November 4 – 7, 2012
We next head to Rye Patch Recreation Area with the hopes of both kayaking and biking. We had hit a streak of exceptionally warm weather, which the ranger there kept reminding us, wouldn’t last. Our campsite was under a large Russian olive tree along the Humbolt river just below the Rye Patch Reservoir dam. The campground spans both sides of the river and we were the only campers on the east side.
The large cottonwood trees were glowing yellow as if illuminated from within. As a long-time New Englander, I relish the onset of autumn colors. Even though the fall leaves of the West generally only range from greenish-yellow to orangish-yellow, they are still magnificent and I can’t take my eyes off them. The bright luminous gold colors against the infinite blue sky and the milky aqua of the river are breathtaking.
We soon meet Jim, the primary ranger there. He is helpful and informative, talking about the wildlife we might see and suggesting places we might go. A quintessential man of the West, he is quiet, relaxed and unhurried, friendly, laconic and good-looking. Twice he delivered firewood to us and he showed me where the great horned owls roost during the day.
Our first evening I sat at the picnic table writing on my glowing computer in the dark, with an owl hoo-hoo-hooing in the olive tree above. The next day, as I wandered along the river, I startled bucks and does several times; sometimes they were alone, sometimes together. Ranger Jim said that when rutting season started in a few weeks, there would be a couple hundred deer in the campground. At one point, I thought I was looking at a great blue heron, until it flew off and I realized it was a sandhill crane (their flying forms are very different.) Jim said that the area is “thick with porcupine” but we didn’t see any. He also said “the antelope are like rats”, meaning plentiful and everywhere, but we didn’t see them either.
The several days we spent at Rye Patch were easy and peaceful. Days were deliciously warm while nights became quite chilly. We made campfires so that we could enjoy the evenings outdoors. Although I stared mostly into the flames, glancing upward now and then, I saw four falling stars each night. As we sat by the fire our third night, we awaited the national election results. Cell service came and went but we stayed up until we were able to determine on our smartphones that Obama had won and we went to bed relieved.
Chris took off for bike rides and one afternoon I kayaked on the large reservoir. Although it is 14 miles long, I only saw two other distant boats across the open space. Lakes like this, imposed onto the desert by the ambitions of man, are striking, but odd. The expanse of blue water seems incongruous against the barren dry surrounding hills. Like the other reservoirs we’ve seen, it was very low. I am guessing that because of the dramatic shifts in water level, plant growth depending on a reliable water supply never take root. Along the Humbolt River with constant water, large cottonwoods and other trees and shrubs hug the shore.
Mostly of the time here, I just relaxed, wander, take photos, meditate, stretch out in the hammock. In Ashland, Oregon I picked some Tibetan prayer flags; they now adorn campsite.
Hiking downstream by the river, I found myself in a long unoccupied picnic area stretching south along the eastern shore. A large plaque there explained that the Humbolt Trail – one of the main routes to California for settlers – is on the other side of the river. I wanted to find a way to the western shore to see if there was any remaining evidence of the trail (but never did.) Several times, in other places in the west, I have seen the old wagon wheel ruts still etched in the dirt from the groups of explorers and pioneers. It is hard to believe these tracks still exist today and I wonder when these remains will completely disappear. My lifetime? I also wonder what those hardy settlers might have thought if they stumbled on the running water, flush toilets and hot showers here now.