I woke at 6:00 am only to go back to sleep while Caleb broke down the tent, since it was rained on recently we set it up last night to dry out, and took a shower. It was a good decision to get a room for the night because this morning there is ice on the car and the temperature at 7:00 am is 30 degrees. I almost lost an earring this morning, gifted to me by Robert. I was in the shower, in a small bathroom, and it fell in the sink.
There is still snow as tall as us on the ground as we make our way to Crater Lake National Park, and we are surprised by the hood of a car we see sticking out amongst the pile of white flakes that have accumulated through the winter. The evergreen trees, small patches of grass, bright sunshine, and running water give us a false hope that we will see the deepest caldera lake, at 1,949 feet, in the U.S.
The road through the parking lot is walled with snow. They have done some serious cleaning so that rangers can man the station, but out of the 44 feet that fell there is still ten of it on the ground. Inside we are told we will have better luck at the end of the month. We will make the most of this visit by exploring the few items for sale, the educational displays, and getting pictures of the snow covering the windows – something new for someone raised in the south.
Outside, Caleb will attempt to either climb the wall or throw himself in it. Either way the expressions on his face are worth it – it’s cold. We will stop on Crater Lake Hwy, out of the park, to enjoy more of the snowless terrain. While on our walk we find a Cialis 10mg 3-pack empty, a Hamm’s beer can that has been depleted, and what’s left of a teal Trojan wrapper – all among the gravel and pine needles – romantic, trashy (in the sense that they didn’t pick up after themselves), and partially dangerous due to sharp sticks nearby.
Time for my second muffin that will conclude my breakfast before we walk around the Mill Creek Falls Scenic Area. And though we may be worried about being washed away if the power dam floods our minds are skipping down memory lane as we realize we are seeing part of the Rogue River – the bypass reach (Avenue of the Boulders). This section is Class 5, expert only. We were guided by Jerry’s Rogue Jets on a 104-mile round-trip ride through six rapids one-way and a stop for lunch from Gold Beach – on the other side of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
Cookie and coffee from the café for lunch and gas from the station pumped by Santa’s dad. At the western end of Hwy 46 there is the Illinois Valley Visitor Center that tells you more about the Oregon Caves National Monument with a few things to know before you go: must be at least 42 inches tall to go on a tour with over 500 steps, the temperature inside is 44 degrees, and the 19-mile road to get there should take about 45 minutes.
At the information booth/ticket center/gift shop at the eastern end of the road we learn that the marble that is now 4,000 feet above sea level used to be a bacterial reef on the Pacific Ocean floor. We also read that the extra coldness of this cave has help preserve the bones from scavengers, weather, and acidic soil revealing the most northern found jaguar skull and oldest grizzly bear bones in North America, and the best record of a salamander in the West.
Some animals are only found here, though we won’t see any of them. They are a colorless millipede, a harvestman with extra-large front limbs, and an ice crawler that needs year-round cool temperatures to survive. We sign up for the 2:30 pm cave tour and are joined by our guide Steve and two sisters over 60, one is 72, with their husbands. With such a small group I’m able to get plenty of pictures of the cave that supports the animals and roots, with flowing and dripping water, that call this hole home.
There is not a lack of color in here. And when we get to the signature wall we see one dated to 1897 – only 115 years ago. It would be neat if the caves with such old art, dating over 30,000 years ago and more, were able to sustain the constant damage that light and human presence cause so that I could gaze amongst those marks left so long ago by people living in what could be considered another world – no cars, lights, phones, or sliced bread. We come out the other side of the half-mile passage 90 minutes later.
On the 0.75 mile walk back to the visitor center I learn that the two couples live in Oregon. The younger sister got her hip replaced in Jan. ’09 before her 13-month-in-advance trip for May ’09 to hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim. She had broken it while skiing and doubled her rehab so that she may be slow when the trip came, but she would be able. Her sister had one knee replaced 3 months ago and the other one 7 years ago – the effect she says of backpacking for 35-40 years.
Outside the cave we see green moss, blue birds, and marble rock. Then I spot some morel mushrooms. Had we been on public property we would’ve had those with dinner. Back down the Cliff Nature Trail and we part ways. It’s nice to meet fellow travelers with so much enthusiasm that they won’t let overly used parts, or the age excuse, stand in their way of fun. We linger in front of their waterfall-pond before walking back down to the car.
The campsites are still closed for the season, but the space in front of the gate is more than enough room to park the car and make mac-n-cheese. I fed the dogs, made sure they were full, walked them around some, and then gave them treats – dogs are like kids, and me, never too full for dessert. It will be another 19 miles back to Cave Junction and then 13 miles to the California border where we go through agricultural inspection.
Eighteen miles from the state line on Hwy 199 is the Darlingtonia Trail. It’s a short 0.2 mile loop, but it takes us to a bog full of the California Pitcher Plants, more like a praying cobra snake than a large beverage-serving dish. They are mostly green and mottled with purple and able to survive in this highly toxic environment along with flowers nearby made of pink, white, and yellow, and poison oak.
Not far from the bog, a mile and a half, is the Panther Flats Campground where we will claim spot 11 for the night. We got here just in time to walk to the river and back as the night got darker. We were able to make dinner and set up the tent in the dark. Two hours later and a car will park across from us. It’s cool to be so close to another group, but have trouble seeing them because the stars don’t drop enough light through the trees, giving the false impression of more distance and solitude.