Sunday, July 31, 2016

ExplOregon, June 2016 edition, part two.

The first part of our FUNemployed vacation took us to Steens Mountain for a few days of gorgeous (and I do mean GORGE-ous) hikes. The second part took us to Thompson Reservoir, Hager Mountain, and five geologic wonders in Lake County, Oregon...

1. Christmas Valley Sand Dunes - the largest shifting sand dunes in Oregon. Formed from ash and pumice when Mount Mazama erupted 7,000 years ago, these dunes are popular with ATVers but we managed to find a few without too many tracks spoiling the view...

the clouds were amazing too

2. Crack In The Ground - as the name suggests, it's a crack. In the ground. A 2+ mile crack that's up to 70 feet deep in places, in fact. The crack was formed by a volcanic fissure just 1,000 years ago. The mosses and colors found on the rocks were quite beautiful and photos don't really do it justice...

not for the claustrophobic

3. Fort Rock - an old tuff ring that's nearly a full circle, where a sea used to live. OSP's web site claims that "sandals found in a nearby cave are the oldest ever discovered, dating back around 9,000-13,000 years." Pretty cool! A trail takes you around the ring if you're so inclined...

to the west

to the east

4. Derrick Cave - a 30' high lava tube that we didn't actually get to see, because the road from Fort Rock is now private for liability reasons and the alternate route would have cost us several hours. Patrick visited the cave years ago and he promises it's worth seeing!

5. Hole-In-The-Ground - again, as the name suggests, it's a hole. In the ground. A mile-wide, 300-foot-deep hole, in fact, that was formed by a volcanic eruption 13,000-100,000 years ago (depending on who you ask). We were short on time so we didn't venture down, but I've seen comments from others that walking the path is the best way to appreciate the vastness of the hole...

neither meteorite landing, nor hellmouth

Also, not a geologic wonder but a pretty special place: the Lost Forest near the Sand Dunes. Ancient ponderosa pine survive on half the water their forest counterparts require. The Lost Forest covers a remarkable 9,000 acres (~14 mi2 for those of you who don't speak acreage), and is isolated from the nearest ponderosa pine forest by 40 miles, meaning it keeps itself alive just fine, thank you very much...

it also makes a great Subaru commerical

The rest of our trip was "W"-themed. For example, watchtowers! We braved thousands of ticks and mosquitoes to visit Hager Mountain's watchtower (okay, "lookout" if you must) and catch some nice panoramic views. The watchtower is one of just a handful still staffed during summer months for fire observation, and available to rent in winter months - as long as you're willing to snowshoe three miles up a mountain to get there. (Honestly, we'd probably have taken the snow over the ticks and mossies this time.)

and the wind began to howl

Another "W" on this trip - wildflowers! Most were observed on the Hager Mountain hike where the hills were alive with paintbrush, Oregon sunshine, and balsamroot.

kind of making up for all the ticks and mossies...

... kind of

Most interesting on this hike was the rare green-tinged paintbrush, native to Southern Oregon. According to a plaque at the top of the trail, 95 percent of this plant's population is found only in the Fremont National Forest! Very cool.

in bloom

And the final "W" was for wildlife. We passed through Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, which gave us some up-close and personal views of some truly stunning animals...

seldom is heard a discouraging word

and the skies are not cloudy all day

(Originally established in 1936 to protect pronghorn antelopes, the refuge now hosts over 300 species of wildlife and - this is rare - no domesticated livestock. There are also hot springs in the refuge, available free to the public, so in between being in awe of amazing creatures, we partook in a quick soak in a different kind of hole in the ground.)

Anyway, back to wildlife... We were definitely still in ranchland, and cows count as wildlife to some people...

(and some cows, says Clarence)

And a very tenacious chipmunk spent the morning with us at Thompson Reservoir.


Not "W" related, here's a little on Thompson Reservoir's campground and camping in general... We drove through Thompson because it was close to things we wanted to explore. Reservoirs are not our favorite places to camp - only because they tend to attract boaters, and we don't like hearing boat engines all day/night - but we had a really good experience in Colorado last summer, and Thompson seemed like a quiet enough place so we thought we'd give it a shot.

Our first night, we had two neighbors who had settled on the other side of the spacious campground. We heard nothing but frogs, ducks, little brown birds, and water lapping at the shore all evening. The sunset over the reservoir was lovely and the stars came out in full force.


Our second night, an elderly couple parked their ginormous RV right next to our tent site (despite the fact that there were 16 other available sites in a 19-site campground). They took a while settling in, and then the dreaded generator started. The friendly gentleman wandered over and asked if the noise would bother us. Patrick asked how long it would be running. "Oh, all night long," the friendly gentleman replied, and then proceeded to chat Patrick up for ten more minutes while I got in the tent and banged my head on the thermarest. (Seriously.)

Look. I am sorry that his wife was on an oxygen tank and needed the generator to run all night. I am glad they were still able to enjoy the great outdoors and the world-famous all-you-can-eat soup/salad and 30 oz steak dinner just up the road from the reservoir (Friday through Sunday, $30 cash only, reservations recommended, no alcohol served... no, we didn't do it, despite the friendly gentleman's rave reviews). I appreciate him asking if the noise was going to bother us. But at that point, what could we say? "Yes, thanks for asking - could you please move immediately?"

In hindsight we should've just moved. But we are stubborn folk, and instead, we endured the hum of the generator All. Night. Long.

this was our view! would YOU have moved?

Fellow campers - especially you National Park campers! but also you local campers - please be polite and think about others. That's all I ask.

Anyway. The food was simple again this time...

remembering Vietnam with an egg noodle breakfast

the old breakfast standby, oatmeal with all the fixin's
(pretty view optional but recommended)

organic tomato soup from a box, 
fire-roasted cheese quesadillas,
and a side of cheese and crackers for good measure

Insensitive camp neighbors aside, it was very fun to check out this part of Oregon. Everything was entirely new to me and Patrick hadn't been to some of these places in 20 years. With so much variety from west to east and north to south, it really astounds me that more Oregonians don't venture out and explore...

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