Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Free ocean-front camping

We are at the Quinault Beach Resort and Casino, in Ocean Shores, Washington (map). The casino has a dedicated gravel RV lot overlooking the Pacific Ocean. One merely needs to check in at the front desk in order to stay. We are the only ones in the lot (although there is another rig that apparently spent the night in the casino's paved parking lot).

What a delight. It was dark and quiet last night, with only the sounds of the crickets and the surf to lull us to sleep. We had an excellent dinner at Emily's restaurant inside the resort, and to top it all off, the casino gave us $10 apiece for signing up in their player reward program. Oddly, this excellent spot was not listed in our casino camping directory -- we found it in our Day's End directory, and it is also listed on a couple of our on-line resource guides.

Speaking of the Day's End directory, this resource, available to Escapees members, consists of member-contributed overnight stay suggestions, and has rarely steered us wrong. Things do change, though, and so the member contributions are marked with the date of submission. Monday afternoon, we followed one such suggestion for a stop in the town of Astoria, Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia.

It was a great spot -- an undeveloped lot next to a drive-up espresso stand (anyone who has been to the Pacific Northwest knows that drive-up espresso stands are more common here than phone booths or mailboxes). The lot was right on the Columbia, across from the fishing-boat harbor and next to both the tourist trolley line (only running on weekends this month) and the shoreline walking/bicycle trail (map). Our guide said that other Escapees had overnighted in this spot as recently as 2004 without a problem.

We had a very pleasant afternoon there, watching the ships coming and going down the Columbia (the deep-water port of Portland is upriver from this spot), and fixed ourselves some dinner. We were undisturbed until around 8pm, when the local constabulary dropped by to very politely inform us that remaining in a vehicle overnight is prohibited by ordinance throughout the town (on public OR private property), handing us a copy of said ordinance. We thanked him, and then scrambled to get Odyssey road-ready in the little bit of daylight remaining.

We try to always have a backup plan, and our backup for this night was Fort Stevens State Park, about ten miles away, with its enormous campground of nearly 500 sites. We rolled into the park in the last vestiges of twilight, and selected an easy-in/easy-out spot at the very beginning of "G"-loop. The entire park was forested, so no satellite access, but we did get 50 amps of electric power for our $22 fee. The campground was mostly empty on a Monday night, and we hardly saw another soul until we left yesterday morning.

While our other Oregon State Park stays have been exceptionally pleasant and easy, this park needs to get its act together. Perhaps they are suffering from the logistical difficulties of running such a huge campground. In any case, we arrived shortly after the check-in office closed, although the ranger did come out while we were standing there to post the site-reservation list (so that walk-in arrivals don't accidentally occupy sites that have incoming reservations). We were looking for payment envelopes and a drop-box, thus far ubiquitous features of state park campgrounds for after-hours check-in. The ranger told us there was no drop box, and, not to worry, someone would come by around about 8am to collect fees.

Fine by us, we've done it that way before. BUT, even though we were expecting it (and had our check already made out), the ranger-aide that came around at 7:45 did not bother knocking, instead leaving a very snippy "Request for Compliance with Park Rules" notice on our door. A notice which said to go to the office to pay the fees by 9am, which, of course, I did not even find until I walked the dog around 9:30.

Now the office was a good half mile or so from where we were parked, so we decided to pay on our way out -- neither one of us wanted to hoof it a mile just to drop off a check, and we weren't going to unload a vehicle just to do it either. So I was happy to see a ranger drive up around 10ish, and I went outside with the check in my hand. Apparently, though, the roving rangers are not equipped to accept payments, a fact which, I pointed out, conflicted with what the office ranger told us on the way in. She seemed satisfied when I told her that we would pay on our way out in about an hour, but, still, our whole experience was colored by this vague implication that we were breaking some kind of rule. Sheesh, people, put out some envelopes and stick an iron ranger in every camping loop -- every other park in the system seems to have gotten this right.

We are now just three hours from where we need to be on Thursday, so we are debating whether to remain here another night, enjoying the serenity and the ocean views, or head inland and overnight someplace in the vicinity of Olympia.

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