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At long last the rain dried up and the clouds parted. I woke up feeling great despite having food poisoning the previous afternoon. We were on our way around the south side of Lake Llanquihue by 8:30am. Our first foray off the main road was in search of Vicki’s other farmhouse. She had described the location and thought it might be fun for us to try to find it. Her farmhouse is on the slopes below volcano Calbuco. That one erupted April 22, 2015 and is responsible for all the pumice gravel and sand that we had been seeing in the area. Locals enthusiastically described how the area looked like a moonscape just after the eruption, and are amazed at how green and lush everything is already. We got very close, but the place we finally decided was probably hers, turned out not to be hers in the end. We did see some of the clearest evidence of the recent eruption, with wide swaths covered in volcanic gravel. We also saw fenceposts buried about two feet in the gravel, and we could see where snowplows had plowed the gravel off roads, and today the red and black pumice rock berms remain.
We drove through Ensenada and closer to volcano Orsorno, which we could finally see in its full glory now that the clouds had cleared. From multiple angles the peak is close to symmetrical, and rises to 8,730 feet. We made our first real stop at the waterfalls called Saltos del Petrohué. These falls are on the very river that we rafted on two days before! So look at the lovely aqua colour and you can imagine what a pleasure it was to have that water smash you in the face. 😉
In the video, you can see Margaret with her black coat draped over her shoulders, in front of volcano Osorno. Behind the falls is Cerro la Picada. Cerro means “hill,” but in this case it’s a 4100 foot hill.
On the short walking trail we found a tiny lake where we stopped for a picnic lunch. There were trout in the lake, which connects to the river. I took tons of what should have been great photos, but… more camera problems. Everything from the moment when we entered the park – and for the rest of the day – is dreadfully overexposed. I must have accidentally changed the settings to make all the photos totally washed out to almost uselessness. The photos I have posted are a result of drastic photo editing. I just don’t know what happened and I’m really disappointed, because it was so great to have a sunny day again and all the photo advantages that come of that. Drat.
Our destination was Lagos Todos los Santos, which the previous day I had read on two different websites is purported to be the most lovely lake in all of Chile. I thought it had to be at least pretty nice, considering all the lakes in the running. We had not witnessed an unlovely Chilean lake yet.
One arrives at the town of Petrohué on the lake in something of a madhouse, with tour busses clogging up every artery and troops of tour employees standing in lanes and parking areas, directing every single vehicle where to park without taking the time to figure out what your intentions are. An attendant waved us to a spot, and as we were about to pull in, another attendant frantically waved us to his area, so we continued on, shrugging apology to the first guy. It didn’t dawn on us till later that the attendants belong to competing tour companies, and want us to park close to their company so they can have the first crack at selling us a ticket to a boat tour. Margaret and I were as yet oblivious, however, and happily continued along the sandy lane, focused first on avoiding the gigantic double-decker tour busses, and second on finding a place to park now that we had left the attendants in our rear view mirror. First other vehicles followed us, then we followed them, all in search of elusive parking, but the trick was to go all the way to beach for copious free parking (estacionamiento gratis). We hailed a bus attendant and asked where “trekking” was (Strangely, this is the word the park officials have been using, so I did too. Possibly another German holdover, since I am pretty sure trekking is not a Spanish word), and were pointed to the trailhead we sought.
At the trailhead we saw that Desolación Trail (named desolation for the effects left in the wake of volcanic eruptions in the past, so it was particularly apt after 2015) had two routes at the beginning: one along the lakeshore, and one that was inland. The two routes meet up at a single trail partway up the mountain. We liked the idea of the no-elevation-gain beach route, and struck out that way.
We went along the west shore until we could see that soon we would have to turn along the north shore, and with the map in our mind’s eye, we knew that would not connect us to the trail. We had not seen the trail since we hit the beach, but we had seen enough of the beach. We turned around and decided to go back to town and hire a kayak. In town, the only place that rented kayaks was down to one, and said if we came back in two hours he would have another one for us. In that tiny town there really was nothing else to do but go back to the trail and take the inland route.
It was a tough slog because the trail was entirely deep, soft, sand. Every step was work. But Margaret and I are determined women and we kept a good pace and trudged a couple of miles. Trudge, trudge, trudge and had gained about 20 feet in elevation after two hours. We were in the midst of a conversation about whether to keep going when we ran into some other Americans sitting in the shade of a tree having the same discussion. After we talked to them we went ahead on the trail for another half an hour and then gave up. The trail is 11.5 kilometers and we were hoping to get some elevation and get a view, at the very least, but it was not happening any time soon. After all that hiking, I took a final panoramic shot that is at the top of this post. We gave up and went back to Petrohué. By this time I was fully sunburnt, and our hamstrings and quadriceps were hollering complaints about the sandy trail. We did not go back to the kayak place, but headed back to Puerto Varas.
This time it was Margaret’s turn to relax. I still had energy (possibly due to sleeping an extra three hours the day before), and took off to explore the town for the first time while M stayed at the hostel and rested. I was in search of something woven from alpaca or llama, but it was late in the day and I had a hard time finding anything open. I decided instead to just explore the town, and struck out for the top of a hill across from our hostel. On the way up, a happy stray dog bounded my way and took up my pace, right at my heels. I walked and walked, and the dog stayed with me. As I climbed the hill, I realized that I could not get down to the lakefront again because there was a cliff between it and me, and no egress. I would have to go back the way I came, or go forward far enough for the ground to slope back toward the shore again. Forward it was, and with my trusting companion, I hoofed it through Puerto Varas. I must have walked three miles, and at a really quick pace because I was trying to get back to my room eventually. The dog finally ditched me in a park once I made it downtown again, and I climbed a long long set of stairs up a pedestrian path back to the Galpon Aire Puro, and bed.
In December I hiked to Mirror Lake and Tom Dick and Harry Mountain for the first time. Though the whole region was sunny that day, there was a little microclimate engulfing our local volcano, Mt. Hood. Snow actually fell during the hike. At the summit of the mountain, I was told that it is typically one of the best views around. Instead of vistas, I entertained myself with close-range snow and fog shots as the weak sunlight made half-hearted attempts to break through and did not succeed. You can read that blog post here if you like.
I went back last week. And this time I found what I had been promised: incredible views!
First I had to get there. While the trail was clear in December, this time it was snow-covered from beginning to end. The popularity of this particular trail helped me, since I was able to follow tracks all the way to the summit. My timing was excellent because of the old snow and the weather. I wore only my regular hiking boots that I’ve been wearing for a decade, but the snow was frozen enough that I was able to walk along the top of it. The day was warm enough that the top inch of snow was soft, so I got some traction, and most of the time I wasn’t in danger of sliding down the mountain on the frozen snow. (did you notice how I used the word ‘most?’)
I walked all around the lovely Mirror Lake. I was glad I decided to hit the lake first and catch some sun. By the time I left the mountain, it was deep in shadow due to our short winter days.
Only a few inches deep at the trailhead, the snow on the trail above the lake was at least two feet deep, possibly three feet deep as it reached Tom Dick and Harry mountain. Others before me had used snow shoes, and I saw ski tracks beside the trail as well.
As I neared the summit, the trail was hard to find because wind had swept away most of the tracks. But I could see the rocks at the top, dry in the sunshine and calling me up. The snow was not as hard there, possibly because of the warmth of the day. My boots punched through and I sank above my knees every third step. Hiking in snow is a fabulous workout! I highly recommend it. You work your legs and your butt, you gulp in that fresh mountain air, your pay-off is an amazing view, and your cool down is to head back down the trail again.
After a last gasping (like I said: it’s a workout) push through the snow, I made it to the top!
I expected to see Mt. Hood, and there it was, right in front of me and gloriously snow-covered. The bright blue of that much snow is a sight that always stirs me. Reminiscent of the first blue glaciers I ever saw, the summer when I was 16 and went to live with my Aunt and Uncle in Soldotna, Alaska. Despite the fact that I’ve learned to expect that kind of blue, it is still a wonderful sight.
What I did not expect to see was a whole string of volcanoes. Mt. Jefferson to the south, and Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams. And since this day was spectacular for miles and miles, I could clearly see Mt. Rainier from all the way up in Seattle! That is a view of FIVE volcanoes from one spot. I think it’s my record.
I had no one to share my enthusiasm with, since it was a Wednesday afternoon and the trail was empty. But I had cell reception on top of Tom Dick and Harry, so I sent a few selfies to Tara and to my friends at work.
Highway 503 is a secondary approach to Mt. St. Helens, leaving the Interstate and heading south of the mountain and around the other side, so that one can view it from the East, rather than the north, as shown in my earlier posts. The stops along the way reveal some fascinating aspects of the volcano one can’t learn from the other, more popular highway.
I first explored Ape Cave, an apt name in this pocket of Bigfoot country. The name of the cave is related to the Sasquatch legend in a surprising way. There are multiple stories, so forgive me that I only include one version: In 1924 some Boy Scouts were goofing around in the area, screeching and acting like primates, picking up lightweight pumice rocks and hurling them into a canyon. They did not know that there was a cabin below. From out of that cabin burst astonished miners, squinting up at the ridge and believing they were under attack by apes, which is the story they reported when they got to town. This led people to speculate that the tall tales of ape men had finally been proven legitimate. Years later, a local youth group named themselves the St. Helens Apes after that legend. In 1951, when the youth group were among the first humans to explore a newly discovered cave, they dubbed it the Ape Cape, and the name stuck.
Lava tubes are a special kind of cave, formed in a volcanic eruption. I explored one in Bend, Oregon in 2011. Only once in Mt. St. Helens’ history did she erupt with molten lava. This kind of eruption is rare in the Cascade Range because of our geology. Magma rising to the surface here has a high silica content, which results in the magma taking on a more solid form, trapping gases and resulting in an explosive eruption. Less silica allows a fluid eruption of molten lava, called basalt.
2000 years ago, Mt. St. Helens erupted with fluid lava. As it flowed in enormous, thick rivers, the outside of the river cooled and hardened while the inside remained hot and continued to flow. The lava melted the rock it was flowing across, carrying it away and deepening the channel. When the eruption finally stopped, the remaining liquid river flowed out the end of the tube, emptying it, and leaving a lava shell that eventually was covered by dirt and forest.
Ape Cave is 13,042 feet (2 1/2 miles) long, and I did not have time to explore much of it. I’ll come back another day.
Next I visited A Trail of Two Forests. On a Thursday morning in gorgeous weather there was not another soul and I had the trail entirely to myself. Sometimes that’s one of the best things about living in the West: hardly any people.
The trail is entirely on boardwalk, and makes a short loop through the forests. The two forests mentioned here are the one that exists today, and the one that disappeared in the lava flow that created Ape Cave. Hollow shells where trees used to be are well-preserved here. It takes hardly any imagination to visualize what was there when the lava struck, since the lava shells tell the story.
Molten lava oozed into the forest, surrounding huge logs and eventually cooling and hardening. In the meantime, the wood caught on fire and burned up. What’s left is big circular gaps in the forest floor marking the diameter of the trees that once were, and long tree-sized tunnels along the ground. There is a place where a couple of downed trees were beside standing trees, so the hollow tubes all connect. From the boardwalk you can climb down a ladder into one tree hole, and then climb into a horizontal tunnel, following the path where a tree once lay. Halfway through, you turn a corner into a hole left by a second tree lying down, and at the end, climb back out through the hole from another standing tree. (It also makes one a bit in awe of the size of trees…)
I found this video that has some great shots of the places I saw.
I continued on to St. Helens herself. As the Jeep climbed out of the river valleys and up into the ridgelines, the wind rose around me. My destination was Windy Ridge, but I had assumed the name referenced the natural buffeting one gets in exposed places. The wind during my drive seemed unusually high, particularly since I was still far from Windy Ridge.
It’s a beautiful drive and not as geared for tourists as Highway 504. No visitor centers and fewer informational signs at viewpoints. In fact, when I arrived at Windy Ridge, there was not even a visitor center there, though there was a park Ranger giving talks. He stood in a small outdoor amphitheater with a plexiglass wall that provided some protection from the wind while allowing us to see the crater of Mt. St. Helens while he talked. He confirmed that it was an unusually windy day.
We could see clouds of ash lifting from the crater and drifting off to the West. One woman asked the Ranger if it was steam, fearing the volcano was active on that very day. We were in no danger, but it was a fascinating sight to see. The valley I had photographed the day before was murky with airborne particles and I was grateful to be on the East side in all that wind.
The wind! It was tremendous! I didn’t feel safe near the edge of the bluff, and could hardly remain upright as I walked across the parking lot. I decided not to climb Windy Ridge for a better view of the mountain, and risk getting blown into the next county.
The Ranger’s talk that day was about the wildlife making a foothold in the valley before us. He didn’t bother using his posterboard media and rather we in the audience took turns chasing them down when the wind carried them away. In 34 years, much of the area’s natural wildlife has returned to the land and also to the lakes. He talked about how it began with small critters at first, who flourished and made an appealing smorgasbord for larger critters, who hunted them. Mice came, and other larger mammals, followed by coyotes. I had heard them the previous evening while I sat and waited for the clouds to clear from the mountain peak. Barks and cries of a dozen voices rose from the valley, their haunting songs thrilling me.
He also talked about the fish in Spirit Lake, planted without permission by anonymous citizens. Somebody had hiked down the steep, ashy, gravelly slope carrying buckets of fish, one assumes. The lake was packed full of tasty things for fish to eat, so when the trout arrived they did what fish tend to do, and they ate to nearly bursting. The trout grew too much and were sickly, but gigantic. But the species survived. Today the ecosystem of Spirit Lake is balancing out, and the fish are healthier and smaller, but the Ranger says they are still much larger than typical trout ever get. He said no one has ever been spotted trying to fish the lake inside the National Monument, so the purpose of going to so much trouble to stock it remains unknown.
I made the return journey slowly, taking time to gaze out at Mt. Adams (the closest volcano), Mt. Hood, and Mt. Rainier from different spots along the highway. I walked a trail to tiny Meta Lake, recovering from the eruption beautifully. Beside the trail were huckleberry bushes loaded with fat, ripe berries, and I ate a bunch of them. To someone who grew up eating huckleberries, nothing can compare. There must be no bears here, or perhaps the berry bushes are loaded everywhere and the bears don’t need to come too close to humans to get food.
Another great thing about this trip was how close it is to home, and that’s where I headed next. I chose the trip for that reason, since my Great Aunt had passed away and I needed to be with family for the remainder of my vacation time. Nice to know that if I ever have a yearning to see some of America’s incredible sights, Mt. St. Helens is less than two hours away.
Gary, this one’s for you.
When I was 10 years old, Mt. St. Helens erupted. Down south, in Steamboat, Oregon, fine powder fell for a couple days, noticeable only to those looking for it. We could drag a finger over the hood of a car and see a trail in the dust.
The sideways blast in the north slope of the mountain, coupled with prevailing West winds, blew much of the ash over to Idaho from Washington. I spent that summer with my mom in Sandpoint, Idaho, and I recall the drive up there because of seeing the devastating heaps of white-grey ash from the car windows during the trip. In the worst places, June 1980 still had many people wearing masks and shoveling the stuff with snow shovels. Like snow does in the winter, the weight of the ash had damaged roofs. Unlike snow, it would not melt away, and had to be removed by hand. I watched teams shoveling ash a foot deep off bridges, off business roofs in small towns, even plowing it with trucks.
Later in June, my family went on a picnic along a north Idaho river. The river held large smooth rocks that had collected ash in irregular bowls shaped into their surface from erosion. After I finished my juice, I rinsed the plastic bottle out in the water, and set it in the sun to dry. Then, I walked barefoot through the water from rock to rock, collecting the fine powder by brushing it with my fingers into the plastic juice container. I still have that container today; one of the very few mementos of my childhood that survived the many moves across more than a dozen states in my life.
I brought my very old plastic juice container to Mt. St. Helens with me last week. I had been determined to go to the mountain since I was 10 years old. Can you believe it took me 34 years to pull it off? One thing I will say about myself: Like the tortoise, I may be slow, but I do reach my goals in the end. (…says the woman who finally made it to University in her 30s…)
It’s an easy drive on a good road from I-5, and I was within the National Volcanic Monument in an hour, passing thickly forested hills, the homogeneous stands of Noble Fir making it obvious that the trees had been planted by the land owner there, Weyerhauser Company. There were a few vista stops, but each time I stopped, the only thing I could see was a curious, moonlike valley, and clouds obscuring anything with elevation. That was frustrating, because much of the sky was cloudless blue, and only the highest peaks around St. Helens were obscured.
It wasn’t until I was in the immediate vicinity of the Johnston Ridge Observatory when I could tell this had been a place of devastation. Things today are lovely – truly lovely. However, not all the pieces in of the scene felt right. Humongous decaying logs laid about, on bare land with tiny trees just getting a foothold among kinnickinnick and lupine. The surrounding ridges were also mostly bare, with the silver remnants of tall trees. The wide valley had no forests, no brushy stands of willow, and the streams cut deep, sharp channels through what looked like very soft and crumbly soil. It does not look like any other place in the Pacific Northwest.
As I explained in my previous post, the clouds finally cleared away from the volcano, and I was treated to stunning views of the huge gaping crater. If the mountain had blown it’s top vertically, we at the bottom would have less to see. Since the eruption took off the north slope of the mountain, we are able to look inside at the newly forming glaciers, and the new volcanic peak growing inside the crater. You know what that growing dome means, right? Yes, this remains an active volcano.
The largest post-1980 eruption was in 2004, when steam and ash again billowed forth. For the next four years, lava continued to extrude, filling the crater floor. Seven percent of the volume lost in 1980 has been replaced by subsequent eruptions.
I listened to a great talk from one of the rangers there. He told the story of how exciting it was to be a vulcanologist in the time leading up to the eruption. The best data available at the time was of the Hawaiian lava flows, but they knew this would be different. The size of the resulting violent explosion took people by surprise. Luckily, scientists had convinced authorities to block access to the popular recreation area (despite loud criticism), and prevented many deaths. Sadly, 57 people died in the blast, most due to asphyxiation. The most interesting (to me) of those people was David Johnston, a geologist just crazy about volcanoes, who had observation duty that morning. He radioed headquarters, “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!” and then died instantly. The people who heard the broadcast, and knew his voice, said what struck them about his message was that it wasn’t a voice of fear, but of something more like boyish excitement. I’d like to believe that David Johnston died the way he would have most wanted to go.
The ranger at Mt. St. Helens National Monument said, “Well, in answer to your question I’ll tell you about our 6:15 rule.” And he explained that the doors of the Johnston Observatory are closed and locked at 6:00 p.m. In a Murphy’s Law type fashion, the clouds typically clear up around 6:15 p.m. “From what I hear, you have a good chance of seeing the mountain sometime between 6 and 6:30,” he said.
So I waited. I waved goodbye to all the rangers as they left. From the top of an observation hill I watched the parking lot clear out. I found a nice comfortable railing to sit on, beside a trail, with nothing but volcano gorgeousness in front of me… and I waited.
And it paid off.
Last weekend seemed like the peak date for blossoms in the Hood River area. I worked my mandatory overtime on Saturday, so that left Sunday to explore. Arno lives there and knows the area, so he was able to take us criss-crossing the valley, from the Columbia River all the way south to Parkdale and back.
I was relieved that it had stopped raining for the day, but disappointed in the hazy, moisture-laden skies. They washed out the typically spectacular vistas in that area. In particular, the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood faded into the white sky, and robbed me of one of my favourite aspects of photography around here: the startling contrast of a white peak rising above the green, on a blue background.
Taking a cue from blogger LB, who consistently changes her readers’ perspective when she displays black & white photos instead of colour, I tried to change my own perspective. It had a great effect, I think. The vivid colours of the fruit trees and green grass made the volcanoes fade away into obscurity. Greyscale moderates the bright colours and gives the mountain a chance to make an impact in the photo. It would still be better without the hazy skies, but I’m excited about playing with black & white for a change.
The last photo gives a better sense of what it looks like to see heaters in the orchards. It also gives you a preview of my next post: Hood River blossoms in full colour! When all my images from the day are bursting with brilliant spring greens, and pink flowers, and white snow, and red rust, and copper barns, and black highways…it was hard for me to be brave and post these grey photos today. But I’ll make up for it in the next post.
Morning was astonishingly beautiful, because we finally got to see Mt. Adams without the top obscured in clouds. And got a nice view of Mount Saint Helens, because the sun was hitting it right. Volcanoes: I love them! Fog had formed in the valley and seeped away from us into the Columbia River Valley as we watched. It was fun talking with Arno about fog formation and fog “movement,” as I pulled out my dusty NWS memories. Fog doesn’t actually flow through a drainage, as it appears, and it was kind of cool to be science-y smart with my geeky boyfriend for a change. His job is smack in the middle of science and technology (UAVs), while mine is medical disability benefits. I like showing off, and it’s hard to brag about hip replacements and accident verification.
Arno is the mountaineer (but my high school mascot was The Mountaineers!), and I humored him by agreeing to climb Old Snowy Mountain, the nearest peak to us, for our Saturday excursion. We loaded very lightly in daypack gear, set out, and….gosh if we didn’t hit the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) immediately. Turns out, we were supposed to take a hard left at the Lily Flats Trail yesterday, which was the way to Goat Lake. Lily Flats Trail parallels the PCT, and we had taken one of the short connector trails. Now, our map made so much more sense.
It meant we were much closer to Old Snowy Mountain than we thought, but it also meant a 9-mile hike out on Sunday. But that’s tomorrow, and today we are mountain climbing. Did I mention I’m not big on mountain climbing?
Keywords: Scary? High? Amateur?
Well, on the way we realized we were in Argentina, when we spotted the llamas. Snow, exposed rocks, alpine air, high elevation+llamas=Argentina.
We climbed across large snow fields (the trail crosses the Packwood Glacier), over many gurgling creeks, across meadows and beneath rocky peaks. We soon spotted Goat Lake. It’s totally frozen over still. In August! I was glad we hadn’t made it all the way there to camp, as we had considered. Then I got my visual stimulation payoff before I even had to climb the dang mountain peak. Mount Rainier! Holy Mother that’s a beautiful volcano. Three volcanoes in one day! Look at the crazy steep valley.
This place is named after goats, for the mountain goats said to frequent the area. We were hoping for goats the whole trip. Someone casually pointed down the hill: “There is a goat,” as though it were obvious. You be the judge.
It’s pretty exciting for me to hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, called the PCT by locals. This is our West Coast equivalent of the Appalachian Trail (2,180 miles and crossing 14 states). The Pacific Crest Trail is 2,665 miles long, begins at the Mexico border and ends at the Canada border, and crosses the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. Just three states. We make ’em big out here. I’ve mentioned before that I want to hike the entire thing someday.
While at the ridgeline, Arno walked out onto the McCall glacier. The glaciers we were on today looked more like snowfields.
The highest Washington point along the PCT is 7650 feet, and a short distance from where we spotted the “goat.” We left the trail and headed sharply uphill to aim for the peak of Old Snowy Mountain, topping out at 7930 feet. We had climbed another 1500 feet from our tent.
I get so nervous climbing, but I also get irritated and impatient with myself for being scared. I want to scuttle up the side without pounding heart and sweaty hands. My technique is not to look anywhere but my next few steps, not to think about it, and to go as fast as I can so it will be over with quickly.
Then we made the long trek back down. I had talked Arno into carrying lunch with us, because I was worried about how long it would take me to get up the mountain and down again. We stopped on a delicious high ledge around 7000 feet, and had some smoked salmon and pasta for lunch and were still sorta full when we made it all the way back to camp. For a light dinner, I baked brie in red wine and brown sugar with apricots, and we had that with the rest of the wine.
Only minor thunder rumbles in the night, and for our concerted efforts to stake down our tent against a possible storm, we suffered a few mere gusts and a sprinkling of rain. We slept much better and were able to get up early.
We packed up the whole camp, ate breakfast, drank our Peets coffee, and were hiking before 8 am. Not knowing the trail, I wanted a really early start to make sure we got home at a reasonable time. It stayed wet and mostly cloudy all day, but it remained an excellent day to be on the trail.
Goat Lake was not as lovely as it could have been, since it was frozen still, and the few spare campsites up there were not at all as inviting as ours had been. The trail remained partially obscured due to snow, and we scrambled around till we got out of the cirque. Our trail out was along Goat Ridge, and offered splendid views of the valley from the east side rather than the west side, where we had spent the previous two days.
We crossed over Goat Ridge into the Jordan Creek basin, and that was the end of our views. The entire valley was socked in for the entire day. We beat feet downhill and my bum knee did not fail me (whee!). We stopped for burritos for lunch: filled with reconstituted beans with fresh avocado, chilies, and cheese – yum!
Around 3pm we spotted reflections off the vehicles parked at the trailhead. We had arrived earlier than expected, and made it back to Portland by 6pm. Not too shabby. The biggest loss of the trip: Arno left his REI trekking poles leaned against the truck as he changed into fresh clothes in the parking lot. Then we drove off. D’oh!
We roused the kids early, fed everyone breakfast, and were rolling through the eastern Oregon desert by 8 am. We stopped first at the Mascall Formation Overlook. The Mascall layer is remarkable because it’s a 15 million year old section of rock made up of successive layers of volcanic ash (you know I love volcanoes) separated by floodplain activity. This formation spreads across a large area of Oregon and holds a wealth of fossils. The protected area of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument includes 20,000 square miles.
From there we could also see Picture Gorge, so named for the pictographs said to be on the walls of the canyon. I yearned to see the pictographs, but there didn’t appear to be any good place to pull off the highway, and there was no clear indication in brochures and signs of where the ancient art might be. And we had a truckload of teenagers dying to get home to their friends…
Those kids were so funny on this trip. Moan and groan at every opportunity, then enjoy every stop. We pulled up to the museum, and blam! They all disappeared into the exhibits, got excited about stuff, read the placards, pulled out drawers holding small fossils, and peered through the glass into the fossil laboratory co-located with the museum. “Mom! Check this out!” “Dad! Look at this!”
Like I said in the last post, Arno and I had never been to this part of Oregon before, and for me it was a surprise to discover what a wealth of fossil excavation and high-quality paleontology is going on right here in my back yard.
This part of Oregon holds one of the richest fossil beds on Earth, revealing a window into the Age of Mammals, in which ancient prehistoric critters battled out the circle of life in rich riverbeds and floodplains. The fossils here come from multiple eras dating back as far as 55 million years. There are remnants of early three-toed horses and rhinos, camels, elephants, and giant sloths. Early dogs, wolves, and cats are here, and crazy creatures like warthogs as big as bison. Tara and I were pleased to discover bones of ancient mouse-deer and bear-dogs, since they would fit perfectly into the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender or Korra.
Diego suggested a stop at Painted Hills, without being able to explain why. He had seen them the summer before, while at an OMSI camp. We were still trying to keep kids happy, and made a lunch stop there. The ranger at the museum had told us that all the trees growing in the park were particularly selected because they were relatives of the 30 million year old plant fossils retrieved from that very area. So cool!
After lunch we chose a couple trails and headed out to see the sights. Bravo Diego! The painted hills are wonderful! They are 33 million year old coloured clay hills that are somewhat beyond description with words. You’ll have to use the photos to see what I mean.
The hills are fragile and millions of years old, so one of our trails was on a boardwalk, to keep our reckless feet away from the precious resource. There were a couple places where we could see tracks across the mounds. Yes, the appeal of touching them is nearly irresistible, but resistance is not impossible. And I wished people could do a better job of restraining themselves (or their children or dogs).
We hit the highway again, and put the miles behind us. We had to screech to a halt when we spotted this beside the road.
North of Madras we had a lovely view of a whole string of volcanoes running north-south along the Cascade Range. Three Sisters, Mt. Jefferson, both above 10 thousand feet, then Mt. Hood above 11 thousand.
We came to an intersection that is a poignant reminder of one of the obstacles in our lives. A metaphor for Arno and me. Amidst the astounding beauty of this phenomenal place in the world, the sign says turn left for where Crystal lives, or turn right for where Arno lives. Before we met, Arno and I moved a lot. A LOT. We packed up our kids and dragged them all over the place. Before we met, we had each promised our eldest not to move anymore, so they could have a home in one spot till they were able to finish school. So we find ourselves today, 62 miles apart in a beautiful relationship, which is not impossible, but frustrating on some days. Miguel and Tara graduate in 2015, and Diego will still be in high school in Hood River. I’m already scanning the internet for homes for sale in Hood River!
Post Script: I had to soothe my curiosity and thus finally figured out the mystery of The Great and Powerful John Day. Who was this famous man? Ground-breaking paleontologist? Mining magnate? Politician from the pioneering days of the Oregon Trail? No, to all the above. Mr. Day left Virginia with a group heading for Astoria, Oregon to start a fur trading post on the coast. On the way he got lost and was helped by a band of Indians to find the Columbia River Gorge in late 1811. Not long after, a different band of Indians robbed him, taking even the clothes he was wearing. The scene of the robbery was the mouth of the Mah-hah River as it emptied into the Columbia. Mr. Day finally made it to Astoria and told his story. From then on, people pointed out the river and said, “That’s where John Day was stripped naked by the Indians.” Well, it eventually was known as the John Day River, instead of the Mah-hah. Meanwhile, far upstream, and many many years later, a national monument was named after the river that flowed through. As far as anyone can tell, John Day never came within 100 miles of the town of John Day, the fossil beds, or any of the other dozens of things named after him in the region.