Crooked River, Oregon: Skunk Near Miss!

31 12 2020
A bend in the very crooked Crooked River

In late September 2020, with Oregon still engulfed in wildfires, I was able to find a spectacular smoke-free area for camping. Oregon’s Crooked River is a National Wild and Scenic river system. It has a scenic drive and scenic bikeway running along its length. It wends its way along a forested canyon, into Prineville Reservoir, and then continues out of the reservoir until it empties into Lake Billy Chinook. The section I visited is below the reservoir. It has some 10 campgrounds sprinkled along its length.

I looked at all of them, and picked out the biggest site I found, Chimney Rock Campground #1. Wow. Set at the end of the campground, it offered complete privacy as it had no neighboring sites. It was capable of handling six tents. And it had 100 feet of riverside real estate. Still, privacy was no concern, as being late September, there was only one other site used.

It was super peaceful. I settled down to read a novel. It wasn’t long before the wildlife came back to its routine. I saw kingfishers, dragonflies, red-tailed hawks, ducks, a family of otters, robins, blue herons, and more. It’s also known to be home to mule deer, bald eagles, ospreys and golden eagles. Redband Trout, re-introduced steelhead, and rainbow trout are sought by anglers.

Here’s a photo of my tent…which will help my explanation of my encounter with a skunk in the night!

I have several tents. They all have “bathtub” style floors, with some solid material running up from the bottom to form the ‘bathtub.’ This one has a pretty low tub wall. When the weather is fine, I skip the tent fly so I can star gaze. On this night, I fell asleep by about 10. A few hours later, I awoke to sounds of scuffling outside. Something scratching about. Usually, these sounds are from deer walking to the water for a drink. I switched on my headlamp. But, similar to using high beams in a snowstorm, I only saw the screen on the inside of the tent. My head was just at the bathtub wall. So, I put the light up against the screen. And immediately I was horrified! What did I see? Not more than six inches from my head, black fur with white stripes! Skunk! Now, it cannot kill me, but it sure can ruin my trip! There must have been four of them. I kept perfectly still. Best not move! Incredibly, they were not bothered in the least. They just kept on sniffing around, seemingly in search of a meal. Unimpressed by me, they ambled along on their way.

The next morning I took it very lazy, and made a mid morning breakfast, and read some more. I packed up, and then spent some time fishing. I caught lots of weeds, had three fish get away, and caught one very juvenile landlocked steelhead. This river was once home to steelhead which made their way all the way up from the Columbia, but dams caused extinction. They have been reintroduced and a small population is expanding in the area, but they cannot reach the Pacific.

I highly recommend!





Wildfire Pivot: Waldo Lake to Lake Quinault

30 12 2020

Myself, Chiyo and Chester had reservations at Waldo Lake, Oregon for early September. We were so looking forward to paddling its famous clear waters, the week after Labor Day. But then the 2020 Oregon Wildfire Season struck! Wildfires and smoke lay all over Oregon. The night before our Waldo reservation, the US Forest Service ordered an evacuation. And I mean immediate evacuation. Campers were to ordered to leave without even collecting their gear. We had several days off from work. With our trip suddenly smoked out, we wondered what to do. In the Covid lockdown of 2020, we were desperate to use our days off out of town.

But where? We used the online weather map, pointing the cursor at different places in Oregon. Every one had wildfires or wildfire smoke. So I said, “Let’s look up in Washington. How about the Olympic Peninsula?” Zooming in, I saw Lake Chenault. I’d heard it was nice. We clicked on the lake. The forecast? Sunny, no wind, and most importantly, no smoke! So, without reservations, we just picked up and drove up there. It has several campgrounds. We checked out one of them, and found a guy leaving his site. Turned out he had a 3-day reservation and was leaving after day 1. The Park Ranger came by. He said, “Why don’t you just take it.” With that, we had a FREE campsite! Talk about a “pivot to luck.” We had three kayaks, and wasted no time exploring the lake, and the famous Lake Quinault Lodge.

Just a 15 minute walk from the campground lies the rustic lodge. It was built in 1926, designed by Robert Reimer, reminiscent of the Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone National Park. It has a central area flanked by majestic wings enclosing a beautiful lawn, which leads to the lake shore. There, guests can swim, and rent canoes or kayaks. I grew up visiting mountains and lakes in New Hampshire and New York State’s Adirondacks, and this property is very similar. Inside the front hall, it’s all beautiful wood and wood carved.

The road along the lake to the lodge, village and campgrounds runs behind the lodge, which is equally similar to being in the Adirondacks.

We had terrific weather. The lake is surrounded by the Olympic Mountains. To the east, we could see some snow still clinging to the peaks. The lake is quiet. That is because it is managed by the Quinault Nation. Power boats are allowed only for tribal members and homeowners. The lake is 30+ miles in circumference and over 250 feet deep. We jumped in and learned that, after the initial shock, the water temperature was really nice! We practiced kayak rescues.

Later, we had a warm crackling campfire, and I brought accessories like a propane grill, tiki torches, and some battery operated holiday lights. My salmon fillet impressed.

In sum, our cancelled Waldo Lake trip turned into a success! We discovered a new place, and we plan to return!




Camels in the Sahara

7 05 2020

We’d all been looking forward to being in the Sahara Desert – by far the biggest in the world. Riding camels, and seeing stars. We’d be spending the night at a glamping campsite on the edge of the Erg Chebbi dunes. It’d been a long day on the road getting out there, across the arid steppe. But in the late afternoon, the dunes rose above the village of Merzouga.

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We were to ride camels into the desert and stick around until sunset. It was a really epic experience being out there. Not long after arriving at an auberge (lodge) we began suiting up for the ride.

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Aditi and Mohamed

We brought along minimal supplies such as water, cameras, and jackets for after sunset.

While we waited, a truck drove up to me and the driver asked me in French, “Where can we get water, is there a natural water source around here?” I was like, “Dude we are in the Sahara!” Anyway, it wasn’t long before we found our camels. They all seemed to know what was coming up.

 

Our guides assisted us getting into the saddle and getting the camel to stand up.

David gets his camel to rise! Well done! When the camel stands up, you’d better hang on! And trust the camel knows what it’s doing.

With everybody on their camels, it was time for a group shot before we set off.

Group on Camels crop

We entered the dunes in a “camel train,” with lines connecting each beast. Since they have done this thousands of times, the camels all know what to do. The sand seems bottomless, but the camels feet are quite wide and don’t sink in very much. Still, it’s a very bouncy ride, and when climbing, descending and turning on a dune, it’s pretty unsettling for a newbie like me! Add to that trying to take a photo!

Before long, the timeless view of the rusty colored desert in the late afternoon brings up awe and emotion. I’ll never forget the endless sea of dunes.

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We reached a spot where we could explore the dunes under our own power. There was something about the setting that made me just take in the wonder. How many millions of years have these sands been here, shifting, moving, changing shape.

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Once the sun set, we rode to our glamorous camping site. I’m used to roughing it, but this was something else! It had rooms with blankets and beds. A bathroom with flush toilet. But still, it had a spot with a campfire for music and conversation. Katie and I were hoping for a sea of stars. Instead, it was a full moon, which blocked out the sky for much of the night. I was able to rise an hour before dawn, just as the moon set. But I only got 20 minutes of Milky Way Galaxy viewing.

Dinner time with a toast!

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CHEERS! No shortage of wine tonight!

 

 

 

 

 





Metolius River, OR in October

28 01 2020

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Picture perfect from my campsite.

In late October 2019, two things converged: A couple of midweek days off, and a forecast of 70-degree sunny days for the Metolius River area. The Metolius River campgrounds stay open until mid December. With such a terrific forecast and time off, I scrambled to pack up one last time and get some more camping and river watching in!

The Metolius River valley and its Camp Sherman zip code are one of Oregon’s jewels. The river is super clean as it emerges as a fully grown river from a lava tube at the head of the valley. The valley is populated by orange-red barked Ponderosa Pine. And the Forest Service conducts regular “controlled burns” so that the underbrush never grows too high. The valley road winds along the river but also climbs to vistas of nearby Cascade peaks such as the Three Sisters, Mount Washington, Three Fingered Jack, and Mount Jefferson. This means that a drive to the campground immerses you in a lush, peaceful forest with a blue ribbon trout stream populated by hopeful fly fishers, punctuated by blue skies and snowy peaks.

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10,450 ft Mount Jefferson

70 degree days in late October in the Metolius area are not the norm, but they do occur often enough that it’s worth keeping an eye on the weather in case they pop up. The area sits in a rain shadow just east of the Cascade crest. It’s guaranteed the campgrounds will be 50% empty. No reason for a reservation.

I found one of those picture perfect, lots-of-real-estate campsites with a magnificent view of the river. And not far from the rest room either!

Just behind my site, on the other side of the road, was somebody camping with some kind of tiny Airstream trailer. I set up my tent, put the pad, sleeping pad and pillows inside.

Then, I proceeded to set up the camp kitchen and the fire pit that is always a “reason to come camping.”

The valley sits in a north-south position. With a low ridge to the west and a higher, 800ft ridge on the east side.

 

I sat by the river and read my New York Times as the warmth set in. But as it was late October, I started to realize that the lower level of the sun meant an early sunset here.

 

The forecast for this area said nighttime low temperatures would be in the low 40’s. That was no problem for me. So, I brought my 32-degree down bag. This Mountain Hardwear 800-fill down bag has been terrific. It’s been warm even down to the mid 30’s.

With the sun setting and chill creeping in, I lit a campfire and hastily set about making dinner. By 7:30 p.m. it was mighty chilly and time to crawl into the sleeping bag.

With my sleeping bag zipped up, ski hat on my head and gloves, plus my two pillows, I was actually just fine sleeping through the night. In fact, I was quite surprised how comfy I felt. I looked forward to the 70-degree day following.

The next part isn’t so rosy. I went to bed at 7:30, so my 6:30 a.m. I was DONE with sleeping and very much wanted to get up and start the day. What I wasn’t expecting was while although it was light outside, the sun had not come up over the eastern side of the valley. And much of what was liquid last night was now frozen. The pump on the camp stove barely moved. It groaned and squeaked, as did I. The temperature was clearly below freezing and not the mid 40’s predicted. While I was fine tucked into my sleeping bag, outside I was in the discomfort zone, and the sun wasn’t anywhere near rising above the valley wall anytime soon! Worse, I could hear the radio coming from the tiny Airstream trailer just accoss the way. This is when I knew that for late season camping a trailer does have it merits!

I managed to pump up my stove and get a nice few cups of coffee going. Then, the fire. Still, I was a bit put off by the weather forecast. As the morning progressed, it wasn’t until 9:30 by the time the sun came up over the hill, warming everything up. So, I realized the actual maximum temperature was only a few fleeting hours today. Whilst beautiful, I decided to just head back home rather than endure another long morning! It wasn’t the night, it was the long cold morning that got to me. Nevertheless, the Metolius area is beautiful even in late fall. Perhaps a hotel night would do the trick!

 

 

 





Crawdads (Crayfish) at Timothy Lake

27 01 2020

Gone Creek dock morning

A glassy morning lakefront view.

Timothy Lake, about 12 miles south of Mount Hood, within 75 miles of Portland, has been my favorite quick getaway camping spot for years. While it can fill up on weekends, weekdays it is always possible to get a spot without a reservation.

Jeff Laura Julie

Happy Hour at the Picnic Table

In July 2019 I met up with my friends Laura, Jeff, Jason and Julie.

We stayed at Gone Creek Campground. This campground had just been given some enhancements by owner Portland General Electric. Enhancements included a new dock, more gravel for the roads, and new toilet facilities. Some of the campsites had been “leveled” with heavy machinery, and the results were not always improvements. For example, sometimes there were less tent sites than before!

It was beautiful weather. Just a few clouds and very comfortable. And no bugs to worry about.

Jason and Julie brought a tandem kayak. They also had crayfish traps, and later in the day, they went out and set the traps whilst Laura, Jeff and I started dinner preparations.

They set out a line of traps, with I think some raw chicken for bait. These were soaked maybe an hour or so.

JasonJulie coming ashore

It only took that long for a nice haul of crawdads! Jason and Julie showed up with enough for all of us.

Raw Crawdads

These crayfish were at most 4″ long. Did you know there are crayfish in Tasmania as big as goliath lobsters!? That’s right. A Giant Tasmanian Crayfish can weigh as much as 13 lbs and 31″ long!

Cooking crawdads is a simple affair. Some seasoning like old bay, boiled or steamed. Then you just take the shell apart and eat. We had some hot sauce which went well. It’s work, but super fun!

Crawdads Cooked and ready

Each of us had a plate. Lots to go around!

Next time someone offers me a plate of crayfish I’ll accept for sure!

 

 

 

 





Nepal Annapurna Sanctuary Trek: Hike Out and then Back to Pokhara

10 01 2019

Our string of wonderful mornings continued, with the Himalayas beyond our campsite bathed in early morning orange alpenglow. The weather was nice enough that we took our breakfast outside.

From Campsite to Road to Boutique Resort, An Extended Day

This day was going to be a LONG one. We’d hike out, walking through Ghandruk, a village, then down to a road at Syaulebhatti where we would meet some 4X4s which would ferry us along the rough roads down, to the Modi Khola river, then on “paved” roads to Pokhara. We’d have lunch at Phewa Lake in Pokhara, and then overnight in the very posh boutique Temple Tree Resort, which for us would be a first-class oasis following our trek! Due to my challenges with perspiration and clothes issues a hotel with some laundry opportunities was in my mind for a few days!

With Light Hearts We Say Goodbye to Guides, Kitchen Staff and Porters

Being our last day and hike out, it was time to thank and reward our trekking staff! Tips! On this trek we had more staff than any other I’d been a part of. About 45 staff total! That is because of the Nepalese steps. On my other treks, such as The Chomolhari Trek in Bhutan or The Cordillera Huayhuash Trek in Peru, horses, mules or Lamas carried the tents, duffel bags, kitchen equipment and so forth. But in this part of Nepal, with steps, only humans could navigate. So human porters carried these loads. On our days walking, the call of “Porters coming” was heard many times!

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Porters lined up and we gave each their tip individually.

It is a big deal. The evening prior, each of us put together our tip and gave that to Cathy Ann. Cathy Ann then spent time the night before preparing the tips for each group of staff – Porters, Kitchen Staff and Guides. Each group lined up and we doled out the tips one by one!

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Our deeply talented kitchen staff, and a couple of guides.

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Our world class guides, including Cathy Ann! OK the mountains behind are cute.

Then it was time to hike out. The trail, completely paved with stones and steps, wound right through the town of Ghandruk. Those folks have a beautiful view every day!

 

Leaving Ghandruk behind, we descended, finally dropping to a dirt road. A mile or two later we arrived at the point where we met up with our 4x4s which would ferry us to Pokhara.

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We had 3 4X4s, and I volunteered to take the spare seat in the lead Indian Jeep with Mingma and Cathy Ann. Cathy Ann and I are both susceptible to falling asleep with the rocking motions of trains and 4X4s, and we both succumbed to the motions!

The Annapurna area is one where tourists need visas to enter/exit, and these were prepared for us in advance of our trip. These seem to be surrendered on the way out. Here is my visa…

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I imagine the fees help fund the Conservation Area. Well, I hope! Looks to be about $30.

Off the Trail, the Realities of Nepalese Life Hit Hard

Being that we were in Nepal and that schedules melt away with the daily machinations, this day was no different. Along the bumpy road, we encountered a guy operating a piece of equipment which was re-leveling the road. There was no angry honking of horns. Instead, an understanding that this guy was doing his job and that we’d just have to patiently wait.

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And wait we did, for at least an hour whilst he went about his work leveling the road.

There was nothing to do but wait and allow him time to do his job.

But the traffic built. And built. And built. And built and built and built.

When he was ready to take his break, there were dozens of 4X4s and even buses ready to pass!

We passed within inches of vehicles going the other way.

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Behind us was a bus, and I wondered how they would negotiate passing all the 4X4s headed up hill.

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I’ve definitely been on more precarious roads. In Peru, one-vehicle only roads with a cliff face above and below, sometimes traveled underneath overhanging boulders…and many times we encountered trucks coming the other way, forcing us to back down to a spot wide enough to pass.

Nevertheless, these roads really need a 4×4 and make the Americans driving their often-blinged out shiny 4x4s seem absolutely ridiculous. Most of them never see anything beyond a trip to the soccer match!

Over the Top Opulence Well Deserved

In Pokhara we settled in at the Temple Tree Resort. It is a superbly beautiful oasis. Rooms are in smaller buildings sprinkled throughout the property. Opening the door of your room you see a verdant garden, through which you walk, and pass by a meandering swimming pool, fire pit and outdoor restaurant and bar. How wonderful!

Lunch by the Lake

I was part of the lead group to make it to a restaurant on Lake Phewa. With some time to spare I walked along the lakeside promenade. There, Indian and Nepalese tourists were enjoying boat rides on the lake.

Cute, right? These boats do need some upkeep!

Ah, the rest of the group shows up! Our group plus Migma and Sonam enjoy a sumptuous and well-deserved Indian-style lunch. YUM! All Aboard!

Bellies satisfied, we walked back to the Temple Tree Resort. This left us with about two hours before gathering for happy hour. For us guys, Don, Kevin and I, after 10 days trekking, the obvious choice was to fill the gap with pampering! For Don, Kevin and I, that meant something like a single edge shave, a hair cut, a beard trim, maybe a shoulder massage!

Continuing a Tradition

I have a tradition of getting a hair cut on overseas trips. In Thailand, or Bali, or Cambodia, of Bhutan, etc. Even if I am bald. So what! It’s fun getting a hair cut.

Only here, I got the total package. Hair cut, single blade shave, head massage, arm massage, shoulder massage.

This is my “Bollywood Shave” video in Bhutan…

And with no delay, Pokhara Nepal!

Shaves and hair cuts completed, the men were ready to head back to our resort and enjoy a happy hour and a supremely festive end-of-trek dinner! And indulge we did. What happened will just have to be part of our collective memories….hmmmm.