Vacation Wrap Up

August 9, 2014

I (may or may not have) broken the law today when I unknowingly entered “The Forbidden Zone”.  Luckily no men in black suits showed up at my door; more on that in a minute…

I take most of my vacation time off in July and August for two reasons…it’s the SLOWEST weather time of the year, and it’s the BEST weather of the year in the Pacific Northwest if you like to enjoy the outdoors.  And with some of the best terrain in the entire USA, one would think that anyone who has moved here does enjoy the outdoors.  I like to camp, hike, and bicycle generally.  I know, not so exciting, but I’m a pretty laid back guy.  I just used up 9 vacation days the past two weeks, although I’m earning another back by working this evening.

Now when I come back from a vacation period in summer I often have coworkers ask me “what did you do?” or “where did you go?”  This time around I went on two brief camping trips and then rode my bike a bit at home.  I’m a bit of an adventurer and love the open roads and clear views.  It’s not that I don’t like people, but I just love being out in nature removed from civilization.  It’s possible I was born a century later than I should have been.  Hope that doesn’t make me a recluse; but if so that’s fine.

My family and I went camping at Big Lake and Olallie Lake (two nights each) about 10 days ago.  I had never been to Big Lake, which is just a couple of miles south of Santiam Pass, just below Hoodoo Ski Area.  We had a spectacular sunset one night, and I’m not photographer, but here you go.  Sunset on Mt. Washington:


There are a ton of OHV trails nearby, so on Monday my son and I rode them on mountain bikes since the ATVs were all back in their owners garages by then.  If you have a choice, always camp at Cascade campgrounds on the weekdays when it’s much quieter and slower.  I have also never been to Hoodoo Ski Area, so one day I biked/hiked to the top.  Quite a view!  It was a hazy day with high clouds, thus no blue sky.


Olallie Lake is probably my favorite place and it didn’t let me down!  It’s at 4,900′ on the Cascade crest an hour or so SE of Estacada.IMG_0454 The road has been dramatically improved (shhh!), enough so that driving a 1990s motorhome up there was no problem.  Mosquitos were just about gone too.  At most lakes in the mountains they disappear in August.  Here are a few pics of a hike .  One of the reasons I love Olallie is that the southern half of the lake forest was burned in a fire in 2001, so the view is totally open.  IMG_0453 The neighboring lake, Monon, is just a short walk away and you can have the lake to yourself for swimming.  This entire area is now covered in 5-10′ tall pine trees as the forest has begun growing again.


One morning I took a one hour hike down past Long Lake IMG_0451 and peeked down into Warm Springs Reservation’s Dark Lake;  IMG_0448  Pretty cool eh? In this area the fire burned just about everything.  That is Mt. Jefferson in the distance.

After a few days back at home, we headed out to visit family and friends in Cove.  There were thunderstorms nearby (last Saturday evening), and we had a solid 20-30 minutes of strong outflow wind…maybe gusts 30-40 mph.  You don’t get that westside very often!  Camping on this trip was at Philips Lake southwest of Baker City for two nights and Magone Lake for two nights.  A really nice campground (Union Creek); extremely rare to have electricity at a Forest Service campground.  I like this spot not just for being in Oregon’s “Thunderstorm Alley”, but also because the open pine forest has a bunch of mountain bike trails around the lake. IMG_0461

The reservoir was significantly lower than when we were there a few years ago.    I enjoyed going over the pass between there and Unity Reservoir to the south.  Lots of curves and no traffic; it would be perfect on a bicycle or motorcycle.  There’s a nice state park at Unity, but the water was extremely low and it’s just sitting out in the hot sagebrush.  We didn’t camp there.  Magone Lake is a new spot I’ve never camped at or visited.  It’s on a paved road about 15 miles north of John Day in the Blue Mountains.  What a neat place!  Only about 50 acres big, but a great campground with bike/hike trail around it.IMG_0464 It was formed in the 1800s by the Magone Slide, a landslide that dammed a creek.  There are trees sticking out of the water and very old trees on land that are bent because they “rode” down with the landslide. IMG_0465

The water in both lakes was real comfortable this time of year, so camping involved a lot of swimming too.  Once again, both of these campgrounds were dead quiet on weeknights.  The drive back to Portland on Tuesday was north on 395 through Long Creek, Ukiah, Heppner, then back to I-84.  I had never visited any of those places so it was good finally see what they look like at ground level.

This trip really cemented my feelings about where I might want to retire…anywhere east of the Cascades.  I really like the Grande Ronde and Baker Valleys, plus the greener parts of Central Oregon (Sisters).  I grew up here on the rain west side of the mountains, but I really want  more sunshine than the westside can provide; and I’m talking about year-around, not just in summer.  I just find I’m far more active when the sun is out.  Also, I really enjoyed having thunder and lightning “around” at times.  It just felt so much more like summer to me with those clouds billowing up some afternoons and seeing lightning from time to time at night.  We just don’t get that much west of the mountains.

About THE FORBIDDEN ZONE?  That was today.  I often bike up around the Larch Mountain area (east of Corbett) and today wanted to try a new loop.  You don’t have to go much farther south or east to find the edges of the Bull Run Watershed; Portland’s water supply.  I don’t think most people know about the vast area in eastern Multnomah County over to Hood River and northern parts of Clackamas County that the Bull Run Watershed encompasses.  The public is forbidden from entering this area…it’s off-limits to even hikers and has been for many decades.   On any logging road that crosses the boundary you will run into a sign like this:

photo 2

Pretty clear I think.  But today I took some even smaller roads (more like jeep tracks) and at one point came up on the back side of one of these gates…which made me wonder how I crossed the boundary.  I wasn’t too worried since the terrain looks like this photo 3 and I never saw another human in 90 minutes or so.  I think it’s highly unlikely that the water police will be after me.  And don’t worry, I didn’t leave anything in Portland’s water supply… (added 8/21).  I was contacted by the Portland Water Bureau folks after they read this blog post.  They sent a nice note pointing out what a treasure we have up there with the Bull Run Watershed.  They didn’t ask me to apologize, but I do feel a little badly about being so flippant about the great water resources we have here.  For the record, it appears on closer examination that I probably didn’t actually cross into the “zone” but the signs make it appear that way.  Here is part of what they asked me to add:  “…Unauthorized entry into the watershed presents a potential risk for the introduction of bacteria and other contaminants to the Bull Run source water. Legal protections and access restrictions are the primary safeguard against contamination, preserving the ecological functions of the watershed that contribute to safe drinking water…”  

Back at work tonight now and looking at the maps it looks HOT!  The next two days feature weak offshore flow, which pushes temps well into the 90s.  Of greater interest is the moist south-southeast upper-level flow which sends moisture for thunderstorms our way.  Tomorrow I think anywhere south of Salem could get an evening thunderstorm.  Than anyone could see thunder later Monday and early Tuesday.  After that we cool down.

Temperature forecast on Monday is tricky; weak offshore flow and 850mb temps around +24 mean we COULD hit 100 degrees if skies are sunny.  I think that’s unlikely so I went for a high of 98.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen