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Central Oregon with Grandma

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Travelin' Grandma
...on the road with Myrna Oakley  
 


    Summer is here and it’s time to plan another trip with the grandkids. “How about Central Oregon?” I suggest.  “We can see some great volcanic mountains, find lots of high mountain lakes, and snoop into some lava caves too!”
    “Are the caves dark and creepy?” asks Marisa.
    “Do the mountains have snow?” asks P.J.
    “Can I take my fishing pole?” asks Bradford.
    I pull out the map of Oregon and we plan our July travel itinerary. From Eugene we’ll head east on Highway 126 for about 45 miles, then take Highway 242 over 5,324-ft. Willamette Pass. At the top of the pass we’ll stop and scamper up the big stone steps and into the Dee Wright Observatory. The tiny observation structure was built of lava stone in 1927 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and contains narrow windows where we can peer at acres of solidified lava and at the major volcanic peaks in the Central Cascade Mountains.
    The kids can identify several snowcapped peaks–Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington, North Sister, South Sister, Middle Sister, and Belknap Crater; on a really clear day, they can also spot Mt. Hood to the north.
    If time allows we’ll also walk on the interpretive trail that winds into the impressive lava fields. I’ll explain to the kids that the observatory was named for an old-timer, Dee Wright, who was a mountaineer and ran a string of pack mules for many years. He supervised the CCC crew that built the tower; when he died in the 1960s the structure was named in his honor. One of his most stubborn mules was named Dynamite!
    For additional information contact the Willamette National Forest McKenzie Ranger Station in McKenzie Bridge (541-822-3381) or check the helpful Web site www.fs.fed.us/r6/willamette
    Note: Highway 242 closes by snow during late fall and winter and opens again by July 4. The observatory and interpretive trail are wheelchair accessible.
    From here we’ll continue east and connect with Highway 22 over Santiam Pass to the western style town of Sisters; this leg of our trek will take about one hour. We’ll stop at the City Park for our picnic lunch.
    “Lunch under the pines!” says Bradford.
    “Yes, really big Ponderosa pines,” I add.
    Before we depart on any day trip we always hit the grocery store and the kids choose their favorite fruits, beverages, and sandwich makings. They get to prepare their own picnic lunches and stow them in their daypacks along with other snacks.
    “You can’t have too many good snacks!” says P.J. with a grin.
    After lunch we’ll travel another 20 miles east to Bend and head south on Highway 97 for a few miles to Lava River Cave. We’ll rent a couple of lanterns at the entry station, say “Hi” to the ranger, and continue to the cave’s yawning entrance.
    “Wow, it looks really big,” says Marisa. “Where are the bats?”
    I explain that any bats in the cave usually take naps during the daytime and only fly out at night to catch tasty insects. “We’ll also be able to see some bats when we stop at the High Desert Museum located not too far from here,” I tell her.
    The trail drops over volcanic rocks, bridged by stairs, and leads into the cave’s entrance and the first large, cool chamber. Another stairway leads up to the main tunnel and to a winding passageway farther into the cavern. The cave is nearly 60 feet high and 50 feet wide in places and visitors can walk into the cavern for several blocks.
    Lava River Cave, located about 12 miles south of Bend, is open from May through September, from 9 to 4 daily. Picnic and outdoor restroom facilities are available in the park but no water is provided here.
     Note: dress warmly to visit the cave, inside temperatures can range from 30 to 45 degrees. Also wear sturdy shoes and always carry a light source. The cave is not wheelchair accessible.
    For additional information contact the Deschutes National Forest staff at Lava Lands Visitor Center, (541) 593-2421.
   “Time for more snacks!” says P.J. when we return to the car.
    From here we’ll drive the red cinder road to the top of nearby Lava Butte so the kids can have
 another great view of ancient lava flows that look like solidified rambling rivers. We’ll take more snapshots here then we’ll backtrack down to the Lava Lands Visitor Center to see the animated displays of volcanic eruptions.
      Both interpretive trails through lava beds here, Whispering Pines and Molten Land, are wheelchair accessible.
    For additional information about the natural history of the area contact the staff at the Lava Lands Visitor Center open daily mid-April to Labor Day from 9 to 5, (541) 593-2421.
    Other must-see and easily accessible attractions in the Bend area of Central Oregon include the High Desert Museum open daily from 9 to 5, telephone (541) 382-4754; Lava Cast Forest located about 10 miles east on a good cinder road; and Newberry Crater.
    The grandkids and I will end our day at Paulina Lake and then East Lake, a pair of lakes that formed several thousand years ago when Mt. Newberry collapsed into a large caldera (much as did Crater Lake to the south of here).
    “Wow, I can fish from the dock!” says Bradford.
    We’ll stay overnight in one of the rustic log cabins at East Lake; for helpful information see the web site www.eastlakeresort.com and for and reservations contact the staff at (541) 536-2230.
    The knotty pine cafe at East Lake serves breakfast and lunch daily from 7 to 3. Ask about boat rentals and tent or RV spaces at several campgrounds
at East Lake.
       The lodge restaurant at Paulina Lake serves lunch and dinner Wednesday–Sunday. There are log cabins here as well; call (541) 536-2240 for information.
    For current fishing regulations contact the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, P.O. Box 59, Portland, OR 97207 or call (503) 229-5403.

Discover other highways and byways in Myrna Oakley's current guide, Oregon: Off the Beaten Path, 4th edition, Globe Pequot Press. Check out great places to bed down in her guide, Recommended Bed & Breakfasts: Pacific Northwest, Globe Pequot Press.

 

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