Skip to main content

EVOLVING ROADS: Car Camping with Kip & Rico (Part Three)

From my supine perspective in the giant mosquito-net house, the snoring noise emanating from the S.E. corner is, by deduction, Kip, who must have migrated from his chair sometime before dawn. But it is the heat-lamp-like beams of the sun that have prodded me from unconsciousness as my body begins to glisten like greasy chicken on a buffet island. I shed my sleeping-bag cover and risk the mosquitoes outside, seeking shade. Outside, I see Rico’s sleeping bag in the shadow cast by his cot. Whether he got there by accidental tumble, instinct, or conscious strategy is uncertain, but I’d guess some mixture of the last two options.

The inexorable advance of the sun prods us to action (even if it is sluggish action). Our sleeping accouterments get folded, stuffed or rolled. Beer cans are policed. Cookware and plates are cosmetically cleaned under a less than rigorous paper-towel protocol. The bags and boxes and ice-chests are re-sorted into the vehicles. Finally, the appropriate lures are chosen from personal fishing arsenals for enticing those particular fish that reason suggests might accumulate at the base of significant falls.

If truth be told, however, my personal fishing arsenal consists of a blunt collection of bass tools that are increasingly obviously not fooling any trout. Instead, I reach for a long lens and lag behind Rico as he descends into the canyon. I try to catch a different kind of magic — all the richness of an instant in time — as Rico plumbs the recesses of the plunge pool.

We stop to top off the fuel tanks in Adel. 

Kip asks, “Is this town named after the famous singer?”  He knows full well that it isn’t. 

The gas pump is at a little island near a patchwork building that appears to be a combo bar, gift shop, restaurant and, curiously,  youth hang-out.  I say that because a trio of teens wearing reasonably coordinated shirts and pants (smartly accessorized with coonskin caps... and side-arms) materialize out from behind the adjacent tiny one-room post-office structure and saunter across the parking lot. They enter the combo-building as if they own it. Struck by the novelty of the coonskin caps, I reach for my camera in hopes of documenting what appears to me to be a rural 'gang'.  But I quickly check my impulse to take pictures despite the attraction of the glorious ring-tailed headwear. I reason that even though my college degree was in Art (which really doesn’t qualify as a college degree)  I might still, because of my unfamiliarity with local customs, be mistaken as a liberal elite. I well remember the day I unexpectedly met my girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend in a small-town Kansas pub only to have my friendliest overtures interpreted as negative comments regarding his mother. Perhaps it would be wise to not draw undue attention in this Eastern Oregon outpost where I am a visitor.

A young mother handles the gas nozzle, all the while simultaneously admonishing the actions of her feral 5-year-old (who runs loose, tasting unlikely objects). When she finishes with the vehicles, caps screwed tight and little doors slammed shut, she manages to wish us a pleasant day as we pull away without incident.

The landscapes begin to impress themselves into the moldable regions of our brains. The high plateaus are overrun with water-hungry juniper bushes — prickly shrubs with sights set on becoming trees. Competing grasses wither and dust devils rise from the parched soil. Basalt crumbles under the assault of alternating hot and cold temperature extremes. None of it seems very hospitable. But in the pauses, in the moments when you catch your breath or sip from a frozen Pabst Blue Ribbon can, or gaze toward blue bands of mountains shimmering on the horizon — subtle movements betray life hiding in the cracks and shadows, sometimes at your very feet. Western Sage lizards start and skitter from crevice to crevice. Cottontails explode out of nowhere into frantic zig-zag sprints, barely touching the earth. Then they freeze in golden grasses, effectively invisible while still. Striped chipmunks display a fatal indecisiveness when attempting to cross paved highways but otherwise materialize here and there as if traversing different dimensions between point A and point B.

Rico, in an uncharacteristic fit of near poetry, attempts to express some fundamental truth of the animating power of nature, and how this truth has been expressed through the millennia and recorded on the rocks we have been examining — by people who hunted and lived according to Earth’s benevolence.

Rico seems to suggest that merely by viewing the ancient petroglyphs, we somehow benefit. Perhaps by some spiritual osmosis, the Shaman’s art enlightens us, though literal understanding eludes us.

To me, this sounds like some shit I might say — not my scientist friend. Certainly, art can touch us at emotional levels and thereby move us to action. Maybe, in the end, that is the power of the Shamans. But rock art seems notoriously able to resist interpretation, and whether it is the work of influential medicine men or the graffiti of idle children remains a point of debate. Regardless, like a hapless Fox Mulder, I want to believe in the power of art.

As the miles pass, we begin to stretch beyond Rico’s familiar spots to destinations unknown to us. Rich locales described in the Loring and Loring book provide an impetus to climb higher and higher into the high desert which has the effect of making the term ‘high desert’ less and less precise (shouldn’t it really be the ‘really high desert' by now?).

Soon we begin to mistake temporary streambeds for roads or imagine the general direction of a turn-off according to a subtle change in the color of the grass.  Kip’s modified Montero with its new manly suspension and virile tires keeps apace with Rico’s time-tested Jeep. 

Since that first night of gentle aerosol showers, the sky has been squeezed clean of clouds so that the atmosphere nearly begins to suck moisture from the ground and from all living things. Following behind the Jeep means breathing a dusty wake of grit and sage pollen. My nose whistles as dirt and drying mucous construct obfuscating booger castles deep in my nostril passages. I long to pick them and feel ready to argue that doing so publicly would be justified.

After half a day of bouncing over road-optional terrain, Rico and Kip eventually remember that reducing the air pressure in their tires improves traction, flexibility, and flotation. By now, the sun is at its zenith. The appearance of two shade trees corresponds with the disappearance of the road we are following.

The Earth has provided shade.
We sit in it.

Rico and Kip adjust their tire pressures.

If you ask a medical device engineer, a project manager and an art major what this is, you’d get an answer something like, an arrowhead workshop. Take it for what it’s worth.

The vehicles climb ever upward until we reach the top of the world — 360 degrees of horizon. The sky seems closer, almost as if you could see through the blue and off into space. Before us lies a vast playa that stretches to the East for miles — a flat basin surrounded by basalt rimrock — a ghost lake laid out before heaven.

Scattered on the surrounding rimrock and isolated boulders, we are pleased to find hundreds of pecked and carved designs.

I have a flashback. I can remember back to an idyllic time when my parents took me and my siblings to a lake to camp with a number of their friends and their families. This temporary community joined together to catch crawfish, and all the children ventured out into the shallow water and contributed to the effort. The adults sat around a large fire with a boiling pot, drinking forbidden beverages and laughing and talking. The cadences of these voices created a background noise that flowed into the night and braided us together, something like a dog’s comfort jacket. I couldn’t exactly hear what any particular adult was saying, but I could feel the ebb and flow of emotions, joy, laughter, surprise and comfortable silences — the telling of yarns, jokes, and secrets. Finally exhausted, my eyelids slowly drifted closed and I disappeared into oblivion.

Here in this dusty basin, in the face of all these images, I imagine I can hear a similar noise — a similar story, but in a language I can’t decipher.

When I catch up with Kip and Rico, they are standing before a virtual chapel of images.

Rico speculates that the production of petroglyphs must have been noisy. I remember my college sculpture studio and the characteristic rhythms of the wood carvers, or the jewelers, or the bronze casters chasing their castings. I wonder what the petroglyph carvers sounded like and vow to create my own petroglyph to find out…

(But not here).

Windblown soil from the plateau above is periodically washed into the basin. Ever so slowly, this process of erosion is burying some of the designs.

We spend as much time here as we can, but eventually re-acquire the trucks and turn our attention to finding our next campsite.

Over the next horizon, it becomes obvious we weren’t at the top of the world after all.

Kip said, “Look!”
I said, “That’s the muddiest lake I’ve ever seen.”
Kip said, “That’s the Alvord Desert.”

We set up camp at Mann Lake at the base of Steens Mountain, from this side, a sheer, 1-mile high vertical escarpment.

Rico casts into the shallow lake. He hopes to add another species to the list of species he’s caught — the desert-adapted Lahontan cutthroat trout. Unfortunately for us, the lake appears to be only 6 inches deep.

The wind acts funny around here. Though it is clear the wind is blowing, the clouds hover in place above us. It calls to mind the way you can, among rapids, maneuver your boat into quiet eddies behind rocks in the midst of the maelstrom.

Kip sets his tent up, throwing his sleeping accouterments into the shelter to weigh it down. 

A steady breeze makes it difficult to use our gas range. We build an aluminum foil wind-break which allows us to make this evening’s edition of our trout tacos. This evening’s cocktails start out as rum and cokes, but there isn’t much rum left so we switch to screwdrivers. When the screwdrivers run out we switch to coke and tequila. 

“What’s coke and tequila called?” somebody asks.

“Joanie and Chachis,” says Kip knowing full well it isn’t.

A short time later, as Kip eats his second fish taco, we hear a noise that sounds something like a speeding train. The noise grows in volume until suddenly Kip's tent bounces into the back of his head as part of the leading edge of a vigorous wall of wind. As suddenly as it arrived, it’s over. But Kip gets the hint and ties his tent to his Montero.

The eddy-surfing clouds accompany us into the night. Beyond, a spiral arm of our galaxy once again marches across the sky

I stare transfixed — until exhausted.

My eyes slowly close.

I disappear into oblivion.

Continue to PART FOUR?




Popular Posts

John Day River: Thirty Mile Creek to Cottonwood Bridge

"Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse;"-Romans 1:20

"I'm not so sure about that, but whether or not we all make it through these rapids alive, I'm confident the grading criteria will be fair." - Scott

"Get ready to explore your world without boundaries." - Wilderness Systems Owners Manual

Sunrise found us on the outskirts of Wasco, high on the Columbia Plateau, our 3 vehicle convoy speeding through golden fields of wheat on toward Condon and then West to a 7:30 AM meeting with a rancher who would provide us a private launch site to the John Day river and also execute our car shuttle.

Startling verdant fields, free of the vestiges of irrigation, belied narratives of drought that punctuated the news. The fresh born morning, still cool to the senses, felt like the fledgling hours of a new creation.

The rancher…

Test Paddling the Tarpon 160 (finally)

The problem with 'objectivity' is that it's usually 'subjectivity' cleverly disguised as objectivity.
I've wanted the Tarpon 160 ever since I saw it sitting in the rack at the kayak shop. However, I'm trying to take the universal advice of the broad community of kayakers who suggest that choosing a kayak is a personal choice based on how a particular boat fits one's body and objectives, and so, going through the motions of due diligence, I've finally come to the day when I actually get to paddle my dream boat.
It doesn't escape my attention that I seem to have a Wilderness Systems' bias. The first kayak I ever sat in was their 12 foot plastic Pungo which delivered me down the SandyRiver without making me a candidate for the Darwin Awards. The first kayak I ever bought (so far the only kayak I ever bought) was their Tsunami 125 which has, over the last eight years, patiently taught me everything I know about kayaking except for that bit of advi…

Test Paddling the Thresher 140

Wilderness Systems has broadened their sit-on-top offerings this year with the introduction of the Thresher (this includes a 14 and 15.5 foot version). The Thresher seems designed to bridge a gap between overly stable, relatively slow fishing platforms and sleeker more touring-orientated craft, all for the sake of fisher-people who need to cover significant distances to reach their intended fishing locales, whether that's in the middle of a huge bay or out beyond the breakers in the open sea

The characteristics that make this boat a good fishing option, should also make it a killer expedition photography platform/beer barge. I knew my test trials wouldn't be complete until I auditioned this state of the art bid for kayak fishing supremacy.

I've probably been remiss for not highlighting this before, but the reason I've been able to rent and evaluate various sit-on-top kayaks is because of the reasonable and renter friendly policies of the Next Adventure team at the paddle…

Miller Island Expedition: Columbia River Ghost Cult

My brother Fred sent me a checklist of things he didn’t want to forget for our second attempt at a Miller Island Expedition.

Foil pans
Beer or whiskey/tequila
Bug spray
Ghost repellents

Scouting Miller Island from the Lewis and Clark Highway (Washington side of river)

“Ghost repellents?” I asked.

Well, it turns out that Fred had been doing some research and found an old article from American Anthropologist by Wm. Duncan Strong called The Occurrence and Wider Implications of a “Ghost Cult” on the Columbia River Suggested by Carvings in Wood, Bone and Stone. The article, written in 1945, revealed that bone carvings depicting figures with prominent rib cages, a symbol of death, were found in old cremation pits on Miller’s Island.

Excerpts from the article:

“It can be shown that among these peoples there was an old belief in the impending destruction and renewal of the world, when the dead would return…”

“One of the most striking features of Northwest Coast m…

TILIKUM CROSSING, Bridge of the People, Portland OR


I saw the comment in a social media forum - a private group for hikers. I was yet unaware that the group was a loose confederation of fairly opinionated if not quite warring factions. The comment seemed innocent enough. It was a veiled plea to start a civil debate about editing waterfalls. The gist of it was this, “...the smooth water effect looks very unnatural. Almost looks like it’s trying to trick folks who don’t have the opportunity to go and see waterfalls themselves.” As the post began to generate more and more comments, the ambiguity of “Almost looks like…” slowly became more explicit as in “ is intentionally deceiving people who have not seen the waterfall... Just curious to hear if anyone feels the same way.”
The “smooth water effect” refers to the silky, blurred look that happens to moving water in long-exposure photographs.

At about a hundred comments into the thread, the original poster had distilled his viewpoint to this: “It’s negative in my mind because it’s an inac…

Eagle Creek Fire Jumps Over the Columbia: Childless Adults Even More Thankful to be Childless.

The Columbia River Gorge 09/05/2017 at 3:00am (As viewed from the Cape Horn Viewpoint on SR 14. Phoca Rock visible in middle of river.)

The Columbia River Gorge 05/31/2010 (from Cape Horn Viewpoint)

I've aligned these images based on the positions of Phoca Rock and the navigational structure in the middle of the river to estimate what areas are burning.

When I arrived at the viewpoint, it seemed I had missed the explosive advance of the fire's front. Still, as the wind gusted, and photographers scrambled to secure their tripods, one or another tree or other combustible item would explode like a solar flare.

The smoke stung my eyes. The buffeting breeze reminded me of speeding through central Oregon on a 104 degree day with the windows down.

Whenever the breeze lagged, voluminous, billowing smoke would hang briefly, as if in collusion with the ravenous flames, attempting to cover their sins of gluttony.

Starting around 4:00am, I started receiving emails indicating that the fire had j…

IF I DON'T GET PAID, DOES THAT MAKE ME — PROMISCUOUS? : I Perform an Unsolicited Review of the Danuu WingMan Kayak Fishing Seat Accessory Pack

I carefully chose my kayak to be my ultimate photography platform, beer-barge, expedition capable, multi-tasking water-craft, and it has exceeded my expectations.

One thing I hadn’t foreseen, however, was my evolution as a fisherperson.  At first, pressured into fishing by my growing awareness of what I’ll term a sort of ‘karmic imbalance’…

…I soon began to experience brief bouts of not just ‘fishing’, but also ‘catching’, and the catching part turns out to be — really, really fun.

But much like photography, the activity of fishing soon suggests a plethora of accessories and additional tools that need to be juggled in the confines of the kayak cockpit. Obviously, there’s fishing poles and lures and baits and anchors that need to have their places — places where they can be easily and quickly acquired.
The manufacturer of my kayak (Wilderness Systems) is way ahead of me here. They’ve thoughtfully included something they call the SlideTrax Accessory System and of course, a molded cup-holde…


They say Native Americans carved petroglyphs at the base of Willamette Falls, an ancient fishing site. I’ve paddled up to the falls a couple of times to find the old markings, but always seem to miss them. The massive horseshoe-shaped falls are over a quarter mile wide and are blended in with concrete and steel industrial structures that make its natural configuration something of a puzzle.

I figured a fresh set of eyes would improve my chances of finding the petroglyphs, so I invited Karen, who had previously expressed an interest in learning to kayak. Karen and I are part of the same extended church family, but more like cousins who almost never visit each other. In the past, she has tried to kill me with a heavy piñata stick and also a spring roll (the spring roll wasn't really her fault). Having Karen along makes even the most pedestrian outing more like a life and death adventure — at least for me.

Smoke, presumably from California’s wildfires, interfered with the dawn and colo…


(Formerly, Used Home-made Solar Filter for Sale: Only Used Once!)

In the Pacific Northwest, I’ve become accustomed to spending many a meteor shower shivering in the dark beneath opaque cloud covers.
So there are clouds.
Then, as the media began hyping a once in a lifetime opportunity, the prospect of a million or so extra commuters on the road to Salem made a 99% solar eclipse sound pretty good.
So there’s traffic.
But Mr. and Mrs. P began helping me chip away at these objections until all that was left was the question of equipment.
I had access to two possible camera choices. A Panasonic point-and-shoot with a lens boasting a 600mm focal length (35mm equivalent) or a Canon digital DSLR /Sigma 70-300mm zoom lens combo. Because the Canon’s APS-C sensor has a crop factor of 1.6 the 35mm equivalent is approximately 480mm.  Neither of these  choices has enough ‘reach’ to create images in which the sun fills the frame, so I started giving extra credence to articles that encouraged NOT taking ph…