Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Painted Hills and the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument

In looking ahead at the map of the area we were going to be traveling through I saw the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument.  I tried to get a spot in an RV park near it, but it was a small park and there were no sites available.  We ended up staying in Prineville, Oregon, which is about 50 miles west of the Painted Hills and 80 miles from Sheep Rock, which are two of the parts of the John Day Fossil Beds.  It was drizzly, overcast day but the weather report wasn’t getting any better so we took the excursion.

When you think of Oregon you tend to think of forests and rain but the western part of the state is pretty dry.  We went over two mountain passes on the way and went from dense pine forest along the first to a thin Juniper forest along the second, and then into mostly sagebrush and rock.

The Painted Hills were quite a surprise and far more colorful than we had expected.  We’ve visited the Painted Desert in northern Arizona and were impressed but the colors of the rock layers there were relatively muted and this was pretty much what we expected.  These hills most definitely deserve and lived up to the name Painted.

Painted Hills 1

It was a shame it was an overcast day because on a sunny day they would have shown up even brighter. The hills were all created by volcanic ash, starting about 44 million years ago.  The last major eruption in this area was about 15 million years ago.  There were dozens and dozens of individual eruptions that put down layers of volcanic ash and basalt lava.  The fossils come from between the layers of ash, and contain an extensive record of the plants and animals of the region during that time.

Painted Hills 2

The reds come from iron, the yellows from iron and calcium and the black from manganese.  Later, while traveling to Sheep Rock, we saw layers of red and yellow in the rock layers, but nothing as spectacular as the Painted Hills.

Continue reading The Painted Hills and the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument

Shoe Tree

We went to visit the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument in western Oregon and found that it was split into three different sections.  We were driving between the Painted Hills Unit and the Sheep Rock Unit (they call them units, not us) on US26 when we saw the Shoe Tree.

Shoe Tree

There are probably over a hundred shoes in the tree.  Some are relatively new but some have been there for several years at the very least.  There are no towns in either direction along for over 20 miles and just a very few ranches so we can’t figure out how (or why) all the shoes got there.  Just one of those mysteries we run into on the road.

In the redwoods, again

We had seen the redwoods on our trip up the coast last year, but that was further south at the HumboldIt Redwoods State park.  Klamath is much further north but it is a relatively short drive from the RV park there to the Newton P. Drury Scenic Highway which goes through the Redwood National and State Parks.  The state park is actually Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and my family camped there a several times back in the early 1960’s (OMG, 50 years ago!).  What is now the scenic highway (and I have no idea who Newton P. Drurie was or why they named this section after him) used to be Highway 101 back then.

There are numerous redwood groves along the scenic drive and we found more than one with a wheelchair accessible path.   This was near Big Tree, which was one of the oldest and tallest redwoods in the area (about 280 feet tall, but there were so many branches high up we couldn’t see the top).

Susan in the Redwoods

As usual the redwoods are a spectacular sight.  We found a dirt road along the way called the Cal-Barrel road that went up the side of a mountain into the redwoods.  It went about three miles before we came to the end and had to turn around.  It was one lane most of the way but fortunately there were wider sections because we met cars coming the opposite direction both while going up and while coming back.


We found another side road off of Highway 101 that led back to a picnic grounds near a creek.  We were the only one there and after a picnic lunch we took a walk (a push?) up what had been an old logging road to a bridge over the creek and then finally back to the car.

I had hoped to visit Fern Canyon while we were in the area but I had been told that because of the drought it wasn’t worth visiting this year so we passed it by.  Even though Klamath is on Highway 101, it is off the beaten path.  When the salmon run the area is packed with fishermen but we came during the “off” season so we had no problem getting a great camping site and there were very few people in the redwoods and on the road.  We’re thinking of coming back some time in the future around the same time of the year and just relaxing for a couple of weeks in the area.  It’s a nice change from the desert around Benson and Tucson.

The view outside

One of the perks of traveling is that we get a different view out the windows on a regular bases.  Often it is just of other RVs, but occasionally we luck out with something much better.  We’re staying at an RV park in Klamath, California.  It is located on the Klamath River and we were fortunate to get a site with a great view.

Klamath View
The view out our front door

The RV park has a deck next to the river.  This morning I took a cup of coffee and sat there for a while watching the scenery and the birds.  There was a group of what looked like Cormorants on the far side of the river that were probably above a school of fist because they kept disappearing under the water.  There were smaller birds on our side of the river that were flying from one bush to another and jinking through the air, eating insects that were flying above the river.  This area is big on fishing (salmon and perch) and many here in the park come just for that.

Mount Lassen

Mount Lassen National Park is located in northeastern California on the remnants of a volcano.  Even though it doesn’t look like a volcano now it is still considered active although its last eruption was in 1915.  It is probably the southernmost of the Cascade Volcanoes (like Mount Saint Helen and Mount Hood).  We were camped about 50 miles away in Red Bluff which is in the Central Valley and made the drive there on a Satuday.

Lassen 09 Mt Lassen


Red Bluff is at an altitude of about 300 feet and we climbed most of the way to Lassen. Most of The mountain peaks in Lassen are what remains of what was a much larger volcano 70,000 years ago and are mostly around 10,000 feet high.

Lassen 02

Since they were once part of a volcano many of the hillsides were stained with many colors from volcanic minerals.

Lassen 01

Although a few of the outcroppings were very rugged, most of the hillsides were relatively smooth.

Continue reading Mount Lassen

Meowto the moocher

Mister Meowto is always very interested in whatever we are eating.  If it’s chicken or fish, he hovers at our feet and begs.  There are many other things however, that he doesn’t care for and he looses interest once he knows what they are.  He turns his nose up at beef, lamb and all vegetables, and he tries to bury anything with chocolate in it.

Meowto the moocher

We’d gotten Susan some apple pastries for her breakfast and she made the mistake of offering him some so he’d know what it was and go away.  Who knew he’d like them so much that whenever she had one he’d climb up next to her and avidly follow every bite from the plate to her mouth?  We had to yell at him more than once for getting on the table and trying to take some from her plate.  Now she just puts some where he can get it so he will leave her alone but we still have to keep an eye on him.

Large-scale renewable energy seen on the road from Las Vegas to Bakersfield

We drove from Las Vegas, Nevada to Bakersfield, California today and saw two very large renewable energy projects along the way.  The first was just after we crossed from Nevada into California and was three side-by-side solar thermal energy power stations.  This kind of system uses a field of mirrors to reflect sunlight onto a receiver in a tower.  This heats a liquid salt that is circulated through it and used to generate steam and produce electricity.  The top of the tower was bright enough that I had to keep my eyes averted while we were driving by so they wouldn’t be dazzled.

One of three solar energy plants near the California-Nevada border
One of three solar energy plants near the California-Nevada border, the mirrors are the blue area on either side of the tower.

Later, after driving through the Mojave desert, just before we reached Tehachapi, there was a giant wind power farm.  Unusually, there were all different sized windmills in it.  I suspect the wind farm had been here for decades and that they had started with the size of windmills that were available way back when, and then kept upgrading as bigger windmills became available.

Small windmills near Tehachapi
Small windmills near Tehachapi
Bigger windmills near Tehachapi
Bigger windmills near Tehachapi

We saw hundreds of windmills and it was evident that there were many we couldn’t see from the road.  At a guess, they ranged in size from ones with blades about 20 feet across to ones that were 300 feet across.  We’ve never seen that many different sizes of windmills all working together in the same place.