September 6 Broaden your horizons, with KFSL

Fossil, Oregon: Rain and 56 degrees F

We had big plans for today, following winding roads slipping through John Day Country, seeking out one of the more distant units of the John Day Fossil Beds.  Instead, this morning it is raining, and we are listening to….cowboy rap….bluegrass…blues…with a bit of jazz thrown in for good measure.  This is why people should travel, it broadens your horizons.  Not just those big city travel destination kind of horizons, but the small, not so backward farm town kind of horizons.more lightning made me jump

Where else could you eat your breakfast listening to someone sing about the joys of “Home Grown Tomatoes”, and then a gravelly crazy guy playing an incredible acoustic guitar while he talks about his therapist telling him “there’s something damaged and something missing” and his brain is stuck in the on position and he is stuck in his brain behind his face??  Then comes along a cowboy singing about his mother reading him the Bible.  scary thunderstorms coming at Fossil Wheeler County Fairgrounds

We could be home watching the news and doing a normal life, but instead we are in the Wheeler County Fairgrounds in the tiny town of Fossil, with only one available radio station, no TV, no internet, no phone even.  Instead, we get this great DJ with a great sense of humor, and a few home grown ads thrown in for KFSL radio, and Fossil Mercantile, locally owned and operated.  Where in the world does he find music like this?  pouring rain, thunder and lightning, and sunshine at the Wheeler County Fairgrounds in Fossil

It is raining and gray today.  The road to Fossil yesterday, along another Oregon Scenic Byway, Journey Through Time, however, was bright and clear once we left the Cascades behind us.  There are a couple of ways to get to the John Day Fossil Beds, and when planning this trip, I discovered that no matter where we stayed, no matter how we navigated our visit, there would be lots of backtracking.the road to Clarno and Fossil

It seemed that Fossil, and the Wheeler County Fairgrounds would be a good starting point, so we routed up Highway 97 17 miles beyond Madras, to turn east toward Fossil on a less traveled road than the easier Highway 26 route to John Day.  The road was fine, narrow, winding, with lots of ups and downs and more than a few drop offs that always make this passenger a bit testy.toward Fossil (10)

Mo is a great driver, and in my head I know things are fine, but that doesn’t stop the adrenaline from running and the body from tensing up as I look at the no shoulder cliffs right below me in the passenger seat.  I would rather drive than ride on these kinds of roads, but it was a Mo driving Day.toward Fossil (15)

Last night we had wild thunderstorms to accompany our return drive to the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds.  We passed by earlier in the day, deciding that we would return the 20 miles or so to hike after we settled into the fairgrounds.  I was hoping for that great sunset light that makes for non-ordinary photos.Day 3 John Day_001DSC_0001

The Wheeler County Fairgrounds are up on a hill above the tiny town, and we have a view of the surrounding hills, two beautiful white church steeples out the windows and an American flag flying high above the field below us.  There is an empty trailer next door, and another one down the way, our only other neighbors in this 12 spot campground.  There are plain envelopes at the old wooden kiosk to use for depositing your 25 fee in the box.  It says 3 bucks to dump and 3 bucks to use the bathrooms, but we won’t need either.  Our site has electric, water, and sewer. Day 3 John Day_002DSC_0002

Yesterday, when we arrived, it was 98 degrees and we were happy to have the air conditioning to cool things down for Jeremy before we drove back to the Clarno beds.  The storm was incredibly black, and we looked at each other thinking…hmmm…a hike?  Not so sure I want to hike in a thunderstorm, but we decided to give it a try anyway.the mud flow lahar created Palisade Cliffs, filled with fossils

On the way, we thought it might be nice to try a back road instead of retracing our path along 218, but the road was hidden and unmarked, and I missed it.  It was a good thing I did.  Another mile down the highway I saw a guy walking across the road to his barn and stopped to ask him where Stone Cabin Road might be.  He laughed, and said, “I have seen that Gazateer map twice now, and it’s wrong.  That was the road back there and it is a dead end.”  He turned out to be a great guy, owning a juniper log mill, and is the one who did the gorgeous posts on the shelters at the Clarno Beds parking area.juniper logs at the Clarno unit picnic area

He also showed us another side route along Cottonwood Creek where we could go up and down the mountains and see elk and bobcat and something different as we wound our way back to 218.  We checked out our planned route to the Painted Hills Unit portion of the monument with him and were happy to find that in fact, it really went through.  Always nice to check with the locals, especially friendly ones.Up Cottonwood Creek road and back down to 218

We didn’t see any elk or bobcats, but did see a large group of big mule deer. By the time we intersected again with the highway, the rain was coming down in earnest.  Then it started pouring, and as I rounded a curve it looked literally like someone was dumping a giant bucket of water on the road in front of me.  I don’t think I have driven through that kind of rain in a long time. OK then, we are going to hike in the Clarno Beds unit…the pouring rain stopped just for us at the Clarno Unit

I have no idea how this happens for us, but when we got to the parking area, the rain let up.  Then it stopped completely and there was even a bit of bright light to illuminate the gorgeous palisades.we tried for a sunset photo but the weather didn't cooperate

Just heard this as I am writing accompanied by music and words I have never heard before. “With 100 watts of antenna melting power, KFSL, spanning the expanse from Butte Creek to something or other Summit” .  Then after this little ditty, comes another saying “KFSL, a non profit  radio station supported by donations from….”  OK Then, they never said public radio, but this seems to me to be the very best use of public not for profit radio, a small town where radio would be non existent without it.  So far there hasn’t been a speck of news or even a weather report.  Hmmmm.

no real sunset, but gorgeous stormy skiesBack to our visit to the Clarno Beds.  With no rain in sight, and thunder in the far distant north, we took off on the short Trail of the Fossils, where the signs indicated that with each step we were crossing about 37,000 years.  We traveled back in geologic time to 50 million years ago, when the area was a thick lush tropical forest, much like what is found in Panama now.  Fossils of more than 300 species of plants have been found here, including nuts and berries. The Clarno Nut Beds and The Hancock Mammal Quarry are the highlights of the Clarno Unit, but neither of these areas are yet open to the public.  What?  Mo is enjoying the trail

Ah well, the short hike to the Palisades was beautiful and interesting.  There are actually three short trails in the area south of the Palisades, but we decided against climbing the slippery rocky trail up to the base of the arch in the cliffs.  The huge lightning strike just across the valley had a lot to do with that decision as well.  I know if you even hear thunder it is time to seek shelter, and shelter was a long way back to the car.  At least our hair wasn’t standing on end, but the more I read about lightning, the less I like being out in it.  another huge sideways bolt of lightning in that black cloud over the right side hill

We got back to the car just in time to miss the downpour.  How lucky is that?!  And I didn’t get struck by lightning either.  Winding back along highway 218 to Fossil we had a bit better understanding of the lay of the land.  With the ups and downs and winding roads it is very easy to get disoriented here.  Obviously, the maps don’t always tell the story, either. 

hunting for more fossils in the rocksIt was a great day, and I can tell from this morning’s entertainment, this day will be great as well, whether it rains or not.  We adjusted our plans from hiking in the Painted Hills Unit to driving south toward the Sheep Rock Unit where we can spend some time in the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center.

Next: Sheep Rock Unit and some great hikes

September 5 Mackenzie Pass Magic

Cloudy and 58 degrees

We are probably 42, but what the heck, we have done worse roads I am sureI woke up on this cloudy morning wondering what happened to all the stars I saw during the night, but it was still warm enough we didn’t need any heat in the rig to be comfortable.  My back felt great!  We took our time with a simple breakfast and turned on the generator.  No worries, not another soul in the campground to be disturbed by us, even at 7 AM! 

Our planned route for the day was over Highway 126, toward the Historic Mackenzie Pass Road, and into the sunny eastern part of Oregon at Fossil.  Daughter Deanna and her husband Keith took a break from truck driving recently to take the Harleys out of storage and do a road trip from Tri-Cities to Eugene.  They traveled over Mackenzie Pass and Deanna warned me that there was a 35 foot total limit on rigs going over that road.

AWe weren't expecting the flashing lights as we passed.  They aren't fooling around here and we set off all the alarmsI thought, no problem, we have been over this route before.  I was wrong, however.  We haven’t been on this road in the MoHo.  Nothing seemed familiar.  Sure enough, as we turned onto the historic road 242, more signs warned of the 35 foot limit. We are just over 44 feet total from bumper to bumper with the Tracker hooked up, but we thought, “No problem, we have been on far worse roads, I am sure”

guess it is time to unhookWell, so much for that!  As we continued up the road, we came to another open gate and a very large sign with very bright blinking lights that notified us, “OVERLENGTH VEHICLE DETECTED!!”  Capitals intentional, that sign was doing everything but yelling.  Okay then.  We thought maybe it might be a good idea to unhook before continuing over the Mackenzie Pass Highway.  This is one of the reasons that we chose a motorhome instead of a truck and fiver, we can unhook and BOTH parts of our setup can be driven in tight situations.  Has worked out in the past for us, and it worked out again today.

It was a gorgeous drive, deep and dark under the overcast skies, with forest thick and lush as any you might find in the rain forest.  The pavement was surprisingly perfect, with brand new yellow lines, but of course, no shoulders.  Our dual tires just fit between the center line and the edge of the road, and yes, there were a few places where the Tracker may have been a bit too much.  But I still think we would have made it OK.  Monitor Pass from California down to 395 was much more difficult, and we didn’t encounter any over-length signs on that road at all.  Still, it is good to follow the rules most of the time at least.Mackenzie Pass historic road

Once near the summit, we encountered huge lava flows and distant view of Belknap Crater across the black expanse. Since I was driving the baby car, I stayed behind to take photos while Mo continued to the summit.  Mackenzie Pass historic road Belknap Crater in the distance

Another huge surprise on this road that we never drove before was the Dee Wright mountain observatory built by the CCC in the 30’s.  I’ll let the photos tell the story. 

mountain ash growing out of the lava flowThe observatory is beautiful, and even on the slightly overcast day, we could see most of the mountains through the labeled portals inside the observatory.  I think that the legacy of what the CCC created is one of our greatest treasures.  It saddens me that today we can’t manage to do anything of this magnitude with our tax money. 

another amazing CCC accomplishment

the CCC built mountain observatory at the summit of Mackenzie Passthe CCC built mountain observatory at the summit of Mackenzie PassSue and Mo at the CCC built mountain observatory at the summit of Mackenzie PassThe Observatory is right at the summit of the pass, and the narrow road continues down and east toward Sisters.  I followed along in the Tracker, waiting for an opportune moment to hook back up, and was surprised that it was a very short time before we were actually in Sisters, where we pulled over and hooked up the car to continue east toward Redmond.  Hi again, Loree!  Once again we are in Redmond and you are still traveling back home from your journey east.  Eventually we are going to get together! not time to hook up yet

Next post: Highway 126 to 97 to 293 to 218 to Fossil Oregon and the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument