Archive for October, 2011

Up the 97 we went, crossing the Columbia River from Oregon into Washington near the dam at The Dalles:

One of 14 major dams on the Columbia River

Bridge at The Dalles

We drove around befuddled in farm country for a bit until we picked up the 14 and headed west through the Columbia Gorge.

The Columbia was once a wild, roaring beast of a river rampaging its way through the Cascade range.  Locks and hydroelectric dams changed all that.  The Gorge itself is mile after winding mile of forests and mountains, some with tunnels carved through for trains or cars; little towns strung along the highway like beads on a string; and always, the gigantic river nearby, glimpsed through the trees or dominating the landscape in the clearings.  You can follow the tracks of the Lewis and Clark expedition (pullouts, historical markers, signage galore), and imagine their astonishment if they could see the changes that have taken place since their journey into the unknown.

View from a trail at a rest stop along the Gorge

Most of the 190 miles between The Dalles and Vancouver were serious eye candy. Vancouver itself?  Not so much… 🙂

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After we left amazingly beautiful Crater Lake, we continued north on the 97 toward The Dalles and the Columbia River Gorge.  Since we were in no rush, we pulled off the freeway and headed for a visitor’s center near another lava cave, but it turned out to be closed and blocked off for the night.  Hmm, I said, bummer, did a 180, and drove until I found a day-use parking lot tucked in the woods.  I decided it might make a good night-use parking lot as well. (I don’t actually recommend this as a rule.  It’s better to turn off into one of the many little parking spots scattered through the national forest system and tuck in for the night.  No risk of a $250 fine that way).

Anyhow, this area is used as a put-in for kayaks and such on the Deschutes River — which changes from serene…

…to active…

…to rock’n’roll:

There is a very nice section of trail with zigzagging paths lined with split rail fences, leading to platforms with stunning views of the river.  It has a plaque:  “This project constructed in cooperation with the family & friends of Michael Todd McDonald, 1961-1984.”  I’d like to thank them for such a wonderful gift to the public.

And off we went, up the 97 toward The Dalles and the Columbia River Gorge.  More later…


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Okay, I had a little delay in posting the photos from the next stop on our itinerary, Crater Lake.  I’ll explain why in a future post, but right now, I just want to show you some photos that I hope will do Crater Lake justice:

Crater Lake

That’s Llao Rock in the background, and Wizard Island to the right.

The cleanest, clearest lake I've ever seen

Thousands of years ago, a volcano that is now called Mount Mazama blew up with the force of Mt. St. Helens times 100, and collapsed on itself.  The ash it spewed spread as far as Canada, Yellowstone Park and Nebraska, and it could cover present-day Oregon eight inches deep.  In the Sinnott Memorial Overlook on the lake’s rim (an interesting and informative visitor center) there was a tiny, poignant exhibit in a corner — a replica of a pair of sandals found buried under a deep layer of ash in a cave.  I can’t imagine the terror of the Klamath people as the mountain exploded.

What remained after this cataclysm was a caldera that eventually filled with rainwater and snowmelt — over 500 inches of snow a year.  Crater Lake is incredibly clean and clear, thanks to no development or runoff.  At almost 2000 feet deep, the deepest lake in America, it swallows all the colors of the light spectrum except blue.

Wizard Island is actually a dormant volcano lying within the caldera of dormant Mount Mazama, and there are about twenty more cones hiding underwater.  There are vents heating the water at the bottom of the lake — Mazama’s sleeping, not dead.

The entire 33-mile Rim Drive was snow-free and open, and we took advantage of it. There are so many beautiful overlooks, so many trails:

Castle Crest Trail had wildflowers in a meadow and bridges over rushing streams.

We spent a couple of days at Crater Lake.  On our second day, work crews with a drilling machine were installing ten-foot tall snow poles at the edges of the roads.  The poles had strips of reflective tape around the tops; snow was in the forecast and time was getting short.  We had spent the first night in the visitors center parking lot, but got kicked out the second night.  🙂  As we headed down the mountain toward the closed Mazama campground (and another, slightly less illegal parking place), the tops of the snow poles twinkled in the headlights, guiding us down through the pitch black night.

I liked the Maxfield Parrish light on these grasses and trees

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Where were we?  Ah, yes, leaving the June Lake Loop, heading north on the 395, and overnighting in Alturas.   It’s an exhausted old town, the kind of place with lots of charity and thrift shops on the main drag, empty storefronts, mean stray dogs — just a clapped out place.  We parked at the south end of town next to a green, pretty little park behind the Veterans Memorial Building, and I took a walk to stretch my legs.  Monday night, 6PM, and it was all locked up tighter than a drum, except one Mexican restaurant and a liquor store.  A lot of small town America is having a hard time, and Alturas is no exception.

Anyhow, next morning we took the 299 to 139 north.  There was a notation on the map:  Lava Beds National Monument.  We hung a left into the south end of the park, and had no idea how astonished we were going to be.  Some of the road looked like a patchwork quilt of repairs, and the drive was long and slow, but it was worth it.

My favorite cave photo

The entire area is a huge 600 square mile dormant shield volcano with a long, tumultuous history that left the place riddled with lava caves.  There are handouts that group the caves into easy, medium and difficult, maps to get you to the caves, maps of the interiors of the tricky caves — Labyrinth or Catacombs, anyone?  Not me, baby!   Cave Loop Road alone has over a dozen caves; there are more than two hundred in the area.

We joined about a dozen other people and Sara, our ranger guide, for a tour of the Sentinel cave, an easy cave (meaning no crawling on hands and knees, lots of headroom, etc).  Sara was great , an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide who explained what we were walking through and what we were looking at.  We all had flashlights, and needed them:

Sentinel Cave’s flowing lava had carved tunnels, long shelves alongside us, balconies above us; rooms where ceilings had caved in, letting light in from the surface; and in one area, we looked down through a hole in the floor, revealing another tunnel underneath — our floor was the ceiling of the tunnel below us.  In fact, we had been walking (carefully, using our lights) on lumpy rubble of a ceiling that had fallen eons ago.  It cleared, and then we were walking on the frozen ropy flow of lava that had solidified, called pahoehoe lava.  It reminded me of icing on a cupcake, swirled in patterns with the edge of a knife.  If the curves of the flow look like a smile, you’re heading back the way the lava came in.  If the curves look like a frown, you’re following the flow.

The other kind of lava is a’a, Hawaitan for “ouch!”  It’s spiky, rough, clumpy stuff.

A'a lava field - don't try walking on it barefoot!

Sara told us a funny story about how much the early cave explorers hated the cave rats. They’re pretty cute, she says — big ears, furry tails — but the men would wake up and discover their shiny pocket watches and little bits of equipment were missing, replaced by stones and sticks the rats swapped for them in the night.  Decades later, the rangers looked with dismay at the rubbish tourists had left everywhere in the caves — gum wrappers, cigarette packs — and they had an idea.  They left piles of lovely little sticks in front of the caves, which quickly vanished; then, the sticks reappeared in the nooks and crannies of the caves where the trash had been.  The little rats cleaned all the rubbish out of the caves, which is something humans could have never accomplished.

J.D. Howard, who popularized the caves, wrote this one's name in blue

Many caves have ladders, etc., to help you get around:

Watch your step...

It was 55 degrees in Sentinel Cave.  I suspect the area aboveground is hotter than hell in the summer, but September was a great time to visit.

By the way, we exited past the north entrance kiosk and followed the sign that said “Klamath Falls.”  The road took us through pretty agricultural land in the Tule Lake area and ended at a T-junction that said 161; no east, west, Klamath Falls this way, nothing.  Hang a right for Klamath Falls and — next stop — stunning Crater Lake…

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We’d never taken the June Lake Loop drive before — always pointing north on the 395, no side trips — but did this time, and it’s such a pretty drive.  The first lake you see entering June Lake Loop on the south, not surprisingly, is June Lake…

June Lake

…which Sweet Pea found fascinatingly beautiful…

Hmmm...aesthetically appealing...

…however, her favorite turned out to be the next one, Gull Lake, down a narrow road with a picnic area, playground equipment for children, friendly fisherpeople for a happy dog to make friends with and be scratched behind the ears by, and a little marina with a charming mural:

Mural at Gull Lake marina

The next one, serene Silver Lake, had people fishing at water’s edge and on boats:

Silver Lake

Finally, we visited Grant Lake — wild, windswept, empty — it reminded me of a loch in the Scottish moors…

Grant Lake

…and the weather moved in…

"Heathcliff!" "Cathy!" "Heathcliff!" "Cathy!"

Anyhow, we completed the June Lake Loop and headed north on the 395 for our turnoff in Alturas.  Oooh, double meaning there!  More later…

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Those of you who know me personally know I’m not much of a desert person. We left home, we drove through desert, we got to the 395. ‘Nuff said. Anyhow, when we were near the Alabama Hills, we stopped at a McDonalds for some coffee and internet time, and Stephen got to talking with two Paiute ladies, Angie and Rose, who said, “Would you like to go to a powwow and barbecue?”

“Cool!” we said, and we followed them to the powwow.

You will not see any photos of the dancers, singers, drummers, or anybody else because I didn’t take any. I noticed no Indians were taking pictures, not even of their own children. Since I didn’t see any other white people there, I didn’t want to reflect badly on my tribe, so the camera stayed in my pocket. I’m just going to post more photos of the Alabama Hills to break up the text, like this:

Traveling Litely on Movie Road, Alabama Hills

People surrounded a huge grassy area, the stage where the dancers were performing. We set up our folding chairs near a nice family sitting under their E-Z Up, which threw some nice shade our way when it mattered! The man sitting in front of us, Tom, was kind and explained some things to us as the day progressed.

The dance competition was broken into categories — tiny tots, teen boys, teen girls, men, women, Golden Age (55+), etc. The costumes! Most of the women wore jingle dresses — colorful dresses with little cone-shaped silvery bells that rang while they danced, accompanying the drums and chants of the singers. The men wore cuffs of round bells around their ankles, or long straps of bells anchored at waist and ankle (you know the ones — “dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh”). There were male dancers wearing bustles of eagle feathers. One of the Paiute-Shoshone family we sat near, Tom’s brother, made costumes, and explained that it took him about six weeks to make a bustle. Some of the fancy dancers wore two bustles, one at the rear, one at the shoulders.

The whole idea of fancy dancing is catching the judges’ eyes, so the costumes were way over the top: neon pink, orange and green, one teenager in red, white and blue with double bustles, lots and lots of bells jangling. Know what I liked about the fancy dancing? Times had changed, materials had changed, and the costumes changed with the times. The dancers weren’t performing in historically pristine costumes from a certain period. They were representing their own tribe and their own time. This wasn’t to please tourists looking for how it was; this was their own thing, still alive, still changing, still relevant. There was no dust on these costumes from museum cases; it was kicked up in the here and now by dancing feet.

After the competitions concluded, it was barbecue time, free for all who attended. The beef came from cattle raised by the Paiute teenagers. I don’t know who fixed the side dishes and chocolate cake, but they were excellent. 🙂

Tom told us a story about how one of his ancestors got his Indian name. It was 1849, and the kid got his first glimpse of men with white skin and beards on their faces. He was terrified, and became He Who Runs Away.

It’s funny about the difference in facial hair — to this day, there wasn’t any on any Indian man there. Angie and Rose, who told us about the powwow in the first place, were able to spot us in the crowd because they were looking for the only bald head at the powwow — Steve’s. None of the men, no matter how elderly, had lost their hair. It might be snow white, but it was still there. Ah, curse you, British genetics! Steve started losing his at twenty-one, said oh well, grabbed a razor and got rid of the rest. No Indian man has to make that choice!

Mt. Whitney

There was a final celebratory set of dances after the barbecue, and we packed up to go. Sweet Pea had made friends all around and eaten everybody’s leftovers, so all three of us were ready. It was a wonderful day, and we’ve been having more wonderful days, which I’ll tell you about later.

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There, I said it.  The overpriced corporatized coffee behemoth, scourge of mom and pop coffeehouses nationwide, blah-diddy-blah.  I don’t care — it gave me a place to go this morning to post this.  Ahhh, Starbucks.  Breakfast sandwich, coffee and wi-fi, electrical outlets at every table for laptops.  It’s drizzling out there (surprise! Washington in October, go figure!) but cozy in here.

This country is so full of stunning, gorgeous, knock-your-socks-off beauty.  I forget that sometimes, but this trip has been a continuous reminder…

The Alabama Hills’ cowboy movie deja vu voodoo outside of Lone Pine:

On the Arch Rock Trail, Movie Road, Alabama Hills

June Lake Loop’s chain of lovely lakes, each with its own personality:

Gull Lake on the June Lake Loop off the 395 outside of Bishop

Lava Beds National Monument, the coolest, most interesting place I’d never heard of:

Sentinel Cave, Lava Beds National Monument

Crater Lake’s embodiment of  “blueness” and mind-boggling creation story:

Crater Lake National Park

Deschutes River’s wild, rip-roaring waterfalls alongside its walking trails:

Benham Falls, Deschutes River

The Columbia River Gorge on the Washington side, heading west through forested cliffs carved with drive-through tunnels, breathtaking views at every turn in the road:

Train tunnel through Columbia River Gorge, Washington side

…well, you get the picture(s)!

I’ll be writing more about all these wonderful places, the people we’ve met, and the things we’ve done and learned.  Talk to y’all later…

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I lost my connection here at Starbucks after writing a massive post, so I’ll write a short one this time:  We’re alive, kicking, and (mostly) having fun!  Steve has picked up some kind of bug and has been coughing, sneezing, and feverish for the past five days, but in between bouts, he feels pretty good and we’ve been seeing so many beautiful places and learning such interesting things!  I will tell y’all more and post photos later,  but right now I want to post this @#$%^&*! before my connection disappears again.

More later…   😉

Northern Lite + Dodge truck = good to go to the Pacific Northwest! (The sky is a preview of what's to come...)

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