Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park

Oh, to capture the sun before the dreary fall besets us. That was our thought for this six-day jaunt east of the mountains.

A park with "sun" and "dry" in its name seemed like a logical choice.

It was now the "shoulder" season, so prices were a tiny bit lower and spaces with fantastic views, while not reservable, were there for the taking.

Even when we had next-door neighbors a couple of the nights, our views were never completely blocked.

The first thing you notice is the wonderfully fresh smell of the sage wafting through the area. The second thing you notice (or maybe it's just me since I am always so animal-focused) is the abundant wildlife.

Turkey hens everywhere.

California quail scooting around all the hilly rocks.

Heron perched high on a bluff over

Vic Meyers Lake, close to where we were parked. What you don't see, but certainly hear, are the coyotes, yipping and howling across the coulee throughout the night. You'd think it would be annoying, like a neighborhood dog barking all night long, but it's kind of soothing, probably because no one has to get up for work the next day.

First full day's activity? Hiking, of course! We ventured to the Umatilla Rock Trail, a 2.6 mile loop around and through the rock formations. The maps and trail descriptions posted on the boards were color-coded, but we puzzled over this since the colored lines on the maps didn't correspond to the colors listed in the descriptions. We didn't realize until our last day, and by happenstance, that the colors corresponded to the trail marker posts -- that you can't see unless you're at the trail head, the locations of which aren't clearly marked on the maps. 

  Red. Matches the trail head sign color, see? At least it kept us on the trail, and that's the most important part.

Scouting for red markers.

We had the place to ourselves. 

Reaching the overlook of Dry Falls Lake, where there were a few fishing boats dotting the water.

We paused to enjoy the view and have a snack. 

The trail coming down off this small bluff was not clearly delineated, and we had to stop for  a moment to try to figure out how best to navigate the rocks and plants. I went a few feet one way, The Big Guy another, and then I heard him warn, "Snake!" which, instead of causing me to freeze like I'm supposed to, made me do a sort of Kokopelli-man dance, shouting, "Where?! Where?!" 

Fortunately for me, it was in front of him. It had given a few short courtesy rattles before slowly slithering away under a big rock that was precisely where our trail was supposed to go. We chose an alternate exit, stepping gingerly all the way. The trail continued on through the dry brush for a ways, but we abandoned it temporarily for the road since we couldn't see our feet properly nor hear anything but the crackling of the dried-out reeds.

The rest of the hike was blissfully uneventful.

A fun feature of this state park is that, within its boundaries, is Sun Lakes Resort, which offers a general store, diner, boat rentals, 9-hole golf course, RV park, cabins, and a mini-golf course. Because the weather has been cooperating this year, it was all up and running. 

I love all things miniature, and golf is no exception. The lady working at the counter held out the bucket of balls for us to choose our own, and I chose ones that matched our shirts. TBG dutifully took photos of us enjoying some good, clean, family fun with our matching balls and shirts, until he realized that we hadn't put the memory card in the small camera. Drat!

On our walk back to the rig, we spotted a baby rattlesnake making its way across the pavement in the lower park. We would've gotten its picture, but, well...

The next morning, we went for a pre-breakfast run out Deep Lake Trail, which was beautiful in the morning sun. I'd show you how beautiful it was, but we didn't bring the camera because it's a pain in the ass to run with a camera. 

After a late breakfast, it was time for a mini-golf grudge match.

This time we got pictures, but there was a different lady working the counter, and she doled out the balls without regard to the color of our shirts. Mine was a weirdly pale-flesh-colored thing this time, which I guess matched my flesh.

TBG tries to win for a second time, but I was victorious by one stroke, despite the ugliness of my golf ball.

He was comforted by a variety of homemade fudge and a warm shower.

 Our view from the RV on Sunday morning.

Later in the morning, we heard a Tom turkey gobbling away in the brush, but, of course we couldn't see him.

I climbed onto the roof for a bird's-eye view. Yuk, yuk, yuk.

And I saw him! He was a funny thing, chasing the hens around in little circles, fanning his tail. They didn't seem very interested in him, though.

That afternoon, we walked the Park Lake Trail, which is a closed road that parallels the lake for a mile and a half.

The other end of the trail.

 The lake looked very blue from this direction. We looked for snakes along the edges of the road, but if you're looking for them, you will not see them. By that logic, if you don't want to be bitten by a rattlesnake, look for them. It's foolproof!

The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent just hanging out. Other RVs would come through occasionally, and we would chant quietly to ourselves, "don't park next to us, don't park next to us." Mostly they didn't. I mused that we should invest in some toddler toys to strew about outside our rig and maybe even a Baby On Board sign for the window in an effort to deter neighborliness.

 These types of neighbors are always welcome.

That night the wind, rather than the coyotes, howled and woke me up. There were no toppling trees to fear, but I was nervously sleepless for awhile just the same.

Monday morning was time for another pre-breakfast run out Deep Lake Road, and we did bring the camera, and we were so fortunate that the weather was a repeat of our first run.

 The temperature was perfectly cool, light breeze. I haven't run so well in a long time.

TBG had a hard time keeping up.

This time we kept going all the way to the lake. We'd passed the ranger locking the car gate on our way out, so we had the place to ourselves.

View from the end of the dock looking into the picnic/park area. 

Once back at the rig, and on my way to the showers, I heard a great many birds making noise, and I thought it was the quail, but it didn't sound right. Our neighbor, the local campground pedant (every campground has one) came up behind me, asking excitedly, "Do you know what that sound is?" Not really caring if I did or not, she informed me it was the sound of sandhill cranes migrating. Then she scurried off with her binoculars to try to locate them, and I continued on to my shower. Later, she told me that she'd seen some of them flying very, very high overhead (her tone implying it wasn't an easy feat for just anyone to spot them.) Later that evening, I climbed up on the RV roof again, and I, too, spotted some airborne sandhill cranes. I resisted the urge to call over to her and share my good news.

That afternoon, we walked through the park, and stopped for cool drinks at the concession stand. I like to say the phrase "cool drinks." 

We had a long chat with the campground hostess, gaining some good insights on hosting, and she was kind enough to loan us a couple DVDs and DVD player to watch videos of how the area was formed. We so look forward to the days when we can give back by being hosts ourselves.

Because the visitor center is not accessible from the park proper, we motored up the road to it on our last morning.

 It's an odd-looking thing from the outside.

There is a jutting portion of walkway overlooking Dry Falls Lake.

Even I walked out on it.

From here, you can see where we were on our first hike, down on that bluff in the upper right corner of the photo. I swear we took pics of the visitor center from down there...

Stopping for an overview shot of the upper park, including the golf course. Way in the back you can see the RV loop where we were.

The south end of the park, showing the lake and resort area.

One more stop before we head home!

Also part of the state park, but not accessible from it, is this trail.

It's not a long trail, and it starts with an asphalted portion and some steps.

Some of it is a little scary, but not too bad.

One of many caves along the way, dwarfing TBG.

Inside looking out.

It's easy to think the trail ends, but if you keep going, you get to a huge pothole at the bottom of which is the biggest cave of them all.

This park is crazy-busy during the summer months, but we hit it at a fabulously non-busy, ideal weather time (OK, not warm enough to swim, but the number of geese and other birds in that water would've kept us out no matter how hot.) 

We were indeed beset with autumn's dreary rain as soon as we neared the mountains, but we still have some sun on our skin and warm memories of a lovely time.

Wish I was running up that road in the sun again this morning, though.