American Sabbatical 038: 10/23/96

Cloud Festival

10/23.. Diamond Lake.

We took the other zag today, headed UPcountry for the snowline. Our friend in Arcata is booked solid until late Friday, when a show he’s helping to produce opens, so we decided to see more of southern Oregon, and bide our time until then.

First we spent the morning on the beach at Bandon. Big surf still thundering in and gray stratus lying low. But the temperature was milder (60’s), and we both needed a long ramble on the sand. Pretty spectacular spot. The Coquille River runs out to sea through a narrow slot in the beach, now confined by stone jetties (actually the end of one is the stone-filled hulk of a shipwreck). The skiff fishermen were hauling back their crabgear in the channel while the lighthouse sang one tune and the jetty whistle another. The music had lulled us all night. This morning the surfmist was whitening the distance, and breakers were dashing high against the seastacks. These sentinel towers are emblematic of the Oregon coast, and the beach at Bandon lies behind row after row of them. Like a Chinese dream seascape.


Sea Stacks
We ARE getting close to the C state. A film crew had driven a new truck onto the beach, opened the doors, and was filming the waves inundate it. They had left the lights on, and when I pointed it out, they shrugged. The tide was rising, but we left before they might have needed a jump. The self-importance of filmcrews is legendary, to be sure, but these blond wonders were especially aloof and grand. Unfortunately only two of the 7 men (and one cutie) had thought to bring boots, so they were doing an “after you, Alphonse,” when I left them. (We’d unforgivably walked onto a shoot in Wyoming and had been glared off the set. No this restaurant is NOT open. At what point do all the scenic locations in the West become off-limits to nongophers and unimportant people?)

As the day approached meridian the T-shirt magic started to work again. First a thin strip of the palest blue, then a glisten on the water, then a glimpse of the real thing through whitening stratus. Not that we could expect a true sunny day, but intermittent sunshowers were a boon. We decided to chase the cloud gaps into the mountains.

Sun Shower

Beach Litter
First up the Coquille into the Coast Range, through the hillpeople country again. This bit felt like the Catskills, winding through mixed hardwoods. The valleys were wider, the rivers less turbulent, but the backcountry air persisted. Fabulous motorcycle country. Over the first range we entered the commercial corridor of the northwest again. Although we were south of the Willamette watershed now, you could still feel the capitalist pulsing of the major artery south.

It was a surprise to come out of the hills into dry rolling grasslands with open stands of scrub oak. Not totally parched, as east of the the Cascades, but sort of a moist Mediterranean turf. The Umpqua Valley between the ranges makes promises about California. But the promise is immediately broken as the Cascades shoulder up, and the Umpqua becomes a wild torrent snaking through upthrust peaks. From Glide to Toketee, and beyond, the county gets more and more jagged and precipitous, and the big trees came back down to line the road and watch Red Owl fly by. Two-hundred footers standing back-to-back, near-vertical canyon walls, and teetering outcrops of shattered stratigraphy topped the cake. We were down to dream speed again, and all alone in the big woods.

About 70 miles into the mountains I realized I hadn’t gassed the Owl in two days (his usual capacity), and maybe we should think about a petrol station. Seth had warned us to get gas and get water whenever we could in the West, but I’d gotten used to the density of settlement in Oregon. As the needle started to knock on the E-post, I spotted a fellow in hipboots putting his rod into the rack on his Westphalia, and coasted up to ask about gas. He said there was a station nine miles ahead, and were we from Maine? Yes. Well he had been corresponding with someone in Maine for some years, and might we know him. It’s such a silly game. Do you know.. in a state of 1 million.

"Do you know Frank Burroughs, he’s written some books about...?" And he lives about a quarter-mile from us in Bowdoinham! The world is shrinking again, mother, grab your hat.

Just past the gasup we started to notice clumps of whitestuff alongside the trail, and in the deep woods. Then soaring snowcapped peaks jutted up above the dark evergreens. The air was chilling rapidly, and our enthusiasm for the road was waning. We turned in to the Diamond Lake Resort, the only lodging for the next 50 miles, we’d been warned, and threw ourselves on the mercy of the Oregon tourist industry. They caught us by the wallet.

10/24.. Klamath.

It poured overnight. In the AM it was still dripping and dancing curtains of rain. Thick white mist hid Diamond Lake, and made ghost avenues of the big timber. We got an early start, amused at being tourists where they’d taken away the view. At least we had the road to ourselves. The only other clan in the highlands were elk hunters (we’d eyeballed a 10point rack in the back of a pickup at the lodge last night.. trophy hunters), and they weren’t rushing out this morning.

So the mountain forest was a study in foregrounds. Do jutting young mountains engender a striving for altitude among green things? They make our hearts soar. Do the trees feel the same? In the Umpqua National Forest the firs, spruces, and hemlocks vie to see who’ll be the noblest, the grandest, the king tree, all pushing up past 200 feet. The cedars simply spread their filigree fronds in visions of grace. The lofty pinnacles were hiding, but the misty and majestic woods lined the roads for our amazement.

High Road

To hear the wind rushing through these vertical astonishments is to feel you are in the lungs of the continent. The air is so fresh up here that you want to suck it all the way to your roots and blow away all the poisons. The resinous tang is just an added spice. When I dithered about the prosandcons of clearcutting to Terry E (whose family suffers from severe toxic allergies) he barked at me, “but the woods are our lungs.” Up on top of the Cascades you know he’s right, you can smell it.

Big Chief Hokum
(Curtis Concoction)
Where they are cutting, however, the scent is of green woodsmoke from the smoldering slash piles. A heady aroma, redolent of cookouts and camptales. A perfume to wear back to town with a strut. But not to be compared with the pure incense of high mountain forest. OK Bryce, get back in the Owl before you get drenched.

The north entrance to Crater Lake was closed for the winter (!), so we detoured to the south gate, stopping for breakfast at a local grill. Fortified with caffeine and griddlecakes I summoned the courage to ask if we could jack into their phoneline. You feel like a creature out of science fiction, with a laptop under your arm and a phone jack in your hand. But people are willing to be in the movie, and we got through to AOL. Our outgoing messages flew, but AOL refused to deliver all the incoming despite repeated attempts, so we shuffled off half satisfied, but bellysful.

In the restaurant lot there was a break in the overhead, and a patch of blue went wheeling off to leeward. Should we try and climb over the caldera and look down into the deepest lake in North America? The postcard pictures showed a romantic panorama out of National Geographic, and I still had on the magic T-shirt. Would the mountain beings grant us a glimpse of this wonder at the top? We pointed Red Owl toward the sky.

What we didn't see
(Commercial postcard)

We’ve been remarkably fortuitous on this whole journey. Arriving for the last day of this, closing day at that, and our luck held. Today was the annual Cloud Festival Day at Crater Lake. That’s right. Every cloud in the northeast had come to perform inside the caldera. As we wended up the last thousand feet we climbed into deep snow.. last night’s rain below.. and the mists became impenetrable. Fumbling blind in a perfect whiteout over the lip of the extinct volcano, we came nose-to-nose with a plowed snowbarrier. The rimroad was closed. We considered taking pictures, and giggled back down into the lower reaches.

Rainbow Show
The south side of crater country slopes into the Rogue River Wilderness, and suddenly gigantic pines, scaly red pillars with great bursting sprays of needles, liven the evergreen canvas. And the cloud show became more articulate. Clumping cumulus danced with alto stratus, scattering showers with abandon. Peggy wondered why the mountainfolk don't have cloud celebrations. They sure put on a grand spectacle.

And the show just got better, as we tumbled out of the big peaks into the valley of Klamath Lake. A rainbow arched into the mountains of cumulus which still buried the crater peaks, and all the stone upheavals rimming the valley wore white turbans like so many sikhs. The sun actually came out to startle us, on and off, and the hills steamed and smoked, white on evergreen black. The valley itself could have been Montana.. a moist Montana. High bronze rangeland, with black cattle and tall lone pines for punctuation. But the spattering showers told a more coastal tale. Well, almost coastal. We were now 250 miles upcountry again, with range after range of lumps to go before we slept.

Wide valleys come as a surprise after being hemmed in among the ramparts, and this one had a big lake in the middle of it. As we southed, the vista continued to open out, and the cloud-show elaborated. High towering cumulonimbus and low flying scud, pale thin stratus, high and low, the whole tribe was headed to the Crater Lake Festival.

At Klamath Falls, foot of the lake, we had to make a choice. We had joined the major artery running toward San Francisco, through the Cascades from eastern Oregon, bringing a taste of that dry flavor with it. We could follow this well-beaten path past Mt. Shasta, then turn onto the highroad for Arcata. The fastest route, but we’d be unable to escape the fast lane with all its hectic misery. And the mountains had been hiding from us ever since we struck the Pacific slope. Rainier, St. Helens, Hood, Adams, Washington, The Olympics, at Crater Lake, the mountain things had offered us only quick peeks, or removed themselves into lofty solitude. Did we want to ride hell-for-leather to see the base of a perfect conical cloudpile: Shasta? Or we could go up the west side of Klamath Lake, backtrack the interstate through Grants Pass and make a wide swing over to the coast, striking it north of the redwood parks at the Oregon/California border, making it a two-day jog to Arcata. The third alternative was to follow a byroad down the Klamath (moreorless), a long day’s march down the blue highways, without memorable sightings on the maps. We saw that there were other redwood parks near Arcata, and chose to follow the Klamath.

This road, at first, took us through a pine plantation.. rolling hills and logtrucks. Funny how your perceptions change. These hills are bigger than New England Mountains, and even the lesser bumps have steeper slopes and sharper peaks than our glaciated landforms. Between showers we got out for a stretch and a walk through the rows of secondgrowth. A red clay soil, covered here and there with a miniature holly runner and lots of deersign. We got back to the Owl just before a cloud jester played prank with his watercan.

Up and up again we wound and up again, through thickening evergreens and rain, then pitching down a descent of endless hairpins, with a vertiginous view of sear slopes covered in scrub oak and chaparral: a California landscape. And we were close. At Ashland we turned onto Interstate 5 in order to enter the dream State in proper style. Up and over another high pass, dodging the semis in the rain, and we came humbly up to the golden door to ask admission. The grimfaced border guard at the gate to the Republic of California asked “Got any fruits or plants?” I waved an apple at him, “got an apple.” “Have a nice day,” he growled, his cold eyes turning to the next interloper.

CALIFORNIA! We made it, kids. And let's get off this damned freeway. We dove back into the Klamath River valley, and set about one of the wildest rides of the entire passage. Jim Clyman, in his journals of 1845 described the crossing from the Willamette to the Sacramento as among the most arduous of his experience, no small claim. Scant browse for the horses, no game, an everlasting series of radical ascents and heartbreaking declivities, hostile natives. (The Northern California Indians had a well-deserved reputation for intractable hostility. Some in Clymans party of incorrigibles would shoot the natives on sight, to his disgust.) The rivers all run east-west (so-to-speak), and the hills range higgle-piggle. The cataclysmic history of these parts still jumps up in your face around every bend.

And this road snake was tied in knots. Where we rejoined the Klamath, the road clung to the river’s edge, with dry oaks and chaparral on the south-facing slopes, and dense evergreens facing north. The settlement was as seedy and downhome as any Maineiac could want. We got our first California wave from a bearded wonder in a beat Valiant. All right! Along the valley floor, exotic plantings blossomed to extraordinary fullness, but the upper slopes were dry as toast. We stopped in a layby to walk along the river, and thunder was rumbling in the guts of the mountains. The diversity of micro environments in these parts is astounding.

Then the hills rose up again, and the timber with them. In this mythology the trees stretch up as the mountains rise, to drink the air. And the road became a wonder of convolution and vertigo. An hundred miles down the Klamath and we were clinging to a shelf a thousand feet above the river making 15 mph switchbacks down an 8% slope. AYEEE. At Hoopa Village we entered the Indian reservation (you can tell by the casino games), and the signs actually forbade tractor-trailers from the road. This was all "falling rock zone", and we encountered plowtrucks making the daily run to sweep geodebris off the pavement. The hairpins narrow, the cliffhanging gets more intense. The day was winding down but we were still crabwalking on the heights.

In the rainy gloom the yahooing carloads of teens skittering round us made us wonder about life expectancy in these hills. Unexpectedly, we survived, debouching onto the highroad about 40 miles from the coast, as the dark clamped down. We can’t report on the day views through the last passes to Arcata, but our evening’s finale was spectacular. Deep gorges between the dark heights were filled with luminescent cloudmist and a full moon breaking clear etched the contrasts. Lifting out of this dreamscape gigantic trees appeared like sentinels wrapped in wraiths of fog. O WOW, we said. (This IS California.)

Then we were in Arcata. Actually Arcata-Eureka. EUREKA! We’d booked from the road into the local Super8, and it is Super. Sauna, Jacusi, Heated Pool, and low rates, real service, and a phone patch that works. Sybaritic Heaven. These Californos know how to live.

Just to prove it we went out to eat at a restaurant advertising spinach pie on a highway billboard, Tomaso’s. The land of veggies! And had another encounter from the Twilight Zone. Jawing with our waiter we said we were from Maine. “Oh, our bartender is from Maine.” We passed messages back and forth to the bar downstairs. “A MacDonald from the Brunswick area?” I had to go see. YUP. John MacDonald, one of Seth’s peers from up on Main Street in Bowdoinham. DOODOODOODOO.That’s twice in as many days, readers. Are you willing to swallow this yarn we’re spinning, or ARE we really making it all up from a motel a Old Orchard Beach? We passed hometown news back and forth, and shaking our heads, the intrepid reporters tottered “home” for a sauna and a swim.

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