Thursday, April 16, 2015
Road trip calling? It must be spring fever!
On these glorious, sunshiny days, I do not like to be inside, tied to my desk and a keyboard! Outside there is real work to be done: moss to be scrubbed off planters and walkways; weeds to be pulled; bushes to be shaped; roses to be uncovered and winter’s damage to be repaired. And of course, roads to be traveled.
In springtime, if it’s a sunny day outside then I’m a gloomy inside person. So now that I’ve got that out of my system, here comes another confession—I’m not getting much done inside either. I’m sitting here looking at the blank computer screen with a road trip brain, dreaming about new places to explore.
One of the many things that I love about Oregon is that it is such a compact state. In our RV days we traveled to just about every nook and cranny possible in the Pacific North West. Now, for the first time in 35 years, we are touring by car, bus or train and there aren’t many places we haven’t been.
Where to go next? That is always the question. The answer usually arrives when the monthly edition of Travel Oregon arrives in my inbox. They have great suggestions for cities and regions to visit, places to stay, things to see and do, in places large and small.
Last month their visitor information concentrated on the “Seven Wonders of Oregon.” In no particular order, they are: Crater Lake, the Wallowa Mountains, Painted Hills, Columbia River Gorge, Mt. Hood, and the Oregon Coast. I was able to check off five of those areas as well-explored. We had been near the Painted Hills but were unable to stop on our way to Baker City.
Baker City is worth the long drive just to visit the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. There, the story of the Oregon Trail comes alive before your eyes. The 23,000 square foot facility is more than a museum or monument. The story of tens of thousands of men, women and children who walked for 2,000 miles comes alive through life-size exhibits, interpretive trails, special events and Oregon Trail ruts. The living history performances bring life to the trail experience. I even bonded with one of the oxen over its long eyelashes!
Having been-there-done-that, its time to visit the Wallowas and the Painted Hills. Both destinations make me a little apprehensive. First, I’m not fond of deserts—high or low. We took a trip one year from our home in Ventura (on the Calif. coast) to Death Valley—the lowest, driest and hottest area in No. America. Not our favorite trip.
It was, however, one of the last Calif. National Parks. to check off our list. We had to go. The valley is known for its isolation, sizzling temperatures and lack of rain. But it was only May. How hot could it possibly be? Well, we would soon find out. This was the early 1980s. Information was limited. There were no computers or cell phones. Word-of-mouth, maps and encyclopedias were our guides.
As I recall, we drove into the town of Ridgecrest at dusk. We had plenty of water and snacks in our ’81 Oldsmobile but only about a quarter tank of gas. Our maps indicated Death Valley was just down the hill. We decided to head down and fill up in the valley.
I can still see the long, winding, isolated road to nowhere that greeted us. We promptly turned around, filled up the gas tank and ate a hamburger (our last meal!) at the only café in town. Down, down, down we went. There was no traffic. We were the only car on the road. It was almost dark and we had a sinking feeling wondering if the road would lead to civilization and a comfy, air-conditioned motel.
We gratefully arrived about 9 p.m. and the heat was tolerable. The next morning we woke up to brilliant sunshine and (gulp) 100° F. heat. By the time we had breakfast and headed out on a tour bus to Scotty’s Castle, the temperature had climbed to about 117° F.
Scotty’s Castle was 53 miles from the Furnace Creek Resort where we were staying. The castle and grounds are famous for opulence in the middle of nowhere. In the early 1900s, Albert Johnson grubstaked a gold mining expedition for Walter Scott (Scotty). The gold never panned out but Scotty convinced everyone that he had money from secret mines in the area and built a castle. Actually, Johnson and his wife built the spectacular two million dollar home as a vacation getaway. The National Park Service now owns it.
Today Death Valley State Park is quite the destination spot. The Furnace Creek Inn has luxury lodging as high as $370 per night. Its amenities are endless and of course, include swimming pools. A nearby mini-town built by the Pacific Coast Borax Company now features another hotel and the Amargosa Opera House. Things are a wee bit different than during our visit.
Now, back to Oregon’s desert hot spots. The stunning Wallowas Mountains are said to be one of Oregon’s most beautiful secrets and a multi-day adventure. Pictures of the Painted Hills are spectacular. The colors shift and change with the difference of light and the seasons. Wild flowers flourish at this time of year. Both destinations sound wonderful. But they’re still far away in a hot, desolate setting.
To go or not to go? That is the question. But the road is calling...
Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.