Monday, September 6, 2010

Oregon!

I've made it Oregon. It's taken 49 years (maybe a little over that...) but I'm now in my 47th of the 50 states, having made it to Maine last year for the first time, and to Wisconsin and North Dakota in 2007. Before that, I don't remember the order.

Was it an auspicious start? A few miles in (and after stopping for pictures along the Smith River below Gasquet, California), we decided on a whim to take a 20-mile detour down a dead-end road to see Oregon Caves National Monument, where Sherry got her first passport stamps from the Northwest portion of the country (not counting the Redwoods N.P. stamp that I put there by mistake some years ago). (There were two stamps: one for Oregon Caves and one for the Chateau At The Oregon Caves, which is right next to the visitors' center but is, for some reason, separate.

We didn't take the cave tour; it's 90 minutes and fairly strenuous, and in my humble (sic) opinion, a cave is a cave is a cave. Having seen the glorious Carlsbad Cavern, and the almost-as-grand Natural Bridge Cavern, and some 50 or 60 others, I don't think any of the others was worth the price of admission. Now, if I were a dedicated spelunker like my friend David in Kansas City, who goes crawling through unimproved caverns on his belly with a flashlight, I might think differently, but I'm not. To me, a cave is a dark place with uneven ground, cool air, lots of bats, artificial lighting, and some cool-lookin' rocks. All things considered, I'd rather use that time to watch TV or drink a beer. 

(I think it was Mammoth Cave in Kentucky that decided me on this particular bit of philistinism. Yes, it's big, but it's also booooooooring. Just a hole in the rocks. Follow that up with Wind Cave in South Dakota and created in me is the conviction that I don't much enjoy tramping around underground.)

Anyway: the drive up to Oregon Caves was sufficiently entertaining that, on arrival, I was given a button to wear that says "I survived the drive." Those who know me will know how much I appreciate any drive that warrants such treatment. After wandering through the gift shop in the visitors' center, buying souvenir T-shirts, we went across to the Chateau, which is a large old lodge, artsy gift shop and diner in the bottom floor. Some of the locally-produced ceramics caught my interest, but I decided our car is too full already, and last time I had something of that sort shipped home (from Yellowstone) it arrived shattered, and the replacement the shop sent is ... unattractive. Decided not to chance it, though the prices were good. (I did buy a very nice belt, Nieman-Marcus quality at a Target price.)

We had an excellent (excellent!) lunch in the 1930s-style diner, then started towards Crater Lake. About 80 miles short of the park, just past the town of Gold Hill, there was a sound like locusts chirping. It got louder and louder until I pulled off the road and discovered that, whatever it was, it was coming from the car. I turned back and found a garage that, while not open for business, had a couple of mechanics inside working on what looked like a cross between a dune buggy and a dragster. One of them listened to the sound, with no clear idea of what it was, and suggested I talk to a Mr Thumler, who had a shop down the street. I found Mr Thumler -- Don -- and he said yes, bring it on down and he'd have a look at it. As I drove the car the two blocks, the noise became a grinding, dragging sound, then a thunk, and then silence.

He looked the car over for an hour and a half, maybe longer, taking off the left front wheel and examining everything from the hub ("non-serviceable -- if it's a bearing we'll have to replace the whole thing, and that'll mean getting a part from Portland") to the steering rack ("This is in good shape, nothing wrong here") to the brakes ("that black stuff on the front wheels, that's brake material") and sensor and something else that starts with an "r" and the suspension, and then examined the right front wheel ("sometimes sounds can be misleading") and all he could find wrong was that two plastic cover panels that keep dirt out of the area behind the headlamps were missing. We took a short test drive and the car sounded perfectly normal, so after another hour of politically-oriented discussion ranging from the legality of the Louisiana Purchase to the use of public lands in the American West to the Mideast dispute, the partition of India, and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (the "Bush Wars"), we were back on the road.

Now here we are, in our hotel about 45 minutes from Crater Lake National Park at 4pm, and we've decided to take it easy the rest of today; we have a 7:15 dinner reservation in our hotel's dining room, and afterwards maybe we'll walk down to see the nearby waterfall. I've already downloaded the few pictures we've taken so far today. I haven't blogged since we got to Tahoe because we've spent all day either driving or sightseeing, and it's taking so long to download our pictures from our cameras, review them, upload them to Picasa, and cull them, that I've been too tired to write. But now I have the prospect of a relaxing evening with not too much to do; ergo, I blog.

Having just written that, we decided to walk down to Pearsony Falls, a short hike down the hill from our hotel. On the way we met a young Dutch couple who flew into Seattle a few days ago and are working their way from Olympic National Park to San Francisco; they were also going to see the waterfall, which proved to be exactly what I'd pictured Oregon as being like: substantial, though not overwhelming, quantities of water rushing over lichen-covered rocks amid lush woods. I'm thinking now we won't have to go the 30 or 40 miles out of our way that I'd planned to see a waterfall east of Florence, on the coast, in a couple of days. I've seen what I needed to see, and Sherry is perfectly content to go where ever I take her, as long as she can say "pull over here" whenever she wants.

I suppose now I should go back and recap what-all we saw and did around Tahoe and Lassen Volcanic National Park and coming up through the Redwood Forest and in Crescent City for the last few days.  Well, let's see.

Our motel in Tahoe was in a 50s-era mom-&-pop place that was a little run down but suspiciously cheap (about $45 a night, with tax). They had internet -- I checked on that before making the reservation; what they didn't have, it turned out, was air conditioning. Turned out not to matter. We opened a window and damn near froze. It was conveniently located on the lake ring-road, though on the landward side, so no view, but everything was close by. We walked down the street for dinner at a Mexican place called Chevy's that was sufficiently cosmopolitan not to be too californio for my taste. The margaritas were so-so, the food was good, and the service was very good. The only real disappointing thing was that they wouldn't serve us on their large patio area, because they "didn't have a waiter working the patio." Seemed to me that they had the same number of people to take care of, whether we sat outside or in. A very European attitudeOur motel in Tahoe was in a 50s-era mom-&-pop place that was a little run down but suspiciously cheap (about $45 a night, with tax). They had internet -- I checked on that before making the reservation; what they didn't have, it turned out, was air conditioning. Turned out not to matter. We opened a window and damn near froze. It was conveniently located on the lake ring-road, though on the landward side, so no view, but everything was close by. We walked down the street for dinner at a Mexican place called Chevy's that was sufficiently cosmopolitan not to be too californio for my taste. The margaritas were so-so, the food was good, and the service was very good. The only real disappointing thing was that they wouldn't serve us on their large patio area, because they "didn't have a waiter working the patio." Seemed to me that they had the same number of people to take care of, whether we sat outside or in. A very European attitude; it reminded me of the time I missed a connecting flight in Chicago five years ago. Lufthansa said there was nothing they could do for me. American Airlines said "Let's see what we can do," and with a few keystrokes, they had me on another flight to Turkey. Ironically, a Lufthansa flight. Anyway, since then I've encountered the same no-can-do attitude several times out here.

Next morning, first thing, we went looking for breakfast. I'd noticed a new bakery about a block from the hotel, so we went there. I had my mouth all set for some baked goods. So, what kind of bakery doesn't open until 9am? Go figure. So we walked the other way, where there was an Indian restaurant offering breakfast ... starting at 9am. We tried the coffee shop across the parking lot ... that doesn't open for breakfast until 9am. Finally settled for Heidi's, a local chain that has ordinary coffee-shop cuisine at California prices -- everything is about 50% more expensive in California, except gasoline, which is only about 15% more. The waitress suggested we visit Vikingsholm, an old mansion on the lakeshore at Emerald Bay.

After breakfast, and laundry, we went for gas (in Carson City, where it's much cheaper) and then drove all the way around the lake, stopping in several places for pictures, then came to Emerald Bay. This is the most beautiful part of a lake where "beautiful" is generally an understatement, and the part that I remembered clearly from our earlier visit here 11 years ago.

We paid the parking fee at the park and started down the path to Vikingsholm, which is part of a California state park. It's about a mile down a very steep winding driveway, and we only got about half-way down -- about a 250-foot drop -- before I decided that I might not be able to get back up. It was very tiring, though I think now it was more the altitude than the strenuousness of the climb. (I think that because, in Lassen a couple of days later, I made a similar hike at a slightly lower altitude with no great problem.) 

I also think, now, that a part of the reason was that I find that I feel extremely unwelcome in California. Everywhere in California. I felt it last year in San Diego; I felt it in Tahoe; I felt it in Lassen and in the Redwood Forest and in Crescent City. I feel inclined not to ever go back there, despite its unrivaled scenery and cultural attractions.

Anyway: so we didn't make it down to Vikingsholm. We went back to the room, rested some, and then drove up to Zephyr Cove, on the Nevada side, and took a cocktail cruise on the lake, on a catamaran. Sherry hadn't wanted to do that because, in her mind, catamarans were unpleasantly wet rides, but when I showed her a picture of the boat -- 55 feet long, with room for 30-something people -- she reluctantly agreed to go. I wanted to take the catamaran because, (a) it was at the right time of day; (b) it was out of a nearby harbour; and (c) it was a little cheaper than any of the other cruises on offer. Turned out to be a very nice ride. The boat was comfortable, the other passengers were pleasant -- we spoke mainly with a couple who live in San Luis Obispo, though she's from Alabama and he's from New York -- and the drinks were almost the only bargains I've come across so far on this trip.

(I do hate to go on and on about the cost of everything, but I have just been so flabbergasted by the cost of things out here. I know San Antonio's cheaper than a lot of places -- actually, just about everyplace -- but in the last year or so it seems like the differences have been magnified astoundingly, and even more so in California.)

Next morning we were up bright and early and on the road to Lassen Volcanic National Park, skirting along the edge of the desert, then up into the mountains. The road, conveniently, goes through the park from south to north, so we got to pass right by all the interesting sites. We got out and hiked up to Bumpass Hell, a Yellowstone-like geothermal outcropping that smells of sulpher and sounds like trucks on a highway. We also hiked around Reflection Lake, just to get a nice picture of the mountains reflected in the water.

We came down out of the mountains into Redding, where it was 103 degrees. Surprise! Only wanted to see the Sundial Bridge, then drove on up the road to Weed. We spent that night at the foot of Mount Shasta, which is a nice-looking mountain but really has no other attractions for people who don't want to hike, or mountain-bike, or go snowmobiling or fishing.

In the morning we drove through the mountains to the coast. When I was planning out the route I found I'd chosen a road that was unpaved, so I changed it ... to a road that's under construction as it skirts along cliffs in the middle of wilderness. It took forever, but was a pretty drive along the North Fork Salmon River. The road, in many places, was only one lane. I'm just grateful that the cement truck we passed came along in one of the wider sections.

Up the coast, we turned off to the parkway through the Redwoods, and went for a hike at the Big Tree turnout. This was a hike I'd taken with my son a few years ago, up past the Big Tree to the Cathedral Trees. I thought it was just a loop trail, but apparently it's not; it goes on and on and comes out about a mile and a half south of where we'd parked. Then we walked up a short trail to the Corkscrew Tree, then drove up the coast to our hotel in Crescent City. After checking in, we went over to watch the sun set on one of the lighthouses just off the shore there.

And then we got up in the morning and came to Oregon. And I'm all caught up, though I know I've left out a whole lot of interesting things that I had meant to write about.