The Perfect Boondock

The Perfect Boondock
The Perfect Boondock

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

05-19-2021 We Escaped the Snow…Mostly

When we went to bed after that gorgeous sunset we were in a bit of a quandary as to what to do.  The internet was iffy, and I had a hard time getting weather apps to show current information.  All I could see was the giant blue severe weather warning over most of the area we planned to explore on Wednesday.  It wasn’t encouraging.  There was always the chance that it was being over predicted, something that happens often.  Then again, driving the MoHo down the winding mountain road out of the snow zone didn’t sound good if the 5 inches predicted actually happened.  The 20F degree prediction for Thursday morning didn’t sound particularly good either. 

We were reasonably certain that the main snow event would hold off until Wednesday evening, so went to sleep without much worry about snow the next morning, but where did we want to be when it happened?  Did we want to simply give up and run home?  NO!  Did we want to try to run as far as Farewell Bend on the other side of Crater Lake?  Hmm, MAYBE.  Looking up the sketchy weather for Farewell Bend wasn’t possible because the only locations that would come in on the weather apps were Prospect, at a lower elevation with a decent prediction for rain, or Crater Lake with a LOT of snow predicted.

Maybe we should just stay at the RV park in Summer Lake?  But with bad weather predicted for the next 5 days we really didn’t want to be trapped for that long. When we woke up to cloudy skies and a tiny skiff of snow Wednesday morning, we made the decision.  We would drive the 5 miles east into the Summer Lake area to check for birds at the refuge before returning to the MoHo for a good breakfast. 

With the overcast skies and spitting rain and snow I didn’t bother to take the big camera, depending on the phone to document what I thought would be a rather boring quick trip around the refuge loop.  Big mistake!  My Samsung Galaxy Note20 does an excellent job with most photos, especially in good light, or even sketchy light.  However, zoomed in photos of birds are just a bit too tough even for the great phone camera. 

Mo drove and wouldn’t you know that all the good bird shots were on her side of the car.  As most people who watch birds know, staying in the car is the only way they stay around, with the car working as a great blind.  So Mo would drive, try to roll down the window, take the phone and try to focus.  We finally figured out that she could hold the phone and I could click the stylus to take the photo.  Then Mo would roll the window back up because it was so dang cold, and of course, another bird would appear.

We had a good time anyway, laughing sometimes and grumbling at each other at other times.  The water levels were low, and the numbers of birds seemed low, although it is a bit late for the big migrations.  We were a bit astounded at the variety, however, spotting lots of blackbirds, red winged and yellow headed, ruddy ducks, Canada geese with babies, a beautiful pair of sandhill cranes, with a dancing male.  As we drove deeper into the refuge, beyond the campgrounds, we began to see black necked stilts with their bright pink legs and the gorgeous avocets that we remembered from our last trip to Summer Lake a few years ago.  We saw a single swan in the distance, too far to determine which species it was, but as always the swan was beautifully graceful.

By the time we completed the viewing loop at the north end of the refuge it was getting close to 11AM and we were chilled to the bone.  Home to the MoHo and a nice big breakfast with eggs and bacon and toast and juice, a real treat when traveling.

As we were getting ready to pack up, a car appeared with two women we had seen the day before at one of the information kiosks.  They were looking for the rock. They had been up the trail and had been fooled by the fake mountain goat scratched into a smaller rock along the trail. We told them how to find the real one.  Shortly after that another car with a young couple showed up looking for the rock as well, and we told them about the trail and to be sure to look on the upside of the trail to find it.

By the time the slide was in and the jacks raised we had determined that our next stop would be La Pine State Park.  Mo took me there one time when we were visiting her brother when he lived in La Pine but we had never actually camped there.  It was only a bit over an hour away via Highway 31 toward Highway 97 and the road was wide and easy except for some rather horrific frost heaves on the pumice plateau that just about rattled us to death.

Once at the park, we first attempted to find a site in the upper north loop, where there was electric only.  We didn’t need sewer so thought it would be fine.  We attempted to settle into the rather narrow and unlevel site since there weren’t many available until we started to hook up the power.  Um…wait….20 amp?  On a very old post??  I think not!!  Not if we are paying rather than boondocking, we wanted to at least be able to run the microwave without turning everything else off. 

We retraced the entrance road and continued to the Middle and South Loop, where nearly every site was taken, but at least the few available had 30 and 50 amp hookups and the sites were paved and very level.  We picked one and settled in, grousing about the dreary skies, the complete lack of not only internet, but even a cell phone signal!  Neither of us was exactly happy with where we were.  The forest was thick second growth lodgepole with some skinny scattered ponderosa pine and everything was so flat and gray.  There wasn’t a bit of a view and the park was very crowded. It was disconcerting to discover that we had only a tiny bit of signal, enough for a text message but no access to any kind of internet, email, or maps.  It certainly wasn’t what we had envisioned for our desert trip, and as the snow flurries started falling it made it even less fun when we couldn’t track the weather to figure out what to expect.  We settled in, both of us a bit grumpy, which doesn’t happen very often.  After talking it out a bit, we decided to get in the car and try to explore the flat, featureless landscape and see what in the world people did when they visited La Pine State Park.

With just a short ride, we found the Dan MacGregor memorial overlooking a lovely trail on a wide bow in the Deschutes River.  With the sun appearing once again and the beautiful view of the river our mood began to improve considerably.  Mo had camped at a forest service campground a few miles back toward La Pine and on the road that goes to Paulina Lake.  Deciding to drive to that campground to check it out, we discovered a locked gate and a closed campground.  Not sure why it was closed, but I am glad we hadn’t planned on staying there for the night.

The night was surprisingly quiet considering how full the campground was.  I slept a bit fitfully, unsure of what the next day might bring.  The snow flurries continued throughout the night, but by morning they were gone and lo and behold the sun was shining. 

On the previous day I had photographed a map of the park with some locations that might be interesting to explore.  When we checked into the park, there was only a simple map of the campground and not a single map or brochure about the area.  Without the internet, we were basically following our noses, so I was glad I had photographed that park map. 

We drove north and found the road leading toward “Falls”, a dot on the map.  What we found was a magnificent surprise tucked away on that flat, featureless pumice plain covered with lodgepole and ponderosa.  Fall River was gorgeous, a well known river for fly fishing, but on this cold sunny morning there wasn’t a soul in sight.  We followed the trail to the Falls, not exactly sure how far it was, and as Mo asked me if I had any idea how much farther we needed to hike, both of us began to hear the roar of the falls.

It was lovely.  Brilliant in the sunshine and surrounded by thick blooming bitterbrush and grass still green from the winter.  In spite of our misgivings from the previous afternoon about La Pine State Park, the walk along the Deschutes River and the hike to Fall River Falls made a huge difference in our opinion of the place.  We might decide to rent one of the cabins with a nice RV hookup area to visit next year with our friends Maryruth and Gerald.  Just 20 miles south of Bend and not far from the Newberry Crater there would be lots to share in the area and Maryruth said they would love to rent the cabin. 

By the time we left the campground at noon or so, the snow flurries had disappeared but there were huge black clouds on the horizon.  Once we reached Highway 97 and I had cell service again, I discovered that we could expect more snow along our route to Farewell Bend west of the pass that is north of Crater Lake where we hiked last summer on our camping trip on the Rogue.

On that trip we discovered a sweet little boondocking camp site at Muir Creek, a tributary of the Rogue.  Mo wanted to see if that spot was open for us, so we set our sights for the Muir Creek Bridge.  It snowed on us a couple of times but by the time we drove in, the skies were a gorgeous blue.  There is a trailhead that is on the west side of the creek with a large parking area with room to turn around.  We parked there, unhooked the Tracker, and returned to the east side of the creek bridge to explore the campsite area.

We were thrilled to find it completely empty of campers, quiet and beautiful, and easily accessible with the MoHo.  Having scoped out the best location, we returned for the MoHo and brought her back to what I now think may have been an even better boondocking site than our previous amazing spot at Pictured Rock Pass.

Our camping spot was a perfect dream of whispering forest, gurgling creek, brilliant sunshine and blue skies.  Until it rained.  But between the rain and snow showers, the sun was warm and Mo built a beautiful fire in one of the nicest firepits we have ever seen. 

We sat outside in the afternoon sun with our kindles by the fire, reading till a shower ran us indoors, and then returning to the fire when the sun came back.  Mo had only to step out the door to keep the fire going.

I hadn’t planned on dinners for this 4th night, and we thought about driving the 24 mile round trip to Beckie’s Cafe in Union Creek.  It seemed like such a waste of precious time in the sunshine with our books so we made do.  Dinner was tuna sandwiches and pickles and was perfect.

There was no need to close any of the blinds or cover the windshield here, since there wasn’t a soul around.  The night was dark, and snow and rain came and went, but I was delighted to see that there was no snow on the ground when we woke.  Funny thing happened when I looked out the front windshield and did a double take.  It looked exactly like we were crossing the creek in the MoHo.  Our front fender was less than 4 feet from the edge of the water, but from inside it looked exactly like we were in it.

I have no idea if this perfect boondock site will remain as perfect as it was for us on this weekday in May.  Last year there was a tent and a trailer there when we visited in August.  I also have no idea if the huge crowds of RVrs that are inundating almost every available site in the west will find our two perfect boondocks, one in the desert and another in the mountains.  All I know is that for us everything was completely absolutely perfect!

The final leg of our trip home the next morning was just under two hours of familiar highway roads via the Rogue River route along Highway 62, crossing the Sam’s Valley on Highway 234 from Shady Cove to Gold Hill, and along Interstate 5 toward home.  The skies at home cleared enough that we did our usual quick unloading of the rig, putting the food away, piling laundry into the laundry room, and letting the rest of the MoHo cleaning wait for the next day.

We managed to fill up 5 days and 4 nights with a LOT.  It took me several days to process the photos, and several more days to write the stories.  Hope my readers enjoy it as much as I have, but at least Mo and I won’t have to question which day we did what.  Thank goodness for the blog to force me to write it down so that we remember.



Tuesday, May 25, 2021

05-18-2021 Exploring Oregon’s Outback Scenic Byway

We have traveled parts of the Outback Scenic Byway in the past, but on this trip had a specific set of sites that we wished to see.  Our original plan was to do most of our exploring on Tuesday, but with so much to see we were grateful that we found “Crack-in-the-Ground” on Monday afternoon.  Even so, Tuesday was so full that we had to repeatedly ask ourselves…”Wait…did we do that today or yesterday?”  Yes, we did a LOT on Tuesday.

Knowing we had miles to travel and hikes to find, we were back on Highway 31 by 8:30 AM.  The Tracker was on half a tank of fuel and we wanted to be prepared for anything.  Returning west on the highway to Silver Lake we found the only gas station for miles in either direction.  Leaving Silver Lake we were treated to a wonderful reminder of the dominant lifestyle in this part of Oregon.  Most of the landscape is home to cattle ranches large and small.  Seeing “real” cowboys herding cattle down the middle of the road is rare in many places, but not near Silver Lake.

Continuing north toward “Hole-in-the-Ground” I was grateful that I had downloaded the local google maps to the phone.  It isn’t an easy place to find!  There are no local signs, no directions to speak of, and Mo’s little travel book didn’t help much. 

“Hole-in-the-Ground” is a large maar, an explosion crater caused by red hot magma surging upwards under the Earth's crust until contacting groundwater. The resulting explosion blew rock and ash into a perfect circle, one mile across. There is a drivable rim road around and two trails down to the center.

From Wikipedia: It is about 1.0 mile (1,600 m) across, a little longer N-S than E-W.[2] Its floor is about 150 meters (490 ft) below the surrounding ground level and has a rim that rises 35 to 65 meters (110 to 210 ft) above, the highest point on the east side. The crater formed during the late Pleistocene, between 13,500 and 18,000 years ago, at which time the Fort Rock Basin was a lake and the location was near the shore. Basaltic magma intruding near the surface flashed ground water to steam, which blew out overlying rock and soil, along with some juvenile material. As material slid into the hole formed, it closed the vent and the process repeated, eventually forming the huge hole.[3] Blocks as large as 26 feet (8 m) in size were flung as far as 2.3 miles (3.7 km) from the crater.[4]

Following google maps, we found a road that appeared to lead northeast toward the crater.  The route suggested ended at a large gate.  We were at the entrance to the Outpost Camp with no clue as to how to get beyond the private land to our location. 

The blue line is one of the suggested routes by Google and the red line is the route we actually found on our own. Zooming in on Google Maps was a bit helpful, but I learned that downloaded maps are only as good as the resolution at which they were downloaded, so things were a bit fuzzy.  We managed to find our way to the edge of the crater without much difficulty.  As we approached the rim, it was amazing to see the crater below us.  Without knowing where it exactly, there is no hint at how the featureless ponderosa pine landscape is going to change.

We explored a bit and decided that making an attempt to 4-wheel down into the crater would be fun.  The road was narrow and fairly steep, but the challenge was navigating the large pumice sand humps and deep dips.

Things looked a bit dicey, so I got out and walked the road a bit to see if it got better or worse.  It didn’t look too bad until I saw a big side sloping curve with a very deep sandy hump and decided, nope, not gonna do it!

Mo did the backing as I walked backwards up the steep hill making sure she wasn’t going over the edge.  Some of the humps were so deep that the top of the Tracker disappeared from view!.

Once at the edge of the Crater, we drove a bit along the rim road, and although fairly level, there were large rocks buried in the sandy pumice that Mo had to navigate carefully.  We found a treasure before turning around.

It was a beautiful campsite, with rocks and fences overlooking the crater and there was a birdhouse in a large tree in the center of the site.  If you look closely at the photo, you can see the memorial words for someone who must have loved the spot. “David E Hartley, Forever Enjoy the View”.

After enjoying the views and the drive we returned to Highway 31, turning east toward Fort Rock, another important destination for our visit.  We originally planned to visit Fort Rock on Thursday, when the Fort Rock Homestead Museum would be open.  Thinking better of that plan, we thought that we could visit the Rock this day to hike and see the surrounding area and then return on Thursday when we planned to return  to Grants Pass, passing by the museum location on our way home. 

The “You are here” point on this map is at the information kiosk where we learned about the local geology of the Fort Rock area.

Approaching Fort Rock from the west is fascinating.  It does look ever so much like an old fort.  However, it is simply another great geologic feature in this fascinating volcanic landscape.

Fort Rock is a small basaltic vent that formed a volcanic tuff ring when it first exploded to the surface about 100,000 years ago.  At the time, the surrounding landscape was an inland freshwater sea, up to 300 feet deep that resulted from melting glacial waters that flowed into the area.  Over thousands of years, wave action of the lake eroded the tuff ring’s southwest wall and left terraces along the front and insides of Fort Rock.

We parked at the trailhead and were happy to see that Mattie was allowed on leash on the short 1.2 mile trail that loops through the caldera.  The first part of the trail is a bit steep and rocky, but very quickly it levels out to a nice wide sandy trail with little change in elevation around the loop.

We enjoyed the fragrance of the prolifically blooming bitterbrush and the brilliant colors of Indian paintbrush tucked among the volcanic rocks. 

In some of the lower dips along the trail we found death camas and a tiny desert lily with at least 14 petals that I couldn’t identify or find in any book or on the internet.  EDITED LATER:  I finally remembered the flower, it is called Lewisia or bitteroot.  I should have remembered from my years in Idaho canyons.


The hike was beautiful and easy, with surprising twists and turns that allowed up close viewing of the vents and tuffaceous rocks formed in the explosion of the vent.

We enjoyed the views across the open desert with the brilliant green circle irrigated alfalfa fields in the distance.

By the time we finished our hike, it was still early in the afternoon and we decided to make an attempt to explore some of the back roads of the Fort Rock Area.  Google Maps was only a little bit of help as we attempted to reach the road to the Green Mountain campground from the opposite side that we had tried the previous day when we drove to Crack-In-The-Ground.  We also had our Gazetteer to help with navigation but the scale was a bit too small to help much.  Still, it is a good thing to have some kind of paper map when traveling these back roads where cell service comes and goes and even downloaded Google maps can be sketchy.

We never did make it to the Christmas Valley sand dunes, or the Lost Forest east of the community of Christmas Valley.  The information signs said specifically that high clearance 4 wheel drive vehicles were “ABSOLUTELY” required to navigate those back roads.

We made a few attempts to wander the roads, running into dirt, fences, and no trespassing signs, and some rough gravel before deciding that our adventures were over for the day and it was time to return to the MoHo.  Both of us were ready for a bit of afternoon down time and I looked forward to a late lunch and a snuggle nap with Mattie.

After some time relaxing, we decided that it might be fun to attempt to find the Pictured Rock Pass petroglyphs.  The location was just a little more than 5 miles east of our boondock location on Highway 31, between mile marker 63 and 64.  We were hunting for the marker (which we had missed) when we found a lovely dirt road leading to a beautiful open camp area, perfect for boondocking. Excitedly we drove in and decided to return back to our original site and pick up the MoHo to relocate to what appeared to be a perfect place to spend the night.  We figured we could settle in and then attempt once again to find the petroglyph site.

However, as we backtracked to the site, we discovered that our dirt road leading to our new boondock location was the one we had missed the first time around.  We were right at the petroglyph site!  Unbelievably I had internet at this remote location and found the coordinates for the petroglyph on a website.  There are no signs pointing the way, and the coordinates are for the beginning of the trail, not the actual location of the rock.  I think this may be on purpose to discourage vandalism.

After a bit of hiking and hunting and wrong turns, we found the rock.  There is a “fake” petroglyph, obviously carved recently on a nearby boulder that could confuse people.  Once we found the actual ancient petroglyphs. we were so tickled and took photos of where the rock is in relation to the highway.  It faces the opposite direction and it is very easy to walk right past it without realizing that you are looking at it.

I have chosen not to post the coordinates of the rock that I took when we found it, or the photos pinpointing the exact location in order to adhere to the thought of protecting the site.  If interested, email me directly for the information .

The petroglyphs have been dated at between 7,500 to 10,000 years ago, when ancient peoples traveled this area. The famous Paisley Caves, which are from the same era of human habitation are not too far from this site.   Again, from Wikipedia:

The Paisley Caves complex is a system of four caves in an arid, desolate region of south-central Oregon, United States north of the present-day city of Paisley, Oregon. The caves are located in the Summer Lake basin at 4,520 feet (1,380 m) elevation and face to the west in a ridge of Miocene and Pliocene era basalts mixed with soft volcanic tuffs and breccias, from which the caves were carved by Pleistocene-era waves from Summer Lake. One of the caves may contain archaeological evidence of the oldest definitively-dated human presence in North America. The site was first studied by Luther Cressman in the 1930s.

Scientific excavations and analysis since 2002 have uncovered substantial new discoveries. These include materials with the oldest DNA evidence of human habitation in North America. The DNA, radiocarbon dated to 14,300 years ago, was found in subfossil human coprolites uncovered in the Paisley Five Mile Point Caves in south-central Oregon.[2] The caves were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.[3]

After our very rewarding hike, we settled into an even more rewarding evening at one of the better boondocking sites we have experienced. 

There was a lovely fire ring, and a beautiful sunset accompanied the perfect evening.  Marshmallows topped off the night before we retired.  Once again it was a dark and quiet night.

Checking the weather on the less than perfect internet was exciting.  We had planned to visit Summer Lake the next day, possibly camping at Ana Reservoir RV Park, or returning to our perfect boondock site.  The weather wasn’t cooperating, with 3 to 5 inches of snow and a winter weather warning for most of the area around Summer Lake, Christmas Valley, Silver Lake, and most of east central Oregon.

Now what?!