Champoeg Weather

The title of this blog post doesn’t even begin to cover it. I’ll be writing about Mother’s Day camping, spending time with my kid, participating in a race, and important Oregon history. There was really only one common theme, and that was the role played by weather. But even that wasn’t really the same, comparing the outstanding weather in May of 2023, and the catastrophic weather in December of 1861.

Kellen and I have a tradition of camping on Mother’s Day. May is still rainy season around here, and a few of our camping trips have been non-stop downpours of rain. But we try to get together no matter what the weather is. How lucky then, that in 2023, the weather was GORGEOUS. This year I was signed up to participate in the annual Hippie Chick race, held on Mother’s Day weekend. The race would be in Champoeg (pronounced “shampooey”) State Heritage Area and Park, south of Portland. I discovered that the large park has a camping area. Champoeg is between Kellen and me, so it’s the perfect place to meet for the weekend.

We planned to both arrive at 6pm, after Kellen got off work. So it was evening when I hit the interstate highway to head south and blam! I got a warning light on the dashboard. ENGINE TEMPERATURE HOT. What does that mean? I called Pedro with the hands-free while still zooming down the highway, hurrying south to meet Kellen. He wanted me off the highway, right now. I thought he was overreacting, but agreed to exit at the next town, 5 miles ahead. The tiny town of Kalama had exactly one auto parts store, and I went there. Damsel in distress, I got my story out and told him I didn’t know what a hot engine meant as far as whether I should still go camping. He tested the engine temperature (for free!) and gave me good advice (also for free!) to stay off the road. Definitely do not continue my trip, he said. The engine was dangerously hot. At a minimum, he said, let it cool down, then take the back roads (he gave me directions to find them) very slowly back to Longview where my dealership is located. (End of the story is: my radiator had developed a leak and had to be replaced or I would have destroyed the engine. Next time I am on that highway, I’m going to take the guy flowers.)

I’ll skip the full details of my dramatic tale, but the main points are: I crept slowly back to town and got to the ONE car rental place in Longview two minutes before closing and rented a new vehicle that would fit all the camp gear that had been packed into my car. The car rental place is walking distance to the Jeep dealership, which was super handy. In a single hour from when I saw the dashboard warning, I had deposited my car at the shop, had an appointment for a Monday repair, walked back to the rented car that I had parked on the street outside the rental place, and I was on the Interstate again, heading south to meet Kellen. It’s like a miracle: nothing works that smoothly in life. The universe wanted me to go camping, I guess.

I chose the Jeep Wrangler because I thought the driver controls would be the same as in my Jeep Cherokee and thus an easier learning curve. I was right.

Once I met Kellen, the next thing we had to deal with was what to do with Kellen’s car. Often Oregon parks don’t allow more than one vehicle per campsite, and there was something about that in our paperwork, so we decided to head off the problem before getting there, and parked Kellen’s car in a nearby town, on the street. Then we drove into the park and found our campsite, and found the “extra car” parking lot very close to it. Arrggh! Oh well, we would go get their car and bring it back the next day.

Some fun art at a skate park in Donald, Oregon, where we parked Kellen’s car.

Then we set up our massive tent. The tent is used, and battered, and its history is unclear. I clearly remember Kellen saying it was given to them when a college friend graduated and didn’t want to take it with them. In my recollection, Kellen asked me to store it for them, since they live in an apartment and don’t have room. Of course I agreed to that. When the topic came up this weekend, Kellen remembers it completely differently. Kellen now says that the tent belonged to their fiancée Cameron’s family and that the family camped in it for years and now don’t use it and want to get rid of it and Kellen recalls that I said I wanted to have it, so they gave it to me. Wow. Such different stories. But it honestly doesn’t matter. Camp gear is to be shared. We had never set the tent up, and there were no instructions, so I set it up in my yard the week before I left, to teach myself how to do it. It was tough doing that by myself.

Tent in my back yard, with chickens.
Kellen inside the tent at the campsite. It’s big enough to square-dance in! And it has a screened porch, as you see here but could not see in the photo above.

It was late and we just snacked that evening on some delicious fresh berry tarts Kellen brought, as well as some venison jerky my brother Tanner made.

Our night was not good. The tent site directly beside us had two young families, each with several small children, who ran in circles in a pack and squealed and chased and laughed for hours and hours. All that was fine. the problem was that one small girl, about 3 or 4 years old maybe?, had played too hard and for too long. The family didn’t begin to settle down till about 10pm, and as a mom, I recognized the sounds of a child who was too wound up to sleep. Everyone in the whole camp immediately got quiet from exhaustion, except for this one bright voice, happily playing loudly, and trying to get her Daddy to play with her. Chatter chatter chatter, Daddy! Daddy! Chatter, chatter. Daddy, Daddy watch me, play with me, Daddy! Both parents shushed and resisted engaging till the child became distraught by their disapproval, and then began to wail. She cried loudly and desperately at the top of her little lungs, until at least 1am. Kellen commented the next day, “Crying that hard is so tiring. I kept thinking any minute now, her body is going to give out and she’ll fall asleep, but nope.” Around 2am, the little girl finally got quiet. But she truly had pushed her body too far, and woke up three more times during the night, screaming tears until her parents could soothe her to sleep again. The parents never raised their voices, never threatened, but calmly calmly tried to get their little one to sleep for hours. My alarm went off at 6:30am, and both Kellen and I had headaches and hazy vision. It was a poor way to arise the morning of a race.

But I did wake to this view above me, which was phenomenal.

One of my fellow Belle Brigade ladies hurt her knee and was told by her doctor not to participate in the Hippie Chick race this weekend. She offered up her registration to anyone who wanted it. None of the Belles claimed it, and Kellen decided to take her spot. Kellen had never been in a race ever, so that was a fun new experience. I had also hurt my knee a month ago. It’s mostly just swollen and stiff so I thought I could still do the race, planning to quit if I thought I was hurting myself. I started off slowly, walking with Kellen and sharing the first couple miles together. I still felt good and strong, so I took off and finished the Quarter Marathon at speed walking pace. The final four miles were one of my best race times ever, so that makes me feel confident. (and the next day my knee was only a little more irritated than usual, but no big deal) Kellen’s race was the 5k, so it was much shorter, and they had a really fun time getting caught up in the excitement of racing and getting cheered across the finish line.

A photo while we waited for the race to begin.

It was going to reach above 90 degrees that day (32 C), and we were glad for an 8am start. After the first mile across an open field in the direct sunlight, the rest of the route was in the trees and had lots of shade.

We posed after racing.

All the photos below are official race photos from a professional company called GCC Photography:

We returned to the campsite to take showers and eat, and change clothes. Our neighbors with all the kids were gone!! Totally gone! What a relief. Our next neighbors were a young Japanese couple who promised us they would not scream in the middle of the night.

For the rest of our weekend, we played around the park, exploring this fascinating and exceptionally beautiful historical site.

Champoeg State Heritage Area is a gorgeous park between Wilsonville and Newberg, Oregon.
The walking trails in the park are almost entirely paved, so it’s good for people who use wheels.
The grounds around the museum and visitor center include a pioneer garden with an original apple orchard with heirloom apples and the original barn from this site.

There is some really cool Oregon and national history at this spot. In fact, it’s the reason why this is a park. In the early 1800s there was a town called Champoeg that thrived here on the banks of the Wilamette River. The name comes from a Kalapuyan Indian word for a root. The Kalapuya lived here before White settlers and trappers came. This was before statehood and the area was referred to by the United States as “Oregon Country.”

The early White explorers had only marked trails a few years before. Lewis & Clark came to Oregon in 1805-6, and the Astor Expedition that created the famous Oregon Trail came through in 1811-12. The region was claimed by Russia, Spain, and Great Britain at the same time that the new United States was trying to expand and conquer. The settlement at Champoeg was south of today’s city of Portland in the fabulously fertile Willamette River Valley. White people there included trappers, homesteaders, and religious men determined to gain moral control of the indigenous people before someone from another sect got to them first. From what I can tell it was U.S. Methodists vs. Canadian Jesuits at the time. The one thing they could agree on was that the Kalapuyans had to be converted.

To “prove” what good they were doing, BEFORE and AFTER photos were commissioned to show how well the missionaries were improving the lives of Native children. Here are a group of kids taken from their loving homes and put into a missionary school. They look distrustful mostly, with a couple of them looking tough and brave.
The same children as above, only these ones have been told their beliefs, customs, language, clothing, and ideas were all wrong and they were going to hell if they didn’t fix it. Look how happy they all are to be saved.

The settlement of a couple hundred people got big enough that locals decided they needed some kind of local organization. The only voice of authority in the area was the British Hudson’s Bay Company based in Canada, by default, since most of the trappers were employees. There was some oversight by Fort Vancouver (in what is today Vancouver, Washington – just across the river from Portland), also British. A series of meetings were held in the town of Champoeg, beginning with concerns of wolves and how to protect humans and livestock from them. Eventually they began talking about governance. Despite the multiple countries with interests, there were two main ideas: the region should join the baby United States as an official territory allied with them, or, the region should ally with Great Britain.

A display in a museum in the Park.

The farmers, and missionaries, and trappers fought about it for years. No one asked the Kalapuya for their opinions. There was even a delegate from the U.S. War Department there to keep control of the Native tribes, who volunteered to be in charge. But nobody liked him, and the locals declined his generous offer. After several meetings, the most momentous one was May 2, 1843. Two issues were supposed to be voted on that day. First of all was whether to create a position of Governor, and I imagine, who would hold the position. The French-Canadian trappers called bollocks and that issue was abandoned. The other issue was whether to form a government, and the French-Canadians agreed to vote on that one. Sentiments were equally split in support of either side.

I imagine the discussion and vote were heated. If not, the day would not be remembered so vividly. No one took minutes, or called roll, or recorded the actual wording of the issues, or the number of votes. All that we know is based on recollections from people a decade later, who had been there. The verdict was that, with the help of at least two French-Canadian defectors, the vote was to create a provisional government and ally with the United States. Research suggests the vote was 50 against, 52 for.

That was day one of Oregon’s history as an official part of this country. Oregon Country at the turn of the 19th century was an enormous parcel of land that encompassed all of today’s Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and some of Montana and Wyoming, as well as an equal amount of land in what is today British Columbia and Alberta. Champoeg had visions of being the seat of government, apparently.

Records are very clear about the layout of the bustling frontier town of Champoeg, with a clear grid pattern of streets.

Naturally, Great Britain was not satisfied to give up this enormous piece of land based on a vote of 102 people. The dispute was settled in an 1846 treaty to relinquish everything to the north (our current country boundary line) to GB, and the US could have what was south of the line.

Oregon officially became a state in 1859. Champoeg continued to thrive and was expected to be a major city in the future of the political and economic future of the region.

Artifacts recovered from the site include pottery shards, iron pieces, toys, and glass.

With such promise, what happened? There is no sign of a town at all today. Not a single foundation or crumbling structure. On December 2, 1861, the Willamette River rose 55 feet (17 m) above its normal stage. Despite being perched on a hill above the river, the town was beneath a minimum of seven feet (2 m) of water. It didn’t simply flood the town, it washed every last bit of it away.

A community public use building has been constructed on the site. Kellen is staring up at the high water mark that shows how high the river reached in 1861. The sign is just below the middle window.

The devastation was so complete, there was no attempt to rebuild. Townspeople escaped to the nearby Newell Farm, which was on a hill, and survived.

The Newell House still stands. It is also part of the park and is now a museum, though it was closed when I was there.

Kellen and I explored the grounds, where street intersections are marked today with their original names. The west side of town had streets with French names and the east side of town had streets with American names. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were unseasonably hot for us, with dead-of-summer temperatures at a time when Oregon is usually still in the middle of the rainy and cold season. Luckily there was a lot of shade in this park.

Kellen poses with one of the street intersection markers.
The corner of Montcalm and Maple
Montcalm and Napoleon
In areas like this, we could look out across the grass and see a series of street posts. Here you can see one of them, near the middle of the photo.

In 1901, the people of Oregon felt that the Great Vote of 1843 needed to be commemorated, and a monument was created, with names of the people who voted in favor. In an unveiling ceremony, François “Francis” Xavier Matthieu was present as the only surviving voter. His name is on the monument.

Visitors in 2023 check out the monument to the first West Coast government of the United States, that was formed right here, in a town that no longer exists.

The Visitor’s Center has a small museum and a room to show a short movie about the history of Champoeg. In the movie room is a huge painting in which artist Gegoux tried to capture the momentous vote. He began painting in 1916 and named his work The Inception of the Birth of Oregon.

An enormous painting of one person’s imagination of the event. Find information about this work here.

A park employee talked with me about this painting. Kellen and I had wondered the day before, while reading about the area’s history, how White-centric this painting might be. The Park man, Ed, had no inkling that we had already had that conversation, and began by saying, “The way the artist painted this, our eyes are drawn to the white men in the front and center. However, if you will notice…” and he pointed out the Native people and tipis in the painting. I confessed I was entirely surprised to see them included.

Ed said the position of the Natives is important. Gegoux was sending a message that the Indians and their style of community were relegated to the background. Their time was over. They were insignificant witnesses to a newer, bolder, whiter people, who were shown in the foreground.

Possibly an overly dramatic title for his painting, Theodore Gegoux used to charge people 25 cents to look at it.
You can’t see it, but this squirrel has an enormous hot dog bun in its mouth.

During one of our times back in camp, we were sitting at the picnic table when we spotted a squirrel carrying an entire hot dog bun in its mouth and leaping through the trees. The bun looked enormous, but the squirrel was determined. I tried to get a photo of the squirrel, but only captured its tail. That evening we roasted bratwurst over the campfire for dinner, and when we looked for our bread rolls for the sausages, we couldn’t find them anywhere. Then…we realized what must have happened. The entire bag of bread was on top of our box of dry goods and we had left it on the picnic table for one of our trips away from camp. Well, I’m sure the squirrels had plenty of bread that day.

Kellen had brought many treats from their favourite Mexican bakery. Here, I have coffee and concha for breakfast.

We took several walks through the beautiful parks, with trails along the river, and through fields.

A stone bench with a view of the river.
The Willamette River is a popular recreational site.
This tree shows two high water marks: one from 1861 and the other from 1996. The 1996 flood famously breached the dike and swamped a large portion of the city of Portland.

Sunday we packed up our camp, explored a little more, then finally said goodbye to Champoeg. We stopped in the nearby town of Aurora for breakfast. We randomly chose a restaurant from the map because I liked the name – Filbert’s – and were delighted to find that it’s a gorgeous restored old home made into a high quality restaurant that was running a Mother’s Day brunch special

We were seated on the outdoor porch.
Our menu
Treats to snack on while we waited for our meal. When our meals came, we were so famished we devoured them before even thinking to take a photo. Take my word for it: those dishes were beautiful too.

After eating, I hugged my kiddo goodbye and they drove south. Then I hopped in my bright blue rental Jeep and drove north back home.

8 thoughts on “Champoeg Weather

  1. What a great adventure, such good CARma while on the road! I love Champoeg. One of my initiations to the area was learning how to pronounce it. Love the history, and I love that shady walk through the trees. And that menu. Jeez, got full just reading it.

    1. CARma – love it!! It was so shady there. Perfect for the very hot weekend. I admit, we stared at the menu for a very long time before choosing. I ordered the shrimp scampi and Kellen had the chicken fried steak.

  2. Sounds like some serendipity at play. I love the idea of ritual, especially as it applies to connected with the important people in our lives. Looks like Kellen had a good time too. They are lucky to have that kind of time with you. Thanks for the history! I’m becoming more and more fascinated by Oregon, thanks to you! Especially love your outfit. Rockstar for sure 👑❤️👑

    1. Thanks Bonnie! I LOVE this tradition. It began when Kellen was young, maybe 11 years old or so, too young to be left alone but old enough to fight with me about what we did together. I always wanted to go camping, and Kellen would pout and fuss and complain and I would give up and not go camping. One year, for Mother’s Day, they asked me what I wanted for a gift. I told them: camping. Not a meal, not a present, not breakfast in bed. The only thing I wanted from them was to go camping and for them to have a good attitude about it. Kellen agreed. And we had a blast. And to my delight, the next Mother’s Day, they asked if we could go camping again. ❤

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