From the Blog

Tank Full Of Gas, Chapter 17: Camping in Moss Creek, WA

Our goal this summer, like last summer, is to try to go camping at least once a month. We planned this trip before knowing that the weather in Portland was forecasted to be scorchingly, searingly, eyeball-poppingly hot. As this weekend approached, we hoped the temperature near The Gorge, under the shade of tall trees would be cool and pleasant.

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Last year, we were lucky to get the last site at Panther Creek, since we had no reservations. Our destination for this trip was Moss Creek campground, a few miles further east into The Gorge (I like capitalizing “The Gorge”) and north of tiny Cook, Washington. We squinted and second-guessed our turn left off route 14 to climb into the hills and get to the campground. We had no less than three maps, plus the directions on the campsite reservation, and still needed to backtrack twice. The road we needed was “County Road 1000.” And funny, it was not on any of our maps.

We noticed that every mailbox along these rural roads hung from chains on outreached poles or branches. Some of the mail boxes were ensconced in barrels or big plastic tubes. I imagine this is because the youngsters in these parts like to play mailbox baseball. Street signs were riddled with bullet holes. Can we just find our campground, please?

We had a reservation waiting for us when we finally arrived. The campground was fairly pretty, but nothing to write home about. We did not see a creek or any sign of water as we located our site. Our site was a small clearing perched on a hill. We needed to climb a few steps to lug our stuff out of the car.

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Dave was slightly disappointed by the caution tape warning us off of the half-finished stairs. We just pretended it was a crime scene and we needed to stay away from the bodies. As usual. The camp host came by later and explained his drill lost its juice before he could finish them. He came by later and fixed them up.

We unpacked and set up camp and indeed, the temperature was balmy and serene. We noticed, however, tiny mosquitoes hovering around us. They were so tiny, we weren’t ever sure of what kind of bug they were. We swatted them away, along with other big buzzy flies, and the occasional inchworm that dropped out of the trees. Eventually, we noticed we were getting bitten, but the red bumps were so tiny, we were not concerned. They didn’t even itch at all, in the beginning.

This was our first camping trip where we sat around comfortably in shorts and t-shirts. I made myself some lemonade with vodka and Barenjager. It was delicious. All the other times we’ve been camping, both this year and last year, it was either raining or so cold, I needed a ski parka. We serenely sipped our chilled beverages and enjoyed that we were not losing our extremities to frostbite.

This all sounds good so far, doesn’t it? As we chatted and contemplated dinner, we were made aware of our neighbors, and more specifically, their kids. The sites were somewhat spaced apart, however, voices carried easily through the entire campground. As I mentioned, our site was on a hill, and some kids were making the loop around the campground on their bikes. They rounded the corner of the loop right near our site and descended the hill, screaming their heads off.

Okay, so they had helmets, but they were riding dangerously fast, and against the one-way traffic. And upon each loop, they literally had a screaming contest as they blazed down the hill on their little bikes. Once or twice with this would have been fine. But it went on for a good part of the afternoon into evening. Kids will scream and make noise outside, but it was remarkable that it didn’t dawn on the parents how much noise their kids were making. My parents would have beat my butt if I made that kind of racket.

After our past few outdoor trips, we have come to realize that cooking on the campfire has become one of our favorite aspects of camping. We bought a couple camp cook books and did some planning ahead. First up was Dave’s idea: cooking bread in the campfire. We had some frozen bread dough rolls that we threw in the cooler and we needed to let them rise a bit before baking.

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Could there be a more appropriate use for an air scoop on the hood of your car? Then Dave fashioned a reflective oven to cook the rolls right in the fire pit.

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They browned up into nice warm rolls that were perfect for our slider-sized turkey burgers with fire roasted cherry tomatoes. Did I mention I love cooking on the campfire?

By this time, the kids had stopped screaming down the hill because one of them fell and broke his head open. No he didn’t. They stopped because we killed them and ate them. No we didn’t. But we did sneak up on their campsite after dark and let the air out of their bike tires. No we didn’t. Sigh. I like kids, but not the screamy kind.

As it was getting dark, I was coming to terms with being bitten by mosquitoes. I was wearing shorts and flip flops. Growing up, we called flip flops “thongs,” pronounced “tongs.” I’d prefer to continue calling them “tongs” because it’s easier to say and takes less time than calling them flip flops. But then I’d have to explain myself every time, and that would just take longer than using stupid “flip flops” in the first place. Okay? I’m RIGHT on this.

So, shorts, flip flips, getting bitten by mosquitoes. And the other thing that was new on this trip: dust. Last camping trip was thunderstorms, rain and mud. Now, it hasn’t rained in a month. And all that dirt, which used to be mud, under the pine needles of the forest floor, is three inches of talc-like dust. So this weekend was probably the most dirty weekend my feet have seen in a long, long time.

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Purdy. I spent a good, long time washing my feet before entering the tent and we called it a night. It was almost too warm for sleeping since I like to be slightly chilled when trying to sleep. Dave is usually happy on the “roast” setting in all circumstances. We have come to understand this is a fundamental incompatibility between us that will eventually tear us apart. I am training my pitching arm for the pots and pans that will eventually fly across the room over this issue. For now, he puts up with me when I am insufferably hot at 85 degrees, and I put up with him shivering and making old man noises at 70 degrees.

The next morning, Dave made delicious blueberry pancakes. We drank espresso mixed with hot chocolate. Our camp host, an older, probably retired gentleman, stopped by our site. I mentioned we were going to go on a drive to see how close we could get to Mt Adams. He stopped his truck and fished out a forest service map. He spread it out across the hood of his truck and pointed out the routes we could take. He mentioned a gas station in Trout Lake with the best hamburgers and huckleberry shakes. He pointed out Goose Lake which has the best fishing in all of Washington. He showed us where we could go pick some huckleberries by the side of the road. He pointed out where we would get good views of Mt Adams.

We had a map, but we never would have known which forest road to take or what their condition might be. He assured us the paved roads were great and the gravel roads were just fine. We were ready to go after talking to him.

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The Gorge, from Cook Underwood Rd, looking east.

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Same point looking west.

We picked our way back down to The Gorge (we never found county road 1000) and headed east on 14 to White Salmon. From there, we climbed back up on Washington State Route 141. White Salmon was an adorable small town perched above the Columbia. It had a compact, walkable downtown, charming older buildings and fantastic views of The Gorge.

Route 141 follows the White Salmon River. These people are obviously storm troopers here to defend the planet from invaders. You know, in the woods.

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Google doesn’t make it look like there are any real roads that get close to Mt. Adams. It’s pretty remote. As we headed north through forests and farmland, the mountain finally loomed in the distance.

Click for big!

Mt Adams is big. It’s taller than Mt Hood, though the summit is flatter. It’s not really within sight of a metropolis, and it hasn’t blown its stack in recent memory. But it’s only 31 miles from Mt St Helens, and there’s a giant pool of magma between them. The whole area may even be a super volcano, the size of Yellowstone, stretching all the way to Mt. Rainier. Which would be awesome. Sorry, Washington.

We stopped in Trout Lake for a huckleberry smoothie and got an annual NW Forest Pass. We continued north into the Mt Adams Recreation Area until the pavement ran out and the fire roads twisted off in unknown directions. We had no plans to hike or climb, we turned around and headed back to Trout Lake, then turned west back on 141.

We wanted to see the Ice Caves we read about in this book. Again, we weren’t really prepared to do any serious climbing, or in this case, picking over snow and ice in the pitch black while freezing.

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There was a 40 degree difference between where I am standing at the top of the stairs, down to where this family is at the bottom. See the snow? Evidently, this lava tube captures the cold winter air and holds it all year. As the winter snow melts through the rock, it forms stalactites and stalagmites of ice. It was too late in the season for us to see them, but it was still very cold and very dark.

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If we had flashlights and proper clothes, perhaps we would have done more exploring. Perhaps not. Climbing back up the stairs felt like entering an oven. We brought snacks for the road and sat down in the day use area to have a bite to eat.

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From there, we drove a bit further down 141, then took a left onto a dirt road with deep pot holes to go to the Natural Bridges. This was also a lava tube, mostly collapsed, forming a gully lined with volcanic rocks. In a few areas, the roof of the tube held and formed bridges.

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It was hot and sunny and rather dusty. We saw a few berry bushes and we figured they must be huckleberries. We tried a few and they were tart as lemon. We haven’t died yet, so I hope they weren’t poisonous.

From the advice of our camp host, we continued driving west on 141. He said the pavement would end and there would be a winding fire road that would lead us back to our campground. Our map suggested the same, but we had come to learn on this trip not to trust this map. We left the pavement behind us and hoped for the best.

The amount of dust we kicked up on these roads was amazing. An opaque curtain of silt kicked up onto the rear windshield. It really felt like we were way out in the bush. Our fire road followed the Big Lava Bed. There were many branches off the fire road, but we kept to what seemed like the “main” road. Happily, our route was marked with tiny road signs so we knew we were going in the right direction. I didn’t even attempt an accurate recreation of our route on the map at the beginning of this post. You’ll just have to trust that we got out okay.

After many miles chattering over gravel, we rejoined a paved road. We checked out a few other campgrounds in the vicinity. Peterson Prairie was packed with people. It felt like one giant group site with no privacy. And oddly, the woods of the campground backed right onto the backyard of someone’s private property. We also looked at Oklahoma campground at the end of our road (Oklahoma Rd). It was adjacent to the highway, but at that far out, there are no cars except for campers and serial killers. A few of the sites were nicer than Moss Creek where we were staying.

As we returned to our campground from the north, we realized we were not really as far deep into wilderness as we thought. There was a community of buildings very close by, including a large makeshift campground in what appeared to be someone’s yard. It looked to be an event, either a family reunion or a back woods revival.

It baffles us, but we realized that many people seem to like to camp with many other people. All together, at the same time. I guess this might be fun with large families and lots of kids. I like my friends and family, but I don’t like them THAT much.

Back at our site, we read, napped for a bit, and drank cold beverages. What a joy to sit for a couple hours and read without distraction. I love to read books. But when I’m home, there so much else to do. And we don’t even have a TV. I suppose I spend as much time on the internet as most people watch TV. But I like to fool myself feel like maybe I’m being productive on the internet. But it never feels as good as curling up with a book. Especially in the woods where you have no electricity and very little else to do. Divine.

Remember I was telling you about my dirty feet? They got dirty again. Like, super dusty dirty. To the point where, even though I had been sweating out in the heat, and I hadn’t showered in 36 hours, and I was covered with bug bites, and I could squeeze the oil reserves in my hair to grease my car, it was my dirty, nasty feet that freaked me out the most. And really, there was no way to stay clean for long with the silty dust that was covering everything.

It didn’t prevent me from dipping my feet in glacier cold Moss Creek, once we finally found it.

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It was the kind of cold that makes all sensation in your toes disappear and feel like blocks of ice. I wiggled my dirty feet until they were clean and sparkly. So good. So good. So good. I am disappointed to realize we took no other photos of Moss Creek besides this one. It was clear to the bottom, icy cold, deep and swift in places. At this time of year, the creek (I would have called this a “brook” back east) was quiet and babbling. In all of the campground, there were only two campsites close enough to hear it. I regret not getting more photos because it was pretty and pristine.

And another thing, besides my dirty feet, I want to tell you about: boogers. We forgot to bring any tissues or toilet paper on this trip. All we had to wipe our dainty noses were paper towels. And with the dust and the dryness and the lack of running water, not having a way to pick your nose is a problem. Oh, the things we take for granted. We are so casual about little inconveniences in the comfort of our homes and offices. When a hangnail ceases to fascinate us, we lop it off with easily accessed nail clippers. Or we honk blow our dainty noses with ease, and cause our coworkers around the office to say “Happy New Year!”

But in the woods, a hangnail is an emergency! Sure, I could try to chew it off, but teeth are woefully inaccurate. And for crap’s sake, I KNOW where those fingers have been and I am NOT putting them in my mouth. So joy of joys when I found soft little drink napkins from Peet’s coffee that I had stashed in my car. These aren’t really all that great for beverages, but as I came to learn on this trip, they are GREAT for nose picking. All that dust and dirt. I don’t even want to tell you what came out of my dainty nose. Thank god for Peet’s. That is all I’m going to say.

Moving onto a rough narrative transition: It was getting to be dinner time. Again, we planned ahead and brought veggies and marinated beef to make skewers. Dave also used the reflective oven idea to make camp biscuits with leftover pancake mix, cheese and beer.

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I love biscuits more than I care to admit. Below, assembling skewers.

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We spread the coals and propped a small round grill right on the burning logs. It took less than 5 minutes for the kabobs to get roasty and delicious. I tried roasting some corn on the cob in the husk over the coals, but my heart wasn’t in it. It was either mushy corn to begin with, or I cooked it too long. I usually shuck the corn and wrap it with butter in aluminum foil and it comes out okay. But we had plenty of food without the corn.

We ate and contemplated how much fun we have without spending a lot of money. The whole trip was probably around $120 for the campsite, gas and groceries. And we could skimp further by eating more prepared foods, like hotdogs. Or staying close to the campsite instead of driving around sightseeing. But we enjoy camp cooking and driving, and it’s so cheap, it’s worthwhile.

The daredevil kids seemed to have been reprimanded as they were were still riding their bikes, but they were quieter the second night. However, we detected some loud music far off in the distance. Really? This irritates me. When you go to the woods, or the beach for that matter, why in the hell would you want to play music? Isn’t the sound of nature enough? You can play music any OTHER time. How often do you get to hear wind in trees or the sound of surf? Furthermore, when someone plays music, doesn’t it ruin the quiet enjoyment for everyone else who doesn’t care to hear it? Why would anyone want to be that rude? Why can’t the serial killers go after THOSE people?

Gah. But this music seemed “bigger” than a stereo from a campsite. This was more like a concert. We surmised it was coming from one of the big group camps a few miles down the road, or from that odd encampment in the field behind a house. We figured it was a reunion or worse, kind of religious revival. There’s probably no such thing as local noise ordinances this far out in the woods. It was faint enough we couldn’t hear what was being said or what music was playing. But it still wasn’t trees and nature, so therefore, it burned my ass.

Later though, Dave recognized a Tom Petty song. Sure enough, “Runnin Down a Dream.” Huh. In the woods. Like a concert. Okay. This felt less ominous that some kind of cult gathering. It was just odd. And shortly before dark, it seemed to stop.

It was a tiny bit chillier that night and we slept soundly.

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Dave made a fabulous breakfast of ham steaks, omelets, fried potatoes and fried biscuits. Seriously. You should come camping with us. Just for the food.

We relaxed for a bit then began the process of striking camp. We are usually gone before noon when we camp because we haven’t showered and we can’t stand ourselves anymore. A long, soapy shower and a nap in a soft comfy bed awaited at home. And a psycho, attention starved kitty. Disassembling the campsite usually takes a half hour or less. But it’s a task that seems much longer and much more of a hassle than actually it is. We bid adieu to Moss Creek campground and hit the road.

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This is a constant and ubiquitous sight in the wilds of Oregon and Washington. It’s still jarring to me. The forest do seem vast and inexhaustible. But if you look at the satellite image for this area, it looks like a checkerboard of bald patches.

We crossed over the Bridge of the Gods near Stevenson, WA. We stopped at the marine park at the Port of Cascades Locks. It was sunny and breezy and we took some photos.

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This is looking north at the Washington side.

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This is looking west at the Bridge of the Gods. By this time, my feet were dusty dirt again and I was able to dip my feet into the Columbia and rinse them off. How’s your salmon taste now?

Good, tiring, dusty, bug bitey trip. Moss Creek was not one of our favorite campgrounds. But there was a lot to do and it helps my brain when we get out of town and sleep outside. And it’s good for my feet to know what a good life they’ve got.

Other Tank Full Of Gas chapters:

Chapter Sixteen: Astoria Midsummer Scandinavian Fest Part 1, Part 2
Chapter Fifteen: Camp Creek, OR
Chapter Fourteen: Camping On The Coast, Part 1, Part 1.5, Part 2
Chapter Thirteen: The Gorge, Stonehenge, Hood River, Mt Hood
Chapter Twelve: The Oregon Coast
Chapter Eleven: Oregon Wine Country (hic)
Chapter Ten: Astoria, Oregon
Chapter Nine: Panther Creek Campground, WA
Chapter Eight, Green Canyon Campground, Mt Hood, Oregon
Chapter Seven, Spruce Run Campground, Coast Range, Oregon
Chapter Six, Bend, Oregon
Chapter Five, Seattle, Washington
Chapter Four, Mt Saint Helens, Washington
Chapter Three, The Gorge and Hood River, Oregon
Chapter Two, The North Coast and Astoria, Oregon
Chapter One, Waipi’o Valley, Big Island, Hawaii

Comments

  1. Meredith says:

    Don’t be fooled internet, her feet always look like that. I hate that talcy, powder dust. Things that make me think of childhood camping; kids riding bikes through campground, smell of bacon wafting through trees in the morning, bug bites, distant radio sounds. Certainly not turkey burgers, omelets and fried biscuits. But the blueberry pancakes are like a filet mignon to kids. You should have let the air out of the tires. Or pulled a Blair Witch Project stunt on them; fingers wrapped in cloth, hanging stick figures from the trees or rustled their tent in the middle of the night.

  2. Hi. I have a blog at http://www.picturecamping.com where I feature people’s posts about camping, and I would like to send my readers your way. Of course I would give you credit for quotes and would link back to your site.

    Thanks for considering this,

    Jean B. in SC

  3. I can’t believe I read the whole thing! It’s weird that David got the “camping gene” and I didn’t. I hate camping.

  4. mmmmmmmmm… huckleberries… gotta find out if they’ll grow in NM.
    For the record, I cannot sleep when my feet are dirty.

  5. i find that a nice “dark side of the moon” or “animals”, set on low, and only at night, compliments the camping experience quite nicely.

  6. The elusive County Rd 1000 you were seeking after you got on the road to Cook/Underwood is called Willard. Have had the same trouble finding it. I love both Moss Creek (when its a slow day) and the Oklahoma Campgrounds. My dog knows we are getting close and always perks up near the end of our drive there.

    Enjoyed your article.

  7. Thank you for sharing- family trips are comical and full of memories…thanks for sharing yours!

  8. Thanks for sharing. I’ve made a reservation at Moss Creek for the upcoming 4th of July weekend and have been surfing the web for things to do. We haven’t camped their before, so it’s nice to read a review before heading out!

  9. wmrandth says:

    “Why can’t the serial killers go after THOSE people?”

    Yesss!

    Oh, that is so my pet peeve while camping. I will never understand why people bring music out to the outdoors. I’ve broke camp more than once to get away from that. If you want to have a giant gathering of family and friends and play loud music, got to a wedding, not a campground.

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