Tag: camping

I have a poem in Strange Horizons! This is the best thing ever. Strange Horizons is one of the greatest literary magazines for speculative poetry. I am still pinching myself. I think I’m qualified for membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America now. Cross that off the bucket list.

Last year, actually right about this same time last year – I was on the road from Shelton, Washington to Tucson, Arizona. On my way to the Southwest from a writer’s residency at Hypatia-in-the-Woods, cruising down the California coast, I stopped off for the night at Bodega Dunes Campground – one of the Sonoma Coast State Parks beaches.

B3D08C2B-5285-462F-B576-4FBA90106E22I was traveling alone. The day was grey, surreal, salty. I was trapped at the edge of the earth: the plunging sea, the leaden sky, the lonely beach. There were loud tripped-out campsite parties raging until late in the night, too-bright public restrooms, drunk men with huge Bowie knives yelling about country music, midnight wanderers stumbling past my tent (one of whom was startled by the hulking shadowshape of my bike on top of my car – “Oh my God what the hell is that!!??”). I slept fitfully and had bizarre dreams. Thanks for the memories, Sonoma Coast!

Needless to say, all of this morphed into a poem. Something like HP Lovecraft meets Hilda Doolittle. HP and HD, together on the west coast and in my crazed brain.

You can read “Bodega Dunes” here, if you’re not scared. Also – my reading of the poem will be part of the Strange Horizons podcast later this month. Yes – you can hear me read my own work. I’ll post a link to that when it goes live.

 

Photograph of the Pacific Ocean near Bodega Dunes Campground by me.

read me

Continued from my last post, Grassy Lake Road, Part 1

Where was I? Oh yes. Fast asleep in my campsite on the Reclamation Road, just south of Yellowstone. Grizzly Country.

SPLASH! Thud. Splash-plonk!

I sat bolt upright in my tent and listened real, real hard. I’ve heard many an animal nosing around in a campsite before (don’t get me started on the Point Reyes raccoons), but usually I’m in a crowded campground or I’m in a tent with someone else. This time I was entirely alone.

And I was freezing. I realized I’d been sitting up outside of my sleeping bag for several minutes and I began to tremble with either terror or cold or both. I heard more rustling sounds – something coming through the willows along the river bank. Could be a moose. Could be a black bear. Could be….

IMG_3120Well, I had to look. Why are tent zippers the noisiest damn things? I knew for certain that a flimsy nylon tent was not capable of saving me if a big ole bear decided I smelled tasty. I didn’t want to spook any creature, really.  Trampled to death my a moose? Embarrassing (for everybody). But I just couldn’t sit there shivering all by myself, unable to see what was coming through my camp. And no way in hell was I going back to sleep just then.

ZZZziiiiiipppppp. You cannot unzip a metal zipper slowly enough to make it a quiet endeavor. I got up on my knees, poked my head out the tent door and blinked in the starlight. The Milky Way blazed. The birds were still singing – at midnight. The river gurgled and churned. No moon. But enough glow to make out the biggest bear I have ever seen – a gigantic black bulk lumbering slowly and so, so quietly through the grass not five yards from my tent. I couldn’t tell if it was a griz or a black bear, so I won’t embellish.  But it was huuuuuuuuuge.  Almost as big as my two-person tent. And then…it just kept on walkin’.

I did not sleep for three hours. Several more visitors during the night paid me visits. One of them sounded like a clumsy elk tripping over a downed log – but I didn’t peek that time. I feel asleep again soon after and woke up at dawn, alone again.

IMG_0417A couple hours later, post-coffee, I knew I couldn’t stay a second night. I knew I’d come back another time, though. I was thinking this as a Park Ranger drove up to chat with me and give me the standard Bear Safety sheet. I told him about the bear from the night before. He said it might’ve been a large black grizzly whose territory encompassed the JDR, and who was affectionately known as XL.

I can imagine all kinds of responses to this post. You weren’t even in the backcountry, big deal. You are so stupid to camp alone. You should have made noise. You are a rock star! Why didn’t you run for your car and leave?! 

All I can say is: Of course. And: No regrets. I didn’t go looking for trouble, and I locked up my food. I didn’t get mauled to death. I saw something no one else saw; it’s my memory. I will never forget the way that bear moved through the high grass, in the cold dark under the stars. Or the way the Snake River changes its sound – from a fast rushing to a dampened chuckle to a muted cobble-thumping sigh in the watches of night. I was feeling sad and dispirited when I went up to Grassy Lake Road. I recovered my lost spirit there, that raw feeling of being alive in this extraordinary world.

Reclamation Road, indeed.

 

Photo of meadow and Camp 2 by me. Bear Safety sheet from National Park Service.

field notes

There’s a 40-mile dirt road running from Idaho to Wyoming (or…Wyoming to Idaho) between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. It’s called the Ashton-Flagg Ranch Road – after its destination points. Or Grassy Lake Road (on some maps, Grassy Lakes Road), referring to the large reservoir just west of the John D Rockefeller Jr Memorial Parkway. The Bureau of Reclamation built the road around 1911 to haul materials and supplies from Ashton, Idaho to the construction site of the Jackson Lake Dam. So, on the Forest Service maps, it’s called Reclamation Road.

IMG_3097I called it home one night a couple weeks ago when I needed to get out of town. I packed up all my glamping supplies (tent, 2 pillows, monster Thermarest, down sleeping bag, hammock, cooler full of gourmet cheese, beer, and chocolate) and headed north. I got about five miles from home and remembered my Coleman stove. I went back for the stove – a woman needs hot coffee in the morning. Now, I can do camping with nothing more than a sleeping bag and a headlamp, but not if I don’t have to. I don’t mind Clif Bars for every meal, or mice crawling in my hair in the middle of the night, but I don’t love it.

IMG_3105Along the eastern end of the road, mostly following the Snake River inside the boundaries of the JDR, you’ll find 8 developed camps spread out over ten miles. That’s a total of 14 campsites (I counted), and they’re all free. They’ve got fire rings, picnic tables, bearproof trashcans and some of the cleanest (shockingly cleanest) vault toilets I’ve ever encountered. I thought about driving as far away from Flagg Ranch as I could and taking the last open site, then got lazy and chose Camp 2. Absolutely no cell service, hardly anybody driving by on the road, and my own private beach on the river (okay, I did share it with a few Canada geese and several rather vociferous killdeer).

IMG_3113Across the road sprawled a vast meadow of camas in full bloom, and for a while I watched a pair of sandhill cranes poking around in the tall grass. A squadron of American white pelicans zoomed up the river. Ruby-crowned kinglets foraged in the boughs of the lodgepole pine stand where I strung up my hammock. The mosquitoes were eager, but few, and rolling myself up burrito-style in my hammock saved me.

Around dusk, I dutifully locked up all my food and everything remotely smelly, and fell asleep in my tent while reading. Then I woke up at midnight to the sound of something very heavy splashing and kerplunking at the river’s edge.

To Be Continued

Photos of Grassy Lake Road, Camp 2, Snake River and Camas (Camassia quamash) by me.

field notes

 

 

If you’re looking for a place to camp on your way across Oregon, and you’re on I-84 near Pendleton, this is a pretty sweet campground at Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area.  They have tent and RV sites as well as cabins for rent.  It’s incredibly clean, the fir trees are massive, and the elevation up here in the Blue Mountains is about 4,000 feet, which might not seem like much if you’re coming from the Cascades or the Rockies, but it’s definitely a nice lift out of the heat of the surrounding valleys.  The bathrooms are some of the cleanest I’ve ever encountered, with free showers that have nice anterooms with wall hooks and benches for your clothes!  And actual handsoap at the sinks – I nearly fell over.

A couple of downsides: the sites are somewhat close together without much privacy shrubbery, and the Interstate, while not visible, was incredibly loud.  I couldn’t help hoping that the animals are used to it and not going mad, because there’s no avoiding the unending sound of big trucks.

The best sites (I thought) were A18, A20, and A25.  They’re treed and set against a hillside on the way into the main loop – lovely and as private as possible.  You can find images of a lot of campground sites at http://campsitephotos.com.    Handy for when you’re reserving online.

grab bag