Wednesday, November 17, 2010

East Slope, Southern Oregon trip

  This is my "test-blog" having never tried to do one before.

Late last August, we found ourselves with a few days off.  We've 'commuted' down hwy 97 and 395 uncounted times, headed elsewhere, but we've always been heading 'somewhere', never just to our own 'backyard'.   I've crossed the Cascades, on my way from 'here to there' dozens of times, but again, always passing through.   So this time, we decided to go exploring all the places we'd wondered about as we headed elsewhere.
Columbia R. Gorge  Looking west towards Hood River, Or on the Old Scenic Highway
  This is just across the river from home.  I often combine a town trip to The Dalles with a bicycle ride along the Columbia Gorge Scenic highway.  The Dalles to Hood River, have some coffee and watch all the tourists shop and look cool on Oak street in 'Hooterville' then back to The Dalles.  In the hot part of the summer this has some shade sections and of course, the famous Gorge Winds keep one cool.

We headed out amidst late afternoon thunder clouds, with a loose plan to see if we could ride our bikes over McKenzie pass and maybe circle Crater Lake another day. 
 Navigating with my favorite tool.. A DeLorme Topo Map Atlas, we headed south through Maupin, Or. on hwy 197, humming along in the '84 low-top Westie-interior vanagon with it's 1.8 liter inline VW motor.   At Madras we decided to get off the main road and see some of the country we had often driven right by...
  I've always been curious about why there are Boat and Marine stores in Madras, Redmond, Bend.  It turns out the Billy Chinook reservoir and some other lakes west of the central highway are quite the water sports destination.  Lots of fancy wakeboarder boats, fishermen, campers etc. recreate there on summer weekends.   There looked to be nice campgrounds and swimming beaches, state parks and boat ramps. 
The topo atlas showed us some interesting back roads crossing the high plateau and scrub Juniper country, ending up near Sisters, the east end of the Old McKenzie highway.  "Connecting the dots" (all the roads we were using were 'dotted lines' in the topo atlas) got us closer and closer, using the landmark Black Butte as a visual guide, but after about 50 miles of dirt and gravel we reached a road-closure..."Forest fire in progress"..So close, but we had to backtrack, until eventually we arrived at Sisters, Or.  Very dry and dusty with a fine clay silt dust which really covered our fancy race bikes that were on a rack outside on the rear hatch...
  A quick stop at the fancy supermarket store , where the whole place smelled of woodsmoke from all the shopping firefighters who were bivouacked in town.  We headed Southwest from Sisters, on the old Mckenzie pass road,  checking the side roads to find an overnight camp spot.  No problem with that, there are hundreds of small roads into the BLM and national forest.  We 'dry-camped' amongst the Ponderosa pines, listening to the wind soughing through the branches all night, me thinking with compassion about some of my bicycle buddies who were racing in the Race Across Oregon that weekend...575 miles, non-stop, fighting that wind after being on the bikes for over a day already.
  We arose the next morning planning on riding over and back across the Old McKenzie pass road on the bikes.  I've always been intrigued by that road, but not  drive it in the Vanagon.  It has lots of switchbacks and is closed in winter, supposed to be pretty spectacular... Not this time, however, as we again encountered a 'fire closure' on the highway.  So we headed on south to the Cascades Lakes Highway, a road we had never driven.  Rambling along in the alpine forests south of Mt. Bachelor was really beautiful.  One could spend many weekends exploring all that area.

 Since we were without a fixed schedule,  we simply kept on meandering south along the eastern slope, with Crater Lake as our next loosely-defined goal.  We picked Diamond Lake out of the Atlas as a probable place to camp, pulling in early in the afternoon.  August days are long, so I got on the bike and rode around the lake and north to see what was so scary about 'Dread and Terror Ridge'  just off the Umpqua river..The forest service camp at Diamond Lake...pretty nice but a bit 'developed' for our taste.  Lots of mosquitoes at that time of year.  It was amusing to watch some huge motor homes get in and out of this older forest service campground..a facility which obviously been designed before Americans decided they needed to bring their whole house with them to go 'camping'

Crater Lake actually IS that blue
  We enjoyed a long breakfast then packed up for the short drive over to Crater Lake.  Spectacular!  We parked at the visitors center and rode our bikes around the Rim Drive.

 The lake is just like it's shown in all the spectacular pics you see everywhere.  The ride round the crater was fairly ambitious and we encountered two different commercial bicycle touring groups..some of them seemed ok, most looked pretty 'hammered' by the steep climbs and the elevation..

The elevation, the steep climbs and the heat makes a nap desirable for Marie

 but I bet they all will remember riding the Rim Drive for a long time.
Looking across the lake to the North.  Our starting and ending point is just behind that ridge on the right of the photo
  Leaving Crater Lake Nat Pk to the tourists, it was quite busy, as most National Parks are in high season, we headed further south and east towards Fort Klamath.

 I have often passed the Williamson River on Hwy 97 and always thought it looked like great fly fishing water, so again, with our trusty Topo Atlas, I found an out of the way Forest Service campground to the north of the Collier Logging Museum.  We were one of two camps in the whole CG, about 4 miles from the main highway.  Very peaceful after Diamond Lake and Crater Lake.

Chewaucian River campsite.  No other campers in this small CG right on the river.
  I bushwhacked over to the Williamson river...about a mile through the mosquitoes only to find we were too far upstream to be in good trout was small and quite sluggish..I bet there were some big fish in there, but I've never enjoyed matching casts to very leery trout on glassy waters...I saw a few come up and look at my fly...but no takers...I wasn't all that serious about my fishing anyhow..

  The next day we turned East.  I've always been curious about the country between hwy 97 and hwy 395, which is another of my favorite N>S>N 'commuting' roads, through Lakeveiw and on to Alturas, Ca. or across the Blackrock desert (home of the Burning Man gathering)  to Winnemucca, Nv.
  I wanted to see what was the Sprague River, have a gander at the Chewaucan River, out of Paisley, too.  Looking at the Topo again I plotted some F.S. roads to make a traverse of the Coleman Rim in the Freemont Nat. Forest. 
  Since we were going pretty "remote" we went into Chiloquin to re-supply..Eccentric little town..  There is a very special Used Books store there, worth a visit, for sure...
  We headed east on hyw 140, which eventually reaches Lakeveiw, but turned off to the northeast on FS logging roads that would bring us to the headwaters of the Chewaucan River, then follow that river down into Paisley, Or...near Summer Lake...Wonderful and remote country.
  The mountains in southeastern Oregon are 'Fault-block' ranges, I think.  The Coleman,  The Steens...they all seem to be tilted to the West, long slopes that direction but then 'broken' on the east, with steep cliffs and canyons facing East. The Warners are gentle on the east with the Rim facing west down to Paisley and Summer Lake..
  We spent much of the day meandering through very dry range country in the Sprague river valley and on up the western slope of the Coleman rim. We saw no other vehicles all day.   Tiny little logging roads, paved...most likely so the loggers could cut and haul during winter months, too.  Most of the large trees were already gone but it looks like presently they are cutting the rest off..a lot of beetle kill pine.  They seem to like  'chip it' and ship it..
  After beginning to worry about gas some and wondering it we were going the right way...the roads again started having signs..and grew a little in size...then a F.S. road sign number show us headed right and I relaxed a bit. 
   We joined up the Chewaucian River about 25 miles west of Paisley.  Pulled into a small primitive camp and decided...enough driving, time to fish.
Jake the dog helping me fish
  Cute little creek with plenty of tiny Brookies and Rainbows..I've seen some very large 'stuffed and mounted' fish  in Lakeveiw, said to have been caught on the Chewaucian, but that must have been further downstream or long ago, because my biggest was about 10" long.
 I was helped with the fishing by my Chesapeake Retriever, who was really ready for a swim after all that hot driving.
  The mosquitoes were not really a factor at this camp, despite the fact that Paisley, Or.  advertises an annual "Mosquito Festival" every year in August.

  The next morning we coasted downhill into Paisley, motor off, tranny in neutral..I know, "shouldn't do that" but it was so peaceful and all downhill.  We had another night and day of free time remaining.  Checking through the Topo Atlas, looking at the backside of the Warner Range, and the Steens, and some other very interesting looking backroads,  and checking the mileage on interesting possible routes...we decided to save that for the next time, to devote another trip to that area.
  So we turned for home up hwy 31-97-197 past Silverlake, La Pine, Bend, Maupin...on very familiar ground again.

  We pulled back into home near Lyle, Washington in the early evening, after that large loop, having seen many of the places that until then were just places on the map.  Places that we always commented on, as we drove past in a hurry to "get somewhere" places we thought we  'should see, sometime'

  Fun stuff, and especially suited to Vanagon travel.