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Looking west across the volcanic landscape topped with lenticular clouds.

This is a continuation of my Christmas vacation blog, begun in Part I.

Monday we went to Boyd Cave, a lava tube. We took highway 97 to China Hat Road and went out into the dry valley and had a stupendous view of altocumulus lenticularis over the string of dormant volcanoes along the horizon. We took the truck up the side of one of the tiny ash cones to get a better view. At the bottom side near the road, many locals were using the granular constitution of the cone to practice shooting their various weapons into. So, though Arno and I were at the top, and on the other side of the cone, while we took photos, our soundtrack was a cacophony of shotgun and rifle blasts. Hard to stay relaxed the whole time, ha ha. But we did get some neat photos of the clouds.

Arno looks into the maw of the Earth

Not an encouraging expression.

Prior to coming out to Boyd Cave, we had looked out across the valley at this vast landscape the day before, and saw the remnants of a lava flow. A deep river of lava poured through the valley following a volcanic eruption around 100,000 years ago. The flow lasted so long that as it flowed the outer edges and top of the river cooled and hardened. The outer crust kept the interior very hot so the remaining lava continued to flow, emptying the shell. The hot stuff inside the tube kind of oozed down the sides a little, and began to drip from the ceiling, but cooled quickly and remained in tube form till today. THAT is what we hiked inside.

It's simply a hole in the ground, with a fence around it. And a ladder.

You drive out into the desert, park on the side of a dirt road, and begin walking out through the sagebrush until you come to a fence with a little U.S. Forest Service sign tacked to the fence, next to a ladder that disappears into the earth. No staff, no buildings. Just you and a hole in the ground.

Moving through the inside was surprizingly easy.

A portion of the roof caved in, so we had to climb over.

solidified magma drips

In the intervening millennia, typical erosion and dust deposits have covered the land above the lava tube, so it is not detectable, but the hollow tube remains below ground. The floor of the tube is surprisingly flat and smooth, except for spots where the ceiling caved in and we had to crawl over boulders. We attempted to go the length of the cave, which the U.S. Forest Service estimates at 1,880 feet long. We got close enough to see the end, maybe 1,865 feet into the tube, but the last little bit was at the end of a small hole and we had already crawled through a couple of those.

Wriggling my way through one of the tight squeezes.

It was pitch black inside, so we wore headlamps and carried a flashlight too. It was cold, but quiet and still inside there. We think we saw a bat, but… you know, bats are dark and hard to spot inside of midnight. I only had one little bit of claustrophobia, crawling through the first tunnel. Two are so low I had to get on my belly and wiggle through like a sand worm. That means I belly-wiggled four times total before I got out. The first time I stopped inside while I let my heartbeat relax a little, and had the courage to go all the way through. After that, no problem at all.

We got back to Lara House just in time for wine and cheese, and that’s when I met Peter and Lynda’s granddaughter and showed her photos from inside the cave. She told us about hiking at Smith Rock, and we said we would be going there the next day. Still believing ourselves to be stuffed from Christmas dinner, the Monday wine & cheese was sufficient to take the edge off, and we went out for our walk in Drake Park and then turned in for the evening.

The stunning landforms in Smith Rock State Park. {click to see it larger}

White chalk tracks up the rock face like alien footprints.

Tuesday, after a final scrumptious breakfast from Peter and Lynda, and hearty goodbyes, we hit the road while it was still morning. We went north along 97 to Smith Rock State Park, a striking outcropping of rock that bursts above Crooked River, the same river we saw on Saturday at Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint. Skies were cloudy, it was cold and windy, but there was no precipitation at all, so it was almost good weather, considering the date.

Me, rocks, Crooked River below

Arno in silhouette

Though Arno notes that Smith Rock is known as the birthplace of American sport climbing, I am not interested in rock climbing, only hiking. Luckily, there are lovely trails to hike. I did not muster the cojones to scramble over Asterisk Pass, and instead we walked along the river, around the peninsula of land. This gave us more time on the trail, and a chance for me to photograph Mallards. On the last leg of the hike, we spotted rock climbers, finally braving the air that had thawed enough to make a climb fun.

Mallard ducks and drakes

At long last we had used up our vacation time. We arrived in Hood River in the midst of a snowstorm in the dark. I transferred my gear to the Saturn Dragon Wagon and traveled the last hour home alone through the Gorge.

Stunning Mt. Hood - seriously lacking snow for the end of December

I’m late, but I still need to tell you about my awesome Christmas! When Mom died it just screwed up everything about the holidays. It doesn’t even feel like Christmas really happened, because it went all wrong without her being a part of it. However! I had a great vacation and it was packed full of stuff, so I’ll describe it in two parts. Part II will be available soon.

Tara spent the winter holidays in Cali with her dad, and Arno’s boys went to Wisconsin to see their mom, so we realized we were going to be granted the opportunity for a grown-up Christmas. We reserved three nights at the Lara House Lodge, in Bend, Oregon.

Passersby honked their horns while we were getting this shot!

Neither of us had been to Bend since we were kids, so it was an excellent place to get away from all the thoughts of my mom plaguing me. Didn’t have my home to remind me of her, and didn’t have any familiar sights reminding me of her.

We left from Hood River, south on highway 35, which eventually connected to highway 97, and we spent some time reminiscing about, and comparing, highway 97 memories. When you spend any time in central Oregon, you get familiar with 97, its long boring straight stretches through lodgepole pine, the caravans of RVs traveling at approximately 8 miles per hour below the speed limit, and inevitably the deliverance to one of your favourite childhood recreational sites.

We went through Madras, and I turned temporarily into a blathering idiot because I’m infatuated with Jacoby Ellsbury, who is from Madras. Ellsbury is a center fielder for the Boston Red Rox, of American Indian descent, and damn fine. Arno teased me by saying, “Maybe you’ll see him!”

Highway 97 bridge over Crooked River Gorge


After Madras we stopped at Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint. I am always impressed with fabulous views, particularly those with intriguing geologic formations, so this captured my imagination. It was frightfully cold and windy out… but our entire trip was very cold and often windy. Just set that idea in the back of your mind and keep it handy for every single scene I describe. In fact, to assist you, I’ll suggest you simply add the words, “…and it was damn cold” to the end of each sentence from here on out.

Anyway, at the viewpoint we gawked and pointed, and I pursed my lips against the biting wind. Finally we returned to the truck and I spotted a sign warning people to keep their dogs in vehicles. Not just leash, but keep your dog in the car. Wow. I confess I thought dogs had more finely tuned senses than humans. I guess some dogs are smarter than others. Note to Bulldog owners and Ally at Hyperbole and a Half: don’t take your dogs to this viewpoint.

Anime Tshirts

We arrived at the Lara House Lodge with no difficulties at all. It is a brilliantly maintained home from 1910 and excellently hosted by Peter and Lynda who were gracious and genuine people. I even had the honor of meeting their granddaughter on one occasion, when she was helping in the kitchen. Had a lovely discussion with Peter, a retired minister who has a very interesting history of service, including years volunteering with Hospice (which is how we got on the topic of his work), and was able to wish Lynda a happy birthday on the 26th. They prepared us the most incredible gourmet breakfasts, and interviewed us each evening to ensure that any dislikes or allergies were taken care of.

living room

We arrived midday Christmas Eve and spent the remainder of the day walking the decorated streets of Bend. The Bed & Breakfast is smack in the center of town, and so convenient for vacationers. We were only a couple blocks from a lovely walking district. I found a shop entirely of Japanese gifts that I knew my daughter would have wanted to experience. More commonly, I spotted dozens of things I wanted to tell Mom about. I reached into my pocket for my phone a couple of times, with the intent of texting her… Eventually we met back at Lara House for wine and cheese, then wandered back into town for an elegant dinner.



Christmas Day we opened gifts in front of a darling little tree that Arno brought as a surprise, with a silver star on top that he had made as a kid. The little tree was sent to him in college by his parents. So sweet. After a scrumptious Lara House breakfast, we went up to Mt. Bachelor to cross-country ski. However, there wasn’t good snow, so we opted to snowshoe instead. Still, the mostly ice-encrusted snow did not lend itself to snowshoeing. After clack-clacking a short way on the ice, we pulled off the snow shoes and hiked in our boots. The trail wound a few lovely miles through the forest, and we were satisfied.

Deschutes River in slanting rays of sun

icicles hanging from ice

After that, we went to hike a trail along the Deschutes River to Benham Falls. I snapped dozens of photos of the ice in the river, as it formed irresistible bubbles and icicles around the edges of the tumbling water. On the way back from the trail, we stopped at a vista across a wide valley where the region’s volcanic history was starkly evident. We saw a long and wide lava flow area (still black and crumbly!) with mounds raised over long-absent hotspots. Signs advertised cave exploration and museums available in the summer months, so we agreed to come back again when it’s warmer.

Lara House is across the street from Drake Park, and we went there every day for a short walk (are you remembering to add “…and it was damn cold”?). We ate entirely too much at our Christmas feast (with roast beast), and walked for an hour at the park before bed. The Deschutes River is wide and slow there, and holiday lights from the houses across the water glittered across the surface, Mallards peacefully floated about, and the stars made the sky magical.

the tumbling beginnings of Benham Falls along the Deschutes River

Arno and me at Benham Falls


Benham Falls

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