Cowboys, Indians, and the Wild West

Travels through Oregon and Idaho.

 So picking up from sleeping in Warm Springs, Oregon. I left the following morning around nine. Drove through some amazing country for a short while, taking frequent stops if I saw a piece of landscape I enjoyed. The towns on OR26 are little dinky things, consisting of a few main streets and a small scattering of houses. Each town is at least fifty miles from the next, with no sign of humanity between, aside from a road and cars. Cars. There aren’t many of those, either. My drive east on 26 was a desolate experience compared to driving up the Oregon coast. It was common to go ten minutes without seeing another car pass. Sometimes twenty minutes. It is an incredible and sometimes intense experience to be this single tiny human among the monstrous hills, lake-sized swaths of alpine meadows, and fuzzy blankets of unending coniferous trees.
   Two nights after leaving Warm Springs, I came out of the mountains between two fingers onto a farmland covered in cattle and corn. The town was Brogan, OR. The first thing on this one-street town is a corner store. Two fuel pumps outside from the seventies, standing guard in front of a store that may have seen a wagon or two in its time, from its look. I walked inside, barefoot and no shirt. There was a small wooden table in the back with two men sitting at it. They were clearly deep in conversation, as neither batted an eye when I walked in. I was almost standing on the table before they took notice. The guy wearing the cowboy hat, white hair, red and blue plaid long-sleeved shirt, and blue jeans stood up. He said, “hey! How are ya?”
     “I’m doin’, you?”
     “Good! Oh! Dang I didn’t even hear you drive up, my apologies! I can just get to talkin’ sometimes… E’eryone around here tells me that I’m fit for this job. You want gas?”
     “Haha no worries. Yeah, I’ll do ten unleaded.”
     Keep in mind that in Oregon they pump your fuel for you. We walk outside and he starts pumping gas as we continue our conversation. When the fuel cut off, I learned that he was a cattle rancher for most of his life, he owned and lived in the corner store, he has lived in this town for forty years, and the sunsets in this area are really pretty. He seemed like he had lived an interesting story. I thanked him for the conversation and joked about how I preferred to pay the ten bucks for the chat, and the fuel was just to get me to leave. Then I took off towards a town called Vale. It was roughly two in the afternoon.

 

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This picture was actually taken in 1863. Those aren’t gas pumps, they’re water hoses for horses. Duh.

     I drove for thirty minutes or so before deciding it was time to consider a sleeping spot. I pulled off of the highway onto a dirt road into a corn field. The giant hills surrounding the area had diminished on the horizon during the drive, leaving me with a visual remnant of what they were a mere hour earlier. I went through my normal process of setting up base camp for the evening. I popped the top on Dumbo, and, well, I guess that’s about it. There isn’t much prep work involved in setting up base camp. I had quite some time before sunset began and the heat of the day poured down like an unavoidable, perpetual waterfall. The interaction at the corner store was still casually drifting about in my head.
     I didn’t even ask his name. But why did it matter? I’ve encountered numerous people in my life without asking for their name; why did his suddenly matter? He had said that he loved talking with people. Well isn’t that what part of this journey is about? If a man has lived in a specific location for forty years tells you it has good sunsets, chances are, he’s probably right. I packed up base camp again and drove back to that corner store in Brogan.
     He was sitting at the table again when I walked in. His previous conversational partner had disappeared.
     “You’re still in the same spot? I’ve been gone for hours!”

     He chuckled. “Yeah I had a few customers, but this store does a pretty good job of runnin’ itself!” I sat down at the chair next to him, and embarked on a conversational journey with a man thirty-nine years my senior about everything from self-driving cars to the benefits to being able to have a family while doing farm work. We talked almost uninterrupted for four hours. For two of those hours, we were joined by one of his neighbors, Walt, who owned four thousand acres for cattle farming as well as a seed company. We were also briefly joined by Nancy; her family had just recently purchased farmland in the area. They were both in their seventies as well. The owner of the cowboy hat, plaid shirt, and corner store is Rod.

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Rod, Walt, and Nancy soaking in the rays of retirement.

     It was a good conversation. I had a pop and two beers out of his fridge, which he offered on the house as payment for passing the day with him. He suggested a good location to watch the sun go down, then showed me a spot on the side of the corner store that I could park the van and sleep. I’d like to think that he went to bed with a smile similar to mine, because I was besides myself with happiness.
     I woke in the morning shortly before the sun and ran for an hour while watching the sun rise on the western hills. After the run, I did my breakfast thing, organized Dumbo, then went into the corner store to tell Rod I was off. He was having morning coffee with the others in the area. It reminded me of when I was younger, all the farmers used to meet in the mornings at the Hardee’s on Alpharetta highway for coffee. We said a quick farewell and I jumped into my silly box on wheels to head out into more unknown.
     I don’t have a specific location I am driving to when I drive. For this next leg, I had a general idea of where I wanted to end up before the end of the day. I would continue on  OR26 and change to interstate 84 near Boise, ID. before quickly jumping off and taking ID21 northeast towards Stanley, ID. Dumbo wasn’t a fan of the interstates in the open country. The speed limit is eighty on most major freeways out here and Dumbo isn’t a fan of anything over fifty-five. We much prefer taking the back roads for this reason among many.
     Halfway between where I would begin driving ID21 and where it passes through Stanley, I noticed a county road in the middle of a national forest. There appeared to be a river running along county road 327 for a few miles which could benefit me well. I turned off on this washboard gravel road and drove it at a steady ten miles per hour for what seemed like the rest of my lifetime. Dumbo shook and rattled loudly from the constant barrage of bumps from the worn road for fifteen or so miles until I stumbled upon the river, and then a campground alongside it like I predicted. I gotta say, Idaho has some pristine rivers, looking beautifully unadulterated by environmental stress. They are crystal clear, wide things galloping playfully over a bed of endlessly-tumbled stones.
     Nobody was at the campsite. It was mine for the picking. I showed up with a decent amount of sun leftover and there was a nearby hill that was attracting my attention. I closed up Dumbo, grabbed my toe shoes, and started for the top. The hill was between a thirty and forty degree slope the entire way up, covered in mostly dirt, wild grass, and sagebrush. I didn’t make it to the top, but I did get a nice view of another hill across the river that had what appeared to be the highest peak within view. I decided I would be spending tomorrow camping out here as well before heading back down to the van. The climb from start to finish was two hours and change. A really great workout.

     The remainder of the night was spent cooking a meal. I cooked up a piece of steak, sweet potatoes with monterey jack cheese and jalapenos, and broccoli sizzled in coconut oil. I had been making circles around Dumbo on occasion to line up a good picture with the setting sun when I had breaks in between watching the food. I was waiting for the right light. When the sun was shining on the inside of the roof, I grabbed my camera and took twenty or so steps from the van before turning around and seeing her. She stood with fragility on the back side of my van, her black eyes staring comfortably at mine. Neither one of us moved for a moment. I was waiting to see her next move. I think she was doing the same. Eventually, she lifted her back leg and scratched her neck. I took a quick photo of exactly the picture I was looking to get before slowly moving around my camp to eat the meal I had finished cooking. She lingered around me until twilight was well underway, eating leaves from bushes in the area, occasionally glancing to see what I was doing. Talk about a lovely feeling. I must be doing something right if a lone doe feels comfortable enough to forage for food around me. This land has been theirs much longer than ours, after all.

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She’s playing coy, peeking around the back side of Dumbo.

     I woke the next morning early as usual. The sun was just cresting the hills around me. A great time for a hike. I drank a large glass of water before throwing on my shoes and crossing the river. This hike was going to take quite a bit more time than the one yesterday. The beginning was steeper and the top was higher. It was a slow but rewarding process as I approached the top. From the moment I finished the first section of about two hundred feet of elevation, my body found its groove and began autopilot. I spent thirty minutes or so at the top, sharing the moment with the other mountain tops around me, before heading back down to where I came. This time, the hike took somewhere around five hours, judging by the position of the sun. When I returned to Dumbo, everything was in the same order I had left it. I made some lunch and spent the rest of the day swimming in the river and writing.
     I left early the following day enroute to Stanley. I’m not sure how to adequately describe the expanse of scenery I witnessed as I drove alongside a river, then up into the mountains, then back out into a valley nestled among the Rockies. I tried to take pictures of the drive, but I didn’t feel right about sharing a picture which didn’t hold a withering candle to the actual experience. I took a panorama of the town of Stanley, a little blip of human existence amongst a world of snow-peaked mountains. I would like to spend more time there one day. It is truly beautiful country. But I now had somewhat of a timeline to be in Salt Lake City, so I passed through and moved toward my next destination.

     The Craters of the Moon National Preserve is located in the southeastern portion of Idaho, thirty miles to the east of a community called Carey on ID26. I made it there with a few hours to spare before another exciting sunset display. The traffic on this highway was so minimal that I pulled off the road near the preserve to set up camp. There was no reason to look for a better place to sleep. And sleep I did, as a full moon climbed into the sky and elegantly lit a field of black, jagged rock crater structures for as far as the eye could see. A full moon while sleeping at Craters of the Moon. Can’t complain.

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Parked outside Craters of the Moon.

     At dawn, I closed up Dumbo and drove five miles to the entrance of the preserve. There was a five mile loop that ran into the heart of the preserve, with a few small trails shooting off in various directions to notable features. I was going to drive the loop at first, but reminded myself of a thought I had the day prior while driving through mountain country: driving in Dumbo at 55mph sometimes seems too fast to fully appreciate the beauty of something. I did a barefoot run around the loop instead, stopping at each one of the informational signs that were posted along the way. The signs explained how the area formed 2100 years ago from a series of small volcanoes that have since been dormant, creating chambers, tubes, caves, pillars, and cones from the hardening lava. The people that work at the park monitor the changes in the area due to pollution and human traffic, presenting questions to the readers about how we should handle our impact on the environment, more specifically, the preserve.
     I finished my run and cooked up a bowl of oatmeal before driving again. One more day of driving and one night of sleeping in the middle of nowhere before I arrived at Salt Lake City yesterday. Yesterday also marks the first time I have slept indoors since visiting Virginia in April. It is an interesting difference. It seems very loud to sleep in a house in comparison with the silence of nature. I am spending some time with a good friend from high school, Dan, and his wife Kim. It is good to see Dan again and I’m excited about the coming days. I also landed my first job. Dan has some work he needs done on one of his cars, a fairly in depth job. We are going to talk things over tonight but it looks like I will be changing the head gasket on a Subaru Outback over the course of the week. We are also going to spend some time rock climbing nearby on his days off.
     That was a bit of a read, but the last week has been full of excitement for me. They all won’t be so long. It will really depend on the amount of time I have with internet combined with what is happening. There will likely be weeks when I’m doing a bunch of nothing. I find it difficult to paraphrase my experience any more than I have done, and I would rather write out a bunch of garble that you can skip if the pictures tickle your fancy. But I think a picture goes best with a good story, much like a pedicure goes best with a good glass of wine. Well I guess anything goes well with a good glass of wine. Or two. Drink the bottle.
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