Happy Otoño! Otoño means Autumn in Spanish. 

At the moment, I am typing on my laptop in our 13-foot trailer perched on an outlook over Crowley Lake with views of the White Mountains.

For the next two months join us as we write stories from the road. We are camping with Bertie the 2002 Ford Explorer, which is towing Marion, the 1979 Trillium trailer, and weighing 1,300 pounds. The photos in this article are taken by Bill or Kate Poss.

Langley to Corvallis, OR

After months of getting ready — which included watching campsite reviews on YouTube with our new favorite travel guide, Traveling Robert, making campground reservations, being fortunate to have our friend Mary Brennan agree to stay at our house and care for our Ollie cat and four fish — we left our Langley home October 15. 

It was a damp drizzly morning at 6:50 am with 53 degree temperatures. We said goodbye to our peaking autumn colored red, yellow, purple and orange leaves as we left Whidbey and headed south along Interstate 5 before stopping for nourishing soup at the Olympia Food Co-op.

Heading south along Interstate 5, we drove through Portland and exited to meet for lunch with our son Raymond at the Whole Foods in Tigard. He’s newly working for the Washington Dept. of Transportation as a traffic engineer based in nearby Vancouver.  He lifts our spirits with his joy of life and interest in how things work. We will meet again for Thanksgiving when Raymo, his partner Gino, and our grandson doggie Rogelio join us in Olema, CA.

Enjoying lunch at Whole Foods in Tigard OR with our son Raymond

Back at Tigard after lunch Bill bought a pair of sturdy shorts and pants at the nearby REI. We experienced sticker shock at paying full price. We are used to buying many quality clothes at Langley’s Good Cheer Thrift Store for much less, where our purchases help buy food for families in need.

Heading south to Corvallis in Central Oregon, we arrived in late afternoon at the Benton Oaks RV Park, Event Center and Fairgrounds. We have camped here often since buying Bertie in 2013. The oaks, the voice of the Acorn Woodpeckers, the down-homey-ness of the place, where sometimes there’s equestrian events and farm animal shows, all add up to a good place to stop when traveling through Oregon. 

Our daughter Gillian lives nearby with two friends, Elle and Robbie. It was Gilli’s 32nd birthday the day we arrived and we met her at her friend Robbie’s parents —Joyce and Dan’s — home. It was two years since we’ve seen our girl following a painful incident that left her incommunicado with us. Every day since then we’ve thought of her and dreamed of re-connecting.

Sitting outside beneath a venerable old cherry tree strung with lights in a garden curated by Joyce and Dan, it was an evening to remember. 

Gilli told tales of her work as an installer of tires for semis, farm equipment and other vehicles. She finds the work dirty, cold, and worthy of stories, describing her co-workers as guys who like to cuss, hunt, and watch sports. Her boss, who is a hunter, commissioned her to create an image of a Chukar, a member of the partridge family. The boss liked the images and has since printed up shirts, mugs and caps with her artwork. Out in the garden, with a near full moon over Gilli’s head, and under the arms of the cherry tree, our conversation opened a window that was long closed and we enjoyed the feeling.

Being with our two kiddos started the trip off right.

As we drove south past Medford, we noticed the landscape transitioning from oak and evergreens of Corvallis to Ponderosa Pine. We smelled the scent of marijuana in the air about 50 miles north of Ashland. We mentioned it must be harvest time for the plant, whose sale is legal now in Washington, Oregon, and California.

We pulled off the freeway into Ashland, Oregon, where the people we saw were clear-eyed, glided as they walked and looked like actors in a Shakespeare play, which Ashland is famous for. Many were probably realtors, judging by the couple hundred faces we saw advertising in the slick monthly magazine which was full or real estate ads.

We arrived on a sunny fall day. We appreciated the variety of maple and sweet gum trees with their vivid, orange, red, and yellow leaves. We looked out at the oak-covered hills. We ate delicious Chicken Tangine, with apricots at the Ashland Food Co-op. We bought good coffee. We enjoyed watching people of many colors and interesting clothes glide by backlit by autumn leaves.

Mount Shasta, CA

As we drove over Siskiyou Pass, which boasts having the highest elevation on I-5 at 4,310 feet, we rounded a curve and caught a view of Mt. Shasta. Every time we cross the border into California, Bill’s face opens and he gets a light in his eyes and a permanent grin. He was born in Los Angeles and has been known to say, “You can take the boy out of California, but you can’t take the California out of the boy.”

Seeing the +14,000 double volcanos of Mt. Shasta and Shastina fill the skyline, Bill added, “She’s potent.” Noticing the flanks devoid of snow, the peaks looked naked.

We open the windows and noticed the outside air temperature as 73 degrees. The landscape shifted to desert sage steppe. We saw juniper trees and yellow blooming Rubber Rabbitbrush as we head down the steep grade to California. Rabbitbrush is a member of the sage and aster families and scents the air with a musky sagey aroma.

We create music score to pair with our traveling landscapes by plugging in our iPod. Prior to our entry into California we listened to California Blue, by Roy Orbison. Bill smiled his California smile, holding his hand over his heart. We crossed the border, listening next to Led Zepplin’s Going to California.

Bill howled. “Yeah, Baybee,” he said with feeling, singing the lyrics “It’s not as hard, hard as it seems.” 

It’s not hard to visit California.

We pulled off I-5 shortly after crossing the border at the agriculture station where the smiling official in the mirrored sun shades waved us on. He saw the basket of grapes near our gear shift. We told him of beans and carrots and grapes bought in Oregon. Such a radiant guy. Not a problem, he told us about our produce. Nothing to give up. His joie de vivres lingered after we said goodbye.

Our gas gauge registered low, so we stopped and gaped at the price of gas at the nearby Chevron station, paying $4.69 a gallon. I recalled having paid $2.99 a gallon a month earlier when driving across Wisconsin while visiting my Aunt Lois and long-time friends.

We made reservations for a night at the Mount Shasta City KOA Holiday campground for a night. However, Bill read the weather warnings and learning that the following day, Sunday, promised up to 60 mph winds, rain, and possibly snow, along Hwy 395, where we planned to travel, we stayed a second night at the KOA.

Catching sunset on Mounts Shasta and Shastina

Camping in pull-though site D, we were close to the bathrooms and laundry. We do not have a bathroom in Marion. We have a dinette, couch, stovetop and sink, which makes for close and cozy living quarters. This KOA has regular visits from nearby honking trains in the night, so if you’re camping here, it is something to consider.

Sunday morning we made our fresh ground Sumatra coffee and shook our heads over how delicious it was. We thought it must be the pure Mt. Shasta water, which we’ve long filled our bottles with when we passed through. Its waters form the headwaters for the Sacramento River, which provides drinking water and irrigation to much of California.

After first breakfast, we sat in the parking lot at Rite Aid and watched a lenticular cloud form over Mt. Shasta in front of the coming storm. While standing in line at the chain store later to buy a few items, I watched the interaction of an older man in new hiking shoes and jacket, taking a while at the cash register. He pulled a cart, with what looked like everything he owned. The clerk treated him like he was a bother. The man in front of me, wearing camo-patterned hunting gear, looked impatient having to wait a few minutes, dangling 12-packs of beer from each arm. Finally the older gent had his sale settled. When it was my turn with the clerk, I mentioned the older gent. “He’s homeless,” she said flatly. “We don’t get many homeless here.” Later, while walking around downtown Mt. Shasta, we saw the same man sitting in front of a sporting goods store. We said hello and he greeted us with a warm smile and intelligent eyes. Bill and I wondered where he goes in storms and cold weather.

Sierra poet Joaquin Miller’s homage to Mt. Shasta

It was Sunday morning and churchy music played on the radio. Amazing Grace sung by a choir. That was followed by another church song with the choir singing the words “The Great I Am.” Amazing grace and the great I am, indeed, as we watched the lenticular cloud growing taller and wider over majestic Mt. Shasta like a many-tiered beret.

We ate second breakfast at the town’s playing field. At the park’s restroom we met a tattooed muscular man in a T-shirt, who was so kind. He tilted his chin in the morning sun and we thought he looked like our late friend, Traveling Paul Wolcott. We felt the happiness remembering Paul’s gentle spirit, and how we missed him, since he died too young while traveling in India. The Mt. Shasta gent bowed to us and said ‘Bless you,’ as we said our good-byes. It was as if Paul was right there with us.

My iPhone weather app predicted rain at 4 pm. We listened to the crackle of red and brown oak leaves blowing branches around us. We decided to visit Lake Siskiyou nearby to get another view of Mt. Shasta before she disappeared beneath storm clouds. 

We hiked along a Ponderosa pine needle-strewn trail at the mouth of the lake’s dam, where it flowed into a steep canyon. Enjoying the turning colored leaves of gold aspen, red and orange maple, and the beautiful red bark of the Manzanita bushes, we walked above the canyon.

It was nearing 4 pm, and a few drops started falling. We headed back to our car. As we neared the parking lot, we walked by a group of women standing next to the trees, chanting, and shaking shells that sounded like rain sticks. One of the women hugged the trees. I told one of the ladies that we felt blessed being in their company and she said, “You are blessed. We bless the four elements and the Earth and the fire and humanity.” Her compassionate way of speaking and looking at us brought me to tears. Turns out they were a couple dozen indigenous women from Los Angeles who traveled here to bless the land and laugh and giggle when getting in their cars as the rain started falling.

Gardnerville, NV

Monday morning we climbed toward McCloud Pass and said goodbye to Shasta. The clouds parted for a bit and we saw her flanks covered in snow, thank goodness. The reservoir we saw the day before was down about 30 feet.

Heading south on Hwy. 89 through noble forests of tall Ponderosa, fir, and manzanita, we admired the trees and bracken turned golden umber. Baby oak trees with yellow leaves grew at road’s edge. A flash of yellow, red, orange from small aspen groves as we rolled along. 

As we entered Hat Creek, we saw evidence of this year’s terrible burn all the way up the slopes. Yet there was the hopeful color of trees dotting the hills that had survived, with their flame colored leaves amid the burned remnants of their brothers and sisters.

According to Wild Fire Today, “The Dixie Fire near Susanville, California has burned 747,091 acres and has run up fire suppression costs of more than $365 million. At last count 690 residences and 139 commercial buildings had been destroyed.”

A recent NY Times article said California fires the past two years have burned an area equivalent to New Jersey or Vermont. 

Evidence of downed titan Ponderosa pine in devastating Dixie fire

We viewed the fire’s devastation on arrival to Hwy 44 heading to Susanville. New snow made a black and white landscape. At 7,574 feet, the temperature at 35 degrees, we watched crew felling salvageable blackened Ponderosa pine with excavators and saws. They carried fire rakes with triangular-shaped tines to clean the underbrush. Above Susanville we saw a blackened area stretch for the entire view across the plains up to Freedonyer Pass. Sobering. We recalled a conversation with an Ashville, Oregon woman who said the air was smokey for two months this year. She was thinking of moving to Whidbey Island, where her son lives.

Charred landscape continued as we headed south on Hwy. 395 to Reno and south. 

We spent the night at our longtime friends Carolyn and Pat Lewis, on their acre out in the high desert in Gardnerville Nevada. They told us of smokey skies and hard to breathe air during the worst of the fire.

We ate delicious barbecued steaks, roast potatoes, spinach salad, and a Marion berry pie we bought from the co-op. 

We learned of the January arrival of a second grandchild. Carolyn showed us a modern ultrasound photo, which showed the little lad perfectly in color.

Pat and Carolyn will fly to Santiago, Chile to be with their daughter Sarah, her husband Claudio, and their young daughter Olivia, nearly two, who is already comfortable with media.

Carolyn showed me an app, Peek a Boo, which her daughter Sarah sends daily. On it, granddaughter Olivia already knows how to talk with Alexa, the family’s AI helper, and requested a tune to be played. 

Around our dinner table, Carolyn called to the kitchen, “Hey Alexa, play some Andy Williams.” We had just been talking about my late mom Helen, and how much Carolyn meant to her, and how Andy Williams was one of her favorite crooners. Alexa instantly found his tunes. I heard Moon River, one of my mom’s favorites, and thought my Muttie (what I call her in German) would be smiling from the other side.

Pat’s energetic, sharp-minded and tiny-framed 96-year-old mom Alice lives nearby. Long has she known the High Sierra and she told great stories about her true love and late husband Jose.

Our friend Carolyn Lewis waves goodbye following a great visit with a long-time friend.

Good thing that we have our lovely rebuilt propane heater which Bill got started before we went to bed. The temperature dipped down to 21° during the night. But 21° in the desert does not feel as cold as it is at 48° in damp Whidbey maritime air. The damp brings teeth to the cold at home, which we ward off with layers of wool. Here in the desert, the crisp air smells musky of desert sage. Perfume to us! Carolyn made a delicious GF quiche the following morning (in the past year, I can no longer eat any gluten without getting severe flu symptoms). We took photos and hugged good-bye and were on the road with Marion again.

Traveling through Smith Valley and looking at the powerful snow clad ridge of the Sierras rising above the golden desert of sage and Rabbitbrush, we wondered about the pull these walls of granite have for us that is so strong.

We talked of possible past lives here and Bill mentioned the High Sierra being high on his list of where he’d like his ashes to be scattered after he passes on.

Out the windows we gazed at the desert landscape and called it therapeutic, with its sage and juniper and golden willow, butterscotch colored cottonwoods, apricot colored birches. The leaves form a colorful halo around the trees and their presence feels like going to the best kind of doctor ever.

Crowley Lake, California

Bridgeport reservoir is now mostly a wetlands filled with Canadian geese. Barely any water to be seen. We said it is similar to the world-famous Malheur National Wildlife Reserve in southeastern Oregon, so drought struck it looks like a pond.

Entering Lee Vining on a fine autumn day, we listened to John Denver singing For Baby. The Sierras stretched out in snow dusting, reflected in a much-lowered Mono Lake. A powerful heart feeling filled my chest and I heard my thoughts saying, “This where you belong.”

At Bronze Bear Outpost in Lee Vining, I meet Pearl saying goodbye to her “handsome young man.” I bought some Navajo beaded barrettes and a pair of shell earrings and a beautiful bag with an image of aspen leaves for Bill. 

Pearl loves maps and flowers and her handsome young man loves birds and he stops in to see her whenever he can, she tells me. I felt the glow of their love as he exited the door. Pearl said she’s going traveling with him to explore in depth the canyons he’s found to visit a little grove. Her eyes look like obsidian above her Covid mask.

Pearl mentioned with great heart the wonderful feeling of walking along a creek where the willows have turned color, and, following the rain, the terrific scent of the willows and the roses mingled together.

We drove along Hwy. 395 playing Hello Old Friend, sung by Eric Clapton as we passed by June Lake Loop. The vista of mountains, evergreens and gold winding up the river canyons greeted us. 

We planned to camp at McGee Campground.  The Forest Service closed the campground the day before due to the reality of frozen water pipes. Bill looked disappointed at not being able to camp here. 

Bill’s look of disappointment as he looks up the golden aspen-lined canyon of McGee Creek Campground only to find it closed the day before.

We  drove back down the aspen-lined canyon road looking at a much-reduced Crowley Lake. I’d estimate it lost at least a third of its volume. Yet it remains a magnet for world-class fly fisherman.

We drove by the Crowley Lake General Store and looked with alarm at the RV’s and trailers packed like sardines at the Crowley Lake RV Park. Oh-oh. We’d read stories about Mammoth Lakes employees not being able to afford housing there and took to living in their RV’s wherever they could. I noticed a man on a cell phone talking urgently about bear being aggressive.

Turns out the man is Jeff, the clear-blue-eyed campground manager. He told us of a young female bear who was destroying property here. How he hadn’t heard from Fish and Game the past week about tranquilizing and relocating the bear. Our friends Carolyn and Pat mentioned seeing bear scat in their fenced back yard. The wildlife are coming down from the mountains for food and water.

Wondering if we’d get a campsite, I walked around the village of log-cabin sided, pitched roof park model trailers, blended with 5th wheel trailers, old house trailers. I talked with a clear-eyed woman—many of the residents we meet here in the Sierra have this look of peace and calm. She thought we’d be lucky. We were. Jeff found one site at the top of Whispering Jim Lane. We would camp here for two nights. Seasonal Mammoth Mountain employees will have this site soon and stay for the winter.

Bertie and Marion parked beneath the poplars at Crowley Lake RV Park site 16
A former resident of site #16 at Crowley Lake RV park inserted this bar into a pair of poplars.

We’re perched in site16 with electric and water hookup and phenomenal views of the White Mountains and Crowley Lake below. Lots of cottonwood and poplar leaves litter the ground. A grouchy bald guy two doors down rakes them up. Jeff apologizes for the leaves covering our site and we say don’t worry. Jeff is busy with raking now and his tidy rake lines in the granite gravel show the marks of his dedication. 

The site’s water access, though, is via a pipe buried beneath half a dozen squares of housing insulation in a squat box with a wooden lid. We don’t like drinking water that passes through a hose and that’s the only way we could get water from this boxed and buried pipe. We walk to the bathroom about two blocks away and fill our bottle with shower water. 

Having to pee in the early morning hours, I walked outside in the moonlight, hoping I didn’t meet the bear. The two nights we camped here, I didn’t see her, only the big moon shining on the snowy mountain.

It’s well worth a nine-mile drive up to nearby Rock Creek Lake — now closed for the winter. We walked behind the barrier and a bit around the lake’s shore, admiring the distant peaks of Mono Pass and their reflection in the clear lake. 

One of Bill’s mistresses, a High Sierra aspen, greets him at Rock Creek Lake
Bill walks along leaf litter at Big Meadow campground, now closed, in Rock Creek Canyon.

Driving back to camp along Rock Creek Road we stopped to give homage to, what to us, is the grandest of the Western Juniper we’ve ever seen. We’ve named it Treebeard, from the noble tree beings in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. We’ve been listening to the series on this trip on Audible, excellently narrated by Rob Inglis. 

Bill is dwarfed by a venerable Western Juniper, growing along Rock Creek Canyon Road

The temperature dropped with the sun and we enjoyed watching the shadow of the Sierras as it rose up the White Mountains across the valley. We enjoyed a delicious Stroganoff, made from barbecued tri-tip steak bought in Mt. Shasta, in a butter-sherry-coconut milk sauce over rice pasta. Delicious and appreciated.

Our host Jeff said wifi at the park is like getting the crumbs of a dinner. Indeed that is true, we can’t even connect to wifi at our campsite. The best place for access is at the Mono County Crowley Lake Library in nearby Hilton Creek. Housed in a rectangular trailer, the library is an oasis connecting us to the greater world. It is where this story will be assembled and published.

Next morning we visit the Tuff Campground run by the Inyo National Forest Service. The camp is so-named for the Bishop Tuff formation. Tuff, according to Wikipedia, is: a type of rock made of volcanic ash ejected from a vent during a volcanic eruption. Following ejection and deposition, the ash is lithified into solid rock. Rock that contains greater than 75% ash is considered tuff, while rock containing 25% to 75% ash is described as tuffaceous (for example, tuffaceous sandstone).

“Tuff is a relatively soft rock, so it has been used for construction since ancient times. Because it is common in Italy, the Romans used it often for construction. The Rapa Nui people used it to make most of the moai statues on Easter Island.”

Our expression shows our ease among the aspen, talking streams, and high peaks at Tuff Campground
Tree graffiti on aspen at Tuff Campground at Crowley Lake

At Tuff Campground we were seduced by the creek’s voice, the flittering multi-colored aspen and the tuff outcrops with caves, nooks, and crannies. Just watching the aspen leaves quaking in the breeze quiets my busy thoughts. Perhaps that is how the Quakers got started. It is a religious experience for me.

The sound of the little creek, the crackling of the aspen leaves, the contrast of the green gray aspen bark with its black eyes against the burnt-sienna colored corrugated bark of the Ponderosa pine surround me as I lay on the ground Earth bathing, lying on a bed of 8-inch Ponderosa pine needles. Feeling the sun warms my heart through my black cashmere sweater. It is a feast for the senses. A gentle cool breeze lifts my hair and touches my cheek.

Earlier we had admired the campground host’s gem and mineral collection, displayed on a couple of card tables at his camp.

David Mac is the charismatic campground host at the Tuff Campground in Crowley Lake CA. The campground will close at the end of the month

David Mac pulled up in a growling Corvette Z06 he had painted a Sierra Chamaeleon sparkling patina which glowed in the sunlight with gold, copper, purple and green. 

He is silver haired like we are and wears a pony tail, interesting rings and a hand crafted watch band of what looks like pine cones, one of his crafts these days. He told us about growing up on vacations in a little cabin there. His dad was given a deed for an old cabin given to him by a mechanic whose client couldn’t pay for repairs so paid with the deed instead.

His dad was a college football coach from Reno. David said he’s got a photo of himself as a boy in the creek. Nowadays his companion is Takota, Paiute for friend to all. Takoda is an Aussie/St. Bernard mix and lay patiently in the back seat as David told us of being a radio host of Big Pine Paiute Radio KOGI 97.7. He loves stones and talking about them.

“I’ve given rocks to kids over the years,” he told us. “They come bqck 20 years later. And tell me they still have them. Rocks are real. They have energy.” 

He wrote an article titled ‘Getting Stoned,’ which waxes on how stones connect us literally to the Earth. David told us he’ll host this lower elevation camp until the end of the month, where he will move on to host another camp in the High Sierra. A woman with an impatient expression pulled behind him and we said our good-byes. I will send David a copy of this story. Lucky us to meet him.

Aspen leaves of many colors in Hilton Creek
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6 Comments

    • Kate Poss | With Photos by David Welton on

      This country really gets our juices flowing. You might enjoy reading Miracle Country by Kendra Atleework. A young local author, she writes of many of the issues that face small towns. How there can be such a divergence of opinion, yet in the end, the community comes together to help one another. It’s the sense of place that keeps us together. Love hearing from you.

    • Kate Poss | With Photos by David Welton on

      So glad you wrote. We felt lucky to meet David and will keep his essay on stones to remember their importance.

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