12-31-2021 2021 Ends as December Comes to a Close

We didn’t have a completely white Christmas this year, with just a skiff of snow dusting the grass on Christmas morning. Late in the afternoon, however, the snow began to fall in earnest, and by the time we wakened the next morning, we had several inches of snow on the ground. Mo and I were happy that we had a warm home, plenty of food, a fire, and that the power never went out. Three days before Christmas Eve, we started another puzzle, possibly a new Christmastime tradition. With the snow keeping us inside most of the time, we finished it in just three short days on Christmas Eve morning.

The Christmas to New Years’ snow event broke records all over the northwest and I have loved seeing all the photos and stories of people enjoying the winter fun. I especially enjoyed it since I didn’t have to shovel snow or walk around outside on ice or go anywhere. Our vehicles do fine in snow and Mo and I have both driven in snow for years, but why bother if we don’t have to do it? Our home was a perfect place to be during that cold snowy week.


The beginning of the month was shrouded in chilly fog. I thought it was the worst fog season ever until I looked back on my calendar and blog of 2020 in December and read that I thought the fog was the worst ever. I guess winter fog is a given when we live in an enclosed valley just 2 hours from the ocean.

 

Despite the fog and chill, I spent the first week of the month putting up outside Christmas lights. It is a bit of work, but I do love the brilliance all those lights bring on long, cold, and very dark winter nights. Christmas is just an excuse. Grandson Matthew showed up toward the end of the week to do the part that neither Mo nor I are willing to do: climbing the ladder to put up the big colored lights that line the edge of the roof.


I began making Christmas cards in July, but by early December there was still much to do to finish up the 60 or so cards that I try to send each year.



I set up the Christmas Village right after Thanksgiving. To conserve energy, I made a promise to myself that I would wait until December 10 to set up the Christmas tree. When I mentioned this idea to my friend Kristin on our biweekly coffee date, she said she would love to come and help me decorate the tree. Such a delightful time we had decorating together with Mo providing helpful suggestions.



As I pulled out all the stored Christmas decorations with Kristin’s help I finally came to the conclusion that much of the beautifully romantic Della Robbia decorations that I have had for 20 years or so no longer fit with our current home. I packed them up for Daughter Melody who was delighted to know they would be coming her way and would fit right in with her romantic somewhat French-style home. Daughter Deborah also chose a few items that she loved to add to her collection.


Friends Maryruth and Gerald both have birthdays in December, and I made a chocolate cake from Janna’s recipe to help her celebrate. Of course, it was also great that Maryruth couldn’t eat the entire thing and sent a third of it back home with us.

A few days later, the four of us drove downtown in the rain to enjoy the lighted Christmas parade. The city no longer sponsors these kinds of events, but many dedicated volunteers and participants made it happen. Despite the heavy rain, there were large crowds gathered along the main streets. Many had umbrellas, and some were snuggled under canopy tops to protect them from the rain. Oregonians don’t allow rain to interfere with outdoor activities.


We were incredibly lucky to find a perfect spot to park right where the big lighted cars and trucks turned from 6th street toward 7th street. Even with the fogged-up windows, we all agreed it was much better watching the parade from a warm car than in the cold rain. After the parade, we enjoyed driving around to view a few Christmas lights and some traditional hot chocolate from Dutch Brothers.



Once the Christmas cards were finished and mailed, I had a bit of time to quilt. I loved the pattern for this topper and when I took the fall version off the side tables, I decided it was time to make a Christmas version. It was so pretty that I decided to make two. I was very happy with this winter project. It was quick and easy and the toppers fit our oak side tables perfectly.


I keep track of the Azalea Park light show in Brookings on Facebook and was thrilled to learn that the show was a go this year after skipping last year due to COVID. We planned ahead by making reservations at Beachfront RV Park and Maryruth and Gerald made reservations at Beachfront Inn across the street from the park.
Mid-month we got our first seasonal dusting of snow. We didn’t know at the time that we were in for a lot more snow before the month was over.


The week of our reservations, the weather cooperated with just a bit of snow on the highway to the coast. We headed west in the MoHo. Maryruth and Gerald waited until the next day to travel when the roads were completely clear.


The Festival of Lights at Azalea Park in Brookings is one of the best light shows in our part of the country, and once again we weren’t disappointed. Even though it rained the previous day, there was no rain on the night we planned to go to the show with Maryruth and Gerald. I enjoy sharing something I love with friends who are seeing it for the first time. Somehow I see it again with fresh eyes.



Mo and I walked the beach during the day, and in the evenings shared a couple of great restaurant meals with our friends. We enjoyed the Beachfront Bistro, just across from the Beachfront Inn, nicely remodeled and with great food and service. The next evening we had martinis and interesting and tasty food at the Superfly Martini Bar in Brookings. From the outside, the place looks rather nondescript, but inside the vibe was super cool and the clientele was quite varied, with people young and old enjoying the upbeat atmosphere.



As always, our time on the beach with Mattie was wonderful. I had to laugh out loud when I got back home and compared photos of Mattie last year and Mattie this year on exactly the same day in exactly the same spot. Do I really need to write a blog? Maybe I can just link to blogs from the past. At this time in our lives, it seems we do tend to enjoy repeat visits to our favorite places. You might have to click on each picture to see which gallery is from 2020 and which one is from 2021.  Smile

Our last evening in Brookings we were treated to an incredible sunset, something that doesn’t happen often with fog often rolling in at the last minute to obscure the colors, even on a sunny day.

On the morning of our return trip to Grants Pass, we stopped in at the Beachfront Bistro for a quick visit with an old friend from Rocky Point. Chrissie Hathor has been following us along on Facebook ever since she moved to Brookings and has invited us to visit several times. It may have been short, but it was a sweet visit.

The day we returned home I had only a few short hours to make cookies and prepare for the Grants Pass Book Club Christmas get-together that evening. The gathering was at Kristin’s home where we shared gift books, good food, and lots of fun conversation.

The entertainment for the evening was gifting a wrapped book with only a hint on the cover of what that book might be, and no name of the person giving the book. Each of us picked one and will talk about our book at the next monthly meeting. This book club has turned out to be so much fun, with a great group of diverse people sharing laughter and thoughts. I received a book I might never have chosen. I’ll wait to talk about it until after the end of January when we all get together again and review our books.

Two nights before Christmas, we once again enjoyed our annual tradition of driving around Grants Pass looking at Christmas lights with Maryruth and Gerald. Before it got dark, Maryruth treated us to a great spread of appetizers and some fun Jell-O shots to fuel us for the evening. It stopped raining long enough for us to enjoy several neighborhoods following the maps I had downloaded from our local newspaper.

Christmas Eve at Sunset House was quiet and lovely, with a bit of snow to add to the festive feeling of the Holiday. We often spend Christmas Eve with just the two of us and enjoy it thoroughly. We followed tradition and let Mattie open a Christmas Eve present. We also enjoyed our annual tradition of Christmas Eve clam chowder. The funny thing about Mattie, she was entirely too polite to rip the paper from her wrapped present. She held it in her mouth and looked at us as if to ask what she was supposed to do.

On Christmas morning we woke to an almost-white Christmas with a light dusting of snow. There was too much snow on the roads for daughter Deborah to make it to brunch, but Maryruth and Gerald managed the 1 mile trip to our house. It was a lovely day and for some reason, I completely forgot to take photos of the four of us. We had real eggs benedict, an easy meal since there were only four of us. Poaching eggs for a crowd can get a bit challenging. After brunch, we settled in for some rousing rounds of dominoes, a game Maryruth and Gerald hadn’t played before. By the end of a few games, they were hooked. Nice for us, since we do like dominoes.

With the telephone, Facebook, and emails we connected with friends and extended family throughout the day. Daughter Melody and Robert had a wonderful Christmas at home in Brownsville with their kids. Deborah and Bob enjoyed movies and fresh crab at home in Shady Cove where the snow was getting deeper by the minute. I loved a great photo of Jeanne in Vermont with the gorgeous wreath she made from wild cuttings from their property. Some friends sent E-Cards, others texted greetings, Tracey sent photos of my great-grandkids in their Christmas Jammies that I send each year to their home in Northern Washington. All in all, it was a very satisfying day.

As I wrote at the beginning of this story, we had several days of record-breaking snow. Daughter Deborah was snowed in. With snow being a rare occurrence, many people don’t bother with snow tires, and Deb has a cute little mini-Cooper, not a good snow vehicle.


By Wednesday morning, I knew that if I were going to get north to Melody’s house for even one night, it needed to be that day. I hugged Mo and Mattie goodbye and packed up an overnight bag. My trusty 2002 Dakota is a 4×4 and was perfect for a possibly sketchy drive over the 6 passes between Grants Pass and Eugene. Melody lives north of Eugene. The drive was fine and when I arrived at Melody’s in the afternoon the rain had let up a bit. We had a great afternoon with all the mother-daughter fun silly conversations that happen when no one else is around. Taking silly photos made us laugh so hard.



Later, when Robert came home from work, Melody finished up the fabulous risotto and butter-basted filet mignon steaks for our supper. We snuggled into their huge recliners in the tv room and watched a great movie. More laughs and conversation before I settled in for a comfy night in their upstairs bedroom. I had to return home the next afternoon.


New Year’s Eve was the next day and I didn’t want to be driving on the Interstate on Friday. Thursday the rain was heavy but the traffic wasn’t horrible, but I was still grateful when I pulled into our driveway safe and sound after that trip.

Mo and I don’t often do much for New Year’s Eve, but Mo had a little trip that she had wanted to do before Christmas but time and weather didn’t cooperate. Around 4 we jumped into the car and drove south through the gorgeous Applegate Valley toward Applegate Lake. We have visited the McKee Covered Bridge in the past, but this year the volunteer society for McKee Bridge had decorated the bridge with greens and lights. It would all come down on New Years Day, so it was our last chance to visit the bridge all lit up for Christmas.

The sun came out enough to light up the surrounding snow-covered hills and at this time of day, traffic was quite light. It only took us about an hour to get there, and we were happy that we could see the lights and still get home before it got really dark.

Mattie loves to sit in the front seat and make sure we are going the right way.

I like to think that is how we ended New Year’s Eve, but instead, we made the mistake of attempting to watch “the ball fall” at Times Square. We both decided that the whole thing was horrendously stupid and that we never had to try that again. Seems like some things have just deteriorated into inane junk. We went to bed to the sound of guns, cannons, and fireworks, around our neighborhood, not a good thing for most doggies. Lucky for us, Mattie could care less about fireworks or gunshots. She just takes it all in stride.


I finished out the night watching videos of the magnificent fireworks put on in Sydney, Australia. Mo enjoyed seeing them as well, remembering her visit to the Sydney Opera House and her visit there many years ago. I never made it to Australia. My bucket list is getting thinner as the years go by. Pretty sure Australia has slipped off the list by now.
Watching videos of the uplifting shows all around the world was a much more delightful way to end the year than whatever they call that mess in Times Square. And to think, I used to wish I could spend a New Years’ Eve in Times Square?!! What was I thinking??!!


So often on New Year I muse about the past and envision the future, but this year it was enough to simply revel in the present. There will be plenty of time to reminisce, worry, and plan in the days to come.

11-02-2021 A Gentle October Comes to an End

Chrysanthemums in October

It has been a gentle month.  Today, dressed for damp fall weather, I completed a garden chore that might seem a bit silly to some.  Here in Grants Pass, and in the Pacific Northwest in general, it has rained more this October than it has for many years.  Between Atmospheric Rivers and Bomb Cyclones dumping inches of rain, there have been a few breaks in the clouds.  Leaves are starting to fall, but the main event won’t happen until mid to late November. In the mean time, little jobs await outdoors for a break in the weather.

The annuals in my cutting garden bed are so happy that the weather has cooled

My silly project has to do with lifting plants in the hot summer and replanting them when things cool down in the fall.  Most of my life, I have either planted bulbs in the fall, or lifted dahlias and gladiolas before the hard freezes of winter destroy them.  Here, the glads and dahlias stay in the ground all season, happily popping up every spring.  Sometimes the glads have moved around a bit in the garden, thanks to the moles and gophers, but most of the time they all appear somewhere eventually.

Primroses blooming in March

The primroses are a different story.  Primroses love the damp, cool weather of the Pacific Northwest.  They are also fairly hardy in reasonable winter temperatures.  When I lived near Spokane, I so envied the brilliant borders of Juliet purple primroses that seemed to line every path and rock garden in the lush neighborhoods of the South Hill area.  I finally bought a couple at the local perennial nursery.  I have moved and babied those two little plants for decades.  First to my home in Klamath Falls, then to Mo’s home at Rocky Point, and now finally settled here at Sunset House. They have multiplied into a treasured row of fluffy purple primroses that light up the entry walkway here spring.

Cool pots for the primroses to hide in during the hot summer

Problem is, Grants Pass may be in Oregon, but it is definitely not the cool, damp Pacific Northwest environment that allows them to thrive.  Every summer, when the July heat and drought hit, in spite of prolific watering, they start to turn brown and crispy.  They hate our summer heat.  So I dutifully lift them each year and let them spend the summer in the shade of our thick photinia shrubs, hand watering them almost daily to help them survive our brutal summers.

I spent the little break in the weather today transplanting those sweet little primroses from their summer boxes to their showcase row along our walkway.  A few of them are already showing their happy purple faces lit with tiny yellow centers.  As I planted, I found the sprouts of the miniature yellow daffodils that start blooming in between the primroses in February.

It was a sweet chore, and I relished the moist soil, the water droplets on leaves, and the incredibly lushness of an Oregon garden when it isn’t 108 in the shade, the rains are months away, and the well has to be so carefully managed.  I haven’t had to think about the well for a month.  All the water systems are turned off.  It feels easy and peaceful.

The trees that we planted almost 4 years ago when we finished building Sunset House are strengthening and growing bigger every season.  This year has been especially colorful, not only in our yard, but throughout Grants Pass.  Maybe it is the healing rains that have been so consistent and the temperatures that got down to 32F Degrees only once. Zinnias, dahlias, roses are still blooming in the midst of brilliant orange, yellow, and red leaves.  It is quite a feast for the senses.

It was a gentle month for many reasons.  With our Utah trip behind us we had nothing huge on the agenda for the month of October.  Finally I could bring out the fall and Halloween decorations.

Maryruth and I decided to spend some simple girly time enjoying an early lunch accompanied by Lavender Lemon Drops at the Bohemian, a cute downtown venue in a building more than 100 years old.  The food is delicious as well, and the place is delightful, if a bit noisy. 

Later that afternoon, Mo and I drove through the slanting afternoon sunlight to Schmidt Family Vineyard for wine and pizza.  We were treated to music by a blues duo, including Broadway Phil, an artist we have followed for years.  Blues and a pale moon in the blue sky and brilliant light on the trees made for some sweet moments.

Mo took advantage of the breaks in the rain to finish painting the new deck addition.  I shopped for some young, new herb plants to replace the ones we had to take out when we extended the deck.  Mo built some new steps for me, easier to navigate than what we had previously. 

I cleaned up the big Weber BBQ that I used to have to climb up and down the stairs to us and we hauled it up to the deck.  No longer will I need to fun up and down to try to cook something, and its position on the bigger deck doesn’t get in the way of our view as it did in the smaller space we had prior to building the extension.

I spent some of the month working on the quilt project that I bought when we were passed through Florence on our last trip to the coast.  I loved the fabric, didn’t have a pattern and decided that a disappearing 4 patch would be a simple way to showcase the pretty fall colors.  Not so simple, I had forgotten all those points that needed matching, but it turned out OK.  I then made place mats and napkins to go with it.

Later in the month it was my turn to hostess for the women of my newish Grants Pass Book Club.  Nine women showed up for goodies, wine, hot cider, and great conversation. I enjoy entertaining people this way, but just not too often, please.  I don’t know why I get so wound up over it because everything almost always turns out just fine. 

I love this group of women and am enjoying the book club tremendously.  Our book for November was to be either a Native American author or a story about Native Americans.  We chose Louise Erdich’s recent book, “The Night Watchman”.  An excellent choice. 

The days were sliding by easily, and Mo reminded me that we did need to plan an outing of some sort for the MoHo for October.  We try hard not to miss doing some kind of travel each month.  I managed to get a reservation toward the end of the month for a great site at Harris Beach State Park.  By the time our day of departure rolled around, the infamous Atmospheric River was heading straight for Oregon.  We knew to expect three days of hard rain, wind, and possible flooding.  Ah yes, the Oregon Coast.  Fun even in the rain.

It was raining when we left home, but by the time we arrived in Brookings and got set up the weather let up a bit. Our site was an old favorite, C3, just to the south of the full ocean view sites along the front line of the park, but big and private, and even with a tiny sliver of ocean view out our windows. 

We drove down to the beach and were aghast at the huge waves pounding the shoreline, completely covering the beach.  It was King Tide time on the coast and the weather only added to the drama.  After exploring the beach a bit from the dry car, we drove south of town to the Brookings Harbor.  The surf was wild along the south Chetco River jetty, with hugs logs brought in from the storm

A bit later we drove north along Highway 101 to see if possibly we could find another dramatic view of the wild surf.  Not far north of town, we came to an exit we have never explored.  The road to Lone Ranch Beach is marked as a Day Use Area only, and in all our years visiting the Oregon Coast we have never driven down to the beach.  What a surprise. 

The clouds broke enough for us to walk a bit and explore the beach and a bit of the Oregon Coast Trail that continues north from the beach.  It was quiet, almost empty except for two other cars.  We saw only one person walking and by the time we got back to our car he and his dog were loading up to leave.  Mattie loved her chance to run free on the beach unleashed with no one else around to bother her or us.

Night was loud with rain pounding the roof, and yet we slept great soothed by the sounds.  I could hear the roar of the ocean all night. The next morning dawned rainy as expected.  We relaxed, read, played cards a bit, had a late breakfast, and then decided to go exploring a bit.  Mo searched out Dog Parks in Brookings. 

In the wet rain, Mattie didn’t think much of Stout Dog Park, toward the center of town in a small neighborhood.  We walked to the new dog park built at the entrance to the Chetco Point Trail  The signage for this park was non existent, but we did manage to find it.  It was well fenced with separate big and little dog areas, but the wind and rain made it not much fun for Mattie.

Mattie was just 9 months old or so in the bottom photo on that sunny day in 2015

We walked down the trail just a bit, marveling at the wild surf, and took photos of Mattie on the same picnic table where we photographed her on our first trip to the coast with her when she was brand new to us. The rain was heavy enough that we didn’t particularly want to linger or hike.  Instead, we drove to a small quilt shop I had never discovered before.  The owner said she had been there for six years.  Not sure how I missed this one, but I had fun wandering around looking at goodies and purchased a couple of patterns for Quilt as You Go projects, something I have never tried. 

By the time we returned to the MoHo, Mo decided that rain or not she wanted a campfire.  We have enjoyed rainy campfires in the past, and she pulled out the umbrellas for us.  I waited inside for the fire and finally Mattie and I joined Mo with the drippy skies adding to the ambience of the warm fire.  Not bad. 

On Wednesday, as expected, we woke to brighter skies and no rain.  Our plan was to drive north to Bandon, walk around town a bit, and then return in time for a fish and chips late lunch at the Crazy Norwegian.  It was a gorgeous day, and we took our time along the highway, stopping at several overlooks to enjoy the views of the ocean and the coast. We stopped in the little town of Port Orford to be sure the restaurant would be open, and just cross the street was another quilt shop.  My will power didn’t hold up and I left with 5 yards of magnificent fabric for which I have no determined use.  Quilters will understand.

For the first time in a long time, we enjoyed walking around Bandon when it wasn’t raining!  Our first stop was Face Rock Creamery where I bought some yummy cheeses and we had ice cream.  One scoop is huge!  and Delicious as well.  By the time we parked in town near the Coastal Mist Chocolate Shop, I was too full to enjoy my most favorite sweet, the Drinking Chocolate!  I can’t believe I couldn’t manage a little cup of perfect heaven.  I knew fish and chips were waiting and the ice cream was still digesting, so no dreamy hot chocolate this time.

Our first stop was the book store, another favorite place to spend time.  I enjoyed looking for a gift book for the December book club get together.  We then wandered town a bit more and I found a lovely little cottage shop full of cottagey stuff.  I even found something to buy there that looks perfect in my fall décor at home.  It always amazes me how creative people who have shops like this manage to take a bunch of tattered junk and make it appear beautiful and oh so tempting.  If I tried it, it would be just a bunch of junk in a room!

By the time we left Bandon and returned south along the coast toward Port Orford, it was late afternoon.  We arrived at the Crazy Norwegian just at 4:30, in time to settle into the last table available in the front area of the restaurant. 

I didn’t know until we paid the bill when we left that there were four more tables in a nook to the right of the main dining room.  I always think of Nina when I see the Crazy Norwegian.  She wrote about it more than once when she and Paul were volunteering at the lighthouse at Cape Blanco State Park.

It was getting late in the day, and we wanted to give Mattie one more chance to run on a beach before going back to camp.  We stopped at another new site we haven’t visited before.  Arizona Beach is a day use only area along Highway 101.  Once again, we had the beach to ourselves, and Mattie could run as free as she wanted to. 

When we arrived back at camp, it was almost dark and unbelievably, not raining!  Mo built a big campfire again, using up the rest of our dry wood brought from home, including some very big madrone logs that she managed to split.  The fire was hot and wonderful, and once again I felt silly from not bringing the marshmallows on this trip.  We were expecting three days of rain!

Harris Beach on the morning before we left for home.  Sunshine!

I felt something on this trip that I haven’t felt in a long time.  Completely relaxed.  I didn’t feel I had to worry about anything that needed to be done, any unfinished projects waiting for me, chores and leaves in the yard overwhelming my mind in the middle of the night. Mo was driving and I was daydreaming as I watched the beautiful landscape roll by and thought, “I want to hold this feeling always, I want to take it home with me.”

So far, I have done well with this thought.  I spent a day yesterday doing nothing except wash the bedding, make the bed, and crawl into it to read the new book.  The day before yesterday, I did manage to get out in the morning before the rain started to blow some leaves and rake a bit.  But the pressure isn’t building as it often does for me.  The leaves will wait for us.  Chores will get done, or not.  If not today, then tomorrow.  This blog will get written, or not.  But as I write I realize that this time, it isn’t a chore or a job I need to finish.  It is something I am doing because it pleases me in this moment.

Dinner will be leftovers from last night tacos, and I don’t have to worry about house cleaning till the weekend.  The house is fine.  The leaves will wait.  I can do whatever I want whenever I want.  Such a feeling of freedom.  It is something to realize that a lot of pressures and deadlines are completely self imposed and are absolutely unnecessary.  For the moment at least, all is good.

10-02-2021 Sheldon NWR to Grants Pass Oregon 289 Miles

We woke in the early morning after a great night’s sleep to crystal clear skies.  I took some time to walk around the campground again in the early light.  The pond that supplied water for the pool reflected the silky sky.  A pair of ducks flapped and quacked as I walked around the small pond, but seemed unbothered by my presence.

I took a few more photos of the campground noticing how many campers had come in last night after we did. It was clear that volunteers who loved the campground and the spring took excellent care of the place. 

A free little library sponsored by the Friends of the Denio Library was full of books and magazines, and even a pair of rubber boots.

The little campground was beautiful in the early morning.  With a light breakfast, we were on the road by 9 am. 

Driving back toward Highway 140 on the 2 miles of gravel road didn’t seem as troublesome as it had yesterday. Mo drove slowly enough that the shaking and rattling was minimal.

The woven fences around the main buildings at the refuge headquarters were fascinating.  Much of the infrastructure around the refuge that is still being used today, including roads, stone buildings, water control structures, and entrance portals were built by the CCC between 1936 and 1942.

Mo continued a slow pace as she drove through the refuge, hoping to see a few wild animals.  There are pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, and burros throughout the refuge. While many of the wild horses have been removed to protect the rangeland from overgrazing, we passed a couple along the highway.

East of the tiny town of Adel is a long, steep grade that I remembered from previous trips on this route.  With the torque converter feature of the MoHo keeping our use of brakes to a minimum, we descended easily and slowly.

We passed the road leading to Hart Mountain, and from that point on, the route was very familiar.  Highway 140 goes through Bly, Beatty, and Klamath Falls before reaching the southwestern shore of Klamath Lake. 

At the Howard Bay public dock, we stopped to give Mattie a break and walk around a bit to enjoy the view.  We saw pelicans roosting at the dock,  but there were so many people there that I didn’t bother to attempt to get a photo of them.  At the lower end of the bay, we saw hundreds of coots staging for their winter flight south. 

We arrived home around 4 PM, happy to be there.  It was early enough in the afternoon that we unloaded all the food. We collected a few personal items, but the rest of the clothes and “stuff” of travel would have to wait until morning.

Everything at home was in great condition.  The rains that began just as we left Grants Pass turned the dry brown pasture green and the flowers were bright and happy.  My friend Maryruth’s husband Gerald checked in on our place each morning.  He made sure that all the drip sprinklers were working.  It was very important to have someone check the well to make sure all was running as it should. We appreciated his care so much.  It made it much easier to come home without worrying that something may have happened to the place while we were away.
It may have been because we had been in the desert for so many days, but everything seemed especially lush on this sunny afternoon.  After a great trip, it was good to be home.

09-30-2021 The Long Trek Home (Almost)

Storm clouds over the La Sals east of Moab on the morning of our departure

Traveling home from canyon country requires a commitment of at least three days for us.  We usually can travel 350 miles in a day, but prefer 150 to 300 and have been known to cross 500 miles or more when the conditions require it.

There is much to see along the route home, but after 10 days exploring miles and miles of such a magnificent red landscape, it is hard for me to get excited about dallying in the vast expanses of the Utah and Nevada desert that are part of the Great Basin.

We have visited Great Basin National Park in the past and had no desire to camp there this time of year.  Many of the wonderful wildflowers are past peak bloom season and the fall temperatures make the nights quite cold.  We thought maybe we would enjoy a leisurely stay in Eureka or Austin, but when push comes to shove, we are simply ready to be home.  As I have said before, that horse to the barn thing is inescapable.

The night before our departure from Moab great loud thunderstorms crossed over the valley, lighting up the sky and rocking the MoHo in the wind.  Heavy rains pounded on the roof and when we woke in the morning it was still raining.  By the time Dan and Chere pulled out near 8am, the skies were clearing and we could see snow on the highest peaks of the La Sals.

Bye to Dan and Chere as they depart from the Moab KOA RV Park

Their route would be different from ours.  They planned to drive north through Price toward Salt Lake City, camping in Snowville, Utah on the first night and on the Oregon/Idaho border at Farewell Bend State Recreation Area on the second night before returning home to Beavercreek on the third day.

We planned to return the way we had come, after traveling north to I-70, and west to Highway 50 at Salina, then toward Delta and crossing Utah to the Nevada border at Border Town RV Park.  Our original plan was to continue west on Highway 50 to Fallon and then north to Susanville, crossing the mountains from Susanville to I-5 at Mt Shasta and then north to Grants Pass.  We have traveled this route many times returning from trips east and south from our home.

By the time we reached our camp site at Border Inn we had decided that we would go home a different route this time.  Traveling from Border Inn on Highway 50 we would exit at Highway 278 north toward I-80, then west toward Winnemucca.  There we planned to stay the night at the RV Park that Dan used on his trip south, New Frontier RV Park.  We would then travel north on Highway 95 to Highway 140 and west through the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge, Lakeview, Klamath Falls and then home over the very familiar High Lakes Pass to Medford and then the last few miles north to Grants Pass and home.

This route would be about 30 miles farther in total than our original plan through Fallon and Susanville but we were both happy to do something a little bit different.  It also would give us a chance to pass through some favorite refuges, including Upper Klamath Lake NWR very close to where we used to live in Rocky Point on the west side of Klamath Lake.

09-30 Moab, Utah to Border Inn RV, Nevada  322 miles

Once on the road from Moab, the clear skies gave way to heavy rain as we approached Green River on I-70.  The black clouds hid the views and the windshield wipers were on full speed as we crossed the gorgeous San Rafael Swell.  The overlooks weren’t very inviting in the pouring rain so we forged on west.

Last of the red rock sandstone along I-70 before we drop down from the Colorado Plateau to the Great Basin 

Once we crossed the high point of the swell the rains let up and we could see the last of the Colorado Plateau landscape as the highway dipped toward the west and the edge of the Great Basin.

Above is a map of the Great Basin, dominated by the ups and downs of Basin and Range landscapes.  Once on the flat basin west of Delta the road opened up and the vistas expanded far and wide with only a few ranges to climb between basins.

We arrived at the Border Inn around 5 and settled in easily.  This park is a funky, dusty place in the middle of nowhere with a sketchy Verizon signal that only works well before 6am in the morning or after midnight.  We still love it.  The open space and low key vibe of the place is very relaxing after a long drive. 

Above is a view of the Border Inn RV Park from the south where you can see how isolated it is on the landscape

There is a café and casino which we have never tried, happy instead to simply enjoy our own space with fresh breezes and very few people around to bother us.  Sometimes there are very big rigs with very large oversize loads that stop and stage at this location before continuing north toward Ely.

After settling in by late afternoon we cooked a very simple meal that was incredibly delicious.  The burger is from our Grants Pass butcher shop, cooked on the grill with my favorite seasoning, Weber Chicago Steak Seasoning.  The scalloped potatoes were stored in our freezer for the trip. The tomatoes were from Chere’s garden.  All topped off with blue cheese crumbles and dressing.  We couldn’t believe how good it tasted!

09-30 Border Inn to New Frontier RV Park Winnemucca, Nevada  331 miles

When we left Border Inn around 9 the skies were crystal clear and gorgeous.  The night had been chilly, but not so much that the little space heater we use on cold nights when we have hookups couldn’t keep up.

Within a few miles, we found ourselves behind a huge flotilla of rigs with official police pilot cars in front of and behind a huge “thing” being hauled on the highway.  The big box thing took up almost both lanes and no one was allowed to pass in either direction.  The front pilot car traveled at least a half mile in front of the wide load and moved all oncoming vehicles off the road before the big thing approached.  We traveled about 20mph over the steep ranges but on the flats the whole group could go almost 45 miles per hour.  Made for an easy relaxing drive to Ely where we broke away from the trail to fuel at the Love’s where we fueled on the way east two weeks earlier.

Something to keep in mind about fuel in Utah and Nevada; the price posted is for the lowest octane fuel, sometimes only 85 octane.  We ended up paying  over $4.00 per gallon for 87 octane.  We found that gas was priced as high throughout Nevada and Utah as we were used to paying in Oregon, and almost as high as the stations we passed when traveling through California.

Once west of Ely we lost the slow wide load and continued over the passes without incident.  There were a few cars parked in Eureka but I saw no sign of a bakery, which is something I had been searching for since we were in Moab where none were open early enough in the morning for us to enjoy.

Just beyond Eureka we turned north on Highway 278, the route Dan took from Winnemucca toward Baker on the way south.  We noticed that a northward trending route like this one lay between ranges and traveled through a long basin.  We didn’t have to cross a lot of high ranges as we did on Highway 50 which travels east and west.  However, the route north was terribly boring, with very little change in the view.  By the time we reached I-80 Mo needed a driving break and I took over for the last 100 miles or so west to Winnemucca.

Once in Winnemucca we easily found the huge New Frontier RV park and settled in quickly before dinner to relax a bit.  Full hookups, cable tv, a dog park, and showers that we never bothered to use made it a nice stop.  We were thrilled to discover that it was a Passport America park and we paid  half price for our site, a total of $21.69 with tax.  Can’t beat that.

The dog park was roomy but the space was all deep rounded gravel.  Mattie didn’t seem to mind and still always seems to know where the dog park is when we go there for the first time.  She has the routine down well, and runs right to the gate of the park, even when she has never seen it before.

The night was cold, with the temperature reading 27 degrees F when we woke on Friday morning.

10-01 Winnemucca to Virgin Valley Campground, Sheldon Wildlife Refuge, Nevada  127 miles

This was to be the day that we planned to push hard to drive 411 miles and reach home by late afternoon.  Instead we languished a bit this morning, both of us feeling a bit tired and a bit lazy.  We fueled at the Flying J, where gas was a few pennies higher than the nearby Pilot. More importantly, the Flying J had a Cinnabon kiosk and I was really wanting something bakery sweet so I didn’t mind paying more for fuel.

Once on the road north on Highway 95 we settled in to the wide open landscape of Northern Nevada.  Here the distant hills are barren, not a juniper in site, not a leaf, not a shrub or a tree for miles.  The wide basins are thick with low sage and very little else.  About 29 miles north of Winnemucca we turned west on Highway 140.  I wish I could have taken a photo while driving because I am pretty sure this is the longest, straightest stretch of road that we have encountered on our entire trip.  I know that Highway 50 has the reputation for being the loneliest road in America but I would say that Highway 140 in northern Nevada has it beat.  We drove for 100 miles with absolutely nothing to break the monotony.

At the Denio Junction, Highway 140 makes a sharp turn west toward the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge.  The landscape is still open and empty but the landforms begin to shift.  In the distance the mountains have a bit more shape and shadows and I could see huge black lava flows on the horizon.  We stopped at the information kiosk at the entrance to Sheldon NWR and looked at the map. 

I would have been perfectly happy to stop right there and spend a night listening to the silence and watching the skies.  We decided that we would drive north and west a bit more into the refuge and explore the free Virgin Valley campground.

Turning south on the refuge road, we were bummed that it was graveled and the washboards were intense.  With all the shaking and rattling Mo forged ahead 2 miles till we reached the tiny campground.  What a treasure!  The campground is open, with little shade, but there are picnic tables and wide open sites that are quite level.

There is an old rustic stone bath house with water flowing all the time from the nearby spring.  The warm spring pool is clean with a ladder to enter and clear water that stays about 87 degrees.  Not hot, but warm enough to be enjoyable. 

The shower comes from the same spring and is a steady 87 degrees.  Not hot, but definitely not a cold shower.

We settled into our site, put out the slides and relaxed with cool breezes.  The evening was perfect for a walk around the campground, a dip in the pool and a nice warm shower.

For most of the afternoon and early evening we were one of a very few campers in the campground.  After supper, as evening approached, quite a few more campers appeared.  It was a night for campfires and stars.  I stepped out at midnight to see the stars and saw a few campfires surrounded by people quietly enjoying the night.

I have yet to learn how to take photos of stars so will have to remember how clear the night was and how magnificent the stars were in that desert sky.

The next morning we would get on the road one last time heading for home.

09-28-2021 Canyonlands Island in the Sky and Dead Horse Point State Park

Photo taken from the Dead Horse Point Overlook at Dead Horse Point State Park

Waking to a morning of mixed clouds and sunshine, I knew that we might not have the right light for taking a photo of the early sun rising in the east and reflecting on the underside of Mesa Arch.  The image of sun on the underside of the arch is used to advertise Canyonlands in many places.

Just for fun, I inserted a screen shot below of only a tiny portion of the photos that show up for a google search of Mesa Arch images.

Located on the east side of the uplift called the Island in the Sky, Mesa Arch was a must see for me on this visit to Canyonlands

We left at 7:30 this morning, an hour later then yesterday, but still early enough to beat the worst of the crowds, I hoped.  Our first destination was the Mesa Arch trail but we planned to view the rest of the easily accessible viewpoints at the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands.

I have been to Mesa Arch a few times in the past, and even 25 years ago the trail could be crowded.  Especially at dawn, there are often hordes of photographers with tripods set up to capture the famous light on the underside of the arch.

My soil survey boss, and good friend Eva, walking across the arch in 2000

Chere decided that the steep parts were not fun and waved to us when we reached the arch

The short half mile trail out to the arch is “moderately easy”, but there are some stairs and a few steep areas.  Still, there were many people on the trail walking toward the arch and many more walking back from the arch carrying their tripods.  Who knows if the morning clouds allowed them to get the famous light on the underside of the arch.

See the famous “Washer Woman” on the upper part of the photo?
This was as good as it got for me on the slightly overcast morning

The fun thing about Mesa Arch is that the drop on the mesa side of the arch is only 20 feet or so, but the drop on the canyon side is more than 1300 feet.  It is a dizzying feeling that triggers some intense vertigo if you are trying to stand anywhere near the top of the arch. 

Thanks to my lack of balance at this point, you can see me holding on to Mo for dear life in this photo. I realized later something I forgot about.  Take off the dang progressive lenses!  I remember this when trying to go down steep trails and steps and should have remembered this when I climbed up to a high point above the arch for the view.

Dan, Mo, and I had fun waiting our turn for photos at the arch, with most people being kind and thoughtful and not dominating the site for others wanting that same photo.

The Island in the Sky is bisected by a paved road that goes to the end of the mesa, with a “grand” view at Grand View Point.  I learned on this trip something I never knew after all my years traveling the Colorado Plateau.  Until 1921, the Colorado River didn’t start in the state that bears the same name. It began in Utah, where the Green River from Wyoming and the Grand River from Colorado met at the infamous confluence of the two rivers that can be seen from space in the google maps image below.

We planned to visit each of the scenic viewpoints that could be reached by car in Canyonlands.  We would then return to Dead Horse Point State Park on the northeast side of the plateau to view the iconic landscape from another perspective.

From our previous day visiting Arches, we knew that it was wise to get to the most important viewpoints first, knowing that the parking lots and trails were likely to be crowded.  When we left the Mesa Arch parking lot, we headed immediately for the most distant spot on paved road to the Grand View Point Overlook.

As expected, the parking lot was already full and one more time the handicap hang tag gave us access to the only open parking space at the overlook. The view from this site is breathtaking. 

A ranger working near the parking lot said that the overcast sky was actually a blessing for viewing the expansive landscape since bright sunshine often wiped out much of the detail in photos.

We returned to the main road and traveled northwest to the Upheaval Dome Overlook parking lot. What I had forgotten is that there is no view from this point.  Instead of hiking the steep, rocky trail to the overlooks, we settled at a nice picnic table to enjoy some snacks for lunch.  Later, we returned to the road toward the Green River Overlook where we were gifted with expansive views toward the west. 

The views from the Green River Overlook were awe-inspiring.  We could see the far northwestern part of the White Rim Trail, a 4-wheel drive road that is the destination of many a mountain biker and 4-wheeler enthusiast.

Yes, that is Mt Ellen in the distance on the left side of the photo below, at the high point of the Henry Mountain Range.  Dan and Chere got a bit tired of me continuously pointing out Mt Ellen and I promised that this was the last time I would do so.

We drove back to the east side of the mesa for a great view toward the La Sals at the Buck Canyon Overlook. We could see virga, “streaks or wisps of precipitation falling from a cloud but evaporating before reaching the ground” in the distance. Rain was predicted on the mesa by noon, but for us, so far so good.  No rain while we were on our explorations of the Island in the Sky.

Dan and Chere at the Buck Canyon Overlook

We continued to the Shafer Trail Overlook.  There are actually two spots with parking where the Shafer Trail is visible.  We chose what appeared to be the less crowded site a bit south of the main overlook.  The Shafer Trail is a narrow dirt road with sharp switchbacks that descends to the White Rim Road that circles around the Island in the Sky on the White Rim Sandstone. 

We stayed a bit at this overlook, watching the tiny vehicles negotiation the sharp turns.  There were quite a few rigs traveling up and down the road and it was fun to watch them passing each other and bumping around the steep, sharp switchbacks.  I knew exactly how it felt, because I drove the Shafer Trail in my Dakota pickup back in 1997.  I only drove about 50 miles of the White Rim Road before my friend Shera said she had enough of all that rough driving, and we backtracked up the steep part of the Shafer Trail.  It was an experience I will never forget. The next three photos are grainy scans of photos from that trip in 1997.

We ended our day’s travels with a visit to Dead Horse Point State Park. The legend of Dead Horse Point originates around the turn of the 19th century when cowboys would round up the wild mustangs that roamed the mesa. It is said that a herd was driven down the neck of the peninsula, its sheer cliffs forming a natural corral, and the 30-foot-wide entrance was then fenced off with branches and brush.

This was to be our final shared day in Utah’s red rock country.  A friendly guy at the overlook agreed to take a photo of the four of us.  It was a fitting tribute to what has been a wonderful trip.