Tangent, Crater Lake & an Oregon road trip
03.10.2014 - 05.10.2014
My first port of call after leaving Portland was to a small geographic feature east of the city called Oneonta Gorge. In essence, this is a creek with a waterfall at the end, but navigating to it from the entrance involved a Krypton Factor-style obstacle course. Rocks and stones had to be negotiated, progressively tricky logjams had to be scaled and finally a chest-high pool of icy water had to be traversed, all the while contending with noises emitted by excitable Americans.
After this brief interlude I drove over to my old mate Mark's house in Tangent, Oregon. Tangent is a small, seemingly insignificant, town in western Oregon home to about 1000 people. Seemingly insignificant, that is, until you discover that it is actually the Grass Seed Capital of the World! As Mark's wife Mel pointed out, they actually provided the grass for the pitches at the last two football World Cups (Brazil & South Africa).
I was early so popped into the local pub, the Dixie Creek, a place evidently frequented by a mixture of middle-aged locals, workmen and passing truckers. Despite only being October 3rd, it was already decked out (very well, I must say) in Halloween decorations and a man with an eye patch was setting up the equipment for the Friday night karaoke, a very popular event according to the friendly but obese barmaid. Outside in the pub's courtyard there was what appeared to be a stage set up for a wedding ceremony similar to those usually seen in exotic Caribbean locations, and I wondered what venues the happy couple rejected before finally settling on this one.
After a couple of disappointing beers I went back to Mark & Mel's. Mark is a colleague from my first post-university job at a market research company in Bracknell, and I have therefore known him 19 years, the last 15 of which (if I remember correctly) he has been living in Tangent. I was treated to some excellent hospitality and home cooking and plenty of bottles of IPA during my stay. Their cat could do with learning some manners however. It hissed at me like a snake whenever I got too close.
On the Saturday they drove me to a place called Florence on the coast (about 1h 45m away). Nearby is a vast area of sand dunes that stretches 40 miles down the coast and is now used for various recreational activities, including dune buggying, which is what we were there for. This entailed sitting in a buggy with Mark, two rather corpulent women and the third Chuckle Brother whilst our driver tore up and down the dunes at speed thinking he was in Mad Max 2, periodically turning sharply in order that we could get covered in sand - great fun. The corpulent women certainly seemed to enjoy it too - one was cackling like a hyena throughout the entire 30 minutes.
Afterwards we had a cracking fish & chips in the lovely harbour area of Florence.
The following day it was time to say my goodbyes (to the relief of their miserable cat) and set off for Crater Lake, an area of outstanding natural beauty 160 miles southeast of Tangent, in the Umpqua National Forest. I was enjoying driving myself around by this stage already, but the journey there was something special - miles and miles of beautiful tree-lined roads with very little traffic in either direction.
The trees were various shades of yellow, green and brown and every so often a sign would point you off to a 'vista point' giving superb views of a lake, forest or mountain. I did get lucky with the weather (glorious sunshine for October is not that common) but I can't overstate how picturesque this area is - and I hadn't even got to Crater Lake yet.
Crater Lake itself was formed when a volcano called Mount Mazama collapsed after a series of eruptions, leaving a 6-mile wide caldera that eventually filled with water. So much water, in fact, that it is actually the deepest lake in the USA. The water there is a beautiful deep blue, and even though the journey there was already well worth it, this was a worthy reward for the long drive.
On my way back up to the rim, after passing a hobbling fat child who had somehow become injured on the walk down, I was able to add to my collection of cute animal videos as a chipmunk took advantage of a (presumably different) child's clumsiness in dropping a half-eaten peach:
A couple of nearby by-products of the Mazama eruption are the Pumice Desert and The Pinnacles. Pumice is a volcanic rock that is ejected during an eruption and, once it settle and cools, is very unlikely to support plant life due to its porosity and the nutrient-free soil that sits upon it.
The Pinnacles are bizarre formations of volcanic ash and pumice that have eroded over the years to leave tall spikes.
After leaving this area I drove a further 70 miles down to a place called Klamath Falls, which I thought would be a small outpost but in actuality turned out to be a city of 20,000 people. It is in southern Oregon, near the California border (and 'Falls' is a bit of an exaggeration - 'Rapids' at best). Anyway, after getting lost for a bit I eventually reached my motel and had myself a well-earned sleep. Not, however, before eating the biggest meal I'd yet had in the US at the next-door Black Bear restaurant. I've seen more places called the Black Bear on my travels here than I have black bears, despite my best efforts.
OK, I'm a bit behind I know - this takes me up to the 5th (it's the 13th today). Hard work this! Next up - the road trip continues into California.