Monday, August 30, 2010

Desert Wanderings

Every year around this time I take about a week to wander the desert, fish, catch up with ranchers I used to ride for and just hide out for a while. Hayin's about done and I can usually wrangle a couple days chasing cows or horses to remind me of my summers when I was younger. Last year I mixed in a Deschutes/Yakima River flyfishing start but this year I went straight to the sage:

"To the desert go prophets and hermits; through deserts go pilgrims and exiles. Here the leaders of the great religions have sought the therapeutic and spiritual value of retreat, not to escape but to find reality" -Paul Shepherd
One of my all-time favorite views: HWY 20 East leaving my sister's ranch East of Bend. I love this stretch, reminds me of my rodeo/buckaroo days, kinda like putting a couple clean shirts behind the seat of my truck before a fishing trip. I always throw in a couple of my old rodeo shirts just to remind me.

Right here is where you throw on Steve Earle's "The Hard Way" and just let the road, sky, and freedom take your thoughts and memories where they will.

"See it used to be I was really free,
I didn't need no gasoline to run.
You could say Jack Kerouac, and turn your back,
And I'd be gone.
But nowadays I got me two good wheels,
I seek refuge in aluminum and steel,
Yeah it takes me out there for a little while,
And the years fall away with every mile."-The Other Kind

Got into Crystal Crane Hot springs around 9PM and went straight to the big pool. No moon and the stars were bright with the Milky Way as clear as I've ever seen it. Had it to myself and I knew it was gonna be a great week. Listened to the coyote choir and the wind in the wire. Nice to see some water in Chickahominy again too.

Talked to the boys at The Riffle and thought I'd hit the Owyhee, but when I passed Jordan Valley it got a little too flat and farmy for me so I decided to head for Frenchglen and Steens Mountain. Ran into some Rock Creek boys (ranch I used to work for) and caught up on things.

Found out that one of the hands I used to cut hay with had passed away. Phil was a kinda hard-livin' guy that I really liked. He was a very patient, humble and capable man who was skilled at everything from carpentry to whatever else needed doing. He reminded me of Hank Sr. and Townes van Zandt. One spring he poured a concrete floor in Rock Creeks's ancient stone-house and actually made the thing livable, though it always had a faint skunk odor to it. Phil had one leg held together with pins and screws from a horrible truck wreck, but he could still do everything short of ride or walk a straight line.

Once he got my underage hide into the bar in Denio and bought me a few shots of Wild Turkey. My hand was messed up from a roping accident and I sat in the bar with my hand in an ice-bucket getting drunk, healin' up the cowboy way, with him. Phil was a great guy and I'll miss him, he loved this country and always came back every few summers. I was hoping to see him again and was crushed to hear the news. Drove to the top of the mountain, took this shot, and thought of a hundred other great times with him. He was just into his 40's.

"The sky was a mix, of oil and pastel."-Ian Tyson

"I'm not sayin' forget what you've lost,
I suppose there's a purpose in pain.
What we make of ourselves has a cost,
And its paid every time we take hold of the reins."- Chris LeDoux

Hiked into Wildhorse Canyon and froze my butt off all night, I was just so cold inside and felt old, empty and bitter. It seemed like the mountain was trying to make me feel as bad outside as I did inside, maybe some kind of lesson or somethin'...worst night in a long time for me.

Made it to morning and decided to go thaw out in Alvord Hot Springs and shake-off my sorrows. Of course I have shorts on for the pic, but two minutes later I was sitting in that tub naked, waving to the folks on the tour loop. Got some good memories from that pool. "If I could roll back the years,
back when I was young and limber,
Loose as ashes in the wind, had no irons in the fire.
I could ride them wild, young broncos,
The adrenaline came quickly,
And Juanita down at Mona's
Was my only heart's desire.

We were living for the moment,
And the sunlight on my silver bits,
The ringin' of my jingle-bobs was the music of my soul."-Ian Tyson

The Blitzen was low, slow and murky so I didn't fish it much. Decided to head for Ana instead.

Ana was in good shape and I spent the day catching fish on my 3Wt and a Dave's Hopper. Even managed a double with a PT-nymph dropper, which I got rid of because the fish were just slashin' that Hopper. It was close to 100 that day but Ana is bottom-draw and the cool water just made the time go by way too fast.

Those fish are fiesty as hell for their size and that mini-canyon has owls and other interesting animals to check-out between strikes. I guess its just a whole mini-canyon experience. Whatever it is, I love it and its almost like the world gets so small, outside those crumbly walls, that it just vanishes while you're wading the timeless river to the past. Almost like Everett Ruess, George Mallory or Chris McCandless could wander up and say, "I'll tell you what REALLY happened to me if you can keep your mouth shut and let me cast that Sage a few times."

Then you scramble back up to that huge expanse of sky, sage, and hot dust fighting with the fresh air and I remember why I was so curious about this place as a kid... or maybe I just need a cold drink and somethin' to eat before I pass-out.

Saw some hopeful storm clouds on the horizon and I got a nice feelin' about the approaching evening. You know how watching a desert-storm rolling in, on a hot day, just gives you a feeling that there's mercy and some good livin' ahead if you can just cowboy-up through the heat for awhile?

Rolled into Summer Lake Hot Springs and was kinda shocked to see more rigs than usual. One was a van with silver-stars painted all over it, a plastic Santa on the roof, and a girl wearing a red, sequin bikini on her way to the pool. Turns out the springs is now an unofficial stop for the folks on their way to Burning Man. Knowing a good time when I see one I joined the eccentric group in the pool while a storm built outside. Had a heavy discussion about the art of flyfishing or something like that and offered to take this artist-dude, Charlie, and his spacey girlfriend fishing the next morning.

Guess some people make art, some look at it, some talk about it, I just live my life and let myself get run over by it every now and then; sometimes I even have a camera around or at least some paper to take notes when it finds me... and it does once in a while.

Went to Paisley for dinner and got this shot on the way. Paisley actually has a fly shop now, The Happy Hooker, behind the community center. This is my best pic from the trip: Man it felt great to finally capture a lightning shot. Got back late that night and went for another soak. The hippies had taken over the pool so I went for the "When in Rome" approach and we all partied with the lightning going off outside and a hard rain to boot. For some reason that part of the trip is still a little foggy...

Saturday I fished the Little Deschutes before heading to The Riffle fly shop for their 2ND Annual Customer-Appreciation Barbecue. One of the co-owners, Corky, worked a summer at Rock Creek when he was 16, and that's where I met him. His father, Pat Wray, is a writer and his article in Outdoor Life, "I Am," is one of my favorites. He's in the orange cap, Corky is to his left.

I have tremendous respect for both of them. Corky's up for anything and gave rodeo a brief shot, he also finished a trip on a Bering Sea crab-boat. For all the talk I've suffered through about "I'm gonna go up there with you too, Ben," Corky's the only guy I've known who's actually done it. I once saw him eat a live frog on a two-dollar bet and fend off a badger with a couple feet of broomstick. The Jackass crew has nuthin' on this kid, he even kinda looks like Johnny Knoxville in this pic:

The eats: You can't imagine how good this tasted after a week of eating my own cooking. We also had deep-fried turkey that Pat's friend shot. Nuthin' better than chowin' down and spittin' shot.

The party was a smash though I guess I don't like crowds too much and was leaning toward heading home. Watched Amy Hazel cast the whole line on the new casting pool. Met Gene Trump's friend Rocky and ate twice.

Decided to end the trip on a high note and here it is: A couple of Rock Creek boys who scared their parents to death but managed to land on their feet despite many rank horses, big waves and youthful indiscretions. I guess I've experienced those things a little more than Corky, although Pat says he really gave it a good ol' cowboy-try for a couple years. I don't think it did him any harm, but he probably could stop chewing...hell, I've quit three times this week alone.
Maybe that's just my "Big-Brother" voice talkin'.

Drove back to Washington and it started to rain, kinda fitting I guess.

This is an old West Fly post from my friend Ben Kapp aka Big Ben. Ben was a Central Oregon cowboy who road bulls during the summer and caught Alaskan King crabs in Bering Sea in the winter. I can't help but read this post about this time of year. Ben passed away some years ago and I can't help but remember the old days. We miss you brother!


Mark said...

Being from Bend and stomping around all of those places...that was an awesome read.


Justin said...

I'm new to your blog and I don't usually post comments but I just had to on this one.

I worked Rock Creek for a short while with an old buddy of mine. Boy did that sure speak to the Ian Tyson play'n on juke box in my head. Haven't been out that way since and I keep say'n I'm going to take trip around Oregon driftin flies all the way. I'm calling that old buddy right now. Thanks.

How long ago was this?

Great blog by the way.

Ed said...

That was one hell of a read. I only met Ben once, but I'll never forget him. Thanks.

Just call me Gamby said...

Man, I remember him talking about that trip. I miss him.

Ryan said...

Sorry to hear about your buddy.

Great post.

The Average Joe Fisherman


nice read! Mike