Sometimes you just need to take a day for yourself, get in the car, and drive until you can’t drive anymore. After a week filled with a lot of emotional and personal frustrations, I headed down to the Portland Saturday Market excited to get out and sell some more photos, only to find all the vendor spots taken and myself left out of the Market for the day. It was a beautiful morning though, the sun casting beautiful morning light along the waterfront in downtown Portland, and I seized the opportunity to head out and look for some areas of Oregon I’d never taken the chance to explore before. I loaded up with all the essentials; half a dozen Blue Star Donuts and enough candy and snack food to last me a week, and set off eastward.
I opted to take the scenic drive over Mt. Hood and through Government Camp, the gleaming pinnacle of the snow-covered mountain calling me forward. The skies were brilliant blue, and the sun beat down warmly on the mountainside as I headed to what would be my first stop on the impromptu road-trip: Trillium Lake.
Snow covered the main campground entrance to the lake, and not realizing there was an open road to the lake’s edge further down the forest road, I parked my car along the roadside and set out over the packed snow toward the water’s edge. I postholed several times, but managed to make my way to the lake, only to find a dozen cars parked along the snow-free parking lot, and people enjoying the warm spring day on and around the lake. Even the ducks were enjoying the beautiful morning, and eagerly stalked the water’s edge looking for pieces of bread thrown by all too complicit children.
Encouraged by the beautiful day, I kept heading east, down through the thick forest surrounding Mt. Hood and out into the sweeping fields of eastern Oregon. I let the views of Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters to the south, and Mt. Hood behind me to the west, fuel me forward, encourage me to seek out more amazing views further east.
Fields Beneath Mt. Jefferson
Rundown House in Madras
I dropped down to Bend and turned off through Prineville and through the Ochoco National Forest, following the gently flowing creeks along Highway 26 until I reached the small town of Mitchell, and the landscape changed into an amazing display rugged, jagged cliffs and winding canyons until I came to the Sheep Rock Unit of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
Orchard Beneath Sheep Rock
Between the lush greenery of the spring fields, the rushing of the John Day River, and the towering outcroppings of the surrounding cliffs and mountains, I was frankly awe-struck. I’d heard a little about the area, but I’d never imagined the beauty that I would discover there. The colored striations in the rocks, the impressive geology in the tilted landscape, the reminders of prairie lands in western California, or the tops of the plateaus of southern Utah, all of it was beyond inspirational, and I found all my worries and problems from the preceding week washing away.
Of course I gravitated immediately to the abandoned farms and homesteads that littered the area. There’s something profoundly fascinating and peaceful about poking around in the shattered remnants of what used to be. The texture of the wood, the way the light and shadows play across grass sprouting through the shattered floorboards, the debris left behind years ago…I was like a pig in a poke, eating it up with unbounded enthusiasm.
With the sun getting low on the horizon, I let my enthusiasm get the better of me and I reversed course, driving an hour back to Mitchell and the Painted Hills Unit of the Park, where I arrived just as the golden light of the setting sun set the eponymous hills ablaze with color. It was a very impressive sight, and I stayed until the sun dipped below the hills to the west, and realized at that moment that I was nearly six hours away from home without the means to stay and camp for the night.
The Painted Hills
Painted Hills Ravine
Shadows Stretching Toward the Painted Hills
Sunset Over the Painted Hills
I loaded up in my car as the last light of the gorgeous day was washed away by the coming of night, and drove back to Washington and my waiting bed. All told I was in the car or out taking photos for almost 22 hours, but I woke up the next morning recharged and reinvigorated creatively and ready to tackle the challenges of the week to come.
In short, it was a good day…