Night 11: Oregon Trail

Trip Start Jun 20, 2012
1
14
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Trip End Jul 18, 2012


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Where I stayed
Emigrant Springs State Park

Flag of United States  , Oregon
Saturday, June 30, 2012

Today we drove a little over 380 miles. Weather was dry and hot in the deserts for the first 340 miles and cool and rainy as soon as we got into the forests.

Andrew, at age 4, still doesn't believe that we visited the moon. He would've last year. "No, Daddy! Dis is earf!" he would then crinkle his nose. If he is in a really bad mood, he might even proceed to grunt and clench his fists.

 I have found his reset buttons. Whenever I see a fake wooden or stuffed bear, I tell him, "Boy, I am glad there's no bears around here." He delights in pointing out the bear and laughs. Today I  
invented a new trick to destroy his bad moods. I put a little bottle between my head and the can roof while driving. He thinks that is the funniest of all and forgets his troubles. Or I ask to hold hid hand and then grab his feet commenting on his stubby "fingers."

Andrew hates peeing on the road. He despises urinals. He is always "dirsty, Mommy" and his favorite question, "What are we gonna do terday?" has gone right up my spine. He has been having more temper tantrums than usual lately.

So it was not good that today was mostly a driving day. We took our time getting up and intended to get to Oregon, which was no small task. After a breakfast if eggs, we packed up camp, careful to leave as many of the sharp, glassy rocks at the campground as we could.

The sun was shining brightly. We remembered our promise to go"mountain climbing" with Andrew and took him in a hike through a nature trail with signs explaining plant preservation. Andrew cried when ge discovered there were no mountains on the trail. So I knew where to go...

We went to the Inferno Cone, a 200 foot high spot in the old eruption ridge. We climbed the black rock and climbed and climbed, eventually making it to the top. At the top we surveyed the whole park and walked among the rocks and plants. Getting down was a bit tricky. Jessica was smart to sit this trail out because Andrew and I had jelly legs after the ascent and subsequent descent.

We visited the crowded VC and then drove west along the old Oregon Trail at the foot of the Rockies. The toad turned south into Shoshone, a town with businesses catering to Mexican migrant laborers. One store claimed to sell "Mexican stuff" in it's signage.

We picked up I-84 and traveled along the Snake River through irrigated farmland. The road leads through the state capital at Boise, another Mormon hot spot. The road crosses the state line 40 miles northwest of Boise. It crosses into the Pacific Time Zine a couple dozen miles later.

When we passed into Oregon by crossing the Snake River, the scenery shifted quickly. Northeast Oregon is a land of golden, dry fields. Sage grows wherever it is fit. The landscape reminded me of something a model railroader would build, complete with tunnels and long trains.

As we approached Baker City, we could see the snow-crowned Blue Mountains come into view. It was another postcard perfect scene. Above the mountains were dark clouds. Our streak of dry weather was about to end, but we were prepared because in Oregon it rains about 70% of the time. We stopped here at an efficient Subway/laundromat for late lunch and then we drove past the next major city: LaGrande.

Above LaGrande, the interstate has to pass the Blue Mountains and it takes the old Oregon Trail route to accomplish this. The desert landscape is almost instantly replaced by a moist forest, filled with Douglas firs and moss and green grass. This is the Whitman National Forest, named for the missionary family that served the Walla Walla people of this region and who famously were a welcoming presence to the Oregon Trail emigrants.

The Blue Mountain pass was the first spot that these emigrants would find moist wooden conditions. It must have been a relief to water the oxen. The area has been a relief in a way to mine and Andrew's dry chapped lips.

We stopped to see the scenic overlook at Emigrant State Park, where the Oregon Trail goes over the top if the Blue Mountains. The area was so beautiful and we were so tired if driving that we stayed and set up camp in the park. For $17 you get clean bathrooms and a shower. The sites are clean and surrounded by old growth forests. Some of these trees saw the emigrants of the old Trail that this park is named for. In fact, this spot has been a campground since trailblazing Astor Company fur traders opened the Oregon Trail exactly 200 years ago.

When we arrived the forests were being watered by light rain. We debated about how and when and if to set up camp. Since hotels in The Dalles, 3 hours away, were going for $70, and since it smelled good here, we decided the best approach was a quick setup. We worked when the rain stopped and got the tent up dry.

We drove off to see the overlook and it was perfect. Ruts in the grass reminded me if the Cinestoga wagons of the Trail. I was filled with historical wonder, imagining the Midwestern farmers taking their families across this unforgiving terrain with nothing but God and each other to lean on. Rainbows filled the sky. The smell of sage mixed with fir. We could see the hills below us shrouded in mist and fog. This really was a place filled with ghosts from the past.

When we returned to camp, Andrew set up our beds as I walked to the bathhouse. There hung a sign: "The last cougar sighted at this campground: 6/23." What?! "The last bear sighted: 6/29." It is the 30th. I thought I was done with bears for the rest of this trip. It wasn't the worst thing. We just had to camp with an awareness about garbage and food as we did in the Tetons and Yellowstone. God willing we will remain unmolested through the night. The campground is crowded with Oregonian weekenders so I would be surprised if any bear went on a rampage here, but it is definitely not out of the question. Bears are hunger machines and this place uses regular garbage containers instead of bear proof ones. I count on nothing here. This us the first time I've camped anywhere near here.

Jessica and I sat on the tailgate of the van protected from the spurts of drizzle by the door opened above us. We ate soup prepared via the camp stove and watched a fire that I built.

The light rain has been coming and going and is loud on the tent's sides. The tent is still dry as far as I can tell. The interstate is close enough to be quite loud too. I feel like I am back in Chicago sometimes at my home a block from I-90. Wood from distant fires is smoking and crackling. The alpine cold is setting in.

Tomorrow, we will dry out this tent and try to head to the Columbia River gorge. From there we have tentative plans to get a spot at the Astoria KOA. We will see. I just pray we have a safe and restful night here in the Blue Mountains 
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