She Flies with Her Own Wings*

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Hey, all! It’s been quite a while since we’ve posted. Some of you might be wondering if we fell off the edge of the United States!

We didn’t fall off, but we’ve just spent the last two months living on the edge … of the Oregon coast! We decided to do something a little different and have been working as park hosts. For those who are not RVers, most campgrounds and some RV parks employ people like us, mostly retirees, in part-time jobs. Instead of a paycheck, hosts are given a free campsite with full hookups for the duration of the job. It’s really a win/win situation — the workers are usually asked to put in about 20 hours of work per week, the campground doesn’t have to pay them money, retirees tend to be extremely reliable and are very happy to be in a really beautiful place for an extended period of time. 

There are tens of thousands of people in parks across the country doing what we are doing. The jobs can last anywhere from one to six months, and the tasks vary. Common host jobs are: cleaning campsites, front gate attendants, gift shop cashiers and park maintenance. We always knew that we would like to be park hosts at some point, and there’s nothing like a very expensive economy to push you into doing it!

As we traveled from Nevada up into the Pacific Northwest, the price of gas shot up. Unleaded regular was about $5.63 when we arrived in Brookings, Oregon, slowly dropped to about $4.99 before rebounding to $5.45. That’s kind of astonishing when you hear that your family back in Connecticut are buying gas for less than $3.00! Between gas and the astonishing increase in the price of groceries, our cost of living had risen about 36% compared to a year ago. We had to find a way to stop and let our bank accounts recover for a little while. There is no better way to do that than to find a park hosting job! 

We spent a few days looking online to see if any hosting jobs were available along our planned traveling route and were amazed to find several. (As with anything else, if you take the time to look, you’ll find all kinds of websites and social media pages devoted to camp hosting.) We applied for a couple of county and state park jobs and also inquired at private RV parks. Everything happened very quickly, and we were offered two jobs: a marina host position at a campground in Eugene, Oregon, and a position with the State of Oregon doing light maintenance at three day-use parks in Brookings. It was a very tough decision as we loved the Eugene area and the job would have been a fun way to learn more about boating. But, the idea of living along the Pacific Coast Highway and working at three ocean-front parks was something we could not pass up!

And what a good decision it was! Of all jobs to cut our hosting teeth on — we are living in a large campsite with full utilities less than 200 yards from the Pacific Ocean and the California border, and 18 miles from the Redwood forests of Northern California. In exchange for this beautiful site, we have agreed to work about four hours a day doing things like opening and closing park gates, picking up litter, emptying trash cans and dog poop buckets, making sure the poop bag dispensers are filled, and cleaning the Oregon Visitor’s Center. We’ve done a few extra projects, like weeding the patio areas around the Visitor’s Center and some small repair jobs. Overall, it’s been a great experience! We can’t believe that two months have already passed. Our job here will end on October 8. Then, we’ll make our way back to San Antonio for the winter.

Howland Hill Road, Crescent City, California … driving through the redwoods.
Bob at Grove of the Titans, Crescent City, CA.

The Pacific Northwest, particularly the coastline, is every bit as beautiful as people say. The beaches are shockingly devoid of people most of the time. We regularly take the dog for long beach walks and, when there isn’t another soul in sight, she gets to run around off leash. She’s having the time of her life, and we’ve all gained a new level of trust in each other. Tessa loves the tall dune grass, and will run up into the dunes, but comes right back when we whistle. She seems to understand that this is a special place, and has no problem being clipped back onto her leash if we see people coming.

Sunset on Crissey Field Beach.
Fog and low tide, Crissey Field Beach.

We’ve seen the lovely, calm ocean and the fierce, violent surf when storms are raging out at sea. We’ve seen an incredible number of dead birds, murres and cormorants, on the beach. They nest on the sea stacks (very large rocks that jut out of the ocean along the Pacific coast) and we think they must be knocked off their nests when huge waves crash into the rocks. At first we wondered if we should remove the carcasses from the beach, but rangers instructed us to just leave them in place, as the tides and scavengers take care of them. As we learned from The Lion King, this is the circle of life.

Waves crashing off sea stacks, Harris Beach.

I love watching the “sand fleas” as we walk the beach. I grew up seeing sand fleas on the New England beaches and assumed they were responsible for the itchy red spots I sometimes went home with. I’ve learned that sand fleas are not fleas at all, but an itty bitty crustacean. They don’t bite, so those itchy red spots are the result of some other type of pest at the beach. Sand fleas (they are really called Beach Hoppers) exist to clean the beach of debris. As you approach a dead crab, piece of washed up seaweed, or bird carcass, you’ll see an army of the tiny creatures jump off the object and run for their lives. They jump by curling up their tail and giving it a powerful flick to spring several inches in the air. Kelp is their favorite food, and Oregon’s massive off-shore kelp fields provide plenty of that.

This big pile of Bull Whip Kelp was washed up at high tide, Pelican State Beach, just over the California border.

Another thing we love watching is the feeding frenzies that take place when schools of fish get close to shore. Dozens of pelicans circle and dive like arrows into the shallow water, while dozens more gulls wait on shore for scraps. If we watch closely, we’ll see brown or grey heads pop up from the surf … sea lions and seals curiously watching us watch them! There are so many washed up trees on the beach that it’s easy to have a seat and spend an hour watching the commotion.

In Oregon, they say that these feeding frenzies can be a forerunner to humpback whales migrating through the area, as the birds are usually feeding on large schools of anchovies or herring. If this means that humpbacks aren’t far behind, we’ll be booking a whale watch soon! Dozens of whales migrate past these beaches, and grey whales call the waters of the Pacific Northwest their home. 

Back at our campsite, we’ve really enjoyed sitting outside and watching the local birds. There’s not much in the way of animal wildlife here, although we’ve seen coyote scat a couple of times. There’s no nut trees, so few squirrels. Although other camp hosts have spoken about elk sightings in their campgrounds, none have wandered through our parks.

Stellar’s Jay, a common bird here.

The ground in Oregon is pocked with so many holes, it’s like Swiss cheese — we can thank the gophers for that. In two months, we haven’t seen a single gopher, but we sure see the holes they leave behind. Tessa, with her canine super-senses, knows they are down there and will tiptoe around the yard, stopping and waiting for … what? We’ve never seen a gopher head pop up from a hole! Meanwhile, we’ve been enjoying the heck out of the hummingbirds, jays and hawks that share this spot with us.

Gophers are a real problem in Oregon.

Before coming to this part of the country, we didn’t know that this is the Easter Lily capital of the world. Yes, over 95% of all bulbs grown for the potted Easter Lily market are produced by just ten farms in a narrow coastal area straddling the California-Oregon border, from Smith River, California up to Brookings, Oregon. We’ve seen the fields of lilies, and watched farm workers planting bulbs. They have a piece of equipment with about eight platforms on which the field workers lay face down. The tractor pulls the equipment through the field, and workers pluck bulbs from a bucket in front of them and place them in the ground. These farms are not selling the actual plants, they raise the plants until they are a marketable size, then harvest the bulbs in the fall, sell the market-size bulbs to commercial greenhouses and replant the bulblets that have formed off the side of the main bulb. The greenhouses plant the bulbs in pots and grow them under controlled conditions to bloom for the Easter holiday.

Another thing we didn’t know before coming to Brookings is that most of the western coastline, from Washington, through Oregon and all the way down the California coast, is a tsunami hazard zone! As we traveled down the Pacific Coast Highway, we passed signs notifying us as we drove in and out of risk areas with the rise and fall in elevation. Our campsite, being so close to the beach, is within one of those risk areas as we are sitting about 25 feet above sea level.

There are information boards in town telling the history of the 2011 tsunami that hit the Oregon coast. That episode was set off by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake that occurred 50 miles off the coast of Japan. Several hours later, three tsunami waves hit the Oregon coast. Those waves were only 3’ tall, but the tide was on its way out which meant the coastal rivers were pushing water out to the ocean. The speed and power of the incoming tsunami waves crashing into outgoing river water caused $7 million in damage. Fortunately, residents had hours of notice to evacuate before the waves arrived and there were no lives lost.

That tsunami occurred because of an earthquake 4,000 miles away, which explains the low wave height. The worry is that there is a fault roughly 100 miles off the west coast of the US that is overdue for an earthquake. Geologists say that there have been 41 quakes in that fault over the last 10,000 years, the last one being a massive 9.0 quake in the year 1700. It seems that 322 years without a break in that fault is a very long time, and seismologists warn that there is a 37% chance that an earthquake greater than a magnitude 7 will occur in this fault in the next 50 years. A quake of that size so close to the coast would set off a tsunami wave up to 100’ high that would crash into the coastline within seconds. There would be no time to evacuate. One article we read said, “if you feel the earth shake when you’re on the coast, run uphill as fast as you can.” Another article said, “If you see the wave coming, it’s too late.” I won’t lie … those words have been on my mind every day that we’ve been here. 

I almost forgot to mention the weather. How can I forget the weather? It has only rained here two or three times in the past two months, but the skies are almost perpetually grey. The fog is incredible! It’s beautiful and depressing at the same time. We have become quite adept at joking about it … if we didn’t laugh at the fog, I think we’d be on anti-depressants by now. We’ll hear the weather forecast on the radio and do our own voiceover: “Today on the coast, we’ll see fog mixed with fog. Skies will clear to grey this afternoon, giving way to fog in the evening.” When the sun does make an appearance, we run outside, pull out our chairs and bask in it’s rays! What’s even funnier is hearing the locals when the temperature climbs above 70° … “Oh, my gosh, it’s so HOT! And we don’t have A/C here!”

Tessa, fog and low tide at Crissey Field Beach.

Finally, for a delicious piece of history. We all know that the mainland United States was never bombed during World War II, right? Wrong! Would you believe the Japanese dropped two bombs on Oregon? 

I know what you’re saying, “that’s impossible … I never learned about that in school, in any museum or any book that I’ve ever read.” Well, it’s true! On September 9, the local movie theater in Brookings showed a documentary called “Samarai in the Oregon Sky” to mark the 80th anniversary of the bombing. It’s an amazing story of how a Japanese pilot dropped two bombs, one in Brookings and another in Gold Beach, and how twenty years later the people of Brookings searched for that pilot and reached out to him in peace, invited the pilot and his family to Brookings, and forged a bond of brotherhood between two former enemy nations. It’s a fantastic true story that you can watch on Vimeo for a small fee of $3.99. Here is a link to that documentary:

But, now we are counting down to departure. We leave Brookings on October 8, will head up the coast a little ways before turning east and then south toward our winter home.

Low tide on a sunny day at McVay Rock Beach.

* Official motto of the state of Oregon (pronounced OR-ee-gn, by the way … I have been corrected). The motto is said to represent both sentiments of independence from Britain and the independent nature of the early settlers in their abilities to make a living in the new territory and create a new government.

One thought on “She Flies with Her Own Wings*

  1. Hi BL&T!! As always, it’s wonderful to read about and see your wonderful travel adventures. You are really having some fantastic life experiences and I’m glad you are sharing them with us. Really beautiful!! Safe travels to your winter haven and keep sending your updates. France and Bill

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