Oregon Pilgrim

writings on nature and travel

Exploring the Cascades

Bend has its slogans: Living at its best or My life is your vacation. Still, these slogans are only cool if you’re actually fulfilling them. Sometimes, I forget to get out into the wild places in my own backyard.

The broad strokes of the landscape are formed by volcanic activity, but the finishing touches are made by fire.

Ghosts of trees that did not survive fire jut from the forest floor with white sepulcher arms.


The woodpeckers are the grave robbers, making their living from the dead. And they are as unabashed and boisterous about it as Jerry in Tale of Two Cities. 


In our Cascade mountains, the Ponderosa pines tower over the dry needle beds. You can tell a Ponderosa by the club-like arrangement of the spindles. These Ponderosas surrounding the evergreen tree are just saplings.


The forest floor delivers sweet surprises if you stop to look.


Listen. A yellow-rumped warbler trills its cascading call and another answers. It has a spiritual essence as if the trees themselves are singing to one another.


Then, the moment is broken with the rattling and scolding of a squirrel.


There is no silence here. The wind moving through the upper echelons of the forest make a constant roar and the river rushes with its watery hum.

In the wash of green in a forest, color lurks on the ground. Tiny wildflowers bloom their quiet praise waiting patiently for love to find them in the form of a butterfly or bee.IMG_0477


The Cascade mountain range is one of the most unique ranges I have encountered. The highest  volcanoes of the Cascades dominate their surroundings and so they have a specific name and, often, a legend.


I love the legends. I feel we must once again animate our forests with poetry before the scientists crush the wonder from us. We sink beneath facts, numbers, and findings. I want to feel the stories again.


There was a time when our forests and stars held stories and mysteries because we had a relationship with them.

If we remain behind our walls of distraction and feed upon the facts fed to us through our devices, what will become of our stories? What will become of us?


The Superbloom in Death Valley

We arrived in Death Valley as the famed superbloom subsided. .
IMG_0321Still, a few steps off the road, life surprised us everywhere we looked.


IMG_0330Seeds lie dormant for years, waiting for the perfect conditions to erupt.

Then, they bloom violently.

Desert flowers are angelic warriors, prying prisons of rock open and rendering the barren sands fertile.

Certainly, I am a fortunate one to see these wayside wanderers, but there must be thousands of blooms out there which a human eye will never see. And yet, they bloom.


There are eyes with sight and there are eyes that see. (We saw a black-throated sparrow.)


God grant me eyes that see.




Birding in Death Valley

It was Elsa’s birthday and Elsa wanted to go birding so … we awoke earlyIMG_0314

breakfastedIMG_0311and searched for birds. IMG_0308There’s not a lot of easy-to-see wildlife in Death Valley. We decided to seek out birds where there was water. There was water at the golf course.

Elsa’s notebook records seeing: Great-tailed Grackle, a Turkey Vulture Roost among the date trees, Common Raven, Starling, House Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, American Robin, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Greater Yellowlegs, Black Phoebe, Say’s Phoebe, Cassin’s Vireo, American Coot, Cinnamon Teal, Tree Swallow and a Norther Flicker.

None of these were new birds for us but it was a pleasure seeing them anyway. We were seeing old friends in a new place.


I don’t know how birding becomes a spiritual experience. Perhaps it is because it requires quiet and waiting, something that is difficult to do in our modernized society. We are very far removed from those desert fathers who sought God in the distant, empty places of the world. I try to meditate at home and find it a difficult discipline. I don’t even know if I’ve ever truly accomplished a breakthrough. But birding brings me closer to a place where my soul can drink. It carves a path for meditation. IMG_0304

Happy birthday, Elsa. I think it’s awesome this is how you want to spend your birthday. I remember when you’d flip the pages of the bird guide with your little chubby hands while Daddy carried you in the backpack. You identified a Bullock’s Oriole from that perch. Love you, girl!

Badwater Basin

This is what I always imagined when I thought of Death Valley — these salt flats which held the bragging rights for years of being the lowest place in the western hemisphere (until Laguna del Carbon was discovered). Standing there, you can look high up into the cliffs and see the marker for sea level.

IMG_0286Once there, we kind of stood around and nodded at each other. Perhaps the vast emptiness, lack of water, and loneliness got to our heads.

Yep. Things were getting desperate. We started hallucinating and swatting at the air.


When Paul and I were dating, he wrote me a letter. He said that, without me, he was like a loafer without its mate cast aside in the middle of a vast desert. He drew me a picture of it — the immense desert and a tiny, accurately portrayed penny loafer — alone.

I took a picture of this rock because it reminded me of that sketch Paul drew for me over twenty years ago.


Here we were, in the desert, not alone. Together. With our girls.


Thankful. Happy. Content.


Artist’s Palette in Death Valley

This sweet little five-spot greeted us from the rocks. Isn’t it so delicate and sweet among the rocks — so fresh and new among the billion-year time pieces?


Even these leathery desert blooms caused me to stop and admire.

IMG_0261Artist’s Palette is a wonder. From a distance, a wide range of colors look like the cascading strokes of a painter’s brush across a canvas.


It also looks like different flavors of ice cream melting, which is an unfortunate metaphor when it’s hot.


Close up, you can’t see where all the color went. It disappears into the background. You might as well be chasing a rainbow.


Slot Canyon Hike: Making Room for Memories

There are over 5000 square miles to explore in Death Valley National Park. Rather than trying to cover it all, which meant getting in the car, we opted for a few hikes near our campsite in Texas Springs campground. On one of our hikes, we passed by a creosote bush.


We wondered if we would get nothing but sun since Death Valley is known for being the hottest place on earth, but the slot canyons provided welcome relief. The spring sunshine wasn’t nearly so punishing as it can be and we enjoyed many mild mornings and evenings. IMG_0182

Paul shows off his fashionable form of sunscreen.


Ingrid provided guidance and a helping hand.


After a scramble it’s time for a water break.


Elsa is in her element!


Scrambling up is the easy part. It’s the getting back down when things get tricky.

We returned to our campsite early to cook great food.

I always think it strange to realize we can’t choose our memories. They choose us. Perhaps the most memorable moments for me were not the majestic vistas and brilliant colors of the desert. That evening, Greta and I ran up the dunes surrounding our campsite to watch the moonrise. Greta played her guitar and sang, Moon River. The moon rose slowly, brilliantly. And I was happy with the quiet breeze, the sounds of people in their camps, and the cars coming down the long descent into the bottom of the world.

We often use the phrase “making memories”, but I don’t think that’s really accurate. Memories can’t be forcibly constructed. We can only make room for them hoping they’ll land softly upon us.



Traveling to Death Valley

By spring break, I was desperate for sun, warm sun. We have a lot of sunny days in Central Oregon, but the heat doesn’t usually hit until July. So, we packed up and set out toward Death Valley.IMG_0021IMG_0022

Getting ready for a tent-camping trip with five girls in tow is an enormous endeavor. It takes extended financial and menu planning and an entire day of packing and prepping. Still, there’s that moment when we get in the car and glance over at each other with a big sigh because the worst part is over. IMG_0020

Then, we lean back in the seat, say a prayer, turn on the music and smile because we’re embarking on an adventure. It’s always worth it.

Even after hours of driving.


Because we never know what we’re going to see.

Like glimpsing our first Joshua tree while Bono belts outIMG_0081 “where the streets have no name…”

Or stopping on a whim at the ghost town of Rhyolite.

We witnessed some strange things there.

A house made of glass bottles.

And sculptures which gave off a weird vibe …IMG_0113IMG_0114IMG_0115IMG_0125

These whims where we say ‘yes’ to spontaneity often pay off. In fact, I only remember the ones that pay off. Either the stops that don’t pay off don’t exist or they are forgettable.

Keeping a loose hold on the schedule prepares us for that sense of wonder to alight upon us wherever we go. IMG_0119



Paul gave the girls a couple of mini nature-study lessons out on our forest walk.

Probably the most important thing to do when studying nature is to stop and look. Very little children do this naturally. I remember trying to take the girls out on “nature-walks” and I would get annoyed because we’d never get very far. They were always squatting down in the middle of the sidewalk to watch bugs crawl by. I finally realized that this was accomplishing my purpose of a “nature-walk”. Perhaps the better word should be “nature-stops”.


A Forest Walk

A couple of months ago we visited Elsa again in McMinnville. We walked around the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum and …IMG_2265

through a forest path. Here are some violets — possibly stream violets. IMG_2269

Paul is collecting fern spores to view under the microscope. IMG_2272

This is trillium. Beautiful, isn’t it?IMG_2274

Forest paths are so romantic. IMG_2275

I love getting out in the weather, to feel the spring waking up the earth, and to glory in hidden, secret beauties.

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