The Trip: Secret Campground
To get there from Seattle, you have to drive down the coast through Washington and Oregon, which takes at least a day. Then, because this campground doesn't take reservations and is usually full by mid-afternoon, you have to find another place nearby to camp overnight, so you can get there bright and early the next day.
In the morning, you drive though a tiny town, then some country, then turn right onto a twisty bumpy dusty unpaved road that takes you through miles of redwood forest. RVs aren't allowed in this campground, and couldn't make it down that road anyway. A VW van like Twinkie is about the biggest vehicle that usually tries it, though I saw a slightly larger camper/truck combo while we were there this time.
Just when you think your transmission's going to dump out, you get to the ranger post. The ranger will tell you the campsite's full but that you're welcome to wait in the parking area and see if anything opens up. Then comes a couple more miles of unpaved road. And then you're there.
Now it's time to start schmoozing. Drive around the campground first, to see if anyone seems to be packing up. Stop them and engage in conversation. Ask nicely if anyone else has claimed their spot already. Be friendly to the campers; they'll soon be your neighbors. And be prepared to take any site. You probably won't get one of the best ones, right on the beach; they usually go to people who are moving up from back-row sites. You might be one of them in a day or two.
Don't give up. If no one seems to be leaving, wait in the parking area. Have a stool or some camping gear ready so you can claim a spot with a moment's notice. Creativity and resourcefulness never go amiss, either. We got our spot this time because RW was on top of things; she schmoozed a nice woman who was getting ready to leave, but who had already promised her spot to a group of college students. Her car was all packed, but most of the students were still asleep and weren't ready to move yet. We were willing to share our spot with them when they got up, but they decided to drive on after all. So we had our site.
This might sound like a lot of trouble for a campsite, when there are campgrounds sprinkled all along the Oregon and California coasts. Here's what I wrote while I was there:
When I'm not here, I think "why bother?" There's a chill in the air, it's often foggy, the ocean's too cold to swim in. The campsites themselves are totally exposed and have no privacy. No grove of trees shading you from the next tent. Just sand and grasses and a few wooden stumps and driftwood posts.I went walking along the beach every day, gathering stones. I kept the prettiest ones and left the others on our picnic table. MG liked to run in and out of the waves as far as her knees, but only a few teenage boys we saw were brave or foolish enough to actually swim in that rough, cold sea.
It sounds corny to say it's a magical place. But it is. Just a small campground, maybe 25 sites, at the edge of the sea, banked by forested cliffs. No sight of houses or streets, no sound of any cars or people besides those at the campsites and a ranger who comes around once or twice a day in a rusty old truck. If you're lucky, you might see some elk munching through the grass nearby.
Only ocean, ocean, ocean, and sand. And beach grass, and driftwood, and a dozen or two tents poking out of the grasses, looking almost like natural formations.
There's a sound like a distant highway, but it's really the ocean echoing off the cliffs.
No RVs, no TVs. No cell phone reception to speak of. The bathrooms are smelly, the linoleum's peeling. There's one shower, outdoors, supposedly heated by solar panels though basically it's a cold shower. Best to use it in the middle of the day, when it's warmest and you can feel the sun on your bare skin.
There are sparrows nesting in the men's room on top of the lighting fixture, so the rangers put up a sign asking people to please keep the door open. MG and I peeked in the other day, and three baby birds peered down at us.
One warm day we washed all our underwear, and hung it up to dry on a line, like a multicolored kite tail.
The first time RW and I went there together, we stepped out of our tent and walked on the beach one night at low tide and everywhere we stepped in the wet sand, there was a glowing sparkle from the phosphorescence in the ocean. We danced up and down in the dark, brightness at our feet.