Saturday, August 12, 2006

Northwestern Wonders

Saturday August 12th, 2006

This part of the country is so spectacular ... of course I am only finding this out as I am leaving it. What an idiot. Wow, the parks I have been to in the last week just blow me away. I cannot wait to show all of you my 500 pictures for the last 5 days (I mean, they are nice pictures, but 500? Maybe I am having a little diarrhetic camera thumb, I just cannot stop).
Matt got into San Francisco last Sunday, we saw the concert, Ska Cubano, at Stern Grove, which was so cool and even got in a practice hike as Dave, Matt, Ryan and myself trekked around through the park. Then back to Dave and Ems, dinner with them, drinks with Sikes and Carla, then to bed too late and up too early having drunk too much scotch. Matt and I got on the road around 745, after Matt spent 45 minutes cursing the mac operating system, and headed up to Lassen.

This drive is not so gorgeous, at least the first part, as we headed up past Sacrmento and into North Central cali. However, this was the first time that I really got to push Matilda (my Pontiac Vibe GT, who rocks), and she runs like an angel. Took me a while to figure out the 6 gears, but now we are humming ... we spend most of the ride looking for an In and Out, adding credence to my theory that In n' Out will be one of the things I miss the most when I leave, but never seem to find one. At around 1130, we arrive in Red Bluff, a tiny town just south of lassen, so small that Matt proclaims, "Funny things probably go on with parents and kids and stuff". Yeah, its a creepy little place, but we turn off just before 89 (the road into Lassen), and stop at a little eatery called 2 Buds Beans & BBQ.

Walking in Matt asks a walking piece of leather, I am assuming it was Bud, if there is an In n' Out in the area. "In and out, that's bullshit. Try my girls Tri-Tip!!" responds the cowhide, and then walks past his girl (assuming she was his daughter as she was maybe about 16 ... otherwise maybe Matt is right about the strange things that happen here) and grabs two pieces of meat of a rotating BBQ and thrusts them towards us. "Gowon now, try it." Hes right, its great and we get Tri-Tip sandwiches and beans for lunch. The girl, stops by our table later and prompts us to try the specialty of the house, homemade jerky. Its delicious, incredibly salty and spicy and so difficult to chew I assume it is made of wood. Six days later I am convinced it is laced with crack or some other highly addictive substance, because I cannot stop eating it.

The leather gives us directions to a grocery store, and we head off, stock up and get up to Lassen around 1330. By the time we get there we are both grinning like idiots, as the drive up 89 takes you through a massive pine forest and in the distance you can see mountains all around as you slowly climb up to around 6000 feet. The park itself is much like the surrounding forest, with the addition of numerous sulphur pits and other volcanic activity. We drive the road that meanders through, stopping at various viewpoints and trails. At the first stop, sulphur works, Matt tells me he thinks the earth farted, a description which I consider to be apt. A number of stops later we stop at Bumpass Hell, a 3.2 mile trail that takes you to the largest sulphur vents in the park. According to legend, KV Bumpass, a trail guide here in the 1860s, plunged his leg into a mud pot and severely burned himself, prompting a joke about how he made an early descent into hell. I saw the area he fell into and all I can say is people were tougher back then.

The hell is really cool. As you approach, a stream running off flows past, it is warm like bathtub water. The hell itself is series of large pools , churning and spewing off numerous foul smells, like a witches brew. The water at some points is actually bubbling like in a pasta pot, at others just discolored and beginning to boil. Small mudpots dot the area, bubbling and churning cement in the earth. There were some snowfields nearby, and I had picked up a snowball to take a picture with "A snowballs chance in hell" was to be the title, but the smoke in the area was so warm (as was my hand), that the snowball melted before I got there.

After the hell, which was a tough hike despite the distance due to the snow fields and elevation, we stopped at a number of spectacular viewpoints, taking in the scenery (forest, snowfalls, Lassen itself and surroundings) and seeing the area devastated by Lassen in 1915. We camped for the night at the north end of the park, cooked up fabulous chicken fajitas in tin foil(with chicken from 2 Buds), played some cribbage, drank some scotch (my bottle of Chivas probably is not going to make it out of Canada) and went to bed. On the way out the next day, we stop to see a final view and a car pulls up next to us.

"Whaddya see?" he says. "Lassen" we respond. He drives off disappointed. I don't get some people.

We head up north to Crater Lake along 89, stopping at too many construction sites (apparently the entire length of highway 89 is being repaired) and at Burney Falls. Roosevelt called Burney falls one of the wonders of the world, and I have to agree. Pumping 100 million gallons of water a day over the falls (a lot but far less than my estimate of 5 billion gallons), this waterfall is indescribable. Now I have a small fetish for waterfalls, but none-the-less. It starts with two large cataracts, like white and solid like streams of ice, falling 129 feet down off the river above. In addition, the walls of the canyon are covered with tiny rivulets of water, dripping down and variety of green mosses and roots and clay colors in the pool beneath, making the entire wall behind the main falls look like an organic damn about to burst. The falls are so powerful they spray mist 150 feet away, and the sun shinning down onto the pool makes a rainbow in the mist. Simply heavenly.

After losing my shit staring at this waterfall for half an hour, Matt reminds me we need to move and we hustle up 89, taking in incredible views of Mt. Shasta, which never quite emerges from its crown of clouds but is still impressive. We stop in Klamath Falls, get a huge sandwich and use the Internet in the public library and move up to Crater Lake. The anticipation grows here, as you enter the park a good 25 miles from the lake itself, so the whole time you are waiting to see it and speculating as you slowly climb up to the lake rim.

The lake itself is pretty unbelievable. Its approximately 4 x 6.5 miles of blue so brilliant it makes the sky look gray. In the caldera of an extinct volcano, the cliffs of red and gray rock surround the lake and tower over it by one to two thousand feet. To the side of the lake, the Wizard, a smaller, tree covered cinder cone, rises up 900 feet from the lake surface. Described as the gem of the cascades, it is a truly remarkable site, kind of a feast for the eyes. I take pictures but I cannot do the lake justice as it is simply too large and too remarkable for my meager photo skills to capture. I simply stare in wonder, awed and almost refreshed by its beauty. And by outside, as it is up around 7800 feet, so its windy and pretty cold, waking m up rather nicely. We check out the phantom ship, a 400,000 year old piece of lava that looks like a boat, and Matt gets excited at the Cloudcap overlook and goes bounding up the hill. At another stop Matt tells me to leave the car running, as he will be right back and then proceeds to get out, jump over the retaining wall and vanish down the slope.

After 10 minutes I am confused, I get out and look over the ledge and see Matt chatting up two girls about 100 feet down the slope. Amanda and Andrea, are on a trip up to Seattle. They are American and Swedish, cute and very cool, met in journalism school in Europe, and have a number of incredibly entertaining stories about their misadventures in the Old World. The four of us hit it off great, so we drive over to the watch tower, a fire station up on an 8,013 foot overlook, and trek up to the top. I should mention that Amanda is equipped with a gigantic camera and a will to use it, stopping Matt and myself at various points to say, "your green eyes match up with the green behind you, I must take a picture" and then proceeding to take 10 or 15 pictures. She makes me look very conservative with the camera.

The views from the watchman are great, as is the company, so we decide to camp out together. The girls hook up some beer and wine and desert, Matt and I make up some quesadillas and chicken fajitas using our fabulous tin foil oven technique, and we eat, drink and carouse. Desert was a special treat, as the girls made roasted bananas full of melted chocolate. Excellent. After dinner we sit by the campfire, drinking and indulging Amanda's curiosity about American sexual idiomology, covering everything from rim job (a particularly used term as we were on the rim of the lake all day) and snowball to dirty sanchez and the rusty trombone. Bronskying was a favorite. She returns the favor, teaching us Swedish terms like mumblepants, and Andrea proceeds expound on various German sexual terminology. We get to bed late, get up too early, check out the lake with the girls in the morning and head off. The lake is clear in the morning, even more blue than the day before, but without the ripples from the wind, and you can see tiny details of clouds reflected in the water. Spectacular.

Today is the day of driving, as we plan on covering about 600 miles. We cruise along 138, across I-5 at Roseburg and make it to Bandon on the coast at around 1300. We stop at Bandon dunes, an epic golf course that Matt compares to Mecca, at which point Matt runs around gawking like an idiot and licking the greens. Embarrassed, I pretend not to know him other than taking pictures, and after spending about 45 minutes checking out this picturesque gem of expensive landscaping, we head up the coast. For those of you who have not seen the Oregon coast, I am sorry. Its awe-inspiring. As 101 winds its way along, it rounds any number of incredible cliffs and massive rivers and bays, viewpoints, huge stone and steel bridges, cute seaside towns, gigantic sand dunes and beautiful forests, giving the drive an epic feel. If you stopped at every picture worthy spot you would travel about 50 miles a day. I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the coast, and ma firmly convinced that if the weather was a little less wet and a little warmer, Oregon would be the most populous state in the union.

We stopped at the sea lion cave, Bob Creek and up at three arches National Wildlife Refuge near Tillamook. By the time we got to three arches it was already 1915, and the sun was beginning to set, but after 8 hours in the car we were ready to move. We ran down to the beach, kicked off our shoes and ran around chasing the aerobie for about 45 minutes. It was incredibly windy so I think I maybe caught one or two throws of the hundreds made, but just running around on this beach was great none-the-less. The beach was wide and flat, with the titular arches, three massive rounded rocks, just off-shore.

After 45 minutes of running we stripped down and dove into the water, body surfing for about five minutes until blue started to predominate our coloration. We jogged around the beach for about 20 minutes to warm up, ignoring the stares and then hustled back to the car,dried off, and powered through to Portland where we spent the night at my step aunt Susan's house.
It was great, beautiful house in a great neighborhood, Susan actually made us dinner (coho salmon, awesome) and more impressively did not mind that we showed up an hour later than I predicted and called for directions 5 times. The next morning we took a short walk around the neighborhood, picked some blackberries, made up a massive omelet for brunch and took off. Just as we were leaving I mentioned this travel blog and Susan asked if I would send it to her. I asked her daughter, Amy, if she could show her mom Myspace, and the look I got when I mentioned that I had a Myspace account was priceless (Imagine a teenager, equal parts confused and horrified, kind of squinting, scrunching up her face, narrowing her eyes at you and saying "you do Myspace, but you're so old.")

From susans we drove to the Columbia Gorge National recreation area, to hike around Multonomah Falls, the most visited tourist destination in Oregon. The earth chose to conveniently place the Falls right next to the highway, so everyone could stop and gawk at the 620 feet of falling water. Multnomah is really not that impressive, as big waterfalls go, because of the low flow; it kind of looks like it is dribbling over the edge of the cliff. Having said that, it is still a beautiful sight, and I was thrilled at the hike, which I will now officially dub the epic waterfalls trail. We walk straight up a series of switchbacks, 1500' in 1.7 miles, walking along a river and stopping at a number of smaller falls along the way. You then traverse the ridge over the top of the falls, garnering yourself a fabulous walk through a number of fern groves and some great views of the Columbia river, before walking back down to the road past Fairy Falls and Wahkeenah Falls, both of which were spectacular, both for their beauty (Wahkeenah in particular was amazing, a three tiered powerful fall, it looks like a faucet shooting out from between two boulders, hitting a third and then stream out of a gap between the third and a fourth) and for their relative isolation, as they did not have the hordes of people standing around Multnomah. Altogether the 5.4 miler was great, seeing so many waterfalls and great views of the Columbia river as well as just having a perfect day for walking.

From the falls we made a beeline to Seattle, getting back to Matt's at around 1900. Bonnie, Matt's girlfriend, stopped by around 8 and we hung out until around midnight, eating burritos, looking at photos and generally shooting the shit. A word about Bonnie, what a fabulous girl, she just lights up a room with her smile and cracks you up with her sass at the same time. Being around her and Matt is great, they make a fabulous couple. It was like being with family.

Friday, Matt was golfing and Bonnie was working so I decided to entertain myself and take a hike in Olympic national park, which lies on the aptly named Olympic peninsula. I got up at the crack of dawn (read 0700) and drove over to the ferry terminal, then carted myself and Matilda across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island. I had mapquested my route to Olympic the night before, and had deduced that the computer was an idiot, as it said my 188 mile trip would take 5 and a half hours. As it turns out the computer is not an idiot and is in fact prescient, as I did not arrive at Ozette, where my hike was starting, until 1300, making it a 5 and a half hour journey once I got off the ferry at 0830. I am not sure how the computer predicted the insane number of cars driving exactly the ridiculous 55 mph speed limit on major highways, the 45 minute hood canal bridge closure for maintenance, the wrong turn in Port Angeles, the incredible views of the Olympics and Lake Crescent that forced me off the road a dozen or so times, the 800 year old man who blocked off highway 112 with his 900 year old station wagon for half an hour or the oversize load tire hauler who insisted on driving fast enough for me not to pass him at any point on the 113.

It was a trying drive, or would have been, if I was not grinning like a pet monkey staring out the window at some of the most rugged, green, beautiful and remote looking mountains I had ever seen. Highway 101 takes you right past Lake Crescent through the edge of the park, and its tremendous, mountains looming over the highway, so close it seems like you can touch the peaks. So I was in a fine mood when I got to Ozette, on the western coast of the Olympics by Cape Alava, and my mood only improved as I walked along 3 miles of boardwalk through a temperate rain forest to the coast. The only rain forest in the continental US, the rain forests of Olympic are just like forests in California, only far more lush, with mosses everywhere and an incredible amount of grass, ferns and other, unidentifiable by me, green undergrowth.

The coast was even better, blue ocean, wide beaches, gorgeous weather, looking out on a shoreline dotted with gigantic rocks and rock islands, like God took handfuls of giant gravel and threw them at the ocean. During low tide many are connected to the mainland, but I was there near high tide so I could not get to almost any of them. The rock island at Cape Alava, cannonball island, the westernmost point in the contiguous US, was particularly impressive, a massive granite ball crowned with 20 or 30 fir trees.

I got to walk 3 miles along this coastline, saw a lot of coastal birds, some deer and some whales, climbed, scrambled, wadded and crawled my way over a number of massive boulders, washed up trees, drift wood and other obstacles along the way. At one point I literally had to climb a rope up about 120 feet and then use another series of ropes to climb back down. I think the best part about this hike was that, on this day, with perfect weather and ideal hiking conditions, i only saw 20 people in 5 hours. There were times on the beach where I could see no sign of human presence for over a mile. At one point I was so worried I would miss the trail back that I spent 20 minutes looking for footprints in the sand. Finally, because walking 3.1 miles dry sand and gravel is tough, I reached Sand Point, ate some of 2 Buds crack jerky, and turned and headed back through the rain forest to Matilda, and Seattle. I drove home through winding crazy roads and narrow passes faster than I think I have ever driven anywhere (that is what having a sporty, fun car and a BMW to race will do to you) and made it back to Bainbridge Island in less than 3 hours, but still missed the ferry, so I did not get back to Matt's until around 2230. Epically long day, I was so tired that driving back from the ferry my eyes were getting foggy. But so worth it.

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