12.17.2010,12:21 PM
OR Backcountry: Day 0
How do you get to Narnia?

Because of the drizzle and late start, I decided that we should choose a different route over the Cascade Range: less winding and narrow than the McKenzie Pass. Much to my dismay, because the old McKenzie road is so delightful as it snakes over lava beds and through old growth forests. Guess we'll save that for another time.

We drove on Hwy 20, the Santiam Hwy, which crosses the Santiam River and Santiam Pass. The higher in elevation we drove, the worse the weather: constant drizzle and fog. It made for an eerie landscape and limited views, reminding me of walking through the wardrobe into Narnia or through the Looking Glass.

We, or I, made my last stop in Cascadia where I bought my last cup of java for the day. I needed it. However, all the coffee I drank throughout the morning would require a few more stops on the way. That's the nature of coffee.

Our first stop was a campground. As we drove over a bridge that straddled a stream, we were confronted by an old and favorite memory of many places in western Oregon: moss hanging like necklaces from tree branches, lichen covering tree trunks and giant trees that make one feel like a gnome, or better, a hobbit. These giants are like Ents; and if you spend any time in an old growth forest, you will feel like they are old wizened giants.

There was no wind with this drizzle and many things glittered with moisture and dewdrops. Especially jewel-like were pine tree needles and any slim grass leaves. In these forests are a myriad of flora; a diverse ecosystem of ferns, shrubs, trees, wildflowers, mosses and lichen.

Leaving here we climbed the mountains and met a small little man with a long white beard in orange holding a big stick with a red Stop sign. Construction. We stopped and chatted with him while waiting for our prompt to continue. This was the beginning of a 'friendship' with nearly all people east of the Valley. I don't remember being anywhere in this country where people, complete strangers, are so friendly.

After we drove a bit more, more coffee demanded out. So we stopped at a rest area. Something caught my eye and I headed for that before I even used the rest room.

Something about trails and paths like this just draw me in. And I can't resist. It's almost visceral; a calling, a pull, both physically and in my psyche. I want to go down this road/trail/path. And it's painful when you see the sign with a big waving hand that states "No Motorized Vehicles!". And that invisible finger that points and says "This means You." Ahhh, darn.

I noticed on the map that this was an old wagon trail before the highway crossed the mountains. There are many of these up there, but most are preserved as hiking or equine trails.

Many byways and routes exist in Oregon with scenic, geological, historical or specific regional interests as a theme. This hwy was is an example.

Shortly after this we approached the summit and began to see a view that continued until almost into the basin on the other side of the mountains. Here, with the fog and drizzle, it was strangely eerie.

Cresting the summit and beginning the descent was like stepping through the wardrobe door, or through the glass. Not a cloud in the blue sky, sun shine and...... one thing remained the same.

We came to a pull-off (and rest room) where several interpretive displays discussed the fire that wiped out thousands of acres of trees and mountainsides of life. I recall hearing about this fire years ago, but seeing this, and reading about it, really impacted how bad it was.

I noticed since returning to Oregon that forest practices had changed since I left. At that time, the only hot topic was preservation of the spotted owl which had pitted public against government, loggers and rural folks against urbanites, and even split families. But it was bound to happen at some point; the little spotted owl was in the middle. Many other issues were at stake and old practices and ways of doing things needed reconsideration and revision. I wonder if this fire was a push to waken some of those factions to the reality of dwindling species and resources as well as the realizations that 'just because we can doesn't mean we should.' (I come from the eastern US forestry attitudes and practices that already moved through this generations ago and changed our ways).

In the midst of all this burned timber was a bright jewel: Blue Crater Lake. The most blue body of water I've ever seen.

We headed down out of the mountains and into the basin that is home to the little town of Sisters. The town had grown since I had visited last, but then it was nothing compared to its neighbor to the south: Bend. Which has exploded, but that's for the next day.

I was lacking a national forest map and we headed to the local forest ranger district office to pick one up. In the parking lot were groups of fire fighters having their meetings before going out on several small fires ignited by lightening a couple days earlier. I remember friend Bob in Albany exclaiming "Well, Deschutes County is on fire!" So I asked about the forest fire status and was assured that they were almost contained and not near our destinations over the next few days. We also learned that part of McKenzie Pass highway was closed due to fires. Good thing we chose a different route.

We were worn and tired by the time we got into town, so we found a place for lunch and I spent the next hour or so playing phone tag with Greg (Oregon High Desert Adventures) in Prineville. We were only 45 minutes or so away and needed to touch bases with him. One the way into Prineville we stopped and bought our OHV decals for the bikes and had a coffee at the Starbucks in town while we waited for Greg to join us.

We went over my planned routes and he offered suggestions and steered us to the county RV park. There we set up the Poop-up camper, ate some dinner and hit the bags for an early rise. The next morning would be Take-off time; we begin 13 days living off the bikes.


posted by Macrobe
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