John Day Country and home

The picasaweb link posted here is to an individual album that are part of this day’s story if you want to see additional photos. If you like, you can click on the link and see the entire album on Picasa.

Last night we traveled till we felt like stopping which put us at another Oregon State Park, Unity Lake SP. This place is truly a treasure, off the main track, maybe 3 miles from Unity on HWY 26. The park is small and quiet with large spaces along the lake, big pull through sites in the middle, shade from the typical desert locust trees, and no people. Admittedly, it was midweek, but still, midweek in August, and there was the camp host, another trailer next to him, a car camping family from England traveling the west, and a couple of small truck trailer combos down the way. There are probably more than 40 sites here, so the emptiness was a surprise. The cost was great as well, with water and 30 amp electric for only $17. I know it’s the desert, but it’s lovely, with sage and grasslands, and great views. The night was blessedly dark, not a single light or sound to mar the stillness, and the temperature dropped to 42 blessed degrees. I slept great!

We left this morning by 8, an easy start since we didn’t even have to unhook last night. Continuing west along HWY 26 we were surprised by the steep climbs and drops as we crossed the Blue Mountains toward John Day. I got my favorite thing while traveling, not another car in sight for miles at a time. Not far west of the sage country at Unity SP, we found 3 really nice campgrounds on the east side of Blue Mountain Pass, FS camps with no hookups, but open and lovely, shaded with a small creek. We thought it would be great to boondock for 3.50 a night with our pass in the FS camps, then drop down to Unity for a couple of nights of hookups to get ready for some more cheap boondocking. Someday.

I got my first view of the Strawberry Wilderness and Strawberry Mountain, an area I have heard of but never seen. The Oregon Trail passed through here and the interpretive viewpoint with the big covered wagon was a delight. The landscape is open and empty of people, with big ranches, irrigated alfalfa fields, all surrounded by thickly forested mountains and peaks. Truly lovely, and a great drive if you don’t mind the ups and downs. The Tow-Haul got a good workout on this part of the drive for sure. We stopped in John Day to visit the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site, location of some truly fascinating history about the Chinese immigrants who were part of the building of the west. In California we have visited several places that have a great deal of history involving the Chinese men who came here, without wives and families, to work incredibly hard and try to reap some benefit from the better economy here in the US compared to China at the time. My home is Jamestown is surrounded by huge areas that were hydraulically mined, mostly by Chinese, and Mo and I visited Isleton in the Delta last Spring, also developed mostly by Chinese. The exhibit in John Day brought all these parts and pieces together for the first time in a way that helped it all fit. It is an amazing story.

Leaving John Day we continued west to the John Day Fossil Beds. So many people seem to pass through this fascinating land without actually seeing it, so this time we made it a point to visit the visitor center at the Sheep Rock Unit. The visitor center has an amazing array of fossils that have been recovered from the 3 different areas of the National Monument, and the explanation and interpretation of the natural history there is magnificent. They even have the work area where paleontologists clean and catalogue and work with the fossils that is visible to visitors, with huge glass walls that allow you to watch the work in progress. The Miocene period is a repeating story in my soils work, and in most places I have mapped, there are interesting formations that are the result of the activity that occurred during this time, from 12 to 50 million years ago, give or take a weekend. Here in John Day, it was all about volcanics, as in the Sierra Nevada, and in the Columbia Basin. It was great seeing really beautiful artistic interpretations of all that was going on here while Table Mountain was being built in Jamestown, and while the diatomite in the Klamath Basin was forming, while the Latah Formation in Spokane was building. Great to see everything in perspective all at once somehow. I am so glad that we took the time to actually visit the visitor center. Just a little aside, while we were there, 3 German tourists arrived, and were taking many careful photos of the American flag flying against the very blue sky.
Our trip for the day ended back in home territory, at brother Roger and Nancy’s home in LaPine, Oregon. Nice to visit them, since they were unable to attend the gathering in Spokane. After a nice dinner out, we slept again to clear skies and cool temperatures in the low 40’s before we headed out home the last 100 miles or so to Rocky Point.

We both felt that it was a successful trip, with all the moving parts of the MoHo working fine, and both of us were glad to pull up into the driveway under the huge firs around Mo’s house and settle in to a few days of respite before I have to return to work in California.

Traveling through Idaho

Here is the Picasa web link for photos for today:

Mo and I are watching the morning news, which of course is focused on the summer Olympics in Bejing. The brilliant morning sun is flowing in through the open screen door facing east. We are in the Hellsgate State Park on the Snake River on the western edge of Lewiston, Idaho. I used to camp at this park often when I was working in this area 30 years ago, and when I did craft shows here, the lovely Dogwood Festival, held every April. Sometimes the dogwoods were in full bloom, and other times it would snow, but this area is usually much warmer than the surrounding parts of Washington and Idaho, and Lewiston is known as the “Banana Belt”. We are just south of the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers, and the Clearwater is an amazing river coming from the Bitterroot Mountains, and much of this area is part of the Lewis and Clark Trail. Here at the park, there is a lovely Discovery Center that highlights the story of the famous pair as they traveled through this country. We will be heading east and south along HWY 95, traveling through Nez Perce country, passing the Nez Perce visitor center and perhaps a casino or two that wasn’t here in the days when I did the soil survey for these areas. The Nez Perce National Historic Park has several sites in this vicinity, and it is a great history lesson to view these areas with the stories that go with them.
The photo is taken at the top of White Bird Hill, site of a famous battle involving the Nez Perce and Chief Joseph.

Its fun being here, recognizing all the landscapes and landforms, knowing the plants, the geology, the natural history. Sometimes when I am working in California I miss that intimate knowledge of an area that I developed over so many years working in the Idaho Panhandle. Technically we are out of the panhandle now that we came down the Lewiston Hill, once a winding steep road with many switchbacks, now a very long down grade of 7 percent that makes me very happy with the MoHo’s tow-haul feature that downshifts with just a slight touch of the brake. I lived here when the hill opened and the first weekend a semi hit one of the runaway truck ramps, and because it was unexpectedly frozen, the trucker was launched out over the 1000 foot hill to an unhappy end. Here is a great photo from the 1920’s of the original road which had 64 turns in less than 10 miles.

Our goal was this lovely park, full of big old maples that have been planted long enough ago to provide lovely shade, the Snake River out our window, electric and water, with a dump station and television reception with an antenna from Spokane. This is a place worth returning to, with so much around the area to explore, including a long lovely river walkway that goes for several miles along the Snake and the Clearwater. In a little while we will head south and plan to go through John Day in Oregon and then on to somewhere unknown for the night tonight before we head home tomorrow via Mo’s brother’s home in La Pine. We couldn’t ask for a better day to travel through this part of Idaho.

Floating the Little Spokane

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We hauled our kayaks along on this trip just for this day. The kayaks ride on top the baby car, and usually Mo and I get them loaded and unloaded fairly easily, but with Mo’s owies its good that brother Dan is around to help get them unloaded. Brother Don lives here in Spokane, and kayaking is his major hobby so he is familiar with most all the good recreational runs around here. In addition, nephew Lanson is a whitewater kayaker and does that amazing thing in what looks exactly like a shoe to me. I still can’t figure out how those things stay on top of the water the way they do, and even more I can’t imagine stuffing my body into one.
Here’s a link to information about the river.

So the family flotilla consisted of Mo and I in our lake kayaks, Lanson and Mandi in their “shoes” with an additional little whitewater kayak for Don, a sweet canvas kayak that Don has rebuilt that Mo used in the Sierra’s 3 decades ago, and a flotsam and jetsam of floatable rafts for the rest of the family. It was a feat of cooperation getting everyone loaded with something that floats, with the required lifejackets, and food and drink onto the river, all at the same time. That was about the last time we were there all at the same time, because the kayaks floated much faster than the rafts and with Mo’s injuries, we just had to let the water take us at the speed of the current, which was a nice 5 mph or so.

I actually mapped this area as well, back in the early 2000’s, but had never actually had a boat on the Little Spokane. What a lovely little river, on the way to the big river, it winds and curves through overhanging trees and between tree covered hills and pastures, with just a few of the huge houses along the bluffs visible above the trees. It took us about 3 hours to do the complete run, but it would have been quite a bit faster if we hadn’t been trying to slow down and wait in the sandbars for the rest of the group. Check out the website and don’t miss this lovely little river if you are anywhere near Spokane with a boat. I lived in the area for 3 decades and never discovered it before this day.

After the float trip we all gathered at Don’s place for another family bbq, with great food provided by Wynn and others, and all was wonderful except for the yellow jackets. To add insult to injury, Mo was standing innocently on the deck when an angry bee hit her hand and it swelled up twice its normal size. Not fair at all! We enjoyed the evening, but also enjoyed leaving and going home to cozy camp and settled Mo into her sofa pillow again while we slept through a lovely cool evening and night.

Quiet Friday

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Mo and I are sitting in the shade of our awning under the pines at Riverside State Park. We are camped with other family in 3 spaces right along the river. The sun is warm and it’s hot and a bit humid for the west, maybe mid-90’s, but I remember summers like this in Spokane. Lake days. The Spokane River is just below us a few hundred yards, flowing silently but with a steady current. The river is deep here, with slippery rocks dropping quickly to a clear green abyss. It looks incredibly inviting, but I am still squirrelly about swimming in strange water with things I can’t see down there. I’m a sandy beach swimmer rather than a river swimmer.

Mo is sitting here quietly in the shade at the edge of the warm sun. We went for a walk down to the Bowl and Pitcher earlier, but the walk was a bit difficult for her and we came back to rest, make sure she had some Advil and let her sit quietly. Riverside State Park is a jewel right in the city in Spokane. It’s in ponderosa pines with some light shrubs and grasslands. On one side of the river it’s dry and piney, on the opposite side is Douglas-fir with snowberry and huge outcrops of basalt from the cliffs above. The Bowl and Pitcher is actually a narrow part of the river with rapids formed by all the basalt that has caved from the flows that form the cliffs above the park on the west side. There are really great old CCC buildings all around, including a group shelter and some other buildings crafted from the basalt by men trying to escape the depression of the Depression. Bless you, FDR. There is a similar building at the top of Mt Spokane that is equally as perfect in its stone craftsmanship. It’s a bit of a mess trying to get to the park if you don’t know the area, and it was even hard for me knowing the area, because of the construction and bridge repairs that are ongoing in this city. The Spokane River dominates this town, and no matter where you are going you have to get across the river one way or another. Many things to love about Spokane, and sometimes I really miss it, especially the South Hill and all the old craftsman homes that were built in the early 1900’s when Spokane was a rich exciting city built on mining and railroad fortunes.

the Hiawatha Bike Trail

Here are the rest of the photos for today:

The reason for this trip is a gathering of the clan, with relatives coming from several places to gather with Mo’s brother here in his town. Several of us are camped here at Riverside State Park, sites 1,2, and 3, right along the river. Others are staying at her brother’s home, some in a motel, but we are planning several get together’s. One of these was to ride the famous Hiawatha Trail. The Hiawatha is a great example of what can be done with a rail to trail plan to use abandoned rail road right of ways for bike trails. The Hiawatha is especially interesting because it has such a great history for this area, and is in such magnificent country as well. Here’s a link that tells a bit about the trail.

You can take the fun relaxing easy ride, starting at the top of Lookout Pass, ride downhill for 15 miles on a 1.7 percent grade, and get shuttled back to the top by the trusty shuttle bus when you are finished. However, for us, the timing was a bit off, so we decided to ride up the 15 miles first, leaving from the Pearson trailhead on the North Fork of the St Joe River, meet the rest of the family at the top, then bike down together and drive home while the rest of them did the shuttle.

Mo and I left early, drove 2 hours via I-90 to Wallace, then up the Moon Pass Road and arrived at the trailhead around 10 or so. The ride itself is wonderful, and I had forgotten how beautiful the Idaho Panhandle forests are, with such lush vegetation and thick stands of Douglas-fir, grand fir, and western larch, western redcedar and all sorts of wonderful understory plants that tell the story of the moist volcanic ash soils that support these kinds of forests.

We took it slow, enjoying the views of the mountains, the rides through the tunnels, and the high wooden trestles. The story of the Hiawatha Line itself if fascinating and worth a look. There are several tunnels along the route, the longest one at the top with a length of 1.8 miles. It’s a bit disconcerting riding through them because they have ditches on either side with running water and of course, there isn’t any light. Bike lights or head lamps are needed to see at all, and ours weren’t that bright, but we did fine. The ride up seems long, and the tunnel is fun and just scary enough to be a bit exciting. We waited for the family, who didn’t show up, and decided to start back down around 3pm. The ride down is blissful, a perfect descent with nothing steep enough to require hard braking and gorgeous views. We had the trail almost to ourselves. Between the 2 of us, I am the klutz, but Mo was fiddling with her headlamp while we were in one of the dark tunnels on and smashed head first into the craggy hard rock wall of the tunnel. It was an incredibly scary moment, when I heard her slight oomph, a quick epithet, and then a whack followed by the crunching sound of bikes and bones crashing. The whack was her helmet hitting the wall, hard. We are both incredibly grateful it wasn’t her head, but her body and shoulder took the rest of the impact and she is all banged up with that inner pain that indicates broken or cracked ribs.
Nothing much to do about that in the long run so after some debating she decided that the hospital would be a waste of time to get xrays and a prescription for something and admonitions to rest and not over exert. Don’t need an expensive and long emergency room visit to figure that one out! Mo was in a bit of shock I think, with pale face and green lips but she made it out the rest of the way, more than 9 miles on her bike. Good thing it was downhill! We encountered a couple of really nice women on the trail, and one was an RN so she checked Mo for a concussion, and they helped us out a bit. Nice. Once down, I drove the 3 hours back to Spokane and we settled in to camp, skipping the family get together up at Don’s. Mo slept on the sofa propped up with pillows and helped out by an emergency supply of pain pills supplied by her brothers. It wasn’t a fun ending to what started out as a really great day, but we both felt incredibly blessed and lucky that nothing was any worse than it was.