Armed with our new friend and fellow traveler, Congresswomen Chloe Lobster Treehorn, a map, and an iTunes playlist, Hen and I hit the road Monday morning. I had a vague understanding about where I wanted to go but not a real good grasp on what it would actually take to get there. Turns out, it required a lot of driving. Tons. Many hours and miles.
Our first stop was Richardson's Rock Ranch not too far outside of Madras. Hen ran alongside the car to burn through some of his never-ending supply of energy for part of the trip to the actual dig site. It was quite fun and surprisingly easy to find the thunder eggs. We still have a bag of them in the house somewhere that I need to take somewhere local to have cut in half and polished.
With a recommendation from the owner of the rock ranch in hand we found a camping spot at Lake Simtustus, a PGE park just north of Madras. It is a great location and might serve well as a replacement camping spot for our group now that Lakeside has been sold and is no longer an option. On a side note, I'd do well to remember there are lawn sprinklers scattered about and those should be considered when it comes time to set up the tent. They came on late at night and through luck alone a few sprinkles hit our tent on one side. It could have been much worse. The lake has a perfect swimming area with dock and sparse seating, there is an outdoor community kitchen area, there is a dog area for swimming, and a place to launch boats, and you can rent cabins and yurts. The bathrooms were the cleanest I've ever seen. This could have been because we went off-season but I hold out hope that it is because the folks running the place just enjoy a really clean facility.
Next, we were off to the Painted Hills. And, yes, some idiot just had to walk on the hills directly behind the sign imploring people not to walk on them. The hills themselves are beautiful and ethereal and otherworldly. My favorite stretch of the entire drive came shortly after we left the hills but while we were still in the John Day Fossil Beds area. Best (approximately) four minutes of road I have traversed in my lifetime. It was stunning.
The drive continued the next morning after one last soak in the hot springs pool. Ahhhhh... Hen built a Game of Thrones inspired monument on the banks of the pool using the awesome but sharp little rocks that lined the interior of the pool. We drove a good long while until we reached Fields Station, where one can stop and get not only gas but the world's best milkshakes. For reals. (They were pretty good, I'm not going to lie.) And then we drove a little more and - finally! - reached the Alvord Desert, not that far from the southeastern corner of Oregon next to both the borders of both Idaho and Nevada.
In a word the Alvord Desert is magnificent. It opens up before you as you drive over the small hill and just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger. We eventually made our way down to it and set up camp. And then we drove over to the Alvord Hot Springs and relaxed in the lovely warm waters. Hen and I are definitely hot springs fans as a result of this trip. Things went fairly well until the sun set and we noticed really dark gray clouds sweeping over the mountains from the northwest. Oy. They were some ominous looking clouds. When the storm hit it was pretty fierce. I even moved the car to help block the tent from the major winds but it still hit us with enough force to bend the poles in. Yes, I may have, probably, did actually panic and drove over to the nearest, and only other, campers we saw to check if they planned on moving to higher ground, but they aren't and so we didn't either and somehow we came out alive. Phew.
Then we began our long trek home, driving and driving and driving until we reached Kah-Nee-Ta. The place was virtually empty. Hen swam in the pool, we read books, and ate a tasty meal at the hotel restaurant. And in the morning we drove the rest of the way home. All in all, it was a pretty successful journey. I can't wait until our next one.