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Bend and Beyond

Lots to catch up on since heading south on I-97 out of Bend, OR almost a week ago. As far as the experience in Bend went: we froze our asses off at night. And in the words of Forest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that." I won't pass judgment on the riding because I know we were barred from much of the premiere alpine trails due to late-snow conditions. Limited access aside, I was still physically punished by the miles and miles of single-track that we did ride at considerable elevation. It just wasn't any type of note-worthy mountain biking experience. As for the town of Bend... bear in mind this is just one, simple wanderer's opinion, but I think I very much go against the millennial flow when I say it just didn't do it for me. I'll go ahead and lay it out there bare bones: I found it to be an area of super-wealthy transplants that tried too hard to make a sleepy ranch town into a trendy mountain town where the majority of its residents didn't seem to even take advantage of the premiere access to mother nature's playground. When Beverly Hills floor plans adopt a log-sided finish to look rustic, or when every new home gets coated in earthy-tone paints to seem outdoorsy, or when the local grocery store is made to look like a Lincoln Log set on steroids... you're tryin' a little too hard. There. Opinion over.

But, what is worth delving into is the drive from Bend to our overnight stay in Winnemucca, NV. It's not long before the road out of Bend leaves nothing but tall pines in thinned out rows due to fire control flashing by the windows. Occasionally, a town name would pop up on the GPS, a few run down shacks and dilapidated country store would blur by, and then endless pine trees would quickly resume. We made our way south toward the natural phenomenon that is Crater Lake. I had no prior knowledge about the lake going in. I just knew that is was absolutely massive and everyone I had talked to that had been absolutely loved it. For anyone who is in the dark to the lake's significance like I was, here is a quick backstory:

About 77 million years ago, there was a mountain that stood where the crater now lies. Scientists estimate it would have been the tallest peak in the surrounding region that Native Americans inhabited. In the heart of this peak was a massive lava chamber that had been building pressure for centuries. Finally, the pressure ruptured and a series of small explosions began to tear through the Earth's crust about midway up the slope -- picture rivets rocketing out of a steel surface. Our history lesson at the park didn't include an in-depth explanation, but for whatever reason these explosions took off around the circumference of mountain racing toward each other to complete a full circle and imploding the supporting Earth that lay beneath the peak. The estimated timeline is within hours the top half of the mountain had the bottom ripped out from beneath it and dropped straight down into the crust leaving a really, really big hole behind. Over the next few millennia, the snow-melt cycle began to fill the massive tub like the world's slowest faucet. Fast forward to present day and you now have this...

For a bit of scale, those pine trees in the foreground are fully grown trees 20-30 feet tall, and that lake is about six miles across. To further put things in perspective, the original peak is estimated to have sat another six thousand feet or so higher than the current elevation. Rough equivalent: plop the Grand Teton down right in the middle of that lake and look up. That much mass of stone and dirt was swallowed by the Earth. Mother Nature is not a force to be messed with.

The lake has a road that circumnavigates its shore which is a popular drive for tourists in the summer months. Due to the elevation, only three miles out from the visitor center had been plowed when we arrived. The rest of the road surface still lay buried under heavy snow. The three miles of clearance did allow for a short hike out to Discovery Point. If you were going to hazard a guess that this was the first documented sighting point of the lake, you would be correct. Of course, Native Americans of the area had witnessed the birth of this body of water and could lay true claim to being the first to see the lake because it is so well documented in their oral history. But for non-native dwellers, the first European settler set eyes on the lake from Discovery Point. The best part about that story is he was lost as hell when he found it. Complete accidental discovery. He was a young man trying to find a mine in the area, and instead discovered what would become one of the nation's great natural wonders. I was a little miffed because my poor sense of direction has only ever made me miss an important job interview and lost while running near my home-town. Somehow this guy makes the discovery of a lifetime...

My brother and I took the next few hours to shoot some photos and explore as close to the steep cliff edge as we could without taking a slide down to the lake.

Beyond Crater Lake came the lands of south central Oregon -- a topography that I did not know Oregon had. It's really just an extension of northern Utah. Or northern Utah is just an extension of south central Utah. Same endless landscape, you pick the point of origin. We headed north at Lakeview, OR before jumping on 140 East and beginning the long trek into the land of nothing.

It's easy to get frustrated with our current polarized political climate and widening separation in personal beliefs. But, if you've ever had the fortune to take some time and drive across this country, it's hard not to see the extreme diversity in regional cultures and be amazed (as well as a good bit proud) that we can function as a unified entity at all. On one hand, the amazement comes from the sheer size of land mass that we are fortunate enough to call home. To poetically describe on paper a landscape where the sky greets the horizon as far out as you can see is one thing. But to drive through a desert and be surrounded by nothing man made other than the road in front of you for as far as you can see is something else entirely. This country is huge. Or, as our President would say, "absolutely, 'UGE," with a two fingered, right hand pinch to accentuate!

What's equally impressive is the difference in lifestyles. Other than both being able to lay claim to an American citizenship, there isn't really much that a rancher in southern Oregon, who has no neighbors for thirty miles and no business industry for close to one hundred, who relies on themselves and themselves alone for success and preservation, has in common with the 20 year-old art student living in the heart of New York City. It might as well be two separate planets.

The openness absolutely exudes it's own sense of beauty. Brown scrub-brush and dusty-haze won't win out over a beautiful alpine meadow in an attractiveness contest, but that much wide open space leaves an impression of its own kind. Somewhere just west of Denio Junction, NV, Ben and I took advantage of the miles of open road and beautiful sunset that was drifting below a mesa in our rear view mirror. With a few minutes of natural light left and not another car in sight, Ben popped his bike off the rack and let me shoot some photos against the desert backdrop.

On we drove, mile after mile into the darkness and our resting spot for the night in Winnemucca. The equally monotonous drive of highway 80 would come the next day which would lead to five nights and four awesome days in Moab, UT. More about that to come, so stay tuned!!

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