From the Blog

Travel Tuesday Sorta: Camping at Cape Disappointment

Last week, while it was in the 90s in Portland, Dave and I packed up for an after Labor Day camping trip to Cape Disappointment. And you know what was awesome about this trip? It was like, only 20 minutes from home.

And you know what else was awesome about this trip? It was the day after Labor Day. So we practically had the place to ourselves. We had scouted the campground a few weeks ago and noted the campsites that looked interesting. On the day after Labor Day, we strolled right in and had our pick. We chose a site that backed up against volcanic cliffs, a little further away from the beach.

We learned that the monoliths of rocks surrounding our camp site were actually waterfront 100 years ago. After the north jetty was built, the ocean dumped sand against it, forming new land between the river and North Head. All the trees were young, wind swept and beachy.

The whole campground is filled with cul-de-sacs with ten campsites each. The sites are fairly packed together, which is not normally our style. Our site was open and a bit unsheltered. But with the place to ourselves, we didn’t care. We marveled at how packed it must have been over Labor Day weekend.

Once we set up camp, we decided to go for a stroll. We could hear the waves from our campsite. We followed our ears, meandering through the nearly empty campground. As I mentioned, it was in the 90s inland, but on the beach, it was in the 60s and super breezy. We climbed the last sand dune and were blasted by the wind. The ocean was a roiling slate gray with ribbons of white froth. The mist raced onshore above us as the clouds socked in. I think we stood there for a grand total of ten seconds before one said to the other, “I’ve seen enough.” We retreated from the beach.

We scouted sites to see if there were any others we might like, and started following a path through the woods in the direction of our camp. The path started out well worn, but then it got smaller, and the shrubs grew in close, and we saw various tempting offshoots that may or may not have been where we were supposed to go. It wasn’t a jungle. The trees were not tall. It didn’t feel like a remote wilderness. Much of the ground cover was sea grass, which reminded me of swampland. I wondered when we were going to find ourselves in a pool of muck.

Dave ventured ahead, because I was lingering with the camera. So he was a few paces in front of me where I very nearly stepped into a pile of doo-doo. It wasn’t familiar doo-doo. It’s wasn’t small or round, like deer or bunnies. But I thought maybe deer doo-doo is different on the coast. It looked more grape-shaped than round. I was going to point it out to Dave, because he stepped right over it. If he hadn’t seen it, I was amazed he didn’t stomp right in it.

As I opened my mouth to say something, I heard him yell “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!” And I thought, holy crap, he just stepped into a swamp. Because that was on my mind. But he hurried back towards me. “I nearly walked right into a huge porcupine!” My mind raced to what kind of creature that was. The spiny one with the quills. But was it aggressive? Does it run fast? Can it climb trees? Does it eat humans? Can it throw quills at you?

“There were two of them, I nearly stepped right on one.” I looked over, and sure enough, there was a huge fricken creature over there. It didn’t seem flustered by our presence. It sat there, munching on leaves. And it was big. BIG. Its back was taller than our knees.

I was still trying to calculate if it was an aggressive thing. It certainly wasn’t scared of us. I wanted a photo. Isn’t that how all stupid people die?

I handed Dave the camera. He tried to focus from a safe distance, but the camera was focusing on the grass, not the creature. He handed the camera back to me. There were two of them, but I only saw one. These things were not afraid of us at all. I was going to try to get a shot, but I heard rustling in the grass close to us and getting closer. I got a jolt of panic from the rustling and we hurried away.

Real wildlife! That pile of doo-doo was probably from the porcupines. Now we sort of realized all these little paths in the woods and grass were probably not human paths. They were probably porcupine paths.

We still needed to get back to our campsite, and Dave wanted to retrace our steps all the way back to the road. But we were very near our campsite. Even though we were barely on a path, I knew our campsite was right around the corner. Dave made me go first.

Sure enough, after hugging some rocks and scraping through overgrown trees, we climbed right into our campsite. But now we realized the little path we were following was probably how the porcupines were going to come back with reinforcements.

At that point it was time to open some wine and get dinner ready. The wind continued to increase until we were blasted by sand, and our tent flapped and undulated like a jello mold. We started a fire and got our dutch oven ready. I cut up onions, potatoes and andouille sausage and dumped them into the dutch oven. We added chicken broth, a splort of ketchup, whatever spices we had on hand, and a little beer for good measure. We let that cook until the steam curled out of the dutch oven. It was divine. We love camp cooking.

Did I mention it was breezy? We huddled against the wind, and our fire roared with energy. Near the fire, it was warm, but we had to sit close enough to swat away sparks and hold our breaths when the wind bathed us in smoke. It was still worth it. Some of the best discussions Dave and I have are while sitting in front of a camp fire.

By the time we were ready for bed, the wind was still howling. We smothered the remaining embers in sand, because wouldn’t that be funny for dumb city campers to start a goddamned forest fire in a windstorm. The campground had running water and showers, so we luxuriously washed our hands in warmish water. I’m not being snarky. We’re used to camping with no facilities except for a hole in the ground. Running water felt like first class.

We hunkered down in our tent as it was buffeted by the wind. Our tent had a screen top with a rain fly. So the wind picked up the sand and dumped it into the tent all day. I shook out our pillows and our sleeping bags. Piles of sand were accumulating on the floor. We covered our faces and snuggled down into our sleeping bag.

Windy, right? But also foggy. We didn’t notice it in the campground, but right off the ocean there was a thick blanket of fog that rolled into the river. I heard fog horns calling in the distance. One low, further away, a dash then two dots. Closer to us, louder, and with a higher tone, one long dash. It was sort of soothing. Sort of. The timing of the horns were such that I almost drifted off to sleep between them. But then I’d hear the low, far away tones, and know that the louder one was coming. And for a while, the wind must have been blowing in our direction and the horns got very loud.

I knew I had earplugs in my toiletry bag. But that meant getting out of bed. And that meant disturbing Dave by crawling over our air mattress, and peeling back our warm covers. I decided to live with the wind and the sand and the horns and the potential porcupines.

I love sleeping outdoors, but this was not a particularly restful night’s sleep.

More tomorrow.


  1. OK, Ms. Camera. Where’s the photo of the ‘pine?

  2. Wow, neat! Real wildlife!

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