Our Oregon Trail

The official BusRoads Bon Voyage party spearheaded by Mom was hosted at the Mountain Meadows Clubhouse today.  Present were Mom, Dad, Matt, Mary, Chris, Jennie, Owen & Roxanne Jones, Butch & Marsha McBaine, Barbara Wight, Adaire Moore, Mom’s friend Jan, Dick & Mary Mastain, Dave Campbell, Virginia Westerfield, Irene Harris, Sean McCoy, Julian & Connie Battaile, and last but not least, Theresa.  (Apologies to those I might have forgotten.)  Some brought gifts, most toured Herb, many were envious and some in disbelief.  But all were genuinely pleased for us and delighted to have been invited to the gathering. It was nice to get together outside of a wedding or funeral.

June 23, 2002 – Sunday

Ashland, OR to Prineville, OR

It took rather longer to depart today than I had imagined, partly due to a very welcome visit from my Aunt Mary, who had gotten a flat tire on the way to the party yesterday, as well as her son Bruce and his wife Jo.  Bruce is knowledgeable about western Montana, having pulled fish out of the idyllic rivers with colleagues on several occasions.  He told us of a trip up to the Big Hole to visit the battlefield where Chief Joseph and his band of Nez Perce men, women and children escaped soldiers during one of the attempts to capture them during the legendary pursuit. Bruce figures Chief Joseph was a heck of a guy.

The party map was pulled out of the garage for their visit and we poured over it together. They were so sorry to have missed the party but our visit was much more intimate this way.

Packing of Herb took longer than I expected, too, but eventually Brian had the folding table and two chairs, a couple of large zippered bags, two small stuff sacks and various small pieces stored in Little Bob (our Thule top-carrier that looks like a bobsled) and I shoved the rest though Herb’s back door.  Cat box, water dish, food dispenser, scratching pad and miscellaneous kitty supplies were loaded, then video footage was filmed of the VW bus pulling away from the curb (actually just around to the front door). Two big cats were located and said their farewells to “Grandma and Grandpa”, then hugs and goodbyes were shared all around.

It was about noon when we took to the road on Day One of the big adventure and everything began normally – Koko puked, Murph yowled and I got the customary lump in my throat from saying goodbye to Mom and Dad.  Apart from that, it was difficult to believe that more than a year would go by before we saw Oregon again so it was hard to feel too nostalgic.  We cruised north on I-5 – one of the few times we expect to resort to Interstate Highways – through the valley’s already dry fields and green orchards, past the Medford Manor (my brother, Matt, is not at work today), to the north exit and Crater Lake Highway.  It’s a sunny one and as the drive progresses I gradually have fewer sights to point out to Brian – here’s my grandparents old street, this is the turn we took when I went to scout camp at Lake of the Woods – and I grew silent as we curved past Mt. McLaughlin.

Tall firs began to hug the road and we passed meandering creeks that spilled into the rushing Rogue River. No stop was planned at Crater Lake and we opted to cut to the west, then north of the national park.  Forests alternated with lush meadows and we were on a scenic uphill grade when Herb broke into a rattling blare.  Having just passed a paved turnout, we stopped and backed into a rare bit of shade to diagnose the problem.  Unplanned adventure number one, I thought, relieved that we at least had a patch of shade for our stay of who-knew-how-long. Brian quickly figured out that a spark plug wire was not only loose, the entire plug had gone missing!  I patrolled the nearby highway for the part, trying hard not to focus on the multicolored pumice that lay everywhere. Before I got far, Brian whistled; the plug had remained in the engine compartment.  Feeling that all would soon be well, I could concentrate on gathering pink and cream and white featherweight rocks to capture on film.  Hard as it will be, I will not be picking up rocks to carry around with us for a year (except maybe diamonds in Arkansas…).

Back on the highway we drove through high meadows of scarlet, pink and purple wildflowers.  Suddenly the unbelievably pointed shape of a mountain appeared, a ridiculous spire that seemed almost unnatural.  It turned out to be Mt. Thielson and it was the first vision on our journey that made me chuckle with disbelief.

As we neared Bend, we picked out a few familiar sights from a summer vacation a couple of years ago – the exit for Sunriver, the High Desert Museum, the signs for the lava tubes.  Hot and hungry, we found ourselves at a Wendy’s, eager to take advantage of the Wendy’s Bucks from Ashland friends, the Mastains. Picking carefully from the 99-cent menu, we found we could get two cheeseburger, fries, a chocolate frosty and four cents change from four Bucks. At that rate of consumption we gleefully foresaw four more burger meals in our future.

Choosing to press on, we left Bend and soon turned east, putting the late sun at our backs.  The high desert terrain of sagebrush, volcanic rocks and flat mesas was somewhat familiar and not unpleasant, though it was a welcome sight to curve down into the green valley of Prineville.  The town seemed prepped for a festival, with decorative hay bales carefully arranged on the sidewalks.  A couple of turns through town found us a city park and we pulled up next to the curb by the smooth, green lawns.  Tired, we were ready to put up the front curtain, draw the shades, stretch out the folding bed and call it a night.

June 24, 2002 – Monday

Prineville, OR to Baker City, OR

After brushing our teeth in the park restrooms, we took a little time to explore Prineville in the morning.  We drove past the park sign, which read “Ochoco Creek Park” and found an auto parts store, thinking it might be a dandy idea to have a spare spark plug.  I asked a helpful lady at the store if we had just missed some type of festivities in town and she said everyone was preparing for the Crooked River Roundup next weekend.  We hit the grocery store for a few supplies and drove down the pleasant main street, past the attractive building I took to be the courthouse before saying goodbye to Prineville, home of Les Schwab Tires.

Though I had heard of the John Day region, I had never visited the fossil beds protected as National Monuments.  Driving east into bright sun and cloudless blue sky, the winding highway and a short side trip to the north brought us to one of the John Day preserves – the Sheep Rock Unit.  We found a patch of shade for Herb and the kitties, then went into the visitor center, where a kindly park ranger invited us to a talk at a picnic table under the shady trees.  It was her first lecture of the season and we were her only “victims” so we were happy to have her practice on us.  She showed us rocks representing the different layers of lava flow and ash, the second being the layer that contains fossils.  Evidently, the region has such a complete fossil record since the time of the dinosaurs that people bring fossils from all over the world and compare them with John Day specimens to assist in dating them.  I was fascinated to think that during dinosaur times, the area had been under water, then became a subtropical area, a hardwood forest, a savannah and now the high desert.

We studied the fossil rhino, camel-like creature and short-faced dog skulls back in the building before purchasing my first souvenir pin of the trip.  The drive then took us farther east and into increasing hills and trees until we reached Phillip’s Reservoir, a large recreational lake.  The official day use area wanted five dollars for the pleasure of our company so instead we opted for the boat ramp area.  Using Herb to create our own shade against the low, late afternoon sun, we fixed pasta with chunky tomatoes and tuna, followed by dessert of crackers and jam. Koko patrolled at the end of his 10 foot leash while Murph hid in the bus.

We watched a wet and happy young couple carry a rubber raft up from the water, deflate it partially and shove it into the back seat of a passenger car.  They set their camera on the car to take a picture of themselves and I snapped another for them with the reservoir in the background. I hope it turns out alright.

With the goal of reaching Joseph for my birthday tomorrow, we went on to Baker City before calling it a night.  Before choosing a parking spot, we found our goal in Baker City – the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center on a hill just outside of town.  There was no place to park near there, so we found an unobtrusive city street (a bit too close to the railroad tracks, but not much could keep me awake.)

June 25, 2002 – Tuesday

Baker City, OR to Joseph, OR

Happy Birthday to me!  We treated ourselves to morning lattes and pastries at a local, non-chain shop where the fan blew such cool air that I was too cold.  (I asked Brian to remind me later in the day when it got hot that I had ever been too cool.)  We made it to the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center exactly when it opened at 9:00 and bought a Golden Eagle pass to stick on our National Parks pass.  The Golden Eagle cost us $15 and saved us $10 immediately so it should pay for itself at other Forest Service fee sights.

I handed Brian the video camera since I usually get to film while he drives and we began our visit at a circle of representative wagons on the top of the hill.  Below there was a real, live western cattle drive taking place and we captured it on video.  The center itself was arranged so you would walk past displays that progressed as the Oregon Trail did, from its beginning in St Louis to this site in Baker City and beyond.  The hardship and sacrifices of the more than 10,000 pioneers who rode and walked the trail was unbelievable, and many did not survive; there was a grave an average of every 80 yards along the trail.  It was all so moving that I had to buy another pin (and of course it is my birthday).

Birthday lunch was another Wendy’s treat in La Grande after we had gone north through grassy flatland that was bounded on the northeast by the snowy Wallowa Mountains and the west by the Blue Mountains and Elkhorn Range, with rolling sagebrush foothills.  The day grew hotter and hotter and by the time we reached Joseph, all we wanted was some shade for the cats.  We found a spot by a creek on a side street in town and immediately wet down the kitties.  They did not care for the process but appreciated the results.  I appreciated a wade in the creek!

Leaving Herb in the shade, Brian and I took a brief, boiling hot walk through Joseph, managing to admire the bronze statues and even shop in a music store for a plastic egg shaker (for Brian) and a pocket-sized tin whistle tune book for me (did I mention that it was my birthday?).  Finally we collapsed with tall iced lattes in our sweaty hands.

We decided to splurge on an actual camping space at Wallowa Lake and it bought us shade trees, visiting deer and free showers!  What bliss – we each managed to squeeze in two showers during the 18 or so hours that we were there.  For birthday dinner Brian fixed me garlic cashew ramen noodles with sautéed veggies and we uncorked a bon-voyage bottle of Gewurz from Ashland friends, Butch and Marsha McBaine.  Brian had hiked to the nearby convenience store for ice to chill the wine, fancy mixed nuts for appetizer and a fluffy, cool Jell-O dessert.

After our feast we strolled to the lake, which was peaceful in the early evening.  We skipped a few stones before turning in.

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