It’s been a brutal summer in the western United States. Lightning-sparked fires gobbled up tinder-dry and insect-riddled forests and clouds of ash-tinged smoke-stained the sky the color of tobacco skin. I leapt at the chance to escape to the Oregon coast where my friends had rented a beach house for the month of August.
Never content to drive directly to a destination, my journey must be worthy of the gas consumption. Yeah, go figure, I know it doesn’t make sense. I plotted a general course through central Oregon, determined to avoid the forest fires that dotted the map. These trips on secondary roads are the life blood of my existence. If I can’t screech to a stop for spontaneous photos, there’s too much traffic, so I look for thirdary roads. Crazy stuff catches my eye: barns, doors, signs, old relics, evidence of lives lived and abandoned. One expects hopes and dreams to be constructed in areas of beauty. But what of the ones tucked into a depression of dry scrub brush, with no trees, no mountains, no claim to the aesthetic? What twisted dream chose a site like that? And why? Was it the only affordable choice? Perhaps the dreamer was so worn down by the time he got there that he threw up his hands and proclaimed, “Here we will stay!” Driving through dilapidated Antelope, Oregon, an abandoned, early 20th century school house loomed on a rise at the end of time—a faded lime-green relic of happier days. During the early 1980’s this sleepy village became the chosen site for a commune of Rajneeshees, followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Renaming the town to Rajneeshpuram did sit well with the disorganized and baffled ranchers and town folk. For a few years, the town was the talk of the west as images filtered out to the news media of orange cloaked, hippy-look-alikes lined up to meet and greet their infamous Rajneesh as he rolled by in one of his too many Rolls Royces. After five years of perplexing turmoil, the Rajneeshees evaporated just about as mysteriously as they had appeared. I drove the dusty streets looking in vain for evidence of the Moonies among the 50 or so remaining residents.The scenery morphed from lovely and quaint ranches tucked into mountain meadows, to miles of mostly flat, dry grass and brush country. Occasional geological features conjure the long view__a history of cataclysmic weather events to make contemporary global warming pale in comparison: hoodoos; steep canyons, cut through basalt rock; long dead volcanic cones poking out of the prairie. Approaching Maupin, the familiar Columbia River Gorge flora began to appear and just around a bend in the road, lay White River Falls State Park, the site of an abandoned dam. As I struggled to capture the enchantment of the falls below the observation area, I was captured by a photographer for the Salem newspaper. Oh joy. He wanted my name so he could use images with me in the foreground. Rat’s I should have gotten some of him in my foreground!Doubling back toward Maupin, the Old Barlow Road roughly follows a slice of the Oregon Trail on the bench land south of the Gorge, I slept on a picnic table at the completely empty Rock Creek Reservoir campground, hoping to catch some Persoids between trees supplicating to heaven. But I slept too well.Leaving the campground the next morning, a narrow, paved road that pointing towards Mt. Hood distracted me. The main road lay in the opposite direction, but I am programed to discover what is around the next bend. I drove for about five miles through dense forest that was trying to reclaim the road. I expected to see deer or elk as the sun crested the horizon behind me. But the loping black bear that dashed into view in front of me woke me up. I kept driving, waiting for the aha moment—the view, the connection to something else, the destination. But wait, this is western Oregon. You can crest all sorts of summits and never see beyond the trees in front of you. Road 4820 ended at its intersection with gravel 4811. That was enough! If I only had a map! How did those explorers every get anywhere in this tangle of green? It turns out this area is heavily used by ORVs. The beauty of mid-week travel!Onward, toward coffee and breakfast. After sneaking up on Mt. Hood, I headed toward Portland on Highway 35 and stopped in a little wide spot called Rhododendron. Still Creek Inn looked closed but said it was open. This huge place probably serves mountains of food during the ski season, but I was the only customer that morning. The lone waitress poured me a cup of coffee and disappeared at about the same time the chef wandered out of the kitchen. An enormous man with a big scar on his oddly-shaped, bald pate, he bragged of his ability “to remember eight orders without writing them down—but that was before the accident.” Hmmm. There was a weird vibe to this place. He convinced me to order the special: German sausage and mushrooms scrambled into eggs, and the special part, which substituted huckleberry cakes for toast. I was prepared for saucer-sized cakes. Instead, I got two platter-sized cakes so full of hucks, I could barely find the cake. I hardly made a dent in all this food. This $12.95 meal carried me through the day Next stop, the Pacific Ocean!