I always wake up at the crack of dawn when I’m camping. Especially this time of year when it gets light before six in the morning. But that’s okay.
I’m not sure why (am I ever sure why?) I decided to drive up to Lake Chelan this morning, but I never really have before. I stopped in the touristy town of Chelan, at the foot of the lake, to buy batteries for my camera and to stick my head in a quilt shop on the main drag. Whoever their fabric buyer is, her taste does not agree with mine. I’m not a big fan of what I think of as sixties neon, and that was about all that little shop held.
There is no road clear around Lake Chelan. It’s a landlocked fjord, and the upper end of the lake reaches deep into the North Cascades. There are two roads on either side. The one on the north shore of the lake is only about twenty miles long. The one on the south side is about twice that length, so that’s the one I took.
Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in North America at over 1500 feet deep (the bottom is lower than sea level), according to a sign I read at the ferry landing. It’s roughly 55 miles long, and varies from one to two miles wide. It’s also pretty darned gorgeous. I stopped at the Fields Point Landing, a few miles up the lake, to poke around the visitor center and ask about the ferry that runs daily to Stehekin, the tiny settlement at the head of the lake. One of these days I want to take that trip, but the boat had left an hour or so earlier. Next time.
But I saw beautiful views, anyway, and more flowers.
I’d thought about camping at 25 Mile Creek State Park at the end of the road that night, but it wasn’t even noon yet, and I decided I wanted to actually go on up to the Okanogan. So, stopping along the way to make a picnic lunch, I headed up to the town of Omak, where one of my favorite quilt shops (Needlyn Time) is. And, yes, this time I bought fabric, which I needed like a hole in the head, but tough.
After that, I headed up to Conconully, the little town that inspired the ghost town of the same name in my Unearthly Northwest books.
Conconully is one of the few towns I know of with a state park right at the edge of town. But it’s a nice state park, and the campsite I wound up at was right on the lake and pretty secluded. I spent what was left of the afternoon just enjoying the day and reading, and listening to the red-winged blackbirds sawing their courtship cries. Oh, and watching the geese and ducks use the lake as a landing and launch pad. And the deer eating the campground’s mowed grass.
All in all, I drove a bit more than I had intended, but it was well worth it.
It’s no secret that this has been the wettest winter on record in western Washington (almost 45 inches of rain between October 1st and April 30th – our average, for well over a hundred years of record-keeping, is closer to 35 inches for the entire year), and one of the coldest. There’s no argument that it’s been incredibly depressing as well (and personal reasons have made it even more so for me).
So, when the weather forecasters for this past week noted (with great cheer) that it was supposed to get to and over 70dF on the west side of the mountains for the first time this year on Wednesday and Thursday, and even warmer, with lots of sunshine, on the east side, I thought, you know what? Screw it, I’m going camping.
Of course, when I thought about the east side of the mountains, my first idea was to go back to the Okanogan, which almost feels like home after the time I spent there researching my first two Tales of the Unearthly Northwest. I was also hoping it would nudge me back into writing the third Tale, which has sat there a few chapters in whining at me for longer than I want to think about it, due to those personal reasons I mentioned above. That didn’t really happen, but at least I got to spend some time in the sun, in nature, and to see lots of spring wildflowers.
The first place I went for flowers wasn’t on the way to the Okanogan, not in the region proper. At some point in the past I had picked up a flyer titled Wildflower Areas in the Columbia Basin, and one of them was about ten miles southeast of Wenatchee.
That turned out to be something of an adventure, as the photo of the Rock Island Grade Road will show. At my first sight of it, I thought, oh my gosh, I hope that little dirt road climbing up the side of a canyon isn’t the one they’re talking about, but yes, it was.
It wasn’t the steepest, narrowest road I’ve ever driven, but I think it’s the steepest, narrowest dirt road I’ve ever driven. The recommended place to stop was about two and a half miles up, and the flyer hinted that there was a parking area. Ha. And what it turned out to be was a place for locals to go up and shoot cans, with all of the attendant garbage. That said, it was also literally carpeted with wildflowers. I managed to park Merlin as close to the edge of the road (not, at that point, hanging over the cliff) as I could, in case someone else came by (no one did, thank goodness), got out, and this is what I saw.
After I made my way cautiously back down to the highway, I headed back to Wenatchee, then north along Hwy. 97, which borders the Columbia River. It was getting fairly late in the afternoon by then, so I stopped at Lincoln Rock State Park, the first of three parks with campgrounds north of Wenatchee. I’d never camped there before. All of the sites are within sight of the river, and it was a peaceful, warm evening. I sat out in my lawn chair and just absorbed it all. Unfortunately, the batteries in my camera chose just then to give up the ghost, and apparently I’d forgotten to bring the spares, so I have no photos of that.
And that was my first day east of the mountains this year. More tomorrow.
I woke up this morning to the distinct feeling of being watched. It was extremely disconcerting, but when I looked out my back window it was to see a deer, about ten feet away, staring straight at me. As soon as I moved she bounded off, but that was pretty cool.
Merlin and I survived the most washboardy dirt road on the planet <tm> back to the main highway without jarring anything loose, and headed south to Crater Lake. The closer I got to the lake the more snow there was, until by the time I reached the rim, the snowdrifts were considerably taller than my van.
I’ve never seen Crater Lake with snow before. I’d been there at least once as a kid with my parents (the Mazama campground is where my dad once chased a bear away, which story gets trotted out regularly in my family), and with my first husband, and this was the third time since I moved to Tacoma 23 years ago. But still, first time with snow, which was amazingly beautiful. Most of the roads and all of the trails were closed because of it, though, so, really, after taking lots of photos and sitting for a while on Crater Lake Lodge’s patio overlooking the lake, and hearing the weirdest sound, which I thought was a wild animal but turned out to be a baby (I’ve never heard a baby make a noise like that before), there wasn’t much else to do but go on.
Down down down to lunch in Klamath Falls, and some necessary phone calls now that the holiday weekend is finally over (there’s not a lot of cell phone signal in this part of the world), and then across my second state line of the trip to the town of Tulelake, California, the site of the largest Japanese internment camp during WWII. There’s a small national park service exhibit (and a bored to death park ranger) at the fairgrounds in town, but that’s pretty much it. Oh, and Tulelake High School is the home of the Honkers <g>. The Pacific Flyway goes directly over Tulelake, and there’s a huge lake and wildlife refuge nearby, but still.
And on to where I am tonight, which is Lava Beds National Monument, home of the largest concentration of lava tube caves in North America, and the last stand of the Modoc Indians, back about three years before the Nez Perce tried to flee to Canada. I hiked a trail around Captain Jack’s Stronghold (Captain Jack was what the whites called one of the Modoc chiefs), where the tribe held off a U.S. Army force ten times their number for months before they finally had to surrender.
Count it as another odd place to find wildflowers, too.
I did go down a little ways into one of the caves, but they’re not lit, and a lantern was not enough light for me to go far down there alone. I’m hoping there’ll be a ranger-guided walk through one tomorrow before I head on south. We’ll see.
I’ve been wanting to go to the High Desert Museum just south of Bend, Oregon, for a long time. I went once before, back in the 90s, when I don’t think it had been around for very long, and I wanted to see what it was like now.
I’d had it in my brain that it was this ecosystem’s NW Trek, which is basically a wild animal park (as opposed to a zoo) populated with local animals. The HDM did have local animals, but they were mostly of the creepy-crawly variety – reptiles and insects and a couple of arachnids I could have done just as well without – with the exception of a pair of river otters being terminally cute in a new habitat which just opened in April.
But the rest of the museum included a 1904 family logging operation (contrary to the moniker “high desert,” most of this part of the world is heavily forested with ponderosa pine) done up in living history style, a huge exhibit on the Native American history of the Great Basin, and several other exhibits. A temporary exhibit featured the work of the WPA in Oregon in the 1930s.
So, actually, it was a cross between NW Trek, the WA state history museum, and Fort Nisqually. Pretty darned impressive. And that doesn’t even take into account all the terrific outdoor sculpture, one piece of which was created by Rip Caswell, who I know through Facebook. Small world.
Lunch was back in Bend, and so was a trip up Pilot Butte, just east of downtown, thank you for mentioning it to me, Paul. But could you have at least warned me that the road to the top is at least as terrifying as the one up Steptoe Butte in the Palouse??? But it was worth the white knuckles, and I finally got some excellent views of the central Oregon Cascade volcanoes.
I spent most of the afternoon at Newberry Crater Nat’l Volcanic Monument, not far south of Bend, a place I’d camped at with my parents when I was about nine or ten, and with my first husband in my mid-twenties. It was fun to see it again, to hike the Obsidian Flow trail (which still had snow in places!) and stroll along the shore of one of the tiny lakes inside the crater.
Tonight I’m camped at a little forest service campground along the road to Newberry Crater, with a waterfall as background music. Pretty nifty, IMHO.
Today was a short drive day. I spent the morning exploring the Painted Hills section of the John Day Fossil Beds, which turned out to be my favorite part. The hills weren’t just multicolored – red from iron, gray from manganese, lavender and yellow from minerals I don’t remember, sorry – they’re textured to look like the skin of some ancient reptile. Nothing grows on them where the soil hasn’t been disturbed, because of the density of the clay and a whole bunch of other things. Where they have been disturbed, even out in that desolate country, there are flowers. I saw three species I had never seen before, and thanks to a lovely identification panel on the kiosk at the picnic area, I now know what their friends call them <g>
Prineville was about an hour’s drive on, and I stopped there for lunch before coming on to Redmond (just north of Bend), where I have taken my first motel of the trip (I had always planned on stopping in motels about every third night – for showers and wifi and easy charging of stuff, if nothing else). I was a bit concerned about finding a motel on the Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend, so I checked in early, then drove over to Sisters, of quilt show fame.
Sisters is sort of the Cannon Beach of central Oregon. Or maybe that crossed with Winthrop? Anyway, lots of tourists, but some really good huckleberry ice cream. And the Stitchin’ Post (the shop that started the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show all those years ago), which was something of a disappointment. For one thing, half the shop is knitting stuff now, and for the other, I don’t know who their fabric buyer is these days, but her taste and mine do not agree. I was looking for fabric that would say, this came from Sisters to me, but mostly what they had was that sixties-looking stuff that does nothing for me, and has nothing to do with where the shop is.
It wasn’t important (having just packed up my entire stash a couple of days ago, I am acutely conscious that I need more fabric like I need a hole in my head), but it was sad to me, anyway.
I did get some spectacular views of the Three Sisters, Broken Top, Three-Fingered Jack, and Mt. Bachelor along the way, but there was no place to pull over and actually take pictures. I promise to try to do better on that front tomorrow.
Having fallen asleep before most children’s bedtime last night, I woke up with the birds this morning. And ended up driving a bit further than I thought I would for one day, but that’s okay.
Down U.S. 12 to Yakima, where I drove five miles of I-82 before I could escape onto U.S. 97, about 60 miles down to the Columbia River. 97 crosses the Yakama (yes, that’s spelled right) Nation Indian Reservation, and for some reason I’d been expecting high desert. What I got was beautiful foothills, and peekaboo glimpses of Mt. Hood, until I got to the little town of Goldendale, where I had gorgeous views of both Hood and Mt. Adams to its north. And a farmers’ market on this Saturday morning, where I bought some strawberries.
Then I went to Stonehenge <g>. No, not that Stonehenge, but the replica built back after WWII as a war memorial, perched over the Columbia River. It’s made of concrete and is seriously surreal.
Then across the wide Columbia River and my first state line of the trip, into Oregon, and on south through miles of wide open countryside, over at least one pass and past several hundred wind turbines (more than I’ve ever seen anywhere including Washington state’s Palouse country, which is saying a lot), along the John Day River, and through some cute towns.
Wasco, where someone’s got a weird sense of humor, and Condon, which I’m really glad isn’t a typo, and Fossil, where I ate lunch in the middle of a motorcycle rally. Well, in a café in the middle of a motorcycle rally, anyway.
I was headed towards John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, which I’d been wanting to visit for a long time. The landscape there reminds me in some ways of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Lots of multicolored rock layers. The history was interesting, too. John Day (whose namesake was a fur trapper) was sheep farming country before the fossils were discovered, and the park service has preserved one of the farms, with well-done interpretation.
But the best part was the John Condon Paleontological Center (John Condon was one of the first people to discover the fossils). They don’t do dinosaurs at John Day. They do ancient mammals. The Cenozoic period, to be precise. Fascinating stuff. I spent a good chunk of my afternoon there.
But it was time to find a place to stay for the night. I’m in another forest service campground (I figure on finding a motel or hostel or whatever about every third night), up in the forest above the high desert. It’s nice and cool, and there are wildflowers, and I got the last campsite <g>. Can’t ask for much more than that!
The movers pulled away at about 2 pm on Friday, with all my worldly possessions filling most of a truck.
In spite of a minor kafuffle with the closing (you all knew everything was going way too smoothly to be real, right?) and some last-minute computer issues (my computer guy finally finished working on my laptop at 5:30 on Thursday evening – fortunately he was doing it remotely so I didn’t have to go pick it up), everything got done. Hallelujah.
I did a last walk-through, called Loralee as I’d promised, made a few last stops, and got the heck out of Dodge.
I’d decided a while back that I was going to go through Mt. Rainier NP on my way, so that’s what I did. Through the Nisqually Entrance, where I found out that the route I wanted to take had just opened for the season that day, up towards Paradise and down through Stevens Canyon. There wasn’t as much snow up there as I’d thought there would be, either. I suspect the reason Stevens Canyon doesn’t open earlier is because the terrain is basically an avalanche waiting to happen. Chute after chute after chute.
It showered off and on most of my way through the park, and I saw not one, but two separate rainbows before I got to Ohanapecosh. Good omen much???
I’d thought about spending my first night at Ohanapecosh, but it was still relatively early and the campground was crowded, and I decided to go on.
On down to U.S. 12, which eventually leads to Yakima, with a bunch of forest service campgrounds along the way. I knew it was Memorial Day weekend. What didn’t connect was how this fact would mean full campgrounds along the way. Oh, well. I did eventually find a site, but it was almost 8 pm by the time I did. Thank goodness for almost 16 hour daylight hours this time of year.
And this is where I end by saying I love Merlin the van. He’s comfortable and self-contained, and I was exhausted, and he made my first night on the road great
I just picked up the van. I think he’s male, but I wouldn’t swear to it. Now to find out what his name is. If he was green, I’d name him Osprey (long story), but since he’s white, I’m at something of a loss.
I have just returned from my annual trip to Tyler, Texas, to visit my almost 92-year-old mother, and, this time, to make a short (three-day) jaunt with my sister, who lives down there, too. We planned this several months ago, before all of the problems with my condo made me decide to sell it and take another Long Trip, and the plane tickets were already bought, so I didn’t try to cancel it.
Anyway, Mother is getting more and more fragile. I won’t get into her health issues here except to say how grateful I am that she’s still alive for me to go visit. I stayed with my sister Ann, and that’s only one reason I’m grateful she’s down there nearby for Mother.
Anyway, I’d been wanting to go to Austin and San Antonio and the Hill Country for a long time, and since this time I had to rent a car, anyway, I decided to go, and to invite Ann to go along with me. After a couple of days visiting with my mother, we headed south to San Antonio.
One of the nice things about Tyler is that to go any direction but due east or west, you pretty much have to get off the Interstate. The drive to San Antonio, aside from missing one turn, not realizing we had until we’d gone too far to turn back, and having to reroute ourselves, was fun. Wide open spaces, small towns, and wildflowers scattered all over the roadsides.
We arrived in San Antonio in the late afternoon, and found a hotel within walking distance of the River Walk and the Alamo, and went to eat supper along the River Walk. The River Walk reminded us both a bit of certain parts of Disneyland, but it was still fun (and about 10 degrees cooler than up on the street), and we ate fancy pizza right next to the water.
The next morning, it was raining just a bit. We strolled over to the Alamo under Ann’s umbrellas (she had two).
I liked the Alamo. It was very interesting historically (they did a terrific job with the museum exhibit part of the thing), and the gardens were lovely. The rain was a minor nuisance, but not a big deal. Yes, the Alamo is basically a shrine to Texas, but I knew that going in, and, well, I eat history up with a spoon, so I had no problem with it.
On our way back to the hotel to pack up and check out, we saw a whole bunch of carriages decorated as if for a wedding. Turns out we’d arrived the night before San Antonio’s annual Fiesta began. According to one of the carriage drivers, Fiesta attracts more people every year than New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, and was started when a bunch of ladies got drunk and flung flowers at each other 🙂
In the afternoon, we drove up to the Hill Country, which is sort of legendary for its spring wildflowers. It did not disappoint. After lunch in Fredericksburg, we took some back roads out through the rolling countryside (calling it hilly would have been stretching things, IMHO), and saw whole fields of flowers. Bluebonnets, of course, but also winecups and evening primroses and all sorts of things. Just gorgeous.
We wound up spending the night in the town of San Marcos, just south of Austin, and came in for a rude surprise when we turned on the Weather Channel. A huge storm was headed our way. You might have seen the recent news reports about flooding in Texas? Well, we weren’t in Houston, where it got really bad, but the rest of it? We were right where it was about to hit.
So we decided to cut our trip short by one day and go back to Tyler the next morning.
People think it rains a lot here in western Washington, and we do get a fair amount. But it’s a soft rain. Texas rain is like driving through a bleeding waterfall. I’m not overly fond of thunder and lightning, either. At least we didn’t have any tornado warnings. But we made it back, and my only disappointment was that I didn’t get to go to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. Maybe next time, if there is a next time.
Once back in Tyler, the weather cleared up (bad weather seems to go around Tyler a lot of the time, which is really weird), and until I left several days later (having planned the trip with the jaunt in the middle so Mother could rest up while we were gone), I not only spent as much time as I could with my mother, but I got to stroll around a nature trail just down the street from my sister’s house, where there were also lots of wildflowers.
The last day before I left, Mother and I drove out to a place called Love’s Lookout, about fifteen miles south of Tyler, where there’s a nice little bench with a beautiful view, and we sat and talked for a while. It’s kind of our place, and I’m glad she was still able to go out there with me.
And that was my visit to Tyler this year. Every year now I wonder if this will be my last visit with my mother. I hope not.