Central Oregon’s Best Kept Secrets
Once in awhile when we are traveling, we are gripped in nostalgia for yesteryear… a simpler time that reminds us of our childhood and the sheer adventure of traveling. I experienced that feeling again just this past Memorial Day weekend, when Brad and I saddled up and headed out for Newberry Crater for an anticipated camping trip.
We drove south of Bend, and then headed east up a gentle, long slope to the rim of Newberry Crater. Just as spectacular as its better-known cousin, Crater Lake, Newberry Crater is also the result of a spectacular explosion of a giant volcano that collapsed onto itself, resulting in not just one but two separate lakes divided by a young lava flow only 1,300 years old – making this area the newest volcanic activity area in Oregon.
At 6,400 feet, however, our ambitious camping plans were altered quickly, as we were greeted by 3-6 foot drifts of resolute snow lining the rim drive. A little too chilly for even these adventurous souls! However, the road was still open, and I had never really explored this area before, with the exception of a quick snow shoe trip a few years ago that took us from the snow park up to the western lake and resort.
However, today I wanted to keep driving, at least until the snow prevented us from going further, and we finally found ourselves at the East Lake Resort.
Under the blinding sun of an azure sky, the light bounced off of the snow and the thawing ice on the lake. Even though it is late May, winter was reluctant to release its grip from this snowy aerie. I was admiring the view while Brad was walking the dogs. Driven to the shoreline of the East Lake, the view was completely dazzling. A voice from behind me said, “Well, what do you think?” I turned, and spied David Jones, operator of the East Lake Resort, smiling at me. I said, “Well, I don’t think I’ll be taking a walk out on that ice out there!” and indicated that patches of broken ice floating in front of me.
He ambled over and started chatting. I asked him if he was the operator of the resort, and he indicated that he and his wife Kathy were the ones running the place. The pride of his hard work on East Lake brimmed on his face. “This is a special place… a lot of folks stop at the first resort, but it’s the ones that keep going and head to East Lake who really find something special,” he said.
I was captivated. Here, a mile above sea-level and snuggled in within drifts of snow, this man and his wife, along with the staff, were carving out a living welcoming visitors. David went on to tell me that they have 16 cabins, not to mention kayaks, pontoon and motor boats for rent. They also operate a nearby 40-space RV park. The resort features a lodge, restaurant, gift shop, and a coffee shop, so anyone who ventures up this area will find solitude, stunning scenery and top-notch hospitality.
We immediately inquired about vacancies, since the snow put a kibosh on our camping plans. “Full,” David said. But he encouraged us to come back and we do plan on it. Ah, well, we thought, there will be another time. A couple of other exciting things to do in the area included a short hike to a nearby hot springs and also, a walk up the Big Obsidian Flow, a nearby flow which is one of the geologic wonders of the Pacific Northwest. Obsidian, known as volcanic glass, came out of the ground in vast quantities in this area and you can find it all along this hike. According to scientists, obsidian from this area was previously traded up and down the entire Pacific Coast by Native Americans. It was a highly-prized item for making arrowheads and tools.
But alas, our time up here was merely spent exploring, not relaxing, so our next task was to find a plan “B” for camping. Down we went, returning back to the high desert plateau, with our next objective up near the Cascade Mountains. Finally we found a spot along Forest Service Road 42 and set up camp in a delightfully secluded area in the high forest, along an abandoned road.
The next day, we set off on a hike down the abandoned road until it fizzled out into a rough, barely discernible track that was largely overgrown by trees. We turned around, and headed back to camp. At this point, the high desert sun had warmed up the area substantially, and poor Timmy, having dark fur, was getting a little on the warm side. Fortunately for him, a lot of snow was still to be found in the shadows of the trees, and he began rolling around in the drift with a great deal of delight!
Undaunted, we returned to camp, loaded up the dogs and headed up closer to the mountains, where snow again served as a deterrent. A long drift covered the roadway, and that marked our turnaround point. A nearby trail head beckoned, so off we set to find Clover Meadow, a scant half-mile away. However, our foe was absolutely determined to keep us at bay; we managed perhaps a quarter of a mile before huge banks of snow covered the trail completely, and no trail markers were to be found. Unwilling to be a future news item (“Hikers rescued from trail-less area in Deschutes National Forest”), we turned around and called it good for the day.
The next morning, we packed up and headed home, but not before enjoying a treat first. We continued north along the Cascade Lakes Highway, which, if anyone is going to make a trip to Central Oregon, is a MUST DO! Shining mountaintops and lofty peaks makes this one of Oregon’s most scenic drives. I’ve been in the area during the winter and the summer, but not spring. The road was clear, the air was modestly warm, and the skies were absolutely pristine blue. But snow (and lots of it) still blanketed the area, which make the views all the more spectacular and dazzling.
After taking in the splendor of Mt. Bachelor, the Three Sisters, Broken Top and countless other peaks nearby, we pointed our compass home. Strange to think, as we headed into the 80-plus-degree heat down in the desert plateau, of how cool it was up in the mountains. With all of that snow, and how cold it still got at night, the one thing we remembered the most was the chirruping of the frogs at night up in the mountains. How do they do that, and not freeze?
That’s just another reason why Oregon is so amazing – the variety of terrain and scenery you can take in within a few hundred miles!
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