Friday, March 28, 2014

Goodbye to Gold Butte Lookout

The boys did a good job keeping themselves busy at the lookout, but Willem did start to get a little squirrely. We finally let him have the camera, and he spent much of the last evening and our final morning taking pictures.

Here's Willem's shot of Shaun working at the stove. (I did the grocery shopping and the advance cooking for the trip, Shaun did the on-site cooking and cleaning up. Like I said, GOOD MAN.)

Willem took several pictures of Nels with his pocketknife.

We had a lot of cleaning to do that final morning. Here's the place all spic and span and ready for the next visitors.

We thought it would be nice to have it on record that all four of us were there together. Here we are at the back of the lookout.

And here we are at the top of the trail.

We posed for one more picture, all loaded up and ready to hit the trail. Plunk! Giant raindrops began to fall. Plunk! Plunk!

For some reason, the load on the dolly was more difficult to secure on the way back. We were tired and cold and getting hungry and had to stop a few times to get things shifted around. We were only a little bit down the trail when--whoops!--the dolly tipped over, and most of what was on it went bouncing over the side. At least one of the cartons lost its lid, sending cookware flying down the slope. Shaun and I stood in the rain and laughed, while Nels and Willem looked back at us like we were crazy.

Fortunately for us, we were at a fairly narrow (though brushy) switchback. A few of our things landed on the trail below. Shaun had to climb down to wrest the remainder of it out of the bushes and then reload the whole business. There was no cover, so we and our things just got wetter and wetter while we stood there. We made it down the rest of the way without further incident.

This is truly the stuff that memories are made of.

After taking our last picture of the trip, the kids and I huddled in the car while Shaun sorted through our bags and pulled out dry clothes for everyone to change into. Then he packed all of our wet gear into the car. Then he found a good spot for all of the wet clothes, and at the very last he changed into dry things and we headed home.

During our stay at Gold Butte Lookout, I thought several times a day that it was one of the most amazing places I've ever beenIt made me feel what CS Lewis describes as "a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious." That trip was a gift to our family, and it wouldn't have happened without Shaun to plan and drive and haul and pack, and to keep us from asphyxiating indoors when using the lamp and the stove.

So, if you have a Shaun in your family--or if you are a Shaun--go stay at a fire lookout! It's worth it.

Monday, March 24, 2014

More Gold Butte Lookout

When we woke up on our second morning, the clouds had moved in even closer than they'd been the night before. Our little cabin was like a boat on the ocean.

 Here's the view Shaun had while cooking breakfast. (He cooked all the breakfasts. He is a wonderful man.)

The clouds started to break up, and Shaun decided it was time to fly the flag. I was surprised and moved to see Willem take it so seriously.

The boys were hanging out around here together when a bald eagle flew by at eye level. I was sorry to have missed it but thrilled for them.

The chipmunks were bold,

but the animal I really wanted to see was the pika. We heard their strange squawky calls all day, but I never caught sight of one. Do check out this link so you can see how adorable this little cousin of the rabbit is. They even have a recording of its call!

The boys occupied themselves with a hatchet for a while. As you can see, there was plenty of wood available for use. Unfortunately, it was cut to a length that was too long to fit into the wood stove. Weird.

Giant cloud shadows.

Dirty faces.

Enthusiastic hot-dog eaters.

If you could open up my brain to the word "vacation," you'd see this picture there.

Right next to this picture.

It's hard to go wrong with a sunset, but it's even more beautiful when you feel like you could be caught up in it yourself at any moment. These pictures don't even come close to the reality. Everything was glowing pink.

Including the peak of Mt. Jefferson. Totally lit up pink.

And then so nice and dark.

Good night.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Gold Butte Lookout

I opened my eyes on our first morning at the lookout to this:

The one bed sits in a corner, right at window level. I felt like a bird waking up in its nest. (There are also three beautiful cots, but they are very creaky. Next time we will either bring air mattresses or ear plugs.)

The lookout was originally built in the 30's by the CCC as part of a fire-detection network. In WWII it was used as an Aircraft Warning System station. It was abandoned in the 60's and refurbished in the 80's. Willem's favorite feature was this defunct telephone. He talked on it pretty much the entire time he was indoors.

His outdoor favorite thing was, as previously mentioned, the bench.

Here I am enjoying my favorite spot (the bed) while Nels makes a paper crane to contribute to the geocache box we discovered entirely by accident.

There weren't a whole lot of things to do outdoors there that didn't involve just going back the way we came. We did go back down to the trail "landing," where the boys made a game of seeing how far they could bounce rocks down the side of the hill (no trail on that side, don't worry.) I think they could have done that all day.

Finding the geocache provided a fun diversion as well. My favorite item inside was the provisional driver's license of a stocky teenage boy from Canby, Oregon. We added Nels's origami crane (sorry, geocachers, we didn't bring anything extra with us) and took out a deck of cards that had been marked as used by a casino. I knew why the cards had holes punched through them because my first cousin once removed was a pit boss in Vegas (possibly still is, I should check with my dad) and my Grandma Toni used to deal blackjack.  

Indoors, Nels worked on a house of cards...

and Willem ate chocolate pudding. We tend to junk food it up when we're camping.

The evening got cool long before the sun went down. Any excuse to put my pajamas on early.

It was a very good thing that I didn't get the perpetually clear, sunny skies I was hoping for, because cloud-watching turned out to be the thing I enjoyed most about our stay. We spent much of the first day without the "view" we thought we had come for. But the clouds seemed to do something different every few minutes, causing the view to change drastically throughout the day in unexpected ways.

At sunset, we suddenly found ourselves on an island. It looked as though God had unfurled a sky-sized roll of cotton batting and put the world to bed for the night underneath it. 

The only things we could see poking out of the blanket (apart from our own perch) were the peak of Mt. Jefferson and this one little tiny spot

of trees.

And, above the blanket,

the heavens.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Gold Butte Lookout: Getting There

Last summer we did not let a lack of time or money prevent us from having a memorable family vacation. We figured a stay in a retired fire lookout would provide affordable novelty and getting-away-from-it-all-ness. We picked the location by a simple process of elimination: I was not willing to sleep in a structure on stilts, nor did I want to drive for hours and hours. Gold Butte Lookout in the Willamette National Forest fit the bill. 

Getting a reservation for Gold Butte requires the same sort of luck and dedication that buying tickets to see a massively popular band in a small venue does, but Shaun got up early a few weeks in a row and eventually secured us a three-night stay for the end of August.

The lookout's website bears this well-merited warning: "Note: The last two miles of road access is rough gravel and dirt with 10% grade, and is not maintained for low clearance vehicles."

I will say that Shaun did an admirable job of driving our minivan up that crazy, bumpy road. We were bounced and jostled enough to make it feel like we'd just barely crossed over from everyday life into adventure mode. It was the first "we are all in this together" moment of our trip, but it wasn't the last.

We had booked our trip for August in order to avoid rain. But the road was worringly muddy. And the air was ominously misty. By the time we pulled into the parking space at the trail head, it had started to rain in earnest.

Rain had not been forecast, so we had not prepared for it. Rather than arrive at the summit with soaking clothes and sleeping bags, we decided to wait out the downpour in the car, as time ticked away and daylight grew shorter. The boys had had enough car time, so they ran around in the rain for a good long while and got the ants out of their pants.

All of our family camping trips to this point would best be described as car camping. It was hard to know just how much we would need to pare down our stuff for this trip, so we didn't, really. We should have. There were wheelbarrows available for use, but we didn't need them. Shaun had modified our dolly (he calls it a hand truck, which I'd never heard before we were married) in order to more efficiently cart our things up the hill. 

We lugged everything four people would need for three nights (including water) up a trail that was "about a mile." Our GPS put the distance at closer to a mile and a half, which may not sound like a big deal of a difference, but, oh, it was. Every step was uphill. The website describes the hike as "difficult," and I would not argue with that.

This is insane. Shaun was basically a human pack horse. About 20 steps into the hike we were all seriously wondering if we would make it. And I was concerned that Shaun was going to have a heart attack. In fact, when I went to bed that night I dreamed for for the first time in our thirteen years of marriage that Shaun had died. Of a heart attack, of course.

Nels lent a helping hand as best he could. At one point there was a sort of landing before the trail narrowed for the final ascent. We had to leave many of our things there, and Shaun and Nels made two trips back down to bring the rest of it up. I would not normally describe Nels as the stoic trooper sort, but he sure was in this case, and I couldn't have been prouder.

We made it! Don't you love our cheerful body language?  

It was almost dark by the time Shaun and Nels made their last trip up the hill. The campers before us had left behind a bit of water, which Shaun decided to use for his one shower of the trip. He had certainly earned it. He told us that he would be stepping outside, removing his clothes, and dumping the water over his head. The boys were simultaneously alarmed and intrigued. Adventure!  

I had wondered what the boys would think of our setting; would they appreciate it, or would they would think it was boring to be so isolated?  I got my answer when hates-to-be-alone, never-stops-talking Willem made a beeline for this bench and sat in quiet solitude.

Remarkable. In every way.