Motoring Across America

With James "Alex" Alexander

with James "Alex" Alexander


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Blog 242: Hangin’ in the Hood (Mt. Hood, That Is)

Baker City to Government Camp

We crossed from Baker City east on 26 from the mountains and fossil-filled hills of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument to the prairies of central Oregon, stopping for a short while at Bend, and then north and west to Government Camp in the Mt. Hood neighborhood. The mornings were in the 30s, climbing up to the pleasant mid- to high 60s during the day. This was a great time to be in this area, as it is the lull between summer vacations and winter snow trips.

Mt. Hood
Everywhere you look, the icon of Mt. Hood overlooks. Here are three shots of the Big Guy (the reflection was taken at Trillium Lake).

Mt. Hood

Mt. Hood Reflection

Colored Leaves at Mt. Hood

Over several days we had the chance to hike Little Zigzag Falls Trail, Trillium Lake Loop Trail, Mirror Lake Trail, Salmon Bridle Trail, and the Old Salmon River Trail. Around lakes, up to waterfalls, paralleling streams, through woods--great scenery.

Fruit Loop
This part of the world is the home of many orchards and vineyards. We made the loop heading east, north, west, and back south, stopping at the Wy’East Vineyard for a little tasting.

Sisters Garden RV Resort

Government Camp to Sister's Garden RV Resort

After a pleasant drive south, we set up camp at Sisters Garden RV Resort. A garden it was--flowers everywhere, and as well cared for as the best botanical gardens. During our stay I had a quick trip to New Jersey to do business with a long-time client.

Eagle Lake

Sisters to Merrill Campground

After Sisters, we headed down 97 and filled up at Gordy’s Truck Stop at LaPine--can’t beat diesel at $2.49! We took 31 south--beautiful drive. At Lakeview we picked up 395 south, and then down into California. My original plan was to continue down to Likely, but at Alturas I navigated incorrectly, taking us west on 299. We continued on through Canby, and at Adin picked up 139 south, planning on going down to Susanville.

As we headed south I remembered some excellent reviews of a Lassen National Forest campground at Eagle Lake, so we took Forest Road AI on a gorgeous drive through the woods. At the south end of the lake we found Merrill Lake Campground, part of the Eagle Lake Recreation Area. Huge, flat paved sites in the woods, full hook-ups, fire rings, and an easy walk to the lake. Hardly anyone there. Wonderful place.

I got up early one morning and headed for the lake in 30-something degree weather hoping for a nice sunrise. The nice sunrise didn’t materialize, but I had a great time shooting this little bird. He had no fear of me at all, in fact, I found myself having to back up to focus.

Eagle Lake Beach Bird

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park

We took a half-day trip to Lassen Volcanic Park, taking two roads of a scenic byway there and back. Only moderate traffic on a holiday, so it was a pleasant 30-plus-mile drive through the park. Not a well-known park, but very worth visiting. Here is a shot of Lake Helen and Lassen Peak.

Lake Helen, Lassen Volcanic National Park

On the way to the park we saw a very large, very healthy black bear run across the road directly in front of us.

Here are a couple of pup pics.



Old Sign
Here is an old sign.

Old Sign

Old Trucks
Here are three old trucks.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

Old Truck 3

See you next time.

Blog 241: To Hell and Back

Canyon Pines RV to Mountain View RV

We took 95 South to Weiser, Idaho, then took the 201 shortcut into Oregon, then on to I-84 West. The day was clear and the traffic was light as we rolled along the eastern side of the home of the Ducks. At Baker City we set up camp at Mountain View RV Park and settled in for a few days.

Baker City to Hells Canyon Trip

Mountain View RV to Hells Canyon

We had visited Hells Canyon from the Oregon side a few years back, but were thwarted from getting the full impact of the region as Highway 39, the Wallowa Mountain Loop, had been washed out by flooding.

Our intent was to take Highway 86 east to Oxbow, on to the dam at the end of Hells Canyon Road, then backtrack and go up Wallowa Mountain Loop to Joseph, then back north, west, and south to our campground.

However, less than three miles eastbound into our journey in our Jeep was a sign stating that 86 was closed ahead due to a new fire. Therefore, we backtracked a little before heading north to La Grande, then north and east on Highway 82, the first leg of the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway. We passed through Elgin, then Wallowa, stopped for a latte at the Blue Banana Coffee Shop in Lostine, then on to Enterprise, then Joseph. The further east we got, the prettier the scenery, as the prairies and rivers turned to mountains and streams.

We headed south at Joseph, down and around Wallowa Lake, then stopped at Wallowa State Park for a hike then a stroll. At the Park we saw a Pileated Woodpecker hunting for lunch and spawning Kokanee Salmons in the stream, the landlocked version of the Sockeye Salmon.

Spawning Salmon

Pilieated Woodpecker

Driving back to Joseph, we headed east on the Wallowa Mountain Loop through forests and along streams past Salt Lick Summit, ending up at Hells Canyon Overlook. Alas, the supposed-to-be-magnificent view was shrouded in a blanket of smoke. Oh, well, it was a magnificent ride.

Because of the size of our excursion, we spent the night at a delightful motel and RV park (no we did not drive the rig--we stayed at the motel) less than a mile north of town. The next morning the smoke had cleared, the snow had fallen, and the view of Ruby Peak sparkled among the snow and clouds and fog. Joseph also has a half dozen or so bronze statues lining the main drag. Really cool place.

Ruby Peak

Ruby Peak 2

Bronze Cowboy

Return Home
For a little variety, instead of exactly backtracking, we headed north and west at Elgin on Highway 204 up into the Umatilla Wilderness. We turned southwest, but instead of passing through Pendleton, we took the back roads to Mission, and then on to the Old Emigrant Trail that eventually lead back to I-84 that we took back to our campground in Baker City.

Ruffed Grouse

Lip-Lickng Coyote

To Hell and Back

Hells Canyon Trip

What a difference a few days make! We awoke to a cold but clear day with not a trace of smoke in the air. We headed out east in the early morning chill on Highway 86 determined to complete our travel goals of a few mornings earlier. At Mile Marker 44 we found the reason the road had been closed--the earth on both sides of the road for several miles was scorched like land along the path of Sherman’s March to the Sea. We passed through Richland and drove by Halfway on to the Oxbow Dam, where we had stayed at an RV park several years ago.

Our original intent was to continue on the east side of the Canyon and go to the end of the road at Hells Canyon Dam. Instead, we took the dirt road on the west side of the water, 13 miles until the road ended at Copper Creek. Since we had decided we wanted to go see what the Hells Canyon Overlook had to offer in clear light, we were faced with retracing our steps to Oxbow Dam, heading back west on 86, and then going north and east on Forest Road 39. I estimated that this 42-mile trip would take us at least an hour and a half. However, my handy Oregon atlas of back roads showed another option: Hess Road was an 8.3-mile shortcut that would take us within five miles of the Overlook--a no brainer. Yet, there was a price to pay for this “convenience” of shorter distance.

Unsuitable Sign

True to the sign’s warning, this national forest road was not for the faint of heart--narrow, rocky, curvy, and steep, it rose over 3,800 feet in the short trip. We were rewarded with wonderful views (many straight down), especially along the hairpin curves that held us over the canyon. Actually, it was a lot of fun, especially since we met no other vehicles.

Here is a photo from our Hess Road journey, and one from the Overlook. After lunch we took a hike then returned back to camp. Great trip.

View from Hess Road

Hells Canyon Overlook

Here are two pups from the reserve.

Pup 1

Pup 2

Old Sign
Here is an old sign.

Old Sign

Old Trucks
Here are three old trucks.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

Old Truck 3

See you soon.

Blog 210: The Greatest Show on Earth

Farewell to Oregon
I flew to Philly on business with a great client. Upon returning, we loaded the bus and headed east after almost two months of exploring beautiful Oregon. We parked at Salt Lake City for three days while I flew off to Houston to work once again with my friends at NASA. From there it was one night in Rifle Gap State Park outside Rifle, Colorado, then on to Chatfield State Park in the SW of Denver.

Here is a hodgepodge of different Oregon pics that I didn’t publish before.

Campground Pup

Ocean Stream

Underwater Urchin

Waterfall Stream


The Greatest Show on Earth
The last time I went to a circus there were operators at the switchboard and tubes in televisions. However, when the chance to go with grandkids to the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth was offered, I agreed as quickly as a Florida politician accepting a free trip to Texas. Yes, there were motorcycles racing in a cage, some really funky dance routines, and some blaring techno music every now and then, but there was still the sequined ladies atop galloping steeds, lions and tigers hungrily eyeing the guy with the whip, flying trapeze artists stories above the ground and, of course, the parade of elephants. I had a great time!

Sadly, no cameras were allowed, and my old iPhone is no match for fast-moving objects in dark scenarios, so please excuse my one shot of the action that turned out acceptable only on very small screens. You can also see the results of a busy night at the circus.

Greatest Show

Sleeping Austie

Old Sign
Here is one old sign (again from George’s place--see Blog 206)

Old Sign

Old Trucks
Here are three old trucks.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

Old Truck 3

See you next week.

Blog 206: Eccentric George’s Hideaway

From Diamond Lake, we drove a couple hours on 230 SE to 62 south, between the Umpqua and Rogue River National Forests with big pines bordering the road and the Rogue River splashing alongside. From there we connected to 23, then 234 and 99, camping just south and a little east of Grants Pass with our campsite directly on the Rogue River.

Raines Falls Trail
Bob, the camp host, recommended this trail, as it was one of his favorites, plus the salmon had been sighted going up the falls. So at 6:00 one morning, the four of us drove the 40-plus miles north and east through the towns of Merlin and Galice arriving at this trailhead in the Siskiyou National Forest. The four-mile trek was on a bluff overlooking the Rogue River. At times it was steep and winding, rough and rocky, but gorgeous, nonetheless. The only minor disappointment was that there were no salmon attempting to climb the falls.

Raines Falls Trail

Jan & Jerry Trail Blazing

Rafter from Trail

Hiking Mitzy

On the Rogue
One morning we took a jetboat ride (often at 40-plus miles per hour) down the Rogue River, 18 miles into Hells Canyon. Another morning we braved the rapids and piloted and oared our own small raft down the Rogue on a three-hour slow float. Both were lots of fun. Here is a pic of the Five Floaters.

The Five Floaters

Eccentric George’s Hideaway
Although everything here was very enjoyable, the highlight of the week was meeting Eccentric George. Jan and I and the Pups were out one afternoon hunting old trucks and stopped by the side of the road. A fella pulls up and asked what we were doing. When told, he asked if we wanted to see a really cool truck. Of course, we agreed, and then followed him down a long gravel lane to a place that looked like the first alien invasion.

For three hours George showed us around his “acreage of wonder” talking nonstop as fast as a rapper on speed. We learned about his childhood, family, and his work history as a logger and ironworker. We were told the history of the house he moved, the barn he fixed up, the old gasoline station he bought and is restoring, the bridge he bought, his wives and girlfriends, the old trucks he owns, his personal philosophy of life, that he lost 100 pounds, and how he made an iron casket that he uses as art but eventually wants to be buried in. He proudly boasted that he and his son have started a custom casket business and solicited Ozzie Osborne as his first client (he offered a discount if Ozzie wanted each of his “freak kids,” as he called them, to have one as well). And on and on. Just amazing.

Here is a shot of George by his casket, his really cool barn, Jerry in his rocket ship, and a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang structure that George built for his daughter.

George with Casket

George's Cool Barn

Pilot Jerry in Rocket Ship

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Old Signs
Here are two old signs from George’s place.

Old Sign 1

Old Sign 2

Old Trucks
Here are four old trucks from George’s place.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

Old Truck 3

Old Truck 4

New Coach
We recently bought a new coach! I don’t want to bore folks with little interest in RVing, however, if you want to see more, click here to get some inside shots of our new digs on wheels.

Thor Tuscany

See you next week.

Blog 205: Craters and Lakes, Waterfalls, and One Big Slug

From Bend, Oregon, we drove 90 miles or so south and a little west on highways 97, 138, and 230 to Diamond Lake in the Cascade Range and within the Umpqua National Forest. We camped for five days in this isolated, tranquil, and inspiring wilderness. Days started out in the brisk high 30s, and then warmed through the day to low to mid 70s. Every time we took a trip we were greeted by Mt. Thielsen.

Mt. Thielsen

Note: If you make Diamond Lake a destination, bring plenty of provisions, as you are over 80 miles from the nearest supermarket.

Crater Lake
Crater Lake National Park is just a few minutes south of our campground, and we visited twice during our stay. Formed by volcanic implosions, its crystal-clear blue waters are the deepest of any lake in the country. Here is a pic from our morning trip and another from a later afternoon.

Crater Lake in Early Light

Crater Lake in Afternoon Light

Here is a red-tailed hawk just launching on a hunting mission at Crater Lake, and three Stellar Jays that liked the peanuts we tossed them while sitting around our campfire. Here is a puffed up papa, a female that liked to dive at Jerry, and a curious youngster.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Puffed Male Stellar Jay

Female Stellar Jay

Baby Stellar Jay

Within 18 miles of our campground are six waterfalls. Short hikes of a half-mile to a mile through forests with huge trees led us to the falls. The air was so fresh and sweet with the smell of pine that it almost hurt your lungs! Here is a shot of Toketee Falls and Watson Falls.

Toketee Falls

Watson Falls

Reflection and a Slug
Along the trail to Watson Falls I shot this reflection and this very black, very slimy slug.



Mitzy and Jerry
Here are shots of our RVing canines-a-resting, Mitzy and a sleeping Jerry. They look quite good in the afternoon light, don’t you think?

Resting Mitzy

Sleeping Jerry

Old Trucks
Here are three good-looking old trucks.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

Old Truck 3

See you next week.

Blog 204: Old Truck Extravaganza

After our stay at Grand Teton National Park we crossed over the mountains, headed west across Idaho, and ended up in Redmond, Oregon, in the central part of the state. I had a quick three-day trip to Memphis to work with a great client, and then returned back to Redmond to participate in the FMCA rally of 1,500-plus motorhomes.

This week I skipped the landscapes, critters, and portraits and just concentrated on Old Trucks of Oregon.

Old Truck Extravaganza
Here is a selection of old Oregon trucks, including one of my new friend standing by one of his beauties.

Old Truck 1

Old Truck 2

Old Truck 3

Old Truck 4

Old Truck 5

Old Truck 6

Old Truck 7

Old Truck 8

Old Truck 9

Old Truck 10

Old Truck 11

Old Truck 12

Mike's Old Truck

See you next week!