A Hodgepodge of Delights

December 26, 2011.

Antelope Reservoir > Charbonneau’s Grave > Pillars of Rome > Pete French’s Round Barn > Diamond Craters > Crystal Crane Hot Springs > Burns > Deschutes National Forest

* Click the map above to zoom in *

I didn’t have much on my agenda for today, so I pulled out the Oregon Gazeteer and the bible as written by William Sullivan to look for places to visit. I came up with a couple of notable sites on the way to Burns. Along the way, I also followed interesting-looking brown signs. It ended up being quite a full day.

First I detoured to Charbonneau’s grave in Danner. This middle-of-nowhere homage to Sacagawea’s son is graced with an American flag and treasures laid out around the gravesite. In the distance, cows mooed and dogs barked. There was a nice little sign explaining the life of the man, and a groomed walking path tracing a circle around the site. It was a charming way to start the day.

Next I traveled to Rome, where a lonely cafe was open for breakfast. I walked in and took a seat among people who all appeared to be related to each other as well as the man working the counter. I was served some weak coffee and, eventually, a decent breakfast. Tom and Jerry played on the TV overhead. Folks stopped by, said hello to everyone at the counter, then proceeded to serve themselves coffee or walk back into the kitchen. It turned out everyone in this town was related to each other.

Pillars of Rome

My next stop was the Pillars of Rome. These tall, beautiful rock walls were easy to find with the directions I’d printed from the Internet. There’s no official pullout or trail for viewing, so I thought I’d find a good place to park the car and then wander around once I got close. It turned out that I was trespassing on private land, which I figured out as soon as a beat up, old, yellow pickup truck came driving down the gravel road where I was walking. A gritty old man in the truck asked me what I was doing on his land as I humbly explained that I thought I was on public land. The map labeled much of this land as belonging to BLM, i.e me, and it was really confusing for me to figure out what was and was not okay to be exploring. I apologized and turned back towards my car. I was disappointed, since it was such a beautiful morning and I was enjoying a pleasant walk.

A little flustered, I hit the road again to drive for another long stretch. I noticed a marker for Pete French Round Barn, which sounded dreadfully boring, but it was another excuse to get out of the car. As I approached I noticed a sign for a Visitor’s Center, and it was open! Hooray for human contact (and a cold beverage).

I was welcomed into the gift shop by an old man who turned out to be a font of local knowledge. We talked about all sorts of things: the Barn, Diamond Craters, ranch life, government bureaucracy, his family’s heritage, and the education programs at the Visitor’s Center. I was enthralled. I walked around the Visitor’s Center to see the historical collectibles on display, then flipped through the myriad of books for sale. I had to force myself to buy only one. This place was great! On my way out I asked for some pointers before driving to see the local sights and he was extraordinarily helpful. If you’re ever out this way, be sure to say hello to Dick Jenkins.

The Round Barn awaited my visit. It was an impressive-looking structure, with rustic wooden planks and stone walls. The barn was used to train horses back in the day. They say this barn was one of the first with this unique circular design. While I didn’t know the first thing about training horses, I still thought it was a mighty beautiful building.

Onward to Diamond Craters. There would always be more lava to be seen on these trips. With my Diamond Craters Auto Tour booklet in hand, I drove to stop #5, where I began my tour. At each stop, I got out of the car, walked around a bit and read aloud the geological description printed in the booklet. I had fun being my own tour guide, weaving down more gravel roads and hiking through Oregon’s past all laid out on display.

Just like the day before, the cloud cover made it nearly impossible to get a decent picture of the lava. Plus, the features at this site were so enormous, I thought the best way to experience it would be from the air. Nonetheless, I stopped dutifully at each viewpoint, read the text, and looked around. It would be one of the last opportunities to experience such a quiet, desolate location before heading back towards civilized life.

But the day only got better from here; next stop: Crystal Crane Hot Springs. These springs were developed but not resorty. There was tent and RV camping available in addition to rental cabins. The natural pool outside was available for a nominal access charge of $3. I opted for the private room with a tub for just a few dollars more. The outdoor pool was swarming with kids and I knew that would not be a relaxing time for me. Inside the room was a long aluminum tub with a faucet pumping in water from the hot springs. I got it to a nice, hot temperature, stripped off all the disgusting camp clothes I’d been living in for the past 5 days and got in the water.

It was the most relaxing hour of the trip. I emerged from the tub refreshed and excited. My admission fee also included access to a shower. Squeaky clean, I hit the road for a dinner stop in Burns.

I’d read somewhere that Burns was slated to be the next Bend; an old working-class town turned resort destination. A short drive through town proved that this prediction would not likely come true in the near future. Most everything was shut down, and I daresay some tumbleweed likely blew across the road as a lonely banjo played. There were a few chain restaurants and banks, plus some local shops scattered here and there. I couldn’t find any sort of downtown strip, so I parked and walked into the only store that had lights on, Gourmet & Gadgets. Inside were shelves full of unique and handy kitchen gadgetry, from stand-up cookbook holders to colorful wire whisks and top-of-the-line cookware. There were jams, baking mixes, fancy chocolates, and hot sauces. There were cookbooks, knife sets, and decorative kitchen kitsch. It was like walking into heaven. It was almost closing time, however, and since I knew I wouldn’t be buying anything I didn’t want to waste the proprietor’s time by browsing the aisles after 5pm. I made one purchase, a packet of candy cane hot chocolate powder, and then departed. I knew that would come in handy later in the evening.

At the local bar, a dive for sure, I ate an enormous burger and fries and then split town. The sun had set long ago, so I was left to find a suitable campsite in the dark. My first stop was no good, so I set my sights on a faraway gravel road that led into the Deschutes National Forest. I figured it would take me at least 2 more hours to get there. Fortunately I was making my way through a 10-disc audiobook; that kept me company for the long haul.

It felt like forever, but finally I made it into the depths of the forest. Wood was abundant; it took me 5 minutes to round up enough wood for two nights of campfires. The wind picked up as I started the fire and intermittently, light snow drifted down. Surprisingly, the temperatures were in the low thirties and it felt like summertime. I was melting in the multiple-layered cold weather suit I was wearing. I sipped my minty hot cocoa anyways, as the wind brought with it a bit of chill. I was worried that I’d get stuck here, trapped in a web of snow-bound gravel roads, and so I slept in my car that night. That way, I thought, I could leave at a moment’s notice.

Continue the story!
Dec 22: Small Town Oregon
Dec 23: Chasing Ghost Towns
Dec 24: Breathtaking Desert Hikes
Dec 25: Lava Landscape
Dec 26: A Hodgepodge of Delights
Dec 27: Go West

See the entire photo set on Picasa.

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