Home, via the Columbia River

I always have mixed emotions at the end of a trip.

It was the last day of my vacation, and as per usual in these situations, I had very mixed emotions about it. I love to travel. I enjoy going places I’ve never been. It’s an opportunity to set aside the stress of everyday life.

On the other hand, I was missing my dogs so much that it was killing me. And packing and unpacking suitcases and schlepping them from pillar to post can get very tedious. I missed my bed. I missed my little free library. I missed blogging. 13 days is pushing the outer envelope. It was time to go home.

If I was at all hesitant to leave Sunriver, the two 5-year-old girls, screaming and giggling in the room next door, was enough to make me beat a hasty retreat. If I had wanted to deal with noisy children, I’d have had some of my own.

Sunriver is a beautiful place, especially in the autumn when the leaves are turning to gold on all but the many evergreens. I decided that I’d enjoy the area a bit more by making a stop in the delightful city of Bend, Oregon. One of my favorite restaurants on earth is there. I’ve blogged about Spork before. If you’re ever anywhere near Bend, this place should not be missed. The ambience isn’t what it used to be now that they only do takeout, but the food still does not disappoint.

From there I drove off into a dense fog, with a light dusting of snow here and there. I was definitely leaving the sun behind me, and returning to the crappy weather of a late autumn in the Pacific Northwest. At least I got to delay that for a few weeks.

I passed an alpaca farm. I didn’t learn until much later that you are allowed to pet the alpacas. Had I known, I’d have stopped.

Prolonging the inevitable ever so slightly, I decided to take the scenic route home, along the banks of the mighty Columbia River. Avoiding the highway, I went through The Dalles and skirted the Northern and/or Western bank of the river as long as I could. That allowed me to go through some delightful little one horse towns, full of quaint little museums and courthouses. This area is definitely retirement-worthy, if you are so fortunate.

I also got to see a dam, but damned if I know what it was called. (Sorry. Had to.) And I stopped for pictures of the Bridge of the Gods, because how can you not take a picture of a bridge that’s arrogant enough to have that name? I mean, bow down, people. Pay homage.

I also passed Drano Lake. I don’t think I’ll be drinking out of that one anytime soon. You first. I’ll expect a full report.

And just outside of Stevenson, an otter ran across the road in front of the car. That’s a new one. I thought I was in the Twilight Zone.

The rest of the drive kind of passed by in a fog, literally and figuratively. It was good to get home and hug my fur babies, and finally break free of the albatross of suitcases that had been hanging on me for the entire journey. It made me feel like I’d lost 150 pounds.

13 Days. 4200 miles. From 9995 feet above sea level to 282 feet below sea level. From 98 degrees to 35 degrees. In and out of national parks. It was an amazing vacation. One that I’ll never forget. And here’s what I love the most about travel: it reminds you that there’s no place like home.

And as it turns out, it’s a good thing I traveled while I could. Now California, Oregon and Washington want you to quarantine for two weeks before crossing their borders. If that had been imposed while I was still in Nevada, it could have taken me 6 weeks to get home, if those rules were being strictly enforced. We are living in very strange times.

Enjoy some of the pictures from the day! And here’s a link to the first post in this adventure.

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A horrible thing happened to me recently. I discovered the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten in in my entire life.

A horrible thing happened to me recently. I discovered the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten in in my entire life.

The reason this is horrible is that it’s located in Bend, Oregon. Bend is a delightful, quirky little city in the high desert region of Oregon. Sadly, I can think of no really plausible scenario that will find me back in that neck of the woods. Which means I’m destined to go through Spork withdrawal.

Spork is a fascinating restaurant that serves a fusion of cuisine from Latin America, Africa and Asia. Just as a spork is a combination of a spoon and a fork (and no, there are none of these handy utensils to be had in this place), Spork combines food in ways most people would never think to combine them, and the results are absolutely delicious.

Even better, these meals are extremely affordable, incredibly plentiful, and come from locally sourced, seasonal, humanely raised ingredients.

I had the Lomo Saltado, which the menu describes as “Peruvian stir-fry with wok-seared bavette steak, red potatoes, sweet peppers, onion, grilled tomato, soy, crema, radish, fried egg, green onion and jasmine rice.” My mouth waters just describing it to you.

Dear husband had the Thai Steak Salad. “Grilled bavette steak, greens, cabbage, beansprouts, herbs, fried shallot, toasted coconut, and nam jim sweet-spicy tart tamarind dressing.”

The casual atmosphere was amazing, too. It features international décor that, just like the food, manages to blend together perfectly in unexpected ways. We sat in an elongated wine barrel, near African wood carvings interspersed with Mexican tapestries. And the international music fit the restaurant as if it were composed for it.

Woe is me. I found an amazing place and will most likely never get to return to it. But I’m telling you, folks, if you are ever within 300 miles of Bend, Oregon, make it a point to go to Spork, even if the line is stretching out the door, as it often is.

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Lava Cast Forest

It was a very surreal day. We were in a place we hadn’t planned to be.

It was a very surreal day. We were in a place we hadn’t planned to be. Even if the weather hadn’t been strange, if it had been sunny and clear rather than dampened down with a thick blanket of fog which rendered everything mysterious and quiet and slightly creepy, it would still have been a surreal day, because we were wandering through a surreal landscape. I kept expecting Dug, the talking dog from the movie Up, to burst from the shadows to tell us he loved us. And on top of that, my sister was wearing a hooded grey coat that made her look like the ghost of Christmas yet to come. Shiver.

The Lava Cast Forest just south of Bend Oregon is a land trapped in time, just as Pompeii is, in Italy. And for much the same reason. About 6000 years ago, one of the many volcanoes in the area erupted, for the last time to date, leaving a gigantic badland of lava rock and cinder cones in its wake.

In its destruction, it left behind a very interesting feature: casts of the trunks of trees. You can even see the pattern of the bark in the lava. Some of these casts are upright, showing where these ancient trees once stood, and some of them are long and horizontal, showing where the tree was knocked over, or perhaps already lying on the ground at the time of the eruption. It’s really fascinating, because you’re standing in the midst of quite obvious devastation, but you see proof positive that there was once a thriving forest here. It really makes you reflect on how impermanent everything is.

So here I was, enshrouded in fog, trying really hard not to reveal how desperately sick I was with the sinus infection from hell, and I was picturing a forest primeval, wondering if all of this was a fever dream. There were also strange twisted living trees, here and there, that have adapted to the minimal soil by twisting so that the water and nutrients distributed by the trunk would be shared equally by all its sides.

And to top it off, I learned a new word from one of the informational signs that were scattered along the excellently maintained loop road. The sign said that mosses and lichens had recently appeared, and that “they started a chemical process which caused rock to break down and organic soil to form where native grasses, forbs and a future forest will grow.”

“What’s a forb?” I asked my companions, in my croaky, sinus infected voice. None of us knew. And, as if by magic, two very friendly park rangers appeared from the mist to answer my question. I nearly jumped out of my skin.

A forb, it seems, is an herbaceous flowering plant. (Your homework assignment is to throw that into a sentence today and see if anyone notices, and then give me a full report in the comments below.) So I learned something new, but the whole experience made me even more convinced that I might be delirious.

And so I leave you with photos from a surreal land. At least my head is no longer in a fog. Check out the Lava Cast Forest if you’re ever in the area. It will be waiting for you, frozen in time… if the forbs don’t take over.

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High Desert Museum

Equal parts museum, art gallery, and zoo!

The region around Bend, Oregon is called the high desert. That’s kind of ironic because the elevation is only about 4000 feet above sea level, and they get 11 inches of rain per year and 20 inches of snow per year on average. Still, the High Desert Museum is definitely worth a visit.

Upon entering this museum, I could tell that it was going to be a good one. The artwork alone was outstanding. Currently they’re featuring the work of April Coppini, and her charcoal depictions of area wildlife practically leap off the wall.

Inside, there was an exhibit about how water shapes the west, which was fascinating, as well as an exhibit about the history of the Native Americans of the area. And with a museum of this kind, there were multiple displays outdoors as well. The people who staff the living history portion were extremely friendly and more than happy to answer questions about pioneer life in the area. There was a cabin and a sawmill on the property, which were both fun to explore, and you could learn everything that you wanted to know about the flora and fauna of the region by reading the placards. There were a lot of gorgeous sculptures scattered about the grounds as well.

So this place turned out to be part museum and part art gallery, but it also was part zoo. There were three otters frolicking in their own little pond. They seemed quite happy and healthy, and were very fun to watch. There’s also a desertarium where you can check out snakes and spiders and lizards and turtles. After feeling as though I was being watched, I noticed several owls gazing down at me from tree branches. We also got to attend a couple talks where we were introduced to a skunk, a badger, a porcupine, and an absolutely stunning red tailed hawk.

We learned the difference between birds of prey and raptors. Any bird that hunts for creatures to eat is a bird of prey. That robin in your back yard that is eating a worm is a bird of prey. Raptors are also birds of prey, but they hunt mainly with their talons. It certainly makes you view the feathered world with even more respect.

All of their animals are rescues that couldn’t survive in the wild. We got to watch a bald eagle with a damaged wing, and I’ve never been so close to one of those majestic creatures in my life. I knew they were huge, but, wow… they’re huge.

I have to say that the High Desert Museum was one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. If you ever find yourself in the region, I highly recommend it. If you go, say hello to the bald eagle for me.

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Lava River Cave

Nature. Awesome.

Once upon a time, I did my homework before taking a vacation. There’s nothing more annoying than discovering after the fact that there was something really awesome to see that was right near you and you missed it. (I’ve missed dinosaur tracks that way, to my everlasting regret.) Since there’s too much of the world for me to do “repeatsies”, I try to be thorough wherever I go.

I don’t know what has gotten into me lately. Perhaps it’s because I’ve finally found a partner who actually enjoys travel planning even more than I do, so for the first time in my life all the pressure has been lifted off my shoulders. What a luxury! How lucky my former boyfriends were, to be able to just sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s kind of irritating, in retrospect. (Note to self: try not to be that irritating on future trips.)

Suffice it to say that I was utterly unprepared for central Oregon. I was expecting to see Crater Lake, and that would have been plenty. I didn’t realize there were a wide variety of fascinating volcanic features in the area, as well as an awesome museum, and the charming city of Bend. I’ll be writing more about those in future posts.

But today I’m going to focus on my favorite volcanic experience to date: Lava River Cave.

About 80,000 years ago, there was a volcanic eruption in what is now Oregon that caused lava to flow down an open channel. Eventually, the surface of the lava cooled and hardened, and the central part flowed out, forming a gigantic tube. Now you can walk into that tube, for about a mile. It’s a fascinating experience.

If you go, you should be prepared. First of all, the tunnel is about 42 degrees Fahrenheit all year round, so dress accordingly. I was glad to have my jacket and hat. Also, you can’t wear any clothing that you’ve worn into other caves that are inhabited by bats, because you could spread white-nose syndrome to the bat population that lives in the tube. (And no, we didn’t see any. There aren’t that many, and they’re shy and nocturnal.) We also made a point of taking a picture of what we were wearing that day, so as not to wear any of the same things in future caves. White-nose syndrome is insidious. The third thing to remember is to bring a high powered flashlight. If you forget, they’ll rent you one. Believe me, it’s needed, because the tube is black as pitch.

At the cave entrance, you go down a long flight of metal stairs that takes you into a large chamber. After that, you enter the tube, which is about 58 feet tall. Most of the walk is rather smooth, but you do have to go through a section that is most definitely not. In fact, I was amazed I didn’t break an ankle or fall flat on my face. Wheelchair accessibility is definitely out of the question.

If you make it past that section with your skeleton intact, it does smooth out. But for the claustrophobics who might be reading this, I have to say that the tube does get smaller and smaller and smaller. Knowing we’d have to retrace our steps, we didn’t get that far. We only went about halfway in. But it was fascinating, seeing the different layers in the rock formations, and shining our light on the sparkling ceiling.

Nature. Awesome. Check it out.

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I’ve met a lot of very rigid people in my lifetime. I always feel kind of sorry for them. It must be exhausting to get worked up over the minutiae of life. There is plenty of significant stuff to focus on.

For example, I know someone who writes furious e-mails to superiors if someone doesn’t leave paperwork at exact right angles to their desk edges. Seriously? Is that all you have to worry about? Then you are in pretty good shape in the overall scheme of things, if you ask me.

There are two types of people. The ones who ask themselves “Why is this important?” before overreacting, and the ones who don’t. The ones who don’t tend to lead very tense, miserable lives, and they pile undue stress onto those who are unfortunate enough to fall within their circle of influence.

It is important to have some sort of scale to determine what is worthy of your rage. Someone putting the dish soap in a place you haven’t specified should not get a reaction equivalent to someone firing a mortar through your living room window. If you think otherwise, you must be operating in a realm of post traumatic stress that’s worthy of professional help.

The older I get, the less energy I seem to have for petty foolishness. I can’t be bothered. I’d much rather take a nap. The planet will continue to circle the sun without my assistance.

Here’s a rule of thumb. I can go days, weeks even, without being truly angry. If you’re someone who gets angry several times a day… well… you might want to rethink things a tiny bit. Learn to bend or you will surely break. Just sayin’.


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