Desert picture with the van window reflecting the sand
The Oregon desert

I didn’t check the temperature, but I’m pretty sure the night we spent in the Oregon desert was the coldest I’ve ever been in Serenity. That was mostly because we hadn’t been on the road for more than a meal or two before my propane died again, which meant I had no heater. Fortunately, I’ve been living in Arcata long enough to have stocked up on my warm layers: I wore a t-shirt, a sweater, a thermal layer, a fleece, my jacket, leggings, socks, and blue jeans, and huddled under a sleeping bag and three blankets and I was fine. Even Zelda got to wear a jacket.

Zelda and Riley (dogs) in their jackets on blankets.
Zelda, wearing her doggie jacket, which is a size too small, I think. She did not complain after the first few moments, though. And Riley was all about the cozy — he buried himself under the blankets quite willingly.

Our spot in the desert was located outside Plush, Oregon, near the sunstone Public Collection area, at the Spectrum Mine. The people at the mine apparently also thought it was too cold. We got there after a day of driving at around 4:30. According to their sign, the office was open from 9 until 5, but no one was there. We wandered around for a bit, then found our way to their camping area (free for the night) and settled in.

The next morning, we waited some more. 9AM went by with no signs of life. 10AM also went by with no signs of life. Eventually — and I’m going to say it was probably within fifteen minutes of our deciding to give up entirely, despite having driven twenty miles down dirt roads to get to the mine — a guy showed up and said it was too cold to do the conveyor belt, but maybe we could do it in the afternoon, if it warmed up. Meanwhile, we could dig in the dirt if we wanted to. So we did. I wish I’d taken some pictures, but I was too busy digging. 🙂

pile of rubble with a conveyor belt machine.
The conveyor belt

We debated whether we wanted to stay or not, but it was a gorgeous day, (albeit chilly) and the conveyor belt mining experience felt like one of those things that you’re only ever going to do once. Once we left, we knew wouldn’t be making the drive back to give it a second chance. So we stuck around until 1 or so, when a woman came over and told us they’d start the belt running for us, and explained how it worked.

Basically, they take a big load of dirt and bulldozer it into a machine that breaks it into smaller pieces and then sprays water on it and dumps it onto a conveyor belt. You stand by the belt and take the sunstones as they appear. The belt goes pretty fast and you don’t get second chances — if you don’t grab the stone as it goes by, it falls off into the big pile of dirt and is gone forever. Within a couple minutes, Suzanne was making jokes about Lucy and Ethel and within ten minutes, I knew for sure I didn’t ever want to work in a factory. It was bizarrely stressful. But also really fun.

sunstone pictures
Suzanne’s pile of sunstones

I have no idea what we’ll do with our piles of sunstones: it’s almost as bad as my Mason jar of Oregon beach rocks. Most of them are pebbles, really, so maybe we’ll sprinkle them around the rose bushes so they can sparkle in the sunshine in the garden. Or maybe I’ll put them into another Mason jar to sit on my windowsill. But it was fun collecting them — they’re not worth much, but it still feels like hunting for treasure to find the sparkles in the dirt.

After the conveyor belt finally stopped, however, we hurried on our way. I’d found a hotel in Lakeview, Oregon — Hunter’s Hot Springs Lodge — with a hot spring and dry camping in the parking lot and we wanted to get there before dark. Within three hours, we were immersed in the steaming hot pool, which was lovely.

That said, they charged $40 per night/per camping unit for dry camping in a parking lot which was way, way over-priced. Actually, let me add another “way.” Way, way, way over-priced. It was a parking lot. A noisy parking lot. And the hot springs didn’t have any of the basic amenities, ie a shower in the changing room — it was just a warm swimming pool. That said, it was a delightful warm swimming pool. But still, for $40, I would have liked to rinse off the minerals when I got out of the water. But when you’ve been freezing cold and then digging in the dirt all day, a hot spring is a sweet luxury. If I got to go back in time, I’d still spend the money, I think. Although probably I would have suggested paying a little more to get a room with an actual shower and less noise from cars coming and going at all hours. Live and learn.

The next morning, we headed back to California. We were about six or seven hours away from Arcata, so we could have made it all the way here if we’d wanted to, but we didn’t. We knew we were going to spend one more night camping on the way, we just weren’t sure where. Our final decision was influenced — strongly! — by the rising temperatures on our dashboards. When it passed 90 and kept climbing in Redding, I knew if we were actually going to spend another night camping, we needed water. Not drinking water, but atmosphere-cooling water. At some pause along the way, I suggested we take a look at the Douglas City Campground, a BLM campground with 23 sites. The selling point from the description in the Allstays app: “beach.”

I’m gonna say, “beach” would be… an exaggeration. River access might be more accurate. But I would happily stay at that campground again any time. Our campsite was set in trees, within easy walking distance of the river where Zelda and Riley were both happy to splash. It was a perfect place to spend a relaxing afternoon, even with temps in the 90s. It was one final burst of summer. The next morning, we had a nice walk through the trees along this fine trail, then headed home to Arcata.

The trail