Friday, September 20, 2013

Bit by Bit - A Wilderness Trip in Stages

The Dodge Prospector, our wilderness home for seven days.
One of the best things about traveling is coming home with a different viewpoint, a broader vision of what life is like beyond your own doorstep. New England has waterfalls and I've seen some of them. That didn't dim the wonder of the spilling water at Proxy Falls, just off McKenzie Pass in central Oregon.

A forest path leads to the place where water tumbles headlong off a basalt cliff, plunging 226 feet to a stream below. It looks more like bridal veiling than water and its thunder is in distinct variance to the quiet of the surrounding forest. The creek that feeds it has its start on a shoulder of North Sister, one of the Three Sisters (North, Middle and South) Volcanic Peaks that make up part of Oregon's Cascade Range. Eldest son, B, and I were exploring this part of the country just 65 miles from Eugene where he makes his home.

Proxy Falls
We planned to camp at the Lava Camp Lake Campgrounds the first night. We were making our way along Mckenzie Pass, a narrow road that twisted through the Willamette National Forest following what, in 1860, was a covered wagon route that emerged from a forest to cross a 65 square mile lava flow. Because of the difficulty of crossing the lava beds, alternate routes were eventually charted by the early pioneers. The highway we were on followed the original wagon route.

Just above the current highway is part of the original wagon road.
On either side, as far as the eye could see, the road was bordered by great chunks of dark, broken lava. I half expected a Hobbit to step out from behind one of the murky slag heaps. Imagine jolting your way across this mountain top in a wagon on wooden wheels!

Shortly before sunset we reached the Dee Wright Observatory, a small stone enclosure built during the Great Depression by the CCC and named for the crew's foreman who'd been a forest ranger for 24 years. From this vantage point we could see Mt. Jefferson, two of the three Sisters (North and Middle), Belnap Crater, and Mt. Washington.

From the windows you can see various volcanic peaks.

Another view of the Dee Wright Observatory built of lava rock.
 It grew steadily colder as the sun sank behind the spires of countless Douglas firs. We made camp overlooking the lake. Our fire was one of two; we never saw or heard our neighbors themselves as their camp site was some distance from ours. Supper was a quick affair. We snuggled under quilts and blankets in the van until the call of nature forced me out of my warm nest and into the chilly dawn. B estimated that the  overnight temperature dipped into the 30s. Wrapped in a fleece, a hooded sweatshirt and a canvas barn coat, I watched the sun draw the ghosts of a mist that had settled on the lake overnight into its beams, dispersing them into the day. Small birds chirped; otherwise the woods were silent.

Like a scene from the Hobbit.

Following the interpretive trail through giant walls of lava.
On the road after a hot breakfast, we spent the morning exploring the interpretive lava trail and in the afternoon met up with a former student of mine who now lives with his wife and children in Bend. There was no room at the campgrounds where we'd planned on staying the night so we got a hurried takeout supper and ate it on road. Just as the sky grew dark we pulled into Ochoco Lake Campgrounds in the Ochoco National Forest. Only two campfires still burned though the park was half full. We found a spot and parked the van. Our nearest neighbors were already asleep in their tent so we tried to set up camp quietly. The van doors squeaked - ur-urk! ur-urk! every time we opened them and banged shut with a slam whenever we closed them. The fire crackled and popped, and we had to stifle our giggles over too-fat s'mores and the antics of our neighbors to the left, a threesome of happily noisy older men regaling each other with memories of other trips.

Campsite at Ochoco Lake. 
The next day we set off for the Painted Hills. But, since it's ten o'clock p.m. and I'm still trying to shake the effects of the day long plane ride home, you're welcome to come back in a day or two to hear about them.

Here's a teaser...


Reya Mellicker said...

Wonderful! And wonder full! Wow, what a trip.

I'll be up in those same mountains for Thanksgiving this year. My sister who lives in Eugene always rents a house in the mountains for the holiday. I can't wait!

Brian Miller said...

i was def feeling the LOTR in this...that stone observatory is really cool....neat ont he old road....what a cool trip for sure....

Barbara Shallue said...

What a wonderful adventure! I've never been to Oregon. I love that observatory made by the CCC out of lava rock!

Kerry said...

Dee Wright is an amazing place. I really cannot imagine how they pulled loaded wooden wagons across stuff like that. I can barely walk on it. But it is eerily beautiful.