Monday, April 25, 2016

Jordan Craters

So, we killed off a cold morning wandering around the Pillars of Rome. However, the weather was still nasty and there was still half a day yet to kill. Another tourist trip was quickly cobbled together and off we went on the ION Highway with our state of Oregon being the "O" in ION (Nevada and Idaho are the other two states). Once we climbed the plateau rising above the Owyhee River, a powerful gale drove snow and sleet flurries sideways across the road. All the second-guessing about starting our backpack trip a day later was put to rest by the wintry conditions. Looking at the snow whizzing across the road, we each imagined walking with a backpack on in these conditions and concluded it had been absolutely the right call to postpone the backpack trip.

See a tree?
Me, neither

So, 2 cars full of self-congratulating would-be backpackers left the highway just past the small town of Jordan Valley, and crawled along 18 miles of rough dirt roads to arrive at Jordan Craters. Whistle pigs (also known as Canada marmot, thickwood badger, groundhog, or woodchuck) are large rodents that somewhat resemble guinea pigs; they were seen by the hundreds as they scurried across the road.  Also spotted on the drive were a lone coyote and a small herd of antelope, sure signs we were not in western Oregon anymore. Plus, there was not a tree within 5 parsecs of the craters, the lack of trees readily apparent to we residents of Douglas County, where the even the trees grow trees.

Coffeepot Crater
Jordan Craters refers to a large lava flow lying on the wide and expansive landscape like a unpicked black scab. Most of the lava emanated from Coffeepot Crater, a small cinder cone at the head of the flow. However, there are so many other spatter cones and holes in the ground that have ejected some form of lava in the past, that the field is collectively known as the Jordan Craters.

Lava moles emerge, eyes blinking in the bright daylight
At Coffeepot Crater, the wind was blowing and appropriately enough, we all scattered in different directions like so many dandelion seeds in the breeze. Lane, Kevin, and I headed off to a nearby cluster of small spatter cones. The lava had flowed like flaming hot molasses and when it cooled off and solidified, the lava was forever frozen in gooey form. It was hard to walk in the lava because the flows fractured and cracked as the lava cooled but had to keep moving anyway as new lava was pushing the old lava forward. Hiking across the tortured landscape was kind of like walking on the moon except for the no-air and solar radiation thing.

The crater of Coffeepot Crater
I guess this is where the coffee gets brewed

After cruising the spatter cones, I walked up the soft cinders on Coffeepot Crater to attain the crater rim. Wow! At the top, the wind was shrieking and it was very difficult to walk a straight line. It was a somewhat unnerving to stagger to and fro like a drunk failing a sobriety test while on a narrow path precariously perched above a volcanic crater. I was glad to drop off the rim (and not drop OFF the rim) back down to where the cold wind was just a brisk breeze and not the malevolent force it had been on the rim. Down below in the crater's maw, a florescent yellow-colored dot that was Mark's windbreaker marked the progress he and Kyle were making as they explored the crater floor.

Hiking across the lava flow
In the large flow below Coffeepot Crater, we found some small craters that were quite large in human-scale, a fall into one of those would really hurt. A lava aqueduct was pretty cool and gave Lane an opportunity to yet again mug for the camera. Rick, whose needs are simple, strode off to the edge of the flow and was quite happy to have spotted a jackrabbit.

A walk around the base of Coffeepot Crater empirically proved that I walk in circles and also finished off our visit to the massive lava flow. Suitably impressed, we headed back, stopping briefly to visit the ruins of an abandoned homestead, the chimney standing forlornly all by itself in the rubble. The homestead was surrounded by the imposing cliffs of Table Mountain with the snow-covered Owyhee Mountains looming across the border in Idaho. The soughing of the wind seemed to sound the mournful whispers of ghosts forever roaming this desolate and lonely land.

The good news was that while the temps still remained cold and chilly, the storm had passed through and nicer weather was in the offing for the rest of the week. We would be backpacking in earnest the next day.

Once viscous lava, now solid rock
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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