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Archive for June, 2011

Friday morning saw camping-buddy Lavon and myself heading out to the Olympic peninsula for a weekend of camping.  The plan was to spend two nights at the Hoh rainforest, with a roughly six mile hike up the river as our Saturday activity.  First things first, though; Friday was also an eventful day for our little town: the grand opening of our very own Trader Joe’s.  We stopped in on our way out of town and experienced live music, hula dancers, and something I’d never seen in a grocery store before: lines 15 people deep in which every person was cheerful and smiling.  We picked up some of Joe’s Spicy Chai Latte just-add-water mix, which turned out to be quite tasty and an excellent thing to take camping because it meany we could have chai without bringing along milk.

It’s 160 miles from my house to the Hoh, so we made a couple of stops along the way.  The first, at Hurricane Coffee in Sequim, is a stop we make nearly every time we pass by.  The place has a really nice atmosphere and some pretty delicious coffee and bagels.  Later, we had a picnic lunch (falafel with olives, capers, tsaziki, and tomatoes in pita) at La Poel, a small peninsula that sticks out into Lake Crescent, which, I learned on this trip, used to contain a truck stop with cabins and a tavern, but now just has picnic tables and fire pits.  No overnight camping is allowed at La Poel, but it makes a tranquil mid-day retreat.

As we passed through Forks, Lavon and I started planning an imaginary Twilight themed ice cream shop.  We had fun thinking up flavors to go with books we’d never read until we came to the turn off to get to the Hoh…  where we were stopped by a ranger.  He informed us that there was a mother elk that had just given birth and was charging at people, so they had to close the area.  There went that plan.  We turned around, made our way back through the Twilight Zone–I mean, Forks–and headed to the coast to camp at Mora, right across the Quillayute River from La Push.

There appears to be some force in the universe that is constantly driving me towards Mora.  I have camped there four or five times, yet only one of those times was intentional.  When other campgrounds are full or close, Mora is where I end up.  And I don’t mind, because Mora is actually my favorite campground of any that I’ve been to.

So we snagged site 31 at Mora, a cozy little site with a tent pad set back in what Lavon called a grotto made of vine maple and elderberry bushes.  Most of the rest of the afternoon was spent mapping out the campground, which took quite a while as there are nearly 100 sites between five irregularly shaped loops.  Loops C and D were closed because the campground wasn’t very busy, and A hardly had anyone in it, so we got to walk into a whole bunch of the sites to really get a feel for them.  #18, in loop A, had this really cool stump in it:

For dinner we had sausages with sauted onions and mushrooms and polenta (perfect camp fare: hearty and delicious), after which we went a mile further down the road to its end at Rialto Beach, where we watched the waves under a darkening grey sky.  Back at camp, my home-made fire starters worked reasonably well.  I wish I had taken the time to fill them up further with wax so they would burn longer, but they got the job done.

Sleep that night should have been easy.  There was a lovely chorus of frogs, and while our neighbor did snore, he was far enough away not to be a nuisance.  The rain that started around 11:30, on the other hand, was a problem.  Our lovely little tent grotto sent large drips hammering down on the tent’s rain fly, making a terrible racket.  The noise, along with my constant worry that all our stuff would become soaked as it touched the edge of the tent, kept me awake, though I know I did get some sleep, and probably more than I thought.

The rain was still going come morning, though by that time it was more of a heavy mist.  After breakfast, when we had saturated a towel mopping up small puddles in the tent, we decided to cut our losses and pack up.  When I lifted my sleeping pad off the tent floor, I discovered a small lake waiting underneath.  By some miracle I had remained dry for the night, but I doubt I would have remained so for a second one.

We made our way home, tired and damp, but still glad we had gone.

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After a long foray into the land of Photoshop, with a stop at the island nation of Learning-a-ton-more-about-Photoshop, I have emerged victorious with a map of the Staircase Campground!  (Click on it to see a larger version.)

Staircase Campground sits on the inside of a bend in the North Fork of the Skokomish River.  It used to have 56 sites, but that number is down to 50 because the southern waterfront sites were washed out by the river.  These washout sites are listed in parentheses on the map.  Site 14 has a semi-circle of benches set up in what’s left of it.  The remaining waterfront sites are 1-7 (except for 3) and they are the most spacious sites in the campground.  If you don’t mind sleeping next to loud, rushing water, try to grab one of these.  You’ll have room to spread out and a nice view of the river.

I’m always a sucker for walk-in sites at campgrounds.  They give you just the tiniest taste of hike-in camping (alright, it’s more like a smell than a taste.)  I enjoy the larger, wilder nature of walk-in sites, as well as the guarantee that I won’t have an RV for a neighbor.  Staircase’s 5 walk-in sites are all well set up with fire pit and bear-box, but the ones towards the back give a little more cover, and are near the river to boot.  #24 is my choice for the best walk-in site.

If you’re camping with a larger group than will fit in a single site, there are a couple of good options for you.  44 and 45 are close together, and when I visited the campground there was a large family using them as basically one site.  10 and 11 share the same parking strip, and if you combine them with 46 and 48 behind them, you have a very spacious, relatively open area to share.  If you have younger kids with good imaginations, I would suggest snagging site 51, which has a large hollow cedar stump in it, perfect for a castle or fortress.

I would not recommend sites 32-41.  These are up-hill from the rest of the campground, next to the road.  While they are sheltered among denser trees, these sites are quite small and not very flat.  They also have to longest walks to the bathrooms, which are both located on the lower level.  42 and 43, while on the upper level, are much larger and flatter than their neighbors.

Now for some miscellaneous details:

Site 46 is a designated handicap spot: very flat, next to the bathrooms, and with a larger tent pad.

Camping fee is $12.  Checkout is at 11:00.  Collecting firewood is prohibited in the area.  Standard campground quiet hours are 10:00-6:00.

The nearest RV dump station is down the road at Lake Cushman and there is a $5 fee.

And finally, the Lavon award for best campsite goes to #31, a medium-sized, flat site tucked in the corner of the campground, sheltered by several evergreens, with one particularly nice western hemlock providing a canopy over the picnic table and tent pad.  Thanks, Lavon, for assisting me in my survey.  Hopefully we can stay at site 31 some time.

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