Once upon a time Mom and I discovered an enchanted place with a lake like a mirror, a sparkling waterfall, and an enchanted pond that hid under a soft blanket of white dirt surrounded by a wall of rock so steep and so high that it was out-of-this-world. When we first discovered it, Mom and I had to fight through dog-high white dirt that stole our legs, and sucked us into the earth until we thought we would be stuck to the spot till summer. Once we’d seen it, Mom swore we’d come back someday. Someday was today.
You would never know that a place surrounded by so many endless hours of nothingness could be so crowded, but when we arrived in the middle of the night when the sun was setting, there were already many cars parked in the nooks and crannies along the long dirt road. But there was no sign of the wagoneers that those cars had carried as Mom and I walked the rest of the way up the dirt road to the trailhead. “Mom, it starts over here, next to the bathroom,” I said, standing under the sign that said TRAILHEAD.
“The map says it’s this way,” Mom said, following The Witch behind a truck whose wheels were almost as tall as she was. Then we climbed over a big log and set off up the trail, where trees had fallen down to block our way at such a regular distance apart that it seemed like someone had almost planned it that way.
While Mom was slowly climbing over a final tree, being careful not to rip her shorts, I ran ahead up the steep slope to where three pretty ladies, only one of whom was a dog, were standing on the real trail.
“Hi, I’m Oscar!” I panted, crashing out of the trees and blocking their path like a hugger mugger.
“Oscar, come here!” Mom shouted as she stumbled and slipped on the loose dirt that didn’t look so much like a trail, now that I’d seen this other one with the ladies on it.
“Don’t worry about her,” I said. “She barks, but she’s friendly. Say, you sure are pretty!” I followed the dog-lady to the end of her leash where she couldn’t play hard-to-get anymore, and then I sniffed her butt. She smelled like baths, but in a ladylike way, not like Head and Shoulders for Men.
“Er, sorry,” Mom said crashing out of the brush behind me and smiling at the dog-lady. “You’re right, bud, she is very pretty, but come on, we’ve got to go.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I’m embarrassed,” Mom said silently. “I don’t think that was actually a trail.”
Before long we arrived at the beautiful lake, that shined with the same mountains and sky that were spread over it, only backward. Next to the lake, some humans were cooking their breakfasts outside those igloos that primitive humans sometimes sleep in when they get tired and there are no Wagons around. A people puppy no taller than me wandered away from his clan’s cooking fire to the edge of the campground where he stopped and stared at us. Then, he raised his wings as wide as they would go, reached his tongue down his chin, and hissed at us like an angry goose. I ran bravely behind Mom so that he would eat her first if he attacked. The humans at the next cook fire turned and looked at him with the only face you can give a people puppy that’s hissing like a goose. “Mom, what’s wrong with it?” I whispered with my tail between my legs so as not to provoke him.
“It’s fun to have a face, and play with all the things it does,” Mom shrugged. “Come on.” The hissing people puppy watched us go with his wings still spread, but at least he put his tongue back in his mouth and stayed quiet.
We followed the trail out of the campground, but when we still hadn’t turned uphill after another half mile, something felt wrong. Mom looked at the mapp, and saw that we’d walked our blue dot too far away from the red line. “Shoot, I think that we were supposed to turn back there a ways,” Mom said, turning around.
“How could you miss it? We’ve been here before!” I reminded her. “The trail left from the summer igloo camp, remember?”
“There was a kid hissing at us, remember?” Mom snapped. “I was a little distracted.”
We walked all the way back to where the hissing people puppy lived, but there were nothing but rocks and branches and trees in a very un-trail-like formation along the side of the path where the turn should have been. By the time we’d walked all the way back to where the flesh-goose warned us off, I thought we were lost for sure. Then Mom stood in the same spot where we’d been standing when we were hissed out of town and looked in the other direction. “Oh. There’s a sign that says we were going the right way the whole time.” If my elbows bent that way or I had a palm to slap with, I would have slapped my forehead.
We weren’t sure we were on the right trail until we reached the waterfall. Mom had gasped when she’d come around the corner and seen it the first time. Back then it had been surrounded by swimming pool grey columns of ice, and there were diamond-like blocks of clear ice on the ground the size of soccer balls. Today the sparkling and glowing ice were gone, and the rock around the waterfall rose straight up in square blocks like shiny the walls of a castle. It was still magical, but in a more forbidding way, like the walls of a castle filled with knights rather than princesses.
After the waterfall, we continued on the trail that was much easier to find now that it wasn’t covered in several feet of white dirt. “You know what’s funny?” Mom mused. “I recognize this part of the trail more than I did the part down by the lake that looked exactly the same as the last time we were here. Isn’t a sense of direction a funny thing?”
“How would you know? You’ve never had one,” I said. The trail led us to a completely different part of the little lake than we’d reached last time, which just proved my point about Mom’s sense of direction, but it didn’t seem worth pointing that out.
Mom and I have done much more adventuring in the more than 2 years since we’d been here last, and I was afraid that now that we’d seen so many real mountains, these Oregon ones wouldn’t seem so impressive. But without the white dirt on them to smooth over their edges, the mountain towers were even more impressive. They rose straight up, up, up above our heads in a wall that looked so steep and tall that I was surprised they didn’t tip over on top of my noggin.
As we were looking at the rock and sky, a family joined us in the grass. “We’re just finishing a loop that came from the other side of that mountain,” the lady said, waving her paw at the steepest, towery-est part of the wall above our heads. “See the rabbit ears?”
“Where?!” I asked, looking around and then following the line of her arm. I looked up, up, up so high that it hurt my neck, and at the very tallest part of the mountain I saw two steep potatoes of rock that sprouted up higher than the rest but no bunny. “Is he behind those ear-shaped rocks?” I panted.
“We came from a lake just on the other side of those,” she explained.
Mom dropped her head backward to look up, and I thought that her head was going to crack in half when her jaw dropped down to her chest. “You can get up there?!” she gasped.
“Oh sure,” The lady said. “It’s really only about half a mile away, as the crow flies…”
“You flew there?!” I said. “Is that what those funny wings on the side of your safari hat are for?”
“Well that’d be some hike…” Mom added. I followed her eyes up the wall of rock. It took me a second to realize that the lady was joking, and that they hadn’t really flown but walked around another way. “I came all the way here from San Francisco,” Mom explained. “And now I have no choice but to come back again!”
I came up with a fantastic idea as we walked back down the hill toward the Covered Wagon. “Mom, why don’t we hike the loop tomorrow?!” I suggested. “That way we can see the lake, and we don’t have to drive for like two whole days to get here.”
“Because we’ve got to drive two full days back toward California, remember?” Mom said. “We’re almost in Idaho up here. It’s going to take a lot of driving to get back.”
“But we did a lot of driving yesterday!” I moaned.
“Not as much as we need to do today,” Mom sighed. “It’s going to take us almost 9 hours to get back to the Sierras.”
So we ate a snack, and the Wagon hit the Oregon Trail again. I stared longingly out the window as we passed by the unexplored Oregon Outback without stopping. For being so close to California, Oregon sure is far away.
Oscar the Hugger Mugger