News from September 2007

Around the State in Seven Days

Occurred September 02, 2007 (Permalink)

Jason flew in today from Sacramento to begin our road trip for 2007. Unlike last year's trip, this time we decided that we could get a bit more rugged--more camping, fewer reservations made in advance, and in general a less definite sense of planning than before. Granted, we'd already done that in 2005 with the spur-of-the-moment trip to Boise, but this time we wanted to take a week.

So with Jason in town, we rented a(nother) Chevy TrailBlazer, loaded up with supplies at my house and at REI and Haagen in Hillsboro, and took off down OR-217 to I-5. From Tigard we went directly south on 5 to Eugene and went eastward on OR-58 past Waldo Lake out to US-97. By this time the sun had set, so we cruised south on 97 to OR-138, arriving at Crater Lake at about 21:30. A park ranger told us that we could basically just find a site in a campground and pay in the morning, so we stopped on the rim and pulled out the cameras.

What a view we had! Though it was pitch black on a quarter moon, we could still still see down into the lake. I pulled out the 50mm f/1.4 lens that I'd bought a few weeks earlier and began taking pictures of the stars. The milky way was plainly visible with the naked eye, as well as quite a lot of major constellations. Unfortunately, I didn't realize this at the time but a 1.4 aperture and a 30 second exposure let in quite a LOT of light--enough to make the stars look rather much like blurry blobs. I didn't realize this until we downloaded the pictures onto Jason's laptop, though the subsequent night photos have the aperture shrunk down to 1.8 (or even 2.2). The red headlamp was instrumental in allowing me to see the camera while not bathing it in light, not to mention setting up camp in the dark.

Crater Lake

Occurred September 03, 2007 (Permalink)
Wizard Island
Wizard Island

Monday morning was slow going. The guy at the registration booth hadn't a clue what he was doing, hence the check in procedure took a whopping 65 minutes! In 1930, scribbling in the ledger book and chucking the quarter into the change box would have taken at most five. Anyway, we set off clockwise around the rim of Crater Lake, taking pictures all the way. Jason generously let me borrow his polarizer, so we'll see how the richness of the photos compare to what I've taken before.

Sheer Rock Face
Sheer Rock Face

According to the park rangers, Crater Lake is not named for the giant cone in which the lake sits--it's named for the 300' cone that pokes up above the lake surface. About 7,000 years ago, there was a huge volcano on the spot named Mt. Mazama. It was nearly 14,000 feet tall until the magma chamber collapsed, causing the tip of the mountain to cave in and form a giant caldera at 6,000'. Centuries of rainwater filled the caldera, forming the lifeless lake that is there today.

Editor's side note: The photos are split into seven albums: west, north, and east parts of the rim; and the fumaroles, Vidae Falls, Castle Crest Wildflower Trail, and the sunset pictures.

Another Mt. Scott!
Another Mt. Scott!

There are some amusing geological features atop the Crater Lake rim--an old lava vent on the side of the mountain was more or less preserved when the tip fell in. The vent is now right on the cliff face of the lake, which means that even from far away it's easy to tell the major difference in rock composition between the plugged vent and the surrounding ash. Unfortunately, we missed the last boat tour of the lake, so the best we managed were a few extreme telephoto shots with our 28-135 lenses. In any case, we continued around the lake, slowly realizing that our bodies hadn't yet adjusted to the higher altitudes. Even a quick jaunt of a hike proved to be taxing, and we didn't even bother with the 8,100' Mt. Scott. Despite the signage saying so, we also did not manage to see the Old Man, a tree that's been floating around the lake since at least 1929.

Fumarole
Fumarole

One of the side trips away from the mountain took us about 7 miles off of the rim drive and down into a stream canyon. At the time of the last eruption this area had just been a stream going off the mountain nearby some lava vents, but a few thousand years' erosion took away all the sand and left the hollowed out tubes through which the lava had vented! The road stops next to a big canyon; looking over the canyon there are a series of tall, narrow rocky structures poking up from the floor. Half a mile southeast from there was the eastern entrance to Crater Lake National Park; the first time I'd ever traversed a national park entrance on foot!

Vidae Falls
Vidae Falls

Continuing around the crater rim, we stopped at the one and only set of water works that we were to see the entire trip. Along the side of the road was the Vidae waterfall, and a short distance further down the road was a short hiking trail around a meadow. After that, we went up to the Crater Lake Lodge on the rim and had a quick look around. There was a mildly patronizing ranger giving a tour; when he asked "How many of you didn't drive up here?" in a syrupy voice, I was quite tempted to raise my hand and tell him that I'd flown in on a helicopter.

The Newberry Volcano System

Occurred September 04, 2007 (Permalink)
OR-138 East
OR-138 East

Lying in my tent in the next morning, my slumberous reverie was pockmarked by a curious plunk-plunk sound. Since most of my dreams are rather bizarre (and sometimes in TechniColor) I chalked it up to being merely a strange dream. Unfortunately, as the cartoonish aspects faded out, the plunking noises got stronger. "What an odd hallucination" I thought, until I woke up fully and realized that my tent was being rained upon! As Jason and I got progressively soggier, we made a fast breakfast, crammed all sorts of muddy stuff into the car, and made a quick getaway as the rains continued. Next stop: Bend.

Paulina Lake
Paulina Lake

We didn't get to Bend that directly. About twenty miles south of Bend is Newberry volcano. Unlike most of the Cascade volcanoes that form a nearly straight line going northwards through the northwestern United States, this volcano is a shield volcano off on its own. There are two lakes sitting in the middle of a caldera; these are known as Paulina Lake and East Lake, as well as a mountain, called Paulina Peak. The lake is a pretty typical recreational one, with docks and fish swimming around. Because this was the day after Labor Day, the established campground at East Lake looked like it had been freshly deserted.

Paulina Peak
Paulina Peak

Jason wanted to try out the 4WD, so we jumped on the dirt road and went up to the top of Paulina Peak. For fifteen minutes we had awesome views of the volcano below until the storm clouds came in and blanketed us out. The top of the peak is advertised as being nearly 7,984 feet above sea level, and it is a convenient way of seeing the entire area--including a large obsidian flow that was totally invisible from the lakes!

A Piece of Obsidian
A Piece of Obsidian

Obsidian is a glassy black rock that comes out of volcanoes in areas where the silica content of the rock is high. Apparently, one can go to any number of obsidian volcanoes in Eastern Oregon and grab as much of the stuff as desired, but since this area was a state park, we had to leave it all there. From the top of Paulina Peak, the obsidian carved a giant tongue of rock straight through the trees, creating a sharp 200' drop from the top of the rock plateau down to the forest. There's a path through the giant piles of rocks; it was rather interesting to wander through, trying to see which rocks would grind down the others the best! True to its reputation, the obsidian rocks were quite good at shredding the pumice into dust.

China Hat Mountain
China Hat Mountain

Next, we drove like a bat out of hell eastward over various dirt roads towards China Hat mountain. It looks like a Chinese coolie hat, and there's a town with about four houses and a helipad at the base of the mountain. From there it was more dirt road northwards towards US-20, and we went westward to the first hotel that we saw, the Sleep Inn at the edge of the city.

Driving East Through the Desert

Occurred September 05, 2007 (Permalink)
US-20 East
US-20 East

Originally, the two of us had thought about seeking out the same series of caves that Jeff and I had climbed through the previous weekend. However, it wasn't clear on that last trip whether or not the caves were actually open to the public, since the sign said "CLOSED NOV - MAY" with duct tape over various parts of the sign (but not the entire word "CLOSED"), so we went back to the Lava River Cave, as described in the 26 Aug posting.

The next destination on the trip was 190 miles away in Frenchglen, OR. The instructions to get there were quite simple--east on US-20 130 miles to Burns, then south on OR-205 for another sixty. The entire drive along US-20 was quite uneventful--miles and miles of dry land totally empty save for sagebrush. For some reason they were tarring and chipping a good twenty miles of the highway even though it clearly didn't need it, but in any case it was quite droll.

Cow Traffic
Cow Traffic

Two miles south of Burns, we were following a Ford Explorer, when all of the sudden the Explorer starts braking. We were confused for a second, until we noticed the thick brown and black line in front of the Explorer. That's right-- a herd of cattle were being pushed down the street by three cowhands on horses! I took some time-lapse photography of the Explorer slowing down and being engulfed by mooing cows; it was quite hilarious to us both to sit there at a complete stop, watching cows move past while mooing balefully.

The next fifty-five miles of OR-205 twist and turn rather unusually. First, there is a long plateau a quarter of a mile wide and maybe a few hundred feet off the valley floor. The highway, instead of going around this, goes right _over_ it! Then there is Malheur Lake, which marks the rough start of the Malheur Wildlife Preserve, which extends all the way down the valley to the town of Frenchglen. The road follows the edge of this preserve on a crazy squiggly path along the west foothills of the valley. Though I was told that one could see quite a lot of exotic birds here, I don't recall seeing anything after the lake. Perhaps one should visit there when it is not bone dry.

Frenchglen Hotel
Frenchglen Hotel

The town of Frenchglen serves as a gateway to the Steens Mountains. It has a hotel that resembles a bed-and-breakfast (with good food) and a total population of 11. Surprisingly enough, the hotel was booked completely full-- I was simultaneously amazed that anyone would go there and not surprised because there aren't any non-campground places to stay for 60 miles in any direction. Unfortunately, there was exactly _one_ couple from our generation; they left us to socialize (or not) with the old people as they struck out for Steens Moutain in the dark. Sadly, it was hazy that evening, so I took no nighttime photos. There were a few that I took just after dinnertime to fill up the card.

Steens Mountain

Occurred September 06, 2007 (Permalink)
Little Blitzen Gorge
Little Blitzen Gorge

The Steens Mountains are a line of mountains heaved skywards by a thrust fault running northeasterly through southeastern Oregon. The west side of the mountain is fairly tame, rising 5,700 feet over the course of 15-20 miles. The eastern side, however, drops the same height in perhaps a quarter of a mile, providing awesome views of the sky, the Alvord desert, and pretty much anything one could want to see in any direction. Steens Mountain Loop is a forty-mile long gravel road that goes up one ridge of the backside of the mountain and down the other, but more about that later. The north loop is relatively straight and boring; one can drive quite fast over the rocks.

Off the Edge!
Off the Edge!

Nearer to the summit, there are vast U-shaped canyons that were carved out by glaciers during the last ice age. Similar to the formations that one can see in places like Yosemite but 2,000 feet higher, the lack of moisture up there means that aside from a modest covering of smallish plants towards the bottom, one can see the craggy details of the rocks even from the other side of the canyon! Moreover, the lack of erosion and root degradation means that we could walk right out to a cliff face to photograph the scenery!

Summit Marker
Summit Marker

Going further up the mountain, we arrived at the edge of the mountain ridge. The view eastward was gorgeous! The Alvord desert is a huge 8mi x 15mi salt flat, but from that high up it didn't look that big! The other thing that we saw was a huge green circle in the middle of the desert--apparently, some farmer must be making a lot of money keeping that farm running. With field glasses one could just barely make out a tractor taking down plants in concentric circles. In the distance we could see a chain of smaller mountains rising off the valley floor. Though we didn't venture out to them, I'm plenty sure they'd seem huge to anybody standing in the foothills, a perspective we'd get to study in detail at Hells Canyon.

Me at the 'Top'
Me at the 'Top'

The gravel road ends at 9,600 feet, though Steens Mountain itself continues another 133 feet up into the air. Having come that close to the top, we simply had to make the mini-trek to see the cell phone towers that we thought were perched atop the mountain. It turns out that was a total setup--yes, the road goes to the cell towers, but the cell towers are _not_ the top! The real top with the USGS markers sits atop a pile of rocks on a hump not 500 yards away. From either hump we could see Wildhorse Lake, perhaps the second highest lake in Oregon (the highest is in the Wallowa Mountains) and a long ridge line that must have gone another 30-40 miles southwards. Curiously, despite being right next to a Cellular One tower (and even more curiously since they don't claim service in Frenchglen!), our Verizon phones wouldn't dial out.

Big Indian Canyon
Big Indian Canyon

Descending Steens Mountain, one has a couple of choices for routes. The north loop is wide enough for two vehicles to pass comfortably, but that does not a loop road make! South Steens Mountain Road has a large warning sign at its entrance, telling people not to make the trek without a vehicle with high clearance (no rice rockets allowed _here_!) due to a section called the "Rooster Comb"--narrow, with cliffs on one side and rock face on the other, and little ability to pass, much less spin out. We took this south road, and man was it difficult! The Rooster Comb had some awesome views of the canyons leading away from Steens Mountain; the old-timer working the gas pumps in Fields said that it's better to go _up_ the Rooster Comb because it's less scary and the views are better going up, and I believe he was right. But we haven't gotten to Fields yet.

Rock Road on the Rooster Comb
Rock Road on the Rooster Comb

The worst part about the south loop comes at the lower end of the Comb, because at that point the dusty road becomes a rock road! Big rocks of several inches scatter over the road, making the path a bit hazardous to anyone with bad suspension. We were bumping and bouncing up and down like the best hydraulic-enhanced bling car in Southern California, but without the golden trim, rims, under-body LED lights, and low profile tires. Eventually the road flattened out and Jason dared to disengage 4L. Down towards OR-205 we went; unfortunately at the junction of the loop road and the highway we realized that our average gas mileage had been about 5mpg and we had only a few gallons of gas left. The pumps in Frenchglen looked like they hadn't been used in a while and we only had enough gas either to return to Frenchglen or to try to make it to Fields. We knew Fields had gas, because the guests of the Frenchglen Hotel had made a point of telling everyone there was gas there when we were dining the night before.

Trekking Through Nothingness to the Nevada Border

Occurred September 06, 2007 (Permalink)

So off to Fields it was! The road was long and boring, but it did take us over Bird Hill, through a low pass in the Steens Mountains over to the valley on the other side, and into Fields. When the gas pump clicked past 18 gallons, the old-timer working the pump commented, "You boys must've been pretty low on gas, eh?" We sure were! The population of the town was a whopping 14, so I felt the need to purchase a mug commemorating that fact.

Denio, NV
Denio, NV

Denio, Nevada lay twenty miles to the south. Because we were so close to the bottom of Oregon, we went. Not much there either--that part of Oregon is so dry and remote that there's nothing on the mountains. No buildings, no trees, no power lines, no shrubs, no water, hardly any grass! From there we went straight north to Burns, avoiding the Alvord Desert route because it was all gravel roads and we were tired of that. Burns was hosting the yearly county fair, so the only hotel with room for us was a Comfort Inn; the man in line ahead of me at the reservation desk dressed in a big straw hat and coveralls and spoke with a thick Southern accent. If he'd brought in a pitchfork and a pig I'd have fallen over laughing.

Harney County Welcome
Harney County Welcome

Dinner was at the Apple Peddler in Hines. I had pork chops, and the man at the table next to me was ranting loudly to his friend about how people have no idea about food items available in other parts of the country. Apparently he'd met some woman who didn't know what sourdough bread was, and she spent a good ten minutes yelling at him for giving her stale bread: "Is this bread bad?" "No." "It's hard and stale!" "Yes, it sourdough." "No, it's the worst bread I've ever had!" "No, it's just different, that's the way sourdough bread is!" (etc.)

Old Chinatown in John Day

Occurred September 07, 2007 (Permalink)

The third and final region to visit on our trip around Oregon was Enterprise, Oregon, nestled in the valley between the Wallowa Mountains and Hells Canyon. For the first time since Bend, we left the tumbleweedy desert behind and climbed up into hills covered with yellow grass as we headed north on US-395. Admittedly, the view was not much of an eyesore improvement over the barren mountains of Harney County, but at least it turns green at some point during the year.

John Day is an old mining town in eastern Oregon. Started as a gold mine in the 1850s, the town got its beginning as the "bad neighborhood" complement to Canyon City, a mile south. In the early 1880s, two Chinese immigrants, Ing Hay and Long On went into business together, starting The Kam Wah Chung Co., a combination herbal doctor (Ing) and general store (Long), even as the Chinese population of eastern Oregon declined as the cities drew those Chinese who managed not to run afoul of the Exclusion Act. There's a museum a few blocks off US-26 that hosts the one remaining building of old Chinatown--theirs.

The case of the two men is an interesting study of the (partial) integration of the two men into American society--Long adopted western mannerisms and dress, spoke English well, opened a car dealership, and became well respected among the Caucasian community. Hay, in contrast, stuck fast to his Chinese customs and training as an herbalist while the local community of ranch hands and miners rejected the crude methods of late 1800s-early 1900s Western medicine for Doc Hay's strange and foul-tasting remedies. Trust me, having been seen by the Chinese doctors and ingested their odd remedies, they work, but they sure are odd!

Travelling to Enterprise

Occurred September 07, 2007 (Permalink)
Enterprise
Enterprise

Our tour over, I drove us eastward on US-26 to the junction of OR-7. From there, I faced the challenge to pass _five_ RVs to avoid having to fly up a mountain pass at 25mph in a 55 zone. After many more miles of back-country farms and rural settings, we reached Baker City and went northwest on I-84 to La Grande. From there, we took OR-82 around the Wallowa Mountains to the sleepy town of Enterprise, passing many a green field full of rolling sprinkler equipment. We passed up dinner at the Video & U-Bake Pizza joint for Ming Li, a Chinese/American restaurant on the edge of town. To be honest I wasn't expecting much, but upon entering noticed that the wait staff and cooks were all Chinese from the old country, and the food was actually quite good. One odd quirk though--I had to ask for chop sticks; the waiter was floored when Jason asked for a pair as well. Strange habits, we Californians have...

The Big Dipper?
The Big Dipper?

Long after the sun sank below the horizon, Jason and I strapped on our warm clothing and headed out into the countryside for a second shot at night photography. Because our hotel offered Internet access, I took a look at the satellite photos of the area and selected a spot that appeared to be mostly farmland--hopefully no lights, infrequent car headlights, and no mountains in the way. The place we picked was almost perfect for taking pictures, save for the cows that were mooing eerily nearby. I pulled out the 50mm lens a second time and snapped some good pictures of the stars in the Milky Way, the Big Dipper, and some other constellation I haven't identified yet.

Hells Canyon

Occurred September 08, 2007 (Permalink)
Approaching Imnaha
Approaching Imnaha

Upriver of Hermiston, the Columbia River flows southward from the Canadian Rockies; into this river flows the Snake River after passing through today's sightseeing destination, Hells Canyon. Two hundred million years ago, the Earth's land mass was concentrated in a super-continent called Pangaea and nearly all that became Oregon lay underwater in the ocean. An offshore line of volcanoes slowly built the Blue Mountains; as plates buckled and collided, the uplift of rock between them and the shoreline pushed the sea bed thousands of feet above sea level, helping to form the deep canyons that comprise the Hells Canyon area today. There's quite an altitude difference between top and bottom: whereas the Snake River is at about 1,250 feet, the Seven Devil Mountains in Idaho tower some 9,000 feet above sea level. We only saw it from the Oregon side, at perhaps 7,000 feet.

Moo.
Moo.

A week earlier, my boss had suggested driving out to Hat Point for some particularly awesome views of Hells Canyon. She was dead right about that, but what a road we had to traverse to get there! Paved roads stop at the town of Imnaha, which sits in a river valley adjoining Hells Canyon. Along the way, we saw many skinny pastures stuck between the Imnaha River and the Imnaha Highway. Apparently the farmers in the area don't place much stock in constraining their animals in pens, for we saw cows and horses grazing semi-wild in ditches along the side of the road, totally oblivious to the cars zooming by at 60.

Imnaha River Canyon and the Wallowa Mountains
Imnaha River Canyon and the Wallowa Mountains

Outside Imnaha, a gravel road begins the twenty-four mile trek to Hat Point by climbing 5,000 feet in 5 miles straight up the side of the canyon with no switchbacks to an awesome vista of Imnaha! Ominously, there were yellow signs facing the other direction warning people that they needed to stop to let their brakes cool off. Considering that Steens Mountain Loop didn't have warning signs, we took that as a hint that low gear _and_ brakes might be required here! The second yellow sign indicated a 16% grade going down the road.

Having conquered the ridge, the road flattens out (relatively speaking) for the remaining nineteen miles out to Hat Point. Along the way we passed several places to pull out for pictures; several of the panoramas were shot from these locations. Up atop that ridge were several large mud puddles that Jason had fun driving through.

Hat Point Fire Tower
Hat Point Fire Tower

Hat Point consists of a giant wooden fire tower that was built in the early 20th century on the brink of Hells Canyon. Ironically, the trees all around the fire tower were all recently charred, and it was obvious that crews had started the work of rebuilding the wooden benches and viewing platforms that were there previously. Jason and I climbed up the fire tower to the lower of the two viewing platforms to give ourselves vertigo and shoot some more panoramas of the Hells Canyon area. The trip was surprisingly time-consuming, since we left camp around 10:30 and didn't finish until perhaps 16:30.

Joseph
Joseph

Heading back to town, we made a significant detour down Forest Road 39 to a more official looking viewing point south of the dam on the Snake River. That area had some decent views too, but by that point we were tired of seeing big canyons, mountains, rivers, and desert. We never did get around to hiking in the Wallowas. Dinner was at a mostly deserted Mexican restaurant in Joseph.

By the way, if you ride motorcycles, don't idle them for 15 minutes right outside your hotel at 7:15am on Saturday. Some people with oatmeal for brains were staying in an adjacent room and did that to us.

Unfamiliar Interstate; Home Again

Occurred September 09, 2007 (Permalink)
Interstate 82
Interstate 82

Sunday, we bade Enterprise farewell and started driving west back to Portland via OR-82 and I-84. Since neither of us had been on it before, we drove I-82 north into Washington and came back to Hermiston, Oregon for lunch. Highlights of the rest of the trip include seeing the new windmills being installed in the Columbia River Gorge and watching the salmon trying to swim up the fish ladder at Cascade Locks. It's quite odd watching fish trying to swim upwards against the current: they make a few feet of progress, then get tired and get pushed most of the way back, and occasionally a bigger fish comes crashing downcurrent, shoving the smaller fish around the place. Trouble is, the fish expect to go upcurrent, so making it "easy" for them by lowering the water flow confuses them and they end up fish chowder in the dam turbines. When we got back to Portland we hosed and scrubbed the Blazer until it was clean, leaving a layer of topsoil all over my driveway. Dinner was at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in downtown, with dessert at Pix on SE Division. 1,959.2 miles and 84 gallons of gas this year.

Copyright ©1996-2018, Darrick Wong. All Rights Reserved. Send feedback.