Thursday, January 31, 2013

Geo 365: Jan. 31, Day 31: McKenzie Wagon Road

The view east from Dee Wright Observatory at McKenzie Pass. Route 242 turns to the right in the mid-distance. At that turn, there appears to be a path or trail going up the hillside. That is actually the old McKenzie wagon road, which eastern Americans of European roots used to get to the southern portion of the Willamette Valley. Segments of that road can be seen nearby the modern road in a number of places in this area.

This landscape is unimaginably hostile- I've never felt comfortable getting off developed areas, such as roads or trails, more than a few feet. That chunk of rock you step onto may be firmly rooted to the deeper portion of the flow, or it may roll out from under you, sending you sprawling, face-down, onto the sharp, ragged aa. I stand in the middle of this stark but strangely beautiful landscape, and ponder those early settlers. I think about their struggle to cross the American West... the Rockies... the desert, and the Great Basin... likely, hostile natives... hunger... thirst... disease. I imagine their first glimpse of the central Cascades, a few days of their time before Bend, rising majestic and snow covered, on the horizon. I imagine their increasing excitement as the landscape graded from juniper and sage, to lodgepole pine, to a magnificent ponderosa forest, just east of here. Excitedly chattering about the lush paradise of the promised Willamette Valley.

Then I picture them reaching this area, and looking across what, to them, would most certainly not have been "beautiful." It would have looked like congealed hell, a wasteland.

And I can't help but think some number of them just tossed up their hands, and said, in effect, "Fuck this noise. We're going back home."

Photo unmodified. October 9 2012. Flash Earth Location. In that view, the wagon road is clearly visible as the path internal to, and generally parallel to, the gooseneck on the modern road, off to the east of the cross hairs, which are on the spot where I took this photo.

Also: one month down! Woot!

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