November 3, 2016

FTV: WCB Revisited Part 1

    Those of you who follow the ramblings of From the Vaults probably already know that the West Coast Bureau consisting of Elizabeth, Todd, Don Juan and Emma relocated from Los Angeles to Eugene, OR in May of 2015.  Even though they now live in the central valley of Oregon some 70 miles from the coast, it just didn’t sound right to just call them the WB, so for the sake of continuity, they will still be the WCB.  My first visit in August of 2014 was a bit hectic as they were just getting settled into their new place and a new routine.  With both of them now working for Faber College,  the planning for last summer’s inspection visit took a little more time than previous west coast jaunts  (note:  I guess I have about beat this joke to death.  The classic movie Animal House was filmed in a host of locations around the University of Oregon campus and I have delighted in spending the last year telling people that Elizabeth and Todd work at the fictional Faber College.  I will stop now.  I promise.).   The original plan revolved around an Amtrak train trip north to Seattle to catch a couple of Tigers games.  With Elizabeth’s office being relocated for three semesters to accommodate the remodeling of her building, the train jaunt became a sixty six hour “vacation within a vacation” that Todd and I would embark on while she stayed behind to box and tag everything before moving day.  The outbound flight was uneventful with a couple of hours to kill in both Chicago and San Francisco.  Changing time zones plays havoc with me so I was a bit tired after a 19 hour travel day, so we kicked back for a couple of days before playing tourist.

    The summer of 2015 trip involved a jog through the mountain passes to the Oregon coast.  I was hoping to make a swing the other direction to Crater Lake this year, but a persistent wildfire on the western rim would have required us to not only drive toward an active fire area, but travel a long way to get around the area where travel was being restricted.  An alternative plan evolved to go toward Bend, OR and see the some waterfalls and lava fields near the McKenzie Pass.  The road east of Eugene follows the McKenzie River valley for a while before we branched off the main highway and began to climb.  At 430 feet above sea level, Eugene is actually lower that we are here on the shores of Lake Superior.  We soon found ourselves passing signs informing us that we were 2,000, 3,000, and 4,000 feet above sea level.  The switch-backs became steeper and more frequent.  If the trek toward the summit of the pass wasn’t a clue that we weren’t climbing the Porcupine Mountains, our first glimpse of the snowcapped trio of mountains called the Three Sisters was.  I have seen the Three Sisters from afar, but there is something about traversing the flanks of a glacier topped mountain in August that just doesn’t fit into my frame of reference.  

    On the way to the summit of the pass, we stopped and hiked a 1.5 mile loop trail to Proxy Falls on a branch of the McKenzie River.  The path wound through a field of chunky lava blocks that created a surreal landscape resembling nothing like I have seen before.  The Lower Proxy Falls can be seen from a viewing area across a steep valley as the water tumbles a couple of hundred feet to the valley floor.  We followed the crowd and skittered down the steep, gravelly slope to view the falls from the bottom.  It did not surprise me to learn that this is one of the most photographed falls in Oregon.  Climbing out of the valley back to the trail, we encountered a hornets nest we had not seen on the way down to the base of the falls.  Elizabeth was the unlucky one and got nailed on the calf by one of the little devils, so we skipped the upper falls in favor of getting back to the cooler in the car and a much needed ice pack.

    We resumed our climb and soon surpassed the 5,000 foot level and not long after, we rounded a corner and got our first glimpse of the lava fields created during three separate eruptive phases of the Belknap and Little Belknap craters between 1500 and 3500 years ago.  While I was impressed with the Proxy Falls trail that wound through a half mile of block lava field, the sight of the road winding through miles of blocky, black lava rock took my breath away.  This particular lava field covers some 65 square miles and the road follows the approximate route of a wagon toll road that was constructed in the 1860s.  The Civilian Conservation Corp updated the trail in 1935 and in the process constructed an observation tower out of the native lava blocks.  The view from the observation tower located at the 5325 foot summit of the pass gives an unprecedented view of the largest collection of snowcapped mountain peaks in the lower 48 states.  The interpretive trail built out among the lava blocks, fissures and ridges was very informative.  We kept repeating the same thing over and over again:  “How on earth did they even begin to make a wagon trail over this stuff?”  Indeed, there were places along trail where one could have stepped into a chasm never to return.  The sun was shining and there was a nice breeze, but the landscape spoke loudly of a violent volcanic past.

    We descended down the eastern slope of the pass to the aptly named town of Sisters.  With the mountain range squeezing the moisture out of the clouds, the drier (and in several places, burned over) pine lands gave way to dry grasslands that hardly resemble the rich rain forests that cover the coastal mountain ranges farther to the west.  We kept to the main highway route back to Eugene but every turn in the road brought new vistas of mountain peaks, steep valleys and opportunities to hike to even more waterfalls.  I had a nice discussion with a forest service ranger at our last stop who assured me that the rest of our trip down to the McKenzie River would keep us out of the active fire zone that paralleled our intended route for many miles.  I can not imagine fighting a forest fire in that terrain resembles any kind of fun.

    With a couple of days to kill before the side trip to Seattle, we knocked around the Eugene area and managed to check out a couple of used record shops.  The first was not much of a treat as the CDs and albums were filed with no sense of order that I could ascertain.  The prices were also higher than I would normally pay for used music.  The second shop occupied what can only be described as a ‘funky old house’ (used record shops are almost always located in ‘funky old houses’ so this shouldn’t be a big surprise).  Their display method made more sense and I was happy to pick up a couple of musical items including a near mint copy of the MC5’s Kick out the Jams CD.  Todd’s vinyl collection has been expanding of late and he also found a few treasures.

    Our train north was set to depart at 5:30 AM on Monday morning (8:30 AM back home) so we rested up for our “vacation within my vacation.”  Having never ridden a train farther than than Mass City (if one remembers the days when they offered train rides to Rockland and beyond during the Labor Day festivities), I was looking forward to the six hour ride and the next three days promised to be a new adventure.  The train left right on time and we were off to Seattle.  It only took an hour of train time for our travel plans to turn inside out.  Stay tuned for part two of the WCB Revisited.

Top Piece Video:  I would have loved to use Kick Out the Jams in honor of my finding a nice used copy of this fabled MC5 album, but of course there is that pesky little introduction that keeps me from using it here.  Rambling Rose kicks off the album so here it is – you just have to endure a minute of them milling about before the song kicks!