Saturday, June 12 2010
location: Crater Lake Lodge, southwest rim of Crater Lake, Oregon
There were a few dull thuds, the banging of pots, and muted kitchen conversation coming up from below in our fancy upgrade suite, but the only real sleep killer was that unbalanced fan blowing all the bacon grease out of the kitchen. It wasn't a huge downside given that we were in the habit of getting up early anyway. Still Gretchen managed to get $30 off the cost of our room for our inconvenience.
Our destination today was the city of Bend, which lay a couple hours to the north on the east side of the cascades. On our way out of the Crater Lake area we stopped a few times to take photos from the west rim and then took a stroll through the Pumice Desert (a wasteland that still hasn't recovered from the explosion of Mount Mazama seven point seven thousand years ago). The interpretive sign told us that there was plenty of subsurface water in the Pumice Desert, but the mineral quality of the surface material (a hundred feet of ejected pumice gravel) generally discourages the growth of plant life. But every now and then a plant finds a toehold, then its profile in the wind catches dust which supplements the soil. Next thing you know a tree can grow. But the recovery takes thousands of years and will probably not be completed by the time Jesus raptures all the sinless trees into Heaven.
Some of the best photos we took in this area juxtapose snowy peaks with the barren lifelessness of the Pumice Desert.
As we headed away from Crater Lake, the downhill slope was gradual. Snow withdrew haltingly as we descended and then clearcuts began to appear along the highway. One has to be oblivious not to notice the endless drumbeat of clearcuts in Oregon, though the worst of them are only visible with Google Maps.
We were still four fifths of a mile above sea level when we came down to the lowlands east of the Cascades and started heading north on US-97. The countryside resumed the hardscrabble quality I'd noticed down near the treesort, with dusty towns, marginal housing, piles of rock and car parts, lots of heavy equipment, and big ugly clearcuts coming right up to the road. It's an unusually ugly part of Oregon, but every now and then we'd see a beautiful snow-capped peak to the west.
We stopped somewhere along the way for snacks, one of which was a mustard-flavored pretzel that Gretchen bought full-knowing it wasn't 100% vegan. That's right, I'm the vegan police, and I'm afraid I'm going to have to take you downtown.
Bend turned out to be a charming city set against the dramatic vista of the Three Sisters (a closely-packed arrangement of Cascade volcanos). We parked in downtown and immediately went in search of lunch and perhaps some WiFi. On the way into town we'd taken note of the location of the place we'd be staying: The Old St. Francis School (as refurbished by the McMenamins).
It was a beautiful sunny day in Bend, with temperatures nearly ideal for Homo sapiens. We found a hippie noodle place and Gretchen went inside to order for both of us (she knows enough about what I like to do that). I ended up with a noodle dish featuring slimy noodles the size of night crawlers. It was good and spicy, but those noodles, I think I would have preferred had they been prepared somewhat differently.
As we ate we listened to a pair of young blond women having a nearly content-free conversation about friends, a pregnancy, and a future marriage. Not once did they touch on anything meaningful: politics, religion, art, or science. Had they just mentioned the Jonas Brothers in passing they would have halved their vapidity score. Still, you have to give them some credit. They were lunching at a hippie noodle place.
There was no usable WiFi, so we went over to the Old St. Francis School, where we'd be spending the night. There we found WiFi, but Gretchen's initial impression of the place were negative. She found it gloomy and insufficiently decorated. She also thought it smelled kind of funny. I thought her judgment was a little premature, but she was basing it on the capitalistic-artistic shrine that is Portland's Kennedy School, a place where one can smoke cigars in the room that used to be used for detention. How can you possibly top that?
After much driving around and passing a major festival happening in a Seurat-style park further upstream, we carefully examined some cached Google Maps on the laptop used that information to find a park along the Deschutes River that Gilley had told us about. Located immediately downstream from a small sewage treatment plant, the park was actually fairly wild, though it was closely hemmed-in by encroaching suburbs and oversized McMansions on the bluffs above. The park gave a sense of Bend's natural environment, which was a bit less arid than I'd expected. The dominant trees here were western junipers and Ponderosa Pine, though along the banks of the Deschutes River one could find plenty of water-loving deciduous trees such as Boxelders imported from the East. The most spectacular animal wildlife was a group of native swans (probably Trumpeter Swans) who, on this particular day, kept being dive-bombed by Redwing Blackbirds. Further on, we walked through golf course where we encountered several species of ground squirrels. Some were big and woodchuckesque and others had tufted ears and were only a little larger than chipmunks. Some living in piles of basalt boulders and others making messes of the fairway. It reminded Gretchen of the movie Caddyshack, and she wanted me to add that to my Bittorrent queue. (I already had plans of adding The Shining due to our imminent stay at the Timberline on Mt. Hood.)
At three o'clock, we checked in to our room at the Old St. Francis School and immediately all of Gretchen's reservations about the place dissolved. Our room was awesome, and when it turned out that there was no WiFi reachable from it, all we had to do was plug in a handy ethernet cable that had been provided.
Having always-on internet for the first time since Portland, I immediately added a bunch of movies to my Bittorrent queue: The Shining, Caddyshack, and, when it turned out not to be showing at this McMenamins theatre, Hot Tub Time Machine (which isn't out yet on DVD but is already on Bittorrent). The things that are technically possible when stepping just slightly outside the shackles of the existing legal framework make that framework seem fussy and old-fashioned. And once one has lived in the "future" that is the technically-possible "now," one can never go back.
McMenamins, much like Portland (the city where it began) is something of a concentrated playland for adults. This had been especially true at the Kennedy School in Portland, which is a retrofitted urban public elementary school. As its name implies, Old St. Francis School was once a Catholic parochial school, so it's smaller than Kennedy, but it's still impressive (and better than Gretchen's initial impressions had her believing). It features four or five different places where one can order food and drinks (including its movie theatre, which is outfitted with comfy loveseats and little tables), and somewhere there is the one commercial refuge in Bend where one can still smoke a cigar indoors. We decided to sit in one of the outdoor dining areas to take advantage of on McMenamin's two "happy hour" shifts (three to six and 10 to closing), and there we started out with fries, tater tots, and beers (an IPA for me, something wimpy from the McMenamins brewery for Gretchen). The fries weren't very good and the tater tots reminded me too much of bad school lunch food, so I stuck mainly with beer until we ordered and split a veggie burger. Because it was happy hour, the veggie burger was only $3 [and better than the $13 veggie burger we'd be eating at the Timberline Lodge tomorrow]. The outdoor dining at McMenamins in Bend is about as pleasant as such places get. Everybody out there seemed to be drinking a lot and having a great time. And why not? Where we'd be sleeping was an easy stumble away.
At some point in this first happy hour (and we'd be going to the other one too), Gretchen tried another of the products of the McMenamins brewery operation, a raspberry-infused ale called Ruby. She took one sip and was immediately in love. For the rest of the trip, every time she'd say the word "Ruby," it was as if she was talking about Sally, Eleanor, or the Baby. (I took a sip of her Ruby and found it insipid and uncomplicated, but to each her own. Ruby is clearly a beer designed for people who do not much like beer.) I should mention that the IPA at the Bend McMenamins was mediocre by Oregon standards, but it was still pretty good. I also tried one of their other hoppy beers that they produce seasonally, but I didn't much like it.
At some point we went back to our room and Gretchen attempted to watch a movie in the nearby theatre. There were no good options, so she tried watching The Back-up Plan starring Jennifer Lopez (she was no doubt cast in this movie because subconsciously the words "back" and "up" come to the minds of many whenever they think of her). But the movie proved unwatchable and Gretchen returned within a half hour.
Talk about vortexes, a McMenamins is the ultimate. If you've rented a room in one, there's no temptation whatsoever to leave the compound. Everything you could possibly want to do is right there a few steps down a hallway or perhaps across a courtyard. Our next activity was a soak in the Turkish-style soaking pool. It was like a huge indoor hot tub without the jets. You just climb in where there's room and bob in place for a half hour or so. The water is so hot that you can't really last much longer than that. This particular pool was actually more lavish than the one at the Kennedy School. It's completely indoors, and lavishly decorated with tile mosaics of a sort of 90s-style bob-haired St. Francis doing his various Franciscan deeds. In the very middle of the pool is a gently-burbling fountain. The ceiling looks to be about two stories away and features a skylight. It's a romantic place, and the straight guys there without women look inherently pathetic, though they're usually waiting for their women to arrive.
Our final activity of the day was the second happy hour, this time experienced indoors. We had another veggie burger and some sort of African-style stew. The food was fairly good, though our waiter was nearly useless.
There was a teevee in our room, and Gretchen watched a little as I drifted off to sleep.
Another look at Wizard Island on the way around the rim.
Looking back to the part of the rim where we'd spent the night. The lodge is invisibly small in the low spot in the middle of the distant rim.
Distant Mt. Thielsen and the Pumice Desert at its feet.
In the Pumice Desert with Mt. Thielsen.
Heading due east on Route 138 just north of Crater Lake National Park. The conical landform the road is heading towards is called Round Butte.
Fresh-looking lava flows just south of Bend.
Some sort of marmot (ground squirrel) in a pile of igneous boulders at a golf course along the Deschutes.
A Redwing Blackbird attacks a Trumpeter Swan in the Deschutes River.
Gretchen in the Deschutes just below a sewage treatment plant.
Our room at the Old St. Francis School.
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