Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Thanksgiving Skiing in Oregon, The California Delta and More Bands to Listen

As the days continually fall harkening the arrival of Christmas, I still have yet to tell of my Thanksgiving adventures and write a new post since mid-November.

First, before I expound on my Thanksgiving trip, there was a weekend when I explored some relatively little known regions and backroads of the Delta. The Delta is about forty minutes from the San Francisco region, entry of which can be accessed driving through Antioch or exiting off of Highway 4.

For those who have never ventured here, it is like visiting a completely different area and justifies how lucky San Franciscans are to live an a region where so many styles of geography can easily be accessed.

The delta is comprised of a series of freshwater islands that are separated by a system of levees. While large ships use the channels to navigate inland to Sacramento and its little known shipping ports, the citizens of the remote Delta region towns of Isleton, Locke and Rio Vista enjoy a geographic anonymity which permits a laissez-faire existence of boating, fishing and camping. Tiny taverns that dot the one lane levee roads serve as pit stops for fishers and boaters alike and harken back to a small town charm that has yet to be truly discovered.

The town of Locke is relatively unchanged since the days when steamers would chug up and down the water channels in the days of the Gold Rush era. In fact, Locke was built in 1915 by Chinese settlers and was one of the largest Chinese villages east of San Francisco. Many of the small towns in this region showcase tiny gambling parlors that are still open to this day. These cardrooms are similar to those like the Oaks Card Club in Emeryville.

Recreation is plentiful in this area where families can rent house boats and slowly follow the currents for an entire weekend, while other younger visitors choose to celebrate with a party and young people from the city. Still others choose to fish the over 1,000 miles of navigable waterways.

When I visited with my friend Rebecca a few weeks ago, I was thrust into an entirely different approach to time and had to wait to cross two river crossings via ferry to reach the other islands and continue on my trek. While the night skies slowly darkened and the sun set to the west behind us, a tiny water ferry connected to a wire that yanks it from one side to the other reached shore and I drove onto the vessel. It takes anywhere from 5-10 minutes to cross these rivers depending on how long the wait is to drive aboard. When I arrived in both instances, I was the only car and the pilot of the ferry came out of his office to slowly puff a cigarette in the chilly air.

It certainly was a great escape from the rigors of life in San Francisco.

This past Thanksgiving I decided to drive up to visit my friend, Andrew Gorman who had just moved with his friend Julie from Wisconsin. He lives close to Mt. Bachelor, one of the larger ski resorts in Oregon. Over 70 ski runs serviced by high-speed lifts are tucked into the chutes and canyons of Bachelor Butte and provide many thousands of acres of skiable terrain.

Many of the runs I experienced were more than a mile long and I would ski for at least five or ten minutes without passing another soul. I often stopped to rest and to take in the sunny skies and snow-covered pine trees that were commonplace at the lower elevations of the mountain. At higher levels, a torrent of wind and snow whirled about and icy slopes greeted skiers fresh off the lifts. It was quite an experience to ski from blizzard-like conditions to the sunny skies at the bottom, and it sure was a lot warmer.

Bend was a great little town. The strangest part of the trip was the Oregon law that prohibits anyone from pumping their own gas. This strange law to those visiting for the first time from nearby Northern California is odd at first, but after awhile it is especially nice to have someone else pump gas for you. The existence of this law is due in part to Oregon's economy, one of the worst in the nation. This law allows service stations to hire attendants whose sole job is to pump gasoline and wash windows, bolstering the service industry and the state employment.

During my four-day long visit to Bend, I also got to relax my muscles in a very nice Turkish bath located at the McMenamin complex - an entire downtown city block under the same ownership that boasts a tavern, hotel, hostel, Turkish bath and movie house. I thought it was an amazing array of things to do, especially for a small town. While the economy in Oregon seems to be at low levels compared to the rest of the country, small towns such as Bend appear to be experiencing a resurgence due to local ski culture and tourists who wish to play in the snow. Bend was a town founded under logging and many saw mills located there thrived until recently. Rigorous laws halting logging and radical environmentalists have no doubt created a turn in the industry and most likely helped contribute to the loss of jobs and the place Oregon maintains in the nation's economy. Now, Bend is turning to skiing and the outdoors coupled with tourism to bolster jobs and establish its place in Central Oregon as a formidable destination. Ski homes and new hotels are being constructed and the hipness of the city's taverns are definitely helping to attract apres-skiers. Many of the bars I went into seemed quite hip and edgy featuring brick walls, martinis and a trendy crowd of young professionals and post-college kids drinking together. It was a fun time.

My trip to Oregon was beautiful and quite fun. Driving up on Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I was able to drive around Crater Lake, which had just experienced a fresh snowfall. The one lane forest highway was surrounded by tall evergreens and above that, the moon shone brightly on mountain tops. Even though it was close to 3am when I reached Bend, my zig-zagging through the high desert mountains was one of the most beautiful road trips I have taken in a long time.

Andrew, I hope to be back up to visit you soon! Before I call it a post, I want to reflect on some bands you need to check out.

Explosions in the Sky -- Instrumental music, but in the most amazing methods possible. This music is amazing, reflective and beautiful. Slowly building guitar chords build simultaneously with drums to create almost a mountainous sound of music. This Austin, Texas band does not disappoint because their music is all-encompassing of being romantic, melodic, powerful, loud and tragic all at the same time. Where others have treaded in music sans vocals, Explosions reigns supreme. I have yet to experience them live, but I hear those concerts are unbelievably passionate and amazing forms of music, unlike many others.

Sun Kil Moon - Mark Kozelek has previously been known in San Francisco based Red House Painters, but now takes his musical styling to Sun Kil Moon, another SF outfit. Their latest album retools a variety of Modest Mouse covers to their simplest, most beautiful forms. Many Modest Mouse fans may miss the meanings or lyrics, and Kozelek allows the stripped down form to almost give the songs a completely new identity and new value to their previous forms.

Until Next Time....