When I walk my dog in the Old Mill district, I always smile when I see the art at the amphitheater. The Les Schwab Amphitheater is the main venue for large events in Bend, Oregon. Minneapolis artist, Erin Sayer, painted the crow on one side of the stage and the owl on the other.
Fellow Minneapolis artist, Yuya Negishi, assisted her. Yuya painted a dragon mural on the side of a building across the river and another mural on a staircase.
Even the utility boxes are painted.
There’s a big, open field in front of the stage.
The Deschutes River runs behind the stage. Here’s a view from across the river. Those silos on the right side belong to Deschutes Brewery.
Events are temporarily postponed or cancelled because of coronavirus. Huge crowds, such as these seen at Bend Brewfest, often fill the fields at events.
The flower border along one side of the field is spectacular at certain times of the year.
Accommodations for entertainers at this venue are unique. They are old boxcars resting on a section of train track. You can see the old train station, built in 1911, across the street.
Here’s a closer view of the train station on a winter day. Now it’s the Art Station, managed by Bend Park and Recreation District. It offers art classes for adults and children.
Art at the Amphitheater shows up in many forms including murals, concerts, colorful flower borders, art classes, and locally brewed beers. 😀
Isn’t this dragon door spectacular? It’s a beautiful work of art with an interesting story behind it.
Do you recognize the tree-lined road in the photos below? This road, in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, is featured in the Game of Thrones television series.
Do you see the big stump on the left? Four of the 245-year old beech trees fell in windstorms over the last few years. The reclaimed wood was used to create several doors. The dragon door is one of ten doors installed in pubs and hotels in Northern Ireland. Each door represents a scene from season six of Game of Thrones. You can download a Journey of the Doors passport and collect stamps as you visit the location of each door.
The dragon door above is at Fullerton Arms Guesthouse in Ballintoy, County Antrim. It features an image of Drogon, one of Daenerys’ dragons. Dothraki stallions are also featured on this door. There is also a facsimile of the Iron Throne at this location, in case you have an urge to sit on a throne made of swords.
The Dark Hedges
In the Game of Thrones series, this location is “The Dark Hedges” of King’s Road in Westeros. Digital magic replaced the paved road with a dirt road. This site appears in a couple episodes of seasons two and seven. The trees are also featured in Transformers: The Last Knight.
This is a popular tourist destination and that popularity may have contributed to the trees falling over during the storms. Beech trees have relatively shallow root systems and the heavy vehicle traffic was affecting their growth.
In October of 2017, most traffic was forbidden from traveling on the road. The Woodland Trust, a woodland conservation charity, was instrumental in this decision.
This road is often packed with visitors so it can be difficult to compose a picture. I didn’t have that problem in February. Maybe that was because it was snowing… 😉
On May 18, 1980, a trip to help band golden eagles at the Yakima Canyon in eastern Washington turned into an unexpected Mount St. Helens adventure.
The adventure begins
I was part of the Young Adult Conservation Corps, working for the Washington Department of Game in Olympia, Washington. We spent most of our time in the office, but we took occasional field trips. One of the wildlife biologists invited four of us to help him band eagles and we were excited to get out in the field.
We piled into John’s Volkswagen van and took off for eastern Washington. John suggested stopping at Crab Creek Habitat Management Area, 20 minutes south of Royal City, to do a little birdwatching before driving south to meet the biologist. We stopped and saw yellow-headed blackbirds, cinnamon teal and other kinds of ducks, a short-eared owl, and two Virginia rails with a newly hatched chick.
We drove along the road bordering Crab Creek. There was talk of taking our raft down the creek. Nobody could decide what to do so we pulled off the main road onto a minor side road a half a mile from Smyrna. We had no idea how long we would end up staying on that side road.
We got out of the van to check out the creek and noticed what looked like a storm brewing in the west. John, who was familiar with the area, said that if we rafted the creek, we would see more than we could by car. The rest of us were hesitant about rafting if there was any possibility of rain. As we stood there trying to decide what to do, a “storm” drifted into the valley. John kept saying it wouldn’t matter if we got a little wet and kept insisting we should raft the creek. We still couldn’t decide what to do.
At around 8:30 a.m., we heard what sounded like two sonic booms. We figured the sound came from the nearby Yakima Firing Range, where the United States Army did training exercises. A little while after that, we heard thunder and Dave and I thought we smelled rain. This was Sally’s first time in eastern Washington. She had recently moved from Pennsylvania, and we were busy explaining to her that sometimes big thunderstorms move through eastern Washington. By this time you couldn’t see the far end of the valley and lightning crackled across the sky. John mentioned that he’d gone to college in Ellensburg, an hour west of us, and thunderstorms were common. The rest of us believed him at that point, but we had concerns about the storm.
Uh… that’s not a thunderstorm
The clouds kept moving in until they covered half the sky. Electrical wires overhead buzzed from the electricity in the air. The buzz would get louder until a flash of lightning and a peal of thunder would rock the valley and then the buzz would start again. Meanwhile, the clouds overhead looked like someone had spilled an enormous bowl of gray-colored popcorn and it had spread across the sky. We started talking about how we had never seen clouds like that. Dave, who was from Alabama, said it looked like a tornado sky.
As we talked, the clouds changed again. Now they looked like gigantic fists pounding down on us. By this time, John had given up on rafting the creek and he ran to the van to get his camera. I asked him to grab mine, and we both took pictures of the amazing clouds as they formed overhead. If you followed one it would move downward, exploding into a black haze.
The immense dark clouds now covered about three quarters of the sky. It was dark overhead, and the only light left was in the east. The effect was that of an eerie sunset, but it was 11:00 in the morning. The darkness continued to move across the sky until only a sliver of light remained on the horizon.
At about this time, Sally said she felt something falling on her face. She asked us if we felt it and we said “no” but one by one we felt something falling on us too. John turned on the radio in the van. It said, “In case you haven’t heard, Mount St. Helens has blown.” We looked at each other in disbelief and John let out a hoot and said the mountain “had finally done it.” Several weeks before, we had taken a quick trip to the west side of the mountain for a planned Mount St. Helens adventure. On that trip, we took pictures of the mountain venting steam.
We were excited and didn’t know what to do next. Everyone decided we better get into the van when the ash fall got heavy. It was also getting dark out. The ash was coming down so heavy it was impossible to go out without something covering your mouth. We were 120 miles northeast of Mount St. Helens, directly in the ash’s path. Lightning still flashed every once in a while, spreading in a horizontal direction, like fingers reaching across the sky. The flashes were the only outside light we would glimpse for many hours.
The long dark day
It was so dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. The time was around 11:30 a.m. We didn’t know how long we would be there so we only turned on the radio every once in a while. The disc jockeys were excited about the eruption and played songs like “Volcano” by Jimmy Buffet and “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas. I remember part of Jimmy Buffet’s lyrics in particular: “I don’t know where I’m going to go when the volcano blows.” We had one beer in the van and shared it in a toast to the volcano. We got out a flashlight and spread a map outside to collect ash.
I lit a candle lantern but a little while later we dug out John’s Coleman lantern. We only kept the light on for brief periods of time because it would get too hot in the van. Whenever we opened the window, ash and mosquitoes would pour into the van. We wondered how long we would be in there and what we would do to pass the time.
We talked about what we were experiencing for a while. If we hadn’t been near a radio, we could have thought this was a nuclear explosion and that stuff falling from the sky was radioactive fallout. With the sky being so dark and everything so quiet, it would have been easy to think it was the end of the world. We should have been in a panic, but we were calm about the whole situation. The darkness surrounding us had a kind of presence, but it wasn’t a frightening one.
Okay, now what?
As it became more and more clear that we might be stuck where we were for a while, we started trying to think of things to do. We were lucky we had plenty of food because our plan was to meet four other people and we had enough for everyone for four days. We couldn’t cook anything, but we had plenty of vegetables to snack on and peanut butter and jelly to make sandwiches. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were the easiest things to make. Dave, who once worked as a camp counselor, sang us a camp song about the sandwiches in his soft southern drawl.
“First you take the peanuts and you crunch ’em, you crunch ‘em… For your peanut, peanut butter and jelly. Peanut, peanut butter and jelly.”
He cracked us up because of the funny way he sang and danced to the song. Dave pretended to pick grapes, crush peanuts, and spread peanut butter and jelly onto bread. Every time he said the word “jelly” he raised his voice for emphasis. It was easy to imagine how his rendition would entertain young campers.
After that, we started telling dumb jokes and singing camp songs. When we started running out of those, John said he thought he had a deck of cards in the van. He found them, and we played cards for a long time.
We would shut off the light every once in a while because of the heat and to check if it was still dark. It was early afternoon, and the sky was pitch black. When we opened the van door and turned the light on, the mosquitoes and moths would come inside again. We spent a long time trying to get rid of the mosquitoes. They were big ones! As it got later in the day, we thought about sleeping arrangements. We rearranged our gear, including the rubber raft, cooler, and bags of food, to find a place to sleep semi-comfortably.
Meeting some local wildlife
Around this time, we heard a big thud against the side of the van. We looked at each other and when we realized none of us had made the noise, we rushed to lock the doors. I don’t know why, but everyone had the same thought at the same time. We wondered if something had run into the van. John turned on his headlights and we saw a duck lying on the ground. It must have flown into the van because it couldn’t navigate in the darkness. The duck was flapping around like the collision injured it, so I jumped out to check if it was okay. The bird flew off after a couple unsuccessful attempts so it must not have been hurt too badly.
A little while later, when we had the light on, a swallow flew around the windows like it was trying to get into the van. The swallow perched on the windshield wipers for a while and then it would flutter around again. The animals were feeling the effects of the heavy ash fall. John and I thought about the Virginia rail chick we had seen that morning. It was so young it wasn’t yet able to stand. It was likely covered by ash now. We would see more effects on the local wildlife when we woke up the next morning.
By evening we were getting restless and eager for some sign that we would see the light of day again. At around 8:30 p.m., we got a brief glimpse of the landscape. It was light enough to make out the hills surrounding us, but not enough to see very far down the valley. The quick glimpse showed us the ash covering everything, and it was still falling. Dave and John set out a tarp to collect more ash. The map we had laid out earlier had about ¾ of an inch of ash on it. Darkness came again as night fell. The night was quiet and starless.
A new day
We woke the next morning to an unfamiliar world. It was like a layer of gray snow had covered the land. Before, the plants had been green and growing and now they were a pale gray color and bent over from the weight of the ash. The ash covering the ground was nearly two inches deep. The consistency was like baby powder. If you picked up a handful and threw it in the air, it would stay suspended for a while. If you stepped onto it, it was like moon dust. It would whoosh around the sides of your shoe and when you moved your foot away, a deep and perfect print would remain.
As we looked around, there were signs that animals had been very active during the night. Everywhere you looked, you saw tracks. It’s too bad we didn’t have a field guide to animal tracks with us because this would have been the perfect opportunity to use it. Rabbit, mouse, and bird tracks ran in neat lines across the ash. Several tracks formed intricate designs like those of the beetle we observed trudging across this new ash-covered world. It would do loops, turns, stop, and then do it again. Ants tunneled their way out of the thick ash, already adapting to the unfamiliar landscape. An occasional duck would fly by, and a few floated in the nearby creek. The animals were trying to adapt to this altered world, but they didn’t all survive the extended gloomy night.
Making our way towards civilization
We decided we had better try to get out of there and back to civilization. John and Dave picked up the tarp and guessed it held ten pounds of ash. We collected ash in containers and ended up collecting a lot on our shoes and clothing. The ash was still thick in the air and we wore bandanas to help keep it out of our noses and mouths. We took pictures of everyone looking like a bunch of bank robbers.
A couple cars drove by in the distance so everyone decided we should try to get going too. We got in the van to drive to Odessa, an hour and a half to the northeast. The route went up a hill and after we had driven a few miles, the van conked out. It had overheated. This VW van was air cooled, taking air in through collectors on the sides and circulating the air around the engine. The hot, ash-filled air wasn’t cooling the engine down enough. John got mad and took a walk. When he came back, he told us there was an intersection not too far up the hill. Luckily the van started, and we took off towards “civilization.”
Every time a car drove on the roads, it would kick up huge dust clouds that were almost impossible to see through. The main east-west highway in Washington State, Interstate 90, was closed because of the heavy accumulation of ash.
An enormous amount of ash fell at Mount St. Helens, but as it drifted east, accumulations were heavier in certain parts of eastern Washington. We later learned that prior to the eruption, the mountain measured 9,677 feet at the summit. After the eruption, it measured 8,363 feet. A lot of that material had shot up into the atmosphere.
After stopping at a corner store and attempting to call Olympia, we headed for Royal City. The people at the store told us the church there was taking in travelers. The population of Royal City in 1980 was 676 people. We drove to the nearby church and the van almost died again. The van made it to the church and we ended up staying there with about 75 other people for four days.
We donated most of our food to the church so they could share it with the other stranded travelers. The majority of the food served was from the community and there was plenty for everyone. We ate a lot of delicious home-canned vegetables and fruit.
The pastor, his wife, and the sheriff showed great patience in a tough situation. During the last two days of our stay, people were getting antsy to get out of there and they were getting on each other’s nerves. Sally, Dave, John, and I were getting along fine and passed time by telling more dumb jokes.
“Why did the cowboy want a dachshund? So he could get a long little doggie.”
We went to the high school to take showers and once to play basketball and volleyball. As soon as you walked outside, you felt dirty because of the intense heat and the ash floating through the air. Back at the church, the pastor got everyone singing after dinnertime every day to get their minds off the situation. One night they sang “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and then a song about the walls of Jericho tumbling down. I don’t think most people even realized how the songs applied to our predicament.
With the help of the townspeople, we made it through our time in Royal City. They made plans for a convoy with patrol cars, graders, and firetrucks with hoses to help us get back home. Water from the hoses helped to keep the ash down briefly. The convoy would leave the next morning.
The journey home
When we woke up the next morning, the parking lot was almost empty because everyone drove by themselves. We took off with a couple from Seattle following us. It’s good they did because after the van broke down twice in 15 miles, we abandoned it. We left the van at a farm and gave them our food that would have spoiled. The six of us squeezed into the Seattle couple’s compact car and drove to Bellevue, where John’s parents lived. This ride normally took two-and-a-half hours, but it took way longer that day.
John and Dave drove back to get the van the next day. They towed it to John’s parent’s house and worked on it. The ash had been very cruel to the van and unfortunately it would never run again. The van delivered us from our secluded ash-covered camp and worked a couple more times, but it just couldn’t make it the entire way.
When we finally returned to our offices in Olympia, it was like the four of us were joined at the hip. We moved in a herd from room to room. Because of our shared experiences, we couldn’t bear to be apart for a while.
We will always remember this once in a lifetime Mount St. Helens adventure.
Written in May 1980 and edited for clarity.Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
About the pictures
Today’s Fandango’s One Word Challenge (FOWC) word is “photograph.” I was lucky because I had before, during, and after photographs for this story. I took a lot of pictures when the eruption was happening but I had a little problem. Ash got into my camera and destroyed it. The handful of pictures I was able to save were overexposed. If only I would have had a smartphone!
Sometimes you want to cut a road out of the picture so you can focus on the scenery. I loved the layered land forms at this park.
Other times there’s a sign you overlooked. How did I not see that?
But there are other times when you want to emphasize a sign.
I was interested in that sign because a thunderstorm was about to break. Needless to say, we did not drive down the narrow canyon.
Note: I also used a perspective correction tool in my photo editing program to straighten the sign.
Sometimes a place deserves a more panoramic view so you give it a little trim. You have to decide where the best place is when you’re making the cut. Hope I didn’t cut it too short.
And then there are times when you add a little hidden Easter egg and wonder if anyone will notice it when you share the final cropped photo.
Do you see the tiny tan smudge in the lower left corner on one of the flat rocks? That’s a white-tailed antelope squirrel traveling at Rocky J. Squirrel speed. Not a great picture of it, but good enough that I could identify it later. 😀
Vista House is a unique landmark sitting high above the Columbia River about a half hour east of Portland, Oregon. Perched atop Crown Point, 733 feet above the Columbia River, this site serves as a rest stop and observatory for people traveling the Historic Columbia River Highway.
Assistant Highway Engineer Samuel Lancaster was the supervisor of the Columbia River Highway project in 1913. It was his idea to offer a place that would make the natural wonders of the Columbia River Gorge more accessible to visitors. Lancaster thought Crown Point would be an ideal site for “an observatory from which the view both up and down the Columbia could be viewed in silent communion with the infinite.”
Architect Edgar M. Lazarus designed the structure in a modern German style that incorporated aspects of Art Nouveau. Multnomah County road master John B. Yeon supervised Vista House’s construction. Construction started in 1916 and was completed in 1918.
State funds were not available for its construction, so it was funded by Multnomah County and from private sources. Local schoolchildren were among the contributors. Because of its high costs, the public dubbed it the “million dollar outhouse.” It was original budgeted at $12,000 but ultimate costs were closer to $100,000, nearly $2 million in today’s dollars.
The exterior of the eight-sided building is constructed from gray sandstone. Vista House is 55 feet high and 44 feet in diameter. Inside, light cream and pink Kasota limestone covers most of the interior. They used Tokeen Alaskan marble in the rotunda’s floors and stairs. It was also used in the wainscotting in the basement. Original plans for Vista House called for the dome ceiling to be constructed of marble supported by ribs of bronze. Costs were high, so they painted the ceiling to simulate the look of marble and bronze. The upper windows have greenish opalized glass. The tall rotunda windows are green at the tops and clear below, allowing visitors to take in the 360-degree view. Green tiles covered the original roof.
There are poems posted on the pillars within the rotunda. Here is my favorite one:
We call upon the mountains, the Cascades and the Olympics, the high green valleys and meadows filled with wildflowers, the snows that never melt, the summits of intense silence, and we ask that they
Teach us, and show us the Way.
We call upon the forests, the great trees reaching strongly to the sky with earth in their roots and the heaven in their branches, the fir and the pine and the cedar, and we ask them to
Teach us, and show us the Way.
-Chinook Invocation—Quoted in Edward Goldsmith, The Way, 1992
More to see
In the basement, you’ll find a small museum and gift shop. There are also several interpretive displays in the hallways. A million visitors visit this site each year.
Vista House went through extensive renovations in 2000-2005. A copper roof, installed over the tiles for 50 years, was removed and they installed green roof tiles similar to the originals. Upgrades included installing an energy efficient geothermal heat pump system.
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area is tucked into the northeastern corner of Oregon and the western edge of Idaho. We visited Hells Canyon in the spring last year. At the overlook, the meadows were carpeted in wildflowers. Perfect timing for pictures!
Many different types of flowers were in full bloom.
We had great weather to take in the panoramic view. The Snake River winds through this canyon nearly 8,000 feet below the canyon rim. Hells Canyon, the deepest gorge in North America, is almost 2,000 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon.
Whitestem frasera plants grew in dense clumps sprinkled with pale purple flowers.
Hells Canyon National Recreation Area was created in 1975. It encompasses 652,488 acres. There are nearly 2,900 miles of trails in this recreation area.
The dramatic landscape was formed by volcanic activity hundreds of millions of years ago followed by collisions of tectonic plates. The mountains eroded over time. A series of lava flows sculpted them into the mountains we see today.
Purple larkspur flowers bordered the trail. I have a different native variety growing on my desert property near Bend, Oregon. One of my favorite plants!
A gallery of Hells Canyon wildflowers
Here’s a gallery of some of the other wildflowers I saw that day. I had never seen these varieties of balsamroot or clematis flowers anywhere before. Wonderful sights to see!
You can see Seven Devils Mountain peeking out in this view to the north.
Hells Canyon Overlook is located 45 miles east of Joseph, Oregon, where we stayed. Check road conditions ahead of time because there can be snow in this high elevation area. It takes about 1 hour 45 minutes to get there from Joseph since you drive on twisting, turning Forest Service roads. The drive is well worth it!
She unfurled her gossamer wings and searched for a far away land, greener than green. After a journey of many miles, she caught glimpses of Ireland & Northern Ireland. When she landed in a lush green pasture, a part of her remembered…
Though I usually keep my travels within driving distance, I just returned from a 10-day trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland with my daughter. After losing my brother and father within months of each other, I felt an urge to visit the land of my ancestors.
We drove about 1,600 miles and I took lots of photos. I will be sprinkling glimpses of Ireland & Northern Ireland into my blog occasionally. Enjoy the scenery!
We recently visited a newish bakery for a cup of coffee and a sweet. This sweet spot has a good variety of sweets and beautiful artwork.
Check out this large mural full of flora and fauna. Find out more about the six artists that helped create the artwork in this space here.
The front counter has bold black and white tilework.
Even the storage areas are painted. I loved the fox peeking out and the figurine on the top.
Even the light fixtures are works of art. Can you see what the railing in the loft is made from? Rolling pins!
Here’s the view from outside. This bakery is located in the Box Factory area of Bend.
In the early 1900s, there was a box making factory here. Now this sweet spot, restaurants, a cider manufacturer, a make-your-own-beer business, an exercise studio, a tourism company, and stores fill the building.
If you decide to walk the short Cave Spring Trail in Canyonlands National Park, you will be rewarded with unique encounters with history and nature.
The 0.6 mile loop trail takes you past a narrow cowboy camp tucked under a rock ledge. Camps like these were in use from the late 1800s to 1975. The Scorup-Sommerville Cattle Company managed as many as 10,000 cattle in this region. Cowboys lived a life on the range and artifacts from their outdoor camp remain at this site.
This site was prized due to the fact that a spring existed here. Rainwater percolated through the sandstone over this site and carved out alcoves.
Sites such as these hosted cowboys in the recent past, but Native Americans lived here thousands of years before them. Their rock art can be seen in parts of the cave. The spring is considered a sacred place to descendants of these people.
If you follow the trail farther, you’ll come to two narrow ladders that take you up to a slickrock sandstone plateau.
Follow the rock cairns marking the trail…
to get stunning 360-degree views of the Canyonlands.
The trail drops down into another narrow alcove and continues to the parking area. Cave Spring Trail isn’t long, but it packs a lot into a short distance.
I was especially impressed by the many interesting formations in the rock along this trail. Cave Spring Trail, and the nearby AMAZING petroglyphs of Newspaper Rock, made this one of our favorite stops on our trip to Utah’s National Parks.
Did you know there are secret rooms at McMenamins Old St Francis in Bend? Here are pictures of two of the blacklight rooms with their secret blue views.
You can’t get into to the rooms through a traditional door. You have to find special panels in the hallway and push them in just the right spot.
The secret blue views inspired me to write microfiction stories related to each room.
On the night of the harvest moon, trees in a hidden forest create plump blue and red fruit. Jackrabbits venture into the forest, searching for the red fruit. They nibble on their magic and dance until the sun rises and the fruit disappears.
I am lost in a deep blue forest. Hanging crystals appear to light the way, so I follow them, turning to the left and right. I can’t find my way. Slumping against a tree trunk, I turn my gaze towards the sky. Then I notice it—a heart of branches leading to the true path. I am found.
A beautiful October walk along the Mill A Loop Trail in Bend, Oregon. The rising sun’s rays highlight gold and red fall foliage. The sunlight was hitting the trees just right on this autumn walk.
An American flag flies from one of the Old Mill smokestacks. Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) renovated the 28,000-square-foot former lumber mill and opened a retail store there in 2005. They retained much of the building’s historic charm and it’s one of Bend’s iconic landmarks.
This pub art at Silver Moon Brewing captures many of the iconic landmarks of Bend, Oregon. Artist Natalie Fletcher included Smith Rock in the background flanked by the Painted Hills on the left and Mt Bachelor on the right. The Deschutes River winds through the scene.
Can you see the source of the river? An overflowing glass of beer of course. Little Lava Lake is the “real” source and it’s a great place for kayaking.
This mural shows the Les Schwab Amphitheater on the left. It’s packed with people attending one of our many outdoor events.
Phil’s Trail is in the left forefront. It’s a favorite of mountain bikers.
In the right forefront you can see the Tower Theater. This small venue has been lovingly restored. On the marquee the featured film is “The Beer Fairies.” There is a tiny fairy hidden on the right side of the mural.
This pub art at Silver Moon captures many of the things that make this place great. The beer there is good too.
Silver Moon’s sense of humor is reflected in parts of this mural and also on their website. Here’s a quote from the site:
Sunflowers & stagecoaches? You may be wondering how those two things go together.
Last August we explored the Steens Mountain area by car. Did you know you can drive all the way around this 50-mile long mountain and to its 9,700-foot peak at certain times of the year? The views from up there are breathtaking!
The following pictures are from the dirt road on the east side of Steens Mountain. Common sunflowers, Helianthus annus L., were in full bloom along the road.
As their name implies, common sunflowers are common throughout the conterminous United States and in parts of Canada and Mexico. Sunflowers have been introduced in other parts of North America and throughout the world. They occur in a wide variety of habitats including prairies, roadsides, near railroad right-of-ways, savannas, and forest edges.
These leggy plants grow 1.5 to 8+ feet tall and bloom from July through October. Their iconic flowers actually have two kinds of flowers. The yellow “ray” flowers look like petals but each is an individual flower. The “disc” flowers, at the center of the brown head, are usually small. If you magnified your view of the center of the flower, you would see that each of these disc flowers had five petals. The alternate leaves, and the main stem are covered in coarse hair.
The value of sunflowers
Sunflowers are valuable to both wildlife and people. The seeds are sought out by many species of birds. Do you have sunflower seeds from the cultivated variety of sunflower in your bird feeder? If you do, you know how much birds and other wildlife enjoy eating them.
Now on to how this plant is used by humans. Wow! Where do I start?
You have probably munched on sunflower seeds, but did you know the yellow flowers are also edible? They make a colorful addition to a salad.
In July of 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled along the Missouri River in Montana and recorded these observations on sunflowers.
The sunflower is in bloom [NB: Copy for Dr. Barton] and abundant in the river bottoms. The Indians of the Missouri particularly those who do not cultivate maze make great uce of the seed of this plant for bread, or use it in thickening their soope. they most commonly first parch the seed and then pound them between two smooth stones untill they reduce it to a fine meal. to this they sometimes mearly add a portion of water and drink it in that state, or add a sufficient quantity of marrow grease to reduce it to the consistency of common dough and eate it in that manner. the last composition I think much best and have eat it in that state heartily and think it a pallateable dish.
There are many medicinal uses of this annual plant. Flowers were used for heart problems and in treating burns. Roots were used in treating blisters and snakebites. Native Americans made a leaf tea to treat lung ailments and high fevers. A poultice was applied to snake and spider bites. Seeds were used as diuretics and to help heal coughing.
Some current uses
In addition to the historical usages, sunflowers are used in creating dyes, soap, cattle and chicken feed, and a fine silky fiber, similar to hemp. Sunflower oil is widely consumed in both North America and Europe.
Fun Fact: Some Native Americans believed sunflowers were a symbol of courage. Warriors would carry sunflowers cakes with them into battle. Hunters would sprinkle themselves with sunflower powder to keep their spirits up.
Sunflowers & stagecoach stop
So now you know more about sunflowers, but why is this post called Sunflowers & Stagecoaches? While taking pictures of the sunflowers, I remembered to look for an old stagecoach stop I had seen on a Circling Steens Mountain birding field trip. Ah ha! Found it. See the dark spots in the middle of this photo? Those are the remnants of a stagecoach stop.
Here’s a closer look. The crumbling rock walls are all that’s left of this stop.
In the late 1800s to early 1900s, stagecoach routes crisscrossed the West. On the more heavily traveled routes there were stops every 25 miles or so. Why that distance? That’s about how far a team of horses pulling wagons full of goods and passengers could travel. Their progress was slow due to difficult terrain and weather that could quickly change from scorching heat to bone-chilling cold.
Some of these stations were just for changing horse teams while others had accommodations available for travelers. The stops in Fields and Frenchglen offered more options for weary travelers. One stop near the one pictured above charged 25 cents for overnight lodging and meals. The charge for the care of each horse was an additional 25 cents.
Travel along these stagecoach routes was not fast. For example, the east-west route from Ontario, Oregon to Burns, Oregon took approximately 40 hours. Today that 130-mile route takes 2 hours 12 minutes. But imagine all the sights those early travelers must have seen on those slow journeys…
We recently saw this magnificent mural in the downtown area of The Dalles, Oregon. Isn’t it fantastic! This is The Valley Gorge Hub by Blaine Fontana. Blaine and Jeremy Nichols used hundreds of cans of spray paint to create this mural in 2018. Toma Villa consulted on this project. He is a colleague of Fontana’s and an enrolled member of the Yakama Nation.
This building has murals painted on the north, south, and east sides. You can see a small sign for Kung Fu classes on the left side of the building.
This Valley Gorge project is one of many planned to bring together the communities near the Columbia River Gorge. They plan to “build a more inclusive mecca for creativity, culture, outdoor recreation, and opportunities for new and existing businesses.”
Blaine created another magnificent mural in The Dalles as a part of the Oregon Mural Trail. This project is funding seven large murals in seven small Oregon towns located throughout the state.
On a recent trip revisiting Steens Mountain, I thought back on what this place looked like decades before. When I got home, I browsed my photos and realized several pictures I took on this trip were taken in nearly the exact same spot.
Places seem to me to have some kind of memory, in that they activate memory in those who look at them.
W. G. Sebald
Some places call you back to them. While revisiting Steens Mountain this summer, I realized it is one of those places for me.
Here are a few “then” and “now” pictures I took of the Steens.
“We’re almost there,” Pa said. He pointed
towards a low sagebrush-covered hill. “It’s just over that rise.”
“How many times have you said that, Pa?” I
said to myself. I shaded my eyes and looked at the dismal landscape. Dusty
sagebrush and clumps of dry grass for as far as I could see.
The year is 1853 and my name is Lizzie. My
family is heading west along the Oregon Trail. It’s not a trail so I don’t know
why they call it that. Some people call it Emigrant Road, but I don’t think
that’s right either. It’s a rough meandering pathway to a new life, that’s what
it is. That’s why so many of us are making this journey, no matter what the
We have traveled nearly 1,600 miles so
far. On a good day we make 20 miles but on most days we travel 10-15. It’s been
five months since we left Missouri.
We came here because of the promise of
free land. If Pa was a single man, he could claim 320 acres; since he’s
married, he and Ma can claim 640 acres. Was it worth it? I sure hope so. Based
on what I’ve seen so far, I don’t think this is “The Land of Milk and Honey”
that everyone said it was.
History of Trail
Many of the nearly half a million emigrants that migrated to the Oregon Country in the years 1840-1870 could have written this account. In the nineteenth century, Great Britain, France, Russia, and Spain claimed parts of this region. Each country eventually gave up its claims. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 ended the joint occupancy with the British and set new boundaries for Oregon. As a result of this action, the U.S. government encouraged settlement of the newly acquired land.
Sensationalized accounts of the “Promised Land” caused the single largest voluntary migration in America. Artists such as Albert Bierstadt presented glamorized versions of the journey along the Trail.
For many of the settlers, the Willamette Valley was the final destination. To read about another wagon route, located near Sisters, Oregon, see my post Santiam Wagon Road.
In 1861, they discovered gold in the Blue Mountains in northeastern Oregon. The gold rush brought even more people to the state. Miners established mining camps in several locations. In 1894, gold was discovered on Flagstaff Hill and a mine was built there. By 1897, three quarters of Oregon’s gold—worth millions in today’s dollars—came from Baker County. One nugget weighed seven pounds!
National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, located atop
Flagstaff Hill east of Baker City, introduces visitors to this fascinating era
in American history. Exhibits at the Interpretive Center focus on different aspects
of the journey west, including the experiences of pioneers and native peoples.
Approximately 300 miles of the Oregon
Trail still exist. Much of the 2,170 mile trail has disappeared because of erosion
and development. When traveling on a dirt road, motorized vehicles create two
distinct ruts. In contrast to that, wagons pulled by teams of animals create a
trench-like swale, or wide depression. Hooves pack down the middle of the road.
At the Interpretive Center, you can hike or drive to areas where you can view
actual remnants of the trail.
Covered wagons – Inside and Out
Covered wagons are a prominent part of the
Interpretive Center, both inside and outside. Teams of oxen, mules, or horses
pulled the wagons. Mule teams cost the most to buy. Though mules could be
stubborn, they had remarkable endurance and surefootedness.
Wagon makers often painted wagons blue, with red wheels and undercarriage. The wheels shrank and separated in the heat so the wagon trains went through creeks and rivers to soak them back to size. The emigrants sometimes painted the canvas covers with oil paint for waterproofing.
Every inch of space was used in the wagons. For example, false floors and pockets sewn into the canvases held extra supplies in the interior. They strapped other supplies to the outside or carried them in saddle bags. However, many of the supplies were abandoned along the way because of excess weight. Many wagons went without brakes since this too would add weight. They slowed wagons going downhill with rough locks, wheel shoes, or a tree tied to the wheels.
Emigrants used the wagons for sick rooms,
birthing rooms, and shelter from storms.
Most did not travel inside the wagons on the trail. The rough roads led
to a bone-wrenching ride, so the emigrants walked alongside their wagons. When
the landscape allowed it, wagons traveled abreast to avoid each other’s dust.
Life and Death on the Trail
If several wagons were traveling together,
they often formed a circle at the end of the day’s travel. The area inside the
wagon circle served as a corral for livestock. Exhausted travelers slept in
tents and bedrolls outside of the circle. The day started when the sun rose.
After breakfast and gathering of the livestock, the caravan would travel for
five to six hours. The travelers had limited food supplies so meals might
include such delicacies as Velvet Tail Rattlesnake, Blue Beaver Tail Soup, and
Sometimes the wagon trains camped at noontime
resting spots, but most of the time they pressed onward for several more hours. Women and children collected firewood and men
hunted for game along the way. As evening approached, they would encircle the
wagons again. Evenings were a time for chores, such as repairing wagons and
mending clothing, but also a time to tell stories, sing, and dance.
Quarrels along the trail were common due
to events like wagons getting stuck in the mud or runaway livestock. They took
thousands of livestock animals on the trail for the settlers. The emigrants
lost many because of predators, disease, and accidents.
Many emigrants died on this perilous journey. Some called the trail a “two thousand mile long graveyard.” One estimate suggests there were 10-15 graves per mile from Missouri to Oregon. Provisions gave out and hired hands abandoned their employers. The weak and the sick gave up hope. Cholera caused death within hours and it took the lives of many on the trail. Crossing rivers was one of the most dangerous parts of the journey. Records show that ten percent of the travelers perished.
Sharing the Trail
Emigrants shared the Oregon Trail with
trappers, traders, and native people. The Umatilla, Walla Walla, Cayuse, Nez
Perce, and other tribes lived in the area near the Interpretive Center. As
emigrants displaced local people, conflicts such as the Cayuse War of 1847
arose. The old ways of living off the land and using it for hunting and vision
quests had passed. It forced Native Americans to deal with sweeping changes.
Both emigrants and natives learned to
engage in the business of trading. Native people traded horses, local game, and
salmon for cattle, beads, clothing, powder, and lead. Emigrants learned to
differentiate the tribes by their clothing, hairstyles, beadwork, and basketry.
Communication often consisted of hand signals and a few common words.
Visiting the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
After decades of planning, the National
Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center opened in 1992 to commemorate this
period of history. The 23,000-square foot building sits atop Flagstaff Hill
where visitors get a panoramic view of the surrounding territory. The Interpretive
Center includes exhibits, a theater, a café, and a gift store. There are living
history interpretive talks, lectures, and special events throughout the year. Regular
demonstrations include topics such as flint knapping, Dutch oven cooking,
blacksmithing, and black powder firearms. For more information see this brochure.
A network of trails leads you to living history encampments and to ruts left by wagons passing along the trail. You may catch glimpses of eagles flying overhead or pronghorn browsing in the sagebrush. In the spring and summer, wildflowers such as lupine, Indian paintbrush, and buttercups splash the desert with color. Visitors can take part in regular guided nature hikes.
Flagstaff Hill marked where the Great American Desert ended on the journey west. For the emigrants that made it this far, the lush vegetation and abundant game near the hill amazed them. This site symbolized all they had worked so hard for and many returned to the site years later. The Interpretive Center presents the tragedies encountered along the trail, and the joy many felt when they reached their destination.
You can find the Tin Pan Theater tucked away in an alley in downtown Bend, Oregon. If you didn’t know it was there, you could walk right past it.
This tiny theater only has 28 seats. You might not see the next Avengers movie there, but you will see some great movies. Indie films like The Nightingale, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of my Voice, and Maiden. They also feature foreign films.
Get there early because seats fill up fast. You can enjoy some popcorn and drinks while you’re waiting–including some local brews.
This theater received good news recently. BendFilm purchased the property in May 2019. The BendFilm Festival takes place in October and films can be viewed at this theater and several other locations. This festival was recently recognized by MovieMaker Magazine as being one of the 25 coolest film festivals in the world.
As BendFilm Executive Director Todd Looby noted, “Anyone who has entered the Tin Pan Theater immediately falls in love with the space.”
Be sure to look at the artwork in the alley just across from the theater. Tin Pan Alley Art features a variety of techniques and media. Bend has some amazing art and culture tucked away in its nooks and crannies.
Wouldn’t you like to have a river winding across your floor
like this one in the entry hall?
How about a cedar dugout canoe? Some were up to 50 feet in
The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum is in The Dalles along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Built in the 1900s, this road was the first scenic highway in the U.S. The highway winds through areas with forests, rocky cliffs, and dramatic waterfalls. We were planning to visit Multnomah Falls that day, but it was inaccessible due to a fire.
Creatures from the Ice Age
So we ended up here and a Columbian mammoth trumpeted with joy when he saw us. We stayed out of the way of his 16-foot long tusks. We found another interesting critter close by.
Did you know that there were once dire wolves in Oregon? Me neither. They were the largest canid to have lived, weighing as much as 150 pounds. Sometimes creatures portrayed in stories, such as Game of Thrones, actually existed.
From cultures that date back >10,000 years ago
Next we walked into a gallery of Native American artifacts. This center features artifacts from Wasco, Northern Paiute, and Warm Springs tribes.
Beadwork and basketry always impresses me. It would take so much patience to create something like that, something I don’t always have.
In another part of the center, the practice of fishing the Columbia River off of wooden platforms is highlighted. Native Americans fished this river for thousands of years but the runs of salmon have decreased dramatically due to dams and warming water temperatures.
Lewis & Clark’s travels
Several displays referred to the explorations of Lewis and Clark.
They passed through the Gorge traveling west in October of 1805 and on their way back home in April of 1806.
Members of the Lewis and Clark party traded with the natives for needed supplies and information on routes. See those strings of beads hanging from the display? Beads had great value as an item to trade at the time.
Naturalists were eager to explore this new land and this
display shows some of the winged wonders they encountered. That’s a lot of
As the United States expanded its territories in the 1840s and 1850s, more settlers moved toward the West. Lt. John C. Frémont explored the Oregon Trail, camping at The Dalles in 1843. The Army helped map potential wagon routes through Oregon.
Settling into Wasco County
Thousands of settlers soon made their way to Oregon and towns sprung up to support them.
The right saddle
Businesses catering to the settler’s needs prospered. Those are some nice saddles!
The Chinese in mid- to late-1800s Oregon
The railroad expanded into Oregon. Chinese immigrants helped construct railways and worked in the gold mines. They brought elements of their culture with them.
Though some of their customs and products, such as fireworks, were appreciated by the largely European American residents, Chinese often encountered prejudice.
This exhibit detailed archaeological work on the Chinatown site that once existed in The Dalles. After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, it was more difficult for them to stay in the United States. Most moved away from The Dalles by the late 1920s.
There were a couple things we didn’t see on this visit.
The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center put a lot of time into restoring native habitat on the 54-acre campus. There is a short nature walk with interpretive markers around the buildings.
They have a Raptor Interpretive Program that uses live falcons, hawks, eagles, and owls. They have presentations for visitors on days that vary with the season.
The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center was a nice place for an unplanned stop. Lots to see and do there. We were there in October and there weren’t many other visitors. The fall leaves outside the building greeted us in bright shades of gold.
There’s a great fountain just outside the front door. I leave you with the calming sounds of its waters.