05-19-2021 We Escaped the Snow…Mostly

When we went to bed after that gorgeous sunset we were in a bit of a quandary as to what to do.  The internet was iffy, and I had a hard time getting weather apps to show current information.  All I could see was the giant blue severe weather warning over most of the area we planned to explore on Wednesday.  It wasn’t encouraging.  There was always the chance that it was being over predicted, something that happens often.  Then again, driving the MoHo down the winding mountain road out of the snow zone didn’t sound good if the 5 inches predicted actually happened.  The 20F degree prediction for Thursday morning didn’t sound particularly good either. 

We were reasonably certain that the main snow event would hold off until Wednesday evening, so went to sleep without much worry about snow the next morning, but where did we want to be when it happened?  Did we want to simply give up and run home?  NO!  Did we want to try to run as far as Farewell Bend on the other side of Crater Lake?  Hmm, MAYBE.  Looking up the sketchy weather for Farewell Bend wasn’t possible because the only locations that would come in on the weather apps were Prospect, at a lower elevation with a decent prediction for rain, or Crater Lake with a LOT of snow predicted.

Maybe we should just stay at the RV park in Summer Lake?  But with bad weather predicted for the next 5 days we really didn’t want to be trapped for that long. When we woke up to cloudy skies and a tiny skiff of snow Wednesday morning, we made the decision.  We would drive the 5 miles east into the Summer Lake area to check for birds at the refuge before returning to the MoHo for a good breakfast. 

With the overcast skies and spitting rain and snow I didn’t bother to take the big camera, depending on the phone to document what I thought would be a rather boring quick trip around the refuge loop.  Big mistake!  My Samsung Galaxy Note20 does an excellent job with most photos, especially in good light, or even sketchy light.  However, zoomed in photos of birds are just a bit too tough even for the great phone camera. 

Mo drove and wouldn’t you know that all the good bird shots were on her side of the car.  As most people who watch birds know, staying in the car is the only way they stay around, with the car working as a great blind.  So Mo would drive, try to roll down the window, take the phone and try to focus.  We finally figured out that she could hold the phone and I could click the stylus to take the photo.  Then Mo would roll the window back up because it was so dang cold, and of course, another bird would appear.

We had a good time anyway, laughing sometimes and grumbling at each other at other times.  The water levels were low, and the numbers of birds seemed low, although it is a bit late for the big migrations.  We were a bit astounded at the variety, however, spotting lots of blackbirds, red winged and yellow headed, ruddy ducks, Canada geese with babies, a beautiful pair of sandhill cranes, with a dancing male.  As we drove deeper into the refuge, beyond the campgrounds, we began to see black necked stilts with their bright pink legs and the gorgeous avocets that we remembered from our last trip to Summer Lake a few years ago.  We saw a single swan in the distance, too far to determine which species it was, but as always the swan was beautifully graceful.

By the time we completed the viewing loop at the north end of the refuge it was getting close to 11AM and we were chilled to the bone.  Home to the MoHo and a nice big breakfast with eggs and bacon and toast and juice, a real treat when traveling.

As we were getting ready to pack up, a car appeared with two women we had seen the day before at one of the information kiosks.  They were looking for the rock. They had been up the trail and had been fooled by the fake mountain goat scratched into a smaller rock along the trail. We told them how to find the real one.  Shortly after that another car with a young couple showed up looking for the rock as well, and we told them about the trail and to be sure to look on the upside of the trail to find it.

By the time the slide was in and the jacks raised we had determined that our next stop would be La Pine State Park.  Mo took me there one time when we were visiting her brother when he lived in La Pine but we had never actually camped there.  It was only a bit over an hour away via Highway 31 toward Highway 97 and the road was wide and easy except for some rather horrific frost heaves on the pumice plateau that just about rattled us to death.

Once at the park, we first attempted to find a site in the upper north loop, where there was electric only.  We didn’t need sewer so thought it would be fine.  We attempted to settle into the rather narrow and unlevel site since there weren’t many available until we started to hook up the power.  Um…wait….20 amp?  On a very old post??  I think not!!  Not if we are paying rather than boondocking, we wanted to at least be able to run the microwave without turning everything else off. 

We retraced the entrance road and continued to the Middle and South Loop, where nearly every site was taken, but at least the few available had 30 and 50 amp hookups and the sites were paved and very level.  We picked one and settled in, grousing about the dreary skies, the complete lack of not only internet, but even a cell phone signal!  Neither of us was exactly happy with where we were.  The forest was thick second growth lodgepole with some skinny scattered ponderosa pine and everything was so flat and gray.  There wasn’t a bit of a view and the park was very crowded. It was disconcerting to discover that we had only a tiny bit of signal, enough for a text message but no access to any kind of internet, email, or maps.  It certainly wasn’t what we had envisioned for our desert trip, and as the snow flurries started falling it made it even less fun when we couldn’t track the weather to figure out what to expect.  We settled in, both of us a bit grumpy, which doesn’t happen very often.  After talking it out a bit, we decided to get in the car and try to explore the flat, featureless landscape and see what in the world people did when they visited La Pine State Park.

With just a short ride, we found the Dan MacGregor memorial overlooking a lovely trail on a wide bow in the Deschutes River.  With the sun appearing once again and the beautiful view of the river our mood began to improve considerably.  Mo had camped at a forest service campground a few miles back toward La Pine and on the road that goes to Paulina Lake.  Deciding to drive to that campground to check it out, we discovered a locked gate and a closed campground.  Not sure why it was closed, but I am glad we hadn’t planned on staying there for the night.

The night was surprisingly quiet considering how full the campground was.  I slept a bit fitfully, unsure of what the next day might bring.  The snow flurries continued throughout the night, but by morning they were gone and lo and behold the sun was shining. 

On the previous day I had photographed a map of the park with some locations that might be interesting to explore.  When we checked into the park, there was only a simple map of the campground and not a single map or brochure about the area.  Without the internet, we were basically following our noses, so I was glad I had photographed that park map. 

We drove north and found the road leading toward “Falls”, a dot on the map.  What we found was a magnificent surprise tucked away on that flat, featureless pumice plain covered with lodgepole and ponderosa.  Fall River was gorgeous, a well known river for fly fishing, but on this cold sunny morning there wasn’t a soul in sight.  We followed the trail to the Falls, not exactly sure how far it was, and as Mo asked me if I had any idea how much farther we needed to hike, both of us began to hear the roar of the falls.

It was lovely.  Brilliant in the sunshine and surrounded by thick blooming bitterbrush and grass still green from the winter.  In spite of our misgivings from the previous afternoon about La Pine State Park, the walk along the Deschutes River and the hike to Fall River Falls made a huge difference in our opinion of the place.  We might decide to rent one of the cabins with a nice RV hookup area to visit next year with our friends Maryruth and Gerald.  Just 20 miles south of Bend and not far from the Newberry Crater there would be lots to share in the area and Maryruth said they would love to rent the cabin. 

By the time we left the campground at noon or so, the snow flurries had disappeared but there were huge black clouds on the horizon.  Once we reached Highway 97 and I had cell service again, I discovered that we could expect more snow along our route to Farewell Bend west of the pass that is north of Crater Lake where we hiked last summer on our camping trip on the Rogue.

On that trip we discovered a sweet little boondocking camp site at Muir Creek, a tributary of the Rogue.  Mo wanted to see if that spot was open for us, so we set our sights for the Muir Creek Bridge.  It snowed on us a couple of times but by the time we drove in, the skies were a gorgeous blue.  There is a trailhead that is on the west side of the creek with a large parking area with room to turn around.  We parked there, unhooked the Tracker, and returned to the east side of the creek bridge to explore the campsite area.

We were thrilled to find it completely empty of campers, quiet and beautiful, and easily accessible with the MoHo.  Having scoped out the best location, we returned for the MoHo and brought her back to what I now think may have been an even better boondocking site than our previous amazing spot at Pictured Rock Pass.

Our camping spot was a perfect dream of whispering forest, gurgling creek, brilliant sunshine and blue skies.  Until it rained.  But between the rain and snow showers, the sun was warm and Mo built a beautiful fire in one of the nicest firepits we have ever seen. 

We sat outside in the afternoon sun with our kindles by the fire, reading till a shower ran us indoors, and then returning to the fire when the sun came back.  Mo had only to step out the door to keep the fire going.

I hadn’t planned on dinners for this 4th night, and we thought about driving the 24 mile round trip to Beckie’s Cafe in Union Creek.  It seemed like such a waste of precious time in the sunshine with our books so we made do.  Dinner was tuna sandwiches and pickles and was perfect.

There was no need to close any of the blinds or cover the windshield here, since there wasn’t a soul around.  The night was dark, and snow and rain came and went, but I was delighted to see that there was no snow on the ground when we woke.  Funny thing happened when I looked out the front windshield and did a double take.  It looked exactly like we were crossing the creek in the MoHo.  Our front fender was less than 4 feet from the edge of the water, but from inside it looked exactly like we were in it.

I have no idea if this perfect boondock site will remain as perfect as it was for us on this weekday in May.  Last year there was a tent and a trailer there when we visited in August.  I also have no idea if the huge crowds of RVrs that are inundating almost every available site in the west will find our two perfect boondocks, one in the desert and another in the mountains.  All I know is that for us everything was completely absolutely perfect!

The final leg of our trip home the next morning was just under two hours of familiar highway roads via the Rogue River route along Highway 62, crossing the Sam’s Valley on Highway 234 from Shady Cove to Gold Hill, and along Interstate 5 toward home.  The skies at home cleared enough that we did our usual quick unloading of the rig, putting the food away, piling laundry into the laundry room, and letting the rest of the MoHo cleaning wait for the next day.

We managed to fill up 5 days and 4 nights with a LOT.  It took me several days to process the photos, and several more days to write the stories.  Hope my readers enjoy it as much as I have, but at least Mo and I won’t have to question which day we did what.  Thank goodness for the blog to force me to write it down so that we remember.



05-18-2021 Exploring Oregon’s Outback Scenic Byway

We have traveled parts of the Outback Scenic Byway in the past, but on this trip had a specific set of sites that we wished to see.  Our original plan was to do most of our exploring on Tuesday, but with so much to see we were grateful that we found “Crack-in-the-Ground” on Monday afternoon.  Even so, Tuesday was so full that we had to repeatedly ask ourselves…”Wait…did we do that today or yesterday?”  Yes, we did a LOT on Tuesday.

Knowing we had miles to travel and hikes to find, we were back on Highway 31 by 8:30 AM.  The Tracker was on half a tank of fuel and we wanted to be prepared for anything.  Returning west on the highway to Silver Lake we found the only gas station for miles in either direction.  Leaving Silver Lake we were treated to a wonderful reminder of the dominant lifestyle in this part of Oregon.  Most of the landscape is home to cattle ranches large and small.  Seeing “real” cowboys herding cattle down the middle of the road is rare in many places, but not near Silver Lake.

Continuing north toward “Hole-in-the-Ground” I was grateful that I had downloaded the local google maps to the phone.  It isn’t an easy place to find!  There are no local signs, no directions to speak of, and Mo’s little travel book didn’t help much. 

“Hole-in-the-Ground” is a large maar, an explosion crater caused by red hot magma surging upwards under the Earth’s crust until contacting groundwater. The resulting explosion blew rock and ash into a perfect circle, one mile across. There is a drivable rim road around and two trails down to the center.

From Wikipedia: It is about 1.0 mile (1,600 m) across, a little longer N-S than E-W.[2] Its floor is about 150 meters (490 ft) below the surrounding ground level and has a rim that rises 35 to 65 meters (110 to 210 ft) above, the highest point on the east side. The crater formed during the late Pleistocene, between 13,500 and 18,000 years ago, at which time the Fort Rock Basin was a lake and the location was near the shore. Basaltic magma intruding near the surface flashed ground water to steam, which blew out overlying rock and soil, along with some juvenile material. As material slid into the hole formed, it closed the vent and the process repeated, eventually forming the huge hole.[3] Blocks as large as 26 feet (8 m) in size were flung as far as 2.3 miles (3.7 km) from the crater.[4]

Following google maps, we found a road that appeared to lead northeast toward the crater.  The route suggested ended at a large gate.  We were at the entrance to the Outpost Camp with no clue as to how to get beyond the private land to our location. 

The blue line is one of the suggested routes by Google and the red line is the route we actually found on our own. Zooming in on Google Maps was a bit helpful, but I learned that downloaded maps are only as good as the resolution at which they were downloaded, so things were a bit fuzzy.  We managed to find our way to the edge of the crater without much difficulty.  As we approached the rim, it was amazing to see the crater below us.  Without knowing where it is location, there is no hint at how the featureless ponderosa pine landscape is going to change.

We explored a bit and decided that making an attempt to 4-wheel down into the crater would be fun.  The road was narrow and fairly steep, but the challenge was navigating the large pumice sand humps and deep dips.

Things looked a bit dicey, so I got out and walked the road a bit to see if it got better or worse.  It didn’t look too bad until I saw a big side sloping curve with a very deep sandy hump and decided, nope, not gonna do it!

Mo did the backing as I walked backwards up the steep hill making sure she wasn’t going over the edge.  Some of the humps were so deep that the top of the Tracker disappeared from view!.

Once at the edge of the Crater, we drove a bit along the rim road, and although fairly level, there were large rocks buried in the sandy pumice that Mo had to navigate carefully.  We found a treasure before turning around.

It was a beautiful campsite, with rocks and fences overlooking the crater and there was a birdhouse in a large tree in the center of the site.  If you look closely at the photo, you can see the memorial words for someone who must have loved the spot. “David E Hartley, Forever Enjoy the View”.

After enjoying the views and the drive we returned to Highway 31, turning east toward Fort Rock, another important destination for our visit.  We originally planned to visit Fort Rock on Thursday, when the Fort Rock Homestead Museum would be open.  Thinking better of that plan, we thought that we could visit the Rock this day to hike and see the surrounding area and then return on Thursday when we planned to return  to Grants Pass, passing by the museum location on our way home. 

The “You are here” point on this map is at the information kiosk where we learned about the local geology of the Fort Rock area.

Approaching Fort Rock from the west is fascinating.  It does look ever so much like an old fort.  However, it is simply another great geologic feature in this fascinating volcanic landscape.

Fort Rock is a small basaltic vent that formed a volcanic tuff ring when it first exploded to the surface about 100,000 years ago.  At the time, the surrounding landscape was an inland freshwater sea, up to 300 feet deep that resulted from melting glacial waters that flowed into the area.  Over thousands of years, wave action of the lake eroded the tuff ring’s southwest wall and left terraces along the front and insides of Fort Rock.

We parked at the trailhead and were happy to see that Mattie was allowed on leash on the short 1.2 mile trail that loops through the caldera.  The first part of the trail is a bit steep and rocky, but very quickly it levels out to a nice wide sandy trail with little change in elevation around the loop.

We enjoyed the fragrance of the prolifically blooming bitterbrush and the brilliant colors of Indian paintbrush tucked among the volcanic rocks. 

In some of the lower dips along the trail we found death camas and a tiny desert lily with at least 14 petals that I couldn’t identify or find in any book or on the internet.


The hike was beautiful and easy, with surprising twists and turns that allowed up close viewing of the vents and tuffaceous rocks formed in the explosion of the vent.

We enjoyed the views across the open desert with the brilliant green circle irrigated alfalfa fields in the distance.

By the time we finished our hike, it was still early in the afternoon and we decided to make an attempt to explore some of the back roads of the Fort Rock Area.  Google Maps was only a little bit of help as we attempted to reach the road to the Green Mountain campground from the opposite side that we had tried the previous day when we drove to Crack-In-The-Ground.  We also had our Gazetteer to help with navigation but the scale was a bit too small to help much.  Still, it is a good thing to have some kind of paper map when traveling these back roads where cell service comes and goes and even downloaded Google maps can be sketchy.

We never did make it to the Christmas Valley sand dunes, or the Lost Forest east of the community of Christmas Valley.  The information signs said specifically that high clearance 4 wheel drive vehicles were “ABSOLUTELY” required to navigate those back roads.

We made a few attempts to wander the roads, running into dirt, fences, and no trespassing signs, and some rough gravel before deciding that our adventures were over for the day and it was time to return to the MoHo.  Both of us were ready for a bit of afternoon down time and I looked forward to a late lunch and a snuggle nap with Mattie.

After some time relaxing, we decided that it might be fun to attempt to find the Pictured Rock Pass petroglyphs.  The location was just a little more than 5 miles east of our boondock location on Highway 31, between mile marker 63 and 64.  We were hunting for the marker (which we had missed) when we found a lovely dirt road leading to a beautiful open camp area, perfect for boondocking. Excitedly we drove in and decided to return back to our original site and pick up the MoHo to relocate to what appeared to be a perfect place to spend the night.  We figured we could settle in and then attempt once again to find the petroglyph site.

However, as we backtracked once to the site, we discovered that our dirt road leading to our new boondock location was the one we had missed the first time around.  We were right at the petroglyph site!  Unbelievably I had internet at this remote location and found the coordinates for the petroglyph on a website.  There are no signs pointing the way, and the coordinates are for the beginning of the trail, not the actual location of the rock.  I think this may be on purpose to discourage vandalism.

After a bit of hiking and hunting and wrong turns, we found the rock.  There is a “fake” petroglyph, obviously carved recently on a nearby boulder that could confuse people.  Once we found the actual ancient petroglyphs. we were so tickled and took photos of where the rock is in relation to the highway.  It faces the opposite direction and it is very easy to walk right past it without realizing that you are looking at it.

I have chosen not to post the coordinates of the rock that I took when we found it, or the photos pinpointing the exact location in order to adhere to the thought of protecting the site.  If interested, email me directly for the information .

The petroglyphs have been dated at between 7,500 to 10,000 years ago, when ancient peoples traveled this area. The famous Paisley Caves, which are from the same era of human habitation are not too far from this site.   Again, from Wikipedia:

The Paisley Caves complex is a system of four caves in an arid, desolate region of south-central Oregon, United States north of the present-day city of Paisley, Oregon. The caves are located in the Summer Lake basin at 4,520 feet (1,380 m) elevation and face to the west in a ridge of Miocene and Pliocene era basalts mixed with soft volcanic tuffs and breccias, from which the caves were carved by Pleistocene-era waves from Summer Lake. One of the caves may contain archaeological evidence of the oldest definitively-dated human presence in North America. The site was first studied by Luther Cressman in the 1930s.

Scientific excavations and analysis since 2002 have uncovered substantial new discoveries. These include materials with the oldest DNA evidence of human habitation in North America. The DNA, radiocarbon dated to 14,300 years ago, was found in subfossil human coprolites uncovered in the Paisley Five Mile Point Caves in south-central Oregon.[2] The caves were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.[3]

After our very rewarding hike, we settled into an even more rewarding evening at one of the better boondocking sites we have experienced. 

There was a lovely fire ring, and a beautiful sunset accompanied the perfect evening.  Marshmallows topped off the night before we retired.  Once again it was a dark and quiet night.

Checking the weather on the less than perfect internet was exciting.  We had planned to visit Summer Lake the next day, possibly camping at Ana Reservoir RV Park, or returning to our perfect boondock site.  The weather wasn’t cooperating, with 3 to 5 inches of snow and a winter weather warning for most of the area around Summer Lake, Christmas Valley, Silver Lake, and most of east central Oregon.

Now what?!


05-17-2021 May Trip to the Oregon High Desert

The high deserts of Eastern Oregon are beautiful, wide open and wild.  They are definitely not warm in winter, with cold winds and snow.  We knew that by mid May, however, the weather might cooperate with our need to camp in a wide open dry landscape with views that go on forever. 

Mo has a great little travel book for things to see and do in Oregon.  In that book she found some interesting things for us to explore. Something we haven’t done in the past is visit a place called “Crack-In-The-Ground”.  Located on a lava flow in an area east of La Pine and north of Klamath Falls, Crack-In-The-Ground is just one of several interesting places to visit.  Although Mo had seen Fort Rock located in the same vicinity, I have never been there, and Mo found another not well known spot called “Hole in the Ground”. 

Between our trip to the coast in April, and this little desert trip, Mo and I settled in at home to enjoy the lovely springtime weather here in Grants Pass.  I enjoy Fall, but my most favorite time of year at this time in my life is the technicolor spring of Southern Oregon.  What I call “green leaf day” happened this year on April 17, just before we left for our last outing to Nehalem State Park with the family. 

Even though we are only 300 feet higher in elevation than the Rogue River valley floor where downtown Grants Pass is located, our green leaf day is several days behind.  I can drive down to town and see leaves popping and back up the hill to our home, they still remain hidden. 

April is filled with daffodils, tulips, forsythia and flowering plums.  By the end of the month the crabapples, cherries and dogwoods are blooming.  In May the rhodies come out in full force, the lilacs bloom early in the month, and some of the most springtime lime green leaves are turning darker and greener.  That lime green moment is so ephemeral. 

In spite of all the lush green lawns and colorful flowers and trees, we miss the desert.  Not that I would want to live there, but we both love to travel to the deserts.  Usually we manage a trip south in January or February, but thanks to COVID that didn’t happen this year.  It didn’t seem very smart to travel to an area with high infection rates at that time.  From what I hear from fellow bloggers, the Arizona deserts were rather chilly and windy this year.  There wasn’t much of a flower bloom either, thanks to the ongoing drought. 

Planning our desert fix was fun, and I looked forward to dark, quiet desert nights with the smell of sage and juniper to accompany the brilliant starlite. We decided that we would attempt to spend three or four days boondocking in a part of Oregon we have traveled, but not spent a great deal of time visiting in depth. 

Leaving around 9 on Monday morning, we traveled east over the Cascades toward Rocky Point and Chiloquin where we fueled up, making sure we had enough fuel to boondock.  We only got caught with less than a quarter tank of gas once in our travels, many years ago attempting to boondock at Joshua Tree NP.  We know now to be extra certain that we have plenty of fuel before parking, or the generator will refuse to operate when there is less than a quarter tank of gas remaining in the MoHo.  I guess it is a smart safety feature so you don’t end up using all your fuel and then being stuck without gas out in the middle of nowhere.

It was early afternoon when we arrived at the junction of Highway 31 and Old Lake Road, which leads north into Christmas Valley and on to the “Crack-in-the-Ground ”.  I had reviewed the google maps extensively and was reasonably certain that were several nice wide dirt places in the road with old fire pits that would serve us well for a boondock site.  What I didn’t see was that the road leading to Crack in the Ground included a few miles of washboard gravel, and then some seriously rough dirt roads that required high clearance. 

We managed to unhook the Tracker to get turned around, and decided to travel back to the junction at Highway 31 where there was plenty of space for parking the MoHo before returning with the Tracker to the rough road north.

It was getting a bit late in the afternoon when we finally made it to the trailhead for Crack-in-the-Ground .  Warm temperatures and clear skies made for great walking and Mattie got to run off leash.  There was a single car in the parking area but we never saw the occupants, no doubt they were hiking deep into the crack.

Crack-in-the-Ground is a volcanic fissure originally formed during an eruption in a lava field dated between 12,000 and 700,000 years ago, give or take a few. The fissure is nearly 2 miles long and averages about 30 feet deep, but in some places is as deep as 70 feet.  We read that the trail is “great” with only 70 feet or so of elevation throughout. The trail to the fissure was just a quarter mile or so, but once we arrived at the “Crack”  we were a bit daunted by the complex jumble of boulders at the entrance.

Mo decided it was a bit too much for her weak knee and ankle, so waited at the top with Mattie while I attempted to explore a bit deeper.  Even with both walking sticks, my crazy weak legs couldn’t handle the big step drops at the bottom of the crack. 

Still, I got down far enough to get a few photos and experience how dark and spooky it could be to hike the entire two miles with no way out except back.  There are bats and other critters down there, and I heard some strange screeching. 

In days past, Mo and I would have hiked that trail, but lately our rock clambering abilities have been severely limited.  Still, it was a great thing to see, even just walking along the top and looking down.  Very nearly impossible to photograph since the crack was so dark and the sunlight at the top was so very bright. 

It was great to walk in the dry sage and juniper desert.  Mattie was so very excited at this first outing that we had to keep a close eye on her, because she wanted to run ahead and stick her head into whatever smelly hole in the ground caught her fancy.  Not good, even if is wasn’t a snake, getting bitten by some other kind of critter wouldn’t be a good thing for her.  Mo finally had to put her on the leash for the last bit of the walk.

At the parking area there is a vault toilet, and plenty of space where I had thought we might camp if we had been able to get the MoHo back on that road.  I read later that RV camping isn’t allowed there.  We had no desire to brave six more miles of rough road to the BLM campground farther north at Green Mountain. 

By the time we got back to the MoHo parked at the site along the highway, the road crews were gone, the big rig that had been parked there earlier in the day had departed, and we had the entire wide open area completely to ourselves.  Even at this remote site I still had Verizon cell service and was able to get some internet to check weather for the next few days.  Things were going to shift, but at least we knew for sure that we had one more day of warm sunshine to explore in the desert.

Home again, Gone again, Home again

Rocky Point, Oregon partly cloudy and 51 degrees F

I think anyone who travels knows about the “getting ready to leave” feeling.  Energy is high, plans are coming together, dates filling in with routes, new roads are calling, or old roads are waiting.  Since we don’t full-time travel, there is also the energy of “coming home”.  Like a horse to the barn, I am, and that going home thing sometimes gets in the way of seeing all I might see on the route. Abert Lake on 395

But not this time.  On our way home from Magical Joseph, we took a long meandering route through parts of Oregon not yet traveled.  Once back in Rocky Point, I caught up on the blog (almost), whipped up a quilt top for my sister, had a great visit with a fellow retired soil scientist, was treated to a fabulous dinner at Wes and Gayle’s next door, and then in only 10 days we were on the road again.  And this time I didn’t even take a computer with me!  Oh dear…thank goodness for the photos.

I guess it really IS a good thing that I am no longer employed, since I would have been off work anyway with the government shutdown, and who has time to work anyway.

route home But back to the beginning, the route home from Joseph. I am sitting here at my desk looking out on the dusky evening light, trying very hard to slip back in time so I can actually feel what I am writing about, because as often happens, on that last run home, I didn’t have a moment to even keep a note.  I keep thinking of Erin, who is posting little teasers from her Greenland and Iceland adventures, and I just hope that she has time to write while traveling.  How in the world can anyone keep track of such adventures?!

Then of course there is Sherry, who posts such beautifully illustrated stories of their hikes and kayak adventures, and like me, is usually posting about what happened a week or so in the past.  And Nina, fabulous Nina of Wheeling It,  who writes so eloquently about their travels, does superb campground reviews, and posts well researched blogs about all sorts of pertinent subjects.

So…what was I saying?  Oh yes….back to the photos….and the map. 

overnight at Hilgard Junction State Park Leaving Joseph in early afternoon, with only a little over 80 miles to our next destination, we weren’t in any big hurry.  Back near the interstate at La Grande, we found a WalMart for some groceries and were amazed at how hot it was at 5PM.  Sure wouldn’t want to be boondocking in THAT parking lot, although it is a place where overnight parking is allowed. 

Instead we traveled a few miles northwest on I-84 to Hilgard Junction State Park.  We knew there would be no hookups, but the tall cottonwoods were shady and the evening was cooling off, so with the windows open and the fan going, everything was just perfect.

turn around at the Ritter Hot Springs roadCovered wagons on the Oregon Trail were hoisted down the nearby hill, and there is a nice little kiosk at the park with stories of the pioneer travelers.  It was a restful stop, with the Grande Ronde River flowing adjacent to the campground.  The water wasn’t deep enough for Abby to even get over her knees, but she still enjoyed splashing around a bit.  There are 18 primitive sites at the campground, right off the freeway, but the noise didn’t bother us much since the freeway is elevated and the sound didn’t come down much.  It wouldn’t be a destination campsite for sure, but it was a great overnight for just 9 bucks.

We took our time the next morning, and continued west along highway 244, a very winding but lovely road with no traffic at all.  Even after we intersected with Highway 395 the traffic was light, with truck length limits keeping the truck traffic level low.  Not a problem for the MoHo at all, all the way to John Day and Clyde Holiday State Park where we thought we might spend the night.  Just off 395 is a narrow side road to Ritter and the site of Ritter Hot Springs, but it was a bummer to find the springs closed for the “season” and a gate across the old road.  We were just glad we had managed to find a place to turn the MoHo around at least.

Canyon City OregonWhen we reached Clyde Holiday, it was too early in the day to really want to stop, and with plenty of water and charged batteries we thought it would be better to boondock somewhere.  Turning south from John Day, we visited the little town of Canyon City, another gold story of course, and then meandered up the hill to the west of Strawberry Mountain to the Starr National Forest Campground.  (good thing the government wasn’t closed back then!)

Starr Campground FS on 395 Starr was interesting, with several sites and no one at all in the campground.  You know how that is when there are too many choices, we drove around a bunch trying to decide which one before settling in to the most level spot.  The campground is near the road, but road noise was again not a problem.  I guess 395 isn’t too busy this time of year, at least on this section.

I have heard of the Strawberry Mountains for years, and looking at the map, we found a road that circled the wilderness.  It was just long enough for a good drive in the baby car with views of the mountains, and the headwaters of the John Day River.  We even found a beautiful campground that would be a nice place to stay to hike the wilderness and bike some very nice mountain biking trails nearby. So many places, so many hikes.  I would love to go back someday and hike into the beautiful lakes in these mountains.

The next day we continued south along the 395 corridor, and discovered more little towns and one amazing huge ranch.  The highway bisects the ranch, and once I had internet I had to look it up.  What a story!  The Silvies Valley was beautiful and reading about the history of the ranch, how it started with an old Oregon family more than 100 years ago, was lost to California developers and went bankrupt twice, and is now back in the loving care of an Oregon family made my heart sing.  Check out the Silvies Valley Ranch website!   circling the Strawberry Wilderness

Once we passed Burns and turned south toward Lakeview, the landscape was oh so familiar.  This is the part of 395 we both have traveled many times, separately and together, and still the desert views are incredibly gorgeous.  Even with the overhanging clouds, briny Lake Abert was beautiful.

Hunters RV Park Lakeview Then in Lakeview we did something almost unheard of.  Just 2.5 hours from home, we decided to camp overnight.  A bit north of town is the Hunter Hot Spring Resort, once home to the only active geyser in Oregon.  Right next to the resort is the Hunters RV Park.  Do NOT make the mistake of thinking the two places are related!  If you call the resort they won’t even give the phone number of the RV park, saying instead,  “I have a room I could rent for you”

I wasn’t interested in a room, but I did want to try out the springs.  We settled in with the evening rain at the RV park with full hookups and cable tv while I walked across the field to the hot spring resort.  For $8. you can relax in the pool, but as the RV park owner said to me, check it out first.  Sometimes it is clean, other times not so much.  It was clean enough for me, though, and while not a natural spring pool, at least there aren’t any chemicals in the water and it is refreshed often by the spring.

Hunters Hot Spring Lakeview Oregon Nicest experience for me at the spring was enjoying the company of a young geologist working in the area and staying at the resort.  We talked for a long time while soaking, and I learned of the problems with all the hot springs and pools in Lakeview, and about the threat to the springs from the proposed geothermal plants in the area.  I know geothermal energy is supposed to be a good thing, but I have no idea how to resolve the environmental issues that come with the big geothermal plants.

Save Hunter Hot Springs

It was a great idea to stop for the night and relax rather than rushing home.  When we arrived late morning the next day we were rested and refreshed and ready to tackle the unloading and laundry chores that always seem to be a big part of coming home. 

Next up:  We go camping with friends AND I get to meet Nina at Harris Beach State Park!

Winter Ridge and Summer Lake and John C Fremont

Home in Rocky Point: partly cloudy and breezy with 80% chance of rain, 64 F high, 34 F low:

4d8ec1305636e.imageThe photo at left was taken from an internet site.  The photos below are all mine.  We stood in the same place but as you can see in the monument photo, it was clouded in.

I have a book I bought several years ago in California, it is big and heavy and isn’t available on the Kindle.  But after seeing the John C. Fremont monument at Fremont Point Overlook on Winter Ridge, I had to go dig it out and read. The book is “Memoirs of My Life, by John C Fremont, Explorer of the American West.” It was on the second expedition after leaving the Tlamath Indians (Klamath Lake) during mid-December of 1843 in a snowstorm that this amazing explorer wrote these words:

We made it to the overlook, but it was completely shrouded in clouds “….toward noon the forest looked clear ahead, appearing suddenly to terminate; and beyond a certain point we could see no trees.  Riding rapidly ahead to this spot, we found ourselves on the verge of a vertical and rocky wall of the mountain.  At our feet – more than a thousand feet below – we looked into a green prairie country, in which a beautiful lake, some twenty miles in length, was spread along the foot of the mountains, its shores bordered with green grass.  just then the sun broke out among the clouds, and illuminated the country below, while around us the snow storm raged fiercely.  Not a particle of ice was to be seen on the lake, or snow on its borders, and all was like summer or spring.  The glow of the sun in the valley below brightened up our hearts with sudden pleasure; and we made the woods ring with joyful shouts to those behind; and gradually, as each came up, he stopped to enjoyed the unexpected scene.  Shivering on snow three feet deep, and stiffening in a cold north wind, we exclaimed at once that the names of Summer Lake and Winter Ridge should be applied to these two proximate places of such sudden and violent contrast”

morning storms near Plush OregonFremont and his men still had to find a way down from the ridge to the lake below, and in the process rode several miles north and still had a mule roll over and over several hundred feet into a ravine, but “he recovered himself, without injury, other than to his pack”.

 snow and hail ahead driving south on the Plush Cutoff road toward Highway 140 We drove from Plush to Summer Lake in heavy rain and hail storms, and arrived at the campground happy to be protected from the wind and rain.  Our campground host at the Ana Reservoir RV Park has to be one of the nicest we have encountered.  He met us at the entrance in the rain, and talked our ears off before leading us to a nice pull through site at the upper end of the campground.   We settled in, relaxed into the afternoon and decided that it was a good time to catch up on blogs and email since we again had a signal with the Verizon Mi-Fi.  In this area Verizon works fairly well and ATT is just about useless.  So no phone, but at least a slow internet connection gave us some catch up time. 

Ana Reservoir RV ParkOur evening entertainment consisted of a walk around the campground viewing the very few other rigs that were there, and making sure we did each loop.  The reservoir is down the hill a ways and we didn’t see any route down from the campground and with the threatening storms, decided that exploring on foot wasn’t on our agenda for the evening. Mo had finished her book and we thought maybe the little community of Summer Lake just three miles back might have something around for her to read.  We found the Summer Lake Lodge, all closed up, and the Refuge Wildlife Loop, an 8.5 mile drive on soggy roads through the wetlands. Silly me, I had thought we were just going to find a book and didn’t have the camera with me that first evening, but we enjoyed the little outing and the birds, even without the camera.

We then took advantage of the power hookups to watch a movie, “Dreamkeepers” about a young man on the Pine Ridge reservation who drives his grandfather to the All Nations PowWow in New Mexico.  I loved the movie, it was filmed in some beautiful locations, including the Black Hills, and the characters were real, not dressed up romanticized versions of the noble Native American.  Mo was less enthralled than I was with the “stories” that Grandfather told, but I loved all of it.  Especially the Coyote and Spider silliness.  It was great.

remnantws of the tool Box fire in 2002 The next morning we woke to stormy skies and rain after hard rain and wind for most of the night.  We really wanted to see Fremont Point, and knew that the 18 mile trip on FS gravel roads might yield nothing but clouds, but it was still worth a try.  The road leaves Highway 31 just a few miles north of Summer Lake, and travels up the beautiful Winter Ridge area of the Fremont National Forest.  I also noticed that Highway 31 is called the Fremont Highway.  No wonder! 

hard to tell if there is actual water in Summer Lake from this elevation Traveling through huge old ponderosa forests higher into thick fir, we came to large burn areas left from the Tool Box Fire Complex that raged through in 2002, the same year that fires all over Oregon including the Biscuit fire on the southwest side burned more than 200,000 acres.  Amazingly, I had five bars on my Verizon iPad and managed to navigate the fog and cloud shrouded roads to the overlook.  As we imagined, the point was completely clouded in, and we could only see that there was nothing, just nothing, beyond the rocks at the edge of the cliff.  I took the first photo at the beginning of this post from internet images to show what we would have seen if it had been clear. At the edge of the cliff there used to be an old cabin, once the residence for lookout personnel,  that the Fremont National Forest would rent for overnight stays.  It was destroyed in the fire, and now volunteers are rebuilding another cabin at the same location. 

forest road 29 toward Summer lake We decided that a loop route would be more fun than backtracking and with the help of the BLM map, the iPad, and the gazateer, we managed to find our way south through the forest to the Government Harvey Camp Road that led down the steep escarpments to the southern end of Summer Lake.  Looking down on the lake from the ridge when the skies opened up a bit was fascinating.  The lake is so shallow and the bottom is white, and we couldn’t actually see where there was real water or just white mud.  Someday I do have to go back and see the view from Fremont Point.

interior of the bath house and the spring poolNot far east from our intersection with the Fremont Highway was the Summer Lake Hot Spring Resort.  I think the word “resort” is used loosely, but there are basic cabins there and an old historic bath house built in 1927 to serve hot spring customers.  There is an inside pool, but it seemed kind of scummy and not that warm.  In addition there are three outside stone man made pools for soaking. 

  I stopped into the office and met the owner who said he would only charge me $5 to soak instead of the customary $10 fee, but there were a bunch of kids in the big pool and the stone pools I would have preferred were filled with soaking young couples.  It didn’t excite me, especially after my little dip at Hart Mountain, so I declined.  I can see that the outside pools would be nice if they were less crowded, and the fact that there is enough water exchange to not require any chemicals is a big plus.  The views toward Summer Lake were beautiful as well. Too many of these developed springs are adding chlorine to their pools.  Yuk.

the Summer Lake Hot Springs bath house, built in 1927 On the way back to camp, we decided that a good dinner at the well reviewed Summer Lake Lodge was in order since it was raining again and we didn’t really want to haul out the BBQ for the steaks I had thawed.  The place looked rustic and fun through the windows, and even though the CLOSED sign said they would be open at 5, no one showed up.  We talked to some couples who were staying in the cabins there and they were not happy that the restaurant wasn’t opening.  Later our camp host told us the owners were basically just burned out and had the place up for sale. 

low hanging rainbow over Summer Lake Refuge We decided to take another little tour on the wetland refuge road and try to get some photos in the rain of the campgrounds and the kayak launch on the Ana River.  The skies opened up just enough to be gorgeous, to give us a very different and beautiful rainbow, and we added another boondock site to our list.  It would be wonderful to camp here in late April or early May when the birds are here in force.  The nice thing is that being only 150 miles or so from home, we can decide to come on a moment’s notice when there is a break in the spring weather.

American avocets like brackish shallow water I must say the the Ana Reservoir RV Park was a surprise.  Not only because of Jay, our host, but everything was so spiffy and clean, with an open fresh feeling.  The second night we were there, most of the campers had left, since it seems that the park caters more to weekend types than full time RV’rs or retirees.  There are no lights except for a small bulb over the washrooms, which are locked and the skies were completely dark.  I think this may have been one of the quietest campgrounds ever.  During the night it felt like we were almost as alone as we had been in our boondock site near Plush!  If you are in the area and want some hookups I would highly recommend this little park.  Just talking with Jay is fun enough to make it worthwhile.  He gave us the inside scoop on the reservoir, where to kayak and put in and take out, the stories about the local people, and about Fremont Point. 

Fremont Point is still shrouded in clouds 

Our trip home was beautiful, passing Silver Lake and the road to Fort Rock, crossing the beautiful Klamath Marsh and connecting up with our very familiar route home Highway 97 through the Wood River Valley and safely into Rocky Point.  Home looked lovely, except the cold snap had completely killed the dozens of buds on our three hardy azaleas.Map route