FORT ROCK

October 1999
Set in southeastern Oregon, the only way into the heart of this wilderness area is 13 miles over gravel and dirt roads, then a dirt road passable only by 4-wheel drive vehicle to take gear into the campsite which is another 3 miles. We meet our daughter and son-in-law at a good place to leave our vehicle to make the "portage". My daughter, Kate on her back, and I walk in because the SUV, fully loaded, has to cross lava flows that are rough. Even without passengers, it requires boards in some places to maneuver over the roughness without damaging the undercarriage of the vehicle. The nice part about the difficult passage is there are no other people hunting or camping the entire time we are there.

It is beautiful high desert-- sagebrush, junipers and lava formations with mountains in the distance. The wildflowers would be beautiful in the early summer. Many are still there dried, a few tender buds hiding under bushes even this late in the season. When I used to paint, I'd have found endless subject matter.

Where we camp is called a garden because of all the beautiful formations of lava. There are endless webs of lava flows in various tortured and beautiful shapes. During the day, the sun highlights the sage and illuminates its silvery color. The air is crystal clear, the sunsets beautiful. The stars at night are unbelievable as it's over 4000 feet in elevation and no lights except the campfire.

The camp has a lava ridge on two sides, a tall ponderosa pine on top of it. In the middle are various lava mounds to divide the space. Their tent is just beyond the site to the east and we put ours under the edge (tent and me) of the lava ridge. There is a low a ridge about waist high where they put the campfire (in camp). With a metal tripods like the mountain men used and a big old dutch oven Rebecca prepares all dinners. (Re & St).

They eat well on their outtings. (campfire) She does a lot of cooking before they go, freezing partially prepared meals. We enjoy Chicken Chili Verde Stew, Pork Carnitas and Irish Stew. Basically she's not much like her mom with that stuff as I would have just opened a can of Nalley's beef stew if left to my own resources, but I must say that in eating that well, it adds to the treat of camping. They are roughing it in style with good wine, scotch and brandy.

The first night we are in the garden, it rains; the air is cool, though not real cold, the morning drizzly. The next two nights it goes down to 18 at night, and our sleeping bags are cold. We wake in the morning with everything frozen in the tent and the tops of our sleeping bags soaking wet. The days though become sunny-- warm enough in the afternoons for no sweater. The hunters are gone during the day while we stay near the camp, play with Kate, and gather firewood. The lava makes a good place for brushing out hair in the sunlight.

Kate is just starting to walk; so she enjoys someone helping her negotiate around the camp. Other than that she has her highchair, her backpack on her mom's back, (Re and St) and a play corral to do some exploring in the dirt. It is a dry camp; so she stays dirtier than her mom or dad would normally prefer.

Not far from the camp, the remains of a deer killed by a cougar had been found; so it is a time to be watchful. One night before we got there, he had been seen out on the lava. The cougar's tracks are all along the road we take to get to the site. From the tracks, he is judged to be a big one. I carry my .357 on my hip the whole time and keep an eye on the lava ledge above the tents. A tall ponderosa pine looms over the camp and it's where my daughter and I both imagine the cougar sitting to watch the camp. Perhaps he has sat there many times and left his energy behind. The area has abundant sign of deer and elk. Lots of birds--ravens, flickers, robins. Many are migrating through that valley on their way south.

One day Rebecca, Kate and I hike up to old homestead. A lot of people took homesteads in that area thinking they could make a living off of them. Not many succeeded. What a beautiful setting though. (remains of the corral). You can see how you'd be lured into trying it. There have been many Indian encampments in the area where they had come to find shelter from the harsh winters and to hunt. At nearby Fort Rock State Park, they found sandals over 9,000 years old.

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