Why Not Run Away to Mary’s Peak?

DSCN4147After listening all day Thursday to the Senate Judiciary Committee testimony about sexual abuse, I needed a getaway day. So on Friday I ran away to Mary’s Peak.

It was so foggy on the coast I wondered if this would be another opportunity to drive for two hours to see nothing, but by the time I stopped in Alsea, population 164, about 30 miles up narrow, winding Highway 34, it was clear and hot. Since I hadn’t planned ahead, I was worried about running out of gas. How far was this dang mountain? When I saw the big GAS sign at a no-name station with one line of pumps, I pulled in. Honk or walk across to John Boy’s Mercantile to fetch the attendant, said a sign. I honked. Two people resting on a bench out front of the store looked up, and I suppose they alerted the lanky white-haired man who ambled across to fill my tank. We chatted about the weather—yep, warm here–and the need for a runaway day. He agreed it was a good idea. He reminded me of the handsome actor Sam Elliott. I wondered whether he was John Boy and whether he was single. Probably not.

DSCN4141$3.60 a gallon? Whatever. I was off on my adventure. Just before Milepost 48, I turned left at the Mary’s Peak sign and drove an even narrower, windier road for about nine miles. At the top, just past a campground, I turned into the parking lot, my jaw dropping in amazement. No, not at the view, at the cars. The parking lot was full, including two busloads of kids. So much for sitting quietly staring into the distance.

At 4,097 feet, Mary’s Peak is the highest point in Oregon’s Coast Range and the most prominent peak to the west of Corvallis. On a clear day, you can see both the Pacific Ocean to the west and many of the Cascade peaks to the east across the Willamette Valley. Unfortunately, on Friday, the view to the west was all foggy goo, and the rest was a bit hazy, but it was much better than the one time I came up with Fred and couldn’t see anything.

DSCN4132There’s not much up there at the top. No real shelter from heat or rain, no food or water, a couple picnic tables, a self-pay fee station ($5), pit toilets, and several trails.

I picked one of the shorter, shadier trails clinging to the steep mountainside. Man, it was a long way down from there. The trail went up and up, merging with a switchback trail that emerged into dry grass and looped back to the parking lot. My legs got a workout after two months of slow easy walks with Annie, who is still recovering from knee surgery. I saw crickets and yellow jackets, dusty little birds, deciduous trees coming into full fall color, and hikers in couples, groups, and packs. Many sported fancy walking poles, which might have been helpful. A hat would have been good, too. By the time I saw the yellow buses in the distance, I was hot, and my own gimpy knee ordered me to sit down. So I did.

DSCN4146I considered eating the healthy snacks I had brought, then decided I would rather sit in an air-conditioned restaurant sipping iced tea, eating French fries, and reading my library book. So I did. Taphouse, Philomath, good grub. Close to Highway 20, which offered a much easier ride home into the cool fog and a suspicious dog who sniffed me all over, wondering where I went without her.

The upper road to Mary’s Peak is closed during the winter, although the park is still open to cross country skiing and other non-motorized sports. For more information about trails, camping, etc., visit the website.

Lava Beds: Rocks, Rocks, and More Rocks

img_20160908_120106597_hdrOnce upon a time in another life, I married a geologist. On our honeymoon, we traveled north from San Jose, California to Calgary, Alberta in a white VW bus, camping and exploring along the way. Being a geologist, my first husband liked rocks. I like rocks, too, but not to the point of obsession. Somewhere near the California-Oregon border, I proclaimed that I did not want to hear another word about one more damned rock. I think it may have have happened at the Lava Beds National Monument, my last stop on my vacation last month. I know there was a cave; it was cold inside. I know there was black lava rock. I know we probably didn’t have a flashlight. But that was another life. Husband number two preferred to tour wineries.

img_20160908_130459223If I had had any idea how long it would take to get from Klamath Falls to the Lava Beds National Monument, perhaps I would have skipped this stop, but once I had made the turn off I-97 onto Route 161, immediately south of the Oregon-California border, I was sure I’d be seeing lava any minute. The road ran along the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge. Miles and miles of open grassland gave way to more miles of farmland and Tule Lake. Lovely, but I was starting to get hungry. No worries. I’d take care of that when I got to the Lava Beds visitor center any minute. Maybe a hot dog and onion rings, something totally off the diet . . . A beer maybe?

Two hours later, I found the park and the lava. I paid my admission fee to a ranger in a booth. She handed me a map and told me the visitor’s center was quite a few miles up the road. Seriously?

The road curved upward. Every half mile or so, parking areas and paths led to trails through the lava, up mounds of the black stuff and down into caves. I parked, I hiked, I climbed, I took pictures, I sweat. It was cooler in the caves, but my flashlight fizzled out.

For the most part, I was alone. Tourist season past, I ran into one young Asian woman also traveling by herself and an older couple from California, who took turns on the trails while one of them stayed in the car with their dog. I could imagine this place crawling with kids in the summer.

Starving, I ate my last apimg_20160908_115633988ple from home and my last granola bar, washing them down with water. Where the heck was the visitor’s center? Finally, finally, I came to it. No restaurant, no snack bar, just bags of trail mix in the gift shop area, where you could rent or buy flashlights and helmets for the caves, along with books, hats and T-shirts. Another room offered a video telling the story of the caves. I collapsed on the couch there to watch stories of flowing lava, the Modoc Indian war, and the adventures to be had in the park.

As soon as I could pick myself up again, I asked the ranger at the desk if there was a quicker way to get back on the road to I-5 south. “What kind of car do you have?” she asked. She explained that part of the alternate route is not paved and gets pretty gnarly. It would take two hours either way. Sigh. I took the road more traveled.

One of the main attractions of the Lava Beds National Monument is the caves that lie along a loop road beyond the visitors’ center. Hard hats, flashlights and jackets are recommended. I would add that good knees are a plus. Also a love of small dark places, which I lack. I skipped most of the caves, needing to move on. But one could spend several days there, hiking and spelunking in this fascinating area. The trails and steps down into the caves are well-signed and well-maintained. Bring food, and expect to spend all day. It’s not a quick jaunt off the freeway.

img_20160908_135305247There’s a great deal of human and geological history here. Indians hid in these caves during their battles with the settlers who insisted on taking their land. Not too far away, 18,000 Japanese Americans were housed at the Tule Lake Internment Camp during World War II. Some of the buildings are still there. What a stark, remote place it is. How horrible to take people’s lives away like that. I said a prayer that we Americans never be that stupid again.

Hours later, I took I-97 into Weed, looking forward to food and relaxation and ran right into cars stopped for miles due to road work. Welcome to civilization. Following orange detour signs, I wound up on I-5 going the wrong way. No sense of direction. Eventually, I took a room at the spendy Best Western Plus Treehouse Motel in Mt. Shasta and treated myself to dinner at the Black Bear Diner next door. From here it was a straight shot to Dad’s house.

To my ex, were he ever to read this, I’d say: I’m sorry. Rocks are pretty fun. But it was our honeymoon!

Story and photos copyright 2016 Sue Fagalde Lick

What’s Just Around the Bend?

Having worked through the whole weekend, I declared yesterday Sunday #2, put on my grubbies and did whatever I felt like doing. One of those things was a long walk with Annie way past where we usually go. We traveled from our home in South Beach Oregon down what used to be called Thiel Creek Road, the creek burbling along beside us under ferns and skunk cabbage leaves. The views were so stunning I have to share some pictures with you.

I don’t know where this road goes. A steel fence and no-trespassing signs block the entrance, but I’d sure like to find out. Annie, below, was determined to find a way in.

The spring growth alongside the road is lush this time of year with every shade of green.

IMG_20150427_172429213[1]The road goes much farther. I have driven it to the end, but walking gives a whole different perspective. I think I live in Paradise.

All photos copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2015

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