Great American Road Trip Part 2: Redwoods to Boise


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December 18th 2013
Published: January 22nd 2014
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Redwoods to Boise


For the road trip up to this point please see "Great American Road Trip Part 1: Seattle to the Redwoods

Highway 199 in northern California is named The Redwood Highway. It's incredibly scenic. The road winds around mountains covered in redwood groves as it snakes its way north to Oregon. It's quite early on Tuesday morning, the month of July coming to and end. I've chosen to get a head start on the day so I can get to Crater Lake National Park at a decent hour in the afternoon. As the highway cross the border and progresses into Oregon the terrain becomes more desert-like. There are still tall forests along the road but I can tell that the climate is drier up here. I don't really have any desire to stop anywhere on the way to Crater Lake other than to refuel (gas and food).

I breeze through Grant's Pass and head north on highway 62, bypassing Medford, OR. No real desire to stop there (if I should have please let me know). As I get further from Medford I notice that the sky is starting to get hazy. It's not cloudy though, just hazy. And dark. Something is going on. It doesn't take me long to realize that there is forest fire nearby. Where? I don't know, but its smoke has caused significant haze in the skies over southeast Oregon. I pray that the haze will clear by the time I get to Crater Lake.

Maybe it's because I don't believe in any gods, but my figurative prayers are not answered. As I roll into Crater Lake National Park the skies are as dark as they have been all day. The forest fire is somewhere nearby and from the looks of the sky it's probably a serious one. I park at the Crater Lake Lodge and hurry to the rim of the lake. Here, at the edge of the deepest lake in the United States, my fears are confirmed. The haze in the sky is totally covering the lake. You can't even see the other side. If you look straight down you can see the blue water below. There's an island in the middle of the lake known as Wizard Island. Yup, can't see that either.

What a bummer. I have wanted to see Crater Lake for a long time now, since back in my Vegas days. I know a beautiful clear blue lake is under all this haze, but mother nature is not cooperating with me today. I hear some people talking about a forest fire they heard about on the news just a few miles north of the lake. Just my luck.

As I said, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the US. At 1,948 feet deep, it's also the 9th deepest lake in the world. The deepest lake? Anyone? Hint: it's in Russia. Crater Lake is unique, however, due to the way it was formed. The lake didn't exist until about 6000 years ago when Mt. Mazama erupted. The furious eruption created a caldera in the earth and over the years the crater filled with rain water and snow runoff, creating a lake not fed by any river or other waterway.

If there was no forest fire today my view would look something like this: http://www.craterlakeoregon.org/SIB/images/157086xcitefun-crater-lake-1.jpg. But that isn't to be on this day. The only positive from this day is that I can still stick to my original plan for Crater Lake: drive the rim road and hike down to the bottom, then climb Mt. Scott. My views just won't be anything special.

I get back in my sweet Ford Fiesta and start doing the Rim Drive clockwise. I make a few stops at viewpoints but there is no point. I can't see anything. Eventually I park along the side of the road at the start of the only path that leads down to the lake. The path is steep, but it is crowded. Down below you can take a boat ride around the lake. I feel a bit bad for the people who have booked their boat ride today. No refunds for hazy skies. It's about a 750 foot decent to the lake and when I get down there I can see people swimming near the rocky shore. I have not prepared to swim but I relax on some rocks in the lake for a bit and try to make the best of the situation. The water is incredibly clear. I'd definitely have a great view of some cool things if not for that fire.

After a while down at the lake I head back up the hiking trail. I try to run up but it's too damn steep and my legs can't handle it. I manage to hike out of the crater at a fairly fast pace though. I'm back on the road in no time heading over to the other side of the park where I will set out to climb Mt. Scott. It's not anything crazy, about a 1500 foot elevation gain over 2.5 miles to the top. The trail is deserted. I see one person coming down as I am going up, clearly the owner of the one car in the parking lot. It's about 5 in the afternoon but I'm still surprised that I have the trail to myself, other than a couple of deer.

I make good time up the mountain and only sweat through 2 T-shirts. As I knew already, there is not really much of a view from the peak. I can see my car below, but the lake beyond is not visible. This hike was mainly for exercise though. Being on the road for 4 weeks I need as much strenuous hiking as I can get. After the hike I get back on the road and take a side turn down Pinnacles Road. At the end of this road is a series of unique geological formations called pinnacles. There are different types of pinnacles throughout the world but the ones here are very tall, narrow, needle-like rock formations that protrude from the earth (you can read how they were created here: http://www.craterlakeinstitute.com/natural-history/geology-pinnacles.htm). They're pretty neat but you can't really get close to them (like I was able to do in New Zealand). I do a short walk along the edge of the small canyon to view the pinnacles. At least these are so close the haze in the sky doesn't ruin the view.

I've reserved a campsite in the park ahead of time so I don't have to get there early. I set up shop at around 8:00 and grill up some steaks and chicken I picked up earlier in the day. Camping in national parks ranges from $5-20. It's by far the cheapest way to sleep if you are visiting a park. Being by yourself at a campsite is rather boring though. I have my computer and some books so I pretty much just relax inside the tent until I fall asleep.

Wednesday morning I'm up early. Kind of hard not to be when camping. I also want to get a head start on the day as I have over 400 miles to go today, making this one of my longer days behind the wheel. My only real stop today on the way to Boise will be in Bend, OR. Bend is, according to my friend Zach, "the best place in the world." I think he might be exaggerating a bit, but he really likes it there, so I decide it's worth checking out. I head up highway 97 leaving the forest fire behind. By the time I roll into Bend the skies are clear again.

I've asked Zach for a breakfast recommendation and he tells me to go to Chow (http://www.chowbend.com/) for the best breakfast in Bend. I catch the end of the breakfast hour and order some poached eggs, their house specialty. Zach did well. Everything here is excellent. If you're ever in Bend I highly recommend chowing down on a breakfast here, pun intended. After breakfast my next stop in Bend is the Deschutes Brewery (http://www.deschutesbrewery.com/brews/list). These guys are known for making some serious brews so I figure it's worth a stop. Luckily they open for tastings at 11:00 AM. Beer tastes better in the morning anyways. I try all the beers they have on tap. The only ones I've had before are the Mirror Pond Pale Ale and the Black Butte Porter. These are both excellent beers and the other ones I try are no slouches either. I decide to buy a 6 pack of the Summer Ale and add a cheap pint glass onto my order. I also leave Deschutes with a sweet new bottle opener (sad story: the bottle opener only lasted a couple months before it broke in action. POS).

I leave Deschutes before noon and get back on the road. I still have a long way to go to get to Boise. And there is nothing on the way. I mean NOTHING. I load up on gas and get moving. Now, when most people think of Oregon they think of green mountains and rugged coastline. But Oregon's a big state. It doesn't all look at that. Eastern Oregon is a desert. It's dry, brown, and endless. There are no trees, only brush. It's beautiful in its own way. On the 260 mile drive down Highway 20 from Bend to I-84 I pass one town. I see more wild horses than people. The horses are down by a riverbed on the far eastern side of the state. This is not my first encounter with wild horses, but still worth a stop for pictures.

As I cross the state line into Idaho and get on I-84 I'm thrilled to be back in a 75 mph speed zone. Oregon caps its interstate highway speed limit at 65 and it's rural highway speed limit at 55, which is totally bogus and unnecessary. I curse Oregon's highway laws as I cruise down I-84 at about 84 mph towards Boise. I hit a moderate rush hour when I get into town but manage to make it to my friend Mason's house before 6:00. This is my fourth time in Boise so I almost know my way around town. Coincidentally, my fourth time in Boise also means the fourth different house Mason is living in. Every time I've been here he's lived somewhere different. I wonder why he can't just stay put. But when he tells me what he's paying for his downtown one bedroom with sun room apartment - a ridiculous $525 a month - I realize I would have moved too. The size and location of his place in downtown DC would run at least $2000 a month. Gotta love Idaho.

It's a Wednesday night and I've been driving all day so I don't really want to get into anything crazy tonight. We hit up 10 Barrel Brewing (http://www.10barrel.com ) for dinner and some craft beers. It's a new place that has opened within the last year and I get a flight of beer to try seven different ones. When I'm done with that flight Mason orders me another one to try the seven beers I didn't try on that flight. I'm not complaining. The beers are all pretty good, my favorite being the IPA, as is typical. Eventually Mason's friend Cory meets up with us for a beer. I've met Cory a few times in Boise and he also went on the Peru trip with me. So we've spent quite a bit of time together in South America. We relive memories from the Inca trail and eventually it's 10:00. I'm exhausted and they have to go to work tomorrow so it's time to go home.

One thing you learn when you stay with Mason as many times I have is that you're not going to get any perks at his place. There is no food in the fridge (though there is a 6 pack). He doesn't have a towel for you to use. Or a blanket. Minimalist would be a good way to describe it. Luckily I have all my own things, even my own pillow. Though this time he actually has a spare mattress that he keeps in the sun-room with a pillow. Amazing! I try sleeping in the bed in the sun-room but it's just too hot. Boise can get pretty damn hot in the summer (and really damn cold in the winter). I turn on the AC in the living room and pass out on the couch, my new bed for the next two nights.

Mason leaves his key with me on Thursday before he goes to work so I am free to come and go. I have to do a few things like laundry, get gas, lunch, a quick stop at TJ Maxx, and eventually the day is almost over. We meet at his office to go to the gym (Micron is huge and has a gym, as well as multiple softball fields) and I leave the shirt I just bought at TJ Maxx in the locker room. Way to go, dude, I curse myself when I realize later. We get some Japanese for dinner and then head to a birthday gathering at a bar a few miles from downtown.

As we are heading to the bar the wind storm starts. You know that scene of tumbleweed blowing across the highway in old movies? Well, that's exactly what happens, except the tumbleweed is flying across at blistering speeds. Next thing we know we're in the middle of a frikin' tropical storm. There was no wind downtown. NONE. 5 miles out and you can barely walk on the sidewalk without getting blown over. We manage to fight the wind into the bar where we watch the storm from the comfort of a wooden structure. By the time we leave the wind storm is over and it's starting to get dark. It gets dark really late in Boise since it's so far west and high up and still in Mountain Standard Time.

At around 10:30 we head out to some bars. We first check out a place that gives me a feeling of deja vu. Yes, I have been here before! In January of 2008, my first time in Boise. We went here to try to meet some cougars. Not quite the same scene tonight. It is pretty dead. There is a bachelorette party going on that depresses me. It's just the bachelorette and two of her friends. And she's not even drinking because she has to be home in a few hours to watch the kids so her babysitter can go home. She's no older than 25 and has two children. Apparently the husband is also having his bachelor party tonight so he can't watch the kids. The wedding is in two days. I try to provide them with some entertainment but their bachelorette party is pretty dull and uninteresting.

We move on to a few more bars where I have a few more feelings of deja vu. Before I know it it's late and I need to get back. I'm back on the road again tomorrow and I don't want to be too hungover.

For the continuation of this trip please see "Great American Road Trip Part 3: Boise to Yellowstone."

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