A Walk In A Wild Oregon Forest

This afternoon Chad and I found ourselves in a wild forest full of towering trees, a multitude of mushrooms, and glowing autumn leaves. And when I say we found ourselves there, I mean that we got back to some integral, essential part of who each of us are, and who we are as a couple. Not that these parts were lost, just too darn busy.

We decided to move from Northeast Utah to Southwest Oregon over the summer. This decision was motivated by various factors, including me losing a job, and it wasn’t a decision taken lightly. We loved our high desert haunts in Utah, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I sobbed like a baby when the reality of moving kicked in. I knew I would miss our special desert hiking spots, and indeed, I do.

So finding a hiking spot of our own in our new location was very important for us. Spending time in a wild place that is minimally touched by human intention is, for both of us, healing, rejuvenating, and exhilarating. Today we enjoyed those feelings as we walked through the forest under the incredible heights of douglas firs, hemlocks, western red cedars, and many other species of beautiful trees.

It is enlightening to see what nature does when left to its own devices. The trees that fall to the forest floor are allowed to remain there, decomposing, creating a delightfully spongy surface to walk on. We kept noticing pairs of trees growing side by side: one douglas fir and one hemlock, with each tree thriving as they grow closely side by side.

The past several months have been exceptionally busy for both of us. Moving is a major feat that comes with several different varieties of stress to deal with, not to mention all the unpacking and getting settled in. Chad is adjusting to a new job, and I am starting up a new business. Our new life in a new community has been full of warm social interactions and exciting cultural opportunities. Yet, life isn’t quite in balance until we have our wild places. And now we do.

Cape Blanco Cabin Camping and a Farewell

Back in May, Chad and I traveled through Oregon and made a stop at Cape Blanco State Park, on the coast. We arrived at the park in early evening to a cool and cloudy 53 degrees. The campground is nestled into a forest populated mainly by giant, spooky looking Sitka Spruce trees. The forest is dense and the lower limbs of the trees tend to be broken off and covered with moss. You take a short walk out of the forest and find yourself on bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

After walking through the gloomy forest and braving the coastal winds, we headed back to our cozy cabin. The cabin featured a nice little back porch and had a picnic table and fire pit but it was just so windy that we decided to spend the evening in the cabin rather than hanging out under the night sky. It was also late by then so we decided to just eat some snacks instead of having a proper dinner.

We had a good night’s rest in the cabin and were delighted to see that the weather had calmed and that the sun was peaking down through the trees. We ate our camping breakfast (yogurt, peanut butter, fruit, GF cereal) out on our little picnic table and then wandered around the campground a bit, enjoying the sun peaking through the trees.

It seems that we were there at the right time of year as far as flower-viewing goes. Everything seemed to be in bloom! We walked over the bluffs checking out the local vegetation and eventually headed down to one of the state park’s beaches.

We had the entire beach to ourselves and of course, ended up doing things that you feel compelled to do on a beach: run around on the sand, frolic in the surf, watch the waves, and bust a few yoga poses.

We also had a mission for our beach visit – scattering the ashes of one of Chad’s recently departed friends, John. John’s wife Mickey had a novel idea for spreading his ashes – she put the ashes into small bags and asked everyone who attended his memorial service to scatter them in places that he would have loved. As a fellow outdoor and wilderness lover, Chad thought that John would appreciate having a tiny part of himself left at wild and rugged Cape Blanco. It felt good to do something symbolic to memorialize him.

Just as we were about to leave the beach, Chad noticed something in the water. A little head bobbing above the waves that almost looked like a person. What swims in the water and has a head that looks like a person? A ghost? No. A sea lion.

Spending time on a beach is exhilarating for so many reasons. Of course, there’s the wind, the waves, the sand. For me there is excitement in being at the edge of a whole different habitat, the ocean. Catching glimpses of this alien but very earthly world is a good reminder to me that our day-to-day concerns (for instance, whether we get to our next destination on time) are small and probably not all that important. And maybe if things don’t go as planned, something wonderful will end up happening…

 

Harley hikes Sheep Creek Canyon

We spent a weekend in the Flaming Gorge area recently and took a drive to one of my favorite places in this part of the state, the Sheep Creek Canyon Geological Area, also known as Sheep Creek Canyon Loop. Chad took me here on one of my first visits to Utah and I was awed by the fascinating geology. So I was looking forward to returning – this time under a beautiful blue sky and bringing our dogs along with us.

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The geological loop is one you can enjoy entirely from your car should you choose to. In winter part of the loop is usually closed due to unsafe conditions. So when we reached the gate and could drive no further, we got out, found a nice spot near some conifers, had a picnic and sat, enjoying the scenery.

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I loved the variety of textures and colors offered by the geology in the canyon and kept looking in amazement when I’d notice something new: striations, cliffs, landslides, jagged peaks, diagonal layers, pinnacles. This area is a visual feast.

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After our meal, we decided to hike up the road that was closed off. I thought to myself that we’d have to see how far Harley could go, and might have to cut the hike short if he seemed like he was struggling.

Harley is our elderly dog. He’s 13 or 14 and has been having a few issues lately because of his advanced age, yet he remains amazingly sweet, patient and good-natured. He still jumps excitedly when it’s meal time and often bounces eagerly along on our daily walks, but there have been times lately when he looks up at me with his big sad eyes and lets me know he’s too tired to go on those walks.

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On this walk, Harley surprised us all. Not only did he have plenty of energy, he took the lead, and I had to keep adjusting my pace to keep up with him. He strode along the road looking like he knew exactly where he was going – and was in a bit of a hurry to get there! He only got sidetracked to munch on patches of snow a few times. Chad and I kept laughing at what an amazing job Harley was doing hiking with us, making this one of those special memories we’ll always cherish.

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The views along the road were amazing, and Chad, who usually likes to bushwhack off-trail, was as happy as I was that we decided to hike along the road instead of in a dense thicket of saplings.

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Leo and Charlie obviously had a great time too. They had noses to the wind the whole time, no doubt taking in an exciting array of wild aromas.

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By the time we made it back to the car, the clouds had started rolling in, covering the beautiful blue sky, and we were all well-exercised and feeling good. The dogs snoozed happily in the back seat as we made our way back towards Red Canyon Lodge, although sadly, we did not encounter any yaks along the way.

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Idaho sheepherder wagon

One of the most interesting spots we’ve stayed in during our travels together was in a little sheepherder wagon in Idaho. We were on our way to the zone of Totality during the 2017 Eclipse, and this ended up being a nice stopover on the way to our destination. And yes, everything else was already booked.

We arrived at the wagon after dark so the next morning we enjoyed discovering our picturesque location. Chad was excited about getting up with the sun to take photos. I was excited about getting some extra sleep.

While I snoozed in the wagon, Chad wandered around taking photos and found some chokecherry trees, with berries much bigger, juicier and more delicious than the ones we have at home, so he grabbed some for the road! They obviously get more rain in Idaho than we do here in Utah.

Chad also did some wildlife observing next to a little stream.

I finally got out of bed and then we enjoyed our breakfast at the fold-up table and chairs we’d brought.

Until we got there I didn’t think to ask where the bathroom was going to be. As Chad pointed out, if you’re used to camping, this little portable toilet is a nice step up from squatting in the bushes.

Sleeping in this little wagon was a fun experience, very cosy and intimate. Good thing the hotels and campgrounds were full and we were able to try it out!

Airbnb listing: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/14656207

Ouray Badlands

Badlands, so-called because you supposedly can’t grow anything on them, are characterized by their eroded, bare-looking, rounded slopes showing a lot of colorful striations. I’ve been intrigued with them since learning about them at work, enchanted by aerial views of land forms I couldn’t quite figure out but was eager to get a closer look at.

I finally got a much closer look when we went to Ouray National Wildlife Refuge, a place known for its wetlands and migratory birds, to hike on the badlandy hills there. (Yes, badlandy is a word. At least it is now.) It was a steep and rugged climb getting to the top of the hills, but once we were there it was just magical.

Soon after we arrived at the top Chad picked up a piece of something I assumed was a rock, had me look at it, and told me it was a piece of fossilized turtle shell. I’m enough of a nerd that fossils in the wild really bowl me over – in this case I was in disbelief. As we looked, we kept finding more and more pieces of turtle shell. We took photos but left the fossils there, as you should if you find fossils on public land. I still find it just amazing that we were able to go hiking on ground that was probably under water millions of years ago, and discover traces of the former inhabitants, just lying on the ground. Moments like these really help put things into perspective for me.

Walking on the ridges and running up and down the slopes of the hills was a ton of fun. Hiking on terrain like this just might be one of my favorite things to do. The vistas are beautiful, the ground is beautiful, and those hills are actually not as barren as they look. We saw plenty of plants growing here and there.

The only thing that marred the experience for me was that beyond the edge of the refuge, the horizon was littered with the tell-tale shapes of oil wells. Alas, the refuge is literally surrounded by them. That is what drives the economy in this neck of the woods. I can’t help dreaming of an alternative though, where eco-tourism is the force that gives people their paychecks instead of the polluting, depleting oil and gas industry. I imagine some of you out there may think I’m exaggerating, always harping on environmental issues. But I think whatever your stance on the environment, for someone who is an outsider to this region of the country, it is just shocking to see how much of the landscape is marked by oil and gas. Which is one of the reasons Chad and I want to show you the beautiful landscapes that need protection from the spread of industry.

We will return to Ouray for more hikes, no doubt, but I will always have a lump in my throat as we drive past the oil wells to get there.