Mono Lake MonoMyth, Episode 1


After a couple of hours at my former in-laws – visiting, packing up things the kids had forgotten, and repairing the small dent we put in the front bumper of the rental SUV, we were ready to leave for our next adventure.

The Call to Adventure

This one had us traveling south on US-395, all day long.  We were in high desert country now.  We were also chasing daylight to our next camping spot, so we couldn’t stop at every geocache along the way in the interest of time.  We couldn’t resist this one, though (above picture), that almost turned out to be more than we bargained for.  The SUV was not four wheel drive and the road weaved up a small mountain before we were forced to stop driving – so the youngest one and I made the hike the rest of the way in the hot high desert sun to find an ammo can on the top of a ridge overlooking the valley – it was actually pretty awesome.  We limited ourselves to only five caches in about five hours, though, before we made it to the area we planned to spend the night.

Mono Vista

Refusal of the Call

So, we finally made it down into the Mono Valley and we need to find a place to bed down for the night.  I had kept this night free of reservations, partially because I wasn’t sure how far down the road we would make it that night.

Oh…wait…back up…see, this is why I write this stuff down in here- because I forget the details and sometimes, the details ARE important.  No, we didn’t actually make it to Mono Valley that night.  Camping plans were derailed in favor of a Best Western in Susanville, California.  We were too tired to make it all the way – and to tell you the truth, it was really nice to spread our things out and reorganize, to order pizza and watch TV and relax, to take the boys down to the little pool which was a little too chilly still on this mid-summer night for comfortable swimming, but it was fun to shiver together, to play water games, catch up on their stories of the past week, and whisper about the teenage girls on the other side of the pool from us.

And this is the thing about Susanville: I never went there with my ex-husband, even though it was close to where we used to live, and a place we drove through sometimes AND where he spent a year going to college.  He only ever pointed out the women’s penitentiary to me.  But I kind of liked this town, and I really want to go back now, after spending some time there in the hotel room reading about what Lassen National Park has to offer.  Guided horseback rides that offer opportunities for viewing wild horses was most intriguing activity I saw advertised.  Maybe someday when I am healed and back to riding horses we can look into that.

Anyways so we finally got out of town the next morning and were NOW headed to Mono County, with a few stops along the way (like an irritating search for DVD player chargers in Reno, Nevada, and a random sampling of meatball panini sandwiches at a pizza place somewhere north of Carson City).  So after all that, and not much geocaching, it took us almost to the end of day before we were fiddling around trying to decide on a campsite for the night.

(tune in for Episode 2 later, after we try out our new Blu-Ray system and get some sleep)


Fremont National Forest Fun

Tumalo State Park has a few caches in it, but we left without finding any, mostly because we wasted some time on a bad hint on one and another looked like it was going to be a longer walk than we had time for. We did have time for breakfast at Shari’s Restaurant before leaving town; warm comfort food washed down with hot coffee.
It was slightly misty outside, which suited my mood and memory. The Shari’s is right across the street from the Shiloh Inn that my ex husband and I stayed at a few times. He had always wanted to move to Bend, and we had gone as far as to meet with a realtor and consider houses and jobs in town, but ultimately we stayed in Texas. If we had gone then, we might have stayed together, it is possible. Part of what drove our misery together was his misery over living in Texas, or not living in Oregon, or sacrificing his dream of Bend, although to be fair, he never made any efforts to make it happen. I felt like he wanted me to make it happen for him, although it wasn’t my dream, per se. I did always like Bend, though, and we spent quite a few weekends here both when we lived in Oregon, and when we visited later.
These are the things I remembered as we left town: the store where we bought presents for an impromptu third birthday for our oldest son during a break from deployments, a restaurant, a bar, a hotel we visited during our weekends there, a turn off even for caches we found later on. I was surprised at both how much I remembered, and the details I couldn’t conjure up.
And soon, we were on the road, this time heading down a road familiar to me – to his parent’s house, a few hours drive from here. My kids were there, they had been spending a week with their grandparents in Oregon that they hardly ever get to see. Part of the reason I chose the West for our vacation was to give them a chance to have this visit this summer, since their dad wasn’t able to take them. They had been there a week, since I had handed the kids over to my ex’s aunt in Ashland, Oregon the following Friday. This was the first time I had seen my ex’s parents since the divorce, and indeed it was the summer before that happened that I had last seen them, so three years had gone by now since I had pulled up at their drive. They had also never met Jason, who took the place of their son in my life, so all this has me a little nervous.
I knew the way to their home, still, and remembered some of the landscape, although this day, due to our explorative nature, Jason and I saw parts of the wilderness along the drive that I had never seen before.
We spent quite a bit of time at this rock formation in the above picture. Although we never did find the cache that was our incentive for getting out of the car there (coordinates were like 50-70 ft off and the hint was bad), we had a really good time walking around out there, feeling the cool Oregon air and listening to the wind blow the trees around.
We pulled off several times along the way to drive down forest roads in the Fremont National Forest. These roads appear on the map something like, “200” or “260”, but in reality are just dirt roads with no signs used by loggers or wilderness enthusiasts, hunters maybe. A few times we weren’t sure we were on the right road – in fact we probably wasted half an hour or more than morning on wrong roads – but we did find some cool places.

This is one of those cool places – aptly named “Hole-in-the-Ground”. This is an area known to geologists as a “maar”, formed by a series of eruptions that caused magma to come into contact with ground water, forming a crater in the ground. The road around the rim is 3 miles long, and we made it all the way around, but not without crashing into a rock and causing the bumper of our rental car to get pushed out of place in an area, which Jason fixed when we got to my former in-laws, having to borrow some tools to my ex-stepfather-in–law. It was interesting….but we had a fun adventure tale to tell, which took some awkwardness of the moment away.
When we got to their house, we were literally at the border of Oregon and California. We had stopped at the Burger Queen for lunch before their house (my favorite place to eat in the Lakeview, Oregon area, reminiscent of former visits), and when we left their house, it was mid-afternoon, and time to get a move on to get to the next leg of our journey – Mono Lake, CA, which deserves its own entry.

Bend Bound

DSC_9285It was with sadness that we finally made our way out of this area.  After a last morning driving around the southeastern side of Mt Rainier, we took the turn for White Pass, and began heading into Oregon, via Yakima.
IMG_4263Of course, our drive took twice as long as it should have, since we had to stop to geocache and explore every little area.  This picture above is of Rimrock Lake, a storage reservoir for the Yakima Project, an irrigation program.  Its capacity is controlled by the Tieton Dam on one side and the Clear Creek Dam on the other.  This area provides outdoor enthusiasts with opportunities for fishing, camping, boating, and water sports.  Trout are in abundance here, and wildlife that share the area include deer, elk, osprey, bald eagles, otter and bear.  We didn’t see any of those while we were out there playing, but we did find a few caches.
This spot here holds little action right now, but in the winter is a feeding ground for elk. In 1913, Rocky Mountain elk were brought to this area from Yellowstone National Park. However, these elk tend to range up to 70 miles between the winter and spring feeding grounds, and there eventually became conflict between land owners and ranchers and the elk. The Department of Fish and Wildlife got involved to work out a compromise. In 1939, this agency began to provide hay to the elk at this location to keep them from wandering and damaging property. In the 1940s, they built a hundred miles of eight foot high fences to keep the elk here during the winter. The hay is grown on government property. Elk can eat between 3-10 lbs of hay a day, and at peak feeding times, there is up to 8,000 elk here at a time. That is a lot of hay! I wish we had seen the elk, but they are there November-February, and this was the end of June.

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This is a shot of a miniature Stonehenge, which sits near the edge of Washington, hanging just above the Columbia River Gorge, which you can see in the next picture. This replica of the original stands as a monument to heroism and peace. It was Sam Hill who had the idea to erect this monument, after being inspired by seeing the real StoneHenge in England and wanted to build this one as a reminder of the sacrifices made during World War I, and the “incredible folly” of the war.  In 1918, it was dedicated to the servicemen of Klickitat County, Washington who died in the service of their country during the Great War.  The monument was actually finished in 1929 and re-dedicated.  Sam Hill was a very interesting person who was influential in getting roads built in Washington and Oregon.  See more about his life here.
Another one of Sam Hill’s contributions was this road pictured above, and in the next two shots: the Maryville Loops.  Sam paid for these roads to be constructed out of his own pocket, after being frustrated with the Washington government’s failure to agree to build a highway along the Columbia River Gorge.

Our stop here at this road was purely serendipitous.  I thought we could drive down this road and that would be a fun adventure (plus there is a cache along it), but we never saw a turn for it.  Instead, we saw a turnoff for an overlook, and stopped to look.  As chance would have it, we got there just as buses were pulling up to unload skaters for a practice run for a competition happening that weekend.  There were different types of skate competitions, and we watched a few rounds of this, taking pictures and video.  It was so completely awesome and unexpected.

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After this, we made it over the Gorge, stopping for dinner and one more cache, and realizing we better make some miles if we hoped to make it to Bend tonight.
DSC_1835As you can see, though, it was tough to resist temptations to get out and take photos and explore the surroundings, as they were particularly beautiful. DSC_9298

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Finally, we made it to Tumalo State Park, and to our camping reservation. Still with daylight left, too! We had time to pitch our tent and have a dinner of that same salad from Pike Market that we had been carting around before going to sleep, the sound of the creek singing a lullaby to us as we got some well-needed rest.

Mount Rainier Requiem

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After our adventures in Hyak, we headed back to our cabin in Greenwater, planning to take it easy. We could not resist the double lure, though, of the Natchez Tavern, where we had awesome cheeseburgers, and further exploring towards the direction of Mt Rainier National Park.
The section of the park that was closest to us, Sunrise, was temporarily closed in the couple of days we spent there. It was being used as a staging area for an attempted recovery of the body of Nick Hall, a young park ranger who had died the week before while rescuing hikers. A group of experienced hikers were making a descent of the mountain when two of them slid into a crevasse near a glacier at 13,700 feet. Hall was among the rescue rangers who responded to the distress call by arriving in a Chinook helicopter to help pull the hikers out. The winds were upwards of 40 mph and dark was approaching as the third of four hikers was being loaded into the rescue basket. Somehow during the commotion of the rescue, Nick Hall lost his balance or his hold, and fell three thousand feet. He was unresponsive afterwards, and confirmed dead when rangers finally reached him, several hours later. It was too dangerous to continue the mission after his fall, and the fourth hiker had to make her way down the mountain on foot with hiking rangers who had stayed behind with her.
We thought a lot about Hall as we headed to the Nisqually Vista area of Rainier, taking pictures of this mountain from every angle. We thought that it was such a clear day that surely the efforts to retrieve his body would be successful, but ultimately it was another week before he was able to be brought down. His memorial service was held the next day, as we were leaving the park. Flags were at half mast at the ranger stations. The park was sad and surreal in its grief to be losing one of their own.
On the nearby Chinook Pass, recently opened for the season, eight foot packs of ice lined the sides of the road, a crystal clear reminder that out here, the wild is a double edged sword, both blindingly beautiful and chillingly dangerous at the same time.