Cycle Exploregon: Going off-highway between Bandon and Gold Beach

Posted by on August 17th, 2016 at 11:34 am

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Riding near Chismore Butte, 2,600 feet above the Coast Highway in the Roge River-Siskiyou National Forest.
(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Welcome to Cycle Exploregon, our annual adventure done in partnership with Cycle Oregon to explore beyond their official route. See other stories in this series here.

I love the Oregon Coast Highway — a.k.a. “The People’s Coast.” It’s a national treasure and also one of the most famous bicycle routes in the world.

But it has a dark side. It has stopped being the “Scenic Byway” it was intended to be and now it’s also a major thoroughfare used by commuters, commercial truckers, and oblivious RV drivers. I’ve ridden its narrow shoulder many times since my first ride down it 20 years ago. When I ride it these days, my main goal is to get off the highway as much as possible and leave the loud and smelly motorized traffic behind.

This is easier said than done. Because of rugged cliffs and steep mountains, backroads are few and far between — especially ones that loop back onto the highway eventually. And much of the land around the highway is privately owned by ranchers and farmers who put gates up on their roads to keep people out.

On Sunday, day three of my four-day journey, I rode from Bandon to Gold Beach. Along the way I made three attempts up three different canyon roads only to be forced to turn around by a locked gate and “private property” signs each time. I should have known better. My digital maps showed the roads looping back to the highway, but upon further inspection (after arriving home) my paper maps show the gates and dead-ends. (*Protip: Always consult multiple maps before committing to a route.)

Even though I had to turn back three times, the explorations where well worth it. Fourmile Creek Road led me into small canyons so quiet it seemed like I could hear every ripple in the creek and every bird in their nest — a stark contrast to the Coast Highway just a few miles away.

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Fourmile Road is a dead-end but it’s worth exploring.

My explorations in Fourmile also led me to a chance meeting with a hardscrabble fellow, Steve Miller.

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Steve Miller, a sheep rancher born and raised in the canyons above the Oregon Coast Highway.

I flagged down Miller’s dusty, beat-up pickup truck to ask if any of the roads would connect to Langlois Mountain Road — my connection back to the Coast Highway that I knew was paved and open to the public. From the moment he cracked open his door I wanted to know more about him. Thankfully he was happy to share.

Miller is 75-years-old and he and his family raise about 180 sheep on the adjacent 320 acres. The Miller Ranch has been in continuous operation since 1886.

“Back in the day, we were just trying to survive,” he said, with his truck door propped open to talk to a random guy on a bicycle. “Everything revolves around surviving winter.”

Miller seemed to know that he was a bit crazy to still be “chasing sheep around” at 75. He shared with me that his mom died after herding the sheep well into her 80s. “I think people out here live a long time because they haven’t got time to lay down. Gotta’ keep goin.”

“And the animals don’t care if you want another cup of coffee in the morning or if it’s raining. They just need to be fed,” he continued. “And besides, if you have animals you have a moral obligation to take care of them.”

Pondering how different Miller’s life is than mine, I pedaled up two more canyons only to be forced to turned back, crestfallen, after private gates stopped my progress.

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I was told by a neighbor that Mr. “CW” Waterman would probably let me through if I could just chat with him first. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to meet him. Maybe next time.

Then I tried Bethel Mountain Lane/Bethel Creek Road. I met a man tending his land at the bottom and asked him if I’d encounter any locked gates. He said there might be one, but it was intended to keep livestock in more than people out. With that in mind I pedaled on. The road became gravel pretty quickly and it went straight up for about five miles and 1,200 feet. The 360-views of mountains and golden-grass-covered canyons at the top were unforgettable.

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Glad I had 35mm knobby tires.
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Then I looked up and saw yet another locked gate.

I double-checked my map and realized I was only about one mile from Langlois Mountain Road. So close! I looked around to assess the situation: nothing around but rocks and plants and sheep; no “keep out” or “private property” signs on the gate; no indication of closure on my (digital) map. I used my intuition and decided this gate would be OK to hop over. (*Note: After returning home I realized the land between the two gates is marked “private” on one of my paper maps. In hindsight I would only do this loop again if I had expressed permission from the landowner.)

Eventually I made it to Langlois Mountain Road. Wow. The perfectly smooth paved road drops down from 1,300 feet to sea level in just four miles. I careened down, reaching a top speed of 44 mph while peeking over my bars from a tuck position to soak in breathtaking views of the Pacific. And like a cherry on top of a sundae, the road comes out right at the excellent Langlois Market, a prime refueling stop.

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My next foray off the highway was just a few miles south on the Coast Highway at Elk River Road.

Elk River Road is part of a new Oregon Scenic Bikeway. It clings to the winding river and gets more interesting, quiet, and remote with each passing mile. There are swimming spots galore that will tempt you with crystal clear water and deep blue pools.

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Elk River Road.
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The official route is an out-and-back that follows the river for about 22 miles each way. I wanted to make it a loop so I turned onto National Forest Road 5502 at about the 10-mile mark. With gravel and dirt under my wheels I left the Elk River canyon and climbed for about six miles and 2,000 feet of elevation gain over buttes and mountains. The climb was tough, but the rewards of solitude, high-mountain views, and a 14-mile descent through the forest more than made up for it. I eventually popped out on the pavement at Euchre Creek Road and then met back up with the Cycle Oregon route on Squaw Valley Road.

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Can’t resist the dirt and rocks!
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Advertisement

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Views well worth the climb.
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Euchre Creek Rd.
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Squaw Valley Road just north of Gold Beach and the Rogue River.
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Gold Beach and the Patterson Bridge from Rogue River Road.

After a full day of explorations I finished well after sunset with a roll over the Patterson Bridge into Gold Beach. I rode 100 miles from Bandon to Gold Beach with only 20 of those miles on the Coast Highway. Mission accomplished.

Here are a few more photos from the ride:

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Bandon is full of great seafood joints. This one is right on the waterfront.
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Yard art in Bandon.
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Coquille River Lighthouse.
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Tsunami fears have led to new bike paths to high ground in Bandon.
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Special thanks to Western Bikeworks for sponsoring this series.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

38 Comments
  • Avatar
    Todd Boulanger August 17, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    Jonathan…thanks for the mental break from desk work today…now dreaming of my next coastal bike camping trip…

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    Cory P August 17, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Having ridden and skated portions of the coast, I dream of a coastal bike path some day. Imagine the tourism dollars that would come to our state if you could safely ride the full length of the coast.

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    fourknees August 17, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    Loving this series….
    …seems like there is an opportunity for the first annual “Unlocked Gates” ride. I bet most of those land owners, as the one mentioned, just want to keep their animals in, not necessarily people out. Especially for a low impact bike ride bringing tourism dollars to their community.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 17, 2016 at 1:09 pm

      i like that idea fourknees. And like you, I’ve been trying to think of ways to address this. So many of these private gates are closing what could be incredible loops that would open up so many great areas. I know from talking to people on this trip that the gates are not just for livestock but are also to keep out hooligans. Two different ppl I met on the road said, something like this: “You? Oh they don’t mind folks like you up there… They just don’t want all those kids with hoodies and trucks messing things up.”

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        Ted Timmons (Contributor) August 28, 2016 at 1:26 pm

        What I found, in a previous life where I traversed remote land on a motorized two-wheeled vehicle, was there’s a “moral code” expected by landowners and followed by overlanders: if the gate is shut (eg with a chain) and no lock, pass through and close it behind you.

        In timberlands it is a little different; even “public” land often has closed gates that are only open when logging operations are going on, which places you in strange conflict- the open gates are the most dangerous ones. It’s a little harder with a moto to get around/over/under a forestland gate, so it was really only a last resort. I remember dragging a moto under a gate at the end of a long ride so I didn’t have to backtrack dozens of miles.

        It’s just as illegal to trespass on foot/by bike as it is by some motorized vehicle, but I think it’s worth deciding your own risk profile.

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      Todd Boulanger August 17, 2016 at 1:50 pm

      Perhaps a fundraiser ride organized through the local Grange?

      I have often thought that the Grange Halls would be a great overnight camping resource if an agreement could be worked out…like a “Grange Pass” similar to a NW Forest Pass. Other than some income it would be a way of educating urban populations about the history of the Grange movement, rural economies, etc. [I had once hoped that Cycle Wild might have been a long term vehicle for this…in addition to Cycle Oregon’s well known work.]

      The issues that the Grange Movement fought against in the 1870s/1890s are back in force now that we have entered the second “Gilded Age”…

      http://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/populism-and-agrarian-discontent/resources/grange-movement-1875

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        BB August 17, 2016 at 2:46 pm

        “click here for information on a paid subscription for those who are not K-12 educators or students.”
        Linking to a paywall huh..

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      9watts August 17, 2016 at 6:06 pm

      “I bet most of those land owners, as the one mentioned, just want to keep their animals in, not necessarily people out. Especially for a low impact bike ride bringing tourism dollars to their community.”

      Really? Have we collectively already forgotten about the Oregon Outback fiasco? I love Jonathan’s photo essays of beautiful parts of Oregon explored by bike but I was a bit surprised at the dare I say indignance at closed gates. If we could point to an unblemished record of behavior or standards we hold ourselves to; offered property owners some accountability then I think we’d stand a chance but my sense is that we’re not there yet.

      One more thing to consider. Jonathan’s one guy. Perhaps some of you are imagining sixe or ten to follow his lead. But what if it becomes 5,000? or 50,000?

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        Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 18, 2016 at 9:18 am

        9watts said:

        Really? Have we collectively already forgotten about the Oregon Outback fiasco?

        This “fiasco” was blown way out of proportion and the reality was a different than the narrative that won the day. A few people left a bit of trash and were not good campers. The issue was dealth with and everyone moved on… except everyone who piled-on the “Outback is over!” narrative on the Internet.

        I was a bit surprised at the dare I say indignance at closed gates.

        I don’t agree with that word 9watts. I take closed gates very seriously. In this case I made the decision to go over a pair of them. This was a mistake in hindsight because the maps I was using at the time did not show that the road was closed and private. My mistake was not doing enough research to find out whether or not the road was passable by the general public.

        I think the larger issue has merit: That is, trying to figure out a way to work with landowners to increase road use access for bicycle riders when there’s a clearly established gap that exists between two public roads.

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          9watts August 18, 2016 at 9:50 am

          “A few people left a bit of trash and were not good campers.”

          Perhaps. I’m not familiar with the details. My sense was that is was rather more than that, but I’m not in a position to judge.

          “I take closed gates very seriously. In this case I made the decision to go over a pair of them.”

          My point was less about going over that particular gate than the general stance that I read in your post, that gates were somehow misplaced, should not be there. I get the desire for continuous routes for those of us on holiday, but I felt that in your narrative you were skipping over the many valid reasons people might want gates.

          I’m allergic to entitlement, which usually manifests as an attribute of automobility, but sometimes crops up in other places. I’d love to see folks organize, dialogue with land owners about access, terms, accountability and find solutions to the problems-for-bike-tourists your ride identified, but I was objecting to what I read as something else: Why are these gates all over the place? Why can’t I get through?

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            Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 18, 2016 at 1:40 pm

            aha 9watts… this is a major problem of electronic communication… when people read things into typed words that the typer did not intend nor feel. I absolutely don’t have the attitude that you assumed from how you read my words. I am trying balance my utmost respect for private landowners and corporations while also trying to be a voice of reason and progress for reasonable and sensible public access.. I think there can be win-wins for everyone it’s just a matter of raising the profile of the issues, having a vision of some new policy and then sitting down and hammering it out. (much easier said than done!!).

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              B. Carfree August 18, 2016 at 10:17 pm

              I’m similar but looser on closed gates. If the land is owned by a small-timer, I would never cross the gate or disregard a no trespassing sign. If it’s owned by a huge lumber company, I’m going to cross almost every time.

              Usually it’s a non-issue since my local lumber companies’ typical signage only prohibits motor vehicles. However, late in the summer, when the threat of fire is very real in the tree farms, the signs can change to prohibit everyone. However, when I’ve chosen to go ahead and enter, the employees have always returned my friendly greeting and let me pass; an old couple on a tandem just don’t strike most folks as fire-bugs. If they were to choose to prosecute me for trespassing, I would simply pay my fine Baretta style since the fact is that I’m in the wrong.

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    Ich Bin Kurt August 17, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    I love the less traveled roads you are riding! Amazing canyons you are finding there sir. Langlois market…INCREDIBLE fresh hotdogs & house made mustard. One of the most memorable lunches on my coastal tour(that wasn’t seafood).

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    bikeninja August 17, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    Love the tsnuami evacuation route that is only for bikes ( and peds). A interesting nod to the reality of evacuating the coast after a subduction zone earthquake. FEMA’s assumption is that there will be no intact automobile worthy roads left after the “Big One”. And that the only way to leave for those who survive the Tsunami is via foot, bike or sea. Good reason to be a cyclist on the coast.

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    Mike Sanders August 17, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    This is why the state should be talking to these landowners about signing agreements for a right of way thru those properties to create a safe Oregon Coast Trail. The sections going thru these areas could be signposted to keep users on the trail. Violators would be subject to prosecution for trespassing, with big fines and / or jail time. Other places have done this and such arrangements generally work well. Such agreements could be precedents for similar setups elsewhere.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 17, 2016 at 2:15 pm

      Exactly Mike. Very similar issue with logging companies closing access to areas and requiring permits. I’m not opposed to a permit system but I really think this just comes down to education. My strong hunch is that landowners and logging companies/ranchers have no idea that people want to ride bicycles on these roads. The gravel riding revolution has changed everything and it can actually benefit these property owners by providing eyes and security when needed, a public relations win, and more. I could envision volunteer bike patrols in some areas. And yes, the easement would only allow public to stay on the roads and not go into the woods.

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      Chris I August 17, 2016 at 2:17 pm

      Good luck. Property rights seem to be more important than human rights in America. Might have something to do with the fact that the founders and nearly all politicians have been wealthy property owners…

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        bikeninja August 17, 2016 at 2:29 pm

        Yup, the founders and their decendents certainly took care of those pesky natives that didn’t share the european’s zeal for private property rights.

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      • Adam H.
        Adam H. August 17, 2016 at 2:39 pm

        Blame the feds for stealing land from the native population and giving it to white people.

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          Mike 2 August 17, 2016 at 3:22 pm

          People were stealing land long before the “feds” got into it. I am sure you can find incidents of native people stealing land from other native people.

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          • Adam H.
            Adam H. August 17, 2016 at 3:28 pm

            Did you seriously just apply the racist “black on black” crime argument to native people? Wow.

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              Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 17, 2016 at 4:15 pm

              ok folks can we please not go down this road on this thread. not today. please. thanks.

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              Mike 2 August 18, 2016 at 8:48 am

              There is nothing racist about my comment! Stop trying to see everything as one faction against another; us vs them, cagers vs cyclists, government vs natives.

              If you want to believe that land was never stolen before the government existed, then you are free to be wrong, naive or ignorant.

              Anglo-saxons and vikings are native people too, and they stole land from each other long before “the feds” came to the U.S. (like a thousand years). I suppose that offends you too.

              Wow. History of white on white, red on red, black on black, purple on purple crime. It’s so racist!

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          Mike 2 August 17, 2016 at 3:22 pm

          But yes, blame “the feds”.

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            JeffS(egundo) August 17, 2016 at 8:20 pm

            Yeah, stupid Malheur Wildlife Refuge – somebody occupy that goldarn thang already.

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      bikeninja August 17, 2016 at 3:34 pm

      The real issue, is that since the begining of industrial civilization motorized vehicles have brought with them the destruction of the natural world. Gates to keep out other people are just more acceptable in society than what we really need, rules to keep out motorized vehicles. Undoubtably the people who live and own these places get there in cars so it doesn’t occur to them that in the grand sweep of history its the cars and trucks that wreck everything, not the kids in hoodies.

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    ean August 17, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    Is that bike tubeless?

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    B. Carfree August 17, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    Regarding the horrific traffic on hwy 101 in Oregon: For many years, I was riding the coast from Reedsport to the Russian River twice per year. Now I’m down to about once per year. It took me a couple of trips to realize that pretty much all of the traffic woes are solved by riding mostly at night. I don’t ride between sunset and midnight, but I’ll start my day between midnight and 3:00 AM, depending on where I am (relative to bars that drunks will be driving out of).

    The scenery is actually better at night. There is nothing quite like the waves breaking on the shore under a full moon as viewed from the cliff above. Also, there’s much more interesting wildlife in the hours before sunrise than there is in the afternoons. The time I had a bobcat running along the highway ahead of me in my headlight comes to mind, but there have been many other interesting meet-ups.

    The trucks I encounter are extremely considerate, safe and just plain nice at 3:00 AM, as opposed to being indifferent to my safety at 3:00 PM. I think they feel a kinship with an old fellow, perhaps on a tandem with his wife, working along in the early morning hours while they are working.

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      rick August 17, 2016 at 9:03 pm

      Beautiful

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      Doug August 18, 2016 at 8:27 am

      What do you do in the next interesting town along the coast, hungry, thirsty, at 0400 in the am? Go to Denny’s or nothing. Sorry that sounds like I’d miss my opportunity to do anything.

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    9watts August 18, 2016 at 8:50 am

    What happened to the upvote buttons?

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 18, 2016 at 9:01 am

      Hi 9watts,

      As part of our ongoing work to speed up the performance of our server, we are looking at every feature of the site to determine its impact. Our tech team has found that the voting button plugin takes up a huge amount of database resources so we’ve temporarily disabled it. It might get turned back on or we might have to disable it and find a better plugin to use. Sorry for this but we have to get our server running more efficiently and that means making some decisions.

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        9watts August 18, 2016 at 9:03 am

        Got it.

        Thanks.

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          todd boulanger August 18, 2016 at 12:56 pm

          I was wondering why the BP site has been dragging so these last few weeks…

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    Todd Boulanger August 18, 2016 at 11:42 am

    I have often wondered if a lot of the Oregon coastal tourist traffic woes [conflict between bikes and RVs in peak season] could be managed better…since the coastal bike tourists generally ride north to south to stay with the wind how about ODOT requesting (via marketing and prizes) that RVers drive south to north…for long distance trips when trip planning?

    (Is anyone at ODoT or the Oregon’s Bike Tourism office listening and open to discussions?)

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    Ted Timmons (Contributor) August 28, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    9watts

    One more thing to consider. Jonathan’s one guy. Perhaps some of you are imagining sixe or ten to follow his lead. But what if it becomes 5,000? or 50,000?

    Ah, the slippery slope. One person becomes 5000, there’s no way it might stay reasonable.

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      9watts August 28, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      Can’t tell if you’re being facetious, Ted, but just this afternoon we visited the Vista House with my in-laws (in a car). Wow. THOUSANDS of cars jamming up every nook and cranny along Hwy 30. Having grown up here it was quite eye-opening to realize what forty years of population growth can yield.

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