Tuesday, July 26, 2011

July 2011 Road Trip IV: Crystal Crane Hot Springs to Painted Hills

5 am. Almost dawn, and it sounded as if the bull finally had gotten access to one of the cows. Well, at least they were at the far end of the paddock. I lay in my tent and thought for a while. Eventually, it was time to get up and run. Rt. 78 had looked promising the previous evening. I thought I’d trot from the Hot Springs east to the town of Crane, which seemed like about my scheduled four miles. I layered up and set out. A straight road into the sun, a turn to the south, feeling pretty good. As I approached Crane, another runner came towards me; good to see that I was not the only self propelled item on the road so early. I’d been passed by an equal ratio of cars and trucks, about one every half mile. Everyone had waved to me.

All of my time thus far in Oregon has been in Harney County, which makes up a large chunk of the southeastern part of the state. It’s rural and isolated, and the friendliest place I’ve been in the States in years. I’ve had pleasant, helpful conversations in gas stations, stores, tourist spots, just everywhere. Almost every time Trixy and I have intersected an oncoming vehicle, the driver has waved. The locals, based on the vehicle type – trucks for preference – always do, even to Trixy, who has to shout tourist to anyone observant. These brief experiences have enriched the trip. Before setting out, I had said that one of my goals was to talk to no one for five days. I am glad to have failed. I trust these connections genuinely reflect the people I’ve met; maybe I’m more open too. 

I reached the outskirts of Crane: a dilapidated house with a couple of rusting Detroit hulks in the yard. Turning around, I discovered why the run had felt so good; my tailwind instantly became a stiff headwind. I was warmed up now, so I pushed my pace a little and headed back to the Hot Springs. Couldn’t be any worse than running across the Golden Gate Bridge in about ten days.

Back at camp, I warmed down with another soak.

On the road, to Burns. A pause to blog in a cafĂ© (no wireless?) and give Trixy a much needed bath. The density of insect carcasses on her front quarters, not to mention the dust of the Alvord and Steens everywhere, required attention. 

North on Rt. 395. Good bye to the Basin and Range. Up Devine Canyon, down the Silvies Valley. Across Bear Valley and over The Aldrich and Strawberry Mountains. These are part of a set of a series of NNW-SSE trending ranges; I think these are largely compressional in origin, related to the formation of the Cascade Volcanic Arc further to the west. Also adios to sagebrush, and greetings to ponderosa pine forest. Dropping into the Canyon Creek drainage, passing through Canyon City, and into John Day.

Tired by winding roads, and wanting lunch, I followed the signs to Kam Wah Chung State Park. Another guidebook recco; this small historical site illuminates a bit of the Chinese history of the John Day area. Intrigued, I decided to do more than sit in the Visitor Center parking lot and eat an apple with peanut butter. The VC was outstanding. It told the general history of John Day and Canyon City (a syn-Civil War gold rush), the subsequent arrival of Chinese immigrants, and the often intense racism they faced. Like many recent museum exhibits I’ve seen, this was told directly. This history set the stage for the story of Kam Wah Chung; a store/doctors office/gambling den/bunkhouse run by a pair of Chinese men – an entrepreneur and an oriental medicine doctor. They initially set up shop to serve the Asian community. As the ore faded and the racisim waxed, most of the Chinese left. These guys stayed, seeming to become accepted and important members of the community. A moving story of spirit. I was impressed at imagining the bravery and ambition of men crossing the Pacific from Southern China in search of what – I don’t know – but persisting and ultimately living significant lives in this remote part of North America. 

The core of the park is the Kam Wah Chung building itself. It was locked up in the 1950s when the second of the Chinese guys died. It was given to the city in the following decade, passed the county, and finally the state. When opened, the building proved to be a time capsule. All of their stuff – store inventory, boxes of herbs, personal belongings, furniture, massive iron stove, was still there. It has all been curated, restored, and carefully arranged to a “working” appearance. I took the ranger-led tour; necessary to see the inside. This turned out to be recorded oral history. I was touched to see such abundant evidence of a slice of past culture and life, now gone, except for this museum. I did ask the ranger; there’s been no continuity in Chinese culture in the area.

Another reason for my pause in John Day was the sky. Dark, cloudy, a profound promise of rain. Sprinkles in John Day turned into brief showers as I headed west through Mt .Vernon and Dayville and on Rt. 26 towards my next destination, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. I’d been here before in 2005, and particularly wanted to return and both enjoy and photograph the Painted Hills Unit. 

I stopped at the park John Day VC to get water and look at the fossil exhibits. I chatted up the ranger. At some point I told him I’d worked for NPS at Grand Canyon. A casual bonding experience: when I told him I was camping, he told me about a secret spot on BLM land that was dead close to the Painted Hills. An excellent steer.

On through Mitchell, and north to Painted Hills. This is a little area, a number of overlapping hills on the side of a broad valley, which are profoundly colorful. They’re composed of lake bed sediments and volcanic ash, which have both altered into clay. This material is so hydrophilic that plants can’t survive on it. The resulting barren hillsides are colored by the trace minerals in the clays: rust red, buff orange, olive green, blue-black, but in spectacularly, jaw-droppingly beautiful layers. I have never been any place as stunning. 

Late afternoon, mostly cloudy, but clearing. A rim trail along the edge of the main Painted Hills vista was the right spot to be for the light. I poked along; so many compelling mixtures of color angle, and texture. I passed another photographer with a full kit of gear; he’d staked his spot, based on the tripod and accessories laid out. I preferred to bounce around. The sky cleared tantalizingly as sunset neared. The sun peaked out. A brief moment of warm light suggested that persisting in the cold wind and camping in the dark was going to be worth it. A cluster of visitors waited with me, huddle on a bench to break the wind. 

7:50 pm, 25 minutes to dark, the sun came out. The glow on the hills became almost other worldly. One hundred and thirty pictures later (I bracket exposures) it was dark and time to camp. The secret BLM spot was just fine.

No comments:

Post a Comment