For a town situated in Oregon’s high desert, Bend doesn’t particularly invoke the typical imagery of hot, dry and sandy that Saturday morning cartoons have worked so hard to establish in my mind. In fact, on a beautiful blue October day, it’s downright lush. A little chilly even. Ponderosa pines tower over the numerous roundabouts that make up the urban landscape and the broad, winding Deschutes River promises none of us will be chasing mirages in search of hydration.
A friend invited us to town, promising great hiking and a quaint city center — so we’ve spent the last two weeks getting to know the breweries, the breakfast tacos, the abundant state parks and national forests. Today, however, it’s time to move on.
We’re travelers, my family and I. We don’t sit still for very long in any one place. The idea was to spend a month in Oregon — before the mercury dropped too low — before heading to southern California. With two weeks of that already gone, we’re headed for Brookings on the southern Coast to soak up a little Pacific Ocean time.
There are six of us total: my girlfriend, our two babies, her mom and our oldest son who’s in Portland and needs picked up. A long day of travel ahead of us, everyone tucks in to their particular corners of our van in preparation.
Goodbyes are had. We leave Bend in the rear view mirror as one of the boys perks up, pointing out the window to the west.
“Look mama, snow mountain!” he shouts.
We all look through the windows along the driver’s side of the vehicle and they begin to come into focus one after another.
Pointed craggy peaks with names like Bachelor, Broken Top and Three Sisters tower over lesser ridges in their range and each one completely covered in snow.
US Route 20 rolls away beneath our tires as we travel into the mountains themselves, opting to cut through their height via Santiam Pass. As our elevation changes, we’re suddenly surrounded by white — above us on the mountains, but all alongside the road as well. We’ve suddenly driven into a winter wonderland before Halloween even had the chance to mark itself off of the calendar.
Not having seen much snow in their lives, the babies are stuck to the windows, asking their plethora variety of “whys.”
The drive to Portland is not particularly short, and certainly longer than their attention spans. As we careen through numerous small mountain towns, they fall asleep, and the lady and I grow silent. We don’t see snow often, and so when we do, it’s a beautiful thing. There will be no shoveling, no winter jackets for us. Just a few hours of watching the world transform.
An hour or so later we’ve left the world of lakeside villages and wooded communities in favor of the bustling metro that is Portland. We negotiate traffic, towing a travel trailer behind us, as adeptly as possible, in order to pick up our oldest. Much of the day has already gone by and we’ve now even more state to cover than when we left.
I love the city, but with young babies and a travel trailer in tow, these days we just feel more comfortable with places more wide open. And so we begin our trek south.
Again those snow-capped mountains live in the distance, now east of us, as we travel Interstate 5. Hours go by and the wintery snow of the Cascades disappears in favor of yet another season. This time it is the true brilliance of autumn leafing orange, red, yellow and a mottled variety of each as we approach Grants Pass in beautiful Southern Oregon.
When I first came to visit this state several years ago, a friend living here informed me that, unfortunately, Oregon’s fall was not to be compared to that of our mutual homeland of Pennsylvania. “It just doesn’t get cold enough quick enough here,” he assured me, “the leaves change colors, but not with the intensity of back home.”
And his words had proven true in some places of the state, but I’m considering calling him as soon as we stop to let him in on the secret. Grants Pass, and most of US 199 headed to the coast, was as brilliant as any mid-October in the Northeast.
Firetrucks and mandarins and Sacagawea dollars lent their complete blaze of color to nearly every deciduous tree on our way. As evergreens go, the Ponderosas dwindled, giving way to Western Hemlocks, Redcedars, and eventually the mighty Sitka spruce and Doug-firs. With every mile the trees grew larger, more awe-inspiring. Eventually the colorful foliage of a true autumn afternoon did give way, but just as quickly we were in the Redwoods of California (taking US 199, you have to dip through the Golden State before returning to US 101 North back into Oregon).
Our destination only half an hour or so away, we kept trucking right through their mighty trunks, saving that experience for another tale, and in no time were delivered from the forest to yet another delightful surprise. It seems that Brookings had not received nature’s itinerary, and was still living in the swell of a pristine summertime. The sky had cleared itself of any sign of cloud cover, the wind was on vacation, and the Pacific Ocean rolled in and out its constant wave hello.
In a single day’s travel we’d gone from snow-covered mountains, to autumn leaves to balmy beach weather. We’d seen small towns, farmlands and the big city. Three seasons in a day, we looked at one another as we began setting up camp at a beachside RV park. Without much in the way of words at all, we’d come to a mutual conclusion.
Winter coming or not, we weren’t done with Oregon just yet. As the boys fell fast asleep and we cooked up a beach fire, conversation turned to further exploration of the coast, trips into the southeastern deserts, or just getting lost along any old logging road that would have us. We weren’t positive as to where we’d end up, or when we’d leave the state.
That was in October. Months have come and gone, the New Year passed, and as February slowly comes to a close, here we are still, currently exploring Oregn’s North Coast.
You know you’ve got something special when you can convince a family that doesn’t sit still to linger for months at a time. When we’ll leave, we’re not completely sure, but we do know that we will leave.
We also know, as sure as anyone can be of anything, that we’ll be back, too.