Ft. Stevens State Park is a fabulous concoction of the best of outdoors Oregon. It is a bike-rider’s paradise with a labyrinth of twisting, looping trails. History enthusiasts can spend hours wandering the warren of old artillery emplacements and ammunition bunkers that date back to the Civil War. There is even a sandy swim beach, boat ramps, and fishing spots. If you still find yourself bored, there are countless interpretive programs, a military museum and – get this – a Civil War re-enactment once a year during Labor Day weekend. All of this in one sprawling 4,000 plus acre area. We were blown away by the possibilities. Would we fit it all in? Where would we start?

The answer was simple; shelter. This has always been the most basic of human needs, beyond fire, food, and beer. We were camping and, since our shelter wasn’t attached to our car with a hitch and wheels, a more primitive construction was required. In our case, this meant a tent. Let me be clear; I am a camping purist. In my dictionary of the wild, the word “camping” means “tent.” Nothing says comfort and safety like a thin sheet of nylon protecting your back from a tree root or your limbs from a curious bear. Depending on size and packaging, they can take anywhere from one to nine hours to assemble, during which time your bug repellent has been washed away by your angry sweat and you are being feasted upon like a side of beef in a shark tank. I learned many of my favorite words putting up countless tents over the years. Nothing beats the experience of tent camping.

That being said, I am not one of those people who claim everything was better when I was younger. First of all, I was raised in the 80′s; now, my computer is smaller, my phone takes a picture, and I don’t have to rewind movies anymore. I enjoy the flow of progress. But I like to keep some things permanent. Camping in a tent is one of those things. Besides, I always like learning new words.

The tent my wife and I were using was a dome tent. This was not just any dome tent; this was the tent purchased by my parents in 1983 when dome tents were the sleek new hybrid of the tent world. It had replaced our bulky canvas Coleman tent that weighed more than a tramp freighter when it got wet and whose broken zipper my dad had replaced with a series of clothes pins that most assuredly did not keep mosquitoes out. No, this dome tent was a curvy, sexy, graceful shelter that evoked envy from fellow campers and wildlife alike; at least it had up until around 1986. By then, it had been scarred by campfires, knives, and animal claws. It had been patched repeatedly and hurriedly, so often that it resembled Frankenstein’s monster on an off day. It had been shellacked by waterproofing and bug spray prior to so many trips that it retained a vaguely chemical odor, not unlike burnt hairspray. This was to say nothing of the competing scent of wet dog. But it was still beautiful in my eyes and one of my most prized possessions. It rolled up small enough to fit behind my back seat and was big enough for two adults and a large, often wet and always slobbery dog. It allowed us a freedom of movement that I was sure most RV’ers never get to experience. Of course, at Ft. Stevens, it stuck out like a piece of hay in an enormous bin of needles. But a life of conforming is boring, so we stuck with our tent.

I set about the task of erecting our shelter. I was a man, out of doors, and with a job to provide for my family. The huge, shiny RV’s on either side of our pretty little spot had stopped their generators and I lost myself in the sounds of the park while I spread out my nylon beauty. My wife was talking baby-talk to our dog, Kirby, who was wagging his tail and happily snuffling through the scents around the site invisible to everyone but him. In the road that ran in front of our site, two kids were playing Frisbee while a pair of senior citizens strolled by hand-in-hand, a lazy smile etched on both their faces. Various birds flitted about overhead, tweeting to each other pecking the trees for whatever looked good. Broad hemlocks swayed overhead in a light early evening breeze and the whole campground seemed to sigh with them as it prepared for the coming night.

I got the tent up in what for me was record time and with minimal injury. I was only interrupted by Kirby plodding over and laying in the middle of the tent twice while I was occupied with its completion. One feature of the dome tent is elastic tent poles that – theoretically – allow you more ease and quickness in your task. This, of course, is a blatantly sick lie; the poles often pop out of the grommets and snap at your body with the velocity of an aircraft carrier catapult line. Because we knew each other’s moods so well, I was often able to duck or jump out of the way before decapitation or castration occurred. Other times, I endured the duration of my camping trip with ugly welts across my face and limbs that screamed to passers by “Look at me, I was setting up my dome tent and forgot to duck!” But this time, the tent-camping gods were kind and the tent went up pain-free.

Darkness edged by orange and purple was creeping upon Ft. Stevens and newly lit campfires surrounded us with what has always been one of my favorite sounds; a gleeful pop and crackle that promises burnt hot dogs and marshmallows rendered unrecognizable as food. My wife had our fire going and was occupied with trying to keep Kirby’s constantly wagging tail from going up in flames. I retrieved a gloriously cold Oregon-made beer from our cooler and sat down to watch. Kids called to each other in the distance and it did my heart good to hear that the youth of the 21st century still found time to run around outside with no purpose other than to be loud and get dirty. It was a glorious Oregon evening to be outside; just around sixty degrees, a slight breeze to keep the mosquitoes at bay, and a clear sky that promised crystalline star-gazing opportunities. Tomorrow, we would unload the bikes and explore that winding trails of Ft. Stevens. But tonight was for the sunset, the moonrise and the emerging starscape. And for s’mores. Lots and lots of s’mores.

Dan Haag, Executive Director, Garibaldi Maritime Museum

Born and raised in the great white north of Minnesota, Dan Haag felt the pull of the Pacific Northwest in the early 90′s. Finding he liked wearing sandals and shorts year-round, he stayed. He married an Oregon girl and settled on the North Oregon Coast where he slowly mastered the art of year-round residency. Dan has waited tables, cleaned rooms, run a youth center, given kayak tours, washed dishes, spent time as a Sous Chef, and more – often times simultaneously. He finished his history degree through Linfield College and landed a job at the Garibaldi Maritime Museum, developing educational outreach programs for area schools. Today, Dan is the museum’s Executive Director. In this capacity, Dan shares his love of Oregon coast history with thousands of visitors each year. In his free time, Dan enjoys writing, exploring Oregon’s trails and beaches, doing his part to support the Oregon wine and beer industry, perusing the coast’s many bookstores, and working on his little beach house.

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