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Escaping is easy, it just requires a moment and a bit of planning and the commitment to put it on the calendar. Somehow if it’s on the calendar, we manage to do it. The original plan was for a trip to the desert, to the east side of Oregon, basking in the high dry gorgeousness of the Steens Mountains. I can’t believe it has been so many years since we were there. It seemed like a lovely thing to do in early June.
Company gone, chores caught up, we put a week of escape days into the calendar. I mapped the route, looked at Page Campground near French Glen, checked the weather, read the blog about our last trip to the Steens over Labor Day one year. Then something happened. Seven hours of driving, no water to play on, gorgeous high desert that is known for gnats in June at the campground, hiking the main entertainment. Off grid. For no reason I can explain, I said to Mo, “Why don’t we go to Howard Prairie instead? We can kayak and have a campfire and enjoy the forest again.” That is how a long trip to the high desert turned into a short trip into the western slope of the nearby Cascades.
On the map, you can see Rocky Point on the upper right corner, where we used to live, on the left, our home in Grants Pass. It somewhat explains why we never managed to get to Howard Prairie again, even though Mo and her family used to have family camping and boating get togethers there many years ago, before I knew them. Living in Rocky Point, we were so close to so many outdoor options, lakes, rivers, the refuges, that we forgot about Howard Prairie.
Now that we live in town, on the west side, we have to be a bit more creative in finding good places to kayak, and that most often leads us back to the mountains east of Grants Pass.
Time surely does have a way of disappearing. We had good memories of a camping trip to Grizzly Campground at Howard Prairie, but when was that? Not in the blog? Oh no! It was before I started blogging. No journal of the trip? Oh my! I finally found the photos, from the summer of 2006, the first year I moved from Klamath Falls Oregon to Sonora California for my work. I drove the truck back to Oregon and Mo met me at Howard Prairie with our baby MoHo. I wish I had written about the trip then, because we spent a lot of the time trying to remember which site we were in, and where we had kayaked.
What we did remember, however, was that we went to the Britt Music Festival in Ashland, and then drove back up to the mountain lake to spend the rest of the weekend. That first night we were all alone in the campground, and as we drove in the pitch darkness was a bit disconcerting. The campground isn’t terribly small, 19 sites, and is located right next to the main road. It was one of the few times in our RVing experience where we were definitely a bit spooked.
That year we had a lovely day on the lake, with water flowers, pelicans, gorgeous views of the mountains, but this time when we got out in our boats, nothing looked familiar. Howard Prairie Lake is actually a reservoir, and is currently at less than 60 percent of capacity due to the low snow pack from the previous winter. The shoreline is so far down that the lake is significantly smaller.
The only factor that wasn’t particularly nice about that low water was the mucky bottom along the shoreline. Our site was adjacent to the water, and we carried the boats down, hunting for a place to launch. Mo chose the rocky lower bottom of the closed boat launch, and I chose the mucky bottom. Still, once we were on the water, everything felt wonderful.
Our morning kayak on the lovely lake was filled with birds, especially the Canada geese with literally hundreds of babies. The American white pelicans were around, not more than half a dozen at a time, but they entertained us perfectly with their F15 type flying maneuvers low over the water. I filmed one of them feeding, and he basically ignored me as he dumped over and over into the water in search of goodies.
We saw eagles and ospreys, too high to photograph well from the rocking kayak, and what I later discovered was a spotted sandpiper. We heard kingfishers, and killdeer. It is what we love best about our Oregon waterways, all the amazing birdlife.
Once again we had the entire campground almost entirely to ourselves. The first night a lone camper drifted in and the next morning we met him after his morning yoga on the beach. He and a friend had just graduated from Berkeley and they were celebrating by driving around the Pacific Northwest. He rushed over when we saw us approaching the landing area, offering to help us if needed. I guess maybe he was worried because we looked too old to get out of the kayaks alone? Ha! It might be funny to watch, but we can still manage it.
The second night we were joined late in the evening by a lone camper in a white truck who quietly set up his hammock and disappeared early the next morning. On Wednesday night, during a sunny pleasant week in June, we had the entire campground completely to ourselves. Totally dark and totally silent and totally alone. For some reason, it wasn’t the least bit spooky this time.
We woke in the mornings with the eastern sunshine pouring in through the forest and the lake mists, to chilly temperatures. Waiting an hour or so for the sun to warm up the air a bit, we launched the kayaks for time on the water before the winds came up. Still, the paddles back home were more challenging because even by 10 or 11 on the lake, the breezes made for choppy water.
We would return from our boating forays before noon and cook a nice breakfast, which served as a great lunch as well. Two meals a day is perfect when camping it seems. Although one afternoon we did supplement our home cooking with some ice cream from the resort grocery store.
In the afternoons we explored the other campgrounds around Howard Prairie, checked out the resort, with its big campground with hookups, a store, and a marina. Even the fancy campgrounds were not even close to full, with lots of space.
Another afternoon we drove south to Hyatt Lake, a smaller reservoir nearby, with water that was even lower than that at Howard Prairie. Hyatt is a lovely little lake, and unlike the Jackson County campgrounds that are around Howard Prairie, the Hyatt campgrounds are administered by the BLM, and are reservation only sites. On each campsite is a number to call to get a reservation, which you can do on the same day. Although cell service is basically unavailable, so we decided that if we ever wanted to camp at Hyatt, we would have to really plan ahead.
Sometimes we just say “no” even with 4 wheel drive
I didn’t realize that the infamous Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument boundary actually included the eastern and southern shoreline of both of these lakes. We started up the rough dirt road, crossing the Pacific Crest Trail, toward the Yew Springs Road, but without maps, the forests looked all the same and we had no idea how far the road went through the same kind of landscape. Later I did some research and discovered an entirely new world of amazing places to hike and explore right here in our own back yard Cascades Monument. The hike to Hobart Bluff is definitely on our list of things to do.
The monument is only infamous if you are among my friends who have tracked some of the issues surrounding National Monuments in our country at this time. This is one slated for reduction, and is the subject of much controversy in the area, some pro, some against, but everyone has a strong opinion. Much to say here, but I’ll save that for private conversations.
Another lovely feature at Howard Prairie is the beautiful trail that encircles the entire lake, with several sections that are accessible from different points. We walked part of the trail between our Grizzly Campground and the main Howard Prairie Resort, and another part of the trail that surrounded the upper part of what was once lake but now is only meadow. The nice thing about the low water was that at this time of year, the exposed banks were covered with thick green vegetation and tons of wildflowers, including huge drifts of yellow monkeyflower. It was breathtaking.
Wandering through the woods, I was tickled inside to find so many little forbs and flowers familiar from my soil mapping days in Northern Idaho. Similar species, and even some that are the same, and many that are indicators of moist soils from which they spring. Recognizing some, remembering their names, and seeing others that I had no clue about reminded me that it has been awhile since identifying all those little forbs and flowers was part of my job.
Mo made a great campfire every single night, with well seasoned wood from trees we had taken down on the Grants Pass property a few years ago. We sat outside by the fire for our supper, without a single pesty mosquito or fly or any kind of bug to bother us. Still can’t quite figure that one out, but there are very few bugs around the upper end of Howard Prairie, even down by the water. When we were out in the boats, on the larger portion of the lake, we did encounter a few bugs, but nothing like what we have experienced in the Klamath Basin.
Calypso bulbosa var. occidentalis, the Western Fairy Slipper
During our entire respite, we had no cell service to speak of, except a few notifications that would pop up now and then. I couldn’t actually see them, so unless I was trying to use the maps, I turned off the pesky phone with it’s irritating notification noises. No internet of course, no email, nothing. I love that time for completely shutting off the electronic world, and while it can be a bit of a withdrawal, it has wonderful rewards. I found myself a bit reluctant to move back into the connected world which seems so full of “stuff”. It is easy to simply hide away in your own little bubble in the mountains and pay no attention whatsoever to the dramas ensuing in the outside world.
Anemone Piperi, Piper’s Windflower
We ran the generator each morning to keep the batteries charged up, paid attention to our water use and did all the dry camping things that one does for saving water, knowing that we only had a few days back to long hot showers at home It’s easy to do for a short time, but of course a longer stay would require a bit more care. Our rig is small, without the huge holding tanks that the big guys have, so boondocking for us is limited to about 5 days reasonably. We could do more, but so far haven’t really needed to.
We returned to Grants Pass by way of a circular route back east to Lake of the Woods. I wanted to see if that campground was as empty as the camps around Howard Prairie and Hyatt Lake. Sunset Campground, where we have spent July 4th and have never been able to get a reservation to camp, no matter when I try, was half empty. However all the sites were reserved for the weekend. In the past, people usually reserve sites for two full weeks before the 4th in order to have them for that day. Crazy stuff.
We enjoyed our short camping trip thoroughly, driving a bit reluctantly back to civilization and regular life. It was great to get back to our sweet comfy home, but it is all the sweeter when we know that magical escapes like this one are so nearby.