Thursday, April 16, 2015

Central Oregon Trip

Sometimes in life you just decide to up and make a somewhat spontaneous road trip a part of your existence. I had been wanting to see the Painted Hills since last summer and had almost taken off to Bend three weekends ago to visit some friends, so when I realized I could create space in my schedule to enable me to do an epic Central Oregon road trip last weekend...well I didn't hesitate much. I got all of my grading done after my Africa meeting on Friday, let my online courses know that I'd be checking in over the weekend but only once a day, and then I spent Friday night printing out trails/maps/whatever I might need.

After a Reflexology class on Saturday morning, the dogs and I headed out over the pass to Central Oregon.

DAY 1:
The minute I was in different terrain my heart seriously soared. I absolutely love where I live in the valley but sometimes I just crave something new and different. This view above filled my heart and made me so in love with the state of Oregon and it's vast differences all over again.

The dogs and I stopped in Prineville to fill up with gas because all the online stuff cautioned about not having gas stations nor cell service within the John Day Fossil Bed area. Ironically that one topped off tank was more than enough for the traveling I did both days...and I also ended up with cell phone service way more than I expected.

Once we arrived to the Painted Hills, I again fell in love. I can understand why they don't allow people to camp there as I could have stayed for a week. There were a lot of people who showed up at the initial overlook but not many who stayed long nor who ventured on the rim trail. The trail itself was so you can see below.

The view looking back on the painted hills from the rim trail.

There were also some other little trails and informational spots that allowed you to get closer and learn more about what actually created the hills. So interesting and well worth it!

We left that area about 6:30pm and headed for a spot on the map that said that it had camping available off a Forest Service road. En route to the camp ground we had about 15 elk run across a meadow about a quarter mile ahead of us and we also had a lot of deer traveling around. It was so neat to see so much amazing wildlife in their natural habitat on this trip. Beyond the deer and elk, there were lots of little ground critters running around, tons of various birds, and we even had a river otter swim by us at one spot! We arrived to the camp site and discovered that a) before Memorial Day camping was going to be free at most places and b) we'd get the camp site to ourselves! I backed my SUV into a secluded spot and rearranged the bags in the car, put the seats down, and rolled out my sleeping mat, bag, and extra blanket & pillow. The beauty of car camping I discovered is that you can have extra luxuries such as pillows and heavy fuzzy blankets (although the dogs soon took over the blanket :)). As I was readying our sleep area, there was gentle snow falling and the entire scene was just really pretty amazing. The campsite had trail access, a basic bathroom, and the dogs were so excited to run around for quite a bit before bedtime. Once we were ready for bed, I crawled in and discovered that I actually had cell phone access here (literally in the absolute middle of no where) and was able to check in with Reg D and my brother.

This was our first solo car camping experience and we loved it.....I forsee many more outings like this in our future!

DAY 2: 

The next morning, the dogs woke up as the sun was rising....apparently they couldn't figure out what it was so they were on alert that it could be an intruder :) We were able to get some sleep during the night though and it was fun having the dogs sleeping alongside me. I seriously was so happy yet again about my Sorento and how well it's served me in various capacities over the last several years.

After getting up and changing, I rearranged the car/bags back to how they usually are...and the dogs and I headed off to Blue Basin. I actually wasn't intending to come to this extra part of the John Day Fossil Bed area but Reg D suggested it earlier on Day 1 and since he generally knows my interests, I figured I'd check it out. It was about a 40 minute drive to get there with the sun continuing to rise over the hill sides and just continuing to be in awe with the landscape. Blue Basin was definitely worth the trip and the 3.25 mile hike was so gorgeous. There are so many various colored rocks and it's so crazy to think of the history contained in this fossil region. (Apparently this area used to have its own version of a saber-toothed tiger even!) 

The above picture shows the Blue Basin (appears white or green) with additional "painted hills" in the background right side and just the amazing terrain as it continues beyond. SO beautiful!

This area also has Oregon's version of Arizona's Cathedral Rock. I had intended to try to see this and I'm so glad that Blue Basin was so amazing, because Cathedral Rock wasn't as impressive as the real thing :)

It was also on this day as the dogs were getting out of the car at Blue Basin that I noticed that Anna had punctured her upper right leg somehow. It wasn't gushing blood and she wasn't overly phased by it so we went on the hike anyway and I continued to check on it as the day progressed....

We stopped at Smith Rock (above) which is pretty popular these days in Oregon. I was trying to decide if we could hike part of it, but after checking out the upper trail from the parking lot (and the fact that the park itself was more packed than I'd ever seen it) I decided that this was a hike that should be done on a different day and probably sans dogs. It's definitely beautiful to look at though and I was glad that we'd stopped to check it out.......and glad to have driven through the back farm roads to get there :)

One of the other reasons I'd been contemplating a trip to Central Oregon was to see an old college friend of mine who I hadn't seen in several years. En route to Bend, I stopped for coffee and a scone, saline and gauze for Anna's wound, and then since I still had more time I drove up to Pilot Butte (in the above picture) to look at Bend with the mountains in the back ground. I'm like a broken record but.....SO gorgeous! :) 

My gal Erin is married to her middle school love and they have four hilarious kiddos. It was so great to eat lunch with all of them on their back patio, catch up with my gal, and have the dogs be loved on and entertained by the three boys. (I also owe it to Erin big time as she let me stop back by on Day 3 to finally shower for the first time in several days :))

From their house I drove to REI to buy myself a camping hammock (yea for dividends and member coupons!) and then I headed to the high mountain lakes region. The spot that I originally intended to camp at still had the road closed several miles in on the I'll have to come back this summer to backpack a longer trail option there.

At that point I decided to head to the little lake about an hour away where we spread my Poppa's ashes in 2003. I've only been back once or twice so it was probably time for a visit anyway. My grandfather was one of the biggest influences in my life and I'd already spent a lot of time on this trip thinking about him, so it was very fitting to take the dogs to go hang out in this special place. We arrived right at dusk, again granting just enough time to let the dogs run around, get the car set up for the night, and hang out in the hammock with a beer for a bit. Once we crawled in for bed, I spent some time reading this night, but then we all 3 slept amazingly well.

DAY 3:

We again woke up with the sun and the dogs were excited to run around the campsite. (Two thumbs up that we had this campsite to ourselves as well!) This was the first day that I actually used my backpacking stove to make oatmeal for breakfast and some coffee. (I'm getting pretty excited about what this car camping means in terms of more real breakfasts, extra food stuffs, etc :)) I honestly really didn't want to leave this spot, so we spent about an hour and a half just enjoying being there, soaking up the views, enjoying the wildlife, and just generally appreciating the amazing weekend that we'd been having. 

About 8 we drove to a nearby trailhead to explore a suggestion made by my gal Erin. Ironically the lake she had suggested for me to head toward ended up being about a mile from Poppa's spot, and it made for a great morning hike up to it...and will probably make a great backpacking option. I wasn't really sure if the trail we were on was the right one, but eventually we did discover that it indeed led to the lake she had mentioned...and that the lake was as clear and spectacular as she had made it out to be. After snapping lots of pictures, we continued on for another mile just enjoying being on trail and finally finding some patches of snow :)

After coming back off trail, I stopped by Erin's for that shower and then we headed back toward Salem in order to celebrate my dad's 70th birthday :) I did stop in Sisters for coffee, lunch, and an attempt at what used to be the most amazing huckleberry milkshake stand (unfortunately it appears to be closed now).

The views on the drive back continued to be incredible......all the way til I made it back over the pass and returned to the rain of the valley :) The drive itself was really enjoyable though as I stumbled upon some old mixed CDs from old friends and loves, and it was highly entertaining to travel back down various memory lanes. 

Altogether an amazing trip...and a hard one to adjust to being back actually. Usually I'm not one to bemoan the end of vacation, but the first two mornings back in my own bed seemed dismal compared to the fun of waking up and staring straight out into a day of amazing views, trails, and new sights ahead. Already planning our return trip however...... :)


  1. Wow, what an awesome adventure! Those pictures are so gorgeous. Oregon is such a beautiful state. I definitely want to plan a trip there some day so I can see areas such as this as so far I've only been to Portland!

  2. Your trip sounds and looks amazing. I love early mornings when camping, especially with views like that! And it's so handy you were able to just sleep in your car.

  3. WOW! Those pictures are so so beautiful. I would love to visit Oregon one day and doing the Oregon Coast drive is on my bucket list. I had never heard of the painted hills before but they look so so cool!

    1. I actually knew nothing about the Painted Hills either until I saw this show up on IG last summer...and then I knew I had to go :) If you make it down this way, there is SO much to check out. I'm heading to Banff and Jasper this summer I think so if you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them :)