Early light from behind the cracks in the curtains woke me in our motel room. I jumped out of bed to see clear skies beckoning. Not a precious moment could be wasted. The forecast was good, and storms were not expected until late afternoon. We could leave Mt Shasta and reach Crater Lake before lunch.
We drove northward into Oregon on roads that were mostly deserted. The valley around Fort Klamath was silent. Here and there were empty old barns. Houses and cabins seemed to be closed for winter with driveways deep in snow. The only life I saw was a pair of fish swimming in a crystal clear stream in a world of their own.
It was not until we reached Crater Lake that we saw a few other people. I took a photo and then moved around the rim to where the views were steeper and clearer. Clouds were starting to move in from the west bringing a change. Suddenly what portended an ill wind to me hit. It was freezing cold, carrying ice particles that were hurled like many thousands of tiny spears. Melody sheltered while I finished my photo stepping gingerly not to lose my footing in the ice covered snow.
Hastening off the mountain, we soon turned east taking back roads across high desert country to Christmas Valley hoping to outrun the weather. We were glad when we got there to see the only gas station for many miles, refueled, and stocked up on a few drinks and snacks.
Nightfall came when we reached Burns. The streets were mostly devoid of traffic and people. We checked into the Silver Spur Motel on the far side of town at the end of main street. Only $44 dollars a night, free wifi, queen sized beds and most importantly, heating. The surrounding country was still covered in snow, but patches looked swampy where it had begun to melt.
We had dinner at the Mexican bar and dinner back down Nth Broadway Ave. It had a only few customers. In spite of the recent siege at Malheur, there was no evidence of law enforcement or media remaining present in the town. Most motels and restaurants were empty. The circus had left this distant place to follow other stories. It was encouraging to hear the locals checking in with each other, asking whether they were doing okay. Back at the motel I received an unwelcome email from a former employer and would spend several sleepless night worrying. I started to feel breathless and unwell.
The next morning grey clouds hung low in the sky, the light was soft with a tinge of orange on the mountains to the east. In the distance Steens Mountain stood white and resolute. Reaching the pass and vales near Stinkingwater Creek the emptiness spread out before us. We stopped briefly to admire its beauty and momentarily feel the solitude. It would be a long way to Vale with its streetscapes of murals celebrating the Oregon trail and the path taken by pioneers to distant places.
We had last crossed the Oregon trail several years ago at Montpellier in Idaho from where it is a long way down the Snake River Valley and then beside the Malheur River to Vale, and even further to Burns or Christmas Valley. On the wall outside the Vale Public Library is a mural depicting pioneers enjoying the nearby Malheur River, resting and breaking their long journey with water and pastures for their beasts. The route most certainly was tough heading west from Vale along the Malheur into the high desert. Above the library entrance there is a quote from a pioneer woman which for me captures the essence of enduring such a long lonely trail into desolation:
“I must keep writing to remember who I am.”
All photos taken with Chamonix 045F1, Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-S 150mm and Goerz Dagor 10 3/4″ lenses, on Delta 100 film and developed in a mix of Xtol and RO9.