COVID-19 Wk 57: Skull Hollow Camping

Mia and I (and Codi) finally got out for a little excursion/fun/adventure in our van Clifford from Wayfarer Vans. I’ve spent a few solo nights in it since November, but, this was Mia’s first trip. We had a plan about 10 days ago to get out of Forest Grove and head someplace dry. I was looking to ride mountain bikes on dry trails and we just needed some time away from all of IT (covid, house chores, etc).

Skull hollow
Site #69 at Skull Hollow Campground

We headed over to Skull Hollow Camground. This is sandwiched between Madras, Prineville and Redmond, OR in the Crooked River National Grassland. The National Forest website says there are only 28 sites. So maybe in the future when people click through the link it’ll be updated. Why do I say this? Well as you can see we were in site #69 and if I remember correctly there are actually 72 total sites, not the 28 mentioned. I was a bit baffled when looking at Google Maps images and I was counting way more than 28 obvious sites. So maybe the concessionaires did a lot of work during Covid..or something? Maybe the Forest Service is just ridiculously behind in updating their websites?

Skull Hollow is a bit of an ominous name. I found this little tidbit about the area:

Back in 1845 Stephen Meek, a wagon master and guide, led the ill-fated splinter group of wagons looking for a way across the Cascades. The water holes he had seen on previous trips had all dried up in the summer.

It wasn’t until 19 years later in 1864, a year after the skirmish with Chief Paulina at Smith Rock, that soldiers came across the remains of a massacre at what is now Skull Hollow Campground.

They found over 40 burned out wagons, china, and the bones of 200 settlers that lost their lives in a battle with the Indians in the hostile territory that was Central Oregon.

Lore — | Smith Rock State Park Guide | Smith Rock State Park Oregon


Camp Kitchen

What is accurate on the website is campsites are first-come-first-served, no advanced reservations at this time.

The other thing worth mentioning is that there is not a lot of shade over in this area. Some of the sites have a couple/few trees around them. Maybe 5-6 of them have what would be ideal for east-west sun protection/coverage. However unless you really enjoy the sun or are fully functional with generator and A/C, I personally would avoid camping here in July-August. It does makes a great shoulder season campground if you ask us.

We had an idea when planning this trip that temps would be in the low 60’s or upper 50’s during the day and low 30’s at night. Little did we anticipate temperatures climbing into the 80’s near home this weekend. Headed to elevation and the east side of the Cascades we knew at the campground it would be a little cooler. Weather topped out in the mid 70’s on Saturday with a cool breeze. Lows Friday and Saturday night where in the upper 30’s. Not a cloud in the sky the whole weekend though and sitting at just under 3,000′ elevation it is easy to get sunburned this early in the year. (Just ask Mia)

Friday night, pre-dinner stroll

After picking our campsite and before dinner we opted for a quick stroll to stretch our legs and let Codi “take care of business”. It was breezy with temps in the low 60’s but felt like the mid to low 50’s.

Skull hollow
Grilled cheese for dinner

I hit up Slow Rise Bakehouse for some bread and pastries while Mia hit up the grocery store before heading out. We kept it simple for dinner on Friday by making grilled cheese and snacking on tortilla chips and salsa.

Early Saturday morning..Codi has the WTF!?! look

I had downloaded a GPS track for the mountain bike trails from RidewithGPS and took Saturday morning to get that in. It was “only” 16ish miles with “only” 2500′ in elevation. I had some killer views of the cascades throughout the ride. Broken Top, the Three Sisters, Jefferson, Hood and Bachelor.

It was SO DAMN NICE to ride on dry trails. I’ve only ridden my mountain bike a few times since last fall because of how muddy things are near the house all winter. I’d say the conditions were just about perfect too. No mud, not too dry/dusty and just firm enough. Apparently the trails around here can get very sandy in the summer months. So April/May appears to be the early season sweet spot based on trail reviews I read.

view from about 30 minutes into my ride

I was done riding by noon and the three of us spent the rest of the day reading, chilling out and maybe even taking a nap………

It was nice to hang out and not be masked up. Sure it meant we didn’t socialize very much with the campers around us. The site on one side was vacant the whole time we were there and the guy to our right left Saturday morning and no one else took that site.

Skull hollow

It’s a slight shame that it was as warm as it was. Our Sunday goal was to mountain bike together for an hour or so while Codi hung out in the van. With temps in the mid 70’s there was no chance in hell we were leaving our little fuzzy bundle of joy in the van by himself. Even with ceiling fan and windows cracked open it would have been too hot. We’re headed back to the Sisters area in May for a long weekend and a house rental (that due to covid, then forest fires, then a nasty snow storm we’ve pushed off 4 times now). We’ll be able to ride together then while Codi hangs at the rental house.

Codi did okay for his first #vanlife weekend
camping essentials. Coffee courtesy of a raffle from Slow Rise Bakehouse

On the way home we opted to swing through Sisters and take Santiam Pass. We came in to the campground via Mt Hood and Madras on Hwy 26. But if I am that close to Sisters I want to swing through. Most people love Bend (don’t worry we like it…a lot) but we just LOVE Sisters for the smaller town vibe.

Don’t even have to worry about where to eat with the van

We both felt a little guilty that Codi didn’t get to swim on this camping trip. Generally we stay near a lake or river where he can play in the water. So we hit up Suttle Lake for a brief stop before heading over Santiam Pass and back home. I guess we also felt the need to get the van smelling like wet dog. Why delay the inevitable?

Skull hollow
Codi’s happy place….anywhere he can chase sticks and play in the water

This was the first time either of us have been through the Santiam Canyon area since before the fires last fall. Needless to say the devastation to towns like Detroit was brutal to see first hand. Very sobering to see how much forest was burned. It will be a long long time before that area returns to normal.

Thanks for reading,


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