In my world, driving, even long distances, is part convenience, part practicality and, a not insignificant part, pleasure.
I am called Road Warrior by my friends for the tens of thousands of miles I drive to dog shows each year. I bought Beulah3, the Sprinter van, in December 2011 with roughly 37,000 miles on the odometer. I picked her up on a Friday at a dog show in Vancouver, Wash. and left three days later driving to Eukanuba. In the intervening two and a half years, I’ve driven pretty close to 100,000 miles.
I have only recently learned to use the mapping app in my iPhone. I spent a solid 25 years driving by road atlas, dead reckoning, road signs and memory. I am firmly of the opinion that if the zombie apocalypse so beloved by the younger generations ever happens, the kids will be the first to go. Since I’m pretty sure the zombies will knock out the cell towers first thing, 90 percent of Americans under the age of 40, and a frightening contingent past that pull date, will be left completely incapable of crossing town without that obnoxious computer woman to guide them.
But I digress.
I’m just back from one of my all-time favorite trips, so felt compelled to share with the less fortunate who are stuck in maddening rush hour traffic on a 6- or 8-lane asphalt jungle while reading this column on their phone. (PS, you probably should pay attention to your driving.)
From my house I drive a few miles south on I-5 to the town of Rogue River. It’s a cutesy little place, surrounded by wineries and something called the House of Mystery, to which I’ve never been. I don’t want to know. There I cut off on state highway 234. This two lane road takes me behind the big, flat butte you see from the freeway near Medford and winds past u-pick berry farms and ranches, through a sweeping grassy valley to hook up with Highway 62 just south of Shady Cove. This hamlet is a major jumping off point for many of the river rafting trips available on the Rogue River. Highway 62 runs alongside the clear, tumbling Rogue River for more than 60 miles, with a turn off for Crater Lake National Park along the way.
One trip, when my driving muse and “don’t forget to have fun” director was along for the ride, and we had a couple extra hours, we even drove through the Park. Formed in the crater resulting from the eruption of Mount Mazama some 7,700 years ago, the 1,943′ deep Crater Lake and surrounding views are well worth the slight detour.
I love watching the forest landscape change with elevation and climate. The trees are predominately Douglas fir, oak, maple and madrone, with a heavy, brushy understory, at the low elevation and temperate zone of the Rogue Valley. They rapidly transition to lodgepole pine, Ponderosa pine, hemlock and some spruce with a wide open, tall canopy as you climb the mountains and reach the harsh environment and high altitude of the Cascade Mountains. My father was a timber cruiser. I learned to identify trees at 60 MPH by the time I was 8. The leaves, needles and bark of deciduous and coniferous species are as clearly distinguishable as the differences between an Akita, a Norwegian Elkhound and a Keeshond. As with everything, from wine to cuisine to literature, knowledge accentuates appreciation..
The road runs for miles in a shadowy old-growth forest that feels as if you’re driving through a tunnel to a different dimension. It winds sharply as it follows the dwindling width of the Rogue. It climbs and dips and twists like Nature’s roller coaster and fun park all in one. At the top of the mountain, it passes glittering Diamond Lake on the left, with crystalline views of Mount Thielsen ahead in the distance just before I turn right on Highway 138.
When I was a little kid, in my life pre-”dogs”, we routinely drove Highway 138 from Roseburg to Diamond Lake to go camping or further on to visit friends. As does every east-west thoroughfare in Oregon, the road follows a river drainage, in this case the Umpqua River, to the crest of the Cascade Range. My little brother and I called it “the long straight stretch,” this part just after the Crater Lake junction. It signified we’d passed the half-way point of our voyage to Klamath Falls and the chorus of “how much longer” was easily answered. At this point, Highway 138 is straight as an arrow for close to 20 miles, downhill, allowing an uninterrupted vista to the Eastern horizon (and safe, easy passing if needed on a two-lane road).
At the bottom of the hill, Highway 138 meets up with Highway 97, Oregon’s “other” north-south conduit, just south of Chemult. From there I drive north across the high desert, the stark landscape shaped by ancient volcanic activity. Central Oregon’s resort-town crown jewel, Bend, is about an hour away. The area features an embarrassment of riches in the entertainment department, from the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, Black Butte Ranch, Mount Bachelor and Hoodoo ski resorts, to hiking, fishing, horseback riding, shopping, dining, you name it.
Just north of Bend is the small town of Redmond, with breathtaking westerly views of the Three Sisters, Three Fingered Jack and other famous peaks in the Cascade Range.
Redmond hosts the Mt. Bachelor Kennel Club shows each year in late June. A few times the show has carried into the local Fourth of July celebrations, with fireworks that sent dogs scuttling under the bed in the old RV. The setting, the weather, the club, the friends and, admittedly, many memorable wins, make this one of my very favorite shows on the calendar. Not to put too fine a point on it, I once went Best in Show there wearing my mother’s underwear. Yes, it’s a long story, the short version of which is: I forgot my suitcase. And my sainted mother is always prepared for ANY occasion, up to and including an unopened package of brand new “mom” undies in her RV.
Favorite shows, favorite drives and favorite memories are sort of a theme for the summer months. Bring it on! Share some of yours.
As always, this is JMHO.