Journalism, Photography

Postscript: Early fall 2017

October 2017 road trip

Crater Lake National Park was the first stop on my 11-day road trip in October.


Eleven days. Over 1,600 miles. Three states. Two national parks. One Chevy Trailblazer.

The initial plan was to head east, hitting Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks and looping back through Missoula and Coeur d’Alene. Snow spoiled my plans — a phrase I won’t often write — so I opted to head south instead.

Crater Lake was an obvious choice. Only a few hours’ drive from Portland, and Oregon’s only national park, I tabbed it as my first stop. I longed to return to Lake Tahoe, where I had stopped for a night’s rest and sunrise hike on my initial trip to Portland, so I added that to the list. Yosemite is only a few hours from Tahoe, and the crowds were likely to be manageable in October, so a stop there made sense. And I knew little about Mount Shasta, just off the interstate near the California-Oregon border, so it was also an attractive destination.

I’d swing through Bend, Oregon, to see family and relax a bit before heading home. The plan was ambitious — spanning essentially the length of Oregon and well into California — but I penciled in a few lighter travel days, printed documents, packed my gear, perused the bulk food aisles and hoped for the best.

A few highlights:

  • I was scrambling to get out of work in time to make it to Crater Lake before dark on the first day of the trip. My colleagues graciously divvied up the work I had left, and I rolled into my camping spot just outside the park before it got too late. I awoke the next morning and caught an awesome sunrise at the crater rim. Thanks, guys!
  • I picked a mountain bike trail in South Lake Tahoe that required a significant climb on a narrow, paved road before I reached the trailhead. Only a few minutes into the climb, a couple driving in the same direction stopped and asked if I wanted a ride. We loaded up my bike, and I was at the trailhead in no time. The ride down was incredible — winding through remote forest that opened, at one point, to a sweeping view of the Sierra Nevada. The couple’s generosity helped me save energy and savor the trip down.
  • I caught a stunning sunset from an old ski area parking lot on Mount Shasta during my last day in California. The south side of the mountain, where I hung out, was devoid of snow — with the exception of some upper reaches — but I’m already scheming plans to climb and ski a popular Shasta route next summer.

Lowlights:

  • I didn’t account for the below-freezing overnight temperatures during my first night near Crater Lake, and I slept fitfully because of it. From then on out, I bundled up before crawling into my sleeping bag, making the nights much more enjoyable.
  • I went on a walk one night while holding a footlong stick of smoked sausage, which I was cutting using a large pocketknife. I didn’t think anything of it at first but realized I must have looked strange.
  • I paid $3.99 per gallon to top off my tank outside Yosemite, if memory serves. Yikes.

Anyhow, here are some photos.

Crater Lake

This sunrise at Crater Lake National Park was a great way to start the trip. I awoke (really cold) just outside the park and made it to the crater rim just in time to take this shot — one of the first I took on the trip.

Lake Tahoe

I spent the next few days in the Lake Tahoe area, which I had previously visited on my trip from Ohio to Portland. I spent most of my time in Tahoe on a bike — taking my road bike out for a spin, riding a few mountain trails and hitting a bike park — but got in a little tourist action, too. This photo was taken from an overlook somewhat close to South Lake Tahoe.

Outside Yosemite

The drive to Yosemite National Park was a treat. I pulled off the highway (along with many other drivers) to snap a few shots of this burst of color against a picturesque mountain backdrop. I miss the stark changing of Michigan tree color in the fall, but this northern California display — and others throughout the trip — didn’t disappoint.

Yosemite

Yosemite National Park, of course, didn’t disappoint either. I camped just outside the entrance to the park on my first night in the area, got up early and made it a priority to snag a paid site inside the park. Luckily, I found some folks who were leaving their spot and slid in without any trouble. I then hiked to North Dome and Indian Rock Arch, pictured.

Indian Rock Arch

Half Dome is visible from many places in the park, and I caught a cool view of the famous face through the Indian Rock Arch.

Yosemite Valley

I’ve read about how busy the Yosemite Valley can get, and a couple I met at the arch the day before I took this photo said the valley was a bit of a zoo. Perhaps my expectations for some semblance of a “nature experience” were low, or the midweek October crowds were especially thin, but I didn’t find the valley to be terribly overrun with tourists. I rode around the valley on roads and a trail, taking in the usual Yosemite scenes, and took off for short hikes to a (largely) dry lake, yielding this view, and a grove of giant sequoias.

Cyclist on Shasta

After Yosemite, I made a beeline for Mount Shasta — a fourteener near the California-Oregon border. I passed this cyclist on the way to a camping spot partway up the mountain, and I was lucky to catch him rounding some of the last curves before the road ends at an old ski area parking lot.

Shasta sunset

I made dinner on a picnic table near the parking lot and stuck around to catch the sunset from Mount Shasta. This is one of the last photos I took during my trip, and it’s probably my favorite. Though simple, it’s emblematic of many views throughout northern California and the Northwest. I headed back to Oregon the next morning and spent the next two nights with my extended family in Bend. Then I rounded out my trip with a quick jaunt home.

Recommendations…

Listen to this Dirtbag Diaries podcast about the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota. I won’t spoil it for you, but there’s a moment (toward the middle, if memory serves) that prompted me to tear up a little bit.

Listen to Drake White’s debut album. And if you only listen to one song, make it “I Need Real,” a rousing, well written and honest track that’s among his best.

Read this (apparently viral) McSweeney’s piece about fall — AKA “decorative gourd season.” I laughed out loud many times.

Read this Garden & Gun story about a 2016 wildfire in the Smoky Mountains that left 14 dead. It’s full of heartbreaking passages like this:
“The fire lurched against the van’s windows on the way down. The embers popped on the windshield as he drove over fallen limbs, and the sound he couldn’t forget was the air itself howling in a type of surrender. He kept driving, hoping, remembering how he’d ended the phone call: I love you.”
The author’s storytelling really put me there.

Read, if you feel so inclined, two stories I reported about the Eagle Creek fire in Oregon: one about firefighters’ efforts to save the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge, and another about a tourist town’s singed economy.

***

That’s all for me, for now. Next up: ski season. I’m already starting my mountain forecast obsession…

As always, thanks for reading.

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “Postscript: Early fall 2017

  1. Nice to tag along with you. Great descriptions and photos. Glad you had a great trip. The last photo is incredible.

    Posted by David Stabler | October 19, 2017, 6:47 pm

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My name is Jim Ryan, and I'm a breaking news reporter for The Oregonian and OregonLive in Portland. I'm an Ohio University graduate from Gaylord, Michigan.

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