Fort Stevens – Hammond, Oregon

The fog was light. Summer had arrived on the calendar, but the spring-time temperatures held firm. Most of the soldiers of the 249th Coast Artillery Corp were bedded down for the night. Guard duty shifts were manned, and talk was light.  

To the southwest of the fort, just beyond the break point of the waves, a dark figure rose up from the depths. Unseen as it took aim, the Japanese I-25 submarine prepared its attack. The flash of a muzzle and the explosion of the enormous shells striped away the quiet of the night leaving craters in the beachhead. Soldiers scrambled and stumbled from their bunks as they raced to their stations. 

Plotters prepared firing orders as spotters watched the muzzle flashes from the submarine, but the order came to hold. Nine shots were fired towards them, all falling short and harmlessly away into the surrounding vegetation. With bated breath everyone waited, and although the submarine retreated and submerged once again, there would be no sleep for the remainder of the night.

M.D. Parker

Fort Stevens Battery Pratt

Fort Stevens in Hammond, near Astoria, Oregon original construction began in 1863, near the end of the Civil War. By 1904 the fort had expanded. Multiple cannon batteries were constructed with the intention of defending the mouth of the Columbia River. 

On June 21, 1942 Fort Stevens was attacked by an Imperial Japanese Navy submarine. The submarine seemed to be shooting blind. They were still looking for a target, not firing at one yet. There was no return fire from Fort Stevens that night. Since the fort remained silent, the Japanese didn’t know where exactly to attack, so they ceased fire and submerged their submarine in retreat. 

And the award for hide-n-seek 1942 Summer Championship goes to Fort Stevens! 

Machine Gun Emplacement. Rumor has it that this machine gun was loosely based on some tech from a galaxy far, far away.

The majority of the buildings and structures in Fort Stevens are still intact. You are able to enter a lot of the structures, though some only on scheduled tours. There are plenty of volunteers for the guided tours, history lessons, and information. There is an onsite Military Museum with a small rose garden.

Central Power Plant
Zoom zoom
Boom boom
“Plot and plan like all good generals.”  – E.A. Bucchianeri,
Most of the corridors in the batteries are very dark with far away echoes…of something. Maybe you, maybe not.
Pitch black in this underground corridor. Maybe it is only because I have been here in person, but I can almost feel this picture. Too quiet, but for echoes of the unknown. Too dark, too cool, too dreadful. 
Inside the Battery Clark

The fort is now part of a 4,200 acre Oregon State Park that includes camping, wildlife viewing, more than five miles of hiking and biking trails, Frisbee golf and the ability to explore Fort Stevens remains and buildings. There is also access to the final battery built at Fort Stevens, Battery Russell. Within walking distance is a fresh water lake for swimming and fishing and kayaking. There is easy beach access nearby for walks, beach combing, stunning sunset views, and even a ship wreck. 

The Peter Iredale

The campground has around 500 campsites available with various amenities, including yurts, cabins, tents, and various RV hookup sites available. The sites are level with an abundance of trees for shade and wind block.  Each loop has it’s own bathroom and shower facilities. 

The Frisbee Golf course goes all the way around and through Fort Stevens.
There is a large herd of elk that roam the grounds at Fort Stevens

If you manage to see and do everything on your Fort Stevens bucket list, you can also go visit the Lewis and Clark National Park nearby. Nearby towns include Hammond, Warrenton, Seaside, and Astoria. 

There are wonderful local restaurants, including plenty of nearby breweries and wineries for the adults, and Seaside has a boardwalk with a few fun rides and games for the kids.  We recommend Ship Out Fish and Chips in Astoria for delicious local seafood. The fish is thick, flaky, and crispy and the clam chowder…*chef’s kiss*


Links

Fort Stevens

Astoria

Seaside

Ship Out Fish & Chips

Lewis and Clark National Park

 

 

 

 

Camping inside the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge

Virgin Valley Campground is a free campground in the middle of Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in northern Nevada. The campground is first come, first-served, and you can stay up to 14 days. There are about a dozen spaces to set up camp in, and most have a picnic table and a fire pit. Pets are welcome, and much to my delight, there is also a Little Free Library on site! 

Virgin Valley Campground. I was delighted to find that purity was not a requirement to camp. Sorry about the lack of a beautiful sky, but 2020 was being all 2020. 
The smoky skies are due to someone failing to rake their forests all along the west coast, and therefore turning California, Oregon and Washington into an inferno.

But the real gem here? The geothermal warm springs that have been piped into a pool in the campground. There is also an open bathhouse with hot showers. There are no hookups, but potable water is available. 

Not quite skin melting temperatures, but lovely anyway.

Virgin Valley is a great base camp for exploring some of the 900 square miles of wildlife habitat inside the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is home to a variety of birds, butterflies, snakes, lizards, rabbits, deer, wild horses, bighorn sheep and more.

Wild horses, Couldn’t drag me away, Wild, wild horses, Couldn’t drag me away – The Rolling Stones
Pronghorn

Make sure to bring all your supplies with you, because there is not a whole lot of shopping nearby. About 30 miles east of the campground is the small Denio Junction, which has a bar, and a small convenience store/gas pump/bar/motel. Winnemucca is the closest town with grocery stores, and it is about 130 miles away.

We got plenty familiar with the drive to Winnemucca and back, due to a broken motorhome door. Then we bought the wrong shit to fix the door. We had to make the drive three times over three days for various annoying reasons. After all that quality time trying not to get irritated and bite each others’ heads off, we finally managed to get Matilda’s door back in shape.

A neighbor dog completely appalled at the Mr.’s ability to make up swear word combinations on the fly while working on…anything.

After all the frickin’ door fun, we wanted to move down the road to find a new view out our newly fixed front door. We were looking for a little more seclusion and decided to try out off-grid camping along the Bog Hot Springs Road, which runs alongside the (aptly named) Bog Hot Springs. You can find Bog Hot Springs Road off of highway 140, about 10 miles west of Denio Junction.

Dry camping along the Bog

Being under-educated on Hot Spring etiquette, I was only slightly alarmed by the old man baring his wrinkly, pale ass right in front of me. And by “only slightly alarmed,” I mean VERY red-faced. Apparently, clothing is optional. It seems to be a popular theory that soaking in the 111℉ geothermal hot springs while naked is good for your body…and the hot springs. The claim is that soap and detergents in your clothes are bad for the springs and the natural algae that only grow in them. It was a pretty steady flow of people coming and going. Some just stayed for a few hours, and some camped along the hot springs like we were. It did seem that most of the people we came across were polite and friendly…at least I think so. I avoided eye contact and admired the horizon quite often. 

The hot springs…and the horizon
This pump is used to get water from the springs and spray the roads and brush nearby. A bit more helpful than the slacking forest raker.
Hippie Heaven

While we did not participate in the naked soaking, we did soak; shorts and tank tops are welcome too. The temperatures were in the 90’s during the day, so most soaking was early morning or in the evenings. It was relaxing…and, well…boggy. The floor of the hot springs is super thick, sandy mud that WILL squish between your toes (and probably other things).

Oh! Henlo! Crusty Rusty here! They tried to trick me into a bath, but I’m too stinkin’ smart for them.
Matilda enjoying the view of the horizon

When the time came to get back on the road, we headed down the familiar road to Winnemucca to restock Matilda, and wash all the mud from our clothes, dogs, car, motorhome, and selves. 

But our drive to Winnemucca was interrupted by a flat tire on our tow car because we are disaster magnets. We managed to get the tire fixed quickly and headed south toward Austin, Nevada and Stokes Castle. 

See you there in the next blog post!