The morning after the Cider Fest we left Ellensburg and drove south into eastern Oregon. Our destination was the Clyde Holliday State Park just outside of John Day, OR. The drive was close to 300 miles but that didn’t stop us from taking the slightly longer, hopefully, more scenic route. It was 100% the right choice. Impressive mountain views followed us through Washington, and after crossing the Columbia River into Oregon we were treated to mile after mile of nearly empty, practically pristine, two-lane blacktop roads. Country driving is the best.
Clyde Holliday is small state park tucked in between Hwy 26 and the John Day River. Eastern Oregon is very, very rural with only a smattering of small towns and a cattle population that I am fairly certain outnumbers people by at least 100 to 1. Since cattle don’t watch Netflix (yet) or need to participate in video conferences for work, cell service around much of this part of the state is spotty to non-existent. As a result, Clyde Holliday seemed to be our best choice for a nice place to spend the week while staying connected. And it really was quite nice!
We’ve not yet been disappointed by an Oregon state park, and CH was a perfect example of why we love these parks. Spacious sites, spotless bathrooms with free showers, gray water dumping stations between each site, and the most immaculately cared for grounds. In fact, if I had to complain about something it would those da%#@m leaf blowers that we had to listen to nearly every day when the local prisoners came by to tidy up the park and make sure not a single leaf was left on the grass. Does no one use a rake anymore?
Despite the roaming bands of men wielding noise pollution machines for a few hours every day, our week-long stay was pleasant and relaxing. There’s not a lot to do in the immediate area, and as our time for driving to see things during the day is limited, we mostly stayed at home, taking walks around the campground and using the plush grass for some yoga and other mat-based exercises.
We did make the drive over to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument one afternoon. Well…the one part of the monument that was a reasonable drive from Clyde Holliday that is. John Day NM is comprised of three sections, or units, miles apart and requiring several hours of driving between each one. Probably the most famous section is the Painted Hills. As is was at least an hour and a half drive from the state park, (and there really is nowhere close to stay with cell service) we had to skip it this time around. I was a little disappointed because the photos I’ve seen of the colorful, mineral-striped hills are really enticing. I was consoled by the fact that the hills will still be there next time we come through the area. Also, we’ve been lucky enough to visit a lot of badland type hills all around the country, so missing out on this one is not the end of the world.
The section we did visit was the Sheep Rock Unit just north of where Hwy 26 intersects with the John Day Hwy. Our first stop of the visitor center. We expected the normal informative displays and gift shop, but instead found an impressive Paleontology Center filled with over 500 amazing fossils!
I wish we had more time to spend studying each one and reading the accompanying signs, but with the sun rapidly lowering in the sky, we had only time to quickly look before making the short drive to the Blue Basin trailhead.
We hiked to the Blue Basin Overlook around a blue-green rocky outcropping up to a high point overlooking the valley below. It was late in the day, so much of the colorful rock was already in the shadows, but we still enjoyed the hike and the scenery.
My birthday fell during this week and to celebrate we drove into John Day for dinner at the local brewery. I know, I know, it seems like we never go anywhere else but breweries. But as it was the best-rated restaurant in town, what were we supposed to do? Turns out the beer all fell firmly in the average range, but the food was great. Tim had steak tacos made with succulent local beef and I had an exceptionally well-crafted club sandwich slathered with a delicious house-made jalapeno sauce.
As the week came to an end it was time to make a final decision about where to go next. For the last few months, we had been contemplating heading toward South Lake Tahoe around the beginning of November to get in some late season hiking and see one of our favorite bands, The Devil Makes Three, in concert. The weather could have easily gone either way in this mountainous region, so we made no definite plans. Finally, with the forecast looking unusually warm and dry, we decided to go for it. I mean, the worst thing that would happen is a storm comes in and we leave early. No big deal.
So the plan was to spend two days driving from Cylde Holiday to the Zephyr Cove RV Resort on the Nevada side of the lake for a two-week stay that would allow us to hike a few trails and catch the concert before heading south. But that all changed when we learned that some friends were boondocking just outside of Carson City. It was on our way and too good of an opportunity to pass up so we pushed back our reservation at Zephyr Cove and decided to spend the first half of the week catching up with friends in the desert. The two-day planned drive turned into one as it was a long but easy route with little to no traffic and absolutely zero exciting places to stop along the way. Sometimes you just want to get there.
We arrived as it was getting dark and Brian drove out to meet us and guide us into our spot. Normally, we would never arrive at an unknown boondocking spot in the dark, but with friends already there the risk was minimal. Funny enough, we realized that this is the fourth time we’ve arrived at or near sunset when boondocking with Leigh and Brian. We must really trust them!
After pulling into a spot and deciding we would unhook the truck and get settled in the morning, we had a quick dinner and then went to catch up with Leigh, Brian, and Marshall. It had only been a few months since we camped with L & B in Port Townsend, but we hadn’t seen Marshall since last summer’s eclipse extravaganza.
This area of BLM land is more of an industrial wasteland than a pristine patch of desert, but the views of the nearby hills were amazing, and after months in the trees it was pretty exciting to be back in a wide open space. Also, the location was super convenient with a grocery store in Dayton only minutes away and every store you could ever want in Carson City within a 20-minute drive. It was a short stay, but so wonderful to spend time with this special trio of RVers.
Up next, we attempt to spend a whole month at Zephyr Cove, have a blast hiking and enjoying the quiet shoulder season, and then leave a week early due to an impending snowstrom (spoiler alert). As always, follow along on FB or Instagram for real-time updates.