Camping in Central Oregon

By on April 1, 2015
camping in central Oregon Carol Lovegren Miller

By Carol Lovegren Miller –

I hate having to eat my words; they taste bad. Maybe I should have been more gracious when I spoke them.  For decades I have scorned R.V. owners as not being true campers.  After seven summers of living in a 19-foot trailer with my family of six during my formative years, my attitude toward trailers can only be described as–bad. So when I heard myself suggest to my husband that we should purchase a camper for our trip to the Midwest this summer, I wanted to yank my offending tongue out and stomp all over it.

Kyle has yearned for a camper for years.  One little crack in the door and next thing I knew, a camper–with lots of experience–was parked in my driveway.  How embarrassing.  Only a vision of snakes, chiggers and daily Midwestern thunderstorms kept me from promptly reselling the offensive hulk. (The camper, not my husband.)

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I am smart enough to know that there is a lot to learn about how to operate all the gizmos and gadgets in a camper, assuming they work in the first place. So I grudgingly acquiesced to taking the camper, instead of our customary wall tent, for a trial run on our annual March anniversary campout.

Most people would consider exchanging a tent for a camper as an upgrade.  As far as I can tell–I am downsizing. Even our smallest wall tent (10’X12’) has more cubic feet than a camper tucked into the bed of a pickup truck.

I noted with gratitude that the previous owner was a tidy person. Nevertheless, I re-cleaned every square inch of the interior.  If I don’t get to grovel in clean dirt in my wall tent, I certainly don’t want to risk touching some stranger’s used dirt.  The worst was the discovery that they had bequeathed us two full holding tanks filled with disgusting effluent of an unknown vintage.

Then, we had a dickens of a time trying to deduce how the camper’s water system works.  However, we were pretty sure that water should not be flowing out of the heater’s vent.  We spent hours flushing and cleaning the water tank.  I am really picky about what I drink… except for the time when we were backpacking, and we had no choice but  to filter water out of mud puddles occupied by tiny red critters swimming happily in circles.

For our camping destination we picked “Perry South”, a lovely campground on the Metolius arm of Lake Billy Chinook (a huge reservoir north of Sisters and west of Culver in Central Oregon).

carol lovegren anniversary 2015 (26) - CopyCarol Lovegren anniversary 2015 (25) - CopyPerry South may well be the longest shoestring of a campground in Oregon.  Only one or two campsites wide, it stretches up a beautifully timbered canyon laced with springs and brooks for nearly a mile.  A huge adjacent forest fire has burned the surrounding area, but the campground itself is still pristine.  Perry South is popular in the winter because of its protected location. Plus it gets less snow than the hills around it due to its relatively low elevation.

As planned, our bed was all ready for us as soon as we backed into a level campsite late Thursday night, March 12th.  Unplanned was the realization that like Hansel and Gretel we had been leaving a trail of drinking water for the last five hours.  Off season campgrounds have their drinking water turned off.  We could only hope we would have enough for the next three days–we didn’t.

Because we did not pack our usual camping gear we soon discovered that we were lacking many critical items, foremost being a flashlight.  Kyle found and fixed the offending loose screw in the hot water heater by the light of his otherwise useless cell phone.

 I thought I was an experienced camper, evidently not when it comes to R.Vs.   In the middle of the night finding an appropriate tree is easy compared to figuring out how to flush an R.V. toilet.  

Around 4:00 a.m. Kyle awoke and chortled with sleepy glee; the heater was actually working and he did not have to get up to stoke a fire.  Oh no, I may never induce him to tent camp again!

Although I mourned that I could not hear the burbling brook while ensconced in my tin can, I did have a nice view of twinkling stars out the window, and the nearby owls’ hoots came in loud and clear.

Something I never anticipated was discovering that moving around a camper creates a rocking motion that is a bit like being on water. At times, when I clambered back down onto solid ground, the world tilted gently back and forth and back and forth for a few moments.

camping in central OregonAlthough most campgrounds have facilities to accommodate handicapped people, it is not common to see them camping, and I have never before seen someone in a wheelchair tent camping. So naturally a small one-man tent perched on top of an over-sized cot caught our attention.  We watched in fascination as our handicapped neighbor came cruising down the road, including up and over a speed bump, all while popping a wheelie in his wheelchair.  Later we saw him holding onto a strap attached to his friend’s truck while being towed back up the hill with his dog running alongside him.  I felt like a wimp in my camper.

In an effort to redeem ourselves, on Saturday we ventured out of our protected campground in order to ride our bicycles over the premier winter bicycle route out of Madras that we had read about in the February 1 News Review.

On our way, we stopped for a picnic lunch at Balancing Rocks, a geological wonderland where inexplicably stacked boulders look like giant mushrooms. High winds buffeted us, and rain pelted us as we ate lunch sitting on exposed rim rock.  Hey, just because we have a snug dry camper crouched on the back our truck, doesn’t mean we have to use it!  Our blustery lunch did persuade us to defer bicycle riding to another day.  Instead we spent the afternoon cooped up in our truck crawling in and out of the remarkable canyons that confine the three arms of the reservoir.

Although not the challenge that tent camping is, R.V. camping can have a whiff of adventure.  On our third night I sleepily worried about the distinct smell of propane.  I dragged myself out of bed to make sure the stove was completely off.  The smell persisted, so despite the rain I opened the roof vent.   After all, it is better to wake up wet than not at all.  By morning it was obvious that we had run out of propane.  No heat, okaaay this had shades of roughing it.  Unfortunately my Boy Scout husband is always prepared. With a spare propane tank he soon had his beloved heater back in business.   

Is this the end of Kyle and Carol’s camping adventures?  Don’t count on it.


Carol Lovegren Miller lives in Oakland Oregon, population 950. Carol and her husband Kyle, of 27 years, have taken their three children on many adventures. Carol is a substitute teacher for middle school and high school students when she is not writing or traveling. Carol can be reached at [email protected]

About Carol Lovegren-Miller

Carol Lovegren Miller has been married to Kyle for 32 years and has three grown children. She bakes, cans, organizes church events, and substitute teaches in between her adventures and writing." Carol can be reached at [email protected]

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Camping in Central Oregon