Grand Oregon Driving Tour


This trip was a last minute event. We kind of screwed up on the original plan due to some personal quirks so had to find a replacement. I collected some books about Oregon at my last trip there a couple of months earlier so it wasn’t terribly difficult. Oregon as a state also has a surprising amount of help for prospective tourists. In fact there was so much I wanted to see there was not enough time. As a result I came up with a simple driving loop that would let us visit some of the prominent places in Oregon.

Saturday, Sept 1st, 2012

Driving, driving, driving. All day. The plan was to get to the Oregon Sand Dunes, in particular to that Sand Dunes Frontier where Rita allegedly got a camping spot. Originally I also wanted to stop by the Oregon Caves and do their off-trail cave tour, but it was sold out till the end of the year. It seems to be very popular, even though it involves crawling in mud through some cold and dark places.

Still this drive was fine (meaning “of superior or best quality”, not – “good enough”). 101 is not as industrial as I-5. It is much smaller, curvier, and doesn’t have that many trucks. Further North it runs through some of the most beautiful places in the world – first the redwoods then the Pacific coast. This also makes it much longer, but it isn’t that important anyway – it is the journey that matters.

On the way we stopped at the Loleta Cheese Factory. Could barely find it. We tried to see it in our last trip to the area, but run out of time. It turned out to be just a small shop next to a tiny cheese making facility (which wasn’t working due to a holiday I suppose). They were really making just once type of cheese with all sorts of weird fillings. Not my favorite cheese either. I guess I was expecting something like a winery with tours and tastings of different cheeses and stuff. But perhaps cheese is not that popular as wine yet.


After that it was pretty much all driving at sunset on the gorgeous 101. We stopped by this strange touristy place called Trees of Mystery. They had two giant figures on the side of the road to attract tourists, a decent native American museum, a gift shop of course, and a tram through the trees to the top of some hill. I didn’t even check the price of that stuff. Clear exploitation of the natural environment (sort of like that drive through tree thing). They were trying to do a good job on the museum. However, it still smelled a lot like a pretext for the gift shop. In a tiny section of that large building they represented most of the tribes that lived in the lower 48.

Going further North the road was becoming more and more remote with some small towns sprinkled on the coast. Most of them were located on some beautiful river with an old bridge over it. It was still fine, while the sun was out. After dark it became scary. At one point it was a turn and some dude parked his truck on the other side right at the turn with headlights still ON. However from my standpoint it looked as if he was standing right in my lane and I was going to head him. On top of it there was no reception. We had to stop by a Safeway in one town to get the directions to that Sand Dunes Frontier place.

Eventually we made it. On the way we stopped at a couple of campgrounds, commercial and not, but they were all full. I guess Oregonians were preparing for a fun-filled weekend. On the way I almost hit a mountain lion. He was crossing 101, not in a hurry, like any lazy well-fed cat. He had a beautiful brown color and a long tail. Magnificent animal. It would have been sad to hit him (or her). It was one more of those fleeting night encounters with wildlife, like during the trip to the Ansel Adams wilderness earlier this year.

The main fun began at the Sand Dunes Frontier. We arrived a bit late there. Since it was an ATV place it was full of that sort of people – with lots of trucks pulling trailers with all the ATV equipment. There was a loud party in full swing too. Eventually we found our place somewhere in the bushes. There was large RV campground next to 101 and some sort of camping sites a bit further in the forest (with some scary roads leading to it designed definitely not for my car). There were also mostly trucks. Sadly, someone took out our place. Since we didn’t have any proof of the reservation, it was late, and the campground host was nowhere to be found, I just decided to camp on an empty spot and deal with this in the morning. Luckily there was one on that large sandy RV parking lot of sorts.

Sunday, Sept 2nd, 2012

Get up early due to all the noise from the ATV people and the highway. We had a lot of noise at night from the party animals and then noise early in the morning from the hard-core ATV dudes. So not much sleep as a result. We were awaken by a couple of guys from Washington state preparing their ATVs for action. They had a long flat-bed trailer for all their equipment. For some reason they also had a washer, a drier, and an old CRT TV on that trailer. Not sure why.

Since we were up so early all we could do was just hang around between the Sand Dunes Frontier’s office and the toilet waiting for the start of the Big Buggy tour. In the mean time we watched the lazy ATV guys using their noisy equipment to do the morning runs (like riding their ATVs to the restroom). Since we were almost on the beach there was a lot of precipitation. Now this precipitation was being dried up by the morning sun bringing visible fumes of steam. A bit later a full bus of Chinese tourists came. I guess they also wanted to see The Dunes. They probably were on one of those local ethnic tours. Sort of what my parents usually take.


The Big Buggy tour itself was reasonably entertaining. A large open buggy drove us around the wet dunes with some explanation on the way. The sand was fine (i.e. small), ground at some point by some ancient glaciers, and it had water almost at the surface. The dunes had these interesting so-called tree islands. Each island was just a piece of what looks like a very thick forest. Each was fenced off against the ATV people and each had a small lake next to it. Not sure if the lake was actually essential for the existence of an island. But the whole buggy riding activity was more like an easy live amusement park. It was short too.

However, a bit south from the Sand Dunes Frontier was the real deal – Oregon Dunes day use area, with no ATVs present. There were forested areas, some sort of fenced off bird nesting sites, and miles of relatively calm beach.


These guys, however, were still charging for parking. I thought to do a simple loop hike, but upon reaching the beach made the wrong turn. This ended up adding about 3 miles to the loop. Still there was nice fresh salty air from the ocean.

After the hike we headed further North. Rita found one place to visit called the Sea Lion cave. It was a commercial installation with the expected consequences. They were boasting to be the largest sea cave in the world. Perhaps, it looked pretty large to me. The lions, however, were not in the cave. They only sit there during the winter storms. In summer they veggy out outside.

In order not to repeat the previous day’s experience, after the caves we picked the first available campground. It was in the lovely Carl G Washburne Memorial State Park. The campground had all the tent sites occupied, but some RV sites were available. Interesting thing that they had free (!) hot showers. Not for very long, of course. One had to keep pressing the button to get the water out. But still – for a state park it was very well maintained. I still don’t understand why California can’t get their state parks in order. By this time we collected enough literature to plan a full day on the Oregon coast.

Monday, Sept 3rd, 2012

This night was much better than the previous one. Much more quiet and peaceful. The first order of busyness was to go to the Cape Perpetua NRA, which was right there a couple of miles to the north. The pace, operated by the forest service, had a campground, a visitor center, and some trails to hike. The visitor center was still closed when we got there.


The trails were top notch – beautiful lush green forest on one side and great ocean views on the other. We did about 8 miles there in a just a simple loop. By the time we reached back to the Visitor center it was full of … visitors. It seems people were taking their time on a holiday. The center was on the site of an old CCC camp. It seems that the CCC people were building roads and trails there, but mostly were chopping down the magnificent trees for the war effort. The center also had some information about the local flora and fauna. It was much more extensive than I expected. For some reason no one there could explain to me the reason why no redwoods were growing in the immediate area. It seemed to be just right for them.

The next stop was the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. This aquarium certainly lacked the grandiosity of the one in Monterrey – it didn’t have any of those huge tuna fish tanks. But it had a lot of smaller exhibits with the local living organisms – all sorts of weird crabs and star fishes I’ve never seen before. It also had interesting walkways inside the fish tanks, similar to the ones in Sea World. However, they should have used better glass – the reflections were so strong that it was sometimes difficult to see the fish.


Since the place had grounds (unlike Monterrey which is just an old cannery building), it also had several open air pavilions. One with vultures (in an aquarium), one with the sea-going birds, and two with mammals – sea otters and sea lions and seals. Sea otters looked very well fed – fat and happy chugging down all those crabs and mussels they didn’t have to catch. They had only 4 males that due to the size of their enclosure were able to get along (usually aquariums keep only females because they get along with each other better).

We finished with the aquarium around 5PM. It was still early, but not early enough to visit a couple of more laces up the coast. There was a cheese factory that looked interesting to me. But we decided to head to Portland instead. After some trying we booked a shabby “patel” right in downtown. My plan was to stay there for two nights. The downtown location would then be convenient with the car. But that plan was later changed – it was a lot cheaper to drive 15 min from there and find something else. Since we wouldn’t be staying for two nights the parking deal didn’t plan out either. Oh, well. At least they had free WiFi so that we could plan the next day’s activities.

Tuesday, Sept 4th, 2012

Parking in downtown Portland proven to be easy, but expensive. There were no unmetered spots. The regular street parking could only be done for up to 3 hours. There were, however, plenty of structures allowing full day parking for about $9. After that was taken care of we just had to walk to the meeting spot. Luckily downtown Portland is very easy to navigate – just square blocks. There were some people at the meeting place by the time we go there. The guide was a lovely woman, all prepared for a nice stroll in the town. She kept telling me that we were not hiking, we were moseying, perhaps because I was always running ahead.


She did a good job of showing off all the nice parts of Portland. She also gave us a history lesson on how the city was founded and grew. As usual, similar to San Francisco or Seattle, it sprang up for the needs of the emigrants and their businesses. It just didn’t have that explosive growth periods, mostly fueled by the gold prospects, that ravaged San Francisco or Seattle. She also went after some of that weird or outright ugly statues in Portland, especially the elk or the Portlandia.  The tour generally left a pleasant impression of the city. Portland also had this ordinance to build green spaces if someone builds a tower. So the downtown doesn’t feel like an urban jungle. The tour ended on the riverfront. There was a nice green riverfront park in the place of a freeway. People were jogging in the nice weather. And again we visited a rainy and foggy city (Seattle was the previous one) and had a gorgeous sunny weather completely misrepresenting the real local atmosphere. Oh well. Actually, the fact is that Portland doesn’t get that much precipitation per year. It just doesn’t get many sunny days.

After this positive tour the plan was to find lunch and then get on the next tour, the one describing the bad parts of Portland. For the lunch the tour guide directed us to the food truck fair. The fair was a whole city block area filled with almost permanent food trucks. Lots of choices, but mostly on the Asian side. There was a couple selling stuffed cabbage, but I didn’t tried that. For some reason I went to some huge Indian lunch with uncooked bread. Perhaps I did it because it was just easy to order. After the feast we went to the meeting place for the Underground Portland tour. Surprisingly it was full! People really like to walk in Portland, maybe it was the rare sunny weather. I wonder what the participation would be on a cloudy day. Anyway, there was another one in 2.5 hours. We just had to walk back to Powell’s Books and spend some time there.

Well, Powell’s was one serious bookstore. It is, in fact, the largest English language bookstore in the world. It wasn’t really something like that new agy stuff (i.e. Barns & Noble) thought it did have a cafe somewhere in the corner. But it didn’t have any of that lounge chairs and more space than books – it was filled with books, big time, top to bottom shelves after shelves. The environment was very spartan in terms or user’s luxuries. However, I saw more people actually reading there than anywhere else.

The last walking tour of the day wasn’t full. I wasn’t very impressed by it. Maybe because I was just tired. The guide basically walked around a couple of blocks of the so-called Chinatown talking about all the things that were happening and how they influenced life, mostly during or before Prohibition. How at the end of 19th century people could be sold to ships to work as seaman, sometimes against their will (so called shanghaiing). How that practice eventually ended because the work started requiring a lot more skills. He said about all the brothels and drinking saloons that where there, as everywhere. Once the city administration decided to crack down on the brothels so they required a metal plaque to be displayed at the entrance listing the owner of the place, who usually was some rich respectable citizen. Well, what they didn’t specify was the language of that plaque so the results were appropriate.

Portland used to have a lot of underground tunnels between the buildings. They almost matched the street grid. The tunnels were used for all sorts of activities, mostly transfer of goods, sometimes people. Nowadays they may be used for storage or garbage, or perhaps a brewery can keep their their tank there. Some buildings in the area can have small displays scaring people with the remaining parts of that underground structures.


In the end of the day we had a lovely seafood dinner at the Dan & Louis Oyster Bar. No oysters though. The restaurant had a nice outside patio on a small closed up street. There were couple of other places to eat and the Voodoo Doughnuts at the end. We skipped their insanity and long line.

Wednesday, Sept 5th, 2012

Since we stayed in a Motel a bit further East from Portland it gave us some head start. Plus removed the pain of dealing with downtown traffic in the morning. After standard breakfast we just started driving East along the gorgeous Columbia River gorge. We took the old scenic route, which was a lot more fun than the industrial I-84, till the Vista House. Unfortunately the road was undergoing some needed repairs so we had to go back in the interstate to go further. However, the Vista House had all the necessary maps for the area, especially the waterfalls. The building housed a small museum describing the history of the development of the highway and how the local businessman (there was one, if I remember right) was promoting travel in the area.

There were lots of places to hike in the Gorge. Lots of waterfalls. Of course, the main attraction was the Multnomah Falls, but I wanted to leave it for the end. It is much easier, mentally, to see the main attraction then. So we started from the West side – small but still lovely Wahkeena falls. The plan was to do a loop, perhaps reaching that Devil’s Rest viewpoint, and come back through Multnomah Falls. After all I wanted to do some movement instead of sitting in the car all day.

The hike was great – the views were spectacular, temperature fine, not may people, green forest. We hiked up Wahkeena Falls, Fairy Falls, up Wahkeena spring, which had tasty water, and headed to that Devil’s Rest viewpoint for lunch. There was not a whole lot of viewpoint there. In fact, it was probably some local point on the terrain which was a bit higher than the others. In any case, the hills were covered with such thick lush forest that it didn’t matter. So we admired one view of some mountain and headed back.


Multnomah Falls

The way back was a lot more crowded. It was already working day; however, I guess people were taking an extended weekend. By the time we reached the main Multnomah Falls viewing area the crowds were in. I can only imagine how busy it gets there on a weekend. (It would also be interesting to see this place in winter season). So we did all the touristy things – admired the falls, the picturesque bridge, strolled through the visitor’s center. It was a good end of a good hike.

Columbia River is a vital industrial path. There is a major highway and railroad going along it West to East. When we were there the freight trains were going almost one after another. Unfortunately salmon and sturgeon also like to use Columbia and it tributaries. However, after all the dams, ships, habitat destruction, and overfishing there isn’t much left of that fish. To make up for it, somewhat, the government built these fish hatcheries to basically do the artificial insemination of salmon. also training it and carry down to the ocean. We visited the one – Bonneville Hatchery – close to Multnomah Falls. It was interesting. I always like to see how industrial sites work. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a tour of, say, a nuclear power plant (well, not with 9/11 craze going on). So the hatchery, located on a side of the Bonneville Dam, attempts to replenish the salmon, trout, and sturgeon populations. It had a couple of pools with some tasty looking fish. There was also a pool with an enormous sturgeon. He had a first name that I forgot. He is used to open Oregon state fairs. There were also fish ladders that I really wanted to see, but we couldn’t find them. The dam itself sadly was already closed for visitation. They had one construction that provides some sort of path for salmon to get up river (they just go, no matter what, you can’t just tell them to stop or take a detour) and some salmon just kept trying to go through the concrete installation. Man, that fish is strong.

In the end we drove till Hood River and turned South on the way to Crater Lake. It was getting late. The area right south of Columbia river was mostly agricultural. There were probably many fruit stands there, but they were out due to the late time. We needed a place to stay, a campground. I didn’t want to try my luck again or look for a place in a dark so I picked the first one available. The first available was the Toll Bridge County Park. Nice rather large local park with day use area and a campground. It had lots of room, amenities, and a river nearby; no hot showers though. The host tried to sell us a ton of firewood. I would have bought it, but it was just too much. However, I was able to scrape around enough to for a small campfire.

Thursday, Sept 6th, 2012

Drive to Crater Lake stopping on the way in a couple of interesting places. I was hoping to get some fresh fruit in some of the maybe existing fruit stands, but the farmland quickly changed into a national forest around Mt Hood. This mountain, though just a bit more than 11 thousand feet, was visible from everywhere. It was almost like a king – residing above the surrounding forests. The drive was fun. It was early morning, relatively cool, deserter roads (there was another tourist that also stopped to take this shot).

The road then went through the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. I really can’t say that something significant registered in my mind about this section. We did stop at the Warm Springs Native American museum. It was rather deserted. A lot more deserted than the last Native American related place we stopped at (Trees of Mystery). However, it was also a lot less commercially oriented. Still, these Native American museums, though informative, usually depress me. Perhaps I just don’t understand their culture. It is also sad to see how it was all brutally destroyed. After this stop we proceeded further South.


Ferruginous Hawk

A bit South of Bend, OR I saw a sign for the High Desert museum. We didn’t really plan to stop there, but it would still be an interesting place to visit. Plus there was still time in the day, or so I thought. The museum was a bit deserted. Not because it was about desert, but perhaps due to it being middle of the week. The museum was not exactly a museum in the pure form – more like a park with some historical and nature exhibits. The Oregonian high desert is the Eastern part of Oregon behind Cascade mountain range (well, it can be all understood from Wikipedia). It isn’t exactly a desert, more like a steppe. So, back to the museum. It had an interesting exhibit about the history of this place (mostly how it was used and abused). We had a great personal tour by one of the volunteers. Interesting fact about beaver trappers. The purpose of the whole beaver killing busyness was to get their hair, not the whole fur with skin, that was later used to make waterproof bowler hats (with a significant amount of mercury). Once the hats became not in vogue the killing stopped.

There were two large cages (not exactly cages really, more like enclosures) – one with lynx and one with bob cat. They were both rescued. Some people tried to have them as pets and then just dump them into the wild when that didn’t work out. There was an exhibit with small creatures, a larger birds of prey center, a forest exhibit with mostly just a large working model of a lumber mill, and a river otter exhibit. The river otter was also a rescue. He was old and lazy (or tired) and was just sleeping in this cave. The birds of prey had a couple of different owls, a hawk, and a pair of bald eagles (the female was from Alaska). There was an interesting presentation about birds of prey with a beautiful Ferruginous Hawk as a model. The bird was actually 37 years old. She was just sitting there on the wrist of her handler. The handler lady said that the hawk ate and wasn’t interested in the people around.


The next stop for the day was Newberry National Volcanic Monument. It had a very interesting attraction called Lava River Cave. Actually, our main point was to see it. Unfortunately, I completely missed that it was closing at 5PM with last group allowed to go at around 4:30PM. So, by the time we got to it it was too late – both the visitor center and the cave were closed. Well, the lava area around the butte was still open so we did a short hike on the path with lots of information displays. The butte was the same as the Cinder Cone in Lassen. However, due to the fact that the eruption occurred here earlier there was a lot more plants already growing on the old lava. I also learned a new word – lavacicle – geological formations, like icicles, forming in the lava tubes.

Drive to Crater Lake was uneventful. It was all pine high desert forest mostly. However, the route 138 going to the North entrance of the park was just insane. It was straight as a line going West, just up and down. It was fun at the beginning, but quickly became tedious and annoying. The fact that we were going into the setting sun didn’t help things. However, I was happy that we made it to the park before dark. We managed to get a camping spot, buy some food (and beer. Rita bought a can of Coors thinking that it was Mt Hood on the can, actually it is Wilson Peak) and wood for a small fire, even listened to a lecture that the park was surprisingly still conducting.

Friday, Sept 7th, 2012

Get up, eat the last camping breakfast and go. The first order of busyness was to get the tickets for the Treasure Island boat. But before that I had to move the camp to a different spot. In the dark the day before I just picked the first reasonable empty campground. However, it turned out to be of a wrong color. It was a bit larger for RVs or something. Since we were planning to leave the gear there I didn’t want to in a wrong place. A woman from the neighboring camp came over and said that they had to do the same thing. It was comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one stupid.

The first tickets for the Treasure Island boat where not available. It was passed the cut-off time. We bought the one in the afternoon. Good thing Xanterra had this whole thing automated – there was a machine in the gift shop that required no operator assistance. In order not to waste the morning I found a lovely little hike to the Garfield Peak. It was relatively early morning. The park was already not crowded, but at that time it was even more deserted.


View of the Crater Lake from the Garfield Peak.

The weather was great – clear sky, not too hot, not too cold. The lake had this deep unspoiled blue color. I suppose that is how Tahoe used to be before all the pollution. Good thing that Crater Lake was so remote and not easily accessible. Really, there was just one difficult path that lead to the water. There were no beaches or anything like that. No resorts or golf courses dumping chemicals into the water. The lake had some fish – trout and unhappy salmon – but it was stocked a while ago to attract more visitors. Otherwise, it didn’t have much large living organisms. I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t really a crater created by some large body from space. It was created by a volcano – Mt Mazama – that collapsed into itself.

After a simple lunch we went down to the boat station. It was tiny, well, compared to the size of the lake. It just had a dock, scuba diving site that was no longer working (it seems that people were bringing non-local organisms with their gear), and a small place from which can be used to diving. The park service was very strict with the tickets. They were counting people who bought tickets, by name, counting people who boarded the boat, who disembarked on the Wizard Island, and who boarded on the island. The weather was good at the time. But I suppose one can really get into trouble if he got left on the island. The  park ranger on the boat, who also was our guide, said that there were people who did swim across the lake to Wizard Island. But they were professionals training for some competitions.

The main tour boats were relatively large. At least larger than can be transported on that path leading down to the lake. They got them to the water by helicopter. Good thing this lake doesn’t freeze in winter. Though the park service stores those large boats in the shacks on the Wizard Island.


The trip to the Wizard Island was uneventful. The boat resident park ranger was trying to explain some geological features of the crater. There was one rock line formation created by some crack in the magma chamber. I was for some reason more interested in the inner workings of the lake, how long it took to fill up, for example, where the water goes, what lives in the lake, etc. The ranger wasn’t very knowledgeable about it, or she didn’t want me to ask all the questions.

The Wizard Island itself was quite limited in terms of the infrastructure. There were two docks, some sort of 2 level toiled, and the storage for the boats. There were two trails, but, at least at the beginning, they were quite tricky to walk – there was just a pile of boulders. We headed to shore to finish lunch. There were people going there trying to catch some of that introduced fish. After lunch I headed up the ash cone, which was essentially the island itself. The hike up was easy and the view was spectacular. I stayed at the top for a while enjoying it, trying to take some photos that could remotely do it justice. Then headed down. I didn’t want to miss the boat. Not that they would live me there with all that strict accounting, but I also wanted to take a dive into the lake. Well, the water was fine – warm and very clear. On the way back the new ranger was trying to crack silly jokes. However, he did let us take the lake water in the middle, away from the swimming area with its additions. The route the boat takes is really circular, so eventually you get to see all the lake even with the stop at the Island.

We didn’t really have much food for the dinner. We had wood so I bought a couple of potatoes to bake in the fire, some sort of meat, and beer. Right, good healthy dinner. The potato baking didn’t work that well – I probably forgot how to do or we were too impatient. So as a result there were more potato charcoal than actual potatoes. We listened to another presentation about the animal research conducted in the park and went off-line.

Saturday, Sept 8th, 2012

Driving, driving back. After a simple breakfast we said good buy to the deserted Crater Lake and headed South. In reality we took the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway. We just didn’t go to the Lava Beds National Monument. The drive at the beginning was great – early morning and country roads. Then it became just suburban highway. It also became extremely hot. We just stopped at Redding for lunch and made back in good time.

All photos are here.

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