Saturday, February 11, 2012

Eastern Oregon is the best.

I love Eastern Oregon. I don't know if I've posted about it before but I have been really missing the desert lately and felt the urge to post an entry about it. I can't completely articulate the feeling I get just thinking about the awesome variations in geology in Eastern Oregon, it's a strong coiled-spring like happy place kind of feeling.

H.S. circa 1999, On The Road and channeling my inner Jack Kerouac. 
My first time experiencing the desert in Eastern Oregon was in September of 1999, I was driving across country from Connecticut to my new home in Oregon. In the picture above I'm at the helm of a box truck packed with all of my worldly possessions, somewhere along the western end of I-80. I was excited to be moving to Portland but more excited to have a week to get from the old to the new. I had so much time to explore and this was the first time I drove across the country. It seemed as if around each bend was a new adventure, another great feeling.

My traveling companion, Japhy DeCatt
On the last leg of my epic trip across the country we spent the night in a small town at the Oregon/Idaho border. The next morning we were up before daybreak and got back on the road. As the moments passed and the morning unfolded the beauty and peace of the desert revealed itself to me. We drove slowly through the soundless expanses of earth tones and savored the changing hues and light. As midday crept near so did the temperatures, holding steady at a comfortable 80 degrees. It was pure heaven. 

I have been living in Portland, Oregon since 1999. I can't express how nice it is to have a high quality of life, access to opportunities and live in such close proximity to great places to visit--the ocean, the coast, the mountains, convenient access to cities like Seattle and Vancouver B.C. but also close to unique small towns with populations of 127. I think most importantly I really enjoy living near the desert. In just 2 hours I can drive east up and over Mt. Hood and be in a completely different place. Portland may be famous for its rain but 2 hours is a very reasonable driving time to be in sunny skies and t-shirt weather. 

View of Mt. Jefferson from hwy 26, just east of Mt. Hood.
I think for as long as I've had my car we've visited the desert a few times a year. We try to camp when we can and there are great camping options in the Ochoco National Forest and on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. One of the must-see sights in Eastern Oregon are the John Day Fossil Beds. There are three "units" and we've spent considerable time at 2 of the 3--The Painted Hills Unit and The Clarno Unit. We have only been to the Sheep Rock Unit once but plan to go back this year. 

John Day Fossil Beds, Clarno Unit, picture taken near sunset.

John Day Fossil Beds, Painted Hills Unit

John Day Fossil Beds, Painted Hills Unit

John Day Fossil Beds, Sheep Rock Unit

It's so incredibly breathtakingly beautiful out east
In addition to many geologic wonders out west, there are plenty of beautiful rolling hills, dilapidated churches and barns, ghost towns, active small towns with great fresh produce, state and federal parks, volcanic activity of some sort (Newberry Volcanic National Monument), paleioglyphs (is that even a word, did I spell that right? what I'm trying to say is ancient native cave and rock drawings), hot springs, the list really goes on and on. There are high areas where the impressive views are awe-inspiring and there are low places deep in canyons that make you really feel how insignificant the human lifespan is on the global timeline. You can collect all kinds of awesome fossils, Oregon has a global history of having every type of environment possible--a past that included being covered by ocean, swamp land, savannas, deciduous forests, grassy plains, ember-filled cooked ruins due to crazy volcanic activity. You can imagine there are all sorts of places around the state that hint to this colorful and active history. 

If this blog entry got you thinking about planning a trip out east (or west if you are from out of state) here are some great additional resources:

my Eastern Oregon Set on Flickr (330 pictures of eastern Oregon beauty)

Ghost Towns of Oregon (warning: while this is a great resource there are flashing advertisements on the page that I swear are seizure inducing)

A word of advice, this is what we've determined is important when it comes to driving around the state.

1. Make sure your cell phone has a car charger. Also plan on being in many areas with weak or no signal. 

2. Be sure to keep extra water and a blanket or two in the trunk. Also pack a tent if you have one, even if you plan on staying at a hotel.

3. Be sure to have AAA with the plus 100-mile towing option. You may need it.

4. Pack extra non-perishable food like energy bars and nuts. 

5. Be sure to have anything you need in case of an emergency. This includes extra medications if you need them. Be sure to have a good first-aid kit too.

6. Bring many maps, don't depend on electronic navigators. Be familiar with where you are, where you are headed and what size towns are along the way. There are limited opportunities for gas and food out east. 

Greetings from Fossil. Oregon. Yes there are TONS of fossils in this town! They are in a big pile behind the school. You can't miss it because there is only one school in town. 

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