Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bend and Back, Part 2

Over the Siskiyou's ... all the bridge work is done, two lanes each way over Turntable Bay (yay!), which was a nightmare for two snowy holiday seasons. Exit 5 at Weed, onto 97 north, which is the road through Central Oregon. Clear sailing the whole way - no snow, even though the TripCheck Cam shots showed it along the road only a day earlier. Arrived in Bend around 3, picked up the U-Haul truck and headed to the house.

Chuck and Barb, my lovely wife Risa and I, and another great Friday night dinner at Baltazar's. Highly recommended semi-upscale Mexican food, on Century Drive (the road up to Mt. Bachelor). Although they serve a great Margarita, tonight seemed like a martini night, so it was Kettle One ... up with a twist, for Chuck and myself. The carne asada was tempting, and I have in fact had it a half dozen times, but I opted for the beef and chicken molcajete, which was awesome. They also do wonders with prawns and mushrooms, in several different ways. Great spot.

Saturday was pack up the truck day, which my back has been reminding me of for the past several days. But we finished in time to go to a dinner party in our honor, and see lots of our favorite people. Chris made a great coconut milk-based Thai basil soup, Barb did a simple but tasty salad, and individual chocolate desserts that were awesome. John and Cathy did some great braised ribs for an appetizer, and of course martinis and wines were flowing.

We miss Bend, our friends, the seasons, the beautiful Deschutes River across the street from our house, the fly fishing (like there's another kind of fishing, right?), Sisters the town, and Sisters the mountains, the quaint downtown, and just the low key feeling that abounds. But it's a tough place to make a living ... and then there's the winters. We read of four "mild" seasons. The mild winters generally produce the first snow in early November, and it snowed on Mother's Day last year and Memorial Day the year before (which put a huge damper on my 10th annual Meatfest BBQ!). That's not mild for someone raised in California. But it's tolerable, and you learn to live with it. Bottom line is that we miss our home in Bend. Haven't decided what to do with it yet ... I'm assuming the housing market will dictate accordingly.

The ride back was beautiful. Long, but for some reason I really enjoy it. I've found that breaking it up in "chunks" of landscape tends to make it go by quicker, and much more pleasurably.

Heading south out of Bend, the first "chunk" is the ride to Klamath Falls. A slight climb over Lava Butte, past the vacation community of Sunriver, through the booming communities of LaPine, Crescent, Gilchrist, and Chemult. There are several turnoffs to the West, which takes you through some beautiful mountainous (and snowy) country, past Crater Lake, and into either Eugene or Medford. South of Chemult is about the only "bend" in the otherwise straight road ... a couple curves that take you past the logging museum, and some beautiful river scenery on the left. I always seem to forget to have my fly rod with me when driving through here. I have to find the time to "stop" and do some fishing, as opposed to just looking at the river while flying through here!

At 100 miles south of Bend (on the nose, curiously), you see the first glance of Mt. Shasta, which at this point is usually no more than a shadow behind the closer Cascade peaks. But it's a cool peek at a spectacular peak. And then it's out of view for another 25 miles, emerging in all its majesty as a sight to behold. Snow covered to about half way up its steel slope at this time of year, but soon to be a giant white cone. You really don't get the full effect from a can of Shasta Cola, by the way.

Klamath Lake is interesting. I'm finally embracing it and appreciating it under a variety of conditions, but for the first several trips it struck me as being moody at the very least, and almost eerie sometimes. It's shallow, I've read. If you see a boat on this vast lake, it's small, and very close to the shore. No water skiing or even larger cruising / fishing boats on the lake, ever. And when traveling around the lake on a pitch dark moonless night when it's also snowing, you tend to question your sanity. One side of the road is a very steep incline with frequent slides (signs reading "rocks" appear on the roadside, and it's quite evident why they're placed there). The "lake" side of the road is literally right off the lake, with only a railroad track separating the tired wary driver from a dip in what surely is a very chilly (but on the plus side, shallow!) lake. On one particularly icy trip south, we watched a truck that was pulling a little trailer spin several times, directly in front of us. Miraculously, it avoided the afore-mentioned icy dip in the pool.

Klamath Falls, or "K-Falls" as the Oregonians call it, is easy to overlook. I'm sure there are interesting parts of town, but haven't investigated it thorougly enough. I'm usually in a hurry to get to Bend or back to the Bay Area, and only have time for lunch, at best. One spot that I can definitely recommend is a truck stop / restaurant called Mollie's. Dive-like from the outside, it's actually a friendly restaurant with a tasty menu, and provides a welcome relief from several hours of driving from either the north or south. Breakfasts are huge, the burgers and sandwiches are great (the "smothered" burger with sauteed mushrooms is awesome). Try it if you're in the area. Safe, quick, reasonable food.

Next "chunk" is the long stretch from K-Falls to Weed. Huge, flat expanses of shallow wetlands, narrow irrigation waterways, and to our collective delight ... eagles. Hawks are guaranteed, and it seems that every three or four electric poles sports a proud bird surveying the surroundings for its dinner. But the eagles, although rare, live here too. And wow, what a sight. I've been into birds all my life (inherited from my aunt Ivy no doubt, who co-authored an early edition of "Field Guide to Western Birds"), but you just never get over seeing an eagle. Sitting on an electric pole, or a fence, or flying with the grace of an angel, they're simply incredible. My favorite bird has always been the Great Blue Heron (could be the next tattoo, as a matter of fact), but there's nothing more majestic than an eagle.

In addition to the hawks and eagles, this little chunk of real estate also features some major speed traps and Oregon troopers with nothing better to do than tag you for exceeding the ridiculously low 55 MPH that's imposed everywhere in Central Oregon. But alas, just prior to the (once again) booming metropolis of Dorris, CA ... the land of 65 MPH returns. Ah ... sanity. Cruise through Dorris slowly, be nice to the people at the agricultural check station, and it's on to Weed.

This little chunk (Dorris to Weed) is one of the prettiest parts of the trip. Still high desert, but the terrain is simply gorgeous. Sparse trees, awesome distant peaks, Shasta looming on the left, and a landscape that looks like the pictures sent back by the Mars Rover. Stop at the vista point, or you'll always wish you had done so. There's no better view of Shasta unless you own a Cessna.
The little town of Weed is the turnoff point to Highway 5, which is the main artery through the center of the Golden State.

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