Determined to hike somewhere it wasn’t pouring this past weekend, Morgan and I decided to drive as far as it took to find a somewhat dry spot to hike. We made a spur-of-the-moment decision to go to one of my bucket list places to hike, the Painted Hills. According to Google Maps, it was a little over four hours away and since we were getting a late start, we quickly packed up our gear, grabbed Cole and jumped in the car to hit the road.
We drove on I-84 east along the Columbia River Gorge in the pouring rain which made for treacherous driving. Ruts worn by car tires and slightly sunken spots in the road had collected water and would drastically slow or try to change the direction of our car as we hit them. After about two hours, we finally came upon the exit for highway 97 which would lead us to highway 206. For awhile, a whole lot of nothing was all we had to look at except for giant rolling hills, barren of any kind of tree or shrub. Much to my surprise though, we quickly came upon Cottonwood Canyon State Park, another place that is on my “must hike” list. Had we known what was to come of our destination road trip, we would have stopped and hiked there that day. Or, at minimum, I would have stopped to get a few photos. Unfortunately I did not know any better and continued on.
|Herd of cows, note the tumble weed|
In our hurry to get out of the house, I did a quick glance at the Google map and saw that highway 206 should have taken us pretty much all the way to the Painted Hills. I figured my GPS could get us the last bit there and so we left, without much navigation planning. Morgan had downloaded the directions on his cell so regardless of signal, which we knew we would lose as we got closer to our destination, we would know where we were supposed to go. The problem though is that his directions were not coinciding with what I saw on the computer before we left. I decided to consult the GPS and typed in “Painted Hills”. Soon, Painted Hills State Park popped up and I figured that had to be where we wanted to go. I selected that as our destination but after 20 minutes of driving I noticed that our new time of arrival was still over an hour away. I knew that couldn’t be right. Even with our stop for a quick lunch earlier, we should have been much closer than that. At one point, we came upon a group of cows being herded by people on horseback down the highway. We strolled along behind the herd at about 3mph until eventually they were all on one half of the road and we could slowly pass, not before a tumbleweed rolled by though. Several more miles down the road, we came across the marker for the 45th parallel and couldn’t resist the photo opportunity.
We kept driving and driving. Not knowing where we were and being in the middle of nothingness with no cell service or place to stop for directions, we decided to continue on highway 19 and follow the GPS directions. Highway19 turned to 207 which turned to 26 and then the GPS had pointed us to a dead end. With no other options for navigation and the sun beginning to set, we had no choice but to head home, defeated and virtually pictureless. We made a quick bathroom stop at a snow park off highway 26 in the Mount Hood wilderness where Cole enjoyed eating some snow, the first he has seen this winter outside of Wisconsin. I guess he misses it although I do not share the same sentiment. Very soon after getting back on the road, all daylight was gone and the rain picked up, making our drive over the usually beautiful Mount Hood much scarier. I hadn’t picked up tire-chains yet so I could do nothing but hope that the rain would not turn to snow before we could get to a lower elevation on the other side.
After what seemed like forever of white-knuckle driving, we made it over the mountain range without incident and decided to stop for a much needed break in Sandy where we enjoyed a Thai dinner. About ten hours, and 423 miles after we had set out earlier that day, we finally arrived home, exhausted and pictureless. When consulting the Google map on my computer once again, I saw just how close we came to the Painted Hills, it was just about 6 miles from where we had turned onto highway 26. I now know exactly where we went wrong but there is nothing I can do at this point from my home in Portland. There is nothing to do now but try again, another time.
So what did I learn from this experience? First, impromptu road trips are not my style. I’m a planner and when I stick to what I do well (planning), my adventures usually end up going (somewhat) as desired. There is a certain thrill that comes with throwing the plan away sometimes though and just going where the road takes you. In this case, I think a good old-fashioned road atlas would be hugely helpful especially when technology fails, as it so often does. Also, I will be making the tire-chain purchase a top priority before my next long-distance excursion. Lastly, I need to make myself take the time to stop and get photos along the way, even when I’m working on a timeline. The landscape was so beautiful on this trip so much of the time and it saddens me that I have no photographic souvenirs to show for it. Live and learn and then try again; wise words to live by.