We are snaking our way through
Here is our very back roads adventure.
We buy sandwiches to go at the Belly Buster in
Most of our day is spent passing through rolling fields of grain, sugar beets, onions, and potatoes, some hay fields with neat bales waiting to be picked up, and grassy expanses dotted with grazing cattle. Occasionally, very occasionally, we pass through a town. We take a picture of the town hall in Dayville (pop. 122), because we think it is a contender for the world's smallest city hall.
Toward late afternoon, the landscape starts getting hillier, and rockier. We stop at the
The fossil beds are another story. In a vast expanse of
Fortunately, they get this question a lot, and they pull out a notebook with the names and phone numbers of the handful of hotels within a hundred mile radius. Since we don't want to backtrack, and are hoping to eat dinner tonight, that narrows our choices down to two small hotels in Mitchell (pop. 158), about 32 miles away.
We end up at the Historic Oregon Hotel, which is really a bed and breakfast house with nine rooms for rent, on
At the Lone Pine, which smells strongly of grease, we are the first, and it turns out the only, customers. A woman shaped like a fireplug and her daughter scramble like roaches when the light is turned on as we walk in. We have their full attention. I wish there was something that appealed to me on the menu, and settle for a grilled cheese sandwich, which I blot with many napkins after it arrives.
The Painted Hills unit of the
Back at the Historic Oregon Hotel, I try to figure out how to wash my hair in the claw foot bath tub which has no shower.
The next morning, on the way out of town we stop by "Get Your Kick on Route 26 Espresso," the sole establishment that gives Mitchell one of their claims to fame—"more espresso stands per capita than Seattle." The owner is prepping my latte, and she tells Dick she has had the stand for seven years. We can't figure out how she makes a living in a town of 158 on a highway we traveled for long stretches of time without seeing another car. She says she is just stubborn, makes an okay living, and won't give up.
Our next stop is Fossil (pop. 435), where the rangers at John Day told us we could dig for 33 million year old plant fossils behind the high school. It is close to 90 degrees when we arrive, and without the enthusiasm of children, we do not last long scraping about in the unshaded pile of rocks, but we do manage to leave with a handful of rocks with the faint imprints of 33 million year old leaves and mini-pine boughs in them.
One of the moms digging in the fossil pit is from
On the way out of town, we stop at Fossil Fuel for gas. As Dick is beginning to fill the tank, a man yells at him, "Hey, you could get a fine for doing that!" As Dick, in his confusion, begins to apologize for he knows not what, the guy rushes out and grabs the nozzle from him. He explains that the law in
"You pump your own gas here, you get a $500 fine if the Weights and Measures people see you. I get a $500 fine, too. I had a gas station twelve years, they made me go to
We finally escape from the gas station as another customer arrives, diverting the attention of the owner, and head to our final fossil activity, a loop hike in the Clarno unit of the John Day Fossil Beds. The air smells of juniper and sage baking in the 95 degree sun. As we hike a trail that runs at the foot of spectacular burnt umber palisades, towers of stone rising high above us to a cloudless blue sky, we see fossils like the ones we dug up behind the high school embedded in the rocks around us. We stand in the shade of an ancient juniper and breathe deeply, trying, unsuccessfully, to wrap our minds around 45 million years of time sculpted in the land around us.
Back in the car, cooling off with the air conditioning blasting, we can see Mount Hood over 50 miles away, as we pass through a series of near ghost towns. There is nothing left open in downtown Antelope (pop. 59), but as we get to Shaniko (pop. 26), eight miles down the road, End of the Road Ice Cream looks freshly painted, has flowers out front, and beckons us to stop. (It is the only place in town that is open for business, as far as we can tell.)
As we walk in, the owner and her employee friend are settled in chatting at a table by the window. We are the only customers. I can't believe it—they have licorice ice cream! I love licorice ice cream, and haven't seen it anywhere in years. And, here it is, in a town of 26 people. There must be someone else in town who loves licorice, too.
The elderly, but almost spritely, owner gets up to serve us, and, although she isn't too chatty, we learn that she has lived here for 27 years, and had her store for nine. This year might be her last. We ask about the historic hotel down the street, which was in our book as a good place to stay and to eat, but now has a "For Sale" sign in the window and is all closed up. She says, "I've seen 'em come, and seen 'em go. They stay a few years, and Shaniko isn't what they expected, so they move on."
Her friend is working on a quilt at the table, and shows me her work when I tell her I am a quilter, too. She is the only quilter in Shaniko, she says, and it's kind of lonely. But, it is nice in the winter, because the two women in Antelope who quilt bring their machines up to her house once a week, and they all quilt together.
Leaving Shaniko, we run across the biggest shoe tree we have ever seen. There must be at least 1,000 pairs of shoes thrown up into its branches. Of course, we stop to gawk and take pictures.
It is now 2:30, and we have traveled almost 100 miles today. The roads are narrow, curvy and hilly, and we are easily distracted.
Our final attraction is a reproduction of
We drive down from the bluff past a beautiful orchard, and find a fruit stand selling fresh picked cherries. We buy a pound, mixing deep maroon Bings and blushing white Raniers. Since the woman there assures us they are already washed, we begin eating them in the car immediately. These are the best cherries we have ever eaten. This could be habit-forming.