So after I signed off last time, we headed off to Crater Lake, a trip of only 140 or so miles which Garmin prophesied would take us till 6:00 PM. I scoffed. Scoffed, I tell you.
Never scoff at Garmin.
To be sure, we traveled through gorgeous country, not to mention Gorge-ious country, full of mountainous crags and dizzying ravines plunging down to rushing rapids full of sharp, nasty rocks. It is a place out of Middle Earth. Breathtaking. And since we had no particular schedule to keep, we were content to ogle and goggle at it all.
We reached Roseburg and found a McDonald’s so I could access the wifi and post yesterday’s doodlybop that I wrote but, tragically, Patheos would not permit it, so we decided to hit the road, after sundry pit stops. By then, I was hungry and since we were right there in a McDonald’s parking lot, Jan asked if she could make me a sandwich from the cooler, which she kindly did. Money saved!
As we were pulling out, a guy came up to me, looking bone weary and dirty, and told me he was a homeless vet. No idea if he was or not, but my philosophy is that it’s better to be cheated of twenty bucks and get to heaven than save twenty bucks and find out in hell that you screwed Jesus out of what was rightly his. And if it was a con, the guy deserved an Oscar.
So I offered the guy a Big Mac.
He said, “I’m kind of grossed out on hamburgers. I was sort of hoping you could drop me off at the Sizzler a few blocks from here.”
I thought, “You know, I bet that’s true.” One of things poor people have to put up with is not no food, but crappy food. And when they seek better food, there’s always somebody there (usually a “If a man will not work he shall not eat” Christianist who does not inquire as to whether the man can work) to tell them they are uppity scum for not wanting shitty food. How do I know? Because when I mentioned that he turned down a Big Mac and asked for a Sizzler, I could practically hear the cynical snorts about the Picky Beggar coming through the speakers of my computer from the Usual Suspects. I always think of Lewis’ reply to Tolkien when he complained that the beggar to whom he had given some shillings would just spend it on drink: “I was just going to spend it on drink.” So I was impressed with the guy for saying what he really wanted. Jesus tells us to do the same in prayer.
We had no room in the van for anybody but us, so I give him Andrew Jackson’s portrait and said I hoped that would cover something nice at Sizzler. It’s criminal how we treat our vets.
Then it was back on the road to Crater Lake, which is a surprisingly circuitous route way out east to Diamond Lake and then on beyond that to the south for far more miles than you would ever expect.
I’ve seen the pictures of Crater Lake in the brochures, a beautiful blue under an azure sky, with Wizard Island set off center like a jewel in the eye of a giant staring at God. It is the most obviously cratery crater you could ask for. Unlike Mount Saint Helens, which blew sideways to the north (and taking with it poor David Johnston, a geologist who was standing 20 miles away as an explosion bigger than the largest above-ground nuclear test came straight for him), Mt. Mazama’s blast went straight up and left behind it a perfect bowl, now covered with various evergreen species and snow.
Snow? This was not in brochures.
Permit me to digress. Long before we got to Diamond Lake, we noticed a curious redness on the road. No, it was not the blood of my or anybody’s else’s enemies. We speculated that it might be pollen from the endless forest that stretched away on both sides of the road into infinity. But that didn’t seem right either. Jan, in her wisdom, said, “It could be sand for the snow” being as how there were an increasing number of ominous “Put on your chains” signs. But since (at first) there was no snow to be seen I, who know all things, said, “Pish tosh, woman! What snow?”
So on I confidently went.
Soon Jan said, “Look! Snow!”
It was just little patches at first. A cloud no bigger than a man’s hand.
Then she noticed something else: poles by the side of the road, perhaps twenty feet tall, with regular markings on them. As though to measure the depth of something.
Caring nothing for such primitive local superstition, I, a smart city slicker, plunged on into the heart of the forest and well out of cell phone range, for my van was unsinkable!
Okay, maybe I overstate things a bit. Jan and I were, in fact, both quite willing to turn round at any point if need be. But since the roads were bare and dry, we saw no reason to stop. So despite the mountain snowbanks on either side of the road (now up to the wheelwells, now to the window, now overtopping the car, we pressed on.
At length, we saw a sign that said to turn to 1610 AM for information about the park conditions. It turned out the 30 mile scenic drive around the Rim was closed. But we could check in at the Visitor Center for information—which closed at 4:00. It was approaching 7:00. But we decided to check it out anyway.
As you can see, the whole thing was barricaded by an impenetrable wall of snow 15-20 feet high. We took a few pictures to document the height, laughing the while at Poor Planning.
About three miles further on, said the signs, was Rim Village. This sounded promising, so we made for that on the twisty road. But we figured, “In for a penny, in for a pound.” When we got there, the snow was even higher now. And the place was equally deserted, except for six other hikers who were poking about on top of the snow bank and looking off into the distance. This suggested it would be a good idea to climb the bank, which we did forthwith.
The bank of snow, once you got to the top, sloped down to a rope that kept you from plunging to your death into the crater. The rim of the crater was some 30 miles in diameter and the whole epic scene was a stunning—winter—scene. We thought, “This was totally worth it even if we don’t stay the night!” You just stood there, breathing it in. The silence was profound. Just the wind and an occasional bird. We spotted a crag in the distance that we had seen miles back on the drive in and lost again.
Somehow that felt familiar and orienting in the immense space that dwarfed us. Driving through the mountains of the west is a recurrently dwarfing experience. It is one of the many incredibles of the Faith that this mountain range, this planet, this galaxy, and this universe are, in the end, to our lives as ours are to the life of a gnat. But God has so ordered creation that, in this life, created immensities like Crater Lake serve to remind us that the sole reason our existence is eternal is grace and not because we tiny bits of protein are Teh Awesum.
We clambered about on the snowfield for a while and saw the six other folk who were out and about on it. The snowfield ran right up the roofs of the Village chalets and had signs posted on it warning people not to climb the roofs. I said, “What kind of idiot would do that?” Jan said, “Lots of idiots” pointing to the many footprints that ran right up the chalet roofs.
Soon it was getting dark (we have a talent for squeezing daylight out of sightseeing) and we decided to get going. Technically, we could have camped there since we are sleeping in the car on our extremely comfy and warm air mattress. But there was something about being the only people in ownership of Crater Lake without another soul for miles that seemed lonesome and a bit risky. So we decided to head for warmer climes.
…but when you entered, you discovered that they were, in fact, long hallways that penetrated the snowbank and led to actual restrooms connected to one of the big Village buildings.
So that was an amusing surprise.
After that, it was another struggle to negotiate with Queen Garmin. When we told her we were making for Crescent City, CA, she proceeded to route us back the way we came in a vast northern loop that would get us there at 9 AM the next morning. Apparently, she decided 101 was the only possible way sane people would want to go.
We disagreed and so headed south for Medford instead of for the Arctic Circle, asking Garmin to show us gas stations along the way. Our car does okay for gas mileage and I think we could squeeze 400 miles out of a tank of gas if we had to. But we prefer not finding out just how far we can go before we run out of gas.
All along the road from Roseburg toward Medford we kept seeing signs announcing “Rogue Umpqua”. This was an inspiration to keep moving since my guess is that even a tame Umpqua is probably something too terrible to describe and meeting a Rogue Umpqua in the wilderness could only end in tears and blood.
Eventually, I saw a sign for gas at a town called Prospect, Oregon so we pulled off the road there—and drove straight into a scenario for a Wes Craven movie.
Prospect, Oregon is, without question, the creepiest place I have ever been at night. Not just the gas station (complete with “MISSING GIRL” sign in the window) was closed. The whole town was closed.
At 8:30 on a Wednesday night. We saw two kids on bikes (no doubt returning from burying the girl) and not a soul otherwise. There was a creepy lodge and some creepy houses and a creepy church. Jan said, “That would be consoling except that it just makes me wonder what god or gods they worship there.” You pictured yourself in one of those movies where the weary travelers stop to ask Pastor Christopher Lee for directions and he says, with gracious continental manners, “Welcome! You are just in time for the feast and are to be our special guests!”
You reply innocently, “We’re invited?” and he says, “Oh, you will be there.”
Then you ask about the missing girl and he says thoughtfully, “Yes, yes. She was good. Very good.”
So Jan and I looked at each other and said, “Let’s get the hell out of here” and made for the highway before they ate our brains or made us One of Them or did whatever terrible things they to do strangers in Prospect. I would rather face a Rogue Umpqua than a night in Prospect alone.
At length, we came to Grants Pass by counter-intuitively catching I-5 north, which really went west. We pulled into the Appleby’s parking lot just before 10 and I went in and asked the waitress if they had wifi. She said they did, so I walked out to the car to get Jan and the computer. We walked back to the door and it was locked! The close at 10.
So we went across the street to Shari’s and had dinner and I posted the first tale of our adventures.
Then we decided to head down I-5 to a rest area where, according to Seasoned Traveller Jan, they were legally obliged to let you sleep for 8 hours. That sounded great to me.
In the morning, we awoke fresh as daisies. Jan made breakfast and I washed up the dishes, then poked about. There was a kiosk explaining that this was the Applegate Trail into southern Oregon where whites had come in the 1840s-50s and basically genocided the locals and put the remnant in concentration camps we call “reservations”. Native Americans are the most screwed-over minorities in US history, which is saying something. I wonder if we will ever really do anything like the national mea culpa that countries like Germany have done for their crimes against humanity. Not while we are busy boasting about our Greatness, certainly. It’s weird that we can, as a Catholic people living in the US, so easily go from “through my fault, through my fault, through my own most grievous fault” to chest-thumping nationalistic hubris and never see the disconnect. It’s one of the most surprising things about the Old Testament that it stands utterly alone in ancient Near Eastern literature in recounting the massive failures of the nation with unsparing brutality (including the massive failures of even their greatest kings) instead of offering a sunny tale of fidelity to a grateful god.
Anyway, we headed off for Redwoods National Park, near Crescent City, CA and crossed over the border (avoiding some slowly sauntering turkeys along the way) and got into Jedidiah Smith Park around noonish. By now it was raining and would continue to pour until Saturday morning everywhere in Northern California. Jan suggested that it was a lie that we brought the rain with us as Washingtonians. I agreed that Washington rules and California droolz.
We decided to take the Howland Hills Road, which turned out to be a genuine unpaved stretch of 6.8 miles of mud and potholes. However, since you never attain a speed of over three miles an hour and the road is often one car width with colossal redwoods hugging either side, it’s okay. The point of driving the largest redwood forest on the planet is not to hurry up and get through it.
About halfway through this road, our first disaster struck. Jan, as is her custom, got out to take pictures of the local plants with her newfangled camera that is made for people with Ph.Ds in Photography that we got from Amazon for her special Christmas present (the camera, not the people with Ph.Ds. They don’t sell those on Amazon–yet). It came without the 240 page (I am not making this up) instruction booklet for those with the leisure to do more with a camera than just snappin’ pitchers. So when Jan accidently pressed the random whatzit button and…
(Excuse me, but as I write, we are currently leaving Yosemite on California 41 and are on a guardrail-free road with lovely stands of pines and tamarack on the hillside to our left and A LIMITLESS ABYSS OF CERTAIN DEATH PLUNGING STRAIGHT DOWN FOR 5000 FEET ON TO MERCILESS TEETH OF STONE LICKED BY THE ICY TONGUE OF THE MERCED RIVER DIRECTLY BENEATH MY PASSENGER WINDOW. I AM FOCUSING VERY HARD RIGHT NOW ON ENGLISH COMPOSITION AND ALL MY SAINTED PROFESSOR ROGER SALES TAUGHT ME ABOUT BEING A GOOD WRITER. PLEASE TELL MY CHILDREN I LOVE THEM VERY MUCH.)
…got some kind of “Display” thing on her screen that no mortal could remove. So we made for Crescent City with all deliberate speed and found the local library for Del Norte (or in Garminese “Dellnort”) County. Jumped on the wifi and sent an SOS to my FB page (receiving largely weisenheimer replies) and also a little FB private message group of family and friends we occasionally check in with to give brief reports to. Son Luke, being both a Millennial and a tech geek who works with imaging software all day long as an animator, instantly diagnosed the trouble and fixed it before you could blink.
Then, it was back out in the rain and due south, listening to James Taylor, for we are aging Boomers and shut up you dumb kids. Our next stop was the Trees of Mystery, for we are also the consummate hokey tourists and we love authentic roadside Americana such as zillion foot tall Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe.
This is also Bigfoot country, so paid my respects.
After that, it was getting late in the day and the rain was relentless, so we made our way to Elk Prairie and bedded down for the night, listening to the sound of rain on the car roof, warm, dry, and cozy with each other as our mutual hot water bottles through a pitch dark night. More later.