Tag Archives: Oregon

I praise Modoc, and question Jefferson.

Surprise Valley, California

It looks to me like some cowboy lost a piece of his shirt on this barbed wire. I took the picture when we were poking around in Modoc County, “where the West still lives.”

Ten years ago our family met a cowboy who looked like The Marlboro Man himself, as we stood on a hillside watching him lead a string of horses through the sagebrush and across a creek, with pastel layers of aspens and mountains behind him.

This remote and rugged land is one of the areas that has perpetually been found within the proposed boundaries of The State of Jefferson, a longed-for 51st state that would include several counties in northern California and southern Oregon.

The modern Jefferson includes more counties.

Just last month the supervisors of Modoc and also those of its neighboring Siskiyou County voted to secede from the State of California, as the historic movement revs up again.

The Sacramento Bee reported:

[Mark Baird, one of the prominent activists] insists the State of Jefferson is the answer to revive logging, protect ranching and lure new businesses. He bristles at suggestions that these counties need to subsist on social services.

“It’s absolutely infuriating to people up here, this idea that we’re little children and we must have our hands held out,” Baird said. “Well, we would make our own way. We are intelligent, creative, hardworking people, and without the morass of failed social engineering experiments here, we would do fine.”

Barn in Yreka, in Siskiyou County, California

The Modoc county seat is Alturas, a word that means “valley on top of a mountain.” Much of this country is considered High Sage Plateau, with evidently enough water for many cattle ranches and hay fields.

If I hadn’t had a traveling companion to restrict my stoppings, I’d never have made it home for trying and trying again to get the perfect picture of black steers grazing on varying shades of green and yellow-green, with dark mountains behind them.

Nothing close to the perfect shot was to be mine. Either I was not high enough above the grassland to get the sweeping view, or the steers clumped up close to see if I were bringing their dinner, or, in the case of those next to our our motel in Alturas, they ran away when I was still 50 yards from the fence.

Many of these fine scenes were in Surprise Valley, which is even farther east than Alturas, east of Hwy 395, on the other side of the Warner Mountains. This valley’s elevation, if you drive up and down Surprise Valley Road as we did, is above 4,000 feet.

The photo below looks still farther east, toward a band of tan that might be an alkali lake, and up into the Hays Canyon range of mountains that lie mostly in Nevada.

Looking east from Surprise Valley to the Hays Range in Nevada

Besides your typical mountains, you can find the Glass Mountain Lava Flow on the western edge of Modoc County, though it lies mostly in Siskiyou County. On our previous visit we climbed on parts of that “mountain” and brought home huge pieces of obsidian and pumice. Everyone’s shoes no doubt suffered a month’s worth of wear on that terrain.



Glad kids scramble on Glass Mountain.

Murals on several buildings in downtown Alturas express aspects of the region that the residents appreciate. Modoc County has mule deer, herds of wild horses, Rocky Mountain elk, pronghorn, and birds galore. We didn’t make it up to Goose Lake, but the bird mural makes me think of Goose Lake Valley, rich in all kinds of bird life. The painted fowl look as though they could fly right off into the real sky.

At the bottom of the mural you can see landscape such as we also noticed on our way up to Alturas, when the rich farmland gives way in places to slopes on which the soil is evidently too rocky and poor to support anything more than the occasional juniper tree. But the existence of fencing makes me think that in the springtime they might run livestock on the greened-up grass.

juniper trees

more murals

We ate breakfast at the Hotel Niles in Alturas.

I don’t know about the Jefferson thing. It’s a nice idea….can you believe we have a lot of family who reside in Jefferson counties both in Oregon and California? Probably none of our kin would be found at either of the cultural extremes within the succession movement, but at least one sports a license plate frame on her car declaring “State of Jefferson.”

Nowadays there is a public radio station that claims the name, and people can attend the Jefferson State Hemp Expo, “…founded on the belief that through awareness, education, and the cooperation and coordination of citizens and public officials, many complex social issues can be solved.” Note the emphasis on cooperation, not separation. Separation was formerly the goal of all Jefferson adherents, and a big part of the content of Jefferson as in its nickname “State of Mind.” Currently it does seem that many of the people who use the name don’t really expect anything to come of it. To at least a few it is probably just a brand they use to sell something.

another Surprise Valley view

At the other end of the spectrum, perhaps, are the hunters and most of the ranchers, and the politically conservative. This segment of the populace might include the woman who was noted in the police report column in the Alturas newspaper, which I perused while sitting on the bed in our motel room. She called the sheriff and said that if someone didn’t speedily do something about the dog that was threatening her alpacas, she herself would “dispatch” the dog. I doubt that was the word she used.

Maybe the serious secessionists would include the people who shoot at Belding Squirrels during the Annual Squirrel Roundup. These are a type of ground squirrel that looks like a prairie dog, and their large populations damage the cultivated fields (I’m guessing it’s by their holes and tunnels?), so once a year the residents hold a big fundraiser/pest-control event.

The giggling squirrel-shooter in this video I ran across is embarrassing, but you could turn off the sound, try to ignore the squirrels flying into the air, and see some nice footage of Surprise Valley in the background. The Roundup is held in March, so you will see less yellow and brown than in my pictures. If you make it to the very end you’ll be rewarded with a view of Mount Shasta, something that would not be possible from down in Surprise Valley. The moviemaker must have driven back over the pass to the west at the close of day.

The likelihood of all these diverse Jefferson people agreeing to secede seems slight to begin with, and that’s not the only challenging aspect of the project. Perhaps the nickname The Mythical State of Jefferson is the most appropriate. Whatever you call it, I do love this country.

On Cedar Pass, between Alturas and Surprise Valley

Oregon – long good-bye

On our last day in Oregon we woke up in a little old room in a lodge by a lake. Lake O’Dell, where Mr. Glad had come a couple of times as a child and where we thought we might row or paddle around on the glassy water in the morning. But I was impatient, knowing we had a long day of driving ahead of us, to just get on with it and get to Pippin’s.

The night before, we had sat on the deck and continued our reading of The Hobbit. Then we retired to our rustic room, likely designed for a fisherman type who doesn’t read in bed or need a nightstand for anything. The fisherman doesn’t have any bottles or jars or pillboxes in the bathroom, either, so it’s o.k. for him that the floor is the only horizontal surface other than a narrow windowsill.

It was kind of sweet, actually. The room smelled just normal, not like disinfectant or stale cigarette smoke or fake deodorizer. Maybe partly because the windows were letting in the fresh air from the forest, into a room that mostly houses just plain folk. We could see the lake through the trees, and hear the birds.

A well-dressed tree trunk by Lake O’Dell

Nothing and nobody woke us out of our good sleep, not even a motorboat of fishermen going out on the lake in the wee hours of the morning, as Mr. Glad had predicted. But we did wake and get on our way, south toward our home state. It would take the better part of the day, by way of long straight roads in the high and dry eastern side of Oregon.

Forest, forest and more forest, with “fields” of short lupines in bloom along both sides of the highway, thickest out in the open between the road and the trees.

When we were still at least 200 miles away, I got my first glimpse of the top of Mt. Shasta, that volcano that stands by itself over 14, 000 feet high as a dramatic landmark an hour’s drive south of the Oregon-California line. And then I really got excited, like a horse on its way back to the barn, and it struck me how much I love that mountain for telling me “Welcome to California!” and “Welcome home!” while I was yet a long way off.

It’s summer, and summer in the West means the highway department is repairing the roads, so this trip was marked by many many extended stops waiting for the flagman to let us go on.

The last of these roadwork episodes was near Weed, California, and I was driving, and could roll down my window and snap this picture of the mountain from a normally impossible spot. “It’s my lucky day!” I said, as once again we were sitting motionless on the blacktop.

But only a few minutes later we were playing with the grandchildren and eating strawberries with our dear ones. The Oregon loop was lovely, but not more so than the feeling of home.

Oregon – Astoria, and what The Corps of Discovery ate

In 1805 Lewis & Clark came to Astoria, or more precisely, to the mouth of the Columbia River where the city would be founded a few years afterward. In the next century, during World War II, my in-laws came at the orders of the U.S. Navy. Last week my husband and I made our first visit to Astoria.

Bunkhouse for the soldiers


We didn’t stick around nearly long enough to satisfy my traveling style, which is marked by a desire to make a home for at least a week or two in every place I visit. But only a minute is required to introduce a thought or fact and pique my interest; that’s what happened at the Fort Clatsop park where replica log cabins have been built showing how the Corps of Discovery sent out by Thomas Jefferson lived for their 106 very wet days there.

Astoria front yard with salal

I told the docent that one thing I’d remembered from reading about Lewis & Clark with the children more than ten years ago was that when the party arrived at the Pacific Ocean (it was November) they turned up their noses at the salmon, being meat-loving guys. Well, it wasn’t so simple, she replied. Back in September when they were famished because game was scarce, they had traded with the Nez Perce Indians for camas root (camassia quamash) and dried salmon, which made them sick, so they associated that unpleasant experience with the fish….and besides, there wasn’t a lot of salmon to be had at that time of year at the mouth of the Columbia.

field of camas in bloom (not my photo)

The woman was focused on taking down the flag and didn’t even notice that I was asking questions: What was it about the camas root that was bad, why did the Indians give it to the explorers, and what was it doing with the salmon? She had made it sound like they were eaten together. So I had to do my own research when I got home, and of course more questions are raised the more knowledge one gets.

I haven’t found anything leading me to believe that the men of the Corps of Discovery despised salmon. They didn’t write a lot while they were at Fort Clatsop; it was a relatively boring life after the excitement of getting there, and the social life was lacking compared to the previous winter, as the coastal Indians were into commerce, not partying. But in the journal accounts before and after the uncomfortable camas episode there are many passages that mention the eating of salmon with no negative comments.

One thing they did record about the food at the coast was that they had obtained salal berry bread — probably a “cake” of dried berries —  from the Clatsop Indians. That got my attention, because we had seen thousands of salal bushes on and near the Oregon Coast. The leaves may look familiar to anyone who has enjoyed bouquets of flowers from florists, because they are used extensively in flower arrangements.

Salal in flower –
Gaultheria shallon

Over the last few days Mr. Glad and I both have become engrossed in the journals of Meriwether Lewis and George Clark and others of the company, because of questions raised during our brief stop at the fort. I read on the blog of Frances Hunter, who has written at least one book on the expedition, that the reason the easterners had debilitating digestive ailments for a week after eating camas was that they were “unaccustomed to eating much fiber.” But in the paragraph before, she wrote that because the hardtack supplies had been depleted, the men had for some time been eating more corn, beans, and squash than was usual.

An Astorian garbage can poses as a giant can of salmon.

Many people aren’t aware of which foods have fiber and which don’t, and maybe Hunter is among the ignorant. The “three sisters” of Indian staple vegetables have plenty of fiber, as do the berries that the soldiers had been eating all along. And while an excess of fiber might cause bloating and cramping, it wouldn’t normally cause vomiting and diarrhea. But the explorers themselves did attribute their illness to the salmon and camas.

Lucky for me I ran into The Natural World of Lewis and Clark by David A. Dalton, which treats the aspects of Lewis & Clark’s journeys that I’m currently wanting to know about. I learned that the main starch in camas roots is inulin, and the book explains how humans lack the enzyme to digest inulin in our stomachs. It goes straight to the intestines where fermenting bacteria digest it and produce gases, a process similar to what happens when someone who doesn’t usually, eats beans.

The Indians had a way of cooking the camas root that has been shown to break down the inulin and make the resulting food more digestible: they cooked the roots in a pit for several days until they turned into a mush reportedly as sweet as molasses. The Nez Perce had digestive systems that were accustomed to this food, and they probably knew to eat it in moderation, while the Corps ate lots, being quite hungry at the time.

Later after they had success at hunting and ate some meat, they felt better, until they boiled some camas root — note, they didn’t deep-pit it — and their bloating reoccurred. Eventually they figured out how to eat the stuff, which they came to consider a comforting part of their diet.

Dalton informs us about salmon in his book, as well, that in large quantities it has a laxative effect. So now I feel that I have a much better understanding of one little point of history, not about dates or kings or wars, but — food!

If you are a stickler for historic detail, you might have noticed that the replica flag the docents now fly over the fort does not match the original in its proportions. This page shows all the flags in our nation’s history. Most of them don’t have proper names, but this one is called The Star Spangled Banner.

While in Astoria we climbed the 164 steps to the top of the Astoria Column, which gives a broad view of the rivers and town. A spiral of painted relief murals on its surface shows scenes from Oregon history, including this enlarged one below that I found online and that shows a Lewis and Clark event.

I did love looking due south from the column at the large Youngs River, and at the smaller Lewis and Clark River to the right of it, flowing from the southwest. Even before they join the Columbia at its mouth, they make this beautiful scene.

The Lewis and Clark expedition has always captivated me. Because several of the party kept detailed journals, we who didn’t accompany them can vicariously enjoy the fun of discovering rivers and flowers and people groups, while escaping the scary and miserable experiences. By this short and comfortable, warm and well-fed expedition of my own, I have by my plant-identification efforts and by spending a while in the land where they reached their goal felt a new kindredness with these brave men.

I’d like to read more of their journals, but I’d like even better to spend more days in this corner of Oregon next time. I would hope to discover a pretty blue camas flower.

Oregon – Granite Man, Pennyroyal, and Deer Brush



An hour before the race began

On the first of June Mr. Glad competed with other members of the family in the Granite Man Triathlon in southern Oregon. It was one of several events and meetings that formed the outline of a little trip around our neighboring state.

My husband was doing the swimming leg, as was the other grandpa of our Oregon grandchildren, and the two of them were the team captains. Our son and three grandsons made up the remainder of the teams, with the younger athletes compensating somewhat for the slowness of their elders. We womenfolk and some out-of-town kin were the support crew and also played with the baby (cute boy even if he isn’t one of my grandchildren).

My favorite swimmer left of center with his hands on his hips

Perfect weather, and a lovely setting, with trees leafing out, flowers beginning to bloom. As we stood around on the grassy slope of Applegate Lake waiting for the race to start with the swimmers’ portion, I had my first botanical experience of the trip. It started with a smell that only gradually broke into my consciousness enough to make me look down and search out what source my feet were tramping on.

pennyroyal – or not?

Pennyroyal was my first thought, as I picked off some of what was growing in the wild lawn, and in case you aren’t familiar with it, I outlined one cluster faintly in red, in the photo above, in the lower right corner. Even so, you may have to click on the photo to see it.

But it doesn’t exactly look like pictures of Mentha pulegium, though that pennyroyal is considered mildly invasive in California and Oregon. It doesn’t even look like pictures of the Oregon “field mint” Mentha arvensis, which I looked at in case my sniffer is not able to distinguish between members of the mentha family.

Pennyroyal has what I’d call a sharper aroma than most mints, and this one under my feet had that distinctive smell that I have met many times in my life, often in the mountains. Was I mistaken? Its leaves do look in some ways more like Monardella odoratissima, whose common names include “Mountain Pennyroyal” – but not exactly.

This Applegate Lake variety looks like a cross between it and another mint, as I study it further. And that impression might not be too far from reality, because it turns out that pennyroyal has an ability to hybridize with other mint species, adding to its troublesome weediness. It may crowd out native plants and even threaten Oregon’s commercial peppermint and spearmint crops, as I read in this article.

I learned a new word while reading it: allelopathy: a biological phenomenon by which an organism produces one or more biochemicals that influence the growth, survival, and reproduction of other organisms. I am familiar with this kind of influence from my experiences in gardening, but I didn’t know the name for it. The latest instance is the way nothing much grows under my manzanita bush because of its negative allelopathic qualities. The authors of the article experimented by treating seeds of a rare Oregon plant with a weak extract of pennyroyal root, and found that the germination rate dropped.

Deer Brush near Applegate Lake, Oregon

I didn’t know all of this bad stuff when I was lolling about in such a bucolic place; I was only pleased to have found a plant to check on as soon as I got home.

When we went out to the parking lot after all our guys were done (and some were done-in) I found another, a bush covered with honey-scented flowers. I thought it might be a type of Ceanothus, and I was right. But about the common name, I was wrong. I guessed Mountain Lilac, and it is in fact called that by some people, but maybe by mistake…? It’s officially known as Deer Brush.

The flowers come in shades of light blue and white, mostly, and it’s native to the western states. All of its uses are positive: animals eat it, the Indians made baskets from it, and it fixes nitrogen in the soil. Everybody likes this one!

Ceanothus integerrimus