I leave before light, pulling onto Road 41 as the Eastern sky erupts into golden day. The sunrises have been brilliantly intoxicating, as colorful and enchanting as any sunset in July. They are however, fleeting.
The recent freeze has caused the cinder road to hunch up and become ridged. The loose rocks roll like ball bearings under my 5,000 pound Jeep. Nature says to slow my roll, I listen. I pass three pickups, bearded men in camo squint hello. They aren’t hunting here, just cutting through. I pull into Benham Falls, the trail is mine.
It has been 27 degrees these last few morning and even though ‘seasonally’ still warm, it feels cold. I walk out of darkness into light, through the sting of frigid frost into the golden sun of morning. It is like overcoming a fever, knowing that the cold will not last forever. It gives one a sense of euphoria!
My favorite part of the trail is just about a mile past Benham Falls, where the river widens and a GREAT Aspen Grove stands. To be honest, it is this portion of the trail that even got me out of the house and moving.
I used to think that Central Oregon had no fall colors. Comparing The High Desert to The Willamette Valley’s oodles of deciduous trees is hardly fair. Autumn here in Central Oregon is a bit more clever. Pine needles turn burnt orange and fall to the ground, a pumpkin colored carpet. Cottonwoods and sage glow yellow. Like a forest phoenix the Aspen’s leaves turn fire red and then die. Autumn is all around, you just have to look a little closer.
The Slough is low and cat tail lined. It smells ferociously sweet. The Willow and Sage seem to sigh their last, sugary breath of summer. Mmmm, it is nostalgic and delicious and for a moment I am lost in late Augusts of my youth. Another smell ends my daydream, it is COLD juniper. I can’t describe it any better except to say that it is a spicy, clean scent…. gin on ice, but without the burn of alcohol. Oh, that smell is just like Christmas to me.
Another highlight of the journey is the meadow at Dillon Falls. I have walked this portion of trail with friends and it is perfect for that, to catch up and get out and feel refreshed! I used to walk up Lava Butte and see to the West, a golden meadow. I thought, where is that meadow?
The water is very low, revealing springs, islands and channels in the river. The sun is high, the sky deep blue. Morning is gone. Pausing at Dillon Falls, the river seems slower when it is lower, is that an optical illusion? I head back, into the warmth.
“So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.”
― Robert Frost