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View of mountain peaks from Curtis and Peggy’s back deck in the Applegate River Valley.

As I mentioned yesterday, I traveled to Southern Oregon to see Shakespeare in Ashland, but also to visit blogger Curtis Mekemson and his wife Peggy. Curtis writes a fabulous blog (and he’s a book author, too!) at Wandering Through Time and Place, and in the past years, Peggy has been a contributor. They’re clearly a team and we get to read all about their adventures in life on the blog.

Have you ever listened to someone complain about how people are all on their computers these days and losing touch with other human beings? And then did you compare it to your own experience of blogging and feel sorry for the complaining person because they haven’t met so many friendly, supportive, interesting, honest people that you have, ever since you started blogging? Well, that has been my experience.

The Mekemsons graciously welcomed me to their beautiful home in a beautiful part of the country. The moment Peggy spotted me she came over with arms open wide for a hug. I am touched and honored by their hospitality and friendship. Then I got to know them a little better and found out they are really cool people!! They have a thousand great stories to tell about their past lives and their great kids and grandkids, and what they’re involved in locally, and planned future blog posts, and planned future adventures. I can’t tell you how much fun I had.

After meeting in Medford for breakfast the first day, Curt joined me in the Jeep (Peggy had to run an errand in the Big City) and showed me how to get to their place. We got distracted by a covered bridge.

McKee Covered Bridge in the Upper Applegate Valley of southern Oregon.

Curt explained that the McKee Bridge was recently restored and is a landmark regarded with some pride in the community. We parked and walked through it. The bridge no longer covers an active road, and is only open for foot traffic. Built in 1917 (as you may have guessed) this bridge was closed in 1956 to vehicle traffic. It is one of the approximately 50 covered bridges remaining in the state of Oregon from a peak of about 450 bridges. The McKee Bridge is currently the 4th oldest in Oregon and the highest, at 45 feet above the water.

Boards mounted on the inside to help people control their graffiti tendencies.

Applegate River, 45 feet below us!

I’m always glad to explore covered bridges and happy that Oregon has so many of them.

They showed me where to put my things and I was happy to see that I got to share the room with my old friend Bone, who has been a world-traveler and companion to Curt for many years. Bone and I got to spend some time together a couple years ago, and he spent a week in Cherokee country with me, seeing the traditional sights, joining me to meet the Cherokee Chief, and then meeting Miss Cherokee and Miss Cherokee Junior. It was good to see him again.

Bone has a glamorous spot in the home. The box beneath him holds all his clothing and gear.

After a somewhat quick tour of their home, which is filled with art they have collected from all over the world (it’s SO beautiful), I had to go right back to the city to catch my first play. Ashland is south of Medford on I-5, and about an hour away from the Mekemson’s place. On the way I got distracted again and had to pull over to take photos.

Fields of hemp spread across the valley. These plants are taller than I am.

Hemp adds another shade of green; a great crop for this climate because it does not require a lot of water.

On the way in, Curt had explained to me how the hemp farms were booming. Hemp is a different plant than marijuana, but over the years, growers had failed to get permission to grow hemp as much as they had failed to legalize marijuana. Finally, with the legalization of marijuana, the hemp growers succeeded as well! There is so much anticipation that this is going to be a crop to make farmers wealthy, they are planting it everywhere. Curt said some growers ripped out their marijuana and planted hemp instead. In this section of the road, the scent of the plants rose up around me on all sides. I saw a guy digging a ditch and asked if I could take photographs. He said “Sure!” and told me that people stop at this farm all the time for photos.

The next morning was luxurious because our play wouldn’t start till the afternoon. We had a lazy morning filled with conversation and coffee and scones. I got a serious tour of their place, and I got to hear their concerns about the loss of many trees on their property. Years of drought has weakened the trees in the forest around them, so when the pine beetles come in and feed on them, the trees have a difficult time recovering. Some have died, and Curt and Peggy hired a crew to come in and remove the dead trees. It is sad to lose the trees, particularly the one up close to the deck that Peggy looked at all the time. Each time I arrived in their driveway, I had to move carefully to avoid the massive piles of brush and the growing stack of logs waiting to be hauled out on a log truck. Curt talks about it in detail in his blog.

Morning sun dries the wet deck and lifts the stratus fractus from the hills.

Looking the other direction at their peaceful patio.

Bloggers do what we do, and before long Curt and I were out in the living room, computers on our laps, preparing the next posts. He was working on a post about the remarkable Mono Lake, and I was working on a post about visiting Tara in Bend.

Curtis Mekemson in his “office” creating more bloggy goodness for us.

The next day began much the same, with luxurious relaxation and conversation. The logging and clearing continued on the property, and we could hear the chainsaws. Peggy contemplated the new view with a missing tree up by the deck. I got to meet some of their deer neighbors.

View from the house.

Fawn follows its momma. See her peeking through the railing?

Hi baby!

With no plays to see on my last day, we had a chance for a different kind of play. We decided to go for a hike to see a Bigfoot Trap! I had never heard of such a thing, and that’s because this is the only known Bigfoot trap in the world. Bigfoot is the common name for the Sasquatch, a tall, hairy, man-like beast that lives in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. It’s closest cousin is the Yeti. While we hiked, I told them my best Bigfoot story about when I was a kid and playing in the woods with the neighbor kids. Trying to show off and get attention like I always did, I lied and told them I saw a big hairy hand around a tree trunk. They believed me and marched us all directly back to their house and reported it to their parents, whom I did not know were avid Bigfoot enthusiasts. Parents got excited, grabbed their gear and insisted that I take them back to the precise spot and tell them exactly what I saw. Rather than confess, I continued the charade, feeling more embarrassed and miserable the whole time, building a deeper web of lies to cover my tracks. They didn’t find evidence of Bigfoot in the forest that day, and let us go back to playing. I never talked about Bigfoot again to those kids!

Bone came along with us on the hike. This is Curt and Bone at the trailhead.

A closeup of the trailhead shows that Bigfoot hunters are still excited about their quest.

It was a hot day but the trail is shady and cooled by a creek.

This banana slug on the trail appreciated the cool shade.

A group called North American Wildlife Research built the trap in 1974 as part of their goal of proving that Bigfoot exists. It was actively operated for six years, but sadly, they never caught Bigfoot. The trap was built strong and is still intact, though it has been repaired. Today is it not operational, and the moving gate is fixed in place to protect the many humans who come here to see it.

Curt takes a photo of the 10-foot square trap. I like the graffiti that says “Bigfoot was here.”

Despite our obvious fear of imprisonment, Peggy and I were brave enough to step inside.

We got back to the truck and decided to keep exploring the area around Applegate Lake. This country is breathtakingly beautiful and I was in no doubt about why, when this couple had explored the world, this was the place they chose to put down roots. For fun they took me to the California border. Out in the country, border crossings are a bit less formal than on the highways. The dirt and gravel road on the other side of Applegate Lake crosses the California border three times in a mile! There are campsites and swimming holes and no one pays attention to which state they’re in. Except maybe at the first crossing, where a little college rivalry showed up:

The paved road stops at the border. On the right side of the tree, the state of Oregon is celebrated, in the orange and black colors of Oregon State University. On the left side of the tree, yellow and gold is used to celebrate California, the same colors as University of California.

At this point we were famished and headed back home for a real meal. I was eager to make my yummy baking powder biscuits and we started planning our meal as we returned home. There were fresh tomatoes from the garden, eggs, some honey from my bees that I brought them. This was going to be good. First we stood back while delivery men showed up to install their new dishwasher.

Curt wears a Bigfoot T-shirt and Peggy checks out the new bells and whistles.

A table filled with delectables. We were all drooling by the time it was ready and we could sit and eat.

Before I left my friends, we took photos together. I posed with Curt in front of a gift of fabric given to him by another blogger. He was pleased to blend his online blogger community in the real life. Then he asked Peggy and me to pose together and I leaned my forehead against hers in affection at the same time that she reached for my hand. I felt loved.

Peggy rocks the purple!

What a perfect portrait to capture a sweet moment. These two are now so close to my heart. ❤

Entrance into the underground lava tube.

Entrance into the underground lava tube.

Highway 503 is a secondary approach to Mt. St. Helens, leaving the Interstate and heading south of the mountain and around the other side, so that one can view it from the East, rather than the north, as shown in my earlier posts. The stops along the way reveal some fascinating aspects of the volcano one can’t learn from the other, more popular highway.

I first explored Ape Cave, an apt name in this pocket of Bigfoot country. The name of the cave is related to the Sasquatch legend in a surprising way. There are multiple stories, so forgive me that I only include one version: In 1924 some Boy Scouts were goofing around in the area, screeching and acting like primates, picking up lightweight pumice rocks and hurling them into a canyon. They did not know that there was a cabin below. From out of that cabin burst astonished miners, squinting up at the ridge and believing they were under attack by apes, which is the story they reported when they got to town. This led people to speculate that the tall tales of ape men had finally been proven legitimate. Years later, a local youth group named themselves the St. Helens Apes after that legend. In 1951, when the youth group were among the first humans to explore a newly discovered cave, they dubbed it the Ape Cape, and the name stuck.

At the entrance to the Ape Cave, you can see the arched roof formed 1900 years ago. The rubble formed when parts of the roof caved in.

At the entrance to the Ape Cave, you can see the arched roof formed 2000 years ago. The rubble piled up when parts of the roof caved in.

Lava tubes are a special kind of cave, formed in a volcanic eruption. I explored one in Bend, Oregon in 2011. Only once in Mt. St. Helens’ history did she erupt with molten lava. This kind of eruption is rare in the Cascade Range because of our geology. Magma rising to the surface here has a high silica content, which results in the magma taking on a more solid form, trapping gases and resulting in an explosive eruption. Less silica allows a fluid eruption of molten lava, called basalt.

2000 years ago, Mt. St. Helens erupted with fluid lava. As it flowed in enormous, thick rivers, the outside of the river cooled and hardened while the inside remained hot and continued to flow. The lava melted the rock it was flowing across, carrying it away and deepening the channel. When the eruption finally stopped, the remaining liquid river flowed out the end of the tube, emptying it, and leaving a lava shell that eventually was covered by dirt and forest.

Ape Cave is 13,042 feet (2 1/2 miles) long, and I did not have time to explore much of it. I’ll come back another day.

Evidence of the changing season.

Evidence of the changing season.

Next I visited A Trail of Two Forests. On a Thursday morning in gorgeous weather there was not another soul and I had the trail entirely to myself. Sometimes that’s one of the best things about living in the West: hardly any people.

The trail is entirely on boardwalk, and makes a short loop through the forests. The two forests mentioned here are the one that exists today, and the one that disappeared in the lava flow that created Ape Cave. Hollow shells where trees used to be are well-preserved here. It takes hardly any imagination to visualize what was there when the lava struck, since the lava shells tell the story.

One hole from a tree that had been standing, and stretched from the top left toward the bottom right is the partial shell left from a tree that had been lying down when the lava hit.

One large hole from a tree that had been standing, a small standing tree on the right, and stretched from the top left toward the bottom center is the partial shell left from a tree that had been lying down when the lava hit.

What's left when lava hits a forest.

What’s left when lava hits a forest.

Looking into a shell created when lava cooled around a tree, and then the tree burned away.

Looking into a shell created when lava cooled around a tree, and then the tree burned away.

Molten lava oozed into the forest, surrounding huge logs and eventually cooling and hardening. In the meantime, the wood caught on fire and burned up. What’s left is big circular gaps in the forest floor marking the diameter of the trees that once were, and long tree-sized tunnels along the ground. There is a place where a couple of downed trees were beside standing trees, so the hollow tubes all connect. From the boardwalk you can climb down a ladder into one tree hole, and then climb into a horizontal tunnel, following the path where a tree once lay. Halfway through, you turn a corner into a hole left by a second tree lying down, and at the end, climb back out through the hole from another standing tree. (It also makes one a bit in awe of the size of trees…)

Humongous tree hole beside the trail

Large tree hole beside the trail. It’s more impressive in real life.

This is where one can climb down into the tunnels left by trees.

This is where one can climb down into the tunnels left by trees.

I found this video that has some great shots of the places I saw.

I continued on to St. Helens herself. As the Jeep climbed out of the river valleys and up into the ridgelines, the wind rose around me. My destination was Windy Ridge, but I had assumed the name referenced the natural buffeting one gets in exposed places. The wind during my drive seemed unusually high, particularly since I was still far from Windy Ridge.

Wind lifts volcanic ash from the crater.

Wind lifts volcanic ash from the crater.

It’s a beautiful drive and not as geared for tourists as Highway 504. No visitor centers and fewer informational signs at viewpoints. In fact, when I arrived at Windy Ridge, there was not even a visitor center there, though there was a park Ranger giving talks. He stood in a small outdoor amphitheater with a plexiglass wall that provided some protection from the wind while allowing us to see the crater of Mt. St. Helens while he talked. He confirmed that it was an unusually windy day.

We could see clouds of ash lifting from the crater and drifting off to the West. One woman asked the Ranger if it was steam, fearing the volcano was active on that very day. We were in no danger, but it was a fascinating sight to see. The valley I had photographed the day before was murky with airborne particles and I was grateful to be on the East side in all that wind.

The wind! It was tremendous! I didn’t feel safe near the edge of the bluff, and could hardly remain upright as I walked across the parking lot. I decided not to climb Windy Ridge for a better view of the mountain, and risk getting blown into the next county.

Our view behind the Ranger as he talked.

Our view behind the Ranger as he talked.

Spirit Lake in the foreground, and the ashy skies behind it.

Spirit Lake in the foreground, and the ashy skies behind it.

The Ranger’s talk that day was about the wildlife making a foothold in the valley before us. He didn’t bother using his posterboard media and rather we in the audience took turns chasing them down when the wind carried them away. In 34 years, much of the area’s natural wildlife has returned to the land and also to the lakes. He talked about how it began with small critters at first, who flourished and made an appealing smorgasbord for larger critters, who hunted them. Mice came, and other larger mammals, followed by coyotes. I had heard them the previous evening while I sat and waited for the clouds to clear from the mountain peak. Barks and cries of a dozen voices rose from the valley, their haunting songs thrilling me.

A chipmunk nibbles something tasty.

A chipmunk nibbles something tasty.

He also talked about the fish in Spirit Lake, planted without permission by anonymous citizens. Somebody had hiked down the steep, ashy, gravelly slope carrying buckets of fish, one assumes. The lake was packed full of tasty things for fish to eat, so when the trout arrived they did what fish tend to do, and they ate to nearly bursting. The trout grew too much and were sickly, but gigantic. But the species survived. Today the ecosystem of Spirit Lake is balancing out, and the fish are healthier and smaller, but the Ranger says they are still much larger than typical trout ever get. He said no one has ever been spotted trying to fish the lake inside the National Monument, so the purpose of going to so much trouble to stock it remains unknown.

Spirit Lake today

Spirit Lake today

I was so interested in how the air was clear over me, but thick with dust over the ash-filled valley.

I was so interested in how the air was clear over me, but thick with dust over the ash-filled valley.

You've been wondering, "What's that silver stuff in the lake?" Here's a good look. That is a mat of decomposing trees that were blown into the lake 34 years ago.

You’ve been wondering, “What’s that silver stuff in the lake?” Here’s a good look. That is a mat of decomposing trees that were blown into the lake 34 years ago.

I made the return journey slowly, taking time to gaze out at Mt. Adams (the closest volcano), Mt. Hood, and Mt. Rainier from different spots along the highway. I walked a trail to tiny Meta Lake, recovering from the eruption beautifully. Beside the trail were huckleberry bushes loaded with fat, ripe berries, and I ate a bunch of them. To someone who grew up eating huckleberries, nothing can compare. There must be no bears here, or perhaps the berry bushes are loaded everywhere and the bears don’t need to come too close to humans to get food.

Another great thing about this trip was how close it is to home, and that’s where I headed next. I chose the trip for that reason, since my Great Aunt had passed away and I needed to be with family for the remainder of my vacation time. Nice to know that if I ever have a yearning to see some of America’s incredible sights, Mt. St. Helens is less than two hours away.

Mt. Adams

Mt. Adams

Mt. Hood

Mt. Hood

Meta Lake. Remnants of the destroyed forest are still visible while the new one regenerates, purely on Mother Nature's timeline.

Meta Lake. Remnants of the destroyed forest are still visible while the new one regenerates, purely on Mother Nature’s timeline.

Huckleberry deliciousness.

Huckleberry deliciousness.

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