Our first night in the Chinook was also our first boon docking experience and our first night of “stealth” camping, as we parked in a parking lot off the highway in Madras, Oregon. We weren’t familiar with using the light-blocking curtain we found in the cabinet, but simply draped it as best we could across the rear of the cab, and turned out the lights early.
Not surprisingly, we woke up early, around 530am. More surprising was the cold, and the temperature had fallen to the high 20’s overnight! Shivering a little in our fair-weather sleeping bag, we decided to get up and on the road right away. Soon we found ourselves back on Highway 97 headed to Bend and points south. We stopped to visit the High Desert Museum south of Bend, but it was so early the museum didn’t open for hours. We had taken a car trip through the area in 2004, and were very impressed with the museum, which offered an amazing exhibit with baby owls in the nest.
The temperature had climbed to the 30’s but that was plenty cold outside. We encountered patches of fog in the hills, and were astounded to see a large buck on the side of the road in the fog ahead of us. It was like a scene from a fantasy novel, the deer in the fog, looking at us then loping away. Something we will always remember from this trip.
As we came through the gap to Klamath Falls, we took a side trip to see the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.
We hoped to see some eagles and other birds, but were a little disappointed. The marshes were expansive, but there were no trees to speak of, and the grass was brown, with some canal-like creeks meandering through. We saw a few ducks, but that was it. We drove on a gravel road through the refuge, which was so bumpy it rattled our teeth. The road had become like a corduroy log road, and the Chinook seemed to bounce with every rotation of the wheels. (We later found out our shocks were completely worn out which added to or might have been the cause of the poor ride.)
Back on the highway, we passed into California and drove through Weed, which had recently suffered a huge forest fire.
We passed through a lot of burn area, and then came upon the majestic views of Mount Shasta, one of a chain of volcanos ranging from Mount Ranier in Washington to Mount Lassen, just to the southwest in California.
At our next gas stop, we switched drivers, as Beth wanted to get some experience driving the Chinook. She did fine, but was a little nervous about turns and lane changes, as was I. She has left the driving to me since then, mainly because I enjoy it more. She could certainly drive the Chinook if she had to, and since we learned to adjust the mirrors and installed a backup camera, a lot of the uncertainties are mitigated.
We passed up an opportunity to visit Mount Lassen, but we did make a side trip to visit the Coleman National Fish Hatchery, near Anderson, California. The hatchery is located along a tributary of the Sacramento River, and its purpose is to expand fish populations of several species, to the tune of over 13 million hatchlings per year. Our favorite species was the Chinook! The Chinook fish is a type of Salmon, the King Salmon. Other Chinooks include a wind and one or more towns, including a harbor town of Chinook in Oregon.
Since we had a taste of “free” camping, we were now reluctant to pay for a place to park. As dark approached, we pulled into a rest stop off of Interstate 5, hoping to stay for a few hours of sleep. After we parked and used the facilities, a car with a small trailer pulled in next to us, carrying along a smell of marijuana with its inhabitants. A rest stop attendant asked us if we knew these people, which of course we did not. It seemed a little creepy to stay there after that, so we started up again and headed down the highway. It turned out that rest stops were sparse after that, and we drove considerably further that evening than we anticipated. As we queried Google maps “Find Rest Stop”, we were finally rewarded with the “Hunter Hill Safety Rest Area” in Vallejo, CA. The driving had become quite hectic and stressful by the time we arrived at the rest area, since we were now in the North Bay area freeway system. It was relief that we stopped finally for the night.
I had a revelation during the day regarding our privacy drape, and realized there were button snaps on it and there were corresponding snap locations in the ceiling and walls of the cab area of the Chinook. It turned out the drape was in fact designed for the purpose we had crudely attempted the night before. Once snapped in place, along with a tiny counterpart snapped over the rear window of the camper door, we were snuggled in stealthy privacy.
The next morning provided some urban freeway driving experience as we crossed the northwest tipoff the bay toward Oakland. Hungry for breakfast, we were rewarded by our “Find Black Bear Diner” request with a convenient location in Emeryville. After a hearty breakfast, we continued south.
We had some extra time to get home, so we decided to head for the coast for a more interesting drive. We turned west at Salinas and drove toward Monterey and California Highway 1. We decided to travel the famous 17-mile drive through Pebble Beach, since it had been many years since we visited that coast.
Our first photo stop in the 17 Mile Drive was at Point Joe, a particularly turbulent piece of the Pacific.
While we were enjoying the break, we stumbled across some odd pellets under the passenger seat of the Chinook, which turned out to be rat poison! This evidence of a past rodent infestation was later corroborated by some nesting materials found later.
Disgusting as it sounds, the rats probably helped save us quite a bit of money on our purchase price, so we probably owe them a favor. At any rate, there were no current specimens on board, so we disposed of the poison pellets and continued the 17-Mile drive.
Once we returned to the highway in Carmel, we drove the fabulous Big Sur coastal drive toward San Simeon and Morro Bay. Driving the Chinook on the twisty road down the coast was surprisingly easy. The steering was very responsive and the powerful engine had no trouble with the mountain climbing. There were a number of turnouts to day use areas and campgrounds that did not look inviting to an RV, but we could see many bigger campers on the road and at some of the turnouts.
Just north of San Simeon (home of Hearst’s Castle), we stopped at a beach full of elephant seals, basking. Some of the males were strutting their stuff, along with some amazing bellows. We watched for a while, fascinated, and continued toward home.
The rest of the drive was pretty, and uneventful, and we arrived home in Santa Barbara in the late afternoon. We are blessed to live in one of the most beautiful seaside locations around, so any drive to or from the north is a scenic delight.
All in all, we were very pleased with our purchase and our pleasant first trip driving back home in the Chinook. We knew we had made the right decision in our quest for an RV. Now it was back to my last two months of work, and making plans for the future.