When the morning arrived for our departure from Bayport RV Park on Scappoose Bay in Warren, Oregon, the skies were threatening, but there was no snow predicted for the route we chose.
Cornelius Pass is a decent route that passes by the main urban area of Portland to the west, crossing a low mountain as it approaches Highway 26 and continues south toward the upper portion of the Willamette Valley where we planned to spend two days in Dayton.
I checked the webcams, read the Facebook Group for Cornelius Pass, and declared that we could take that route and avoid returning south via Highway 30 and Interstate 5. Even though Mo was driving, the roads required navigating to the extent that I didn’t have the opportunity to open the phone camera for photos. So I have no record of this trip.
We crossed Highway 26, the main route to the coast from the city. We were aghast at the wall-to-wall row houses and apartments that seemed to extend for miles around Hillsboro and Aloha on the western perimeter of the city of Portland.
Google is notorious for sometimes routing over impassable roads, and when I saw an extremely curvy road on the projected route I said, “No No! Keep going straight, that road is too curvy”. The alternate route I chose seemed to be a bit less curvy and hopefully, we could navigate a way to Dayton that would be a bit less challenging. All was well until we saw a sign for an 18 percent grade ahead. Eighteen Percent??!! I think the steepest sign we have ever seen was 16 percent on the road into Calistoga in California.
We kept on going, and climbed a narrow road into some steep hills (which felt like mountains) to an elevation of 2,000 feet or so, with fairly deep snow on either side of the road. In one short section, within a distance of no more than 2 miles, we saw 4 newish SUV-type vehicles smashed into trees and telephone poles, some appeared to be climbing the poles. So much for avoiding the curvy roads. And no, I don’t have a single photo of this experience. Somehow I had no clue that the Willamette VALLEY had steep curvy snowy mountains here and there on the perimeter.
We breathed a sigh of relief as we entered the actual valley toward the community of Dayton and our reservations at the Dayton RV Park. Searching Google again for the actual address of the park, I was redirected to several other RV parks, but no Dayton RV Park. I dug out the reservation papers, which also had no address for the park, then went to the park website and discovered that there was no address listed there either. Finally in the small print somewhere I found the phone number of the RV park and called.
A sweet lady answered the phone and gladly offered the address, yada yada yada…Dayton, Nevada. NEVADA?
It seems we somehow made a reservation in Dayton, Nevada instead of Dayton, Oregon. I would expect that an RVr who has traveled for any length of time has had a similar experience. Now what?
I started calling around, and after a few parks with no openings, found one for 80 bucks a night, with this caveat, “Oh, by the way, we have some construction going on but the framers don’t get loud until after 9am.”. Thanks anyway, but no thanks. This kind lady pointed me to the nearby state park suggesting they might have an opening on a rainy, out of season, Monday night.
We found Champoeg (pronounced Shampooey) State Park on the map and headed east, hoping for an opening, or at least a spot in a handicap site. That little blue card has saved us more than once in full parks at the last minute.
Arriving at Champoeg, we saw the dreaded “Campground Full” sign, but continued in, hoping for a cancellation or an ADA site. Found a ranger who checked and then sadly confirmed that there was no available space anywhere in the park for us, but said we could stay awhile until we could search for an alternative.
Mo and I settled in for lunch, and about 20 minutes later the ranger returned, saying her boss ranger had found us a site and had to wait a few minutes to be sure that the cancellation was real. Sure enough, it was, and we were directed to a full hookup site 34 in the B Loop, with the added benefit of that site being open for us for the two nights we hoped to stay.
Champoeg State Park was a perfect location for a home base as we visited the area around Dayton. During her research, Mo learned that the Dayton area was well known for a large number of excellent wineries. We thought it might be fun to sample the famous Pinot Noir grapes of this part of the Willamette Valley much as we dove into sampling the Old Vine Zinfandels in Lodi, California.
Mo also discovered a well-known four-star restaurant located in Dayton that we thought might be a fitting end to her birthday trip. As we settled in for the rest of the afternoon, I took advantage of the very slow internet signal on the phone to research a few wineries and the famous Joel Palmer House restaurant. There were so many wineries to choose from but most of them required a reservation or wouldn’t be open when we were planning to visit. We settled on a plan to visit the Stoller Family Estate, open for tastings on Tuesdays without a reservation.
We then checked for possible reservations at the Joel Palmer House and when we saw that dinner there was fixed at $375 per person, decided we didn’t need to visit this 4-star restaurant, no matter how good it was.
We spent some of the rest of the afternoon enjoying a walk along the beautiful bike trail adjacent to the Willamette River which borders the park. With the cloudy chill outside it was nice to return to the MoHo for the evening. It had been a crazy kind of day that ended quite well.
The next morning dawned beautifully, with sunshine and puffy white clouds in the sky. We took Mattie for another long walk through the park and along the river. The bike trail continues for a few miles in either direction, with the destination toward the east about two miles being Butteville General Store.
We decided that it would be best to leave Mattie settled in at home while we drove to explore the surrounding area before traveling to the winery.
Champoeg State Park is beautiful, but I was most impressed with the Visitor Center. Meandering through the stunning exhibits taught us about the history of the town of Champoeg, completely flooded and destroyed in 1861, rebuilt and flooded again in the late 1800s.
The exhibits taught not only the history of the area, but also the history of Oregon statehood, and the people who supported it and who were against it. I learned much that I didn’t know about Oregon as we walked through the center.
In addition to human history, there was much on the natural history of the area, including the plants, the geology, and the animals that make the park their home.
Native American history was covered as well, with an especially interesting map of the various dialects of languages that were used throughout Oregon. So much to learn. I think we spent at least an hour exploring the Visitor Center. There is a museum nearby that has more exhibits about the pioneer history of the area, but it wasn’t open yet for the season.
After visiting the center, we drove a couple of miles east to check out the Butteville Country Store. We originally thought maybe ice cream was in order, but it was early in the day and it was chilly so we weren’t tempted. I took a photo of the store from the outside, thinking maybe a hot summer day would make it more inviting.
Continuing toward Dayton, we found the Stoller Estate Winery on beautiful hills overlooking the valley. The tasting room was gorgeous, and the proprietor was informative and welcoming. There were only a few people who came and went while we were there, so it was uncrowded.
We chose a wine flight for me, a glass of red blend for Mo, and a lovely sandwich for two. The sandwich was delightful, with ham and turkey, arugula lettuce, gouda cheese, and a yummy aioli on perfectly baked bread.
The wines ranged from some lighter rosé to some lovely Pinot Noir wines. The rosé made from their pinot grapes was the driest rosé I have ever tried, but delicious. We settled on a bottle of Pinot to take home, deciding that we needed something to commemorate our visit.
The vineyard was beautiful, with spectacular views in all directions, and made for some lovely photo opportunities with the huge puffy clouds that signaled rain to come.
On the way home, we stopped for an outside visit to the famous restaurant in Dayton. I walked up to the imposing door, and the people inside were gracious and let me look inside. What kind of restaurant is really worth $375 a plate? It was beautiful and historic, and the chef was really kinda cute.
I doubt if we would ever return to eat there, especially since they are famous for using all kinds of locally sourced mushrooms in the dishes. Mo isn’t a fan of mushrooms.
Heavy rain accompanied our late afternoon return to the MoHo, and we were treated to a few rainbows as well. Mattie was happy to see us, and Mo braved the rain to take her for another walk.
We planned to return home on Wednesday morning, via Interstate 5 to Grants Pass. I checked weather cams, weather apps, road cams, and everything I could to attempt to find a window of opportunity to get from this part of the state to our home a couple of hundred miles south in Southern Oregon. I saw that snow was predicted for our campsite, and before going to bed we put in the slide to avoid any possible snow accumulation on the slide cover.
Sure enough, when we woke on Wednesday, it was snowing, with a bit of accumulation on the grass, but the roads were merely wet. I checked the weather and road conditions again, and we had a short travel window opening up on Interstate 5 between Roseburg and Grants Pass during the early afternoon.
Timing our departure in a way that would allow for a stopover at daughter Melody’s home in Brownsville near the interstate, we left by 10 AM. On days like this one, we are exceptionally glad that we have an RV sewer dump at home. There was no need to get out in the snow and use the sewer connection we had at our site.
The trip home was surprisingly uneventful. Mattie adores Melody, and as usual, as we approached Melody’s home, she started yipping and singing and wiggling ecstatically. Our visit was short but sweet, and I loved seeing some of the home projects that Melody and Robert have been doing with their 110-year-old house.
By the time we reached the four highest passes between Roseburg and Grants Pass, the road was clear, with no ice, no snow, and no rain. We pulled into the driveway at 4:30 PM with a sigh of relief. Home looked great, and the house was warm and welcoming thanks to the ability to program the heater for the end of vacation mode earlier in the day.
Despite the challenges, the weather, and the shifting plans, Mo’s birthday trip turned out to be a complete success.