From the Blog

“Summer” Road Trip Season Begins

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Some time in the beginning of the year, we sat down with our calendar and looked at the weekends of the summer months. We had several weddings, a bunch of street fairs and a number of festivals we didn’t want to miss. But we wanted to make sure we got some camping in this summer also.

So “summer” has arrived! Did you notice? It’s here! Why yes, I’m still wearing winter coats and I have mold between my toes, but it’s summer! Time to go camping!

We visited Silver Falls State Park a couple months ago to check it out. The tent part of the campground was closed at that time, but it looked like many big state parks, well maintained and tightly spaced. A little like camping in a parking lot, but with some tall trees in between.

It had been raining much of the day, and much of the past three weeks. When we arrived, the sky had cleared and we saw fleeting bits of blue sky. We set up our tent over a bed of new mulch. I guessed the mulch was added to solidify the soggy ground. Our steps in the mud were more like walking on modeling clay than solid terra firma. But, it was not raining.

We love to camp, and have been looking forward to sleeping outdoors since the last time we packed the tent away for the winter. We also especially love cooking on a campfire. And for this trip, we had a new toy to play with. We got a cast iron dutch oven.

We planned our meals ahead of time around using the dutch oven. Here are onions stuffed with lean ground turkey, seasoned with italian herbs and held in place with cute little mini potatoes. I saw this in a cookbook weeks ago and have been dying to try it.

We were delighted to discover there’s some actual precision involved in cooking with a dutch oven. Using briquettes on the top and bottom, you can regulate temperature just as you would in a conventional oven. Each briquette raises the internal temperature by 10 degrees or so. You put about twice as many on top as the bottom. Dutch oven recipes tell you how many briquettes to use. It’s perfect for nerds like us!

There are still a ton of variables, trivial things like, how do you know when your food is done, but we aren’t so scientific that we can’t wing it a little. The stuffed onions surely were done, and were flavorful despite using a meat that has practically no fat. The potatoes were perfect. This all made us very happy.

As we cooked and ate our food, the campground began filling up with people coming out after work. It was a lot of people. It really began to feel like a mall parking lot. As we had been warned, there were a lot of kids and teenagers. And it was mostly giant groups. I think there was a church group, and a scout group, and big families, and wow, this was feeling like inner suburban camping. Someone somewhere strummed a guitar, because hey, we’re all out in nature and no one wants to hear birds and trees and quiet, right? I sang my own faux John Cougar/Denver/Von Jovi song until Dave informed me that I was embarrassing him. Sigh.

It stayed clear through the night and we woke up to sunshine.

Our canopy is broken. We borrowed it from a friend a couple summers ago. We were quite careful with it, but somehow, it broke. So we bought our friend a new one. And we kept the broke ass one. One of the cheap metal ribs twisted and bent and broke clean off. And the whole thing is big and heavy and awkward. It takes up a ton of space in the hatchback of our car. Most of the time, we try not to camp in the rain. But when we do, this canopy comes in handy.

But it’s still broken. It works, but one side droops. And that’s bad. Especially in the rain. We never try to fix it until we’re actually camping and our options are limited to twigs and giant polyester rope that doesn’t knot for shit. So this time I outdid myself with the smartness.

Aluminum foil. Duh! Fills in the broken bar, conforms around the broken joint, stabilizes moving parts. NASA, I await your phone call. I’m good with spreadsheets, too.

It seemed like every site was reserved, but not everyone showed up. Some of the sites were probably not usable because of mud or puddles. But there was still a ton of people. Many, many teenagers. And for some reason, teenagers seem to have unique volume regulation issues. Especially when herding together. What a weekend to forget my elephant darts.

Saturday was glorious. It was dry and warm. We decided to go for a walk.

This is Silver Creek. A small tributary ran right by our campsite. But counter intuitively, it was quiet because there was so much water. It slid by almost silently. It would have been nice to camp closer to this larger river. It may have helped to drown out the squawky humans.

I read in the park literature that this is considered temperate rain forest. I believe it.

How many shades of green? Green. Green. Green. That rain is good for something.

These have got to be the happiest plants on the planet. It was like walking through a salad.

You know what’s over that ledge? Certain doooooom!

And a rainbow.

Look at this crazy shit. This is taken from the top of South Falls, which is 173 high. We looked at the map and tossed around the idea of making the trek around the falls. Or we could have ventured around to other parts of the park we didn’t see on the last trip. And some people are totally going to think we are lame, not taking advantage of the sun and going to see more of this beautiful park, but we finished up our walk and headed back to our campsite to read and nap and cook. It made us perfectly happy. I nearly got a sunburn sitting and reading in our camp chairs. It was glorious.

For dinner, we wanted an easy one-pot meal. That seems to be the true purpose of a dutch oven, to throw a bunch of stuff in and cook it all in one pot. Dave was excited to do a rice dish.

We used brown rice, ham, ground turkey, tomatoes, carrots and onion. Whatever we had on hand. As it bubbled in the pot, we got occasional whiffs of our dinner cooking. It was heavenly. Anyone who was not us was totally missing out. For dessert, I hollowed out two big oranges, filled them with cake batter and baked those in the dutch oven. I overfilled the cake batter and they exploded a little as they cooked, but they were still tasty.

We had not yet seen a drop of rain. But we heard a rumor that rain was coming that night. We contemplated striking camp and heading home, but by then it was dark, and the batteries were out in our lantern. So we surely would have forgotten something. We cleaned up our site and made sure everything was tucked under the canopy before going to bed. Just as we do in town, we both slept with earplugs, because there were seriously more people out in the woods with us than there are in North Portland.

Our air mattress was not holding air for the second night in a row, so I wasn’t sleeping that great. But I heard the rain even through my earplugs. I took my earplugs out to fall back asleep listening to the rain. Out tent was remarkably protected under a big tree. But I could hear the drops on our canopy nearby, and on the millions of leaves in the woods. It was like a lullaby.

It was still raining a little by the time we got up. The ground was beyond muddy, and now was just a soup. My genius canopy fix survived the night. We were able to start a fire, and had a breakfast of coffee and homemade granola that we brought from home. We watched other people glumly dissemble their campsites. Some people just sat in their cars with the heat on.

Dave says he remembers the “showers” sign from his childhood. It was nice to have running water and hot showers. It’s a trade off for “family style” camping. The big state parks pack people in, but they often have nicer facilities. The more remote campgrounds often have pit toilets only.

We said goodbye to Silver Falls State Park, but not before getting learned about bears.

Because those bears, if you don’t fight back, they’ll know they can push you around. And then they’ll never leave you alone.


  1. Meredith says

    Wow! Oranges filled with cake batter! And onions filled with good for you meat! How can it all be possible?!?

  2. I love the challenge of cooking outdoors with limited facilities and just a few ingredients. And I love hiking in the woods and campfires. But sleeping in a tent on a flat air mattress in the rain and showering in communal facilities? I was shuddering just reading about it. Not to mention all the noisy people. Kind of defeats the whole purpose of getting “away” for the weekend. Ah well, you two seem to have made the best of it.

  3. FlamingAtheist says

    I’ve done the cabins at Silver Falls, that was enjoyable and much quieter than a tent would have been thanks to the multitudes. Plus it had a microwave – microwave popcorn while camping, that’s roughing it!

  4. Walking through a salad ftw!

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