Monday, January 19, 2009
It's amazing how just taking a drive through the surrounding country can revitalize your soul.
It's also great to just jump in the truck and point your nose to...well, wherever. No plans, no directions and no time table. Now that's relaxing! We didn't have to worry about how long it took to get to the destination and there was no rush to return as long as we were somewhere by o' dark thirty.
There is a little creek that runs through some BLM land about two miles from our house. Everytime I drive by it a little voice in my head says, "You've got to stop and just appreciate the beauty, take some pictures". Yesterday I did that. Even though the morning started out overcast and foggy I thought this would provide some great photos anyway. Most people would just change their mind but weather of any kind can produce some fantastic shots.
There was a slight wind blowing which caused a white dusting of frost to form on all the firs, ponderosas and willows lining the creek. The short winter we've had so far has formed a crust of ice on the shallow lakes and ponds. It may be a small area but I can still get moments of feeling alone with the wilderness.
So I clambered around the icy banks of this little creek, trying to get some good angles. It was just cool to be outside, breathing in the crisp fresh air and listening to the cracking ice as I walked on it. It only took a few minutes but I had finally listened to that little voice. The next time I'll stop when the sun is just short of setting for a different perspective.
Kevin and I took off and headed west into the hills on the other side of the main highway, driving through patchy, snowcovered dirt roads and the forest of jack pines. The truck tires crunched over frozen puddles and the fog burned off, leaving crystals of ice on the branches glistening like millions of tiny reflecting mirrors. Farther up the winding, one-lane road the trail turned into two lines of frigid trenches, forcing the truck to follow and slide at it's will rather than ours. Good thing we were headed downhill on that, it reminded me of being in a bumper car at the fair. We reached the crest of the low ridge and had a bright and clear view of the Matterhorn-like Mt. Thielson with Diamond Peak sitting just to the right. I took a few pictures but my little camera just doesn't give them the majestic credit they are due.
Once again we pointed our noses south through forests of ponderosa. The fog had just lifted from the woods leaving behind powdery white branches and needles. The deep reds of the ponderosa trunks starkly contrasted against the snow, it was ethereal, very calming, oh so quiet out there. You could hear yourself think. Turning my back to the occasional passing vehicle, I could shut out the world and simply feel and smell the peace out there.
Just a few miles south of the enchanted ponderosa woods the landscape totally changes from volcanic rock strewn veins bubbling up through the mixed forerst to a basalt like wall that lines Horse Ranch Canyon. Juniper trees define the cross over immediately and the veiw morphs into a wide plain of sandy, rocky soil dressed in sagebrush named Christmas Lake Valley. This is where Fort Rock is located, a gigantic volcanic bowl that rises up like Ayres' Rock does in Australia. The valley community consists of ranchers and farmers, homes dot the landscape intermittently, you could almost count the ones you can see on both hands. It doesn't snow much down there but the wind can blow and howl enough to put any hurricane to shame. Still, it is a different kind of beauty.
I opted to stop at the local (and only) restaurant for lunch, which Kevin eagerly agreed to.
After ordering a BLT for Kevin and a chicken sandwich for me, we settled down to read the local self-published valley news pamphlet. It's amazing how much goes on 'way out there'. I counted ten churches advertised and a handful of fund-raising potlucks going on at any given time. The highschool was raising money so the band kids could make a trip to Disneyland, someone else had an ad for clothes for the needy, etc., etc. Then I mozied on over to the local want ads. Now here is where you will meet the real people. The real estate jumped from a $3,000.00 lot in town (the town is about as big as one lot) to a three bedroom, two bath stick built home on two acres for, get this, $69,000.00!! Moving down the column to MISC FOR SALE was this one, fit for Jay Leno's blooper ads:
"For Sale: two ton wench, needs some work". Now, most ranchers I know use a winch on their farm equipment but maybe there's something going on 'way out here' that I don't know about. Maybe their winter was a little more harsh than ours even though the snow was almost non-existant. Maybe this little restaurant had the best biscuits and gravy that wench ever had. Kevin and I sat at our little diner table and had a field day tossing that one about while we waited for our meal. We did keep it very low key, though, in case any of the locals took offense to our funnin' with them.
Lunch finished and with a few hours to spare until sunset, Kevin and I drove off down the main highway again, veering left onto another narrow and winding dirt road. I personally believe that winding roads are a lot less boring than a straight-through-get-there trail. And to make it more fun if you're piloting a haymower are the swimming pool sized 'potholes' interspersed about every one hundred feet. As we came upon one that could have been a pond, I asked Kevin, "Do...you...feel...luckeee?" This could have been some ranchers' idea of a "Let's see if the furriners go thru the middle, Clem I'll betcha a few chips they do and boy, when they hit that hole we'll make us a bundle hauling 'em out, har har har!!"
Surviving the icy mine fields, there was a sign that read "Guard Station 2 Miles" and another one that read "Derrick Cave 8 Miles". We both were wondering just what it was out there that would require a guard station. I was thinking it's where all the bad "guards" go for punishment. The only thing out there are minute volcanic mounds, juniper trees, sagebrush, jackrabbits and coyotes. Oh, and those Godzilla sized power lines that run from one end of the horizon to the other.
Surviving the off-road trail, we came upon an area with a cylindrical formation jutting up into the sky. At first we thought this may be where Derrick Cave was. I told Kevin, "You know I HAVE to go up there!". It was there, it had to be clumb. Of course, standing at the base of it doesn't look anything like it does when you reach the rim. It was kind of cool, though. Looking at the rock you could see millions of big and tiny holes, some looking like porous bone and other parts looking like melted chocolate. There were a few small caves but we discussed the fact that they certainly weren't worth climbing all the way up there for. Derrick Cave had to be somewhere else. As we learned later, we hadn't gone far enough but that was due to the fact that the rest of the road was just a sheer sheet of ice, uphill. So we'll save that discovery for another day.
I like Christmas Valley, I like the name, the wide open vastness and listening to the wind whistle through the 'bob-war' fences and windmills. I like the simplicity of information you get. If you are on some back road as we were and you think you may be lost, just look for the cross-shaped post with a sign that says, "OUT". I'm not quite sure why but there are signs all along the two-lane highway that say, "COWS"...and they're only two feet tall. Maybe with all that time during the long winter they teach their cows to read.