So, our fourth day in to our vacation, we were in the heart of Oregon, traveling north up I-5 towards Portland. Our goals this day were some of the oldest geocaches in the world, including the site of the Original Stash (the very first cache, placed in May of 2000).
I shouldn’t diminish the events that came first, though. The day before, after our rainy adventures along the Rogue Highway, we had gone just a little south after hitting Grants Pass, and then to the east along a long and winding mountain road to this place I had found for us to stay at called the Green Springs Inn. If you are ever in Ashland, or, I should say, outside of Ashland, you should stay there. It is 17 miles out of the way along this scary little road that eventually leads to Klamath Falls, where my boys and their dad are from (essentially). I picked this place to stay for a few reasons, one of them being this:
A handful of the rooms are outfitted with these private jacuzzis that are screened in and look out into a beautiful wilderness area. Beyond that are back roads and trails to hike, including parts of the Pacific Crest Trail.
One of the other reasons I picked this place was to be closer to dear Carlene, who drove an hour from her house to come pick up my boys to take them the following day to see their grandmother for a week, who lives out this way but a bit far from our path at this point. We had dinner with Carlene and her son in the Inn attached to the lodge, and then eventually went our seperate ways. Our way was to head out into those back roads and go exploring, and geocaching.
Anyways, we almost hated to leave the Green Springs Inn the next morning, and the people there were so darn friendly. We got complimentary coffees and best wishes for the road as we headed out, listening to Kerouac’s “On the Road” audio CD and dodging bikers on the way to Ashland proper for breakfast (and a few more caches) and then the open highway, taking us to places like Estacada, Sandy, and Molalla; places that are just south and east of Portland, in the Oregon country, near great swaths of christmas firs and dark green luscious forests interspered with green fields roped in white fencelines. The drive was great towards the end, but also slightly annoying, as the GPS was routing us in weird circles and out on some random road that we felt we weren’t supposed to be on but eventually led us there.
For GC16, there means a parking spot across a quiet road from an yellow fence. The fence marks the beginning of the trail. It wasn’t terribly long and difficult, but carrying our packs that were a little too heavy with camera equipment and travel bugs, and going up a pretty steep grade at the beginning, we were beginning to huff a little and ponder the wisdom of our decisions before the trail leveled off.
The hike was beautiful, though, and after the initial grade, we were really enjoying it. Or at least I was. This to me is what I love about geocaching! I felt exhilarated and joy filled me inside, although the previous resident was Taco Time, a rare pacific northwest treat, which grumbled about being asked to vacate the premises. I was trying to find a bathroom, but no dice at this little “Annie’s Cabin”, which is about halfway up the trail. I loved the hitching posts outside of it (which you can’t see in this picture..but we did take some photos that maybe I will post later of the hoofprints of horses leading up the trail to).

Once we got closer, we had to take a smaller trail off to the side of the main one, and then I think another smaller trail after that. The cache was a nice, big awesome find. I logged the cache while J took some photos. I left a travel bug I had brought in my bag with me, taking nothing else. Then we hiked back down, finding the cache across the road that was near our parking spot, and taking a picture of the river that roared by down here. There were not many people taking advantage of the beautiful wilderness out here, with shady little picnic spots tucked in off the road by the river, which was kind of surprising but I guess if you live by such beauty every day, you eventually become blind to it.

Big fun in the soft green Oregon mountain area. Now it was time to see if we could make it to GC12 and 17 before dark.
Delay in the stories = life keeps getting in the way. But I will try to keep them coming faster, there was a lot of cool places we saw in our break from the Texas heat!

GC1AA06 The Crown Jewel: The Unforgettable Smith River

One of the other highlights of this day of our trip, besides the Eight Dollar Mountain Road and subsequent mud issues, was an exploration of a section of trail in the Smith River National Recreation Area that lead to the confluence of the Middle and South forks of the Smith River.
The hike we took was not a long one, but was scenic. A wet, dripping dark green laced trail led to an area where you had to go down a little rock ledge to this overlook.
This area is part of the Six Rivers National Forest that forms the east and northern boundary of the Redwood Forest, stretching from Northern California to just past the Oregon border. The area is composed of 957,590 National Forest acres and 133,410 acres of other ownership.  Of this space, 450 acres were designated as part of the Smith River National Recreation Area by Congress in 1990 for protection of wild and scenic rivers, ecological diversity, recreation opportunities, and sustained productivity of natural resources.

The Smith River is unique in that it is the only river system without any dam in California. This means that the entire river system is accessible for any length of trip by rafters and kayakers.  Due to the lack of a dam, though, and also to the rocky watershed that contains little soil to hold moisture, the river only runs well during a rain or within a few days after.  February is said to be the best month to kayak or raft the river, with the season running from November to April.

Some of the best fishing in the US is said to be offered by the Smith, including trophy sized steelhead trout, chinook salmon and other game fish species.  Besides rafting and fishing, camping is a popular activity. There are four campgrounds in the area. Some hikes lead to popular swimming holes, and there is always opportunity for bird watching or plant/wildflower walks.  The summer weather is allegedly dry and in the 80-100 degree range, so of course it figures that the day we were there, it was like 50 degrees and raining.

We were there for, you guessed it, geocaching along the trail. Since I really enjoyed the location and this cache find, I left two travel bugs in the cache that I brought from Texas for the next finder. This is another place I would like to spend more time in next time we are ever in this area of the country, and a place I would recommend to others traveling this way.

Flip Flop Fudge: An Eight Dollar Road Adventure

So, I have recounted how on this second full day of our western road trip, we did not manage to make it to the Gold Bluff Beach Campground before they were all full up.  After doing the Fern Canyon hike, we figured it would be best to find a place to lay our tents out for the night.

We ended up finding a place up the road in Klamath, California (not to be confused with Klamath Falls, Oregon, where the boys had their origin), in this sketchy Kamp Klamath campground.  Despite the shadiness of the checking in process, in which no information was collected from us, other than cash on the spot and a sudden surcharge at the end for pitching two tents instead of one, this was actually a nice place to camp.  And the guy’s advice on where to get a good burger late in the evening in this little town was spot on.

When we woke up in the morning, it was raining. The rain hardly let up all day long, taking some of our plans with it. We pulled up to the Trees of Mystery park, but no one felt like getting out and getting wet to enjoy it.
I went in the gift shop to answer a question for a virtual geocache there, and got tempted into buying some delicious fudge. Four different kinds – a peanut butter chocolate, an M&M candy flavor, a white one with caramel, and some other kind of white and brown swirly deliciousness.
After eating a hearty breakfast at the Forest Cafe nearby, the kids and I were all about eating some fudge, but it could only be eaten in small increments and outside the car. The children were a little reticent about disengaging from their video games and whatnot to go exploring the rainy wilderness in geocaching experiences along the way, so I began to use the fudge as a bribe to entice them to participate.
My oldest could only be fooled so long, and also was really into a book he was reading later in the day as we drove out of California and into Oregon. A particularly beautiful stretch of road around this time traced the edge of the Del Norte Redwood Forest, and I wished we had a chance to explore it up close but the rain was really coming down and even we adults didn’t feel like braving it. When we return to this part of this world someday, though, I hope for a sunny day.
So, towards midday, we were ahead of schedule as we approached a turn off for this Eight Dollar Road, which I had learned in my trip-researching had some great scenery and potential for wilderness exploration. Plus, the rain had let up a little. So J did not object to making the detour.
So we ended up on this little mountain road that followed along the Wild and Scenic Illinois River. This section of the Illinois is a protected tributary of the Rogue River, testing the skill of boaters in eight 4-4+ rapids in the fifty miles from Cave Junction to its intersection with the Rogue. We saw some campers and vans way down the road in this ledge area, it was all very interesting, but we soon turned around and parked on the way back to the main road at a trail head.
This hike I had planned out was not that far, less than a half mile round trip. The oldest boy did not want to go, but the younger one bounced up when I asked who wanted to get out of the car.
Now, this one had wet tennis shoes, because he did not want to listen to our guidance the night before to not jump in the flowing stream in the Fern Canyon. Show me a six year old boy who can resist jumping in puddles for a splash, and I might believe there is one out there who can withstand temptation.
So he had to make the hike in flip flops.

Now, it doesn’t look that muddy in this picture, but somehow by the time we made it back to the car, this little boy had mud streaks along his calves and feet, mud that we carefully cleaned away with baby wipes. The hike turned out to also be a little rougher than I anticipated. The trail started out okay, but then there was some climbing down a little embankment and little terrain changes that made me feel bad for him and his inferior footwear. He was a real trooper, though, and seemed to enjoy finding an ammo can and going through it for swag and making our way up and down the little rugged trail, in between bites of fudge that I was offered up like little rewards for his good attitude.
I was a little frustrated on the way back with the unexpected terrain, and with J’s disappearing trick he had done when we had gotten down there (he had wandered off to take pictures, but then found it amusing to be silent when I was calling for him trying to reunite, instead watching me searching for him and getting increasingly anxious). It took some help from me for the little guy to make it back to the car, because the going got a little slippery and difficult.
When we were almost there, little K, who is no longer having any fun, turns to me and confesses, “I didn’t really want to go on the hike. I only agreed to go because you said you would give me fudge.”
View of the Illinois from the cache site

What kind of trees are these?

So, we get back on the road. It is drizzling now. A half hour later, J begins a conversation with me in which I am fairly sure we determined that we could wait until a few hours from now to eat. Another half hour, and he is pulling over in a McDonald’s parking lot and suddenly, we are eating.
The kid’s tennis shoes are still wet, so we have him put his flip flops back on. We finish ordering, and turn around to notice there is suspicious brown tracks that back right up to the Happy Meal display, where he was standing…brown tracks that follow him to his seat…and then we are realizing that we, in fact, are those jackasses that put the kid in dirty shoes, and that he is now tracking Oregon wilderness red clay throughout McDonald’s.
It was terrible, but what could we do but watch, as people came in and suddenly looked at the floor. You would think these people had never seen mud prints before. They were freaking out. We ate quickly and J hussled the kid out the door while the older boy and I picked up. There were quite a cast of characters assembled in this McDonald’s, and everyone seemed to be hyperfocused on trying to solve the riddle of what was left behind.
“What IS this!?” A WalMart-shopper type woman exclaimed, going to tell her companion, “there’s something gross on the floor! I am going to tell the employees they need to mop!”
“I am sure they are aware,” he says in return. J says later he was watching me from the truck, and was cracking up at the way I looked at the lady, and the expression on her face.
I felt like saying, “Calm down, woman.

It’s only a little flip flop fudge.”

Fern Canyon

So, here it was, four o’clock in the afternoon now when we pull up to the entrance of Gold Bluffs Beach campground, the first-come-first-serve popular campground. Our chances of actually securing a spot were, at this point, completely nil.  Campground full.  This was a bummer because we were looking forward to seeing some elk on the beach – allegedly they come out and graze along the fringes of the campground.  Ah well, we at least wanted to experience the hike in Fern Canyon.

It’s six miles down Davidson Road to get to the campground entrance, and two miles further down this is the trailhead for Fern Canyon, reportably one of the most beautiful and enchanting places along the west coast/redwoods area.  Davidson Road was, in itself, very interesting terrain.  You look at a road on a map and you think of it like other roads – a paved stretch passing through average scenery that you have to pass through on the way to somewhere else.  This road was a winding, dirt road that threaded through jungle dense dark green foliage, dotted with large ancient trees.  It felt like a place out of time.

Fern Canyon itself felt like that, but the local fauna was entirely different.  Some of the ferns that make up the canyon trace ancestry back 325 million years.   Perhaps this sense of ancient timelessness is part of why creators chose to shoot parts of the Lost World: Jurassic Park movies here, as well as BBC and IMAX movies on dinosaurs.

The hike through the canyon from where we started was not that long (maybe 1.4 miles).  We walked through the canyon itself, surrounded by the ferns waving down at us, water dripping down from tiny rivulets from the top of the cliffs through the greenery and into the canyon floor, where it created streams made passable for people only through creative use of fallen logs and little foot bridges.  The boys were loving the opportunity to use their body in different ways to complete the journey.  Then there was a turn-off for the James Irving trail which took you on a parallel course to circle back to the starting point.

Here are my photos from this surrealistic hike: