Oregon 2005 (12)

 

15. The High Desert Museum – and the surface of the moon

 

 Sunday Sept. 25, 2005. Dave drives all day, Lost Valley to Crater Lake (the hard way) to Fort Klamath toBend, and I figure he has to be pretty sick of driving by the time we got there. But he remains good-natured about it, says he’s used to it. We have a nice supper, and walk around town a bit, and then to bed – the kids, I gather, delighted because their suite had a kids’ bedroom with bunk beds. Next morning, Dave and the kids make the most of the hotel’s swimming pool while Keli drives the two of us to the nearby High Desert Museum. 

I have enjoyed many museums, but I can’t think of any that I enjoyed more than this one, yet I may have a hard time explaining why.

There are three kinds of exhibits there, and I enjoyed them all. There are a few animals, and a lot of old time equipment like stagecoaches and wagons. There is a full-scale working reproduction of a saw mill (but unfortunately the last day of its working season was the day before). And, mostly, there are the walk-in exhibits that set out to bring you into the past, and succeed, in a way which was neither hokey nor Disney-esque.

 You walk into a room, and the entire room is crafted to put you into a certain space. If it is of the open prairie, the background sounds are of the wildlife you would have heard. If of a metal mine, you are there in a dark place that simulates the mine shaft; surrounded by mining equipment, getting a sense of what it was like. If a Chinese store, or a western bank, or whatever, everything – props, sounds, surroundings, lighting –conspire to bring you to the same mental place. This is education without pain.

One gallery describes the lives of the settlers; another, the Indians. All is done with an eye to authenticity and effect. As I say, it’s difficult to explain why it all works so well, but it certainly does. Keli and I have only a couple of hours – Ben is in the wings, of course – but we make the most of our time, and agree that this is something for her whole family to return to see.

We return home by way of the Three Sisters (another detour for Dave to drive!) and lava rubble several layers deep. It looks like nothing could grow among it, or could have survived the onslaught of the lava, whenever that was, yet every so often stands of trees form islands in this sea of frozen rock. Surely those trees weren’t there before the lava flowed. Yet how could they grow after the lava poured down and covered the soil to such a depth? Maybe where we see trees the bits of land were a little higher than what surrounded them, so that the lava flowed in channels around them. Or maybe not. We have no explanations, only the experience of looking out at doomsday, or at the surface of the moon.

Finally, the rest of the long ride back, and if Dave doesn’t get any help driving from me, he does at least have my entire sympathy. He is driving often enough on roads with unpredictable curves and without shoulders, and what shoulders there are, are none too wide. I am sure he is glad enough to reach the main road, and even gladder to get home. Yet – life with autism – we aren’t home very long before he has to chase out again on his bicycle. Ben had gotten onto his bike and started to ride, and he just couldn’t be allowed to go off by himself. It really doesn’t ever end for them.

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