Saturday, June 17, 2006

What Beats a Family Campout?

What a wonderful camping trip we have just experienced. For a two day event, an amazing collection of activities was shared and some special new memories stored up for future enjoyment.

Mid-Thursday, June 15th, Betty and I headed east along the Columbia Gorge with Patty and her girls along in convoy. Our destination was Maryhill State Park 100 miles east of Vancouver on the north bank of the Columbia River in a stretch known as the Biggs rapids. Of course with the John Day dam just above the park and The Dalles Dam only twenty miles below there are few signs today of the former rapids; however, I understand this is one of the few places on the river where it actually falls a few feet. We did notice a remarkably strong current almost able to pull navagation bouys below the surface as the water raced west against a strong wind blowing east.

The park is quite nice and offers numerous attractive features for both tent and RV camping. Separate areas are designed for boating or swimming or other sports oriented recreations. The large camping oval accommodated a variety of large bus-type RVs, camping trailers and even a few modern versions of the old-fashioned "teardrop" mini-sleepers. To our west beyond our fifty site loop was a special tenting area with a crowd traveling on motorcycles. The bathrooms were clean and adaquate and included stalls with hot three minute showers for fifty cents. A Bargain! Each site had a firebox unit and a large table. Our spot, and many others also provided power, water and a sewer hook-up. There was plenty of parking space for our trailer and both vans (and David's truck when he arrived). We were not crowded against others, and all the park was in deep green grass under many large shade trees. Huge lawn areas provided room for many kinds of activities. Outside the drive loop were other sites just as nice including many with pull-throughs for the larger vehicles.

Set up did not take long for the trailer; once leveled, it takes only a few minutes to settle in for the duration. We did not extend the awning because of the gusty breeze which was fine for us, but the pesky wind did cause Patty some problems setting up her new family-sized three room Coleman tent. It was like tying down the sails of a clipper ship, but she and the girls mastered the intricate stays and support rods and elastics and rain fly and stakes and such, - finally. After a little additional adjustment it held up great both days. Oh Yes, they had enough gear in it to hold down a dozen tents, and that helped too.

All the camping area is beside or close to the river edge. The "beaches", instead of being sandy, were composed of small, round, smooth, flat, stones, most of them suitable for skipping across the water. The girls went were eager to go wading at the swimming area, and it was not long before the twins were accustomed to the cool water and in it completely (in basically waist deep waters) inside the double row of floats which kept boat traffic away. Tabitha did not go in very deep, but kept busy chasing the seagulls and finding pretty rocks.

Dinner was American Classic for picnic: hotdogs. And they went down fine with an enormous bag of spicy Doritos and drinks. Later we viewed the first part of a movie about "Unfortunate Events" starring Jim "Crazy" Carey. Reading and conversation ended the day and I for one was ready for that night's rest.

After breakfast and clean-ups, we drove up highway 97 to the rim of the gorge and west a couple of miles to Maryhill Museum. It's an awesome place for where it is. Sam Hill settled here a century ago and built his European style mansion but never lived in it. It is today full of remarkable art, with many beautiful items from Romania on display brought by Queen Maria when she came in 1926 to dedicate the place. The sculptor Rodin gave many of his works to Mr. Hill, and there is also one of the prime American Indian collections of artifacts to be seen anywhere. Ecclectic other collections of chess sets, and roseries, and paintings fill the many rooms. Modern and local arts and items are featured as well. We toured until David and Katie arrived and then took a picnic lunch break on the grounds amidst a gaggle of peacocks and peahens of exquisite beauty and a fearless, even aggressive desire to share our sandwiches. The cousins had fun getting comfortable again with one another and soon we all returned to complete our inspection of the museum and surrounding grounds.

Back at the camp, we played and visited and the girls went "swimming" again. It was amazing to also watch the wind-boarders (a sail on a surfboard) and para-boarders (a parachute powered surfboard) sizzle and slash across the river, jumping the chop and spinning in the air in dazzling tricks and maneuvers. Fruit - apricots and cherries and peaches - grown in orchards immediately next to the park were purchased and especially appreciated for being so fresh from the trees.

Dinner in the 20 mph wind was a challenge because we had planned to cook hobo dinners - a collection of meat and vegetables wrapped in foil - over the fire, and it took some doing to get enough fire and coals and heat to do so without creating a dangerous situation in the strong squirrley gusts. Mission was accomplished finally and all were filled to satisfaction and the food was all gone too.

About eight-thirty, everyone (except Tabby and Grandma Betty) piled into Papa John's van and we drove about fifteen miles north to the town of Goldendale, WA, and visited the country's largest public access celestial observatory which is also operated now by the Washington State Park System. The astronomers (rangers) explained about the solar system and telescopes and then set up a Dobsonian reflector outside for us to view both Saturn and Mars in the same viewfield, a rather rare event. Then following a little more discussion and instruction it was dark enough to go into the main stardome and begin viewing through the huge telescope which is the main instrument of the observatory. About a dozen guests including the six of us were treated to views of Jupiter and four of its moon, Saturn and its rings, and binary (twin) stars which seemed appropriate for our twins. We also spotted the International Space Station soaring overhead. By-the-way, Bethany was in her element, having recently experienced a session of "sidewalk stargazers" in Vancouver, and she was really prepared for this experience. The evening wore on late for the girls (and us old folks too) and we dismissed ourselves early about eleven PM. It was a sparkling (though sometimes chilly) experience.

Saturday morning was fun and games. Everything started with a Birthday Breakfast in anticipation of Katie's eighth birthday next Tuesday. There was a big "Cinnemon Roll Cake" with candles, sort of (with the wind we only got one going briefly), and the Happy Birthday song and presents. Scrambled eggs and sausage and more fruits than we could eat - strawberries, blueberries, and more (not counting the Papaya, Mangos, and the rest we didn't get to...) and hot drinks completed the meal, all before Katie opened her presents. Good Times indeed! As some of us began breaking camp, David had his radio powered cars out and the big Hummer was a hit. The girls like to poke at the campfire, and after a side trip to locate long sticks, that activity was carefully allowed too. Patty, Betty and Tabitha, packed and left about 10:30 to return to Vancouver for a wedding, and the rest of us completed the break camp chores.

Then we drove up to the rim again and visited Sam Hill's full sized replica of Stonehenge. This is a remarkable experience too. All the original design of the stone circle in England are faithfully reproduced here on an outcropping overlooking some of the most stunning scenery along the river. This was built after WWI to commemorate local soldiers who died in that conflict and some of the stones have brass nameplates attached. A final drive back to camp through the orchards and the little Maryhill community used up all remaining time and we soon said our good-byes and pulled out of the campgrounds, David and Katie headed east to Kennewick, and the twins and I west to The Dalles for lunch. A stop at Multnomah Falls put a final touch on our return drive, and we were home about 5:30.

There was more to tell, but this will be my final thought. Family is fun. Having ones children and grandchildren at hand swapping hugs and kisses and humor and teasing and special experiences makes everlasting memories which are difficult to tell in brief but which warm the heart as they are relived again and again later.

I bought that digital camera and filled the 256 MB card, but I still don't know how to pump the pictures into this computer and add shots to this blog. Maybe soon, Eh? And then I'll add a little pizzaz to all this bare text.

Thank You wife, son, daughter, granddaughters for a terrific campout. Youse guys are da best!!

(FYI: Let everyone know that I sure missed Geoffrey and Paige and Payton, and Edwin too.


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