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.



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