A Little Bit Of Traveling
September 10, 2021
Last July, my wife and I were able to take some time and just spend a week visiting relatives in the state of Oregon. It was a great journey, and took us through parts of the state which I've never seen in person before. Believe you me, there is a lot more to Oregon than the beautiful coast and idyllic forested mountain ranges.
When you think of Oregon, you probably don't think of desert. Well, maybe you do, especially if you live there. But the entire eastern half of the state is indeed desert - high desert. Beautiful in its sparseness, lonely in its remoteness, hot in its hotness. Miles and miles of sagebrush alongside two lane highways linking small cities and smaller towns. History abounds with places I didn't know existed.
Our stated desire was to get away from the stress of our day-to-day and quit the smoke from the Bootleg Fire burning northeast of Klamath Falls, and to spend some time visiting relatives. The smoke idea was illogical, being as how the smoke from said fire, which was at the time the largest fire in the country, coated eastern Oregon and Idaho. Or so the weather satellite maps indicated.
If it did, it was high and not very thick.
Our first stop was on the northern end of the city of Lakeview to watch Old Perpetual, a little-known local geyser, spew hot water into the air under the almost pure blue skies. It is supposed to shoot up to 60 feet approximately every 90 seconds. Alas, the show was not to be seen. We were told later that drought has taken its toll on Old Perpetual; although it's still active in the early spring, there just isn't enough water in the water table the rest of the year to entertain guests.
Word on the street is that Old Perpetual's very existence is further threatened by the city's plans for a geothermal power installation in the area.
We gave up after about six minutes of waiting for the eruption and headed north on US Highway 395, passing low lying farmland overtaken by sagebrush, curving through sparsely wooded low hills dotted with Juniper trees into another agricultural valley, small mountains where pine and fir trees began to appear, and on to Valley Falls where our route turned northeast.
Lake Abert was mostly a barren dry alkalai sink in the shadow of Abert Rim, the rimrock towering over us to the east and the lakebed stretching out to the northwest. We ran parallel to the lake for some 15 miles and then opened up on the sage strewn landscape of the high desert. South of Christmas Valley-Wagontire Road we had to stop for about 5 minutes to wait for a pilot car to escort us and a few other vehicles through a single-lane section of Hwy 395 where ODOT was repaving the highway, and then it was cruise control in control along the mostly straight highway past the little "settlement" of Wagontire and on to the intersection with Hwy 20 at Riley.
From Riley to Burns we encountered quite a bit more traffic than we had previously; Hwy 20 is a major east-west artery through central Oregon from Ontario in the east through Bend and on to the Pacific coast at Newport. At Burns we left Hwy 395 and proceeded due east on Hwy 20 for about 20 miles where the road curved toward the northeast and took us through rolling hills, over Stinkingwater Pass, through Drewsey Valley then up again through Drinkwater Pass, around and down through Cripple Gulch and so on until we came out at the verdant oasis community of Juntura.
At Juntura the highway began to follow the Malheur River as well as an old railroad roadbed. The tracks were long gone but the steel and concrete bridges still remain. Through a long, curvy canyon the highway and the railroad grade continually played tag with and crossed paths until at one point the railroad bed ducked through an abandoned tunnel and left the river and highway behind and eventually we entered Vale.
Vale was a good spot to top off the fuel tank before heading south to join the Owyhee River to make our way through the river canyon to our day's destination at McCormack Campground in Lake Owyhee State Park.
We left camp around noon and headed back north, stopping to look at the Owyhee Dam..
...then retracing our route through the Owyhee River canyon...
...and then through miles and miles of farm land (including some of the tallest corn I've ever seen) until finally reaching Ontario, Oregon. The previous day, our Ford E-350's air conditioning started giving us trouble with the cold air being directed up to the defrost vents whenever the engine was under acceleration. It had done it before and I tried a simple fix of bypassing the stock vacuum reservoir and check valve with new ones, but apparently there was still a vacuum leak.
So, in Ontario, we topped finally found a NAPA Auto Parts store that carried an assortment of universal vacuum line connectors and I replaced the one I'd installed on the aftermarket check valve and we hit Interstate 84 headed west. Well, northwest, to be precise, through beautiful territory including the Blue Mountains, until we joined up with the Columbia River at Boardman and headed west. We had stopped for some groceries and another attempt at fixing the vacuum leak (it had worked fine for about an hour) at La Grande and then made a beeline the rest of the way to that night's destination of my wife's sister and her husband's place near Estacada. It got dark long before we got there. Oh, and the vacuum leak was back within half an hour of the La Grande repair. After I got home I replaced the aftermarket check valve with a Genuine Motorcraft product and it seems to have solved the problem!
Here's a dash cam video of our trip from La Grande to near our night's destination for your viewing pleasure - 264 miles in one hour!
Days Three through Six
We spent a few days visiting with my wife's sister and her husband, enjoying cooler weather than we had in awhile. We enjoyed just relaxing with them in their gazebo. They have some very pretty property with its own little wooded trail down to a seasonal creek at the bottom of a little glade...
While we were there, our middle daughter Janelle, who lives in the area, drove out and spent a few hours with us as well. We really enjoyed seeing and visiting with her, too!
On the afternoon of our fifth day we topped off the gas tank in Estacada then headed south and west to visit my Uncle Don and Aunts Diana and Jewel at Don and Diana's place near Sheridan, where we spent the fifth night, the sixth day and the sixth night. En route, we stopped for some more groceries in Canby, and while my wife was in Fred Meyer I got this photo of Oregon Pacific Railroad's 1953 GMD SW9 switcher, hanging out near the shopping center at which we stopped.
You can come along with us for this part of our trip, from Estacada to the Sheridan area, in unreal time, if you'd like to:
We had not seen my aunts and uncle in a few years and it was a wonderful time of visiting (I swear, my two aunts could have a comedy show on YouTube they way they interact, I love these two!), reminiscing, and talking about the future. We really hated to leave, but . . .
As much as we enjoyed visiting, we really didn't have a choice but to wrap up our trip and head home on the seventh day.
There are unfortunate gaps in the timeline of our journey because the camera overheated and shut down several times. I'd love to have a good dash cam. Maybe someday!
On our drive home, we made it a point to stop and see a place called Dee Wright Observatory, built with lava rock amid square miles of ancient lava beds. https://www.fs.usda.gov/visit/destination/dee-wright-observatory
While we were impressed by the structure and the setting of the observatory (through the port holes of which you can see specific mountain peaks, each described with a plaque), it would have been much better on a clear day; alas, the smoke from wildfires had caught up with us and we couldn't see much of what was being pointed out to us.
We got home right at sunset on the seventh day, having had a wonderful week of travel and visits.
It won't be our last!