Going to No-Man’s-Land – Day 2


We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.
Carl Sagan

 4 September. Day 2. A biggie. Lots of driving. Hit a lot of the sites at Paulina Lake. Then headed deep into the outback. I’m spending the night at the base of Glass Butte. I’ll have to see how far I fair in the morning as far as rock hounding goes. At this point i’m ready to drive straight to Hart Mt. for some hot springs action. I’ll probably have to hit a store to get an axe. Maybe drive into Burns. Or maybe not. So deliciously quiet out here. If I can get up and get going early I can make it to Hart before noon and just chill the fuck out. I think that’s super important for the next couple days. Sun will be going down soon and I should get things tended to. Last night I drank way too much wine for the altitude and was kinda hurpy all night so I wanna give plenty of time to digest tonight.
Road to Paulina Peak.
Road to Paulina Peak
Big Newberry Flow.
Big Newberry Flow.
Obsidian & pumice.
Obsidian & pumice.
Hill o Glass.
Hill o Glass.

Woke up early in the morning, packed up the car and headed immediately to Big Obsidian Flow just down the road from the campground. It’s a fairly short hike up the flow, and my geology nerd was about to come out big time. Marvelous magical morning sunshine glimmering across the face of the flow – impossible to capture with my camera. The place was dead quiet in the crisp morning air, only 3 people on the flow.  Impossible to imagine yourself standing on top of 1.1 square miles of glass until you’re there completely surrounded in dark black obsidian and swirly gray masses of pumice.

Paulina Lake from Paulina Peak, 7984 ft.
Paulina Lake from Paulina Peak, 7984 ft.
Big Obsidian Flow from Atop Paulina Peak.
Big Obsidian Flow from Atop Paulina Peak.
Central Cascades from Paulina Peak. I see volcanoes!
Central Cascades from Paulina Peak. I see volcanoes!

Drove up to Paulina Peak on a whim passing a couple mountain bikers along the way. Bet that was a fun ride down. The road is steep and curvy. One of those “Pavement ends here” kinda roads where the adventure begins. The view at the top is incredible. You can see most of the central cascade volcanoes, but the most impressive sight is the concentric pressure ridges on top of the Big Obsidian flow. Imagine that huge block of molten glass moving across the land, and it only erupted around 1300 years ago.

Paulina Falls.
Paulina Falls.
Hole in the ground. A maar.
Hole in the ground. A maar.

Took the short quarter mile hike down to Paulina Creek Falls before heading out of the caldera. Beautiful falls that refused to be photographed well in the available light. The next stop was Hole in the Ground (very no-nonsense naming round here), a mile wide maar in the middle of nowhere. I made a PBJ and ate lunch while watching tiny lizards skittering through the sand from one sagebrush patch to the next. This would be a great place to camp overnight, and do a hike across or around the hole.

Lonely Fort Rock.
Lonely Fort Rock.
Fort Rock.
Fort Rock.
Fort Rock lunarscape.
Fort Rock lunarscape.
Fort Rock - a tuff ring. People used to live in caves inside the "fort".
Fort Rock – a tuff ring. People used to live in caves inside the “fort”.

One of the first things you see when travelling east towards Christmas Valley is Fort Rock, an impressive tuff ring that stands as sentinel above the otherwise flat basin. A trail to the interior of the ring leads you into a landscape resembling Mars. Apparently humans occupied caves within the ring ~10,000 years ago. Now the red walls are stained with white bird poop.

Crack in the ground. I wanted to hike the whole thing, but didn't have time or energy.
Crack in the ground. I wanted to hike the whole thing, but didn’t have time or energy.
Crack in the ground from above.
Crack in the ground from above.

The last stop in Christmas Valley was at Crack in the Ground. No-nonsense naming to the rescue once again. I only had a chance to explore a tiny bit of this three mile fissure, definitely need to come back and hike the whole thing. The trail through the crack provides a quiet and cool place to hike in the high desert sun. I had about 30-40 miles of lonely gravel road north from crack in the ground. Passed the free Green Mountain Campground – definitely on my to-camp list and had my first encounter with a skittish calf. The adult cows along the open range roads are generally pretty docile, the calves however stare you down and then go crazy spontaneously. It’s better to just stop and proceed very slowly until you’re sure what they are going to do.

Lonely road to Glass Butte.
Lonely road to Glass Butte.
Knappers camp on Glass Butte.
Knappers camp on Glass Butte.
The bone tree at the knappers camp on Glass Butte.
The bone tree at the knappers camp on Glass Butte.

After a final 6 mile drive down a true “adventure road” I ended up at a knappers camp at the base of Glass Butte about an hour before sunset. Only a few miles south of Highway 20 as the crow flies, it felt really out there. I dug around the piles of obsidian around the camp for a while, finding a few pieces with gold flecks and red swirls. I’ll have to come back to really rock hound the area, the choice pieces on the ground are long gone. Ended the eve watching the sun set over the valley, the number of cars and trucks dwindling as the hour passed, the light changing from golden to pink to purples across the desert hills. Had I made a mistake coming way out here by myself? It’s one thing to travel solo spending nights in the relative safety of campgrounds, and quite another to be miles away from anyone. Sometimes you have to give in to the impulse to push yourself outside your comfort zone and see where it takes you.

– Up next, part 3.

Going to No-Man’s-Land – Day 1

Peter Skene Scenic Viewpoint near Smith Rock.

To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh.
Pema Chödrön

It’s in my blood to throw myself from the nest regularly. I reach a crescendo of discomfort with familiarity and then I must “go”.  I can’t remember the last time the compulsion gnawed at my soul so vigorously. Clearly it had been way too long. On September 3rd I set off on a 9 day journey across 1830.5 miles of Oregon. The primary goal was to “go out there” to places that I’d never been or places not many people go. When people imagine Oregon they may see evergreen trees bathed in rain and single origin coffee but the reality is over half of Oregon is high desert. My sights were set on sagebrush and exotic terrane.

Note: text in italics is directly from my travel journal. Normal text was added post trip.

Rex T. Barber Veterans Memorial Bridge.

Day 1: Portland to Newberry National Volcanic Monument

Took my time driving to Paulina Lake. Made stops at Welches, OR for coffee and picked some foliage at mile marker 77 for animation. Stopped at Peter Skene Scenic Viewpoint – a 300 ft. basalt cliff w/ the old bridge, and the concrete cast-in-place new bridge. Another mile or so down the road I took a 3 hour diversion to hike the Misery Ridge Loop Trail (counterclockwise) at Smith Rock. Amazing view of the whole central OR Cascade range. Took lots of pictures. A bunch of climbers doing the walls – looks scary!

When heading to/from Mt. Hood I always stop for coffee in Welches at Coffee Brewsters. It’s a ritual. Every journey begins with bean. I’d been thinking about what I wanted to creatively accomplish on the trip for several weeks before leaving, trying to reconnect with my desire to tell stories coupled with more work on my animation 10,950.  I collected several bags of foliage in ziploc bags along the way, but the latest idea had me stopping every hour to collect material. That didn’t happen. I’m not sure why it didn’t, some force kept pushing me forward; looking, listening, feeling, watching, but not responding creatively in any way despite having all the tools on hand to do whatever come what may.

Misery Ridge is no joke.  I recommend doing the counterclockwise route – the backside trail is steep and slippery with loose dry rocks. I passed a couple that had been climbing and they were descending in flip-flops! They were very unhappy that they couldn’t repel down. The hiking trails are well-marked and fairly graded. The climbing infrastructure available at Smith Rock is impressive and gave me pause. There are small huts around the perimeter with metal stretchers and crutches. Given the number of people climbing there mid-week I imagine the walls see their fair share of accidents.

Smith Rock State Park.
The trail meanders next to the Crooked River.
Smith Rock is an extremely popular climbing area.
Made it into Paulina Lake after scarfing 2 plums and a half can of wasabi almonds and 2 water bottles in the car. I was hot and hungry after the hike, no food on the hike, and only 2 pints of water. Somehow it didn’t look like that big of a deal, ~3.5 miles or so.
Picked out a campsite relatively close to the bathroom, whipped out stove and made steak with 2 pieces bread and some instant potatoes. Now enjoying a large glass of wine before hitting the comfy sack I made in the car. I’m sure i’ll sleep pretty well.

At just under 3.5 miles the Misery Ridge trail seems deceptively simple. In the excitement of starting the adventure I completely ignored the moisture sucking dry heat of the high desert, and the added challenge of increased elevation ~2,800 ft (873 m). While I had water with me, I forgot to pack extra snacks in my pack. No harm no foul, but I know better.

Food strategy on the trip was pretty simple. I loaded a small cooler with ice in the morning before leaving, and had a couple perishable items that I planned to eat the first couple days. I kept a “dry” bucket well stocked with non-perishable items. I left the option open to buy more ice & perishables along the way, but had enough food stocked to not have to make trips to the grocery.

A couple of bird-sharks took advantage of my dinner preparation to take a couple nibbles out of the bread on my waiting plate. They circled for a while until the sun finally went down. Food always tastes so much better outdoors, and that large glass of wine hit me like a ton of bricks! Paulina lake sits at 6,331 ft (1,930 m).

Welded tuff.
The climb up to Misery Ridge begins.
The human obsession with cairn making, sometimes makes for delightfully obsessive results.
Listened to two podcasts on the way down. The first was the philosophy of Maimonides. What is the “nature” of God as the not-plurality. Got me thinking about what I believe and what I don’t believe. What is the nature of my belief in the cosmic or collective consciousness?
The second podcast was part 2 of a Hardcore History about World War II. What is the purpose of war? What is peace? Will the ubiquity of social media prevent all out annihilation? People across the world have faces now. We see and interact with their creativity. We are not just our leaders and elite. It’s anxiety inducing.

I packed my phone with a ton of podcasts knowing that radio would be sparse and countryfied.  By the 2nd day I was sick of them, and only ended up listening to about 4 total for the entire trip. The nature of travel or stillness made up the remaining soundtrack. 1000 miles of rhythmic gravel clatter and dust eventually becomes part of the hum of “you”.

The running headlines prior to the trip was all war talk – Ukraine, ISIL, Syria, Iraq… Renewal of the cold war. Visceral. Destructive. Anxious. Barbaric.

Why is the positive “fluff” always pushed to the end? The positive stories are the ones that need to be told. The narrative of hate needs to be balanced with the narrative of good.

Monkey Face
Monkey Face
Climbing up Misery Ridge gives a great view of the central Cascade volcanoes.
All smiles at the top but knowing that sometimes going down is harder!
Lots of bad dreams in the air – but the sleeping has been divine. Have no idea what time it is, but feeling the call of the sack! It was 59 degrees when I arrived, dunno how cold it’s supposed to get. Keep drinking water – you’re at altitude now. My heart rate knows it.
Things to think about:
the nature of my [not]spirituality
what peace means
what it means to adventure solo and why

The temperature in the car read 36 in the morning. The air was frosty. Always forget what being at elevation is like that first day. You’re lying there thinking why is my heart rate going so fast, and then ‘Oh yeah’.

The campground was blissfully uncrowded, it was all birds, busy squirrels and silence. The peace of the collective hum of nature going about its business.

I’ll touch on the ‘things to think about’ in future installments. Deep thinking takes time.

The brilliant green of north side lichen.
Climbers on Red Wall.
Campsite #23 at Paulina Lake Campground – Newberry National Volcanic Monument.
Tomorrow or the next day I will take time to pause for art. Gonna go slow around Hart Mt. and Steens.
I wanna hit Alvord on Sunday! Ok, think i’m gonna retire and watch some T.V. shows I’ve downloaded. Tomorrow – explore Newberry Crater!

Brought the laptop on the trip and only watched half of one show, and used it once on my hotel break. Craving peace. Craving quiet. Though I’ve turned down the media onslaught significantly I’ll still craving less noise. Less distraction.

Less is more, and I took way too much stuff.

Packing list. Click to embiggen.

– Part 2 of Going to No-Man’s-Land is coming shortly.

Clearing the brainwaves for maximal flow


If I could shrink down to about 1/2″ and stroll down this lichen highway, that would be bliss.

I’m here now. Or at least partially here. Not quite here. Not yet comfortable back. Or something. We’ll figure it out with time. I’m not happy with the new theme, but I’m too lazy to change it. No more diddling with design, the social media era has made me increasingly web lazy.

That’s one reason to step back to the blog for a bit of a breather. Social media was feeling like hanging out with that acquaintance that always makes you feel like crap, and you wonder why you still hang out with them. So now I don’t. And the brainwaves are clearing, and previously distracted time is filled with creative time. And it feels like fun.