"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Monday, June 23, 2014

North to Alaska

Today we start a really big adventure. Although our lives are all about moving and changing, whenever we leave the RV for awhile it feels very different - like a vacation used to feel. Our internet connection has been very bad lately so I apologize for not keeping up to date. Even this little post took a lot of time to accomplish. We've been near Eugene, basically just getting ready for our more-than-a-month away from home.

We'll be parking the RV at Premier RV Storage and Service where an independent contractor, Coach Solutions, will do some work for us while it's parked.

Then we'll take four days to drive through coastal Oregon and Washington, ending up in Gig Harbor with our friends Cindy and Nick. We'll stay with them a few days until we fly up to Sitka next week.

Our plans while there are a small ship cruise around the inland passageway, then hanging out in Anchorage, Denali and the surrounding area for the rest of the time. Although our connectivity, both phone and internet will be sketchy much of the time, we'll be taking plenty of pictures so I hope to post when I can.

Here we go!!!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Rockin' at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Yes, it's all about the rocks here, the unique geological formations and the fossilized remains they hold.  Although we aren't big fossil hounds, we had to admire the historical, scientific and visual richness of this immense and varied area. 

(Those of you drawn to this post looking for fossils, welcome anyway, but you'll have to look elsewhere for petrified flora and fauna. Sorry!)

The drive from Bend is a couple of hours, made longer by my efforts to find a "back road" that didn't work out. Oh well. It was a beautiful drive none-the-less. We were aiming for two "units" of the John Day Monument: Sheep Rock and the Painted Hills. We shot past Sheep Rock to see Picture Gorge just east of the turn off. (There are pictographs in the gorge somewhere, but we didn't see them.) The gorge itself, with the John Day River running through it was good enough.

Just a bit further east is the Fossil Beds Overlook.  I gather that we were looking down at where fossils have been uncovered, though the information plaques told us more about the geology of the area than about the fossils. I imagine the park would like to discourage visitors from going down and digging around.

Next stop was the Thomas Condon Paleontology and Visitor's Center, a serious museum that would take hours to really take in. Our quick tour found it vastly overwhelming. 

It sits across the street from picturesque Sheep Rock. 

  Traveling north on 19 took us through this beautiful agricultural valley to our next destination, the Blue Basin.

From the parking area there is a short, warm hike into the heart of the rocky Blue Basin. 

I'm afraid these photos don't do the color justice.

Our next destination was the Painted Hills, but we needed some sustenance before we tackled another hike of any sort. Mitchell is the only town between the two units of John Day Fossils so that's where we looked. First place we saw was the Little Pine Cafe. It's a small place with a small menu, a small bar and a small porch with outdoor seating. It was running nonstop that day by the graces of two very hard-working women. Lots of local color and good enough food.

After dinner we turned north on the nearby very well-marked road through another beautiful irrigated valley toward the Painted Hills. 

The Painted Hills is an isolated area totally different from the surrounding landscape, which is mostly mountains of layered lava (17 layers to be exact). Below you can see the lava hills in back of the painted hills.

Those of you who have seen the bentonite hills near Torrey, UT in Capital Reef National Park will see the similarity, but I'd say these are more colorful, and smoother. I don't know how they compare geologically, but I didn't read anything about bentonite in any of the literature about these hills.

They really are quite beautiful.

It was a long day, with lots of driving and lots of visual reward, but this was the unexpected highpoint. Our first rattlesnake in the wild! This Western Rattlesnake, probably four feet long, was lying in the road, catching the last of the days sun and warmth.

We're getting ready to leave Bend, OR and I hope to catch up with a report of what else we've been doing here before then. Our internet has been kind of squirrely lately, so it may not happen. If it doesn't, the next post may be from Eugene, OR. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Newberry National Volcanic Monument

Spoiler alert! This is the view of Mt. Bachelor from on top of Lava Butte…but we're not there yet. 

We spent the day touring Newberry National Volcanic Monument, about 10 miles south of Bend. 

Below is the bird's eye "view" of Lava Butte from the Visitor's Center. : ) See the candy cane stripe swirling up and around the butte? That's where we're going. It's all part of the Newberry Volcano, a shield type of volcano that covers an area about the size of Rhode Island!

Here's the red road up Lava Butte. I wonder if it's red because they made the paving out of cinders? In the back is the butte, which is a cinder cone, and on the left is the edge of one of the lava flows. 

Once up on top, there is a walking trail that goes around the edge of the cinder cone's crater. Great views from every vantage point. 

These are the loose cinders underfoot. Yes, they can be rolly and slippery. See, they're the same color as the road. 

Looking down into the crater from the highest point of Lava Butte.

At the very top of the butte is a fire lookout tower, actively in use.

Lots of lava around here. We've been to Hawaii and seen lots of lava there too, but it's somehow more strange to see it here. Really, it's almost everywhere in the area in various stages of erosion, but this is one of the most recent flows, so it's not overgrown yet. The most recent lava flow in the area is about 1,500 years old. 

At the base of Lava Butte is the "Trail of the Molten Land" that winds through the lava flow, up close and personal.  The lava rock here is very sharp, what the Hawaiians named a'a. Those Hawaiins really know lava, and their names for the different kinds have been adopted by geologists.

This picture gives you a sense of how big this flow is. 

From one of the high points of the flow we got another good view of Mt. Bachelor in a duet with a lone pine tree growing amidst the lava.

Second stop:

Creative name huh?  It is just what the name says. BIG and obsidian.  This is the edge of the flow. Still snow on the ground up here.

There are stairs that go up to the top and a trail around part of the flow, so you can really see the chunks of obsidian, which is a naturally occurring volcanic glass. It was prized by Native Americans for use in tools and weapons because it made such a hard, sharp edge when chipped. It's still prized by rock hounds, and there are signs around warning that it is illegal to remove any samples. Obsidian is really shiny too. This chunk was reflecting the sky and the snow. 

Next stop Paulina Lake, one of two lakes in the Newberry Caldera.

Last stop, Paulina Falls - just off the road.

Newberry Volcano makes a great day trip from Bend - easy to get to, dramatic scenery, lots to learn, 
plenty of hikes of various sizes and accessibilities. Something for everyone.

Come back for other local points of interest around Bend.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Miracles on the McKenzie River

Let me start this epic narrative by just saying that we aren't in the desert anymore, Toto.  I was just admiring the change in the color pallet of my photographs as I loaded them down for the post. We're in the blues and greens of the Cascades now as we venture west from our base in Bend, Oregon. Bend is right on the dividing line between desert and temperate mountains. It makes for some pretty interesting and varied scenery.

The adventure of the day was the "McKenzie-Santiam Tour Route," a scenic loop west out of Bend, through Sisters and into the mountains on Highways 20, 126 and finally 242.  The big event happened about halfway through the loop, but bear with me as I take you through a few early highlights of the trip. 

We start with a view of the Three Sisters mountains (from R to L): Faith, Hope and Charity.

We stop and take a peek at green, glacial Suttle Lake with Black Butte in the background.

Then an overlook of Mt. Washington, 
with the damage from the "B&B Complex Fire" in the foreground.

A glimpse at Blue Lake, aptly named, through the burnt trees of the same fire.

A pit stop at glorious Clear Lake, also aptly named.

We've seen a lot of clear lakes, but I have never seen water like this before.

By now we're deep into the mountains and the tall ponderosas, 
firs and spruces so typical of the northwest. 

We stop and hike up a short section of the McKenzie River Trail to see Sahalie Falls.  The hike is deep and dark, but we can see the sun on the mist from the falls as we approach the overlook.

The falls are immense, and from up near the top, where we are, it's impossible to get the whole thing in the photo frame. I can just get the corner:

But we have a great view of the moss covered lava rocks below. 

But wait….what's that guy doing down there?

He's put down a kayak paddle and seems to be checking out the water and the rocks - looking for something? Looking for a way in? Is he going to put a kayak in there

Here comes his buddy with a kayak.  
We hurry back down to the base of the falls to get a closer look at what these guys are going to do.

 While watching them standing around a lot, we are just about to hike on, when we notice another guy standing up at the TOP of the falls, just to the left of the water.  Now what the heck is he doing? (These fools look an awful lot like the Power Rangers. Remember them?)

He seems to be poking around, looking into the falls, and gesturing to the two guys at the bottom. He doesn't seem to have a kayak up there. He gets right up close to the gazillions of gushing gallons, and finally gives a big thumbs up to the guys watching below, and they gesture back with fists in the air. 

OMG is he going to jump?????

We can tell from the hustling of the guys below that something is about to happen.  We're getting our cameras ready, waiting to record what we hope is not the stupidest thing this yellow clad superhero has ever done.

And here he comes! The superhero in the yellow kayak is coming straight down the 120 foot drop of Sahalie Falls. 

Until he is just a blur in the white water...

We lose sight of him and his Power Ranger buddies who seem to have leaped into the water at the bottom. We run further down the river to see if we can see any of them come up or out. Sure enough, we see through the trees that the yellow Ranger has emerged, and his blue back up Rangers are also safely down river.  

It seems that the yellow Ranger's paddle broke during the super dive, and his blue rescue Ranger has to pick up the pieces. (Thank God it wasn't pieces of the superhero.) Blue maneuvers the river like it's nothing, parks his kayak on the shear mossy bank, and edges his way along the riverside to retrieve it.

The blue rescuer is back in his kayak, pushes off and uses his superpowers to effortlessly cross the river to meet up with the rest of the team.

All safe and sound. We couldn't believe what we had just witnessed. In a somewhat elated and stunned state, we walked on down the river to Koosah Falls, with our eyes peeled on the water, ready for anything. But there were no more superheroes jumping off the falls that day.

Even if somewhat anti-climatic, the river was still gorgeous all along the way. I'd say the hike from Sahalie to Koosah Falls (and back again) is one of the prettiest I've ever taken.

When we got back up to Sahalie Falls, there was absolutely no evidence of the miracle we had chanced upon earlier. It was like it had all been a super dream.