V6E2 - Tracking Back to NorCal

I’m sure, when DaimlerChrysler was designing the “spacious” four-door Jeep Wrangler, they weren’t thinking that people were going to live in them full-time, as one might live in a camper van. However, that’s always been the nice thing about Jeeps - with a little help from the aftermarket industry, and a touch of DIY ingenuity, they can be whatever we want them to be!

That being said, if you live in a Jeep, you’re still living in a small SUV. It will never be as spacious or as comfortable as a Class A motorhome. So, to be as comfortable as possible in my orange metal box, I pursue warmer climates where I can be as comfortable on the outside of the vehicle as I might be on the inside.

 

Southbound from Bend

The week commenced as I traveled south out of Bend, Oregon, on highway 97, toward Fremont-Winema National Forest, where it was my hope to find a nice place to pop the camper for the night. Due north of Crater Lake National Park, I found forest land consisting of a vast network of primitive roads, perfect for exploration, except there was a problem…

Despite the area’s flat, wooded landscape, it is at a high elevation approaching 5,000 feet. During the summer, this would be fine, except in the middle of January, the snow was close to a foot deep, if not more. Without sufficient traction aids and self-recovery gear, it would’ve been blatantly unsafe to venture down these forest roads alone.

Due to a lack of daylight, I pulled onto a trampled section of snowy forest road, taking care not to travel far from pavement, and set up camp for the night. It was a lovely evening in the snowy woods despite waking up to 12 degrees fahrenheit in the morning!

 

Overnight in Umpqua

As I pushed westward into Umpqua National Forest, I dropped in elevation, and the snow receded completely. I didn’t spend too much time on pavement, as I was eager to do some exploring on dry terrain.

I turned off of highway 138 by Toketee Reservoir, and ventured north into the surrounding forest, which consisted of a vast road network according to my GPS.

First, I stopped to check out the nearby Umpqua Hot Springs, which are very popular thermal pools at a remote location. The parking lot contained several vehicles, a few of which were RVs, even on a weekday in mid-January. As much as I would’ve loved to experience the springs, I prefer a more private experience, so I opted to keep exploring.

My GPS indicated that there was a campground in the nearby mountains, next to a reservoir at a moderate elevation, so I plotted a course. When I got there, I found a recently vacated campsite with the remnants of a campfire still smoldering. It was the middle of the day, but I chose to settle in here for the night, since it was a very nice spot, and all the fire needed was a little fuel to get going again.

It was an idyllic camping experience, and a pleasant change of pace from the snowy conditions I encountered the night before!

Crossing State Lines

Eager to continue pursuing warmer climates, I opted to spend some more time driving south. However, I didn’t want to pound pavement the entire way, so I formulated a plan to cross from Oregon into California via forest road, instead of by highway.

During my first attempt, I ventured into Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, near Oregon Caves National Monument, where I hoped to cross into California. It consisted of miles of well-groomed forest roads, and was very mountainous and scenic. Unfortunately, the further I traveled, the higher the roads climbed. Within a couple of short miles from the California border, the roads became snowy and treacherous at around 4000 feet. I deemed it too unsafe to continue, and was forced to turn back.

Having a better idea of where the snow-line was, I took another look at my map, and saw another potential route further to the west, near O’Brien, Oregon. This one didn’t seem to exceed 2500 feet, according to the contours on my GPS. Unless I encountered some obstruction such as a gate, I should be good to go!

I fueled up in O’Brien and started driving southwest. The road was well-graded at first, but after a few miles, my GPS directed me to turn off onto a another road designated for high-clearance vehicles only. This was my kind of route!

It was a very deteriorated, moderately technical road that wound through the mountains for roughly 15 miles. Along the way, there were small stream crossings, sketchy bridges, sprawling vistas, and densely wooded valleys. It was an incredible overland route that crossed into California, just as I had planned, and it emptied out into unincorporated community of Rockland, with nothing but wilderness in every direction.

 

Oasis in the Forest

Rockland, California, is a bit of an oasis, only accessible by forest road. It is nestled in a valley, along the north fork of the vibrant blue Smith River, and only seems to consist of one private residence. There is a river access here, where I spent the night. There is also a large bridge along a very short section of paved road, and a fee campground with a vault toilet and fire rings.

It is very secluded and worthy of a visit, if only just to camp by the river for a few nights. This place, a seemingly best-kept secret, was easily the highlight of my week!

 

Downpour in Ferndale

As much as I endeavor to explore the wild places in my Jeep, I also like to experience the charming and culturally vibrant small towns that I find along my route. This also gives me a good opportunity to catch up on some work on my computer, and also publish my weekly YouTube episode.

I wrapped up the week in Ferndale, California, where I spent a few nights in the parking lot of the Humboldt County Fairgrounds during ceaseless rain. Ferndale is a small town only a stone’s throw from the Pacific coast, and consists of shops, markets, inns, and cafes with a distinctly Victorian theme.

There I enjoyed the Mind’s Eye Coffee Lounge, Ferndale Meat, for a delicious sandwich, the Golden Gait Mercantile, for general goods and odds-and-ends, and of course Ferndale’s quiet public library.

It’s a lovely town that’s not to be overlooked if you ever find yourself along highway 101 in Northern California.