Saturday, December 3, 2011

Back to the Basin: Part I

Klamath Basin, California, USA: Oct 27-30, 2011
I can't believe it has been over a month since we camped in the Klamath Basin. I wanted to finish some of the art before I posted. Some of the art is done on location, some is finished after I get home, and the last one was painted after we got home.

We’re back in the Klamath Basin …. This time to camp. Its been a year since we’ve camped. Hard to believe that the first year we owned our van we spent 99 nights sleeping in it. That was the first year of Dale’s retirement, and we made a point of taking full advantage of it. Then it got tougher and tougher to camp and finally it just seemed too much. Now that Dale is walking again, camping in on the agenda. For the next three nights we’ll camp at Lava Beds National Monument in northern California and spend most of the daytime in the Klamath Basin refuges. This post and the next will be bits and pieces from the trip.
Tule Lake Refuge (one of the Klamath Basin Refuges): We slowly bounce along the gravel road that borders the southern end of Tule Lake. Because of dredging and draining, the road runs straight and makes crisp 90 degree angle turns as it heads east and south, east and south – water on our left and fields on our right. When we finally reach the southern point where the flat valley floor rises gently into sagebrush and a few scruffy rock outcrops. Off in the distance Sheepy Ridge forms a steep embankment, and farther off, snow capped Mr. Shasta rises. We park.
While Dale waits for a duck to swim close by, I sketch, first Mt. Shasta, then a close up of the road just before it reaches Lava Beds National Monument and turns left separating the refuge from the monument. Two does and their fawns come out of the tangle near us and wander down the road, nibbling at roadside vegetation. A peregrine flies by and lands on the rocks ahead of us … just far enough that he seems unperturbed by our car. He preens and looks about. I hear Dale’s camera clicking quietly – a pair of gadwalls swims past. The peregrine stays put until we finally move on.
We park in a magical spot about half a mile farther down the road. While we eat lunch flock after flock of snow geese are flying past, low and close. Off in the distance we can see they are landing, but we can’t see just where.

Lunch …. Summer sun. Dale naps while I add the final color to my sketches. Acres and acres of Tule Lake murmur with coots, grebes, ducks and geese. Gradually the birds get used to our quiet car and come closer. So pleasant in the warm car, no traffic. Occasionally something flies by, but mostly it is quiet time.

An unseen force has spooked our birds. I’m sure we didn’t. Coots scramble on top of the water, grebes swim quickly, ducks have disappeared. Everything within 75 yards is leaving. I nudge Dale just in time for him to see an otter swimming along the edge of Tule Lake. The otter soon passes and life settles back to normal. We drive on.

About two miles down the road we find where all the geese went. A few Canada geese and thousands of snow geese have settled into a shallow bay. Brilliant white backs follow the shoreline. Most sleep. A few splash and preen. While we watch a flock of twenty white-fronted geese fly in to join the others. The white-fronted geese slip and slid as they rapidly loose elevation. Their tumbling down reminds me of oak leaves tossing in a gusty wind, twisting and turning every which way, but the geese right themselves just before reaching ground.

The sleeping geese were beginning to stir when we left them. We’ve come back to the spot where we watched so many geese fly by at lunch time. At first there isn’t a bird in the sky. Now, late in the day, a handful of Canada geese and their smaller cousins, cackling geese, fly by, heading west from the bay. We assume they are heading to the recently cut grain fields. The first snow goose to come is a loner, flying with a handful of Canada companions. His whiteness looks out of place with his brown and black companions. Soon flock after flock of snow geese fly past us. Quite a few of the snow geese are grayish – the young of the year. Some are smaller and must be Ross’s geese.

5:45 PM: Just stragglers in the air now. For a delicious hour, geese flying and calling took over the air, wild and exciting. Now we’re back to mellow coot chuckles, mallards quacksgrebe begging, and a few far off Canada goose honks.

Rather than bouncing back over miles of gravel road we take the slightly longer, but paved road through Lava Beds, heading to our campsite. The sky has just the barest wisps of cloud. Mt. Shasta has turned purple off in the distance. A sliver of moon nears the horizon, soon to slip out of sight. Near ‘The Stronghold’ we pass a great horned owl perched ….. on a road sign. There isn’t a tree in sight for him to perch on. Lava Beds National Monument has been removing the junipers that have come in since the Modoc War (1872-1873). Part of me is sympathetic to the idea of managing the landscape to keep it historically accurate, but another part of me wishes the owl had something better than a road sign to perch on. A little artistic license is in order on my painting.


  1. Another fabulous post. What fun you two have together. Love the Art work and writing. Glad Dale is walking much better. He and Annie. :))

  2. What a neat place. Love seeing and hearing about in your special way.

  3. Very nice your paint mixed your words!!!

  4. Dear Elva,
    Lovely post and paintings. I love the last painting most.

  5. Beautiful sketches Elva, just love those Snow Geese! would really like to see them in real life. And it sounds like that otter caused a real raucous!

  6. are living a dream existence to me. To be able to camp...or just drive out to these beautiful isolated places and see and listen to the birds.....and then paint everything. I always love reading about your nature adventures and seeing your paintings.