With pain in our hearts and determined to visit again as we will make our way north to Canada next year, we say goodbye to the Girardet winery and drive out towards the east. A new element to traveling here is the risk of fires that we need to take into consideration as it has been an incredible drought. The night at Girardet it actually rained for the first time since April (we got a first opportunity to test how waterproof our roof is 😉), so there are firebans everywhere.
Crater Lake National Park
Our route to the Crater Lake NP was thankfully not closed (the road more north was) so we cut through the countryside on the Trail Tiller Highway. From farmland to mountainous, a beautifully scenic drive that ended at our campsite in the National Park. To make sure we have a head start, and because we were nicely on time, we decided to head out to Rim Village already to get some information and of course the Junior Ranger Activity Booklet for the boys. The view of the lake is truly spectacular, a lake purely created by rain and snow, in the inside of a collapsed volcano.
The plan was quite simple: We would do the 33-mile rim road with the RV, while Sven would take the challenge of making it on his bike! The night at the campsite was lovely, spooked a bit by some screams about getting in the car before getting killed, only to realize it was somebody’s television that was on too loud hahaha. As bears frequent the camp, they are very firm on keeping food inside, or in the heavy metal cupboards provided on every site. Of course we got excited by this, but unfortunately no fresh bear trails in the camp the next day.
The day was great, we took a joint hike next to our campsite down to Annie Creek where through the booklet we learnt a lot about the area and how its natural environment was shaped over time. We were greeted by deer coming down to drink at the creek and of course our ground squirrel friends. The meadows around the park are filled with wild flowers right now which makes every walk close to water a very festive one.
As we hit the road, we took several turn offs to hike along a creek, up the volcano rim for a lookout, or the most challenging one; down the volcano to the lake’s edge! The reward here is of course the jump into the lake which was VERY refreshing, but necessary to make it back up to the crater edge and into the RV. The boys were real troopers and took a dip in their undies, then walked back up in them so they would be cool enough until we reached the top. A cloud passing over helped us a bit, and so we finished a great day around the crater. Too late to hand in the activity booklets, we wrote our (US) address on them and dropped them in the mailbox for the badges to be sent to us – what a great service!
We found a great place close to the Crater Lake NP to boondock in the woods. As there is a fireban, we were a bit worried when we heard thunderstorms rolling in at night, but thankfully it also rained and we were not forced to leave camp because of wild fires 😊.
The road to Bend… is paved with misfortune
When we left the next day, we took the Cascade Lakes Highway to discover the national forests in the area. As we took a right turn to a picknick place, it turned out to be a gravel road, so a bit bumpy to drive in. It was worth it though as we landed at a beach of Elk Lake, where we enjoyed our lunch and all the men went for a much needed swim (especially Sven after missing out on the ice-cold Crater Lake dip!).
As we left the beach, the orange engine light came on… which is certainly NOT what we were after! Thankfully we were close to Bend, a large town in Oregon with any facilities you can imagine, but as always (we have a knack for this) it is Friday afternoon and many mechanics close for the weekend. Moreover, it turns out that many have postponed their maintenance due to covid, so all repair shops are fully booked until October! We needed a place to sleep and ended up on the street, with a schizophrenic homeless drunk around the corner yelling all night, trying to figure out what to do.
Next day we called around, had a read of our engine trouble (2 codes: a spark plug and an oxygen sensor), and decided we would hang around in Bend to get it fixed. Again no luck finding a place to sleep, Sven had better luck running into a father at the playground who works on his own Ford and was willing to give it a go and help out! Strangely his name was Chris – AGAIN – seems like we only run into Chris’s to help us out. We bought the parts and as we could not do anything then we drove out of town for a 10-mile single track mountain bike ride to bike out our frustration and found a spot to boondock there.
Kind America comes to the rescue again
As Bend is a big town and the weather was not great, we decided to have a round of shopping across town for some last RV equipment, groceries and DYI stuff. Our new Chris had time for us in the afternoon so we drove out to him to see if he could help us out with our engine trouble. As Chris and Sven went about, Luc and Bo enjoyed their new acquisition – 5 monstertrucks (thanks uncle Tom and aunt Zineb!) and after 1,5 hours decided that this should do the trick. Everything reset, spark plug and oxygen sensor replaced, fingers crossed!
We drove to Crux Fermentation Project for a beer and some taco’s and of course thanked Chris and his family profusely for spending time on his free Sunday to help strangers fix their engines. So far, the light has not come on yet… 500 miles later… so we think we got ourselves a winner here! And we keep Chris’ number just in case we run into trouble again. We were very lucky and drove off to Prineville to boondock alongside the town park.
Another badge: John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
We drive onwards the next day further inland to another National Parks spot; The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Split in 3 areas, we decide to visit 2 – The Painted Hills and Sheep Rock section of the National Park. This park is all about fossils found in the area and the changed geology over time. The period it covers is from after the dinosaurs (slight disappointment for the boys), and there is of course again a junior ranger badge to be collected! There was an extra here however, as there is also room to receive the ‘Junior Paleontologist’-badge, for which you get another booklet and need to visit multiple sites in the US with different eras of fossils to get to the next level of ranger badges – The challenge is of course bravely accepted by Luc and Bo!
The different areas are giving you some breathtaking views and very vibrant colors all in short walks. And short walks we needed, as the temperature is slowly creeping up towards 40 Celsius and being outside starts to be torturous. In the afternoon, as we take our longest walk, we start to see clouds coming over which helps cool down a little bit, but as we drive onwards to our next campground these clouds turn into a serious summer storm! We see our first tumbleweeds (instantly starting a harmonica tune in our heads), but moreover are pushed sideways on the road and covered in flying dust. Our machine (we baptized him Jerry, as he squeaks a little like the mouse in Tom & Jerry) is a Ford 450 Super Duty, and really showed its worth in this type of weather… solid as a rock. We stayed at a grassy State Park and finally had a proper shower again after 6 nights without :-).
Bye Oregon, hello again Washington!
We decide to cut through the countryside upwards, and make it a long drive out to the southeast of Washington again before we make way to our next state: Idaho. As we drive the scenic 395 northbound the landscape alters between national forests and wide open spaces with farmland as far as the eye can see. In the area of Walla Walla we were hoping to score another Ranger badge but unfortunately the Whitman Mission National Historic Monument is closed on Tuesday (rooky planning mistake)… We can still check out the grounds and read the story of these missionaries however, as we then drive further up to our campground of the evening.
Driving into Washington again, we drive through what we come to know as the 3rd largest state supply of wheat in the US. It is a solid sea of yellow and as it is harvest season the towns bustle and the work is hard (40 degrees remember). We camp on a campground for 2 nights as we have some final bits to do on our DYI, and the RV needs a deepclean after a few weeks of trying to figure it out.
1st Idaho stop: Nez Perce National Historical Park
As we hit the road into our next state on the list – Idaho that is – we make a beeline for the Nez Perce National Historical Park. It is a NPS-site that pays tribute to the Nez Perce tribe and their history, and gives a great introduction into native American culture and backgrounds. As we have seen how Lewis & Clark made their way to this area overland and were friendly with all tribes they encountered in 1805, a mere 50 years later that attitude was very different when more settlers followed in their footsteps. From missionaries to tradespeople, they all wanted a say over the land they were visiting and the people in them.
For the boys, it was a good place to learn that Indians are not just from stories (sorry, as Europeans the native American is purely known to us in Indian & cowboy stories) and still are very much alive here. How they live on, their language and culture and how to survive, but also how wrongly they have been treated much the same as the Aboriginals in Australia which they remember from other travels. Of course there was another Junior Ranger Activity booklet which got them a patch this time, supercool!
We drove down to a campsite for a much needed laundry run in another blazing heat… hopefully some of those rains that are being promised will come our way. If not – Yellowstone highlands will cool us off a week from now!
Next week: A week of Idaho highlights on our way to Yellowstone National Park. Will the engine light stay off?