Medicine Lake in Early Morning
Tuesday, August 29, 2023
Monday, August 28, 2023
When we woke early this morning, the sky was thick with smoke. It has been like this for several days because of the Smith River Complex fires, with most of the burning acreage south of the Oregon state line in northwestern California. Of the more than 80,000 acres burning, only 12,000 or so are in Oregon. Although the fire boundaries are many miles from us, the smoke is blown directly into the Rogue Valley by the dominant west and southwest winds that come our way from the Pacific. It was time for an escape.
I use several different weather and fire maps to track where the thick smoke plumes originate and where they might go. We had planned to camp at our favorite little spot, Medicine Lake in northern California, toward the end of August. The window for camping there is short, with a big tribal medicine celebration in late July that closes the largest of the four campgrounds to the general public, and cold and snow beginning sometime in early September. There are only a few sites at the Hogue Campground that we like best that are available for reservations and none of them are close to the lake. As we often do, we decided we would take our chances and hope for a good spot available on a Monday afternoon, as well as hoping for a break from the smoke.
When I looked at the app, it seemed that the boundary of the smoke plume was just north and west of our destination. Hoping for the best, we completed a few morning chores after breakfast and finished the last bit of loading provisions for the week into the MoHo. There was some extra watering needed to hopefully get the property through the next few days while we were gone. There were mole holes for Mo to deal with in the grass. Mo needed to top off the salt in our water system. I needed to do a fresh deer spray to keep the critters from completely decimating everything in the yard. Those little stinkers even eat our photinia shrubs, guaranteed to be deer-proof.
Even with all those little details, we managed to get out of the gate at 9:50, after agreeing to let ourselves relax a bit from our original plan to leave at 9. Our route south is easy and familiar. Traveling south on I-5, just a few miles to the Gold Hill exit, we turned east toward Klamath Falls. We could probably drive the Highway 140 High Lakes Pass over the Cascades in our sleep after so many years of driving back and forth between our little cottage in Grants Pass and Mo's house in Rocky Point on the eastern slope of the Cascades. It is a beautiful drive most of the time, but on this trip, even at the maximum elevation of the pass at over 5,000 feet, the skies were thick with smoke.
Continuing east toward Klamath Falls and then south toward Tulelake on the California border, the smoke showed no signs of lessening. Then, magically, exactly where the FireAirNow website showed the smoke plume boundary, we were out of the smoke as we turned back west on the forest road near Tionesta that leads up the mountain to Medicine Lake. Glass Mountain is north of the caldera where the lake is located and the northern half of the obsidian flow that is the reason it is called Glass Mountain was in smoke and the southern half where we would be camping was crystal clear. It was an amazing thing to see, and to suddenly be in clear air and blue skies was such a relief after breathing thick smoke for so many days.
We settled into site 45, enjoying the sunshine and the view of the lake. We often take site 42, a bit more level and closer to the lake than our current site, but this time 42 was filled in with a family camping in tents. Even though 45 isn't level and the site for the MoHo is rather tight, we managed to get perfectly level and have room for the slide and the car on the side facing the road with our door facing the lake, just the way we like it.
Mo built a fire while I heated up the green chile enchiladas I had prepared at home. After dinner, we sat by the fire until the almost full moon rose in the east over the lake. It was completely dark by 8:30, an indication that we are enough east of our location in the time zone in Grants Pass that the sun sets a bit earlier here than at home. I woke up at 4AM and stood outside in the chilly air to look at stars I hadn't seen at home for days because of the smoke. Even though we came to this lake mainly to kayak, I was looking forward so much to clear skies and night stars again.
One of the best parts of camping at Medicine Lake this time of year is the incredible privacy. It is very, very quiet, and the campsites are a considerable distance apart, with trees between sites that limit the view of adjacent campsites. Even if the campground had been completely full, there wouldn't be very many people within view of our motorhome as we look out over the lake.
We are both happy to once again be in our happy place at Medicine Lake.
Friday, August 11, 2023
We woke at 7 and were out of bed by 7:15. It was a bit chilly at 42F, but the skies were clear, and the lake was silky calm with a slight miasma blanketing the water. We planned to kayak again, but not quite as early as yesterday, giving the temperature a chance to rise a bit.
We started the generator, prepared breakfast on the stove, and decided that I could make coffee in the Keurig at the same time that Mo reheated day-old coffee in the microwave. Although we know better than to try to turn on the toaster and the coffee pot at the same time, it seemed that the microwave wouldn't be a problem because it is on a different circuit than the outlet for the coffee pot. Nope. Within moments the entire house went out. None of the circuit breakers by the bed seemed to have a breaker that took care of the issue. The generator wouldn't even start. Mo started dressing enough to go out in the chill and search the storage compartments for whatever fuse might be involved. We did finally get the generator to start, but none of the lights for any of the appliances came on. Still wondering what could possibly be wrong.
I thought about the fact that although I drive the MoHo, know how to hook her up, and deal with some of her inner workings I do not have a clue where the fuse boxes are located or how to even begin to manage them. Good thing I don't travel alone in the MoHo, no matter how independent I think I might be. We turned the generator off and let it rest a bit as Mo was preparing to go outdoors, and then gave it another try. The generator started and all the lights came on and everything was working perfectly. No clue what that was all about. Needless to say, we won't try to run two appliances that draw a lot of juice at the same time. We know better than to do that when plugged into shore power, and now we also know that the microwave is NOT on a separate circuit. Something to learn after 16 years with our rig.
We enjoyed our breakfast AND our coffee. Mo slept well last night, and I slept well after two leg pills and then finally at midnight a sleeping pill which did the trick. So grateful for the gabapentin that calms the nerve pain in my legs and for the occasional Ambien that makes sleep possible when I have overdone a bit.
By 8:15 or so we were launched on the lake that was smooth as glass. The skies are clear, with high floating clouds, not big white puffies, but the wispy kind. Gaelyn, who studies clouds, would know what to name them. We paddled toward the left from the campground this time, with our destination clear. We returned to the beautiful small white sand beach on the west side of the lake at the base of the volcanic dome that separates the two lakes of the Newberry Caldera, Paulina Lake, and East Lake.
The skies were gorgeous and on that side of the lake, the water was exceptionally clear. It was much warmer than the water near the cliffs. On the way to the beach, we saw a couple of young ospreys, much too white on their breasts to get a good photo against the dark firs where they perched. Several ospreys were busy fishing, swooping over us as they watched the lake water for easy prey.
As we approached the beach we saw a long line of ducks sunning themselves on the shoreline, what I think were common mergansers. We stayed far enough away to avoid disturbing them, but after we landed they took to the water. It was a quiet exit, so they didn't seem afraid, and they slid into the water moving toward the center of the lake.
We have been to this beach before, but in the past have been joined by fishermen plying the rich waters along this shoreline. This time there were a few kayakers and a couple of fishing boats, but none of them came close to shore and we had the entire beach to ourselves.
Mo let Mattie jump out of the kayak to the beach as we exited our boats. This time I exited in water that was about knee deep with Mo holding my boat steady and tipping it a bit to help out. I was able to rise without difficulty with the extra help of the deeper water so that was encouraging. This method is great, but only works on calm, quiet lakes with no current to deal with and no big rocks under the water.
Mattie ran up and down the beach, happily off-leash. She actually ran into the water on her own. Once. No amount of coaxing could get her back into the water. She swims well, but isn't that interested. Mo and I remembered how easily she ran into the water when we were visiting the beach at Cape Cod and all the dogs were chasing each other and going after balls in the water. Mattie joined right in.
Since we didn't have an extra dog along to entice Mattie, Mo picked her up and took her out into the water at a depth and distance that would allow Mattie to swim to shore. She is an excellent swimmer and it was a great way to get her cleaned up a bit without the much dreaded bath.
We meandered back to camp where I again used the deeper water, Mo holding the boat method for exiting the kayak. After changing clothes and relaxing a bit, we began the process of moving to our new spot in the adjacent number 2 campsite. Even though our current site was reserved for August 8 through the 12, no one ever showed up to claim the site that night or the next morning.
Our new site had been empty for the two nights we were in the campground and we knew that we could move over there at our leisure, with no need to wait until the official check-in time at 2PM. We packed up all our outside accouterments including chairs, bbq, rugs, and wood bin in the car, and drove the hundred feet or so to the new site. I followed with the MoHo and within a short time, we were settled into our new digs.
We were delighted with the move and especially enjoyed the new view of the lake outside our front window. The table was in a perfect place with the fireplace arranged so that we could sit in our chairs and watch the fire with the lake view just beyond. The part that surprised us was that the proximity to the boat launch was a positive bit of entertainment that we really enjoyed. Most RVrs know the delight of watching people set up camp and it is just as much fun to watch all the different people launching their various kinds of watercraft.
We met and visited with our new neighbors in site 1 and they told us that they go online exactly 6 months to the minute prior to their chosen date, always choosing site number 1. They fish, and love watching the boat ramp activity. After our sweet afternoon at site number 2, we decided that we would do the same, six months to the minute before sometime next August. We no longer want to leave the opportunity to camp at East Lake to chance. We even love the activity near the boat ramp and the wonderful view.
A bit after we settled into our site the camp host drove by and I waved her down. She and her husband were delightful, and when I asked about saving a site for Gaelyn they were agreeable. They wanted to be sure that she was really coming, and I assured them that she was. Mo and I sat in the warm sunshine with some light shade from the surrounding lodgepole pines watching the lake and the many boats on the water as we ate our lunch.
Gaelyn drove in around 1:30 and was surprised that we had managed to secure a site for her, not far from us in number 6. With her camper facing backward she wasn't able to enjoy the lake view from inside her rig, but the site was extremely level, which she liked.
I offered her a shower in the MoHo which delighted her completely. After she showered, she and I left Mo to enjoy her afternoon while we took the Tracker to the top of Paulina Peak. (Say Paw.Lie.Na so people don't think you are an outsider.) Mo and I traveled the crooked, washboard, curvy, steep road to the peak last time we were here so she wasn't too worried about missing out on the view.
I took it slow going up the road, and even in 4-wheel drive we got bounced around a bit on the washboard, but once at the top, with that view spread out below us, it was all worth the trip. I love the view, and it is even more enchanting when I can share it with someone who hasn't seen it before. Gaelyn understands geology and landforms and was surprised that both lakes were in the caldera.
We could see the algae that accumulated around Paulina Lake near the store and the campgrounds. Paulina Lake is bigger and busier, and I am not sure that they have the ten-mile-per-hour boat speed limit that is on East Lake.
We wandered around the trails at the nearly 8,000 feet elevation enjoying the view in all four directions. It was interesting to me that there was thick smoke to the west, over the Cascades. The beautiful peaks were almost completely obscured. To the east, where Gaelyn had spent the last couple of weeks, we could barely see the outline of Winter Rim, and the dark exposed ancient caldera of Fort Rock. The smoke to the east was thick, and to the south, it was thick as well. Looking toward the north, where Gaelyn was headed next, the smoke was also hanging heavy over the landscape. What was most surprising was the lack of smoke at Newberry Crater. We had a magnificent view.
After wandering around the peak and the viewpoint trails we drove back down the mountain. For some reason, the washboard didn't seem as rough going downhill, but I was glad to reach the pavement again after a few miles of that bumpy gravel.
After our return to camp, Gaelyn went home to relax in her space and Mo and I both enjoyed a delightful little nap for a couple of hours. The afternoon was so enjoyable that I didn't really want to sleep it away, so I looked out the window a lot as I rested.
As evening approached, Mo built another beautiful fire to share with Gaelyn as we enjoyed supper together. We were regaled with amazing stories of Gaelyn's life on the road, for the last 40 years or so. It was a perfect evening, not chilly, and the view of the lake was a wonderful backdrop. The funny thing, I took no photos of our shared supper or our evening together. I am pretty sure Gaelyn has some when she gets to this part of her road trip.
I wore down around 9 and said, "Gaelyn, I am done". We laughed and she went home. Mo stirred the fire down and we went to bed without even doing the dinner dishes.
On Wednesday morning Mo and I both woke up a bit tired and achy. It felt chilly, although the temperature was actually a bit warmer than yesterday, maybe because we never turned on the heater the night before. Mo was a bit concerned about us taking the time for a kayak paddle and still being ready to leave at the official check-out time for the park. With a bit of back and forth and a short moment of disappointment, we decided to skip it. Mo offered to help me get in and out of my boat so that I could go for a paddle while she cleaned up the camp and started packing. That didn't seem fair or fun to me and within minutes I had let go of the desire to go for a paddle. Our choice was a good one. The wind was blowing and the lake looked rough which is unusual for this early in the morning. In addition, we had time to pack up without being rushed, and still leave before the official check-out time by noon.
Mo cleaned up the outside stuff and I turned on the hot water heater for a luxurious last-day dishwashing session. I cleaned up the MoHo and then cooked our traditional travel breakfast of a sausage muffin and coffee. It only took an hour to pack up and get ready to leave, but we then enjoyed some leisure time to visit with Gaelyn before we left and were on the road by 11.
As I watched people bobbing around on the lake in the wind I was really glad that we didn't try to kayak. Kayaking in the wind isn't fun in the least. We are planning to go to Medicine Lake before the end of August, so will have more time for kayaking the beautiful mountain lakes before another season ends.
The trip home was easy and seemed to go more quickly than the drive to East Lake. We stopped at a restaurant that we discovered recently in Sams Valley, on the road between our house and where my daughter Deborah lives. The three of us had lunch there a couple of weeks ago and knew that the burgers were the best around.
Mo had a burger and I had a patty melt with a very cold PBR, which I have come to enjoy very much since our visit last year at the historic Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery in Milwaukee. We got home before five and everything was in good shape in spite of the heat. Our automatic sprinklers did their job without breaking in our absence and everything managed to survive our absence.
We have decided that two or three nights away from home in the heat of summer is about the limit of what we should attempt. There is plenty of time to travel in the winter months when everything is dormant and we don't have to worry about water.
Our trip was very nearly perfect and I am really looking forward to our next one in a couple of weeks.