28 August 2012

Exit, Phase Four: (End of) Traveling

One more road trip before the settling process, this time with a high concentration of rivers and streams, all due north by northwest. A quick stop to witness Titus Andronicus's reign of terror (and lamentable tragedy) and it was back to the homeland. The trip was about bodies of water, a brother I hadn't seen in too long a time, and the chance to spend some time alone in the mountains. These are the eyes of my eyes.

Middle Fork John Day River: Small streams, happy native trout. Originating in Oregon's Blue Mountains, the John Day River and it's branches add up to the third longest free-flowing river in the continuous United States.

Desolation Creek: Also in the Blue Mountains, Desolation Creek teams up with the North Fork of the John Day River around the hamlet of Dale. I almost passed this one by as the heat of the day was oppressive and at times the creek was barely a trickle. But I grabbed a beer, caught a couple Redband trout (a subspecies of the Rainbow trout), and walked the creek until I found this hole:

Most of the creek wasn't deep enough to support a population of large fish. This hole, though, was deep enough to drown in and as I stood on its banks I watched a group of about six of the largest fish I've ever seen outside of an aquarium. Most of them must have been Brown trout as they huddled together and never left the bottom. There was at least one Chinook or Steelhead salmon in there, however, and it was quite clearly in charge. Much bigger, much blacker than the trout, the salmon pushed others out of the way for food and every once in a while surfaced for a fly with a slow rolling movement that resembled something more akin to the Loch Ness Monster than any other cold-blooded, aquatic, vertebrate.

The beast was impressive and neither it nor the trout wanted anything to do with anything I threw at them. Silly human. Fair enough, watching something so ancient and beautiful was a humbling privilege. As Cormac McCarthy wrote: "In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery."

North Fork John Day River: Water as warm as a bath. Welcome mountain whitefish.

Here I paused for a quick civilization break and a half day's trip to the source of countless rivers and streams.

A kinder, gentler, moonlighting Titus:

Then back to the road and back to the water.

Bumping Lake.

Upper Naches River: clear, cold, fast, and seemingly devoid of fish. Why? I inquired but was given no answer. A friend of the devil is a friend of mine.

The trip ended where it began, back in northeastern Oregon among small streams and giant Ponderosa Pines. Dry country with very little water.

Allen Creek: Yes, there are fish in there. I'm less surprised by big fish that live in big streams than I am small fish that are able to eke a living from the smallest, most delicate, most fragile of ecosystems.

Out of the trees and into the desert. A nail in a tire and rescued by Les Schwab. Born and raised on the Oregon Trail. The end of traveling. Time to work. I will be happy to close my eyes on new places, or half close 'em with new faces.

03 August 2012

Exit, Phase Four: Assimilation

A week of recovery in the Uncompahgre Valley and it was time to move again. A week's worth of tacos, big trucks, and patriotism and I was ready to escape to the quieter side of life. With the dog (Hazel) returned to family and the new car (Subaru) returned to family, it was time to hit the highway, dirt roads, and hidden campsites. Time to assimilate.

What we lacked in appropriate camping gear (stove) we made up with accessories (electric scooter, suitcase of books and stuffed animals). Too many accoutrements aside, spirits were high. The last attempt at a car camping road trip didn't fare so well but I was fairly certain that traveling in a more familiar geography was a sure thing.

Loaded with both Minnie's Dreams and the Minnie's Dreams Appendices, as well as the epic, six disc Americana compilation, The Last Living Town, away we went. Chippeha!

Headlong to the heavens.

A torrent of rain within the first thirty minutes made for a wet night in the San Juan Mountains. It's hard to deter a boy's curiosity and imagination, though.

From the West Dolores River it was down and out through Dolores, Dove Creek, then over the border, O Pioneers, into You-tar. With moisture and cool temperatures long gone we found relief in the Dry Wash Reservoir at about 7,000 feet. Swimming in the desert underneath the 11,000 foot Abajo Mountains--or Blue Mountains, depending--is a real treat.

All roads lead to Hank's ville.

The problem with Hanksville is that it's placed in an inferno. At the bottom of the inferno is an illusion of a giant lake. John Wesley Powell knew of no such lake. We paid the ferryman and he took us across Styx.

Hanksville and Henry's Mountains would have to wait. The road to them is straight and narrow and hot and dry. Instead, the shortest distance between an inferno and subalpine shade is a winding, bumpy, dusty road through a Waterpocket Fold in the desert.

The next couple days took us due north and up and over several of Utah's high mountain passes where the near-100 degree temperatures of the valley rose to just over 80. Blissful.

Plans to continue the bliss somewhere up the Huntington Canyon Scenic Byway changed with the 48,000 acre Seeley Fire that burned promising campsites and turned the trout-filled Huntington Creek black. So back down to Huntington to remap and give the kid some fountain time.

Before heading north again I counted five mothers who drove five cars to the fountain with a total of twenty-two kids in tow, a demographic and cultural reminder of the type of country we were traveling through. Then we drove into the appropriately named Carbon County and passed another reminder.

The Castle Gate Cemetery is almost an afterthought now, easily hidden from view and camouflaged by sagebrush and faded stone. Names like Spenoni, Barozzi, Tzanakis, and Georgopoulos account for a different kind of pioneer. Though the 08 March 1924 date on 29 tombstones answer one question, the number of infant and stillborn grave markers testify to the difficult, dangerous, and often lonely lives of both miners and their families that relocated to a foreign country in search of something better than what they left behind.

Up and over more mountain passes until we entered the southwestern flanks of the Unita Mountains, the highest east-west running range in the contiguous United States. It was time to hunker for a couple days and, besides that, I knew the headwater forks of the Duchesne River teem with cutthroat trout. Camp was set, dads took pictures of sons, sons took pictures of dads, and we fished for two days straight.

Leaving the Unitas and more reminders, this time that inhabitants of the contemporary Western landscape aren't always as compatible as those we often emulate.

The Five Suns is a creation myth of the Aztec and other central Mexican peoples. The previous four worlds, or Suns, have long been destroyed by the faults and arrogant actions of presiding deities. The Fifth Sun, the present world, is supported by the Aztec themselves whose divine duty is to nourish Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, with sacrifices. Should the sacrifices fail, Coyolxauhqui, the goddess of the moon and a black magician, would defeat the sun god. If this happens, the Fifth Sun will be cast into darkness and a giant earthquake will spell the end of the Earth and all of humanity. Until then we'll make massive wrought iron monuments to ourselves and spray sagebrush with all the water we cannot afford to lose.

Water is a recurrent theme of desert travel and as we inched our way into the upper northeastern corner of the Great Basin water seemed more abundant, pastures greener, and friends more friendly. The swimming was good and so were the key lime pie shakes, cold cans of Coors, and backyard BBQs.

From Utah we entered the home stretch out of the Great Basin and into the Snake River Plain and its various tributaries of Idaho. It is here where we will stay.

The rest of the summer will focus on settling and assimilating back into something more recognizable and familiar than the intensive immersion course of the last ten years. It's good to touch the green, green grass of the desert. For now.