Scuttlebutt • On The Road
This is a road column as Madeline and I are driving around Oregon with a plan to drive the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area . We aren't taking the more typical tourist route along the coast, but are going by way of a little town in the eastern part of Oregon called Paisley where there is a hot spring.
We take our road trips in the old van I got from my father. I refer to it as the Christian Day Camp van. It is an older, light brown Chrysler 3-seat window van. It really needs a door plaque reading something like Gethsemane Baptist Church. It is so innocuous that when we took it on our around the rim trip of the country last year we crossed through border checkpoints 3 times and only once did the border guys step out of their booth. That guy asked us where we were going and told us to have a nice day.
Madeline likes to name vehicles and she is quite clever at it. She likes obscure people names and, as Apple people, she named it Ivan ( I spell it: iVan).
Our rule of travel is generally to take the least traveled road to where we want to go. This means not only avoiding interstates and other freeways, but in many cases bypassing state routes as well, preferring instead to take county roads. As you might guess we get lost a lot, but we don't care. Google maps and GPS are nice helpers, but we all should have learned by now not to rely too heavily on them.
We arrived in Ashland, Oregon from California by way of 40 miles of unpaved road, part of which was like a fire trail. We got “way out there” where you can stop in the middle of the road, get out and relieve yourself without any worry that someone might drive by.
It took six and a half hours to drive from Arcata to Ashland. Siri says it takes 4 hours.
We took 299 east from Arcata to Willow Creek where we turned off onto Beaver Creek Road which is also Hwy 96. It runs along the Trinity River through the Hoopa Reservation until it meets the Klamath, then follows the Klamath through narrow canyons in Yurok country making its way up to Happy Camp and beyond. I say “beyond” because we turned off at the town of Klamath River and got on a county road that soon bore a sign saying it was not maintained any further. That's when it turned into a one-lane dirt fire trail.
Hwy 96 on the other hand is a wonderful road. I kept thinking back to the days when I rode the nation's highways by motorcycle and wished I had known about this road then. It is a biker's delight: beautiful mountain scenery, long sweeping curves on good roadbed with no gravel on the pavement- virtually no other traffic and, consequently, no cops. Like I said, a biker's delight.
The hot springs at Paisley is in the middle of a vast open tree-less hi-desert plain along the mostly dry Summer Lake. There isn't much water in it, but the thermals bubble up from it such that steam covers much of the lake.
We had been staying quite rural so far on the trip, seeing the traditional America we all know and “love” until we hit Bend. It's a cool town where Madeline was able to get almond milk and some gluten-free food. We have learned that if we want the kind of things we are accustomed to, we need to pass through college towns. Bend is home to a campus of Oregon State University, so it wasn't hard to find a proper natural food store.
A lovely drive up the Dalles-California Highway took us to the Gorge at Dalles, Oregon, a spectacular natural setting with its high bluffs bracketing the Columbia River. This September they had a 48,000-acre fire that scorched the hillsides in many places, but as bad as that sounds, it is a huge area and much was left untouched. Unfortunately, the area around the famous Multnomah Falls was burnt. We couldn't make the hike to the top as it was all closed off due to worry about landslides from the 2” of rain that was falling the day we planned to go. Instead we drove both sides of the river around The Dalles and visited the little towns along the way. We found the thrift store shopping to be excellent and, oh yes, the scenery is nice too.
We rolled into Portland and visited an old Point Arena friend, Darlyn Jablonski. She sings with the Portland Repertoire Singers, a 100-voice group that performs in the impressive First Methodist Church. The program of music was way over my head, but the concert was an amazing celebration of the human voice.
This high class event contrasted sharply with most of the rest of what we saw in Portland, including a sign for gluten-free marijuana. Naturally, I couldn't help myself and went in. Do I have to state that the sign was a joke? I have never experienced going in a store and buying pot and, despite the lovely assortment, I still haven't. The $12/gram price made me glad we didn't leave home without it (thanks for the reminder, Karl Malden).
I'm pretty sure there would be economic devastation if Portland closed all the coffee and tattoo shops. This is also the home of the man bun and some of the worst traffic in America. In attempting to encourage public transit and bicycling, Portland has created a sort of war on cars. Parking is nuts and you can never turn left unless you don't want to, at which point you must. The transition away from private autos is a worthy goal, but it bumps into a 100-year-old car culture that isn't going away any time soon. This is true all over the world. Only a massive increase in the amount of public transit, making it more convenient to stay out of cars than in them, will reverse our necessary use of private automobiles.
The Pentagon will be getting 2400 new F-35 jets at around $120 million a piece (total: $406 billion). If we could only get by on 2300 jets we could have 1.2 billion for that mass transit build-up. Imagine if we could safely survive on only 1000 new jets. Apparently, our defense needs must be greater than our desire to not sit in traffic.
You may be thinking, “What about you? You drove almost 2000 miles aimlessly wandering around the countryside.” There is a point there, but I think vacationing is a much better way to use a car than sitting in traffic on the way to work.