Smith Rock State Park



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Driving North

I left Southern California at 4:30pm on Thursday. Over the San Gabriel Transverse Range and down into the Mojave. Unfortunate that I chose to make a 1000 mile overland drive on the hottest week of the summer. I stopped to get food in Palmdale. Too hot to leave the dog in the car. Too hot to take him out. But something must be done. So he skipped across the blazing hot parking lot to a place in the shade while I went inside.

An hour later the highway changed numbers (14 to 395) and I’m in Red Rock Canyon. The wind was incredibly hot and dry. We only stopped for a short time. Shadow, almost blown over by the wind, looked around in surprise. What kind of place is this?

One quick stop in Olancha to take pictures and chase rabbits. I took the pictures. The dog chased the rabbits. The sunset was beautiful. Suddenly the trip started to be an adventure. Back on the road, the air was beginning to soften. Pulling into Lone Pine, the open windows brought the scent of water and green grass and my head spun with delight. Have you ever smelled something that made you sad and happy and dizzy all at the same time? Strangely, my first impulse was to somehow record the experience. Camera wouldn’t do it. Neither would the audio recorder. How do you record a scent? In this day of gadgets, the smell of a thing is still unconquered. It is the most immediate of experiences. All along this drive, I found this again and again. There is no way I can ever share those moments. You had to be there.

Bishop for the night. Super 8. Terrible. Please, I never want to stay there again.

In the morning, the front right tire is flat. Perfectly appropriate finish to my stay. I’m up and ready to go, wanting to count off the miles before the sun starts to blaze. Instead I change to the donut tire and find a tire shop. They will open at 8am. It is now 6:25. So I sit still and listen to see what it is I am to learn from this. Finally by 9, the tire is fixed and I am back on the road.

The road climbs upward and eventually back down again to Mono Lake, a beautiful and alien lake. The Caltrans Adopt-A-Highway sponsor sign says “Another June Lake Liberal”. I feel like visiting June Lake. I weave my way through the sagebrush down to the edge of the water. Tufa formations. The salty water is beset with flies. The shoreline is black with them. The dog sniffs at them and then jumps back in surprise. The sun is hot. Time to drive.

Now the 395 crosses into the border of Nevada. The sky goes white hot and I swear to myself that I will do my best to never visit Carson City again, much less Reno, for the rest of my life. There is nothing there. 106 degrees Fahrenheit. No reason to ever go there again.

Crossing back into California, I forget to look for the sign marking the border. But suddenly I am noticing that things are cleaner, the road is better, the signs are in good order. I realize I am already over the line and, for some reason, breath a sigh of relief. It is nice to feel at home.

At Susanville I decided to take a detour. I won’t spend the time to write about Mt. Lassen other than to suggest that, if you are driving in the area, you take the time. I mean it.

Late afternoon, driving flat out and fast for Alturas. The long slow summer evening stretches out across the valleys and make me feel peaceful and in love with the land. More of the smell of dirt and sand and water and summer. Ash Creek Wildlife Area feels like a holy place. The barn owls peer down from the rafters through the murky darkness. The avocets stalk gracefully on the mudflats. Finally it is dark and I am safe at home at the Rimrock Motel.

In the morning, I climb northward out of the valley into the high desert of southern Oregon. Lakeview is small. The people who live here must either never drive their cars or they drive them for miles and miles. There are no other options.

And finally to Bend which seems a little like a heaven on earth. The evening skyline is one of the best. I’ll try to post a picture of it. Any town which features “floating the river” as one of its main attractions on a summer afternoon has my vote. And the fact that as you float, you float right past the back door of the Gap makes you realize that this is a different kind of place. Here they use SUV’s to carry their kayaks, not to ensure that they have lane changing rights on the evening commute.


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