Our Route to Colorado?
We decided to go through central Oregon and over the Cascade Mountains to Idaho. We had been in northern, southern and western parts of Oregon, but never to the east.
This way we could take in all the mountains, forests, rivers and towns along Hwy 20 and beyond. The other name for this drive? Over the Rivers and Through the Woods Scenic Byway, seriously. That’s what we got!
We wound our way south from Dallas and headed towards eastern Oregon at Albany. The first hour of the drive went through the rich farmland of the Willamette Valley.
Then the road wound along streams and through thick forests as it climbed slowly up the mountains. We entered dense stands of conifers as we climbed and the scenery was breathtaking, to say the least. Oregon is truly a beautiful place!
Hackleman Old Growth Forest
We stopped at Hackleman Old Growth Forest since it looked like something we shouldn’t miss. We had to put our jackets on, yes, even in the middle of July. The forest was quite dark since almost no sunlight could get through the heavily wooded area. It was truly spectacular!
Douglas fir, western red cedar, and mountain hemlock trees towered high into the sky. The oldest trees in the forest have been growing for over 500 years.
Huge, bright green ferns and moss everywhere! It was quite impressive. It’s what a forest looks like if you leave it alone.
The unexpectedly cold air began to attack my ears after ten minutes, so we needed to head back to the car as the pain quickly became unbearable. Really? In July? Yes! We counted twenty cold toes back inside the car.
On and On We Go
On we drove up the western slope of the mountains; more spectacular views, the Hoodoo ski area and finally into Sisters just past the summit. We were a few hours into the drive by now and joined Hwy 126 over on the eastern side of the Cascades.
I had researched a bunch of possible campsites along our chosen route. At mid-day, we decided to see the closest one, White Rock Campground in Ochoco National Forest. We took the exit to a gravel Forest Service Road and began our ascent, gaining altitude at a good clip.
However, the dirt road was bumpy, and the going was slow. Now, we had a sense of what National Forest Service Roads could be – five mph tops.
Up We Go
We drove quite a bit and continually up! We got to the second turn off at a tiny wooden sign. That’s when the road turned into – well, a series of holes to hopscotch across. Right then I lost it; sure the car would fall apart.
If you were following behind us, you would imagine we had started drinking early that day. Back-and-forth around deep holes or rocks jutting up from the ground. Here’s the drill: every three feet, flip the wheel all the way to the right, then the left, then the right, back to the left, I scream – repeat.
After 1000 feet or so of that we arrived at the campground. Both of us and the Camry were glad to get there.
It Was Spectacular!
The campsite was in a small clearing on the top of a mountain (4500 ft.) with picnic tables, and fire pits, plus a vault toilet. All this hidden deep in a dense Ponderosa Pine Forest! “Let’s sleep here.” That was an easy call, just our kind of place.
We ate lunch and marveled at the beauty of the spot. I sat at the table looking at maps, and Jim explored a bit. After 15 minutes or so I yelled out “We need to leave now.” “Why?” “I don’t know, but we need to leave.” Jim reluctantly agreed but wondered what the problem was. We started back on the ridiculous ‘road,’ which took about five minutes and felt like 20.
If We Had Stayed
The second we turned off the crazy dirt road, the clouds closed in, and it started to pour, truly pour. That explained my sudden intuition to leave. We had noticed clouds to the southwest, coming over the mountains, moving east. Not a drop of rain in three weeks and it pours on our picnic!
The ‘road’ would have been completely impassable after an hour of rain, never mind if we had stayed overnight! We had a Toyota Camry for God’s sake. We would have gotten stuck, and who in the world would ever know to rescue us – cell service, are you kidding? It was the most remote spot we had ever been: no one around and likely to stay that way.
It’s Raining; It’s Pouring
If you want solitude and a grand mountaintop, this is the spot. Our photos do not do it justice; it is a beautiful, peaceful mountain place. Not difficult to find, just better in a four-wheel drive without rain. It’s about 30 minutes from the highway, and hopefully, one day we will camp there. We would love to hike the trail heading further up the mountains from the camp.
We finally got down the mountain in one piece and found pavement again. Since it continued to rain, we just kept driving east and tried to outrun it (what did we know, we’re from Southern California). Well, it didn’t work; it rained and rained and rained, and we kept driving.
One by one we passed the turn offs for the other campgrounds we had noted as possibilities. We also drove by a huge area filled with tents and trucks; it was like a city. We realized it was for the hundreds of firefighters battling fires all over Oregon.
Just to be clear, even though it was raining the whole day, we did take in beautiful sights along the way. Luscious green fields, large red barns, and tiny towns.
An Adventure on the Road
Some things you see on the road are unique. We came into some traffic at one point, quite a line of cars behind an RV: that’s common enough. We thought we noticed sparks flying on the road: that’s not common, or comforting. They were far ahead of us so we couldn’t be sure: besides it was raining. Sparks? In the rain! The road went up and down, over hills and around curves, so we didn’t have a clear view.
Then we saw a few cars pulling off the road, others barreling into the passing lane, a riskier move than the conditions warranted. One more truck pulled off, and we were right behind the fire-breathing dragon! It was a little trailer, not an RV, riding very low in the back, tilted towards the left, sparks flying off the rim – flat tire.
It was surprising to see: a constant spray of sparks flying up all over the road, bouncing around and disappearing just in front of our car. When the road dipped, which it did a lot, the sparks turned Disney like and covered the road.
It was terrifying when we noticed a propane tank attached to the rear bumper. Sparks and propane – not a good match! It’s amazing how captivating impending disaster can be. How could this possibly end without getting in the news?
We tried all the ways available to catch the driver’s attention, but none worked. We pulled back some distance, prayed the trailer didn’t flip over into oncoming traffic, or on top of us, and waited for a chance to take the next step, whatever that might be.
It seemed like an eternity, but soon we came to a small town, and the driver pulled off into a gas station. It’s hard to imagine, but the driver appeared surprised when he finally walked to the rear of the trailer and looked at the flat tire. Completely oblivious – head scratching and all. How in the world could he not have noticed this?
Jim figured it was a 9 or 10 on the beer scale. That’s how many beers a driver would have to drink to miss those sparks and all the dragging and swaying back and forth. Couldn’t he feel that inside his truck?
Thankfully, they were where they needed to be, off the road, and in good hands at the station. We drove off, scratching our heads. Another day not in the news – that’s a good thing!
Our Home for the Night
Later in the afternoon, we realized we had to find a place to camp, rain or no rain. We were getting tired and frustrated, and we had crossed almost the whole state! We finally found a campground off Highway 7, in Wallowa-Whitman National Forest near Baker City.
Miller’s Lane Campground was about a mile off the highway on the south shore of Phillips Lake. It was about 200 feet away from the lovely lake, tall trees everywhere, a meadow and lots of ducks honking. Across the way was another campground, and there were a lot of motor homes and campers there. We liked ours better! You might ask why.
It was empty; we had it all to ourselves. Each site had a grill, fire pit and picnic table, all the modern conveniences. The vault toilets weren’t exactly modern but were fine. We paid the fee (2.50) to reserve the site, lest the hoards descend, and drove 25 miles to the nearest town to buy another tarp and a rope to protect our tent from the rain.
Our Wet Evening
We found a hardware store, bought what we wanted and returned to the campsite. Our tent had a water-resistant rating, but we did not want it to get wet.
If that happened, we would have to shove it, soaking wet, into the car in the morning, yuck! If it rained all night, the second tarp would be wet, but our tent would be dry. We got pretty wet setting it up, but now our tent would stay dry unless the wind kicked up and blew the tarp away.
Next was dinner prep and then off to sleep listening to the rain drip-dropping all night long. The rain had chased us nearly all day, but not quite out of Oregon. Day one done! Tomorrow maybe some sun!
What’s Next – Into Idaho and beyond
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