Fort Rock and the Christmas Valley

When reading about the Oregon Outback, one place that tends to be mentioned over and over again is Fort Rock. Fort Rock is an extinct volcano whose sides rise nearly vertically out of the flat ground of the Great Basin east of the Cascades. This last weekend, I had the opportunity to explore Fort Rock and the surrounding areas, including “Hole-in-the-Ground”, “Crack-in-the-Ground”, and the Christmas Valley Sand Dunes.

Hole in the Ground Sign

Follow the Sign


It’s very easy to miss the turn off of highway 31 to this crater.  You might think it’s an impact crater from looking at pictures, but it’s actually formed from magma exploding out of the ground and then collapsing. It’s only about 4 miles from the highway, but be prepared for a bumpy ride.  The road has not been maintained in a long time.  You will need to drive slowly.  A high clearance vehicle is definitely recommended, though I did successfully manage it in my Dart without it completely falling apart.  Take your time. You can hike around the crater rim, and walk down into the crater itself.  Make sure you take lots of water.  I was there early in the morning and saw an abundance of deer.

Hole in the Ground

Hole in the Ground

Fort Rock

I had a lot of fun exploring the areas around Fort-Rock.  There are trails available, but I spent as much time bushwhacking through the sparse brush.  Several types of wildflowers were in bloom, and I was surprised as just how much life was happening in this desert.

Looking into Fort Rock

Looking into Fort Rock

Fort Rock is easy to find. As a State Park, it has full facilities available, though no camping in the park itself.  The road is paved all the way to the entrance.  You can see the rock standing out from the ground from several miles away.  I had no problem seeing how it got it’s name.

On the west side of the fort, there is a trail you can take up the side of the wall and walk around on top.  The view is nice, though there isn’t much to see.  I spent some time just sitting up on the basalt, feeling like a king.


Crack-in-the-Ground is about a thirty minute drive from Fort Rock. Follow the signs to the small town of Christmas Valley.  I’m not sure how it got that name.  On the eastern side of town, there is a sign pointing to a northern road to Crack in the Ground.  It’s a gravel road that turns to dirt pretty quickly, but it’s in much better condition than the road to Hole-in-the-Ground.  About seven miles later, you’ll arrive at the trail head.  A short trail will then lead you to exactly what you would expect, a literally crack in the ground.  You can follow along the bottom of the trail for a while, though I turned around at some point.  Some of the turns are quite tight, and you will be scrambling over large boulders in some places.  I had to take my pack off to squeeze through at one point.

Even though it was quite hot at ground level, down in the shade it cooled quickly, and it felt like being in a cave.



Sand Dunes

The final place I explored in the area was the Sand Dunes.  I had hear of them and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Could it possibly be like the Sahara?  That’s what I was hopeful for, but the reality turned out to be much more like the Oregon Dunes on the coast, though not nearly as large.  The road was not marked at all.  As you’re heading east on the main road, look for “Viewpoint Road” and turn north.  It’s actually a different road name to the north of the highway.  After that turn, you can pretty much navigate by sight.  You’ll be able to see the dunes in the distance.  Just keep heading towards them.

The roads out to the dunes are very hazardous for small vehicles.  If it had recently rained, I would not have been able to drive at all. The roads are not marked.  I ended up on roads that were only (apparently) meant for ATVs.  But I managed you navigate it, and got a look at what free-moving dunes on Oregon look like.

Christmas Valley Sand Dunes

Christmas Valley Sand Dunes


This is a great area to visit.  There were several things that I didn’t see, including lava flows, caves, and a lost forest. I could have spent much longer exploring on and around Fort Rock as well.  Once I get a tent, I think I’m going to be headed back.  I highly recommend checking it out!

Desert Explorations

Painted Hills

I spent the last three days exploring east of the Cascade Mountains.

Desert Explorations

Sunbeam on a mountain top, a spotlight on my future
The present is in the East, in mountains I do not know
New roads in the South, in the high desert
Old roads shake my bones but drive me on
New experiences expand my mind:

Hill painted red and white, darkened spots run down their side
Meadow bursting with wild colors
Their fragrance pleases my brain and make me sneeze
Yellow flowers bid farewell to a waning storm

Peering into the distant past by reading fossils in shifted rock

Hole-in-the-Ground, don’t fall in
Walk into Crack-in-the-Ground, walk around
I perform a whistled duet with a lonely bird
Sand Dunes gorge on lost trees

Attacking Fort Rock, I claim it as my own
My claim is ignored by the earth,
For I do not know how to steward stone

Klamath marsh exploding with birdsong
Winning a staring contest with Mister Hawk
Officiated by the ghost of Mount Mazama

Finding snow in Newberry Caldera
Volcanic glass shattered the ground itself
Sharp shards threaten my feet

Dusty trail leads to falling water
Cooling my body, cleansing my soul


View the Full Album on Google Plus.

Two Bands to Share

There are two artists that I’ve recently been enjoying so much that I simply have to share with you.

The first is Hozier.  Hozier appeared in my life when their music video for “Take me to Church” was submitted to Reddit.  The video was intense, but the music is what captivated me.  This was a proper love song to me.  I immediately bought the album, and recently discovered a second EP has been released.  The music is wonderful, but Hozier’s greatest gift seems to be as a lyricist.  They’re utterly brilliant in every sense of the word.  I can’t do them justice.  Just find his music and listen.

The second band is The Revere.  They are based out of the East Coast, but appeared on my Radar when I was trolling Amazon for free music.  Their first album (“The Great City”) was released for free for a while, but is now available for just a few dollars.  They since released an EP and just a few weeks ago, their second full album.  Each record has been telling a story of a group of friends on a Grand Adventure, and everything that entails.  The experience is a combination of the music (rock to it’s core), the lyrics, and the story.  The lyrics are full of fantastic turns of phrases like “I, the wind, was wondering…”.  The recently released album seems to have wrapped up the story, but they’re not done yet.  I look forward to hearing much more from them.

Write a Letter Everyday

Writing Tools and Materials

I am a letter writer.  Expressing myself via written word is very natural to me, and I enjoy sitting down and writing things that I can’t seem to figure out how to say out loud.  I think everyone loves to receive a handwritten missive, and I like being able to bring happiness to other people this way.

Letter writing takes time.  From the moment I start with “Dear [person]” each sentence takes consideration and care.  I first try to figure out what is the main thing I want to say.  Sometimes I’ll have an idea ahead of time, but usually, I spend a few minutes thinking about the person I’m writing to.  I think about what I feel about them, what I know about their recent activities, and start going from there.  I think it’s incredibly important to spend this time thinking about them, even if the letter ends up being mostly about what I’ve been up to.  By taking that time, my writing ends up being much more personal.  Short cards might take as little as fifteen minutes to write, but I’ve also spend hours on just a few paragraphs.

My major goal for this year is to figure out how to be more social.  My major strategy for that is to focus much more on other people and not so much on myself.  Letter writing has been a great tactic in working towards that goal.  I’ve sent more letters in the past few months than I have in years, reconnecting with old friends, congratulating people on their accomplishments, sending encouraging words to friends who need it.

For the past few months I’ve been writing at least one letter everyday.  I’ve been writing and sending a handmade card to my best friend every day, and I just passed fifty sent messages to her.  This has been a very rewarding activity for me, and I believe she has enjoyed it too.

Writing every day means that you’re creating something every day.  Writing to someone you love every day means that you are exploring those feelings every day, learning to understand what that really means.  It means exercising empathy, which gets better the more you use it.

Most importantly, it creates a tangible artifact for someone; a keepsake for them to hold on to.  A monument to the connection you share with them.

I really encourage you to spend some time writing to someone you care about.  Start simple.  Get a sheet of paper and just write some words about someone you love.  Write about why you love them.  Write about a moment you’ve shared together or something you think they would like.  Don’t worry about rules.  Just speak from the heart.  Then send it to them.  You will feel good, and they will be thrilled.  I guarantee it.

Falsehoods Programmers Believe

A very informative search to conduct is to start with the phrase “Falsehoods Programmers Believe” and see what Google suggests to finish the phrase.  Here are a few that I’ve gathered over time:

All of these articles are aimed at programmers who have to deal with systematizing life in such a way that can be handled by a computer.  I really appreciate these articles because they highlight the complexities of life that most people have the privilege of ignoring.

Columnar Falls

Columnar Falls

I have heard of a water fall along the North Fork Umpqua river that exists by itself, without an inlet or an outlet. It comes out of the mountain, falls along a moss wall, and goes back underground. It’s called Columnar Falls, and this last weekend I visited it. It’s in the segment of the North Umqua Trail called “Dread and Terror”.  

Later that day, I was trying to figure out how to describe my experience here to someone else.  Here is what I came up with:

Standing In Columnar Falls
By Josh Charles May 3rd, 2014

Water flowing, falling, streaming, shooting out of the ground
Over green moss, over polished rock, over my feet
Cool mist mixes with the fragrance of cedar
On my face, in my nose, in my brain
Tumbling water, chirping birds, rustling branches invade my ears
Pushing out worry, pushing out stress, pushing out thought itself

I stand in wilderness, this is my cathedral
I worship with reverence in this place of peace
I stand where my soul has chosen to be

What is work? I don’t know
What is money? I don’t know
What is the past? I don’t know
What is the future? I don’t know

Life is happening here.
Life is happening in this moment.
I am here, in this moment.

Full photo album Columnar Falls