Road Trip: Wisconsin to Oregon

A former client reached out to me to see if I was able to house/petsit for her again for the month of March in Lincoln City, Oregon. I was eager for the opportunity to go back to the Oregon coast again, especially since it would provide me the opportunity to celebrate my 40th birthday in my favorite place, as well as escape the last throws of a Wisconsin winter, so I happily accepted the job. I worked out a remote work plan with my part-time job in Madison so all that was left to do was to plan my route. There were several things I wanted to see on my last 8,000-mile road trip from Oregon to Wisconsin that I didn’t get the chance to so I decided instead of driving the most efficient route west through Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho and Washington, I would use the opportunity to explore the southwest some more on my way to Oregon.

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The 3,500-mile route from Wisconsin to Oregon

When Cole and I left Wisconsin on February 20th, it was a frigid -11 degrees outside and everything was blanketed in a frozen layer of snow. The plan was to make our way through southeastern Wisconsin, into Iowa and to Topeka, Kansas, where we would rest for the night, as quickly as possible. Along the way, I noticed a lot of signs in highway rest stops that had 800-numbers to call to report human trafficking. It was a stark reminder of one of the many dangers lurking out there, just beneath the surface of the world. The next morning, we made our way toward Amarillo, Texas by way of Oklahoma, where it was considerably warmer. Like the day before, I didn’t stop to take pictures anywhere but in hindsight, I wish I had taken the time as I saw some really interesting abandoned structures along the way. Some were in Kansas but a lot more were in Oklahoma. I’m not sure what the story is there but I’m guessing it has something to do with some sort of industry that once was booming but had slumped off due to the changing times.

On the third day, we stopped at the Cadillac Ranch to leave my spray-painted mark on one of the cars, surrounded by a field of cattle. Cole appreciated leaving his mark too, less the spray paint, as well as sniffing around all the manure piles, some of which had been painted too. Not too far outside of Amarillo I found myself enamored with some wind turbines so I had to stop and take some photos of those and the surrounding landscape. After that, we made our way into New Mexico where I spent most of my time staring through the rainsoaked windshield at a damp landscape I so desperately wanted to get out and explore. Unfortunately, the rain made that nearly impossible so I resigned myself to simply driving through most of the state and settling into a sketchy part of Farmington for the night. I was really disappointed that I didn’t have better weather seeing as New Mexico was the state I was most looking forward to photographing on this trip. It appears I will have to go back once again another time.

On the fourth day, the rain subsided a bit and I got to cross several places off my travel bucket list. The first was the Shiprock rock formation just outside of Shiprock, New Mexico. I didn’t have enough time to drive close up to it but it’s large enough that you can enjoy it from 50-miles away, which says something for its magnitude. I was saddened to see a lot of stray dogs roaming in and around that area. One dog in particular at the gas station really tugged at my heartstrings as one of the locals pulling up to the gas pump ahead of me, clearly seeing the dog, nearly hit it. The dog cautiously came closer to me while I pumped gas so I fed him some leftover food I had in my car. I wish I had had the resources to do more and naively hoped that maybe there were others out there somewhere who cared for and fed him too. Next, we went to the Four Corners monument, where you can stand in four states at once, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. After that, we stopped to see the Mexican Hat rock formation and then made our way to the much anticipated Monument Valley which is a place I’ve wanted to see ever since I saw it one of my all-time favorite movies, Forrest Gump. We zig-zagged back and forth through several states, stopping at Lake Powell to take in the spectacular view, before resting for the night in St. George, Utah, a surprisingly gorgeous area, especially as you descend into the neighboring town of Hurricane. I wished I had more time so I could stop at Zion National Park but it just couldn’t happen this time around. Utah is one of those places where you just have to make a dedicated trip to thoroughly explore the multitude of interesting areas. Knowing me, I will definitely make that a priority to do someday soon.

Day five brought us to the spectacular red rock landscape of the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. I enjoyed slowly making my way through the park, stopping at each overlook to take in the views. Cole, too, enjoyed exploring the unique rocks with perfect Cole-sized holes in their sides to crawl into. Before long, we were on our way toward Death Valley National Park, stopping just outside of Las Vegas to grab a bite first. Not too long after that, I found a good spot, or so I thought, to pull over and finally get photos of some Joshua Trees along the roadside. The place I pulled over was just off the highway on a good chunk of gravel lot next to a road that was fenced off just beyond the way. I didn’t read the signs, I suspected they said something to the effect of “no trespassing”, which I didn’t plan on doing, I just wanted to snap a few photos of the trees and give Cole some water and then be on my way, so I paid them no attention. Just as I was finishing up my photos and was getting ready to give Cole his water, I noticed a very official, military-style vehicle appear from way off in the distance, beyond the fence. It appeared to be approaching very quickly and stopped just on the other side of the fence. A person got out of the truck but didn’t say anything to me. I sensed though that it was time to move on so after Cole finished his water, we hopped back in the car and continued on our way. Shortly down the road, I saw a road sign that stated we were now in a prison area and were prohibited from picking up hitchhikers. The truck incident earlier now began to make more sense. I suspect they were checking to make sure I wasn’t meeting an escaped prisoner or something to that effect. After another hour or so of driving, I finally entered Death Valley which was a much more comfortable 84-degrees (instead of the 105-degrees that it was in September when I was there last) before making my way back into Nevada and north through a stark landscape where roadsigns reminded me that prostitution is legal in Nevada. There was something strange about being in the middle of nowhere surrounded by just desert for miles and miles and former brothels like Angel’s Ladies. I drove for hours through a lot of nothing before running out of daylight (and steam) and decided to get a room in Hawthorne, Nevada, an hour or so short of my intended goal for the day.

That hotel experience in Hawthorne was one of the strangest I’ve had so far on my travels. Cole and I were the only guests in the whole hotel which had just recently changed hands and into a Motel 6. I was given a handicap accessible room, normally not an issue at all except this time it meant there were no chairs to sit on nor a shower head that could be used without holding it, something that proved more challenging than my tired, traveling soul could handle at the moment and almost led to a good hard cry in the shower later that night. Cole quickly made himself comfortable in bed and took a hard nap while I unpacked the things I needed to use during our stay, putting my hygiene products in the bathroom, scanning receipts from the day into my phone, etc. Around 10 pm or so I decided to take Cole for his final walk before we went to bed. When we got back to the room, Cole crawled back into bed, as usual, but this time he started acting strangely. He stared down at the bed, tilting his head as if he was hearing something from within the mattress. Then he jumped down and started pacing the room. First, he went into the bathroom and then came back out and went to the opposite side of the room. He seemed interested in finding out what was on top of the nightstand and looked up there for a moment before pacing back toward the bathroom. All of this behavior was very strange for him which had me on high alert.

I tried coaxing him to come back to bed but he really didn’t seem to want to, again, highly unusual. Finally, he did but he stayed far away from me, almost on the edge of the foot of the bed. All sorts of things were running through my head. First, was there something in the bed? Then I thought maybe there was an earthquake coming, something I thought I remembered hearing that animals react to strangely before they happen. I started Googling where the best place to be in an earthquake was. After some time (and no earthquake), my mind wandered to the most unrealistic possibility: ghosts. Normally, that’s not something that would ever come to mind as it’s just not something I really believe in but I’d recently seen some ghost hunter shows my sister was watching so it was sort of fresh in my mind. I turned the TV back on to help ease the anxiety that was creeping up around that possibility. Lastly, I started to go the more rational route and remembered that there are scorpions and other biting/stinging creatures in the desert. Maybe something got to Cole while we were out walking and he was having some sort of neurological reaction to venom? I started Googling what sorts of things were in the area to worry about. It appeared that the most common thing would be a benign-ish scorpion that rarely had complications that would warrant emergency care. To be safe, I Googled where the closest 24-hour emergency vet was to me and to my dismay, it was in Reno, over two hours away. My fingers were crossed hard that Cole’s behavior wouldn’t worsen. Luckily for Cole and for me, it didn’t, and by morning he was back to his normal self. Thank goodness!

On day 6 we traveled to Eureka, California. For most of the day, the drive was much more pleasant than the day before. There were a lot more interesting things to look at including a landscape that changed from the desert, to farmland, to forests, to mountains, and finally the coast. The near-last leg of the drive was on Highway 299 between Redding and Eureka and it proved almost too much to handle after having already driven most of the day. It is over 100-miles of near-constant tight twists and turns through an albeit gorgeous river valley. By the time we reached Highway 101 along the coast, I felt like I had just gone through some sort of battle, completely depleted of my energy. I had traveled the road once before several years ago but seem to have forgotten how challenging the drive was. I was happy to check into my hotel room, unload my belongings from the car, and then quickly head out to the nearest beach access point in Samoa to reward Cole for a hard day of travel and enjoy the sunset and fresh sea air. It felt wonderful to be back on the coast and a lovely contrast to the cold and snow back home in Wisconsin. Once back at the hotel, I decided to order a swanky seafood dinner to be delivered to my room as I watched Rachel Maddow give an update on the growing Coronavirus outbreak. That’s when I learned that the first unknown source (community spread) case in the United States was in northern California. Where was I? In northern California. Wonderful. I did my best not to freak out too much and was thankful that I mostly keep to myself on my travels. Now it’s time to just be a lot more diligent about hand washing and avoiding touching my face. Those are two things I can definitely handle.

Day 7 started with ordering breakfast and coffee to be delivered to my hotel room and enjoying a leisurely morning in the hotel, watching TV and resting in bed with Cole. By early afternoon, I opted to get out and explore the area a bit and decided to go to the Lost Coast, just south of Eureka. Cole and I quickly found ourselves on another winding road with tight curves which also had the added joy of being really rough, I suspect due to frequent land shifting throughout the very hilly region. The area was beautiful though, it reminded me much of the Cascade Head area of the Oregon coast but much larger. There were spectacular views from high up above the ocean providing the most interesting perspective of the area’s landscape. It’s a rather remote area made up of mostly fields for horses and cattle to graze with the occasional home or farmhouse here and there and forests surrounding the area in all directions off in the distance. I finally made my way to the Black Sands Beach area which was my ultimate goal for the day. Cole enjoyed his own little adventure on the beach while I photographed the surrounding views. We eventually loaded ourselves back into the car after being beaten up a bit by the high winds and made our way back to the hotel, enjoying the winding drive back up into the steep hillsides.

On day 8 we made our way to Coos Bay, stopping at several places along the way. The first notable stop was at Fern Canyon, located about 7-miles off of Highway 101 down a narrow, winding, dirt road. I was happy to find my National Park pass was an acceptable method to waive the entrance fee. The ranger warned me that there was a creek up ahead that crossed the road that I would have to navigate my way through. Some people drive through, others hike and apparently, it was up to me to decide which I was comfortable with. When we got to the creek, I got out and took a look. It wasn’t too deep or too wide so I figured my little Kia Soul could handle it and lucky for Cole and I, we made it across without getting stuck. Once to the parking lot for the trailhead, I had to leave Cole in the car since they didn’t allow dogs on the trail. I noticed a sign at the trailhead that warned of the aggressive elk in the area. Duly noted but honestly, I was more concerned with cougars as a lone hiker than elk. It didn’t take long to reach the creek which marked the point in which I would start to head upstream and take in the gorgeous sites along the way. Lush ferns and other plants hung from the two tall canyon sides as sunbeams made their way through the forest canopy and were accentuated by the fog. Slowly I crossed back and forth through the cold creek waters, taking it all in and photographing it to the best of my ability to document the experience I already knew I would never want to forget. The best word to describe the scene is magical! I was so incredibly lucky to have the whole place to my self, not another soul in sight. When I was hiking back out, I ran into the first people I would see. Once I got back to my car, several other cars starting showing up. I really did get there at the perfect time to enjoy the place in it’s most natural moment. On my way back to the highway, I noticed a herd of elk grazing in the campground and stopped to snap some photos from the safety of my car. They seemed quite used to people and didn’t pay me much attention.

Once back on the highway, I made my way to the California/Oregon border. Cole seemed to remember the Oregon smell because he started to get really excited and jump from window to window, smelling the air. Even Cole knows that there’s just something really special about this state. Our first stop was at Pistol River, an area I had long wanted to stop and explore when I lived in Oregon but never did. It’s a wonderful little spot with lots of beautiful sand dunes to explore. When I first let Cole off his leash upon our arrival, he zoomed out to the beach, running and running and running. Clearly, he was really excited to finally be back on the Oregon coast. I hadn’t seen him that happy in a long time. It totally warmed my heart! After we were done there, we headed to Bandon, one of my most favorite spots on the southern Oregon coast. We stopped there to snap some photos and enjoy the views from high above, looking down at the most interesting collection of tall rock spires jutting up from varying points of the coastline waters. After we were done there, we headed to the hotel in Coos Bay and after checking in and unloading my bags from the car and getting Cole situated, I headed over to the Blue Heron to enjoy a tasty german meal which I had been looking forward to since my last visit there a few years ago. Honestly, it’s probably the only reason I got a room for the night in Coos Bay.

On day 9 we made our way to Newport where we would spend two nights. We stopped at a few random spots along the way including a beautiful lake and river area as well as the Darlingtonia State Natural site which is always a fun place to stop and see the carnivorous plants in their protected habitat. After arriving in Newport, I checked into my room and met up with a friend shortly thereafter to catch up over dinner. The next day, I woke up fairly early and ran out to grab breakfast and a few items of clothing from the local Fred Meyer seeing as I was out of clean clothes but so close to my final destination where I could do laundry. I then went back to the hotel and lounged for a bit before heading out to explore the South Jetty area of the coastline. I was happy to find so many wonderful beach grass-covered sand dunes to photograph. An ominous-looking rainstorm was fast approaching from the distance so Cole and I made our way back toward the car where it started to rain and then quickly turned into a strong downpour. It appears we made it back to the car just in time. I decided to not let the rain send us back to the hotel and instead took a drive along the Yaquina River to see what there was to see, which turns out there is a lot of photo-worthy things but very few places to safely pull over and take photos. Bummer. Once I reached Toledo, I turned around and headed back to Newport to grab an early sushi dinner to take back to the room and rest for the remainder of the night.

Lincoln City, Oregon

Cole and I arrived in Lincoln City on the morning of day eleven. I picked up some groceries on my way to stock the fridge and quickly made myself at home and reacquainted myself with the two cats and one dog that I spent two months of last summer with. To my surprise, they seemed to all have remembered me, even Tomasina, the cat that usually spends two weeks hiding under the bed before reluctantly coming out for some much sought after attention. I enjoyed spending time just sitting on the couch with everyone and enjoying the spectacular view of the ocean. I’m looking forward to the month ahead: working remotely, taking care of the animals, catching up with old friends and co-workers, going for beach walks, and celebrating my 40th birthday in just a couple of weeks. It’s funny how it seems like nothing (yet everything) has changed from six months ago when I was last here, I guess life can be funny like that sometimes. I already know I will miss this place when I have to leave again but there are many more adventures ahead for Cole and I this year to look forward to, including another fun-filled road trip adventure as we make our way back to Wisconsin in early April, so I’m not too sad about it. I’m learning to enjoy these moments when I have them so I can make the most of my time here, wherever “here” happens to be. This is the authentic life I sought to design and live when I last left here and it seems I’m on the right road to get there.

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