Let your heart be a portal for the songs of the universe.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Trekking The USA - Clovis NM to Rainier OR

Snow cover defines the landscape once I leave the Kiowa Grasslands southeast of Santa Fe and reach the Colorado Plateau northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our Southwest colors present magical contrasts to the virgin snows. Near Aztec the road enters into a pleasant touch-and-go relationship with the River of Lost Souls, the Rio de las Animas Perdidas. More commonly known as the Animas River. The waterway is the last free-flowing river in Colorado. The lively stream is my gateway into the San Juan National Forest and foothills of the Rocky Mountains near Durango, Colorado. The Rockies loom majestically against a backdrop of ominous clouds on the northern horizon. I veer west through Cortez and by the time Arches National Park near Moab, Utah breeches skylines the vaporous gloom starts to release oodles of white down. Fortunately, twenty-degree temperatures keep the snow dry and even light traffic blows the fluff off road ways. I settle into overnight accommodations at a roadhouse in Green River.

I'm up and at ‘em at o’ dark-thirty. Sunrise is still two hours away. A two to three-inch dusting of overnight snows squeaks underfoot, while I ready my trusty horseless carriage in the crisp morning air. Ice fog drapes the banks of the Green River and forms immaculate, crystal miracles on tree branches and withered grasses. I subdue misgivings about embarking on today’s leg of my journey and cautiously head north into the Wasatch Mountains. Single digit temperatures hover near zero degrees Fahrenheit.

Ten miles out the fog lifts to reveal the first hints of dawn to the east and a moonlit expanse of snow covered landscape in winter slumber. The pearly glow of the waning night gadabout works its magic and finds a willing accomplice within the recesses of my imagination. Before long the silvery light conjures snow snakes from road side drifts and sends them slithering across my path. Alas, the sensation of my conveyance fishtailing jolts me into the here and now. At 7,500 feet above sea level, my passage at Soldier Summit lies ahead. A powder-fine onslaught of lake effect snow peppers my descent into the Great Salt Lake Basin. My next sojourn into Utah will surely involve skis and speedy chairlifts to mountain tops.

Relentless snow showers hamper progress until I reach Idaho’s Snake River Plain. The level and largely treeless farmland still echoes with stories of tribulations and successes endured by westbound pioneers trudging the Oregon Trail. Interstate Highway 84, a four-lane artery parallels the trail of yesteryear. It's a fitting tribute to their perseverance and can-do spirit. The Snake River also reverberates with ten millennia of tales Native American peoples left on the winds as they fished Pacific Salmon below Shoshone Falls.

In contrast to the travails of days gone by, I transit the Twin Falls and Boise corridor in hours rather than weeks. Just down the road I cross into Oregon at Ontario, where I bid adieu to the Snake River and set my sights on the Blue Mountains passes.  En route lies Baker City, nestled between the nearly 10,000-foot peaks of the Elkhorn Mountains to the west and the Wallowa Mountains to the east. I top my last hurdle, Deadman Pass, near Umatilla at dusk. My sojourn on the Blue Mountains route of the Oregon Trail ends with a slippery, serpentine descent into the City of Pendleton.

Daylight oozes onto the Columbia Plateau of Eastern Oregon through shrouds of ice fog and sleet. A half-inch glaze of frozen water on trees, power lines, roadways, and cars glistens under street lights and in the head lamp beams of intrepid motorists. I delay departure. By mid-morning warmer temperatures and road crews make roads passable. The Columbia River Gorge awaits.

Fog and near freezing airs belie the fiery birth of the approaches to the Columbia River. My thoughts embark on a pensive, yet fanciful excursion into primordial times. My sensibilities strain to bring deep time and the Miocene epoch of geologic time and imagery into focus. The 15 million year abyss bemuses my mind. I visualize mile-long cracks in the Earth’s crust. They hemorrhage hot basalt onto the ancient plateau. More than 300 major floods of molten rock take place over a million-year period. The flows cool in layers. By the time all is said and done the igneous rock covers some 63,000 square miles of what will become the American States of Oregon, Washington, and Utah. In some places the basalt accumulates to a thickness of 6,000 feet or more.

Time and weather have a way of taming nature’s cataclysmic handiwork. The erstwhile Oregon Trail and today’s interstate now traverse benign grass-covered lava undulations on their way to the Columbia River. Once along the river, I discover affirmation of antediluvian lava flows as they channeled down the timeworn Columbia River Gorge. I stop along the age-old river thoroughfare and marvel at some of the six-sided columnar stacks of basalt exposed by weather and highway construction work. But, as with bygone trekkers of the Oregon Trail, Mother Nature still has a hand to play with my westward sojourn.

Gusty gorge winds, freezing temperatures, and snow showers soon turn my expected jaunt towards Portland into a wintry odyssey. I stop to assess road conditions and grab a quick lunch at The Dalles. In days of yore this landmark along the Columbia separated intrepid river runners from wagon road trekkers. Their choices are a treacherous hundred mile river route or an arduous mountain road across the Cascade Range into Oregon City and the Willamette Valley. The latter route skirts the southern slopes of Mount Hood across 4,155-foot Barlow Pass.

My choice is simpler, albeit snow and ice covered. A modern four-lane ribbon of asphalt and concrete through the fabled Columbia River Gorge threads my passage between 200-foot basalt cliffs and mighty expanses of river. Numerous waterfalls emerge from snow squalls and the low cloud cover. Some tumble into precipitous chasms. Others are silver rivulets of sky on a more subtle journey to their ocean home. A pristine dusting of snow accentuates the serenity of the winter scape.

Once the gorge vanishes from my rear view mirror tempestuous winds and snow showers ease. Broken cloud cover inspires a cheerful mood. I conclude my cross country adventure in the loving arms of family in Rainier, Oregon.

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