Brake for Nature

Central Oregon – Explorations from Big Pines RV Park

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!

Mountain lion tracks on the trail from Big Pines RV Park in Crescent, Oregon

A close-up of the mountain lion track on the trail from Big Pines RV Park

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.

Outside the Mohawk Restaurant in Crescent, Oregon

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.

Trail and overlooks at the top of Salt Creek Falls in Oregon

Salt Creek Falls from the lower trail

Christina on the lower trail in front of Salt Creek Falls in Oregon

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!

A view of Waldo Lake through the trees covered in lichens

Christina admiring the lichens on the trunk of a fir tree at Waldo Lake

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.

From the edge of Blow Lake on Six Lakes Trail

Blow Lake

Panoramic of Doris Lake on Six Lakes Trail in the Deschutes National Forest

Doris Lake

Michael taking a nap on a log by Doris Lake

Napping by Doris Lake

View of Doris Lake from the log where Michael napped

Michael’s View of Doris Lake

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.

View of a pond from Big Obsidian Flow in Newberry National Volcanic Monument

Big Obsidian Flow

Small pine tree growing on top of a rock riddled with obsidian

Big Obsidian Flow

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.

View from the dock at East Lake

East Lake

View from the bottom of Paulina Falls

Paulina Falls

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.

Wickiup Reservoir - dry lakebed i

Wickiup Reservoir

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.

View of the world's largest Ponderosa Pine in La Pine State Park

World’s Largest Ponderosa Pine – La Pine State Park

Panoramic of the Deschutes River viewed from La Pine State Park overlook

Deschutes River in La Pine State Park

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.

A large trailer of hay bales had flipped and was left behind on the side of the road

The “Oregon Outback”

View of Fort Rock with blooming rabbitbrush in the foreground

Fort Rock

View from the open side of Fort Rock with desert scrub in the foreground

View from the trail inside the tuff ring of Fort Rock State Natural Area

On the Trail Inside Fort Rock

Hera buckmoths - 2 moths that are white with black designs on their wings

Hera buckmoths in Fort Rock State Natural Area

View of a rock "monument" from the trail inside the tuff ring of Fort Rock

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.

View of a barn, meadow, and Winter Ridge from Summer Lake Wildlife Area

Pond at Summer Lake Wildlife Area

A Wilson's snipe on the edge of a marsh at Summer Lake Wildlife Area

Wilson’s Snipe

Northern Harrier flying at Summer Lake Wildlife Area

Northern Harrier

Several white-faced ibis in a pond, including one just landing, at Summer Lake Wildlife Area

White-faced Ibis

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 (


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