Gateway to the Cascades ~ Sisters, OR

You know you’re in for a special treat when the view that greets you as you approach town is an impressive skyline of snow-capped peaks.   Welcome to Sisters, where the town’s namesakes, North, South, and Middle Sister Peaks, all towering over 10,000 feet, grace the horizon, literally rising out of her backyard.   Complimenting this imposing panorama are Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington, Broken Top, and Three-Fingered Jack, quite a sight to behold.

As Oregon’s highways better developed, Sisters became known as the Gateway to the Cascades. She has retained her Old West flair while having a healthy tourist side, sporting specialty shops, antique stores, galleries, coffee shops, and restaurants.  Our favorite store was Jeffrey Murray Fine Art Photography. His landscape photography drew us in and we learned after visiting with Jeffrey that many of the photos in his gallery were taken during his 5-year sojourn as a full-time RVer. This talented young artist now calls Bend home. You can check out his artistry here.

Since we began our summer travels on May 1st, I have marveled at the places we have been able to squeeze our little Fox into, roads we have traveled, and stops we have made that we would not have attempted with our 5th-wheel. But there are places that even a truck camper should not venture, as we learned during our time in Sisters.

We planned to hike Black Butte and our home was coming with us so decent forest service roads to the trailhead were a must. After only one mile of a 5-mile drive, having been sufficiently bounced around by potholes and constant washboard surface, we reluctantly turned around and moved to Plan B, which became the 82-mile loop drive from Sisters, the McKenzie-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway.  It sounded wonderful, and it was, with a few little twists and turns. ;)

The initial phase of our drive took us to two beautiful “classic” Oregon Cascade waterfalls, via an easy 2.5-mile hike. The McKenzie River plunges over Sahalie Falls in an angry torrent, twists down a boulder-strewn canyon before once again throwing herself off the Koosah Falls cliff. Both falls are breathtaking and have been used in scenes for several movies.

We continued east onto Highway 242 and soon saw signs strongly advising against continuing over McKenzie Pass in vehicles longer than 35 feet.  Terry hesitated, but being well within the limit we chose to carry on, and this is where things got rather interesting.

The road began to narrow, with several sharp turns, but before too long we arrived at our next stop, Proxy Falls. An easy 1.25-mile hike took us to the base of one of the most photographed spots in Oregon. This spectacular waterfall is nestled in a deep, heavily shadowed forest that seemed to evoke ancient myth. Many photos later we continued our slow crawl up the mountain.

The road leading up to McKenzie Pass continued to narrow, with no shoulders and hairpin turns so tight the road seemed to nearly fold back on itself in many places. Vertical rock formations edging the road added to the thrill.  At one point a cyclist came flying down from the opposite direction, barely missing our bumper.  If that wasn’t exciting enough (and it was), moments later a skateboarder, sans helmet, propelled himself down and around a turn, with a car right on his backside. Did I mention there are few guard rails on this road?

You can imagine our relief when we saw the sign for the pass, our final planned stop. On this windswept site sits Dee Wright Observatory, which offers a sweeping panorama of the Cascades and the lava flows that dominate the pass.

The remaining drive back to Sisters was uneventful. Needless to say, our second hiking choice along Highway 242, Black Crater, was crossed off the list as well. Scenic or not, we would not be venturing up that road again.

When we settled into our campsite, Terry pulled out his Mountain Directory book to read their interpretation of McKenzie Pass.  “The “highway” on the west side of this pass is so narrow that in many places a regular-sized vehicle, such as a pickup or van, will be over the center line….A small motorhome might make it over this pass, but there is risk of damage”. This stretch of highway was aptly named Deadhorse Grade.

The hike we finally chose was more sedate than our drive, but no less thrilling, the Tam McArthur Rim trail. This 5-5-mile out-and-back hike, with 2400’ elevation gain, provided lovely views of Three Creek Lake and ended at the base of Broken Top Mountain. The vistas at the top were magnificent.

Our Sisters’ visit, like many, seemed far too short.  We would love to stop back in the fall sometime for the nationally renowned Folk Festival. We hear it is an event not to be missed.

Biking, Brews, Waterfalls and More ~ Bend, OR

I am woefully behind on blog posts and catching up with my blogger friends.  Staying in National Parks often leaves one without cell and internet service but provides such grand vistas and fabulous hikes that I cannot complain.  I will attempt to catch up as time permits.

Leaving Ashland we pointed our rig north and turned our attention to our next destination – Bend.  We were anxious to see this Oregon city but first, a few sights along Hwy 62 were begging to be seen.

Mill Creek Scenic Waterfalls

An easy one mile hike will reward you with views across the river of two lovely waterfalls, Mill Creek Falls cascading 173’ into the Rogue River and multi-stepped Barr Creek Falls, with an impressive 242′ drop.

Avenue of the Boulders

Built from the power of volcanic eruptions and the powerful force of water, the Rogue River drops some 75 feet and makes for a truly spectacular sight. These boulders were thrown all the way from Mt. Mazama when Crater Lake was formed, more than 20 miles away.

Natural Bridge Falls

This is one of nature’s many wonders, where the wild Rogue River (aptly named) disappears into an ancient lava tube and reappears 200’ downstream. You can stand above the inlet and watch this mighty river vanish, taking 30 seconds to travel 200’ to the outlet, where it forcefully bursts through the lava tube.

Our little Fox snuggled into a site among the tall pines

Our little Fox snuggled into a site among the tall pines

Camping was not to be found near Bend when we arrived as this was the second weekend in June and the Sisters Rodeo was in full-swing. Thankfully LaPine State Park, 20 miles away, had sites available. The South Loop was the place to stay, most recently renovated, and the Fall River Falls 5-mile trail made for a nice hike on a cool morning.

Bend loves bikes and everyone who rides one so we traded in our hiking boots for two wheels and took to the streets.  Downtown offers unique shopping, wonderful coffee shops, and lots of restaurants. Drake Park, one of over 70 verdant public parks, is a great place to stop for a picnic lunch when you have pedaled your way to an appetite. And if the retail bug strikes, a spin out to the Old Mills District along the Deschutes River will provide ample shops where your hard-earned money can be spent. Once home to two large lumber mills, it now houses lots of shops and restaurants, including REI.  Bike the trail there or take to the river and rent a paddleboard or raft for an afternoon of fun.

Another area to bike is the Deschutes River Trail near Sunriver to beautiful Benham Falls, as you wind along open meadows, lava rock formations, and thick-scented forests of pine.

Have you worked up a thirst yet?  Bend has been dubbed the microbrew capital of the West so you should have no problem finding a way to quench those flames.  Bend has so many breweries that some clever marketing master created the Bend Ale Trail, where you can spend your days traveling from one brewery to the next, getting your ticket punched.  We ran into three fellows who had already frequented 6 pubs and were not finished with their day.  None of them appeared to be the designated driver…yikes!

Here are the three brew pubs we sampled in as many days ;):

1)  10 Barrel Brewing Company came recommended by our barista/tour guide at Bluebird Coffee Shop. Twin brothers segued into the craft beer world after a successful downtown Bend restaurant. They may have another success on their hands. We liked the Sinistor Black Ale.


2)  Fairly new to Bend, 3-year old Crux Fermentation Project is what you get when you marry a brew master with a marketing guru. This small-batch brewery has an industrial feel and packs a punch with 15 taps. The winner for us was Nitro Stout.


3)  And for a different twist on breweries, try Rat Hole Brew Pub, an unusual name for this inviting little pub. Les, co-owner with his sister, considers this a “nano-brewery”, very small compared to the others. The brewery itself is housed in his barn, “nothing more than a rat hole”, his sister declared, and the name stuck!  Surprising to us, we liked the Lemon Wheat and Rotation Red.

Visiting Bend was not complete without a visit to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, where a 9-mile lava flow can be seen. Approximately 7,000 years ago Lava Butte erupted, creating this surreal landscape. Lava Butte is just one of over 400 cinder cones found at Newberry.

Newberry Volcano, a shield volcano, is one of the largest volcanos in the lower 40 states. It has created massive lava flows covering 1200 square miles in its 400,000-year history. In the 1960’s astronauts came to train on the Newberry lava for their mission to the moon.

There is so much more to see in this area than our time allowed, nothing that a return visit won’t cure.  We learned that Bend has also been named “one of America’s most romantic cities”.  Perhaps love will be in the air for our next visit. ;)

Next Up: Sisters, a town with an Old West flair

A Welcoming Vibe ~ Ashland, OR

Since we visited the Oregon coast three years ago we have dreamt of returning to explore more of what has become one of our favorite states. Ashland has long been a city on our must-see list, with several friends agreeing that it was a special place. Knowing that our RV buddies Laurel and Eric (Raven and Chickadee) were there when we arrived made it that much sweeter.

Emigrant Lake

Emigrant Lake

Once we settled into our site at Emigrant Lake Recreation Area, my first request was a visit to urgent care to ensure that Terry’s shortness of breath and near constant pain was nothing more than bruised ribs from an earlier fall. Thankfully that was the diagnosis so now we could move on to having some fun, albeit at a slower pace for a while. A lovely dinner that evening at Laurel and Eric’s home set the tone for a very relaxing week.

Although unexpected circumstances like bruised ribs and unseasonably hot weather that settled in later in the week changed our plans, as in no hiking or biking for several days, slowing things down a bit allowed us to become the typical tourists and enjoy some quality time with friends.

Laurel and Eric were gracious hosts to their home city, taking us on a lovely hike through Lithia Park, a beautiful city park that I would love to revisit in the fall when the maple trees are at their peak colors. Laurel also shared some of her longtime girlfriends with me, inviting me to a day of arts and crafts where I took away some colorful artwork to brighten up our little Fox.

Lovely Lithia Park

Lovely Lithia Park

First Friday found Terry and I wandering the downtown streets to explore interesting galleries, talk to the artists, and listen to the joyful music of Zimbabwe performed by Sonic Kaleidoscope…great fun! We enjoyed dinner and drinks at the Standing Stone Brewery, where Steel Cut Stout won for favorite brew.

We returned to downtown Ashland several more times, visiting the Saturday farmers’ market, the artisans’ market, and the Ashland Co-op. From the quaint coffee shops we visited in the Historic Railroad District, to the farmers’ market, the artisans’ market, and the wonderful Ashland Co-op, the welcoming nature of the locals confirmed our belief that there was something special about this lovely city. And the folks at Mix make some darn fine gelato. I loved the chocolate truffle and Terry the salted caramel but we both agreed that mixing the two was heaven in a cup!

Ashland may be best known for its Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which runs nine months of the year. We hoped for last minute tickets for the show Pericles, which we were told was a must-see, but unfortunately there were none to be had. What we enjoyed instead was a free performance at the Green Show, the last performance of the season by Sonic Kaleidoscope. It was a joy to watch these talented grade school and high school kids playing the marimba for their final performance of the season. The only downside was the temperature was hovering around 100°. One last stop to sample a flight at Caldera Brewery seemed to be what was needed to slake our thirst on a hot Ashland day. The Pilot Rock Porter seemed to win the taste-test for both of us.

The best part of our week, the gift that fed both body and soul, was enjoying a lovely dinner our last night in Ashland with Laurel and Eric, at friends Ted and Katherine’s home. We had met Ted and Kath at Anza Borrego this past winter and they are delightful.

Their fabulous home has breathtakingly expansive views, beautiful gardens, a lovely little vineyard, and some of the most spectacular sunset views right off the deck. Their generosity was so heartwarming, making our time in Ashland special indeed.

A Turbulent Past ~ Lava Beds National Monument

Our last stop in California, Lava Beds National Monument, lies at the remote northern end of the massive Medicine Lake Volcano. During the past half-million years this shield volcano has erupted many times, spewing gas and lava, creating an otherworldly landscape. It is still considered tectonically active, having last erupted ~ 950 years ago. Today you can explore the resulting geologic features – lava tubes, spatter cones, and surface lava flows. The caves were created by lava flowing 10,500 to 65,000 years ago.

Lava Bed’s historic turbulent past mimics its geologic turmoil. Early Euro-American settlers uprooted the peaceful Modoc tribe who lived on this land, forcing their move to the Klamath Indian Reservation, yet another sad time in the history of our nation. Modoc leader Kientpoos, better known as Caption Jack, came back to the reservation with a band of 150 men, women, and children, determined to take back their sacred homeland.   The resulting tension between the Modocs and the settlers brought about the Modoc War of 1872-1873.

The natural fortress where the Modocs retreated, known as Captain Jack’s Stronghold, remains today, a tribute to the fortitude of 60 warriors who held off a much larger army force for five months.

There are over 500 lava tube caves in Lava Beds National Monument, the highest concentration in the U.S. These tubes formed when the outer edges of lava flows began to cool, eventually creating a roof, much like surface ice on a flowing river. If multiple flows followed one channel, lava tubes were created atop one another, like stacked pipes. When the ceiling collapsed from its own weight, access was opened to the caves below. Twenty of the 500 lava tube caves are considered developed, with forged paths through them, ready to explore, rated from least challenging to most challenging.

Entrance to Skull Cave, where many animal and human remains have been found

Entrance to Skull Cave, where many animal and human remains have been found

We have been in many caves during our travels, Kartchner and Carlsbad, to name a couple. I have enjoyed them immensely but they had a few items that were missing in the Lava Bed’s caves, namely large-domed chambers, smooth walking surfaces, lighting and a ranger to show me the way.   For someone who is claustrophobic, this was going to be a challenge.

The lava caves are important habitats for 14 different species of insect-eating bats. In the summer female bats raise their pups in maternity colonies and in winter the caves become refuges for hibernating bats. Other critters slithering through the caves, which I tried not to think about when we were inside, are cave crickets, millipedes, and rubber boas, yet another reason for me not to explore the most challenging caves on my hands and knees.

Many of the caves, no matter the temperature above ground, remain at a cool 55°F. Some exhale frosty breaths that stay below freezing, with year-round skating rinks on their floors.

Entrance to Mushpot Cave

Entrance to Mushpot Cave

The Visitor Center recommendation for number of light sources in the caves is three flashlights per person. Perhaps this is more for those phobic-souls who would have a complete meltdown should they have a light malfunction. We carried three total, two that we rented from the Visitor Center and one of our own.

Fleener Chimneys, spatter cones that built up as hot gases threw globs of lava into the air

Fleener Chimneys, spatter cones that built up as hot gases threw globs of lava into the air

Closed-toed shoes, long pants and a hard hat were also suggested. We passed on the purchase of the hard hats and opted for ball caps instead since I didn’t see the need for hard hats in our future. But, if you bang your head on a low-hanging ceiling, as I did, you might begin to think that a hard hat would be a nice prop to have when you have a yearning to belt out ‘YMCA’. ;)

We explored six caves in the least to moderately challenging categories and poked our head into another in the most challenging. Sentinel Cave, 3280′ in length, was the longest 30-minutes of my life and deathly quiet, with only my occasional outbursts of “I don’t know if I can do this” spoken into the black void.

Golden Dome was the most interesting, with beautiful colors reflecting off water droplets that beaded up on a coating of hydrophobic bacteria. This cave can also be a bit disconcerting as you encounter a figure-8 that could keep you walking in circles if you didn’t pay close attention.

So, would I venture into these caves again?  Surprisingly, yes I would, if you didn’t ask me to do it on my hands and knees. ;)  If you like cold, damp, dark places where the only sounds are the occasional dripping water and your own raspy breaths, this might be something you too would enjoy. It it really pretty awesome when you think about how these unusual caves were formed.

White pelicans at Tule Lake

White pelicans at Tule Lake

Of Fire and Ice ~ Lassen Volcanic National Park

Advice from a Volcano: “Stay active; keep your inner fire burning; it’s ok to let off steam; go with the flow; be uplifting; it’s all a matter of time; have a blast!” ~ Ilan Shamir

After living in Yellowstone National Park for two years, I became fascinated with the powerful forces of nature at work below the Earth’s surface, so it was not surprising that I was drawn to the “lava-strewn” landscape of Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Lassen Peak with Manzanita Lake in the foreground

All rocks found in this park originated from volcanoes and all four types of volcanoes can be found here: shield, cinder cone, composite, and plug dome.   The main peak in the park is 10,463’ Lassen Peak, a plug dome volcano, formed when lava is too thick to flow a great distance so rises directly over the vent to form a dome.   She is a beauty and can be seen from many vantage points throughout the park.

May 22, 2015 marked the centennial of the Lassen Peak eruption, a cataclysmic event that blew a cloud of ash almost six miles into the atmosphere. Volcanic ash rained down over 200 miles to the east and boulders weighing as much as 300 tons were carried five miles from the peak. This explosion set the stage for establishing Lassen Volcanic National Park in August 1916.

Seismologists continue to study volcanic activity within the park. Earthscope, a plate boundary observatory station, is part of a network of over 875 stations installed across the western U.S. to study movement of the Earth’s crust.

Lassen Peak viewed from Devastated Area

We stayed at Manzanita Lake in the northwestern part of the park, the only open campground when we arrived on Memorial Day. Lassen is one of the lesser-visited National Parks, possibly because it is a bit “off the beaten path”. With so much beauty and so much to offer, we found ourselves wishing for more time. A return trip is in order, as we felt we had only scratched the surface in 4 days.

Here is what we were able to squeeze into our short visit:

1) Manzanita Lake Trail – a tranquil 2-mile trail that is a must at sunset. Go at various times of the day and you will find something new at each visit.

2) Manzanita Creek Trail – a 7-mile obstacle course of fallen logs across the trail, caused by a severe windstorm earlier in the year. This was a ranger recommendation but the only positive for us was that it could be done from the campground.

Manzanita Creek Trail strewn with downed trees

Manzanita Creek Trail strewn with downed trees

3) Summit Lake Trail – The entire trail is an ~ 11-mile loop, with lots of crystal blue lakes. We did 7.5 miles to Lower Twin Lake, which brought us past four of them. We would have liked to complete the entire loop but Terry had taken a nasty fall a few nights before and did a fine job bruising his ribs. It seems climbing over downed logs on the trail wasn’t helping them much. ;) Needless to say I had to hike on my own for the rest of our stay in Lassen.

Summit Lake

Summit Lake

4) Kings Creek Falls Trail – a 3-mile trail down to a large waterfall. The foot trail was closed due to poor trail conditions so partway into the hike you were diverted to the horse trail, a steep rocky descent down to the falls. This hike had great views of Lassen Peak and the falls were quite lovely.

Kings Creek Falls

Kings Creek Falls

5) Road Trip – We drove the winding 30-mile main park road from north to south…gorgeous!

A few items on our list that will have to wait for another visit:

  •  Lassen Peak Trail – closed due to snow
  • Bumpass Hell Trail – closed due to snow
  • Cinder Cone – a hike to the top of a dormant volcano
  • Devil’s Kitchen – lots of geothermal activity in this area
  • Mills Creek Falls – tallest waterfall in the park
  • 185-mile scenic drive beginning in the town of Chester, meandering through forests, geothermal springs, craggy peaks, and lava fields of Lassen National Forest and Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Lassen Volcanic National Park has a quiet calm to it when you gaze upon its stately pines, jagged peaks still swaddled in deep blankets of snow, and crystal lakes. Yet far below the surface a fire still burns, evidenced by the hissing steam vents, bubbling mudpots and boiling springs dotting the landscape, symbols of nature’s powerful forces and diverse beauty.