Odometer Reading: 174
Despite turning the heat on the yurt (what a lovely invention) it was still a bit chilly in the high desert when we woke up sometime after 7 a.m. I made some hot cocoa for the kiddos (cooked on the propane burner instead this time!) and found an intriguing entry in our copy of Only in Oregon, a rock garden out near Bend. Of course, the book didn’t have an address for the place and my map didn’t list it and I couldn’t just Google it. But my sister could. So I called her up, she searched it, read me the driving instructions and I wrote them in blue Sharpie on the only paper I could find, our now-empty food bag.
With Stuart as my navigation guide, we managed to drive straight to Petersen’s Rock Gardens. Thankfully, Google got this one right because there wasn’t a single sign until we got to their street, then it was only a small plywood sign propped against the fence.
Petersen’s Rock Garden turned out to be a highlight of our time in eastern Oregon; we spent more than an hour looking around at all the creations that Mr. Petersen constructed nearly 50 years ago. There were bridges and buildings and water ponds and fountains and lots of miniatures houses, mansions, and churches. The kids thought it was great and were willing, even though I resisted, to run through the sprinkler to get to the small island in the middle of a lily-covered pond. The array of rocks was astonishing, with obsidian, cinder rock, and petrified woods, among many, many others that have names I don’t know. The strangest thing about the place? The forty peacocks they have that wander the property, yelling what sounds like “Help!”
We drove down the Old Bend-Redmond Highway toward Bend, merging onto I-97 somewhere along the way then stopped for a bit o’ pizza at Pizza Mondo in downtown Bend.
We had to stop at Safeway and while there, I listened to the voicemails that had piled up; unfortunately, it wasn’t all good news. Seems as if despite the letter of intent I’d signed back in May, and the reassurances from everyone, I won’t be working at MLC next year. I’ve been re-assigned to Grout Elementary School, a decision that leaves bewildered and infuriated. A large part of the reason I do this job, with an annual salary of less than $20K, is because I get to work at my kids’ school. I don’t want to work at another school; I love working in Special Ed, but without the perks of being near my kids, the idea of working so hard for so little, leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. So, second day on vacation, I find out that my job search (which began in June for fear of this happening) has just intensified dramatically. Now I get to stress about it for two weeks while pretending to have fun on vacation. Awesome
After filling up at the Fred Meyer gas station we hit the road, driving south toward Crater Lake. The kids got a brief lesson in directions via the Three Sisters mountains. We kept them on the right, following the Cascades south toward the historic Mt. Mazama.
Climbing the mountain road, the temperature began to drop out of the 90s and we were able to roll down the windows and stop breathing our own recycled A/C air. Then we saw the snow. The paradox of warm air and snow was both strange and wonderful and all the kids took the first opportunity they could to get out and start flinging snowballs at each other.
Together, the four of us walked up the hill to the first viewpoint of Crater Lake; It was so huge and the water was so blue that it seemed almost unreal. It was stunning and I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like to be one of those first people who stumbled upon this lake on top of a mountain. And I can’t believe that it took me 34 years of living in Oregon to finally see Crater Lake. Now that we’d made it, we did the usual: took photos posing in front of Wizard Island, running the ash through our fingers and stomping around in the snow with shorts and flip-flops.
As we drove around the lakes, we stopped at other viewpoints and learned new bits about the place. It’s more than 1900 ft. deep at its lowest point. There are actually three cinder cones in the lake, but the only one we can see above the water is Wizard Island. Pets have been know to jump over the barrier and fall to their deaths. And those little chipmunks aren’t chipmunks at all, they’re Cascade golden-mantled ground squirrels. That last fact still baffles me.
Our campsite was on the southern side of the mountain, still within the boundaries of the National Park which, by the way, cost $30 just to enter the grounds. Mazama Village is a campground/RV Park/convenience store/gas station/restaurant combo that I found online and made reservations. Despite the reservations, it took more than a half hour waiting in line to finally check-in and get our campsite. And when we finally drove the car to the very end loop, to our site, we couldn’t even get out to cook dinner; it was over-run by mosquitoes. Having lived in a tropical country, I’m not really freaked out by mosquitoes anymore: I’ve seen a lot of them; I’ve had my fair share of bites. But Vietnam was nothing like this. They were everywhere–batting them from our faces and off each others’ backs.
The mosquitoes literally swarmed on the car and it felt a bit like that scene in Jumanji as the they tried getting in through our windows. Each window would have a dozen or more of them, wishing they could have at us. We all ventured out, but when I opened the trunk to get out the tents and sleeping bags, the little blood-suckers came in droves. In a mad rush, Stuart and I threw up the tents while the girls climbed back into the car, killing the ones that had followed them in. We dropped the sleeping bags just outside the tents, I shoved the food into the bear box (last thing I needed was a bear coming into our camp) and ran back into the relative safety of the car.
It was past six and the kids were hungry, but there was no way in Hades I was standing out there to boil rice and heat up sauce I’d brought along. No way. Our only choice in the middle of the wilderness was the Mazama Village restaurant. If it would’ve been me, I’d have snacked on trail mix until the next day, but I had three kids to feed and the trail mix/granola bar menu was wearing thin on them. So, I sucked it up and bought them dinner, a one-price fits all buffet. So much for saving money by camping…dinner cost an astounding $65.
Depressed by spending a tenth of our total budget on one meal and horrified by the idea of spending the rest of the evening in our tent listening to mosquitoes buzz around us, we decided to take a scenic drive. The 33-mile loop around the lake would, I figured, take at least an hour and by then it’d be closer to bedtime. And that’s just how it worked. The scenic viewpoints were seen from the car since those darn skeeters had taken over the entire park by now, but it didn’t seem to matter much. Along the way, we decided to follow the signs down to the Pinnacles Overlook, a seven-mile diversion from the loop and well-worth it. These spires, or pinnacles, were created by hot gases trying to escape the earth at the time of the eruptions and the heat caused the surrounding ash to solidify into stone and over the years,the erosion has exposed them. Now there are dozens of them down there. They’re strange, yet beautiful in their own strange way. At the Pinnacles, the bugs were decidedly less prevalent, so we wandered down the trail and got a magnificent view of some pinnacles with the sun, low in the sky, behind them. Lovely, but the camera just couldn’t deal with the intensity of the sun’s light. As we drove down the side road to the Pinnacles, we saw a pine marten running across the road. I thought it was a ferret then a fox, but Audrey knew what it was, thanks to her field trip to the John Day Fossil Beds.
By the time we’d looped around and made it back to our campsite it was just past 9 and time for bed. I hopped out and stood by the tent as each kid jumped out of the car and ran into the tent with their sleeping bag, then I quickly zipped it shut behind them. Getting Stuart in, I could hear the girls clapping the mosquitoes to death. I climbed in last, sleeping with the girls and we killed off the last of them before lying down to sleep. Of course, I had a root in my back and neither girl had grabbed a bottle of water like I’d asked, so I had to run back out to the car to get one for them. Somewhere along the way, a mosquito bit my eyelid, but I wouldn’t know until morning.