The first day of our trip from Oregon to Missouri breaks forth bright and sunny as we finally settle down to the stressful business of packing. Which means Mom and Dad run helter-skelter around reminding each other of what the other needs to pack while forgetting what we are packing ourselves. While Miss 8yo Esmé stresses over what color hair tie to wear, what lip gloss to put in her purse, starts reading the first of the 8 books her Mom said she had to take on the trip, transfers everything to a bigger purse, or wanders around the yard talking to moths or pretending to be a raccoon.
Finally all packed, in the car, driving around the backyard, I say, “I see the lawn maintenance guy you organized is at work already – good job! It’s gonna take him the the whole two weeks we’re gone to get through the whole yard.”
And then, “Have you seen the cat?”
“No, that was your job to keep track of him,” is the response.
So we drive back around to the front door and take a check inside to make sure Mr. Flamey isn’t locked up in the bedroom, where he will die since his food and water is set up in the utility room. We don’t find him there, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t there, since he is a master hider when he chooses not to be found (as opposed to a master loud nuisance when he demands your attention). He has free access to the outdoors, so he could be anywhere. I make a few circles around the yard with no Flamey sightings. And I am doomed to live the entire trip in fear that we will find a dead skeleton of a cat in our bedroom on our return.
Finally, on the road several hours later than planned (if you can call anything we do “planning”), heading east along the North Umpqua River, wondering if anything else along this road trip can compare to its beauty. A few obligatory calls to Esmé to “Look out the window, for Pete’s sake” as we pass Mt Thielsen and Diamond Lake. Unfortunately, she can see absolutely nothing on the left side of the road since we have luggage piled up high, so I’m hoping most of the sights will be on her right. Daddy keeps forgetting and tells her to look anyway, so we revisit this issue numerous times. I snap another grainy picture through the windshield for your viewing pleasure.
As we approach the T junction on the other side of the mountains, we debate the merits of going north through Bend and Idaho or south through Nevada with the destination of Salt Lake City by Sunday evening. South is a half hour shorter, so it wins, even though it means Esmé will never in her life get to check Idaho off her “states visited” list.
It turns out to be a beautiful choice. We figure out how to get on Hwy 140 heading towards Winnemucca, Nevada. Eastern Oregon is surprisingly green along this road, which follows a beautiful little river a ways through forest and countryside.
A few hours into the trip, Esmé is ready for it to be over. At least for an opportunity to get out and stretch her legs a bit. So we pull over in a turnout – not much in the way of rest areas and shops and parks on this road. Esmé can’t find her flip flops. I start pulling out the luggage that is stacked at her feet and next to her, looking for them. Then Dad asks her, “Did you even bring them?” Apparently, just before leaving, she’d been cavorting through our yard, full of stickers and burrs, barefoot, which she never does. And I,
stupidly sensibly, didn’t pack her flip flops because I assume she’ll sensibly wear them to the car. So I repack everything I unpacked and loan her my flip flops for the day, because we’re not going to get very far if she doesn’t stretch her legs. How much sadness can a mother take?
I have a pair of flats, but they are packed in the very back of a suitcase in the very back of the trunk, so I’m pretty much car-bound unless I wear Dad’s size-13 boats.
We eat the sandwiches I’d packed and head on, making sure to buy gas regularly since we never know where the next station will be and cell service is sketchy as best. By this time, we are the only car on the road for miles at a time. It is still quite pretty, just in a different “dry” way.
Esmé is proving not to be a long-distance traveler at this point and regularly claims carsickness. We stop again for a leg-stretch break near Warner Canyon Ski Area, pretty deserted at this time of year – as we head into the Great Basin.
Realizing Winnemucca is too far away if we want to camp, I do a search in a rare spot with cell service and locate Virgin Valley Campground, in Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge two hours short of Winnemucca. We have no idea what it will be like and are almost hesitant to turn off, since we are in the middle of desert-y nowhere with nothing around but sagebrush and hills.
Immediately on the turnoff, we realize this is right choice. An opal mine, obsidian (and apparently geodes) lining the road, it is a rock hunter’s paradise. There are ponds all along the drive filled with fowl of the best kind, pretty orange heads, mallards, and much more. We find the campground with a nice assortment of other campers, and it’s free!
Then we make the discovery of the night. There is a geothermal pool filled with guppies, bass, and tadpoles. The water also feeds a couple of showerheads so you can soap up and shower afterwards. So Esmé has her first swimming experience of the trip in quite the memorable place, catching guppies and watching tadpoles dart up and snatch them for snacks. And I have my first spa pedicure as the guppies nibbled the dead skin on my feet. Lovely.
Then, because our car isn’t heavily loaded enough, we stuff nooks and crannies of our
overloaded car with rocks choice obsidian specimens, though we don’t come close to the 7- pound-per-person limit. Then we head on down the road to Winnemucca, vowing to come back for a full weekend of camping sometime soon.