Tag Archives: Oregon

2005, the way home: day 7

Original post: 2005-05-30: Return from Mojave, Day 7

Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005

To this day, the most memorable part of this particular day is a near miss. [1]

Forest service roads are mostly empty on even the busiest days—especially in the middle of Central Oregon. Driving through the meadows and trees by yourself at daybreak, you start to get the feeling that you're the only person in the universe, cruising through time and space in a way that suggested that the place was mine and mine alone. [2] Forgive me. I was 24. I haven't kicked the habit but it was so much more concentrated then.

Anyway: the point.

Coming around a turn that I can still see very clearly in my mind—a 90-degree-or-so bend cut into a small ridge—sliding around that gravel bend because that's what you do when you grow up with access to gravel roads that bend—seeing the grill of that truck stamped like the aftermath of a red hot brand in my memory.

Holy shit.

Probably I'm just overdramatizing it in my memory. Probably it was routine. Probably I wasn't speeding as much as I thought I was. Probably I didn't get that ass end out around the front end and then grab traction just in time to slide in between the truck and the ditch on my side of the road. But. But but but. In memory. In that solemn memory vault where the lies and the truths spend their time shooting the breeze until they're called into action, that's how I remember it—a pound-your-fist-on-the-car-ceiling-and-keep-pushing-it kind of moment. I can't even imagine what the actual consequence of sideswiping a local in the middle of nowhere with no reception and no recourse would have resulted in. Utter catastrophe. Needle pricks in the hands and forearms even now. [3]

And I remember the next problem, maybe not connected to the first, but maybe borne out of the same bit of karma.

What do you do, when you're in the middle of nowhere, and you're out of gas?

Dunh dunh DUNH.

This specific detail eludes me: did I try to drive to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (Painted Hills section) and then blanche and decide to get gas, or did I figure out, when I popped out of NF-12 (I think) onto US-26, that I was basically out of gas and needed to sort that out pronto? I don't quite remember. I remember the white-knuckle-but-slow-motion-and-neutral-on-the-downhills drive east on US-26 hoping that there was a gas station within range. I remember the single pump tiny-ass gas station that saved my ass. South Fork Mini Market. With that weird Oregon requirement of not being allowed to pump your own gas. I hope my younger self tipped the hell out of that guy. I don't think they're even allowed to take tips. What does it matter? Survive and advance.

These shouldn't be the memories that I retain but they're still there, and they're still fresh.

The rest of the day is still there in my memory in fresh relief as well. I wonder: is that the result of the early morning adrenaline?

John Day is badlands: yellow and red and, if you go to the Turtle Cove formation, blue. Weird volcanic spew dumped from somewhere on the weird volcanic coast, then covered up, then slowly revealed after ages and ages of erosion—and it takes ages and ages because it doesn't look like it rains out there.

I don't even—I can't.

It's an interesting place, but the recall of the place still fades in comparison to dumb young adult car problems. It's too bad. But John Day is mostly imagination anyway. You can see with your eyes the colors. But you have to see with your mind the fossils and the lives of the pre-fossil animals and the non-lives of the pre-color vulcanism and so on. The really interesting stuff isn't there, it's in your mind. The thing itself in front of you on the trail is just an image, a what-is-now, a what-you-see, but it has many what-it-is's to it. You have to accordion the place out through time to get a good feel for it.

This is all strange talk but I'm not going to edit it—this is the record as it exists in what passes for my memory. Then US-26 east and then OR-7 east and northeast to cut cross-country to Baker City, and then OR-86 past the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretative Center (too late, closed) to cut through Hells Canyon to Idaho.

This day is the fulcrum of that trip—a tipping point from the left side to the right side, from the west side to the east side, from the cautious side to the aggressive side. Selah.

[1] George Carlin, it's not a near miss, it's a near hit, etc.

[2] Noble kings and princes would bow whene'er they came / Pirate ships would lower their flags when Puff roared out his name

[3] There's only one other turn in my memory, also a gravel road turn, that evokes this much ferocity and adrenaline on recall: Depler Springs Road, near Lewistown, morning, sophomore year high school, out to pick someone up for a morning run training for track, getting the station wagon I-swear-perpendicular to the gravel road in an induced fishtail before sliding it to a stop. But can that be Depler Springs Road? Wasn't that paved? How much of memory is totally paved over with falsehoods? Should you even read this post?

2005, the way home: day 6

Original post: 2005-05-29: Return from Mojave, Day 6

Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005

Day 6: Seattle to Ochoco National Forest in Oregon

I like reading the old posts and old journals because it lifts up little details that had otherwise been forgotten. I was going to go back to Mt. St. Helens and hike around a bit but, apparently, the cloud cover was down too low that it would have been like looking at fog through fog from fog. So: no go.

I'll tell you what my superpower is, though: give me a map and I'll find you the most interesting route from Here to There. I don't know why, but I know why. When my mom worked at the ASCS office [1] back in the day, the fields and plots were printed out on paper for measurement, then we just had them at home as a neverending supply of scratch paper. Maps—black-and-white aerial or satellite images, really—were this everpresent baseline thing at home. No wonder I can see the world so easily like a map. I never thought about it before.

But, yes: give me a map, a point A, and a point B, and I'll find you the most interesting route in between. Not the shortest, not the fastest—the most interesting. Because, you see, we optimize for the wrong things. Short might make sense if you're out of gas, and fast might make sense if you need to make it to the hospital, but otherwise: why not optimize ("optimize") for something fuzzier like interest, stresslessness, novelty, etc. Oh ho: because you can't optimize for that. Or, maybe, you can, but you'd have to synthesize the variables in such a way that only the crackpots would deal with your math.

I've gone off the rails. But. No. There's an angle here.

Give me a map, a point A, and a point Z, and I'll find you points A-Y that show you something you've never seen before—in a good way.

And so, driving south past the Mt. St. Helens exit through Washington, that's what I did. Hey—can't do that, let's do something else instead. I cut south until I ran out of Washington, then I cut east along the Columbia River until it looked like a suitable place to cross. Along the way I saw an enormous group of kite surfers (at The Hatchery) taking advantage of the wind tunnel flow down the Columbia River Gorge to slalom around the whitecaps before taking flight.

Kitesurfing on a river? If the shoe fits.

From there: south. Past Mt. Hood. Back into the casual dry wilderness of Central Oregon—the high desert, the volcanic waste, the dry grass, the conspicuous lack of gas stations. (Foreshadowing.)


I wish I could give you what I get out of driving across these strange (to me) but unremarkable (to anyone) places.

Playing back all these memories, and remapping all these routes, and sorting through all these pictures... I can put myself back in the seat of the Grand Am [2] and remember what it was like to feel the river gorge, then the trees, then the absence of trees. I can remember the low and then increasing anxiety of looking for the Campground sign that I was expecting to see, letting me know that it was time to turn off the highway onto a forest service road (Ochoco National Forest), and then begin the slower business of finding the campsite which had no name on the map (Deep Creek Campground), then finding (hopefully) an open campsite (right by the creek—count yr blessings).

I wonder about people who are older than me. 10 years. 20 years. 40 years. How many boring details that don't mean anything to anyone can a person hold? Is there a reason I remember what certain trees look like at a place I once stopped a car? What it felt like to drive across the interminable dry grass and volcanic rock? Why do we hold the things we hold?

[1] ASCS = Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, part of the USDA (US Department of Agriculture), later the Farm Service Agency (FSA). I had no idea until now what ASCS stood for, though it is stamped in my memory. I vaguely remember the office being in downtown ("downtown") Lewistown at the edge of my memory, then later out by the high school. I still remember the phone number: 547-2233. Tell me... tell me why we retain the memories that we retain, it's so confusing...

[2] Coffin on Wheels, Coffin on Wheels.

2005, the way home: day 4

Original post: 2005-05-27: Return from Mojave, Day 4

Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005

By the third or fourth day of travel, the muscles start to relax, and the mind and eyes and heart open up a little. Things are easier—and easing. There's less of that hesitation before heading off—even if you still don't know where you're going, there's less friction involved in going there.
Some of it is for simple reasons: after a few days of tent folding, you get to be pretty efficient at doing it. And, no matter what it is that you've packed, the stuff that you don't need has packed itself into harder-to-reach places where it is out of the way of the stuff you do need, which is packed, although somewhat un-neatly, right where the trunk or back doors open. Reach in, grab it—put it back, shut the door, and go.

Where should you go? Drive across Oregon. In fact, do it twice—but we'll come to that later.

Before heading out from Lava Beds, there was one curiosity—representative of many curiosities across the US if you know where to look for them—that I saw on the way out. Captain Jack's Stronghold—one of the last stands of the Modoc out west. I had never heard of Captain Jack, the Modoc, the Modoc Wars, etc. I mean, it makes sense intellectually that there were people were there in California living before other people came across the land from the United States or across the water from Spain or wherever, but it's visceral when you get to pause somewhere and consider what it means. Captain Jack's Stronghold is interesting. It's just a bit of volcanic land that the Modoc had prepared into a series of sunken pathways and small caves and otherwise unfriendly territory—unfriendly if it's not your home, at least. When it's your home, you know it, and you can use the land to your advantage to hold off a much larger army—for a while, at least, longer than expected.

I don't understand it. I just appreciate the underdog nature of the thing, the resistance to a manifest destiny that claims your manifest homeland. When you walk through those volcanic passageways, what else could you feel but to feel like the defender?

From there: north to Oregon.

I had never been to Oregon before—couldn't tell you about anything that was there other than Crater Lake, which was still mostly closed due to snow at that time. I just assumed that Oregon was covered, south to north and west to east, with big ass trees. Total lumberjack country. 

But the high desert covers about two-thirds or more of the state, from the Cascades all the way to the eastern boundary. There are trees, sure, but along the route I took the trees had to fight for purchase with another long stretch of old volcanos and lava flows.

It's so weird. I didn't realize how much of the country was a wasteland—and I mean that lovingly. I mean that as someone who would drive to Death Valley anytime I was within six hours of that fantastic hellhole.

Everyone knows Portland, Oregon is weird. That's no surprise. But that's the people. The rest of Oregon is also weird—not in any remarkable way, just unexpected, I guess.

So, on that drive across Oregon, north to south, one short partial day, I stopped at a few places in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument in the Deschutes National Forest. Moving at top speed across the lava lands, there wasn't enough time to stop and see anything that was far away from the more touristed parts of the trails, which is a useless bit of self-pride, but—hey—stop and see what you can while you're getting to where you're going.

One thing I wish I had visited was the Lava River Cave, a mile-or-so-long lava tube that wasn't yet open for the season (not until after Memorial Day), but offered a "you're on your own if you go" kind of guarantee that I declined to take them up on—an unusual act of forbearance for me, but I seem to remember a residual bit of freakout from exploring the lava caves in California that appealed to my more cautious brain cells.

Black Crater
Captain Jack's Stronghold
Captain Jack's Stronghold
Big Obsidian Flow
Paulina Creek Falls
Lava Butte
Benham Falls, Deschutes River