No matter what the destination, you have to cross familiar territory in the beginning. It was that way for us this morning as we completed the final check of all the lists, hooked up the Tracker, and drove down Easy Street toward Alaska. The morning was incredibly brilliant, clear blue skies reflected on the still surface of the wildlife refuge bordering Rocky Point Road. The temperature read a balmy 62*, the warmest morning yet since some time last year.
Making notes, writing down the mileage, plugging in the details to my favorite little iPhone app that we use to keep track of our trip expenses, I barely had time to get settled before the freezer door flew open food started sliding out onto the floor. UhOh. Our clip on the freezer latch broke off some time last year, but the suction usually keeps it tightly closed. With the cost of food in Alaska, I had that baby crammed full, too full. After some rearranging the latch held tight again. Guess we will have to replace that one. A couple of years ago we had to replace the one on the refrigerator door as well. Cheap little plastic thingys, that sure don’t seem to hold up well considering the cost and quality of the big Dometic fridge.
We stopped as usual at one of our favorite little diners for the traditional departure breakfast at the Diamond Lake junction. I have written about this one before, the huge Bigfoot breakfast that we share, and then have enough leftovers to share again. The road was easy, the pavement smooth, the route so familiar, but I enjoyed every minute of the driving time. Mo, on the other hand, wasn’t sure that she liked being the passenger with Jeremy thinking that he needed to get on her lap, claws and all, and she was wearing shorts. Silly driving things that make the trip fun and familiar. We are used to our routines, as are our animals. I guess that is why we love to travel so much. We travel well together, and enjoy the changing pace and getting outside the lovely simple box of our everyday life.
Once beyond Madras, the high plateau of central Oregon becomes dry and barren. This is the southern edge of the Columbia Basalt Plateau, and the soils are thin, some as little as 4 inches over the hard rock, and the precipitation is low. I don’t know why, but this part of Oregon seems more desolate and barren to me than even the dry deserts of Arizona, or the open sage land of eastern Oregon.
In the midst of this barren landscape is the small pioneer town of Shaniko. We decided with the temperatures climbing into the 90’s, it might be time for a Shaniko ice cream cone. Mo waited in the cool rig while I walked around the tiny town taking some photos before I bought of couple of chocolate cones from some very sweet ladies in the well known tourist stop. Perfect lunch.
It wasn’t long before we dropped down the long canyon to Biggs and the Columbia River. The thermometer read 101 when we hit I-84. Another glitch: what in the heck was that awful smell?? With the heat, it seemed to get worse and worse, and we couldn’t identify it. I panicked thinking that maybe the new batteries were heating up, but Mo was pretty sure we had something dead in the guts of the rig somewhere and the heat was making it worse. Ah yes, rigs and mice. That seems to be a fairly common topic among RV’rs. Opening the Fantastic fan and putting it on high seemed to help a bit, and while the smell still isn’t gone, it seems to be getting better. Yeah, that mouse will eventually dry out completely. Ugh. The mouse traps are still set and nothing is in them.
The temperatures were way too high to think about boondocking as planned, we definitely needed the air conditioner. Instead we traveled east toward LePage Park, the COE campground where we often overnight on our way through this area. Without reservations we still got a great spot with a view of the John Day River for only ten bucks with our Golden Age Pass, including electric and water. Perfect and it was only 4:30 or so.
Within ten minutes we were settled in and Abby was in the water for a swim. We decided there was plenty of time for an evening kayak and within a few more minutes we were at the launch site with the kayaks in the water. The winds were up a bit, but we decided that with the winds going upstream we could manage the current coming down. The mighty Columbia River was under the interstate bridge to our left and the John Day River to our right. We paddled upriver with the wind for a time until the waves and wind got too big to manage before we turned around and with the wind and the current, we had some nice quiet time in the doldrums, not moving at all while we relaxed on the river.
Suddenly we saw a fire flare up on the opposite bank, and I pulled the phone out of the dry bag to call 911. Cell reception on the river was great, and 911 answered immediately. They were unconcerned, saying that the fire had been burning for a couple of days and they were letting it go. OK. Fire in the west, on the grasslands along the river is probably a good thing, a natural cleansing of the land. Camped safely on the other side of the river with winds blowing away from us, no one seemed to troubled.
We paddled back downriver toward the bridges and went far enough to technically say that we paddled in the Columbia before we headed back inland. The Columbia is a big, strong, powerful river, and neither one of us wanted to tackle it on a hot afternoon with the famous high winds blowing hard.
Back in camp we got out the new Weber Q100, to try it out with a couple of pork chops and a beer. By the time we settled in to sleep, the evening breezes were strong and cool enough to make sleeping just right.
A link to the rest of the photos at Picasa is here.
Tomorrow: A short drive to Toppenish