The final installment from our Wolf Creek 850 adventure through Oregon and northern California is windy, stinky, sandy, and sweet. We also offer our impressions of the 2012 Wolf Creek 850.
DAY 10: Coast Drive Blow Out
With a full day of work and travel ahead of us, we woke up early on Friday, July 1st, and, as quietly as possible, drove the diesel truck and Wolf Creek 850 out of Mill Creek Campground. I’m sure we woke practically everyone when we did that, but it was a story day for the magazine and we were on a mission.
We were also out of coffee. Clearly this was an emergency situation necessitating a stop at the Crescent City Starbucks. Two hours later, we had published, “Laurel DeLong: Eating Up the Road” and were fully caffeinated. Ya-hoo!
A few miles north and we crossed back into Oregon. Angela pulled into the Chrissy Field Visitors Center for some suggestions on what to see on the Oregon coast. A candy store in Bandon, Oregon called Cranberry Sweets and More was highly recommended to us. Best of all, the candy story gave away free samples. Well, why didn’t you say so? Off to Bandon we went.
Along the way, we stopped at what has to be one of the windiest places we’ve ever visited, Cape Blanco Lighthouse. The wind was literally so strong that you were either pushing hard to open the camper door, or holding on for dear life so it didn’t slam shut. You could talk when you were outside, but it was more like screaming over the howling gale. This was no summer breeze to make you feel fine. It was more like a cyclone to make you fall down and roll over and over. What a blast.
Cranberry Sweets was exactly what we had hoped for, only better. The whole store is like an easter egg hunt with free and delicious candy samples seemingly everywhere. I would turn a corner, or look on a shelf, and there would be another big dish of sweet jelly candy to try. And try we did.
We tried the pure fruit jelly candies made from pure cranberry, marion berry, red raspberry, key lime, and ruby red grapefruit. We tried the wine jelly candies made from Cabernet Sauvignon, White Merlot, and White Zinfandel. I even tried the jelly candies made from beer and coffee, not together of course. My favorite was the jelly candies made with licorice, but I happen to love licorice. Angela and I both really liked the ruby red grapefruit.
Once we had decided that we could eat the store out of business if we stayed too long, we bought a box of candy for my Mother’s birthday and a few more items for my grandmother and Harley’s cat sitter back home. I can’t recommend Cranberry Sweets highly enough. It may not be BLM land, but it sure adds a new and delicious dimension to go anywhere. We’ll be back!
The last stop of the day was Umpqua Lighthouse. This lighthouse was a lot less windy and a lot less impressive. While we were there, a Hummer H3T pickup truck pulled in. I couldn’t help but ask the owners if I could take a peak at their payload. It was well under 1,000 pounds. The sad thing was that the guy was looking at our camper like it was the coolest thing he had ever seen. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the Wolf Creek, while certainly not heavy as hard side truck campers go, was not a good match for his Hummer. Bummer.
That evening we camped at Jesse M. Honeyman State Park just south of Florence. We had made our reservations well in advance and, once again, they had plenty of spots available for drive-ins. Of course if we hadn’t made reservations they would have been booked. That’s how it works.
DAY 11: Dune, and Sea Lion Barbeque
We had intended to say longer at Jesse M. Honeyman State Park but our schedule demanded us to keep going. Before we left, we took a walk out onto the dunes. Immediately I thought of Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel Dune. Before us was an immense landscape of deep sand, rising and falling into the distance. Were we on Earth, or Arrakis?
What completely blew my mind was learning that Frank Herbert himself had visited the sand dunes of nearby Florence, Oregon in 1957. There he discovered the inspiration for Dune which first published in Analog Magazine in 1963.
Not only is this an incredible coincidence, but it’s another compelling reminder of how travel can spark our creativity and open doors to new possibilities. I can directly relate to this as someone who left almost six years ago on a cross-country truck camping trip only to return with the seeds for a new enterprise, Truck Camper Magazine.
With Arrakis behind us, it was time to visit the “world’s largest sea lion cave” just eleven miles north of Florence. The price of admission was a steep $12, but we were there and, as anyone who’s visited Pier 69 in San Francisco can attest, sea lions can be quite entertaining. What we didn’t know, and the Sea Lion Caves certainly doesn’t advertise, is how odiferous the Zalophus Californianus, aka California Sea Lions, would be. We were in for a treat.
When the elevator doors open to take you 200 feet down to the two-acre sea lion cave, they bring a little bonus with them; an intensely foul smell. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s a lovely aromatic bouquet of old fish and sea lion poop. I used my shirt to breath through, at least until I got used to it enough to not project my breakfast. Here’s a piece of advice; no matter how delicious they may be, never eat chili dogs before going down the sea lion elevator. While the result would be epic, it would not be something any of us would want to experience, or witness.
Eventually you become somewhat accustomed to the bog of sea lion stench and the sea lions scratching themselves before you are well worth the trip. This is one sea lion experience you are sure to never forget.
I can only imagine what we smelled like when we left the sea lion caves. Since we couldn’t smell it anymore, we went to visit our friends Jeff Johnston, of Pictures and Words Productions, and his wife Pam. Jeff lives in Eugene, Oregon and wanted to see the Wolf Creek 850 and help us to shoot some video. We met Jeff and Pam about an hour later for lunch. Since they didn’t mention our odor, we must have been okay.
After lunch, Jeff and Pam took us from Eugene to Sisters on an on-road and off-road video shoot extravaganza. Having shot video for the RV industry for decades, Jeff knows all the cool spots in central and coastal Oregon and was gracious to share them with us. Thank you, Jeff!
For dinner, we stopped in Sisters and ate at Slick’s Cue Co, a colorful barbecue restaurant complete with cowboy hat lights hanging form the ceiling. It was delicious!
Unfortunately, the rest of the evening did not go quite as we had hoped. We had not made campground reservations for that night and it turned out every place in Sisters was booked solid for an annual quilting show. Every other night we had reservations, but didn’t need them as the campgrounds had plenty of room. This night, no reservations and every campground was booked. Did we have a plan B for boondocking? Nope. We drove about an hour to Mountain View RV Park in Madras.
Day 12: Mount Hood and Timberline Lodge
After a lazy Sunday morning and a shower in the camper, we set the GPS for Mount Hood and the famous Timberline Lodge. As we chugged up the mountain, we enjoyed a few waterfalls and strained to see a clear view of the peak through the thick tree cover.
Finally, the trees parted and the majesty of Mount Hood beamed before us.
Being July 4th weekend, the place was jam packed with people sightseeing, relaxing in the hotel, and skiing. It’s still hard to believe that people can ski in early July, but there they were skiing right into the parking lot area.
After walking around the lodge and enjoying the view of Mount Hood, we drove back down the mountain and pulled into Trillium Lake Campground. The night Angela was determined to start a fire and cook our dinner on it. She bought wood from the campground, sausage, and marshmallows.
Angela cleaned the fire pit and built a good fire structure with a little paper, pine pitch, kindling, and dry split wood logs in a tepee formation. Then our trusty ignition source, a camping lighter, failed. Of course we were also fresh out of matches, flint, magnesium, steel, quartzite, magnifying glasses, and steel wool. I was never in the Boy Scouts and the only Brownies Angela ever took part in were of the chocolate variety. This wasn’t looking good.
Then I had a brilliant, if not completely insane, and totally stupid idea. I took a paper towel and rolled it up length wise as tightly as I could. Then I lit the paper towel on the camper range top and quickly walked it over to the fire. Don’t ever do this. It’s really dumb, and down right dangerous. And it worked. Sometimes you have to do something really idiotic so you can eat dinner. This was one of those times.
Dinner was fabulous and Angela felt like we were really camping, not just driving around in a truck camper and exploring. Clearly there is a big difference and cooking dinner over a real fire is one such distinction. After a few toasty marshmallows, we went to bed thoroughly satisfied about the day. If only we knew about the war zone that awaited us.
DAY 13: Vancouver Explodes
Our plan for July 4th was to wake up, shoot some pictures and video near Trillium Lake, and then drive to Portland to watch the Fort Vancouver Fireworks. There was a road along Trillium Lake that reflected Mount Hood in the water that I just had to video the camper crossing. Then we set out for Vancouver.
Due to the fact that this was a national holiday, and that we were going to be in a metropolitan area, we again had campground reservations at Van Mall RV Park. Unfortunately, the campground management was on holiday when we arrived. Since we had reservations, we just pulled into a space, hooked up, and got to work on the story for the next day.
As soon as mid-afternoon came around, the random bottle rocket whistles and firecracker pops began. By dusk, there was a steady crackle of explosions far and near. When the sun set, all hell broke loose.
What had started as a rocket whistle here, and a firecracker pop there was now a heavy barrage of mortar fire and incoming Howitzer shells. Clearly this is one step beyond celebrating the birth of our country and one step into rabid pyromania. This went on for hours, even as the professional fireworks went off.
Mind you this is coming from someone who lives in Pennsylvania, a state where nothing much more than a sparkler or pop rocks is even legal. There are no fireworks stands selling bombs, missiles, and other rocketry on every corner for weeks on end. We don’t even sell alcohol in our grocery or convenience stores. Something tells me this experience had much to do with those two differences.
It’s not that we Pennsylvanians don’t celebrate the 4th of July. After all, we practically invented it. It’s just that we do it with a bit less intensity. And we leave the heavy weaponry to the professionals.
DAY 14: Returning the Wolf to Northwood
All good things must come to an end. Day fourteen had us on the road by 6:00am on our way back to Northwood Manufacturing in La Grande. Back at the Northwood RV Owners Association Rally (NROA), our friends Alice and Gary had recommended the Historic Columbia River Highway and the many waterfalls along the way.
This was a homerun suggestion as Angela and I enjoyed waterfall after waterfall along the secluded scenic drive. The best part was that we drove almost the entire highway without seeing another car. Sometimes it’s good to be up early.
We pulled into La Grande around six hours later. We had stopped for pictures along the way and published, “Mods, Boondocking, and Beyond”. After checking in with Lance Rinker, Northwood Manufacturing’s Director of Materials and Marketing, and Rich Zinzer, Marketing and Graphics, we drove back to where we had started, Hot Lakes Campground. We could have just camped outside the plant, but we needed to dump the tanks and clean the camper before giving it back. Besides, it seemed poetic.
DAY 15: Back to Boise With Doug
Poor Doug Karr. First he drove all the way from his home in Seattle to pick us up in Boise, Idaho. Then he had to drive us back to Boise two weeks later. I guess he drew the short straw at Northwood. Thanks again Doug.
To make Doug’s predicament worse, we interviewed him for the whole three hour drive about the new 2012 Wolf Creek 816. Our goal was to get the story on the 816 so we could publish a new camper announcement the following week. So there was Doug, driving he truck and camper to Boise with the Publisher and Editor of Truck Camper Magazine peppering him with questions. Doug handled it like a champ and a few days later we published, “2012 Wolf Creek 816” (now discontinued).
Doug pulled his Chevy 3500 and Arctic Fox 992 rig right up to the terminal, hopped out of the truck, opened the slide a few feet, got our luggage, and wished us well. Now that’s service. Just don’t try driving a truck camper up to a airport terminal on the East Coast, you’ll be on the news. Things are a bit less intense in Boise.
Our Impressions: 2012 Wolf Creek 850 Review
The whole time we were exploring the many wonders of the Northwest, we were also exploring the Wolf Creek 850. There really is no better way to truly understand and evaluate a truck camper than to take it out camping. Spending two weeks in the 850 gave us an unusual opportunity to experience a new brand and product.
For starters, the 2012 Wolf Creek 850 is right up our alley; hard-side, non-slide, fully self contained, and brimming with practical and weight saving design choices. In short, we love campers like this because they are everything we need for the kind of long-distance, go-wherever truck camping we enjoy. Even more important, they show a willingness of manufacturers to embrace the increasing importance of lower weight truck campers and design new campers accordingly.
We really appreciated the generous holding tanks for a camper this size. Thirty gallons of fresh water? That’s amazing. Just make sure you include the 250 pounds of fresh water weight into your truck and camper matching equation. The grey and black tanks were also ample at twenty-two gallons and twenty gallons respectfully. We dumped the tanks every three to four days and had plenty of capacity to stretch that out to four or five. And that’s with us both taking short daily camper showers.
Speaking of showers, the full fiberglass wet bath in the Wolf Creek 850 has a small circular vent fan that we had never seen before. Across the diameter of the vent fan is a handle that you push up to open the vent fan and pull down to close the vent fan. When we turned the vent fan on, it surprised us with just how much air it pulled. It’s no Fantastic Fan but, in some ways, I preferred it. For one, it uses a lot less room on the roof and was quicker and easier to open and close.
Angela and I are always talking about features we would like to see in a dream truck camper. One that I have wished for ever since our first cross-country truck camping trip in 2005 is a periscope. Yes, that’s right, like a submarine. I want a periscope in the middle of the camper that I could look through, like a submarine captain, and see around the camper in 360 degrees. Submarine “ping” sounds and torpedoes would be really cool too, but that’s another story.
As if the Northwood design team had read my mind, they put a very tall bubble window in the bathroom that allowed me, at 6’3”, to see almost completely around the camper. Okay, the air conditioner was in the way, but it was really fun to be able to look around and see what was going on outside the camper. Sometimes this kind of outside awareness can be important, like when you need to see what that noise was at 3:30am at some WalMart in the middle of nowhere.
The reason for the tall bubble window is to accommodate the very tall step up into the bathroom. The bathroom has a high step because the aforementioned twenty gallon black tank is directly underneath the one-piece fiberglass wet bath stall. These are the kinds of compromises that a manufacturer wrestles with when designing a camper; large black tanks are good, but the tall step into the bathroom is the tradeoff.
Most folks will not be bothered by the step and will gladly accept the larger holding tank, but this is definitely something you would want to audition before purchase. The good news is that the 2012 Wolf Creek 850’s sister camper, the 2012 Wolf Creek 816, has almost no step up into the bathroom. If the bathroom step in the 850 is a deal breaker, check out the 816 and our article, “TCM EXCLUSIVE: 2012 Wolf Creek 816”.
We were mixed on our impressions of the dinette. We liked how big it was, but wondered if it needed to be quite this wide. Northwood explained that it was wide to allow for an adult sized sleeping area. It certainly was. The dinette was also comfortable and worked well during our two weeks in the camper.
I appreciated the long cushion that allowed me to stretch out. We found an outlet under the dinette in the perfect place to plug in our laptops. Nice touch.
Kitchen storage and counter space were plentiful for a truck camper this size. We also liked the round sink and tall faucet. Having a large storage drawer under the cooktop instead of an oven was another practical cost and weight saving decision. As we get more experienced with cooking in a truck camper, we use camper ovens more and more. That said, we didn’t use a camper oven at all except to store pots and pans until the past couple of years. Could we live without the oven? We sure could. Did we appreciate the additional storage of the drawer where the oven would have been? You bet.
The three cubic foot refrigerator was smaller than we’re used to, but it fit our normal round of groceries with ease. What we lost in space we gained in a lighter weight refrigerator. We can’t all ask the manufacturers to make their campers lighter without being open to options like a smaller refrigerator. This is a compromise I could live with as we never found the space in the refrigerator to be lacking. Sure, it’s nice to have separate freezer and refrigerator sections, but this was perfect for what we needed.
On the driver’s side overcab entry was a standard cabinet with an open storage spot just underneath it. We used this for overflow items and found it to be very useful and practical. It also saves a little more weight by not having a door. We really liked it.
We also appreciated the storage under the overcab step-up. We put our sneakers in there when we were wearing sandals, or vice versa.
As always, little things make the biggest differences. For example, the overcab reading lights in the Wolf Creek are outstanding. Unlike too many other overcab reading lights, they are not too bright or too hot. Some overcab reading lights make you wonder when the men in black will arrive to ask you exactly where you were on October 18th, 1972, and what you were doing there. We also appreciated that these lights were easy to move. I liked them pointed away, as pictured, to give a more indirect and ambient light.
On the passenger’s side of the overcab, the Wolf Creek had what I would call a night stand. The front of the night stand had an opening and storage area where I placed my sweatshirts and jeans. Just like at home, I put some reading material and my iPod touch (alarm clock) on the nightstand.
When we were plugged in, I really appreciated the outlet that was also with the nightstand. Personally, I prefer this nightstand to the traditional overcab-nose storage. The driver’s side of the overcab nose had the traditional storage cabinet and Angela was so jealous of my nightstand. Did I offer to switch sides? No way, Jose!
For someone looking for an aluminum framed, hard-side, non-slide truck camper that will work with some half-tons and nearly every three-quarter ton truck, the 2012 Wolf Creek 850 deserves to be on your short list. This is an impressive camper from a company that understands truck campers and cares deeply about quality control. Congratulations Northwood on your new Wolf Creek truck camper brand and an impressive first camper with the 2012 Wolf Creek 850.