West Coast Report Seven: Tuesday

Over the mountains and through the woods

Slag Heap

We headed south from Bend and entered beautiful forest land. There wasn't nearly as much underbrush as on the western slopes, and we aren't sure if that's because of less water or more lumbering (as in tree-cutting, not heavy-footedness). But suddenly we came upon what looked like manufacturing slag dumped unceremoniously alongside the highway. The shock of such an eyesore made us wonder if Oregon deserved its reputation as environmentally friendly. Added to the noxious cars we've followed (with Oregon plates), we were ready to acknowledge the state didn't live up to its reputation.

Then, we had to retract our eye pollution accusations. (The noisomeness of the cars remains unretracted.*) The next turnoff led to the Lava Lands National Park. Apparently Mother Nature can outdo our efforts in all sorts of ways. Mind you, if we're persistent, we can make a horrid mess of the landscape or lakescape, but we're pikers compared to what the planet itself can produce.

Here were about ten square miles of forest land that were replaced about two thousand years ago with a lava flow. To imagine this, figure out some place that's about a mile-and-a-half north of you. Now, a place that far south. And east, then west. Now, all of it is replaced by flowing lava. I've picked out Truman Corners and Bannister Mall from my house, over to the middle of Ruskin and back to Grandview Road. Most of Kansas City would remain untouched, except for the minor problem of uncontrollable fires and dark ash clouds. But the city could rebuild itself up to the edge of the lava flow pretty quickly, as did the forests in Central Oregon. But we'd have to bring in the big, huge, gigantic equipment to build on the lava flow, and we'd probably do the same as the forest: leave it alone, as a monument to what we can't control.

The flow cooled off, the lava settled into a very rough and rocky landscape, with rock hills and rock valleys and a few scattered plants beginning the process of rebuilding the soil. One small tree is just off the asphalt path (a walking trail was put in for us tenderfeet), and that's about the largest plant on the flow. A few animals (ground squirrels were all we saw) are reputed to be moving back, so the plants have small allies in the reclamation project.

Considering that this all happened about the beginning of the Roman Empire (even before Jesus was born), and seeing how little has changed over the millenia, one understands why some of us are a bit skeptical of unassisted evolution.

Unlike the Mount St. Helens site, the visitor's center didn't interest us much. Had we not already seen comparisons of the various volcanic explosions and locations of the tectonic plates, maybe we'd have been more impressed. We already knew that Mount St. Helens was dwarfed by Krakatoa, both were dwarfed by Tambora, and all were nothing compared to Mazama. Another guy at the Lava Lands center voiced my question: So where's this Mazama? The other volcanos were clearly labeled, but they forgot to show us where Mazama is. (I noted that at St. Helens as well; I'd decided it was a Mexican or Central American name, and we all know how poorly US maps depict that part of the world.)

Mountain Pass

We need to leave from San Jose on Saturday (remember that we want to be picked up later that day, Stephen!), and (thanks to Lani) we now have insights on how to see more of the Redwoods than Lady Bird's Grove, so we chose a route over the Cascades. Most of the roads are drawn pretty straight on the map, and that's always a good sign to me. The wigglier the line, the scarier the drive for those with a touch of acrophobia. Having chosen to head for the Medford area, we found a straight line road and headed east.

But what fun would that be?

So we turned south to see one of the earliest national parks, Crater Lake. I had known that it was the remains of a volcano that had blown its top and then filled in with water. But I had not realized how big that mountain must have been. It seems that it was the size of Mount Adams, the one I mentioned yesterday as having its broad shoulders covered with snow and as visible for a hundred miles. Now, the lake itself is about seven miles across, and the remaining mountainside around it is usually about seven to eight thousand feet rather than the original twelve thousand. And that mountain was called Mazama. Central America, indeed!

There is obvious geological fascination with such a phenomenon: Practically inaccessible water (the lake is about a thousand feet below the rim, and the sides are extremely steep and subject to slides) virtually unaffected by human activity, one of the deepest lakes in the world, surrounded by pumice desert that was probably created eight thousand years ago and isn't much further along than the Lava Lands reclamation project (but the land is more leveled-but-steep by now and the pumice was dropped into place rather than deposited by lava flows), and thus a microcosm of natural development by flora and fauna. But all that is forgotten as one gazes at the deep blue waters, the craggy slopes, the sharp rim, and the sheer beauty of Crater Lake.

Overwhelming! Even my shaking knees and quaking innards couldn't spoil the vivid colors and shapes that fill the basin. We'd stop periodically to get additional views, and I usually was able to force myself out. But my idea of a fun drive (or even living!) does not include shoulderless roads with the top branches of hundred foot trees mere feet from my window. But the outer mountain was beautiful as well, and the Lake astounding.

Einstein Amok

We got back on the straighter-lined roads and headed toward Medford. We had heard of the Oregon Vortex and decided to visit it ourselves.

Inveterate skeptics that we are, we still had to acknowledge that our senses were affected by the scenes in the Vortex. Whether magnetic force fields are truly distorted (Litster's theory) or whether mass is truly compacted at different rates (Einstein's contribution to the study: probably as a possibility to explore rather than a definite suggestion, but interesting nonetheless), or whether light vortices barely catchable by photography are playing with space and time (the theory intimated by our tour guide as he was hawking some souvenir photos), perspectives were certainly messed up in the out-of-doors as well as in the "mystery house" that has been done elsewhere (and perhaps better) in some theme parks.

Rogue River Valley

While driving near Medford, approaching the Vortex, we entered a different kind of reality: The Rogue River Valley. I want to be polite, so I'll not make comparisons to East Tennessee (Andrea) or the Ozarks (Betty), but perhaps if I mention Arkansas that will evoke some of what I sensed.

We passed a store advertising Chain Saw Art. A banner across the road invited us to the All American Spam Parade. An abandoned car beside one house had either been turned into a planter or nature was working faster on the scrap metal than on the lava fields we'd seen: there were volunteer trees growing out of what had been the engine block. And right there with the horses, sheep, cows, and wild (or at least free) turkeys were mules.

In fairness, I did see llamas as well, and I've never considered them typical red-neck livestock. But everything else hollered "Arkansas" at me. Except, of course, for the mountains. Chris and Ramona may be able to tell us whether Rogue River Valley is considered a little rustic in the rest of Oregon. (And for today's purposes, we will not consider Ashland part of the Valley. Nothing says "not Arkansas" faster than "Shakespeare Festival" at the university.)

Gail, a friend from Arkansas, begs to clarify my comments:

I will forgive your disparaging remarks about Arkansas, assuming they were made out of ignorance. Growing up in Arkansas, not only was I surrounded with amazing beauty (it’s nickname is “The Natural State”) but I was taught to appreciate Shakespeare, as we studied at least one of the Bard’s plays per year from the 9th grade on. How many public schools in the Midwest do that these days…hmmm?

I am aware that every state has those people whose sense of taste may be questioned, and Arkansas has its fair share of those people. However, until you have seen the elegant Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs or the striking Curran Hall in Little Rock, don’t lump all Arkansans as people with bad taste and poor education.

So there! ;-)

See, I told you that one needn't agree with me to get comments on the site; just explain carefully why you think I'm horribly off-base. Of course, in this case, Gail's quite right: There are lots of good things about Arkansas. And she's listed them all.**


*Noisome means smelly, as in

They know that salamanders play
They're loaded and have noisome kittens on display.
And ev'ry mother's child is gonna try
To see how reindeer really taste when they're fried.
(That's the middle stanza to "Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire.")

**And that, too, is supposed to be a joke!

Next day