Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Year on the Road - Next Stop Alaska!

Probably, we'll take the blue route
Wow!!! Two days ago, May 29th, marks one year that we've been on the road!!!  One year since we sold the house, and pretty much everything in it and hit the road.

Admittedly the plans have evolved. From hiking the PCT, to bike touring, and now to camping around the country, but the adventure continues. And it continues to evolve for the better!!! (Are there really enough exclamation points to convey the excitement??!!!) Living, and traveling 24/7 with S.D. gets better every day as do the adventures.

Leaving Oregon we drove North up the coast through Washington. Stopping along the way to visit friends and eat seafood, enough seafood and oysters to make up for the last six months deficit. The plan is to be at the Canadian border by June 1. Explore British Columbia and the Yukon and arrive at Tok, Alaska by July 11. July, August and into September we'll be volunteering at the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge four days a week and exploring other parts of Alaska on our days off. Come September it's a quick descent south. Winter comes quickly up there and we'll need to get to warmer climates!

Yesterday we were talking about traveling around the country with a friend. She pointed out that it's the lifestyle that attracts her. Yes, she wants to see all these great places, but it's being on the road, living like a nomad, that really feels right. I gotta agree. This morning we're up early. After three days in Seattle it's time to get back on that road!

Transitions: Good Bye Deserts, Hello Trees and Plate Tectonics

The Deschutes River
(This post covers adventures between May 1 and May7th)

This week, without our really planning it, has been the perfect transition between our last six months, and the upcoming six months. Since October of 2015 we've been in deserts. The Mohave, Sonoran, Chihuahuan, Basin and Range, and now, in Oregon, the High Desert. Starting next week we'll pass west over the Cascades, and back into wetter climates.  We'll stay in this climate through summer in Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, the Yukon,  Alaska at least through September.

As a fitting desert wrap up we visited the High Desert Museum. There were some great exhibits on desert weather and desert life. There was also a fun forest fire game where I did manage to put out the fire, but not before the loss of 30,000 acres of old growth trees. Guess I won't be looking for a job in the forest service any time soon.

As one would expect, during our desert days we haven't seen many trees. This week however we're getting a preview of forests to come. Surrounded by thousands of Ponderosa pines, we've been enjoying our stay at La Pine State Park in Central Oregon, just south of Bend.

One day we rode our bikes to the "Big Tree." It was a ponderosa pine with the largest circumference living in Oregon today. Until 2000 it was also the tallest pine, but it split in a storm and lost that claim. The interpretive sign did not reveal where the tallest pine might be hiding. Seems it would be a hard secret to keep.

Dave ponders the Big Tree
This wasn't however, our first "Big Tree". Just east of Mt. Rainier we followed a similar "Big Tree" sign. Sadly, that one was no longer living. Standing on the stump, it was easy to see that it had been a big tree, but really, it no longer qualified. Between then and now we've passed other "Big Tree" signs including one for a Douglas Fir in Western Washington. According to the web that tree was so big loggers refused to cut it down and instead built a curvey 30 mile road to it. We passed on that one but and we've also been to the Redwoods a number of times and seen lots and lots of other big trees. Leave trees alone for long enough and they will grow...provided they have enough water.

When not looking at trees, or causing them to virtually burn, we visited Lava Land National Monument. Aside from the fact that the gift shop does not sell lava lamps, it's pretty great. We drove up to the top of the cinder cone where we met a volunteer and talked about all the volcanoes, lava flows, cinder cones, etc all over the west coast. Reminding us again that while we might be leaving the desert, we'll be spend the next six months not only surrounded by trees but also in the Rim of Fire. Or to put it another way, we might be moving North to Alaska, but it's moving southeast to Midwestern United States. We'll be leaving the desert and re-entering tsunami land!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Wildflower Tour of Northeastern Oregon

(This post applies to adventures during the last week of April, 2016)

One of the many hillsides of beautiful sun flowers
Back in March, S.D arranged a late April tour of the Outdoors RV factory in La Grande, (Northeastern) Oregon. That's where our little home was built and April seemed about the right time since we also wanted to be in Ashland, OR the second week of May. Having sprinted through Northern Utah, Northern Nevada and Southern Idaho we found ourselves at the factory, mid-April, a week ahead of schedule.

The La Grande valley itself is largely agricultural, with a lumber mill and two RV manufactures thrown in. There are several smallish rivers and lots of mountains surrounding the plain.  In mid-April the weather was sunny, and warm in the daytime. The valley was green with the new spring grass and budding trees. The mountains however, were covered with large amounts of snow. It was beautiful but also possible, we were a little early for camping in Northeastern Oregon.
Unidentified purple flowers

We recalled from our previous time in Oregon that the natives seemed an adventurous bunch, undeterred by a rain or snow and walked into the Wallow-Whitman Forest Service Office to inquire about camping and hiking options. The Ranger inquired if we had noticed the snow? None of the Forest Service Campgrounds opened until at least May 1, and then only if the snow was gone. "You might" she ventured, "find that the state campgrounds are open."
Minam State Park - Camping under the flowers

We checked online, and it appeared that indeed they might...or they might not. It's amazing how unclear campground websites can be. But with hope in our hearts, and the promise from the Ranger that it was a beautiful spot we headed East up alongside the Minam River to the Minam State Campground. Thirty miles of winding paved and two miles of bumpy dirt road later, we arrived to find the campground. It was open, it was green and it was beautiful.

Calypso Orchid
It was at this point that we realized that while we might have been too early for our tour, hiking up into the mountains, or camping in the National Forest, we had arrived at just the right time for the wildflower bloom in the valleys. Big, bright yellow daisy-like flowers covered every hillside. Next to our campsite, and scattered throughout the forest were white and pink blooming wild apple trees. We walked along the swiftly flowing Minam River and found wild apple trees, sunflowers and some other purple flower.

The next day we left the Creekside (our RV) parked under the apple tree and drove further up the Wallow Valley along side the eponymous river, through the neat and tidy towns of Lostine Enterprise and Joseph, under hills covered in yellow flowers, through hay and grain fields, past greening cow and sheep pastures. It was raining and with no chance of getting a good hike in we settled for the next best thing(s). A good burger and a fresh microbrew at Terminal Gravity Brew Pub. (Middle of nowhere, and the center of the universe). By the time we returned home, the RV was lightly frosted in white apple blossoms.

We woke to sunshine the next morning and really wanting to do some hiking, decided to try our luck at Catherine Creek State Park. According to the website, and the state brochure, it was not only open, it also had hiking trails. To get there we drove back to La Grande, then wound south, along Catherine Creek, for twelve miles before arriving at the campground. It too was open! We pulled into a lovely spot beside the wildly flowing creek, set up for the night, and set out to find those hiking trails!

The bad news was that there was only one trail it was only a mile and half. The good news was that the trail climbed through a beautiful forest and there were lots more wildflowers. We saw a ... blooming Oregon grapes, Calypso Orchids, lupines and more. Probably more wildflowers per foot hiked than anywhere else.

Trout lily
Following the night at Catherine Creek we headed a bit North, this time headed for Bird Tracks Spring Campground. Unimaginatively named for the fact that a bird walked in drying cement around a spring head...and left tracks. There was also a trail there that went along the Grande Ronde river and was a birding hot spot. We didn't see many birds and we did find the spring head with the tracks but more remarkable was our campsite. It was surrounded by yellow trout lilies! I don't think they bloom for very many days so it was all the more remarkably that we were there for their brief show.

Two days later we toured the RV plant. No wildflowers there but it was a very interesting, two hour tour. Learned that RV manufacturing and boat building aren't all that different. Admittedly an RV will not float but the design efficiency, and parts have a great deal in common...and they make it all possible for us to be on the road and see more wildflowers!