Full of striking contrasts and otherworldly landscapes, Oregon is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Here’s a little peek of our recent road trip through this incredible place.
Exploring the abandoned Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad along the Salmonberry River Trail is a hike that’s been on my to-do list since first learning about it three years ago. Located in rugged Tillamook State Forest about 70 minutes from Portland, this 10 mile round trip hike follows abandoned railroad tracks overgrown with raspberry brambles and baby alders.
The two-day Great Coastal Gale of 2007 pounded the Oregon Coast Range with hurricane-force winds and relentless rain which eroded embankments and damaged tunnels, rendering the tracks impassable. The rails have gone unused ever since.
The steel-girdered Big Baldwin Trestle is 165’ high and 520’ in length, the largest trestle on the line.
One false step here could land you 16 stories to the creek below.
After our crazy hike, I went to go check out the Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health in Salem. Located in the historic Kirkbride building built in 1883, the Oregon State Hospital is the oldest working psychiatric facility on the west coast and is best known as the filming location for the Academy Award-winning One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
The museum, which opened in 2013, is operated by a non-profit organization that is separate from the hospital administration.
Located in the original asylum building, the museum features items from the hospital’s wards, workshops and connecting tunnels. Photographs, recordings and other saved items document the history of the understanding of mental illness and various treatments at the hospital from 1883 to present.
There’s also an interesting memorial located near the museum. The memorial holds 3,426 ash remains of patients who died at the Oregon State Hospital and were never claimed by family. The artists’ memorial includes a columbarium wall that traces the ghost footprint of a demolished morgue which was once attached to the older brick crematorium. Shrouded within the exterior grey courtyard walls are new ceramic urns that hold the cremains. A large window cut into the historic crematoria building communicates this long-hidden history and the story of institutional loss-of-individuality during past eras. The project was done in an effort towards healing and closure.
No amount of time at the museum could prepare us for the insanity we found while visiting Bagby Hot Springs.
Located in Mount Hood National Forest about 67 miles southeast of Portland, the 1.5 mile hike from the parking lot to the hot springs was absolutely gorgeous.
Relatively easy, with only a 200 foot gain in elevation, the trail is maintained by the Forest Service and volunteers from the Northwest Forest Conservancy.
While the location of the hot springs was idyllic, the overflowing trash, graffiti and uncleanliness of the actual tubs were not, so without taking a soak, we headed off to our next adventure.
The Opal Creek Wilderness, located in the Willamette National Forest has the largest uncut watershed in Oregon.
The valley forms the largest intact stand of old growth forest in the western Cascades, with trees ranging anywhere between 500-1000 years old.
The Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center, (a private 501(c)3 non-profit), was founded in 1989 as Friends of Opal Creek to gain protection of the Opal Creek watershed for future generations to study and enjoy, a goal that was achieved in 1996 through federal legislation. Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center maintains and stewards Jawbone Flats, a rejuvenated historic mining town in the heart of the 35,000-acre ancient forest watershed of the Opal Creek Wilderness and Scenic Recreation Area.
Miners arrived in Jawbone Flats near Mill City in 1859 and discovered gold. Other minerals were in greater supply and also found nearby, such as copper, zinc and lead. The mining camp was established in 1931 and the Shiney Rock mining company continued until 1992.
After leaving the Opal Creek Wilderness/Jawbone Flats area we came across the Detroit Dam on our way to Bend, OR.
Constructed between 1949 and 1953 by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, it created the 400-foot deep Detroit Lake which is more than 9 miles long with 32 miles of shoreline.
After making our way to Bend, we checked into our treehouse.
Listed on Airbnb as the “Only Treehouse In Bend Oregon”, the 10×10 elevated cabin came complete with a sitting area, TV and a full sized bed in the loft.
A 12×18 “High Deck” was attached to the treehouse by a little bridge leading to a swinging/floating bed that overlooked a bubbling stream.
In the morning we were awakened by the sound of crowing roosters and greeted by this migrating deer that was making its way through the area.
Only 20 minutes outside of Bend, OR, numerous caves left behind from ancient lava flows thousands of years ago can be found.
Boyd Cave is one of the longest lava tubes in the area at over .07 miles in length.
Nearby Arnold Cave was once used to supply central Oregon with ice in the early half of the 20th century.
Remnants of stairs that were once used by the ice miners were still visible as we made our way to the bottom.
We continued our volcanic tour of Oregon by making a brief detour through Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Designated on November 5, 1990, to protect the area around the Newberry Volcano, it includes 50,000 acres of lakes, lava flows, and spectacular geologic features.
We went to the top of Paulina Peak (7,985 ft), the highest point within the monument which overlooks the Big Obsidian Flow that covers 700 acres of the valley below.
Like a desert mirage, Fort Rock National Natural Landmark rises out of the barren, immense flatness of Oregon’s high desert.
Its enormous near-circle of towering jagged rock walls make it seem like a fort but it’s actually an old tuff ring created by volcanic action in what was a shallow sea in prehistoric times.
Early American Indians once canoed to and from what was then an island. Sandals found in a nearby cave are the oldest ever discovered, dating back around 9,000-13,000 years.
After Fort Rock, it was only about an hours drive to one of my most favorite places along our road trip, Summer Lake Hot Springs. The 145-acre property features geothermal heated cabins, guest houses, a campground, RV hookups and most importantly, natural rock hot springs and an indoor hot mineral pool.
The timber frame and corrugated metal bathhouse that encloses the large hot mineral pool was built in 1928.
Our $110 a night cabin included geothermally heated floors, a large picture window, two comfy queen size beds, a kitchen, bathroom, 24-hour access to the bath house/outdoor rock pools and a fire pit. What a deal.
It was hard to leave Summer Lake but another lake was calling our name.
Since it wasn’t the high season, we were able to see everything the park had to offer in less than two hours.
Crater Lake was beautiful and all but we had a long drive ahead of us so we hit the road once again.
In order to break up the nearly 4 hour long drive to our next destination, we took a detour along the scenic 43 mile Lower Crooked River Back Country Byway.
The Painted Hills provided a colorful finale to our Oregon road trip…
…but we still had one last place to go…
…our campsite for the night along the John Day River, the third longest free-flowing river in the contiguous United States.
It was a a beautiful moonlit night until the rain began to fall which forced us to pack everything up and hit the road @ 3:30am. Getting our rented white Chevy Malibu stuck in the sandy dirt road leading out of our campsite wasn’t how we wanted to end our amazing Oregon road trip, so we made our way back to Portland.
I hope you enjoyed reading about our recent road trip through Oregon. Stay tuned for future posts where I’ll dive even deeper into each of these incredible places we stopped at along the way. Oregon truly is one of the most beautiful states I’ve ever traveled through and I look forward to discovering more of these unique places the next time I visit.