Two days of our visit to Oregon were spent on a family camping trip in northern California near Mount Shasta, the towering mountain peak at the southern end of the Cascade Range. We camped at a resort on Lake Siskiyou, which is a reservoir formed by Box Canyon Dam on the Sacramento River.
The resort had enough beach activities to entertain the 4 teenage girls we had with us. The surrounding forests and mountains kept the adults entertained with hiking and biking activities.
The first day was a strenuous bike ride on Castle Lake Road, a 7-mile straight up climb from the 3200-foot elevation of Lake Siskiyou to the 5200-foot elevation of Castle Lake. That’s a bit more hill climbing than I’m used to doing on a bike, but with encouragement from my super athlete daughter, I made it to the top. Castle Lake is a small alpine lake, quite scenic and a nice reward for the uphill pedal.
The second day we wanted to check out the 7.5-mile trail that goes all the way around Lake Siskiyou. Lee and I plodded along on foot and finished in time to be back at the car for lunch and checkout time at the campground. Meanwhile, Ruth zipped around twice on her mountain bike, meeting up with us on the trail to give a report of the sights ahead before heading back to camp and helping the girls finish the packing. Everyone made it safely back to Medford in the early afternoon, agreeing that Lake Siskiyou camping was a positive experience that we can look forward to doing again on a future visit to Oregon.
For the past 11 years, this last week in July would have found me riding my bicycle somewhere on one of the many RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa) routes that specialize in providing tours of the beautiful Iowa countryside. Either before or after that annual vacation, we would also schedule a week in the summer when we could visit family in Oregon and enjoy the beauties of that state. This year, after we decided not to do RAGBRAI, we scheduled our trip to Oregon for this week and drove there on a route that went through parts of the West that we hadn’t yet seen.
On the first day was a stop at the Four Corners Monument. It wasn’t a planned stop and it required a slight detour, as well as a $10 fee, and a half-hour wait in line. When I saw how long the line was, I was about ready to give up the idea, but Lee convinced me that as long as we were there we should get the famous photo where you can stand in one spot and be in 4 different states at the same time–the only such place in the US.
The rest of the drive on that first day was a new thrill as we drove through the beautiful canyonlands of southeastern Utah. We told ourselves that we needed to plan a hiking and camping trip in this area in the near future.
Our goal for the first day was the campground at Green River State Park, further north in Utah. I don’t know if this year’s temperatures were warmer than normal, but it was close to 100 that afternoon and didn’t cool down very much that night. I’d become used to the drop in overnight temperatures in the deserts of New Mexico so this was like being back in the East or Midwest with the hot summer nights of Virginia or Iowa. I thoroughly enjoyed our stay at this quiet campground along the river.
The second day of our trip found us driving through Nevada on the stretch of US 50 that has been labeled “The Loneliest Road in America.” It may not be as lonely now as it was
when it earned that name over 20 years ago, but I can say that it is one long stretch of mountains and desert largely unspoiled by the modern-day highway scourges of fast-food establishments, convenience stores and tourist “attractions” that clutter most all of the other interstates we drive on. We had planned an overnight stay at Austin, Nevada, and, since we weren’t planning to camp, we knew we were taking a chance that we would find any suitable motels there, given the lack of services in most of the places we had passed through all that day.
Austin was settled in the late 1800’s and quickly grew to be the second-largest city in Nevada, due to a “silver rush” that ultimately proved to be not as profitable as hoped. Today it still has a couple of gas stations and restaurants and 3 motels. Otherwise, one could almost label it a ghost town. We were glad to see the motels and, while certainly not modern or fancy, the night’s accomodations were quite adequate to provide us a restful sleep.
The only other time I can remember driving through Nevada was on the western side of the state where it is mostly flat, barren stretches of desert. The miles of highway driving east to west across the middle of Nevada were very different from what I had expected. There are multiple mountain ranges running north and south in this part of the state. US 50 leads you up one mountain range, through a summit or pass at the top, and then back down to the desert where you head towards the next mountain range across the desert in the distance to repeat the same pattern. That seemed to take hours and hours of driving both before and after our overnight stay in Austin. But they were enjoyable hours and we had many opportunities to break the monotony by stopping at scenic overlooks or historical markers to learn more about this fascinating area.
The last leg of our 3-day drive to Oregon was familiar once we reached Fallon, Nevada, and then headed north through Reno, Nevada, on into California and then the final destination of Medford, Oregon. Now we are ready to relax and enjoy time with family here before we have to drive all those miles again to get back to New Mexico.
NM Highway 68 between Taos and Espanola parallels the Rio Grande River and offers glimpses of the river and the huge gorge it has carved in the landscape. I knew there was a lot more of this area that I wanted to see than just the time or two that we had driven by it on the highway. This week we made a one night camping trip to the Wild Rivers area of the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument. This gorgeous upper section of the Rio Grande Gorge was grand indeed.
At this point on the Rio Grande, the scenic Red River empties into the Rio Grande. The only way to access the point where the 2 rivers join is to hike down the steep basalt cliffs that form the canyons of the rivers. There are several well maintained trails for getting down to that point, as well as other points along the rivers.
After a chilly night sleeping in our tent in the very quiet and peaceful campground that sits atop the Taos Plateau on the edge of the gorge, we were more than ready to begin our trek down into the gorge. We headed towards La Junta Point, the spectacular overlook that gives a birds-eye view of the confluence of the two rivers.
The trail was steep and rocky but with the built-in staircases along the way it wasn’t that difficult to get down. I would have been quite a climb to go back up that way!
After enjoying some time at the water’s edge we continued our hike by following the trail upriver along the Rio Grande. I found it interesting that the trees here were Ponderosa Pines, while the vegetation at the top was piñon and juniper. Usually when we hike it is the Ponderosa that replaces the piñon and juniper as you hike to higher elevations, not as you hike lower. This sign explained it well.
Before beginning the climb back out of the gorge we walked to a small spring that flows out of the canyon walls. The trail that we then took back up came out on top of the plateau at the campground where we were staying. We had taken that trail down and back up the evening before so we knew what to expect. Not an easy one-mile section left to hike, but at the end we were more than ready to sit at our picnic table in the shade and enjoy our well-earned lunch break.
We started our 2-day “mini” vacation by camping overnight at Villanueva State Park, a small campground along a bend in the Pecos River about 60 miles downstream from its source high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. My years of living in southern New Mexico had left me with the idea that the Pecos River, after it leaves the mountainous country of northern New Mexico, is flat and boring. I had never been in this section of the state and was pleasantly surprised to find such an interesting area hidden between high sandstone bluffs along the river.
We arrived at the park in time to take a walk before dinner on the trail on the northern side of the river that leads to overlooks of the valley and village of Villanueva. After dinner we hiked the trail on the opposite side of the river, where the bluffs were even higher with more impressive views. Recent rainfalls in the mountains had caused the river to fill up with muddy water, making its color not that appealing, but if one imagined it as a flow of melted chocolate it didn’t seem so bad.
Camping at Villanueva put us in a good position for the next day’s hike in the Pecos Wilderness. We had done a couple of hikes in this area before. It was nice this time to only have an hour’s drive from Villanueva campground on the Pecos River to the upper reaches of the river, instead of having to drive there all the way from Albuquerque.
The hike we chose started from Jack’s Creek campground and led us through forests and alpine meadows to a ridge with views of Pecos Baldy, a 12,500-foot peak in the Sangre de Cristos. The trail went much further than what we were wanting to do for this day hike. We hiked until lunchtime and then stopped in a meadow where we could enjoy the views as we ate our lunch. The clouds were beginning to gather and we had to get out our rain ponchos on the last mile back down. We knew we were heading back into the desert heat in Albuquerque so we didn’t mind the momentary chill as we changed out of our damp clothes and got into our car for the drive home.
I can’t think of a better way to start off the week than to hike two days in a row. Monday’s hike was a favorite that I have done before. I decided to take a break from picture-taking on that one. To see photos and map check out June 3 and September 8 posts. I should have taken pictures, though, because even though the awesome views don’t change, the environment certainly changes with the seasons. On the hike in June we were struggling through snowbanks, whereas Monday the snow was a distant memory and we reaped the benefits of the snow’s moisture with sightings of many varieties of beautiful wildflowers.
Today’s hike was in the Jemez Mountains, northeast of the small village of Ponderosa. Driving up to the Jemez for other hikes, we always pass the turnoff from Highway 4 that goes to Ponderosa and I’d been curious about what was out that way.
Not surprisingly, once through Ponderosa, the drive was over a rough, rutted forest road. One of the benefits of hiking with the Albuquerque Seniors hiking group is that a city van is getting us over the rough roads and we don’t have to drive our own car. Also, if we hadn’t had a hike leader who was following a GPS track of the hike, it would have been an impossible trail to find.
After a scramble over a rocky ridge, the trail followed an abandoned road through San Juan Canyon. A couple of places had trickles of water in what was once the stream through the canyon, but mostly it was very dry. The mountains around Albuquerque are just beginning to experience the summer thunderstorms that develop this time of year. We had rain gear with us and our hike leader set a goal that we should be back to the van by 2:00. That turned out to be perfect timing. The clouds had begun to gather by the time we reached the van and we heard the first rumbles of thunder.
Looking behind us on the drive back to Albuquerque we could see that there were some significant rain showers in the area we had just left. That is a welcome sight around here and, hopefully, there will be more to come in the days ahead.