Die-Hard Map Readers

I promised on Friday that I’d explain how John and I ended up in Dee, Oregon, and although this afternoon I really ought to accomplish the things that are pressingly on today’s to-do list….

– five batches of pesto to make from yesterday’s farmers’ market basil bounty

– several post-houseguest loads of laundry to wash (and fold)

– one dusty dog to wash

– eight papers on the effect of Beets and Dietary Nitrates on Muscle Efficiency and Athletic Performance to read

– one special-order blog-type item to finish

– one letter and three emails to write

… and I’m pretty tempted to post a single photo and be done with it, I’ll go ahead with the story anyway, since I promised.

John and I are die-hard map readers, and both have been fortunate enough to have good innate senses of direction as well as good training (or practice) in reading maps and finding our way in the world – so on road trips, instead of relying on smart phones or ipads or GPS of any sort, we stick to good old-fashioned paper maps.  Usually John drives, and I navigate.

When we first arrived in Oregon – one year ago this Wednesday, in fact, we drove into the state, towing our car behind a rented Penske truck, and stayed overnight in Baker City – we picked up a couple of free state maps at the official welcoming rest stop on I-84.

One of these has been my frequent companion in the car, helping us navigate around the Portland area (and once, out to the coast) – and served as our official helper on our Labor Day excursion as well.  After driving out on the historic highway to see the waterfalls cascading down to the Columbia River, we needed to get to our hotel near Mt. Hood.  The standard route to the mountain from Hood River is to take 35 south, and I’m sure it’s a perfectly nice way to go – full of orchards, I’ve heard – but since we would be staying further west on 26, I looked at this map…

… and thought that Of Course a better route would be to take that black, snaking road that  runs from Hood River to Welches.  Why not?  It looked like a perfectly normal, nice road, and usually a small road is more interesting and picturesque than a highway.

The map’s convenient blow-up of Hood River directed us southward out of town, toward Dee, and we soon realized that this was going to be a very small road.  An aggressively non-highway road.  I began to look a little closer at the map and, noticing that in fact part of our path was in gray and consulting the legend accordingly, discovered that gray on the Official State Map means “gravel.”   Do you see it there?  Snaking to the west of the R in Hood River, and through the H in Mt. Hood?  It only gradually struck me what that would mean for us and for our drive, but after discussing the situation (somewhere between Hood River and Dee) we decided to press onward.  After all, Dee was a perfectly reasonably-sized dot on the map, and it seemed like a convenient cutoff between 84 and 26 – so really, again, why not?

But then we reached Dee …

… and realized it definitely should not have been a reasonably sized dot on the map.

We’d come this far, though, and Mt. Hood was looming beautifully in the distance, so again, we decided to continue the chosen path.  We turned right toward the Lost Lake camping area, and per the map, kept a look out for a “major road off to the left” maybe eight miles after Dee – and kept looking, looking, and looking through an increasingly narrow road and tight turns – kept looking in fact, all the way to the entrance to the Lost Lake campground.  We almost decided to go in and spend a little time looking around and hiking, but unfortunately it was getting quite late in the afternoon, and having not even found our road south through the forest, were worried about how long it would take to reach our destination (and more importantly, someplace for dinner).

So we turned back, and this time kept an extremely close eye out for any road heading off to the right.  The first viable option was on the outside edge of a hairpin turn, and hardly looked like a road – but we went for it, and it indeed turned out to be our sought after route south.

While the road was extremely narrow (single-lane, mostly) and did have more than seven miles of gravel pavement, we’re quite glad we found this road.  Twists in the road would momentarily reveal gorgeous glimpses of the mountain …

… before plunging us back into the forest.

The strangest part of driving this route was the isolation – for a while we didn’t even think we were on a real road, and felt like the only ones there, although it turned out we did have a little company.  Here are some taillights far in the distance…

By the end, I believe we saw three or four other cars, and two hikers.

We passed what I think is the Lolo Pass trailhead for the Pacific Crest Trail

… and once we were directly west of Mt. Hood and driving down under a huge river of power lines …

… many good views of the mountain.

In the end we were quite glad we took this unusual route south – it was interesting and beautiful, and best of all, driving around the west side of the mountain instead of the east in the early evening made the light on the mountain even more beautiful.  I imagine that the silhouette from the other side would have been interesting also, but the sunset glow is one of my favorite types of light.

(And in the end we made it to dinner at a reasonable time, and our skills as map-following travelers were upheld: perfect.)

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