Cool Little Coastal Town ~ Florence, OR

Old Town Florence Boardwalk

Nestled between the Siuslaw (Sigh-oo-slaw) River and the Pacific Ocean is the cool little coastal town of Florence.

Logging, agriculture, and commercial fishing have been the mainstays in this little coastal gem but tourism is steadily increasing as the town has been discovered.  Florence is a great location to settle for a few days or weeks and branch out to explore.

When we felt the need to change plans earlier this year, Terry began to look at the state parks along the coast for our RV stops, as they had been given great reviews.  With high season fast approaching, this became a challenge so we settled on some county parks instead.  Armitage in Eugene was a great Lane County park and we’ve found another right here, Harbor Vista.  With only 38 sites and lots of vegetation between them, we can’t even see our neighbors and the steady moaning of the foghorn on the jetty lulls us to sleep at night – heavenly.

Cozy, secluded camp site

Here are a few things we would recommend should you find yourself wandering these parts:

Historic Siuslaw River Bridge

1)  Old Town Florence

Sitting right on the riverfront, Old Town has some great little boutique shops and restaurants and a quaint little harbor.   The view of the 1936 Art Deco Siuslaw River Bridge makes for quite the lovely backdrop.

Toes in the sand, feeling like a kid!

2)  Florence Beach

The beaches we have seen thus far in Oregon are so rugged and wild, with piles of bleached logs strewn along the shores like old bones.  This beach is no different and is a peaceful place to explore near sunset.  We spent some time visiting with a couple who settled here from Eugene 9 years ago. They say the fishing is grand and they often find little treasures that have washed ashore, like Japanese glass floats used in fishing nets.

Terry bracing against the wind on the jetty

3) South Jetty

Head to the south side of town; turn onto South Jetty Road; park in one of the lots; and head to the beach.  Just getting there requires a little effort to traverse the sand dunes but the reward is another lovely windswept beach where you can walk for miles.  We headed over to the south jetty after our walk  and decided to watch the kite surfers as this seemed the perfect activity for this windy day. Amazing what some of these guys can do!

Kite surfer
Buggies racing up the dunes

4)  Dune Buggies

On our way back from the jetty, we heard a deafening roar so stopped to check it out.  Dune buggies and ATV’s were tearin’ up the sand and it’s no wonder many accidents occur on these vehicles as we watched the mayhem on the dunes.  With vehicles flying in every direction, heading up steep dunes, not knowing what may be coming at you at any given moment, I was quite surprised but thankful we did not witness an accident while we sat there.  I only have two words for those who take part in this sport – TOTALLY CRAZED!

Shoreline from St. Perpetua Trail summit

5)  Cape Perpetua/Heceta Head Lighthouse

Venture out about 10 miles north of Florence on Route 101 to Cape Perpetua, where you will find a stunning headland jutting out into the Pacific.  Named by Captain James Cook in March 1778, as he sighted it on Saint Perpetua’s Day, it became part of the Siuslaw National Forest in 1908.

The Civilian Conservation Corps carved out a network of trails, built an observation point overlooking the coast, as well as a campground in this 2700 acres of old-growth spruce, Western hemlock and Douglas fir. The Forest Service followed that up with a Visitors’ Center in the 60’s and today it’s a popular spot for whale watching and exploring tidal pools.

At high tide when the ocean is turbulent, which it was not on the day we visited (insert heavy sigh here), there are some striking features to enjoy along this section of coastline.  Spouting Horn, a unique salt-water fountain, Thor’s Well, a powerful force of nature, and Devil’s Churn, a long crack in the coastal rock that fills with ocean waves that occasionally explode when incoming and outgoing waves collide are wonders I just had to be satisfied to see through photos.  Check out Thor’s Well here, Spouting Horn here, and Devil’s Churn right here.

Take the 2.6 mile hike to the summit on the St. Perpetua Trail and you will be rewarded with some fabulous views of the coastline from the West Shelter Observation Point.

Heceta Head Lighthouse

Travel another 2 miles and you SHOULD be able to see some stunning views of the Heceta Head Lighthouse.  We knew there would be no tours available for this grand lighthouse that sits 205 feet above the ocean as it is undergoing an extensive renovation project which will last into late summer 2013.  What we did not know was that the entire tower is shrouded in black, almost as if she is mourning that she can’t be on display for all to see.  It was a disappointment but just means we will have to come back!

RV travels
Umpqua River Lighthouse

6)  Umpqua River Lighthouse

Six miles south of Reedsport or roughly 26 miles south of Florence stands the lovely Umpqua River Lighthouse.  Of the 9 lighthouses adorning the Oregon coastline, hers is the only one with a distinctive red and white Fresnel lens.  The very first Oregon coast lighthouse was erected on the northern spit of river here in 1857.  The one standing today is the second Umpqua River Lighthouse as the first crumbled into the river in 1861 when her foundation eroded.  This currently functioning lighthouse was built instead on the south side of the bay, standing 165 feet in elevation, with a 65 foot tower. Tours are scheduled when enough tourists are gathered together, which unfortunately was not during our visit.

By the time we end our Oregon wanderings, we will probably have seen 8 of the 9 lighthouses and I will most likely honor them with their own post.

Terry trekking up the dunes

7)  John Dellenback Dunes Trail

Six miles south of Reedsport is the John Dellenback Dunes Trail, highly recommended by our fabulous tour guides and RV buddies, Nina and Paul of Wheeling It.  In some respects I am saving the best for last, or perhaps the most entertaining, at least to us.  We were told this is a seldom traveled trail and as we ventured out the reasons became obvious.

I may have mentioned in a past post that I have an almost non-existent sense of direction, and if you do as well, DO NOT attempt this by yourself, particularly on a very breezy day as this one was.  This is a ~6-mile trail, with 4 of those miles done slogging through loose dunes, some BIG ones.  Your navigational aids are posts with blue striping to guide you to the ocean.  Imagine a trail that takes you through the forest, scampering up tall dunes, and dumps you off on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, and that would be the John Dellenback Dunes Trail.  Just for fun, throw in a little wind (or a lot in this case) to toss the sand around a bit, giving you a free nature-made facial, and if you walk through these loose sands in your bare feet (and you really must), a pedicure to boot!  I mused to hubby that if we shed a few more articles imagine how polished our skin would be (he wasn’t biting)!

Navigational aid when seen through the blowing sand!
Through the forest

With the wind whipping around us and sand blowing everywhere, we thought about stories we had read of people getting lost in real deserts.  At one point, as we scaled a large dune, Terry yelled “this is insane!” but he did have a smile on his face.

Destination beach!

Call me crazy, call me senseless, I laughed throughout the journey and had a total blast!  This is a must if you are looking for a different kind of hike, one that will TOTALLY work your legs and backside.

There is definitely lots happenin’ in and around this cool little coastal town so come on over!

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Medical Update ~ Time for Reflection

Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark. ~  Rabindranath Tagore

For those who may not know, 4.5 years ago my dear hubby Terry received the news that many of you can relate to, the “you have cancer” message.  To say this news took the wind out of our sails is an understatement.  We quickly began to unravel our plans to start our RV life as the future looked rather uncertain at this point.  Through divine grace, a mother’s keen recommendation for a must-have book, a close friend’s referral and unselfish gesture of taking us into their home post-surgery to heal, and the countless well-wishes of family and friends, we feel much stronger and wiser.

My strong he-man!

If a man is faced with this diagnosis, prostate cancer may be the lesser of many evils as most times it is a slow-growing cancer found in one’s “golden years” and it is left alone.  Unfortunately, Terry was informed he was too young and the tumor too large to ignore, so surgery seemed to be the best option.  Blessed with none of the horrid side-effects this disease can hand you, Terry donned the Lance Armstrong LiveStrong bracelet and vowed to wear it until he had reached the “industry standard” survival rate of 5 years.

On the trail, in his element

Fast-forward 4 years, through many anxious moments following regular PSA tests.  All had great results until this past January when Terry’s PSA score was somewhat elevated.  Once again we unraveled our plans as it seemed bone scans and MRI’s were in Terry’s near future and we felt the need to sit tight where there was a plethora of excellent medical facilities.

Last week yet another PSA test.  I try to put myself in Terry’s shoes as he leaves the lab and begins the waiting game.  Although I can empathize and pray for a good outcome, putting myself in his shoes is not possible, for this is his personal journey to walk.  We all have these, being unique individuals, and face life’s obstacles differently.  Terry knows I am by his side and for me, that is what is important.

Hiking the Oregon dunes

Terry’s latest PSA score was the same as the previous two, which means he has held steady for the past nine months.  The good news – the number has not increased.  The not-so-good news – the number is still somewhat elevated, which means there is something going on.  This “something going on” could be benign or could be something else; we don’t know.  The doctor is confident enough that he feels the watchful waiting can continue for another 6 months.

Many who now live with cancer or consider themselves survivors wear the Live Strong bracelet, as did Terry, until a few days ago when his broke. Ironically the break occurred while anxiously awaiting a return call from his doctor on the lab results.  His first thought was “wonder what that means?”.  My initial reaction was “you no longer need this; it’s time to move on”.

Living Strong

Terry and I often talk about how deeply grateful we are for the ability to experience life as we are, seeing this magnificent country, walking in nature, feeling the hand of something greater touching us.  We can dwell on the ‘something else’ or we can live in the present moment.  It is our choice and we choose to live the now.  Terry chooses to breathe in the beauty around him, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the people we are meeting along the way.  I choose the same, as I walk by his side.

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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.

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?

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
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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Blues, Brews and a Farmers’ Market ~ Euguene, OR

Nathan James & his ‘tri-tar’

You know how it is when you are waiting for a special day to arrive and the excitement you feel when it is finally here?  It may sound silly but for me that day was the Lane County Farmers’ Market as I’ve heard so many good things about it.   It lived up to its billing and then some, being one of the best we have ever attended.  We love coming to a new town and getting the flavor of the area.  Even though we are just passing through, alighting for a short time, we like the idea of supporting the locals and the best way we have found to do that is by attending the farmers’ markets.  Buying local and eating what is being harvested now is important to us and the colorful fruits and vegetables displayed so beautifully just make us smile!

Gorgeous beets & carrots
Berries, berries & more berries
Dazzling sunflowers

This was the start to our day and what was to be the cherry on top was the Willamette Valley Blues & Brews Festival.  During our RV travels too often we find that we are not in the right place at the right time for some of the local activities.  We were in luck on this stop as Eugene was bulls-eye on for great fun!

The performers at the Blues & Brews Fest got better as the day progressed and we don’t think it was because we had sampled a few of the brews, which were also quite tasty!  A fave performer for us was Miriams Well, a soulful singer from Portland, OR, whose sax player was superb.  You can sample some of her music here.

Miriams Well

Nathan James and the Rhythm Scratchers from Seattle, WA were pretty amazing and downright funky.  Nathan had three custom-made guitars, all with washboards incorporated into them so the sounds coming from these instruments were something we had never heard before.  His ‘tri-tar’ was a washboard, axe handle, and three strings, just unreal!  You can get a sense of his style here.

With our fridge full of wonderful fruits and veggies, our taste buds tantalized by great craft beers, and rockin’ to some amazing blues bands, our day from start to finish was pretty darn awesome!  Hope yours was too!

Eugene street scene

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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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