February 25, 2012

An homage to the austere beauty of central oregon

This last fall we decided to take a drive we virtually had never done for fun. My brother went to school in Sisters so we drove over there often when I was younger, but rarely with enough time just to muck about. This time it was purely on a whim, fed by the aesthetic desire for vast openness and the late summer panic when you make sure you've done everything you can before the freezes come. We brought our roadside geology books and tracked the geologic history of the road-cuts and gravels and buttes from start to finish. It was wildfire season, which made the trip more exciting, but scary. Luckily the fire we saw wasn't in an inhabited area and was near several lakes.

We drove up the winding, switchback laden Old McKenzie Highway (Route 242) and stopped at the familiar Dee Wright Observatory. Earlier in the summer, some friends of ours took their bikes on the highway as snow had been cleared from part of the road, but not enough for cars.

The Dee Wright Observatory was built at McKenzie pass during the depression by Civilian Conservation Corps workers. You can still see the old wagon trails from the 1860s there. That might be Belknap crater there but I'm not positive. I remember scampering across the lava and hunting for chipmunks with my Girl Scout troop here. That is the smoke from the fire in the image above. It would've filled the frame in another few minutes.

This image shows the Middle and North Sisters, with the Collier glacier between them. Everything is so open out there. I've always thought it looks like another planet because of how the skeleton trees just can't seem to thrive.

We finished our day at a road-side burger joint where I had a blackberry shake so thick I had to eat it with a spoon. We set off for home but stopped when we found a great vista of the fire. Many people were gathered at this wide shoulder taking pictures and saying over and over "Did you see that?!". If you look really closely in this picture you can see a few sparks- the fire was right over the highest point in that ridge. Helicopters were dipping into the lake in the middle of the image. As we drove home, the moon hovered directly in front of us, shining blood red through the haze.

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