Last year before I left for Japan, I took Tara camping with me on our last weekend together. I knew that camping would provide quiet, no electronics, and lots of uninterrupted, healthy mom-daughter time. By coincidence, that weekend was also Mother’s Day. It was such a good idea that I did it again this year.
Only, this Mother’s Day weekend we were swamped because it was also Big Ballet Performance weekend. So Tara and I made plans to go camping last weekend.
I almost canceled. It had been raining and was forecast to continue raining. Our favourite camp site had the same forecast. Also, the Department of Veterans Affairs has begun mandatory overtime, and I had worked all day long Saturday, and was feeling fatigued. (every other federal agency is at home because of sequester but VA adds extra hours. go figure)
Dusting off my meteorologist skills, I pulled up a NOAA forecast map with a precipitation loop. It was easy to see that the rain was pretty much squeezed out of the airmass over the Cascade Range, and if we could just find a spot east of the mountains, we’d be in much better shape.
With my non-dusty web browser skills, I pulled up a map, then searched “camping” and chose a spot that was in the drier areas and as close to home as possible. I chose a spot labeled Soda Springs Campground. When we arrived, we saw that it had no identifiable springs and no identifiable campground, but turned out to be wonderful.
Most of the camp gear had been gathered Friday night after work, so Saturday after work I only had to load it into the Saturn Dragon Wagon and get my child motivated to gather her own gear (she’s a teenager; it’s not always easy to motivate her). By the time we climbed into the car, the rain was really coming down and I was glad I had packed the giant tarp that we could spread over the top of the tent.
Zooming along the fabulous Columbia Gorge highway, Tara fell asleep and I gaped at the buckets of rain coming down. Pouring, pouring rain. By Multnomah Falls, it had dropped to a light rain. By Hood River, an almost imperceptible drizzle under grey skies. I stopped to give fat kisses to my Arno in exchange for hot dog roasting sticks. I hugged hello to Diego, and hopped into the car again with still-sleeping Tara.
We crossed the Columbia River into Washington, then took highway 142 north from the town of Lyle, and followed the stunningly beautiful Klickitat River. We found the headwaters, and then climbed up, up, up onto the awe-inspiring bluffs of southern Washington. Along the Klickitat we reached pure blue skies and sunshine! We turned off 142 and in no time were at our campsite. If anyone wants to camp here, it’s free, but don’t forget your Discover Pass!
The gravel road to the camping areas were populated with target shooters, and we heard rifle shots pretty steadily until it got dark. That was the only down side. Not that I mind people doing target practice, but that I was in a totally unfamiliar area, and unsure of whether we might be in the path of a poorly-aimed bullet. I shrugged it off. They were pretty far away, and the men had seen us two girls drive past and knew we were out there, and knew it was a camping area, so I had to trust that they were shooting responsibly.
We pitched the tent in a stunning grassy forest, populated with blooming lupine. I neglected to bring my camera on the trip, so you’ll be forced to view the scene via the less-than-stellar phone camera images. Interestingly, there was a caterpillar exodus in progress, and they were literally dropping out of trees onto us. Thankfully, they were absolutely gorgeous fuzzy blue caterpillars, and so hundreds of tiny soft cute things dropping on us was a phenomena we could easily endure.
The sun shone till it was completely beyond the curve of the earth, and still we savored the clear skies. We enjoyed our evening, but were ready to turn in early. It had been a long week for both us girls. After Tara read aloud one story from the Brothers Grimm, we were out cold.
In the azure blue, cloudless morning, while Miss T slept, I brewed a pot of Peets and walked out to the edge of the bluff to look down into the canyon, and out across the gorge, and watch the day begin. I sat with my cup and drank in the environment as well as the coffee. It was incredibly beautiful. Warm. I could see a thick grey cloud bank packed tightly over the Portland skies.
As I sat there, I heard first a bawl, like a cow. Then, the unmistakable bugle call of an elk. I humbly admit, in all my wild excursions in my whole life of scrambling the mountains of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and northern California, it was the first time I had heard an elk bugle in real life. Highly recommend you experience that one yourself.
Finally I went back for the girlie, who was awake, and watching caterpillars. I took her back out to the place where I had heard the elk. We didn’t hear it again, but she did get to see the amazing view.
When we packed up the tent, she counted 36 caterpillars that we had to flick off before it got rolled up. There were more, but she said that some of the original 36 had probably come back, so she didn’t want to double-count them. We were both much better rested, much happier, and much stinkier by Sunday afternoon. I’m so glad my girlie and I get so much pleasure out of camping together.