The Campgrounds and Experiences which Made the Pacific Northwest unforgettable
By Victor Aziz, Taking the Kids Correspondent
I have been looking at my phone all week checking weather and atmospheric cloud conditions. In a summer full of bright nights in the Canadian Rockies, the sun is finally setting around 9:30 again and it is going to be crystal clear. Conditions like this on nights like tonight make me giddy. Whether you believe the stars are aligning or that there is some greater force which looks out for you, I merely feel deep thanks for this cloudless night. Tonight is the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower, the new moon is close, and we are in true bortle one dark skies. The sky is so devoid of light pollution that the Milky Way is bright enough to cast your shadow on the ground. My wife, Lindsey, is putting our daughter, Amara, to bed with the caveat that we wake her up when the meteors are at their peak.
This time comes around 1 a.m. We wake Amara and she sits in Lindsey’s lap. Sitting there, all bundled up, Amara listens as Lindsey and I talk about how pristine the Milky Way looks.
“What is the Milky Way?” Amara asks.
“It is that portion which is a little cloudy looking. You see how there are not many stars over there.” I point to the right. “And you see how there are not as many stars over here?” I point to the left. “Right in the center here though, there are many stars. So many it almost looks cloudy.”
It takes her a second and then—
“I see it.” As she speaks a meteor streaks right down the center of the Milky Way.
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I consider this moment in Wells Gray Provincial Park to be the beginning of our travels through the Pacific Northwest. When traveling, and doing so for an extended period of time, sometimes you show up to campsites and campgrounds and they just happen to be where you are staying for a few nights. They are passing sceneries and landscapes. They become places you stay at and not much else. Then there are the memorable campsites. There is special beauty in travel when the campgrounds and the places we stay in become more than a backdrop, they become characters to our story, and allow for experiences we could not have had without them having some sense of uniqueness.
Our family has been on a pretty magical trip, and I couldn’t explain to you where we stayed without revealing to you how these places in the Pacific Northwest touched my heart.
Wells Gray Provincial Park
Wells Gray is a large provincial park west of the Canadian Rockies in British Columbia. It is a land of volcanic rock, beautiful trees, thick moss, and waterfalls abundant. After traveling the Pacific Northwest for 7 weeks, the comparisons between the Umpqua in Oregon and Wells Gray are striking. Everything just said about Wells Gray can be said of the Rogue Umpqua Scenic Byway in Oregon. In fact, they both have some of their best stretches of waterfalls on rivers which share the same name, Clearwater.
We watched the Perseid Meteor Shower at the Mahood Lake Campground in Wells Gray. To our surprise, it is completely separated from the rest of the park and what connects this campground to the park is Mahood Lake. To get to the other side of Wells Gray from the Mahood Campground you must drive over two-hours. We did not know this when booking the site originally but found out its separation before we drove to it. We decided to go all the same, and we are glad we did. The drive to Mahood is on a long stretch of dirt roads from the town of Clearwater. The further we ventured down the roads, the more excited we got, and I couldn’t fully explain to you why. When we arrived, our site was huge, full of rose hop bushes and only steps to the beach. Seeing the Perseid Shower in Mahood was more than a blessing, and I will never forget where we were when our daughter took in the Milky Way for her first time. She does not have noctalgia -the grief of missing dark skies- yet, but we do, and seeing true dark skies is the sort of experiences we hope shapes change in protecting our skies for the future.
Mill Creek Campground
We have been traveling the Pacific Northwest for about 7 weeks now. As I write this, we are currently camping in the Mill Creek Campground in the Redwoods National and State Park. Mill Creek Campground sits deep in the woods, about 2.5 miles from the highway. You can see old growth redwoods in places, but not much. Nevertheless, I was excited to explore the area around our site because many surrounding campsites had fairy rings. If you’re not familiar with fairy rings, they are the remnants of giant redwoods which have been cut down and are now encircled by a ring of new growth. It is sad seeing these stumps, but it is truly awesome being atop the stump which is surrounded by the new life.
Traveling with kids is not always easy. We are together all the time. And while Lindsey works, Amara and I spend a lot of time working together on her lessons, some days harder than others. The other day was one of those hard days. After we practiced her letters, I instantly stood up and told her to follow me. We walked over to a site which had a fairy ring consisting of 11 new growth trees around it. She climbed into it, and I followed her. We then practiced silencing our minds.
We listened to the leaves rustle and a bird chirp. We sat in silence and took in the world. The trees simultaneously dampen and reflect sound. They are close, and they are still big for being second growth. We were on a stump which had to have been over 500 years old at least. The person who told me about fairy rings is no longer around, he passed about a year before my daughter was born. I sat there thinking of how new life grows from the life and experiences of the old. Silence can only last so long for a four-year-old. She laughs and jumps into my arms.
The Redwoods are a place which should be experienced by everyone. You can’t help but cherish them and mourn for the loss of so many of them. Seeing a giant is akin to nothing else I have ever experienced. Sitting on that stump with my daughter in my arms, being surrounded by the potential for new life, both in her and the trees, is the reason we travel. Life gives us so many of these moments, I plant this one deep in my soul.
Ocean City State Park
The blending of memories and reliving them in a new fashion, the harnessing of nostalgia, this is what the Pacific Northwest (PNW) has been for me. I love the PNW, I always have. I first visited Seattle when I was just over 10 years old. I flew alone from Colorado to visit my brother. That trip is a gem in my memories. We walked the pier and threw fries to seagulls. I ate mussels for the first time and experienced true rain as my brother and I ran to get out of a deluge. Maybe one of my fondest memories of that trip was when I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time.
We walked the beach and saw seals. We tried catching waves and body surfing back to shore. The moment which I share the most often of that trip, is when my brother buried me in the sand, feet first, arms at my sides. After I was in and he was sure I couldn’t move, he walked away over a hill and waited until he heard the real fear in my screams. A true beach initiation by an older brother. I love this memory and it is something I love to laugh about now.
We saw a great amount of the Pacific Ocean and beach along our journey. One place which surprised us was Ocean City State Park. We fell into this stay because we had a couple nights that needed to be filled at the last minute before moving on down the coast. Of course, everything was booked because it happened to be Labor Day weekend. Thankfully, we came upon Ocean City.
We booked a couple nights there and assumed this park must be very lackluster. Why else would it have openings on the last and busiest camping weekend of the year?
When we first arrived, the campsite we landed on did in fact live up to that initial feeling. We decided not to settle though and grabbed our bikes to cruise the campground to see if we could find an open spot. What we found was a campsite which felt like it was nestled in a group of bonsai trees. An even bigger plus side was that it was one of the few sites with electrical hook-up. This allowed us freedom to use power without having to restrict our use. During the day Amara and I played at the campsite and worked on her lessons until Lindsey got done with work that evening. We packed a picnic style dinner and took a wonderful walk down to the beach.
The walk went through a long and thicketed forest of small trees and bushes. The path was a tunnel carved through life creating a wonderful overhang. When the trees ended, the path opened to high grass. We walked until we passed over the hill. What we found was a wide-open sandy beach for which we were the only ones for miles.
Once we hit the sand, we let our dog off leash and went exploring. About halfway to the water there was a washed-up tree. That is where we ate our picnic, and I relived my nostalgia with Amara. I buried her standing in sand, much the same way my brother did me. Feet first with her arms at her side. The only difference in the experience is she laughed the whole time, and I didn’t walk away. I can’t help but be a loving father. I don’t know if she will remember the beach that day, but I definitely will.
The Hoh Rainforest
While on this trip, we ventured around a healthy portion of the PNW. We stayed in Golden Ears about an hour from Vancouver, hopped about the Olympic Peninsula, saw Crater Lake, the Oregon coast, and more in between. I am thankful for all we have seen, but none of this trip would have happened, or at least not in the way we traveled it if we weren’t drawn by the Hoh Rainforest.
When we first began planning our PNW travels it was the Hoh we thought of first. It was what our excitement coalesced around. As we planned Lindsey and I both told our parents where we would be traveling, and in some strange way, both her parents and my mom wanted to come visit the rainforest with us. Lindsey’s parents did something akin to our travels. They flew into Portland, rented a van, and traveled up the coast to us. My mom and my nephew flew into Seattle and drove our way. All together there were nine of us camping in the Rainforest. It made for quite the gathering after months of travel with just our small family.
The Hoh Rainforest Campground is a beautiful campground that neighbors the visitor center and the three trail heads the rainforest has to offer. Moss covers everything. The environment is teeming with plant life. Big leaf maples stretch wide with moss hanging from every limb like majestic curtains. Our family all stood under these, gazing up in amazement. On one portion of a trail, six or seven new trees rise out of a nurse tree (a tree which has fallen and provides life for the forest).
My mom has wanted to travel to the rainforest her entire life so seeing her walk the trails and explore the beauty fascinated me. I have never seen my mom awestruck before. She soaked the forest in full, which was joyous to witness. There are family gatherings and then there are families gathering in a place which may have more life per square inch than anywhere else in the world.
In just a few days we will be leaving the Pacific Northwest- for now. While I am sad to say goodbye, I am happy for the memories, the experiences, and the chance to be a part of the lore which is the Pacific Northwest. There is much to experience here, and I feel we have only scratched the surface. We have already began thinking where we will visit next. The North Cascades National Park in Washington, the series of volcanos that go from central Washington into northern Oregon, and the middle section of the Oregon coast are just a few places we already have in our minds eye.
Thanks to GoRving for it’s help in sponsoring and helping plan our trip!