After a couple of days stressing over our trailer problems, we finally got to have some fun! We stayed for a little over a week at Big Pines RV Park in Crescent, Oregon and explored the Cascade Lakes region. Big Pines was a clean and pleasant RV park with a trail that led from the park through the surrounding pine forest out to Oregon State Forest land. On days when we took a break from driving, we enjoyed taking a stroll on this trail, examining the sandy soil for tracks. We found cottontail, squirrel, black-tailed deer, coyote, chipmunk, and quail tracks, and then one day, not far from camp, we found mountain lion tracks crossing the trail!
Mid-August in Crescent, Oregon was very dry, and while it regularly reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, the temperature dropped to the low 40’s at night. We were wearing shorts during the day and huddling under the down at night! Downtown Crescent is only a few blocks long, but there is a unique restaurant there called the Mohawk Restaurant that has a huge taxidermy collection, including the largest collection of fully developed but unborn fawns, sadly collected from the uteruses of deer killed on roadways. The collection even included a two-headed calf, a wolverine, and an anteater among many, many more. We stopped here once for dinner and again for a breakfast to fuel up before heading out to Oregon’s “outback” for the day.
We traveled to some special places in central Oregon from our home base at Big Pines RV Park. We drove out Highway 58 to Salt Creek Falls, the second highest falls in Oregon. The falls are located in the Deschutes National Forest, and there is an easy trail through the forest almost to the bottom of the falls as well as a trail along Salt Creek at the top of the falls. This was our first peek into the magical evergreen forests of central Oregon, and we fell in love.
After Salt Creek Falls, we drove up to Waldo Lake, one of the purest lakes in the world. Similar to Crater Lake, it is isolated with no permanent inlets, so it lacks the nutrients necessary to support plant life, making it unusually clear and pure. Waldo Lake is surrounded by a “bearded” forest. Lichens grow from nearly all of the tree trunks, making the trees appear bearded. There is a campground by the lake, with campsites dispersed among the forest, a perfect spot for a summer camping trip, but be prepared for mosquitoes!
The next day, we took a drive up Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway and hiked Six Lakes Trail to Blow Lake and Doris Lake. After hiking along a dusty trail through the coniferous forest, we could see the blue water of little Blow Lake through the trees off to our right. We stopped and sat alone by this quiet gem in the woods and ate our lunch. We hiked on to Doris Lake, a much bigger lake, but with the same clear waters of many of the Cascade Lakes and a backdrop of volcanic rock outcrops and dense stands of conifers. We meditated and napped by the lake with the sounds of the water lapping against the banks. It was easy to be fully present for this experience, and I didn’t want to leave. I’ve had trouble with my memory in the last few years, but this experience was unforgettable. I can easily return to Doris Lake in my mind.
A couple of days later, we drove north to Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Like Crater Lake, Paulina Lake and East Lake in this national monument are lakes that formed in volcanic craters. We took a walk along the edge of Paulina Lake, birding among the willows and then went on to hike up Big Obsidian Flow, a mountain of all types of volcanic rock, including obsidian. Local tribes used to frequent this spot to collect the obsidian to make arrowheads and scrapers. Obsidian actually makes a cleaner cut than a steel blade, and during that time, obsidian was an important resource for these tribes for hunting and for trading.
We drove around East Lake in the late afternoon and finished the day at Paulina Falls where Paulina Creek flows west from Paulina Lake. Along the creek, we spotted an American dipper, always a sweet find as they are so much fun to watch, dipping from rocks into the rapids, catching aquatic insects.
The next day was a birding day! We checked out the local hotspots on E-Bird, the database maintained by Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology where anyone can report bird sightings around the world. The hottest hotspot of the area was Wickiup Reservoir. After several miles of a wash-board gravel road, we arrived at the earthen dam of the reservoir, the location of the pin on the map in E-Bird. We hesitantly parked and climbed up and over the dam to find a dry, weedy field with patches of willow instead of water! This was it! We had a decent morning of birding, watching lots of western tanagers and listening to yellow warblers sing. We even saw a golden eagle fly over.
At lunchtime, we drove over to La Pine State Park, ate lunch, and walked down to see the world’s largest ponderosa pine. There we added more birds to our list for the day, including Townsend’s solitaire, white-headed woodpecker, and western wood pewee. This park is a great access point for the Deschutes River, and there are beautiful views of the river here. We enjoyed watching bats flying around foraging over the river.
After a Sunday laundry day, we ventured into the “Oregon Outback” to an entirely different ecosystem of dry shrublands. We visited Fort Rock State Natural Area. Fort Rock is a tuff ring, the remnants of a former volcano that erupted under an Ice Age lake. When this area was under water, the tuff ring provided cave dwellings for early American Indians, who traveled by canoe to and from the rock, and, as the lake receded, hunted in the marshlands by the lake. Today, the ancient lakebed is completely dry in this area and supports desert scrub habitat. We walked around the inside of Fort Rock and were reminded of our weekend trips to the deserts of the Southwest from our former home in Ventura. We saw California quail, rock wren, canyon wren, sage thrasher, green-tailed towhee, Brewer’s sparrow, and black-tailed jackrabbit.
We headed further south on Highway 31 to Summer Lake Wildlife Area and took the driving tour of meadows and ponded areas in this ancient lakebed below Winter Ridge. This was an impressive wildlife viewing area managed by the State of Oregon. We spotted it in our Oregon Road and Recreation Atlas (Benchmark Maps) and took a chance on it. We ended up spending the rest of the daylight hours here. Highlights include sandhill cranes, sora, white-faced ibis, northern harrier, and a Wilson’s snipe standing on the edge of the marsh right out in the open.
Even after journeying to part of the “Oregon Outback,” we still had not left the western half of the state! Vast amounts of public land remain in Oregon to be explored. We still have something to look forward to for our future travels to the Northwest!
P.S. – For even more photos of our travels, check out our Instagram page (www.instagram.com/brakefornature).