Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Road Not Taken...Part III

OK, so I'm finally going to go back to our story of mining sun stones out in Oregon's southeast desert. I am going to get around to telling you why I named this story the way I did.

First, here is a photo of the sun stones we did get that day, all spread out at home, (and yes we did make it home!) As mentioned before, these are sun stones in their natural state.

And below is how the sun stones looked in the soft lava rock as you picked it away the sides of the mine. The decomposing lava just crumbles away from the sun stones, but you can see how they would have cooled at different temps and how the sun stones then fractured. They also fracture as you pull them away from the lava. Interesting geology. We have sent the stones to our grandsons to polish up, and hopefully one of these days you will see a photo posted of how pretty they look.
To get back to the story....we packed our stuff back into the pick-up about 3 pm that day. The insurance man had found an interesting road home, one never taken before. That always has a certain allure. We were in Lake County, one county south of where we normally go into the desert, and one not so familiar. The road was supposed to take us over and north up to Frenchglen, where we were going to stop for a picnic dinner with our left-overs, before finishing the final lap to Bend. You did note that I said the road was 'supposed to'?

This was how the road looked at the beginning. We headed straight out from the sun stone mine, and did not go back into Plush. We all felt good to be sitting down once again, and the weather and desert were beautiful. We followed the road down a long valley, and it quickly turned to dirt and rocks, something normal in the desert. A rather large rig or two had driven down the dirt road in the spring, and made some large ruts in the soft our dirt road with deep ruts. That made for some interesting driving and dodging, along with the rocks.

This photo shows the basic landscape we were viewing, and the long valley. There were some rim rocks along the sides, in beautiful shapes,

and also beautiful wildflowers. We saw flowers in almost every hue: blue, purple lupine, yellow, pink, rose and magenta, white, and orange Indian paintbrush. We also saw lots of startled cattle, with the calves running for their mothers. A few large male antelopes tried to out-race our pick-up, and as we were going so slow they had no problem. We also saw a few coyotes, one large male in particular. There were lots of hawks and birds, and we even enjoyed the sighting of several sage hens. In spite of the bumping of the truck we thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

After a long while the road became rougher and narrower. We passed by one house, with no one at home. A little later, another abandoned home, and still later two old abandoned rusting camp trailers, derelict with the windows broken out. The wind made an eerie sound blowing around them, in the complete silence. By now the insurance man and his Dad knew they didn't know where they were exactly, and it didn't look very promising that we were on the right road. The sagebrush got bigger and bigger, until they were taller than the pickup, and had crowded down the dirt road to a dirt track squished between them. We knew we were not headed in the right direction for Frenchglen, but were hoping this road would eventually come out around Wagontire. No such luck, as the the track ended at a washout, with no way across. We were going to have to turn around, and no one was too happy with the idea of traveling that road back again. The insurance man figured we had gone over 50 miles by this point, and had spent a couple of hours. So.... we did turn around very carefully, and headed back up the dirt track. I didn't mention that after our first valley ended, we had traversed several more along the way, each getting a little shorter and narrower, totally devoid of people. After traveling back for a while, the insurance man noticed a 'road' climbing up the valley side to our left. He figured that if we took that and got to the top, maybe we could see the highway and/or Frenchglen from there and see where we needed to go. After consulting with his Dad, they decided to try it. Now the side of any hill is rougher than the bottom, due to rain and water erosion and our dirt track was no different. We very SLOWLY climbed and bumped our way up out of the valley. But at the top, we found it wasn't like we had anticipated. Surprised?? It was flat on top, with no view down to where we needed to go. More cows grazing, LOTS of cows. They acted like they had no idea who or what kind of strange creature we were, and why we were invading their peaceful space. The insurance man decided to keep following this road, to see if it connected somewhere up ahead with a 'known' road. (I think this was a futile hope that he wouldn't have to drive all the way back to the sun stone mines.) We quickly found a new hazard up there, as there were mud holes, small at first but getting bigger. We had to drive into the sagebrush to avoid them, and sometimes would hit hidden rocks in the sagebrush. Finally after about 25 minutes of that, we came to a rather large mud hole. He again asked his Dad's opinion, and thankfully (or we would still be up there) Dad said that he thought we should again turn around as it looked as though the mud was increasing. So, we did and by now things were getting a bit tense in the pickup cab. It was between 7:30-8:00, the shadows were lengthening and we had not had any supper. Not to mention the gas was getting a bit low. While we were still up on top I used the cell phone and miracles of miracles we had service. I phoned the insurance mans' brother Cliff, to state flatly "We're lost!" No hello, or any of that business. Technically of course we were not lost. We knew where to go to get back, we just didn't know if we could get back that night. After talking with Cliff, we found he didn't know where we were either. He flies a small plane, and would have flown over the area looking for our lights, but it would have been many hours before we could be rescued.

When we got to the edge of the canyon, the insurance man asked me if we should stop and get some food. I said that I thought we should make the valley floor before stopping, as it would be some easier in the daylight. That also was a good decision, as it got dark early in the narrow canyon. So, at the bottom we stopped and got some food from the back to eat in the cab. I was carefully looking for rattlesnakes, I can tell you! Mom had bought a roasted chicken earlier in the week, which she had packed for ' just in case'. It tasted really good about then.

The insurance man finally decided to eat crow, admit defeat and drive all the way back to Plush. After the many hours of bumping and jolting, my neck and shoulders were none too pleased. The insurance man was gripping the wheel, while the three of us held on wherever we could. It grew dark quickly, with many miles left to go. To ease things a little, I put on some Christian music that we all loved. I asked if he thought we had enough gas to get back, and he told me yes, he was pretty sure there was enough to get to Plush. That eased my mind quite a bit. It gets cold, and I mean cold out in the desert at night. We weren't prepared, and had no blankets or heavy coats with us. We had food : ) but I was worried about spending the night in the cab with no heat, and as Mom & Dad are both 89, I was worried about them. Just to make things interesting, after dark all the jack rabbits and cottontails came out. They froze in the spotlight of the headlights, or ran about frantically. There must have been thousands of them. The insurance man slowed down even more to dodge them the best he could. Every time I thought he couldn't avoid one, I would cringe and cover my eyes. I know in my head that the world would not be that much worse off with one or two less jack rabbits, but my heart wasn't in it. Where were those coyotes? I wondered. The rabbit population had overrun the desert. We crept along in the dark, singing along to the music, and trying not to worry. Finally, after 5 1/2 hours of driving out there, we got back to where we had started. Only three rabbit casualties, which is a tribute to my wonderful husband's driving. The insurance man pointed out the road we should have taken....the road not taken. He headed back into Plush, hoping that the little bar/store/gas station would still be open until 10:00. Unfortunately, we didn't make it by 10. By the time we rolled in, everything was dark and locked up tight. We knew we would have to try to get to Lakeview. I asked how far that was, and the answer was about 22 miles. Again, a tenseness in the cab, as we drove the 22 miles, although it sure was nice to be on pavement again. At about the 22 mile point, we came to an intersection, with a sign to Lakeview that stated we had another 12 miles to go. With a determined look, the insurance man took the turn and kept going. Bet you can guess what happened at the 12 mile point? Yep, another intersection, with yet another 6 miles to go. I got the cell phone to work again, and phoned Cliff to tell him we were trying for Lakeview. He told me that there was a large crew of men in Lakeview, working on a pipeline project, and that the town was slammed and probably didn't have any empty motel rooms. At that point I prayed earnestly for the few miles, and we reached the outskirts of town, breathing fumes. All of the major motels along the highway were just as he said, no vacancy. But as we came into the small downtown area, I spied a sign that pointed to an older motel a few blocks off the main drag. We found it, and they still had room for all of us. We paid for two rooms, and I was so very, very glad to see clean sheets and a pillow! We decided to leave the gas problem until morning, and just fall into bed. It was between 11:30 and midnight by then, and everything had worked out.

The next morning, a good hot shower felt wonderful. Mom & I had along extra shirts, so we even had something clean to put on. As we all came out of our rooms, Mom said that it felt so weird to have no luggage. She decided that she liked it though, because she didn't have to worry about leaving anything behind.

Here's a picture of the motel that rescued us, taken the next morning. We got gas, and had a good full breakfast before leaving for Burns and home, getting back around noon on Saturday. Cliff and the insurance man got out some BLM maps to find out where we had been. It turns out the area is called 'Dry Valley', aptly named. I had no idea there was such a vast area of our state unpopulated. Large, sky-filled, empty land. Cliff said that the BLM and a few big ranchers use the land for grazing, only using the trail we were on about twice a year to check on their cattle. They must have been on it this spring, leaving the big ruts!

Well, we learned that even 89 year-olds aren't too old for adventures....and neither are we!

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