“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”

― Frank Herbert

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The High Desert

Note the massive fire burning in the background. Nobody seemed to care.
 In 2002,  my son and I went out to the Oregon high desert for a camping trip with my brothers.  One of them opted out at the last minute, but my middle brother had all the equipment we needed, so it still worked out.

My son and I flew into Sacramento, California and my brother picked us up there.  We drove up to Chico, California and stayed at my youngest brothers place overnight. It was our staging area.  We left the next morning for my brother R's place in the Sierra Nevada mountains.





His cabin and outbuildings are loosely based on the set up at my own property in the Blue Ridge mountains.

He has a good sized piece of land, with a main house, and an outbuilding configured as a shop on the main floor, with an apartment over it.  His place is more luxurious than mine. I was interested primarily in utility, and he wanted utility and comfort. So he has a few things like a hot tub and a propane generator I don't have.





 His creek is wider than mine, but not as deep or fast flowing. He's built some rock dams to raise the water level, and they catch good trout in there.

Like me, he has to deal with bears because they are attracted to the fish in the creek.  Unlike me, he shoots bears in season if he has a tag, and he shoots coyotes that come up around his place.







We camped out at his place in the Sierra's for one night. We could have stayed in the house, which is just a few hundred feet back from the creek, but this was supposed to be a camping trip.

That night they told me all about the time a Big Foot came up to the house. Both my brothers were inebriated when this supposedly occurred, so how true the story is I don't know. They both believe it, or pretend to.  I know it gave me something to think about. The only one who had a gun that night was my brother T. He had his police issue Beretta 92, but he promised that if Big Foot showed up he was legging it for the house. I didn't sleep all that well that night. I feel "nekkid" without a gun.


  Although I live in the woods, I like to be "forted up" inside a sturdy building when dark comes.  I wasn't really all that comfortable out there in a sleeping bag, in the pitch black night.

The forest in the Sierras is more like a forest in Germany or Britain. It's not full of dense undergrowth, and the forest floor is clean and dry compared to the Blue Ridge. You can see a good way in the forest there, where here you can't see 10 feet most of the time.





The next morning we left for the desert. We stopped his truck at a Walmart for a few last minute things, but I don't remember the name of the town.  After that, there were no towns.  Just places like this. There will be a wide spot in the road, and you find a gas station and a little grocery store.  If you go outside and look around in 360 degrees, all you see is the desert, with roads going off in different directions.







 It's strange, but you can come around a corner there and find a big lake. No houses around it, no sign of life. My brother told me that most of these lakes are "bitter", meaning they are alkaline and not useable for stock or agriculture.

We stopped at this one and walked around on the shoreline for awhile to stretch our legs. It was dead quiet. The wind was blowing, and that was about the only sound. No birds, no cars, just the wind blowing through the brush.





To get to the place on the Snake River where we were going to camp, we turned on to a dirt road and drove for about thirty miles. The road ran along a huge canyon for part of the trip.

The views were spectacular. Living here in the Blue Ridge, I'm not used to being able to see far in a 360 degre arc. I'm also not used to seeing much of the sky because of the forest canopy. Out there, it was like being at sea. You could see forever, in all directions.






When we finally reached the river, I was amazed.  Running through the desert, it was still clear and deep. The water was great and we did a lot of swimming.

There were drawbacks, though. The bushes along the river were filled with gigantic mosquitos that came out at night and were annoying.

There were also rattlesnakes in the rocks all around the river, and you had to be really careful about where you put your hands and feet. I slept in a large tent with my son, and I kept the door zipped tight all the time because I didn't want to get into the sleeping bag with a rattler. My brother slept in his truck so he didn't have that worry.


This place was way out there.  We camped down by the river.  The only people there besides us was a retired Navy Chief and his wife. They had an excellent camper truck rig, and had set up on a hillside further up from the river than we were. After we got our camp organized, we went up to introduce ourselves. My brother said that the proper etiquette when camping way out in the boonies was to go introduce yourselves to the people who were already there.  Seemed like a good idea to me and they were really nice people.


There were terrific lightning storms out there. I've been all over the world, literally.  Never have I seen lightning displays like we saw in this desert. Especially at night, I liked to sit by the little folding table, smoke my pipe, and watch the lightning off on the horizon.

Our third day there, lightning hit the ground near the Chief's camp.  We saw them out trying to put the grass out, so we grabbed our shovels and ran up there. It was impromptu and I was about to go swimming, so I wound up in tennis shoes and a swimming suit but there wasn't time to change. The hardest part was keeping one eye on the fire and the other out for snakes. That's definitely a place where you feel better in high topped boots.

We got the fire out, and later my brother told me we would just have let it burn, if it hadn't been near the other campers. This is government land and their policy is just to let it burn off normally unless it threatens homes or roads.


This was my son's first trip out West, and he really enjoyed it.  He explored all over the river bank and the canyon rims. I was worried about him coming up on rattlesnakes, but when he did it didn't phase him any.

 I think it's important for fathers and sons to do things like this together. I'm not much of a joiner so we never did boy scouts or any of that. But he and I had some good times on these trips with his Uncles.  When he was growing up we used to go on some kind of adventure planned and hosted by his Uncle R about every other year.  Everything from hot air ballooning in New Mexico to archeological digs , we tried it. I've always been grateful to R for setting those things up for us.







Eventually, we had to pack up and go home.  We spent a couple of days at Lake Tahoe on the way back. My brother and I gambled (not much) and my son enjoyed the huge casino video arcades. It was a great trip, and some good memories for all of us.

23 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. I wish I lived there. The grass is always greener, I guess.

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    2. I live close by also, Those snakes are not a problem if you let them know you are there. It may sound goofy but I sing when I am in snake country. Glad you got to see where I live.

      Damon locke

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    3. Damon,
      You could sing all you want to out there and not a soul would hear you. Just beautiful landscape as far as the eye can see. You really do live in a beautiful place.

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  2. Man I would have stayed where the trout were!!!

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  3. I'm not much into fishing. They let that one go, as it was a "native" trout, as opposed to one that had been stocked. My brother is strange that way, he'll gun down anything that crawls, walks or flies but he is very careful about not damaging the fish population.

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  4. I love camping. Last summer we did it for 2 weeks straight. The place you picked must have been amazing. My sister was born around those parts. She's adopted, and met her family 7 years ago. All her pictures from when she's gone to see her siblings are so pretty!

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    1. Alissa, it's so tranquil. It makes you feel good just being there. There's something about the desert that makes time slow down and lets you think about more than making it through the day.

      I used to do a lot of camping but haven't since my son grew up and moved off. Sometimes I think I will, but I never just do it. My wife doesn't like it ,so it would just be me.

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  5. Beautiful place to camp out, not so sure about the rattle snakes though!

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    1. Dreamer, I hate snakes. I was scared of the rattlers and I would have killed them, but my brother wouldn't have it. He says if you can't eat it don't kill it (although he shoots coyotes) and I was certainly not eating snake. But if one had come round the tent I would have done it in with the shovel whether he liked it or not. He's so intent on not leaving the campsite any different than we found it that when I threw some egg shells in a gully he got mad about it. I told him the lizards or birds or something would eat them. I wasn't going in that gully and get them for any amount of money because I knew there were snakes in there.

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  6. What an amazing trip. You got great pictures too!

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    Replies
    1. Long ago, and far away. But I remember every detail.

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  7. I sure miss that country. I used to roam it from one end to the other. Your son sure has grown since these pictures were taken.

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  8. Yeah, he's grown up and gone now. But it's been 12 years since this trip.

    I would like to have a nice truck camper rig, and just go from one place like that to another, way out on the end of those dirt roads you see going off in straight lines, but you never see where they end.

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  9. what a fantastic trip. Isnt the land mass of just California the same as the whole of the UK?

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  10. I don't know, Sol. It's a really big state, so it might be. I think maybe it and Texas are the two largest U.S. states but I am guessing.

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  11. Great pictures Harry,
    The most amazing things to me when I visited the US was how much water was around, even the deserts had rivers flowing through them and also how green the forests were. I camped in Wyoming and Thunder Bay Canada and the flippin mosquitoes just about carried me away each night!! I was covered in red spots like i had the measles, give me some snakes anyday!!

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    Replies
    1. Mosquitoes can be a problem just about anywhere. We even have them up here in the mountains in summer, and as the summers are warmer West Nile Fever is a problem here now, where when I moved to the Blue Ridge mountains in 86 it was unheard of. I have a peculiar horror of snakes, don't know why.

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  12. Sounds like a fun trip. The only time lightning has really scared me was in North Carolina. Once on a night land nav course I had strikes within 50 meters and fairly concerned I was going to be struck. Aside from that I like sitting in a dry place with a cold, preferably alcoholic drink, and watching the show.

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    1. It's not good to be out when Zeus wields his bolts. I stay under cover, but I like the display. Especially at night. Sometimes here, the lightning is so continuous you can almost see as well as day into the woods. We are expecting lightning here tonight by coincidence, just went out on the porch but there's only the wind now.

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  13. And a great time was had by all. That sounded like a great trip. I agree - Fathers and Sons need some time in the woods and the lakes, good memory building exercises. I haven't done much time in the West, but I remember the wide opens. Took the Durango narrow gauge train to Silverton - highly recommended! My only regret was not taking an earlier train so I could spend more time there, Silverton Colorado is awesome! Google map the view if you like - breathtaking!

    Like you, I would feel naked without a gun in the woods. The one time I did that was when I had to haul a dead vehicle out of the woods and I was afraid the tow truck driver would freak if I went armed. Things went well, but in truth, I was the one who was freaked - night time ain't NO TIME to be out in the rurals.

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  14. Thanks for sharing such a great story.

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  15. Great pictures and sounds like a fun trip.

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