want to chill and enjoy the fruits of summer, grab a basket and step outdoors.  There are wild blackberry bushes everywhere (and I do mean everywhere) just now starting to ripen.  August and September are the months and these luscious berries can be found growing along country roads, bike paths, rivers, and even in the Interstate 5 median!

Our time in Eugene has sadly come to an end.  With the biking, hiking, and kayaking available here, outdoor fun awaits right outside your door.  We are headed back to the coast for what is sure to be another grand adventure.

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Biking Bliss ~ Eugene, OR

Terry watching the kayakers on the river

Our RV travels have taken us to Armitage County Park in Eugene, Oregon, where we have spent the first couple of days doing errands, you know those dreaded tasks that get in the way of having fun.  With errands out of the way we decided it was time to play, which translates into outdoor adventure (whooo hooo!).  Our sport of choice was to be biking so Terry started checking out trails in the area and soon discovered that Eugene is biking bliss!

We’ve learned that biking is an integral part of Eugene’s culture, which is clear when you hop on a bike and attempt to cross a street.  Drivers actually stop and patiently wait for you.  Alternative means of transportation and sustainability are encouraged in Eugene; bikes are easy to rent; and local biking clubs abound.  Weekly rides and biking events are many and miles and miles of beautifully paved paths branch out in every direction.

Willamette kayakers with interesting stacked rock formations in the river (foreground)

We settled on the North Bank Path which we picked up just a few miles from where we are camped, a delightful biking path meandering along the swift-flowing Willamette River, along Delta Ponds with its wonderful waterfowl, through dense forests, and golden meadows.

Canada geese at Delta Ponds, enjoying the sunshine

There are a choice of bridges that can be taken, dropping you off into downtown Eugene or the University of Oregon, which is what we did, spending a little time wandering the beautiful campus.

Lovely University of OR campus

We enjoyed a picnic lunch at Island Park, site of the Blues and Brews Festival this weekend (oh yeah!).  From here we biked back to the downtown area, then on to the Amazon Creek Bike Trail, heading west of town toward the wetlands. Terry checked at a bike shop to get a better trail map (not available) and learned this was the route we needed to take.  After biking for a while I asked Terry how far to our destination and he said 4 miles, but 4 miles from where he wasn’t sure (minor detail).

Me along the Willamette River

This is another great biking trail along Amazon Creek, which has been widened and deepened over the years to encourage waterfowl to visit, so very pleasant riding.  After some time we still were not seeing the wetlands and we must have gone another 4 miles.  Out of nowhere, up pops the Euphoria Chocolate Company, as good an excuse as any to stop.  We browsed their cases and each decided on a piece of dark-chocolate sustenance, and although I would not label it euphoric, it was yummy.  We decided to point our bikes east and save the wetlands for another day, due to the time of day and what my seat was telling me after 6 hours on a bike.  There is supposed to be kayaking opportunity out there so perhaps we will be back.

Community gardens along the path – love it!

If you fancy hiking instead of biking, these same trails and more can be used to walk or run.  Pre’s Trail, named after Steve Prefontaine, long-distance phenom who sparked the 1970’s “running boom”, is a soft-surface path covered in bark chips ideal for running or hiking, and is part of this network.  If biking is your thing, you are certain to experience biking bliss in Eugene.

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