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2020 Oregon Road Trip


2020 Oregon Road TripHey everyone, we’re back from our Oregon road trip. Actually, it was 2 short road trips with a break at home. It was really nice to get out of town for a few days. This summer is surreal. Like many people, we have been stuck at home since March. My wife and kid are perfectly happy with it, but I was getting increasingly restless. This year we planned to visit Hawaii and Thailand, but those trips got canceled due to the pandemic. I thought we could take a long road trip to visit friends and families in California instead. However, COVID is surging hard there so that trip got canceled too. Ugh! How disappointing. So we decided to make the best of it by visiting a couple of in-state locations we haven’t been to. It worked out quite well. We had a lot of fun and I feel a lot better. Now, I can hunker down the rest of 2020…

Eastern Oregon

I lived in Portland for over 25 years, but I haven’t spent much time in Eastern Oregon. It is a huge rural area. I visited a few skiing and rafting attractions with my friends in the 90s, but haven’t gone back in recent years. Usually, we travel to other countries or drive west to the beaches when we take a vacation. Anyway, we had plenty of time this summer so I got to cross this one off the list. I decided to visit the John Day National Monument area and off we went. (Mrs. RB40 hates trip planning so I’m in charge of our vacations.)

Smith Rock State Park

Smith Rock is considered the birthplace of modern American sport climbing. Thousands of routes attract climbers from all over. I don’t know anything about climbing so this wasn’t high on my list. Luckily, Smith Rock was on the way to our destination so we stopped by for a quick hike.

smith rock

We picked up 2 orders of burritos in Madras and had a picnic at Smith Rock. Surprisingly, the food was excellent. Who knew you can find authentic Mexican food in Madras.  Mrs. RB40’s grandma used to tell us about some terrible enchiladas she had in Central Oregon many years ago. She said it was covered in brown gravy. But this was way back in the 80s so I should have known that the food option is much improved now.

Anyway, we went hiking after lunch and had a nice time. The trails are open, but they want you to wear a face mask. We kept our masks on hand and put them on when we couldn’t keep our distance. It was very hot so bring plenty of water if you plan to visit.

Mitchell, OR

After our hike, we drove to Mitchell. Mitchell was like an old west town. There was one street with a few stores and that was it. The population was 130 at the 2010 census. We decided to sleep in Mitchell because it was perfectly situated in the middle of the John Day National Monument area. There are actually 3 units (sites) about an hour apart. If we stayed in a bigger town, we’d have to drive at least 2 extra hours each day.

Mitchell OR

Painted Hills

The Painted Hills is the first John Day unit we visited. It’s really neat. The hills are vivid red, yellow, green, and white. This is what I imagine Mars looks like. This is the main attraction for me. I’ve heard about the Painted Hills for a long time, but they are so out of the way. We enjoyed it tremendously. There are several easy short trails at this site. We visited twice, at 7 pm and another day at 8 am. The lighting for pictures is tricky here. It wasn’t busy when we were there.

painted hills

Coincidently, it was our 21st anniversary. Yay!


Lucky Strike Mine

I read about Lucky Strike Mine a couple of years ago when our son was into rocks. You can dig for thundereggs there. Thundereggs are spherical rocks filled with minerals. You can cut them in half to reveal intricate patterns and colors if you’re lucky. The Lucky Strike Mine is located in the Ochoco National Forest (close to Mitchell) and we had to take some unmarked Forest Service roads to get there. Google Maps wasn’t helpful because it is not accurate. One road it wanted us to take doesn’t exist. Luckily, I found pretty good written directions on the internet. I verified it with the satellite view on Google Maps so I was pretty confident we’d make it.


After 30 minutes in the woods, Mrs. RB40 thought we were lost, but I kept going. Turned out we were on the right road and we made it to the mine soon after. The mine was neat. There were two spots where you can dig. A rockhound club from Salem was using power tools to dig at one site so we went to the other site. This was when RB40Jr found out mining isn’t much fun in real life. (His favorite game is Minecraft.) We dug around for about 90 minutes and came away with a bucket of thundereggs. It was an interesting experience, but once was enough. The rocks cost $2 per pound with a 15-pound minimum. We spent a bit more than the minimum. I think of it as supporting the locals. Anyway, 2020 is the last year they’re open for public digging. There aren’t many places like this left. Now, I have to figure out where I can get these rocks cut.


Sheep Rock

Sheep Rock is the 2nd unit we visited. There is a nice Paleontology center here, but it’s closed due to COVID. That’s too bad. I read that they have a nice fossil collection. We went for a hike and relaxed instead. That’s okay. We’ll have a chance to see some fossils at the next stop.

sheep rock


Fossil, OR

Yay, we got another chance to dig! We visited Wheeler High School in Fossil, OR. There is a fossil bed right behind their football field. They ask for $5 donation per person and you can dig to your heart’s content. There are plenty of plant fossils here. We spent about 90 minutes digging and splitting limestones. We found several fossils so that was exciting. We got here around 9 am and it was already starting to heat up. Get there early and bring plenty of water.

wheeler high school Fossil Oregon

Here is the best one we found. You can see needles on both sides of the split. I think these are redwood needles.

redwood pine needle fossil Wheeler high school Oregon


Clarno was the last John Day unit. We dropped by on our way home. Mrs. RB40 went hiking and the guys rested in the shade. This whole area used to be a lush tropical rainforest 50 million years ago. There are fossil records in all these rock layers.


Newport, OR

For our 2nd road trip, we visited Newport. It’s our favorite Oregon beach town. The restaurants here are way better than other beach town eateries, IMO. We splurged on seafood and a nice hotel.

Yum, a nice cup of chowder.


Agate Beach

Our hotel was at Agate Beach. Unfortunately, there are no agates on the beach anymore. However, the beach itself is really nice. It’s a wide long beach with a bunch of mini dunes. RB40 had a blast playing there. The water was freezing cold as usual. We have never been here so it was a nice discovery.

Agate beach OR

Beverly Beach

Beverly Beach is really neat. You can walk along the hillside and find shell fossils everywhere. Visitors can keep the fossils they find, but you can’t dig. I found several nice fossils to take home. This is one of my favorite beaches in Oregon because you can get free souvenirs. Nice!

Beverly Beach

Make the best of it

Alright, that’s it for our summer vacation. We couldn’t take a big trip, but we made the best of it and enjoyed exploring new places in Oregon. It was really nice to unplug for a few days. I feel a lot more relaxed now.

Did you take a summer vacation this year? Where did you go? Enjoy the last few weeks of summer!

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, the job became too stressful and Joe retired from his engineering career to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. Today, he blogs about financial independence, early retirement, investing, and living a frugal lifestyle.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is increasing his investment in real estate with CrowdStreet. He can invest in projects across the U.S. and diversify his real estate portfolio. There are many interesting projects available so sign up and check them out.

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{ 31 comments… add one }
  • Amy August 12, 2020, 7:28 am

    Looks like a great trip! I have had to switch travel plans and take a couple road trips this summer as well thanks to COVID

  • GYM July 29, 2020, 12:15 am

    Happy anniversary! Those are such great pictures, looks like a great time and great weather too! Looks like RBJr had a great time.

    We went camping for one night and it already felt like we were gone for a week. Both our kids refused their nap and night time settling them into the tent was very rough. Had to drive my son around until he fell asleep, haha! Good times.

    • retirebyforty July 29, 2020, 7:54 am

      Thank you! Camping is tough with toddlers. 🙂 Hope the kids get back into the routine soon.

  • drplasticpicker July 28, 2020, 10:08 am

    So glad you guys stayed away from Cali. The road trip sounds great! Thank you for letting us live vicariously through you. Was there any plastic on the beaches?

    • retirebyforty July 28, 2020, 4:12 pm

      The beaches were spotless! Amazing.

      • drplasticpicker July 29, 2020, 4:55 pm

        That is amazing! I’m not sure what is up with my beach. It’s a Marine Protected Area but I pick up at least a bag every walk. I would love to be able to walk somewhere and there not be trash!

  • FITrailHiker July 27, 2020, 3:49 pm

    We just finished 2 day trip in Austin Tx. I love these short trips, goes easy on wallet?

    • retirebyforty July 28, 2020, 4:13 pm

      Yeap! We splurged on nicer than usual hotels and food, but the duration was much shorter than normal. So the cost of summer vacation was much less than normal years.

  • Lazy Man and Money July 27, 2020, 11:51 am

    You should get him started on Bitcoin mining if he loves to mine so much – j/k. The Minecraft phase for our kids lasted about a couple of weeks until they went to Roblox. They still go back to Minecraft though.

    Now that you’ve got a west coast Newport visit out of your system, let me know when you plan to try the east coast one ;-).

    • retirebyforty July 28, 2020, 4:14 pm

      Our son likes Roblox too, but he still enjoys Minecraft the most.
      Sure, I’ll keep it in mind. I think there is a Newport in CA too.

  • Jim @ Route to Retire July 27, 2020, 9:38 am

    Looks like an awesome trip, Joe! A little bit of everything mixed into your vacation – can’t beat it!

    We’re planning on doing a road trip in a couple of weeks. We’ll probably make our way from Ohio to Texas, to Nevada, and then back. Should be a fun vacation.

    • retirebyforty July 28, 2020, 4:14 pm

      Have a great trip! We kept it pretty limited because of Covid. Next year, we’ll travel more.

  • JPinAZ July 27, 2020, 8:29 am

    Oregon is a beautiful place, although it is scary what’s going in Portland with the violence and lax law enforcement.

    My current employer’s factories are in Thailand, and I understand they are handling the Pandemic really well. However if you still wanted to go there, I don’t know if they are accepting US visitors at this time.

  • nicoleandmaggie July 27, 2020, 7:57 am

    We were supposed to go to Portland for our 20th anniversary and to Wisconsin Dells for a family trip and I was supposed to go to Boston for a conference (and DC1 to Bryn Mar for a summer camp). But none of those things happened. I don’t think the kids have been outside of our neighborhood since March (or outside of our house since it got hot) and DH and I have only been out for doctor/dentist/curbside pickup. We can’t really do day-trips because our entire state is a hotspot full of anti-maskers. I wish we could go out and see nature more than anything else, even restaurants.

  • [email protected] July 27, 2020, 7:35 am

    That lucky strike mine looks pretty awesome! Added to the list for our eventual trip around PNW!

    Glad you guys found a way to have a little fun, a road trip in your local region.

    We just finished up a week of Staycationing in VA — we also had a ball enjoying our area and hitting some new spots. There’s still reasonably safe (calculated risk at least) travel to be had during the pandemic.

  • freddy smidlap July 27, 2020, 7:14 am

    hey, happy anniversary. looks like a couple of nice trips to me. i like those dunes on agate beach. when we go to the ocean on the east coast the dunes are always roped off and protected. we’re heading out to the usual lake cabin all next week and then to vermont the following long weekend to say with a friend. hopefully we’ll get some more hiking this year as last year we were pretty lazy.

    • retirebyforty July 27, 2020, 8:03 am

      Thanks! The mini dunes are very interesting. They are just part of the beach. I guess the wind made them that way.
      The big sand dunes in southern Oregon are more protected for the wildlife.

  • Felipe July 27, 2020, 4:15 am

    Nice pics and a great trip! Eastern OR reminds me of northern Mexico. Such a contrast to the coast. We retired March 1 and came out of Death Valley to find the world had ended. We did make it to the Salton Sea before having to return to CO. Even campgrounds were closing as the pandemic set in.
    I feel safe from covid backcountry tent camping, so we’re doing that closer to home this summer, seeing so many areas I’d only quickly passed through in my rushed working years. We’re pondering a teardrop trailer, but for now tent camping is fine. I do worry about bears in some places.

    • retirebyforty July 27, 2020, 8:02 am

      It was great to see the diversity in Oregon. We like the lush coastal area better, but the dessert is nice too.
      Usually we go tent camping in the summer, but this year we skipped it. I’m concerned about sharing the bathroom facilities. Never been backcountry camping. I should read up more on that. Thanks!

  • Dave @ Accidental FIRE July 27, 2020, 2:06 am

    Yes Smith rock is a climbers mecca, I’ve only been once but enjoyed it. Your state is gorgeous and has so many outdoor things to do!

    • retirebyforty July 27, 2020, 7:56 am

      Thanks! Luckily, this summer has been cooler than usual. It’s no problem going out.
      I’m dreading fall and winter, though. I’m not ready for the rain.

  • David @iretiredyoung July 27, 2020, 1:32 am

    Although I’ve been to quite a number of different countries, I’ve also ignored travel in my own “backyard”. Your post reminds me that this is worth doing.

    • retirebyforty July 27, 2020, 7:55 am

      We explored Oregon much more often than usual this year. It’s been great.

  • Mr. Tako July 27, 2020, 1:22 am

    Oh cool, Smith Rock, I haven’t been there in ages! I used to live out near Bend, back in the day. Those are my old stomping grounds! Used to go hiking at Smith Rock for something to do.

    Looks like a great trip! Hope you guys had fun.

    As for our summer vacation, our plans were canceled like most people’s. As a consolation prize, we might do a beach trip before school starts.

    • retirebyforty July 27, 2020, 7:55 am

      I think a beach trip is a great option. We went mid-week and it wasn’t too busy.
      The restaurants were pretty good too. The tables had good distancing and we could get take-outs.

  • Ernie Zelinski July 27, 2020, 12:53 am

    Great photos of a great trip. Perhaps you should become a professional photographer.

    As I had previously indicated, I flew to Vancouver for a week in mid June to celebrate my birthday. I have decided to fly to Vancouver again for a week in a week and a half.

    I have a Business Class flight booked to Toronto in late September and a International Business Class (really First Class) flight booked to London England in mid October on my Aeroplan miles. It seems, however, that I will have to cancel both flights and get my money and Aeroplan miles back. Presently there is not much open in Toronto. Travelers from Canada to London have to quarantine for 14 days.

    Furthermore, I am concerned that this Virus thing is going to come back with even a greater force in fall/winter and I won’t be able to go anywhere, even Vancouver. So that’s why I am making another trip to Vancouver soon. I will also try to go to Banff National Park in early September.

    • retirebyforty July 27, 2020, 7:53 am

      I’m very happy we had a road trip. This fall and winter will be a tough one. I doubt COVID will go away anytime soon.
      It’s a good idea to take a vacation now. Enjoy!

  • JasonInVancouver July 26, 2020, 11:54 pm

    Nice getaways.
    Similarly, we also rarely explore our province, even though are a number of places in British Colombia that are pretty popular tourist destinations and reasonable drives. We’ve been thinking about doing a similar getaway within the province but everyone doing the same thing due to pent up demand and limited places to go. We’re hoping Hawaii might be an option in December without a 14 day quarantine but we’re not going to book until last minute, even with refundable bookings.
    We love the Oregon coast and typically stayed in Rockaway Beach which had great BBQ from D’Max and smoked salmon from Karla’s smokeshop. Sadly both are closed now. But looking forward to another trip to the Oregon coast and Portland (love the food carts) when things get back to normal.

    • retirebyforty July 27, 2020, 7:52 am

      BC is quite nice. I drove up a few times when we were younger. A road trip is a great affordable option when you’re young.
      There are so many beaches on the Oregon coast. We visited many and we still discover a new one every year.
      Enjoy the rest of summer!

  • Tawcan July 26, 2020, 11:34 pm

    In my younger days I used to rock climb and I’ve climbed in Smith Rock a few times in November. Yup we drove all the way down from Vancouver Canada. One year it was so warm the guys were climbing topless. Good times haha.

    Looked like it was a great idea to travel around Oregon. And happy anniversary!

    • retirebyforty July 27, 2020, 7:49 am

      Oh wow, that’s a long drive. It was really hot when we were there. We’re not used to the heat at all. This year has been cooler than usual in Portland. Thanks!

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