Saturday, July 14, 2018

Terra Incognita

Have you ever heard of Smith Rock State Park? Possibly, probably, not. Known and revered by avid rock climbers, its actually considered one of the 7 Wonders of Oregon (alongside Painted Hills from my last post). The staggering towers of Smith Rock are visually reminiscent of the patriarchs of Zion, though admittedly to a lesser scale. Smooth slants, rugged lines, and once you glance up: climbers peppering the grandiose rocks, quietly and diligently working their way to the top. The basalt formations are actually volcanic, which probably explains my magnetic attraction to this place (someone cue Johnny Cash's Ring Of Fire..).

I huffed and puffed my way up the Misery Ridge trail, which is the main hiking attraction inside the park. There's a nice river amble and some trails to other climb spots but this is The One. It's steep as hell but generously short. The dusty trail is entirely exposed to the elements though, which makes it feel a LOT harder than it should, especially on a hot day.

Base of Misery Ridge
Hottest, hardest part

And from the tippy top:

It made me so damn happy to look down upon this bewildering jewel of a place, a mere 2 hours Southeast of Portland. Catching my breath on top of Misery Ridge, I couldn't help but feel like the Universe was reminding me how much more I have yet to see in my own back yard. Although I grew up experiencing international travel from an early age, there's an astounding amount of ground within the continental US that I've never seen, smelled, or touched. This fall will be my first time ever visiting NYC, despite flying out of the airport there multiple times on layovers overseas. I grew up going to New Mexico and Arizona nearly every Summer to spend time with my dad and yet I had never been to Utah or the prolific National Parks there before my 30th birthday.

Looking back I feel like my eyes have been cast "ever-outward" to quote Vonnegut, focused on idealistic European adventures and tropical international destinations. I'm thinking that I may spend a few more years traveling exclusively within the US before I plan any more excursions abroad. My passport expired this month and my heart is telling me to pursue parts of this country that I had previously, unwittingly, written off. Perhaps this is a fledgling desire to find some brand of patriotism that I don't currently possess. Maybe too, I'm scared that once I leave again, I won't ever come back. Lord knows I wanted to stay in Iceland forever. After all, these days are very different: truly nothing concrete or unforgiving holds me here (there, anywhere...)

"Mankind, ignorant of the truths that lie within every human being, looked outward—pushed ever outward.../
Only inwardness remained to be explored.
Only the human soul remained terra incognita."
-Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan

Friday, July 13, 2018

As Above So Below

This week I took myself on a solo road trip to some of the bucket list Oregon places I've been meaning to visit forever. Life was hinting at the threat of boredom and I needed something to DO.

My grandparents moved to Bend when I was a tot so I spent my childhood repeating the lengthy car ride with cousins in tow, whether in line to cross the snowy pass or in stagnant summer heat sans modern air conditioning.

For this trip I circled some areas near Bend that I've always intended to visit. Sick of exclaiming "I've been meaning to..." I set off with a few particular goals in mind. I hit all the places on my list except for local hot springs (I was debating between Bagby and Umpqua). Despite my love for the warming waters, it was too damn hot this week.

Central Oregon is what I would consider the most desert-esque landscape of the PNW. Washington has some dusty plateaus as well- from Yakima to Palousse -but Oregon's central ground is more reminiscent of the quintessential Southwestern desert. Especially on a July day in the dead afternoon.

I loved visiting the Painted Hills section of the John Day Fossil Beds Monument. If, like me, you can't afford a ticket to the Rainbow Mountains of Peru, this is a reallyyy solid alternative. Every person who's seen my photos so far has said the same thing- "That's Oregon?!"

Painted Hills is the perfect place/opportunity to sit and take in the prolific life span of Mother Earth. The rolling mountains here are literally rusting they're so old; The red coloring is from iron oxidation. I pulled up on a Tuesday morning at 8am and there was almost no one around to share in the beauty of this magical place. I climbed the Crater Rim trail to look back on the hills, took in all the viewpoints, then hit up The Planet of the Painted Cove (you'll see what I mean).

I  love the desert. Maybe we're drawn to the expansive nature of its landscape because it reflects a perplexing emptiness inside of us: a remoteness and separateness intrinsic to our sense of self. Even atoms are essentially space with only the tiniest aspect of matter to distinguish one from the other.
Existence itself encompasses such an unimaginable space/depth and yet the inter-woven, symbiotic nature of the internal and external world reveals itself to us time and time again. The macro and microcosms. As the hermetic philosophers put it, "As above, so below." 
Above, below, all around: the hills were a spectacularly unique experience. Without a doubt one of the top highlights of my road trip. The following photos are from the infamous Painted Cove portion, which could serve as the perfect set for an indie movie about Mars. The desert and outer space are perhaps not all that different from one another in their evocation of the infinite.

"What draws us into the desert is the search for something intimate in the remote."  
- Edward Abbey