Cape Crusaders in Oregon

The Three Capes Scenic Drive takes in one of the nicest sections of the Oregon Coast.

Our #Vanlife experiment led us to Cape Lookout State Park in a rented VW EuroVan from Road Trip Oregon. From there we explored the other capes in this northern section of the coast: Cape Meares and Cape Kiwanda.

It was a fantastic two-day trip. The highlight was a five-mile hike to the tip of Cape Lookout, which juts out into the Pacific, offering great views for miles.

When we weren’t exploring the capes, we shucked fresh oysters from Netarts Bay, hiked along mostly empty beaches and had roaring fires at night. April proved to be a great time to visit.

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Leslie on the Cape Lookout trail, with great views of the north coast of Oregon.
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Lunch break on the Cape Lookout hike.
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The view of the cliffs at Cape Meares.
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The lighthouse at Cape Meares.
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A blue jay visited camp at Cape Lookout.
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Sasquatch sighting on the beach at Cape Lookout.
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Sunset along Cape Lookout.

Van Life: Time for a Test Drive

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We’ve been talking A LOT about making this big move, hitting the road to live the Van Life dream… like so many others are doing right now. But in what? We’ve started seriously exploring our options.

Free Bird: A Van that Drives Like a Car

We first spotted this custom rig at the recent RV show, and it left a lasting impression. It’s a Nissan NV200 that a Seattle dealership custom fit, inspired by the owner’s love of the classic VW camper vans. So, it’s a passion project for brothers, Kurt and Craig Campbell, who own Campbell Nissan. You can tell there’s a lot of thought and care that went into creating this vehicle.

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Pros/Cons

Johnny jumped behind the wheel — “because, let’s face it, I’ll be doing most of the driving” — and he was instantly impressed by its solid feel on the road. It drives like a car, and gets incredible gas mileage. Before we take the leap, though, there are some issues to consider.

  • Space is tight: The table breaks down and becomes the roomy, very comfy bed, but where does ALL our stuff go? There are some interior storage bins and the option for a rocket box on top, but this van almost feels more like a weekender than a viable housing alternative.
  • But wait! There’s also the option to add on a fairly large awning. AND panels can be added to that setup, effectively creating another “room.” Very cool.
  • Cooking challenge: The kitchen setup is out the back end, and it includes a one-burner setup heated by butane. Not as efficient as propane, and lots of waste because those cartridges are not refillable. So, you’d probably need to get that portable Coleman stove, or bring the trusty Jet Boil into the equation.
  • Powering up: Unlike the Westy, you can’t pull into an RV spot and plug in to power up. The battery runs the “fridge” (which is a small drawer, so you’d need an additional cooler, too), and a couple USB outlets, but there are no plugs to power up a laptop or other gadgets.
  • No riders: This is a two-person vehicle, period.

Lots of Thoughtful Touches

There are nice special features, including:

  • Screens on windows
  • Custom-made privacy curtains
  • A ceiling fan
  • The table has cup holders
  • It’s compact; we could park this in our teeny garage
  • It’s easy to convert it to a cargo van; everything slides out!

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The Price is RIGHT

Most of the camper vans we’ve looked at come with pretty hefty prices, including the spectacular Sprinter outfitted by Airstream that rings up at a cool $217,000. The Free Bird is around $35,000. We’re still shopping. As much as we’d love to DIY an empty, high roof, that’s not gonna happen, so this nifty ride is at the top of the list right now.

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Cool Winter Destination: Warming Up in Desert Hot Springs

She says: Johnny is a pretty good sport about letting me indulge in my hedonistic habits. I didn’t have to try too hard to talk him into making a stop in Desert Hot Springs after a chilly night camping in Joshua Tree National Park.

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The grounds are really pretty at Sam’s. Photo by Leslie Kelly

Hot bed for hot springs

There are more than 30 spas in this teeny town north of Palm Springs, including one started by famous gangster, Al Capone. After talking with an extremely helpful person at the Palm Springs Visitors Center, I zeroed in on what I think is the very best hot spring spa… in an RV park! Sam’s Family Spa Hot Water Resort is the only place in the area that doesn’t add chlorine to its pools, which are heated by three underground wells. (It’s grandfathered in before the health department required the addition of the chemical.) The pools at Sam’s are drained daily, so they’re crystal clear and don’t have that funky smell you can sometimes run into at hot springs.

The vibe is totally Old School, with bare-bones dressing rooms and you’ll need to BYOT (bring your own towels). But that’s OK because it’s pretty cheap. Admission on weekdays is just $14, or deeply discounted if you’re staying in the motel or at the RV park.

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Be brave and take hit the cold plunge! Photo by Leslie Kelly

Timing Was Just Right

On a weekday morning in December, we practically had the whole place to ourselves and the soak did the trick of warming us right up. I love the time-honored tradition of hopping back and forth between the hot pools and the cold plunge. I also really enjoyed the friendly energy of Sam’s. There was a group of about 10 friends sitting in a nearby pool catching up on news and trading gossip. So very Euro!

I’ve been to a whole lot of hot springs over the years and Sam’s is right up there with Nakusp in British Columbia, and Glenwood Springs in Colorado. I’d definitely recommend a visit if you’re in the area for a trip to Joshua Tree National Park, or to unwind after an action-packed weekend at Coachella in April.

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Photo via Sam’s Family Spa on Facebook

Start Planning: Climb Mount St. Helens This Summer

Our Grand Tour

Rocks fall, steam rises, a glacier moves as the mountain rumbles. To climb Mount St. Helens is to climb a living, breathing mountain.

It’s hard not to feel moved by the experience.

John got the chance to summit St. Helens after scoring a permit in late August. While it’s not a technical climb, the five-mile route to the summit is strenuous, gaining 4,500 vertical feet. The last three miles gain more than 3,000 feet, traveling through a sketchy boulder field and what is called “the vertical beach” — a slide-y, sandy trudge to the rim.

Once you’re on top, you don’t want to leave. It’s fascinating to look inside the rim at a mountain that first blew up in 1980, then reformed its lava dome with eruptions from 2004 to 2008.

It’s time to start about planning for this very special experience this summer. Permits for the busy summer climbing…

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How I Survived My Lewis and Clark Story

Our Grand Tour

Exploring the explorers sounded like a great idea. That was before the 20-degree first night of camping.

Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery traveled across Washington state in 1805, and John was lucky enough to score an assignment from 1889 Magazine to follow their path and write about it.

How’d he get through it? Lots of whiskey and a very warm sleeping bag helped immensely.

Read the story here: Following the Footsteps of Lewis and Clark.

D1_PalouseFalls2 Looking down on the Palouse River in the Snake River Country.

D2_ChiefTimothy3 A dawn visit to the Listening Circle at Chief Timothy Park near Clarkston.

D1_Train A train travels over the Snake River on a high trestle.

D2_Pasco4 SkiZer checks out a dugout canoe at Sacajawea State Park in Pasco.

D3_ColumbiaHills2 SkiZer walks the hills high above the Columbia near The Dalles, Ore.

D3Stonehenge The Stonehenge World War I Memorial at Maryhill.

D3_Beacon1 Hiking at Beacon Rock State…

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How to Shake the Winter Blues: Hit the Beach in San Diego

Our Grand Tour

A day at the beach is great any time of year, but it feels particularly great in December.

San Diego might be the best place in Southern California for a beach visit. The SkiZer was lucky enough to spend a couple of days exploring San Diego’s gorgeous beach locations and came away mighty impressed.

The low-angle winter solstice sun painted beach communities in golden light, temperatures were in the 70s, the sand enticing and warm.

Blacks3 Black’s Beach near Torrey Pines.

CoronadoFerry2 The foot ferry from downtown San Diego goes to Coronado.

HotelDel The Hotel del Coronado is the centerpiece of the pristine beach there.

LaJolla2 La Jolla Shores is a wide strand, a great place for a walk.

LajollaCoveSeals Visitors check out the seals and sea lions near La Jolla Cove.

MissionBeach2 The recreation path on Mission Beach attracts a steady stream of traffic.

SanOnofre A surfer leaves the waves of San Onofre in north San…

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