For 5 days last week we camped in Beacon Rock State Park with Laura and Tucker’s kids. Tennessee is 7 and Oz is 4 and the four of us piled our camping gear into the Prius and headed out for some unstructured play time in the woods. We found Beacon Rock State Park on the Web as we sought a small park with non-reservable campsites that had some woods and some water. As it turned out, Beacon Rock, on the north side of the Columbia River and just downriver from the Bonneville Dam, was perfect for us. It had 26 campsites about a mile up from the river and they were positioned around a sort of circle of dense trees, ferns and salal so that one could not see one campsite from another. Little trails led from one campsite to another, to water faucets and eventually to a bathroom. These trails were a bit intimidating to our little ones at first, but after a day, they were buzzing off along these trails in search of rabbits or water faucets or the bathroom or another family with young children. We hiked and played and cooked sticky some-mores and read books in the evening in our little tent.
About a quarter mile up a mountain trail from the camp is a rock outcrop that has been named “Little Beacon Rock”. Our intrepid hikers loved going up there. They seemed to enjoy the adventure and one time Tenn and Oz did this trip all by themselves without letting us know they were going that far. We found this a bit unsettling. It is one thing, and we think generally a good thing, to let your own children loose; it is quite a different thing when the kids are grandkids and not really yours! However, this gave us a chance to have a heart-to-heart with Tenn about why he needs to keep us informed.
Here is a telelphoto view:
Down near the Columbia River we found a great field for running and jumping and for flying the sled kites that we had gotten for Tenn and Oz. We happened upon some very serious kite fliers as well. These people were kite boarding on the river, playing with the opposing forces of the rapid current flowing one direction and the strong wind blowing the other. We were quite surprised to learn that 4 of these 5 individuals were in the over 60 set! Kite Boarding for Seniors! Oblivious to crazy seniors, the kids loved the mud at the edge of the Columbia River.
One day we spent several hours on the Columbia riding on an old sternwheeler! This is a tourist boat and had a hundred middle schoolers and us. The captain told lots of stories and passengers listened a bit. He told us about Sacagawea and Big Foot, both of whom were statuesque at this park. While we sternwheeled up and down the river some kayakers in very long, skinny kayaks surfed in the wake behind the ship all the way with us.
At the end, we decided to see if the two little campers would like to or be able to climb the Big Beacon Rock, which was named by Lewis and Clark. This is an 800 foot tall volcanic plug that stands on the banks of the river. The path upward was built about the time of World War I, and has had some updating since. It consists of some 20-30 switchbacks with variable stability pipe handrails. At the top you look east along the Columbia Gorge with the Bonneville dam in the distance. Climbing this and especially descending with little kids is more than a bit unnerving but our troopers trooped up and trooped down without complaint or incident! (Oz held Leslie’s hand all the way down because Leslie was scared.)
This trip was a terrific experience for us, the grandparents, and we think for Tenn and Oz as well. It seems unlikely that it will be repeated as kids get older fast and grandparents (eventually) loose there sleeping-on-the-ground skills.