Three States, Five Days, and 1,300 Miles: A Spring Break Road Trip

April 01, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

A couple weeks ago, my girlfriend Lisa took a week off from her internship, to correspond with the Spring Break of her grad school program. We took advantage of the break to pack our camping gear in the car, and head south down Highway 101 to see what we could see. We had a general goal of making it to Crater Lake, in south Oregon, but beyond that we had no particular plans-- just an atlas of Oregon and California, a car full of supplies, and our camera gear.

We headed out from Seattle on the morning of Thursday, March 19, stopping briefly to have lunch with Lisa's aunt, who lives in the unincorporated ommunity of Marylhurst, just south of Portland. She has a beautiful garden, decorated with various cast-off objects that have been turned to art just by their placement in the garden. It was a beautiful place to start the trip's photography.

After lunch and a tour of the community grounds, we headed southwest along 99W toward 101, then followed Highway 101 south on its meandering route along the coast. We stopped for the night at Beverly Beach State Park, a place we'd stopped before on our August trip to Oregon. We set up camp, and walked out to the beach to take photos of the landscape and enjoy the sunset.

The next day, we kept up our trip down Highway 101 down the Oregon coast. We stopped in at some famous rocky formations, including the Devil's Punch Bowl, and Thor's Well, which we'd also seen on our August trip-- but it's so fun to watch we had to stop a second time! The Oregon coast is d otted with amazing rocky formations and beaches with cool tide pools, and we stopped at many along the way down. We stopped in the town of Florence and had lunch along the water, then in the afternoon, the rain started to pick up as we kept going.

By late afternoon, it was raining so hard that we decided to forego camping, and stopped at a small motel in the town of Brookings, just north of the California border. That was the only night we avoided the elements-- every other night on the trip, we slept in the tent.

The storm apparently rained itself out overnight, and the next day was clear and beautiful, once the morning fog lifted from the mountains. The Redwoods were a short drive away, just over the border in Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park. We did a couple short hikes through the redwoods, and a drive along a scenic road straight the heart of the park, which was marred only slightly by the fact that there was a 15K run taking place along the same road that day.

After seeing the redwoods, we drove north, back across the Oregon border, to the Oregon Caves National Monument. We lucked out on our timing-- the caves had opened for the season that very day, and we were able to get tickets for the last tour of the day, starting at 4 pm.

The caves themselves were pretty awesome-- they're smaller and less famous than places like Mammoth Caves or Carlsbad Caverns, and the tour often required you to sort of crab-walk under low ceilings with your hands on your knees. But we saw a couple of bats-- including one sleeping on the rock, which I was able to get close to-- and some pretty amazing formations. The biggest room in the cave is called The Ghost Room, supposedly because the first explorers saw spirits and ghosts in the flickering of the lights among the rocky pillars and stalactices. And because we were the last tour of the day, the ranger turned off the lights behind us, adding an extra layer of creepiness to the place.

It was getting late as we finally exited the cave, so that night, we found a quiet little patch of grass on the edge of a nearby forest service road and camped there. It rained during the night, but it had largely stopped by the time we woke up, so we packed up the wet tent and continued on our way.

Our destination that day was Crater Lake. Along the way, we stopped at several magnificent gorges and waterfalls along the Rogue River and its tributaries, as well as the broken-down remains on an old dam that had once spanned one of those branches before being torn down a few years ago to allow the water to resume its natural flow.

As we approached Crater Lake National Park, we began to go up in altitude-- and we didn't have to go far before we began seeing patches of snow under the trees. The amount of snow increased as we went along, until it had blanketed the ground and was coating the tree branches, and by the time we reached the rim of Crater Lake, the snow was a few feet deep, with only the road and some small parking areas free of snow. The worst part, though, was that we had risen up into the cloud layer-- there was no sign of the rim of the crater, or of the lake.

Feeling a bit discouraged, we went into the gift shop and had lunch at the cafe there. Then, as we poked around the store, I overheard the cashier pointing out the rim of the crater to another group of tourists-- apparently it wasn't far away, just over a large patch of snow-covered ground. Lisa and I decided to head out to the rim, and as we reached the rim, lo and behold, the clouds parted ever so slightly and we saw the lake! The gap in the clouds grew bigger, big enough that we could make the far side of the crater, before the gap started to close up again. We got some nice dramatic photos, then decided to head down.

As we headed down along the road, we followed the rim for a bit, and Lisa suddenly noticed that Wizard Island was visible-- the small island in the middle of the lake. We hadn't been able to see the island from our earlier vantage point, so we hurriedly pulled over (in a "No Parking" area... whoops), got out, and watched the island drift in and out of view. We left just as a huge group of college students in four large vans pulled up behind us, hurriedly hoping to get a glimpse of the island as well.

From Crater Lake, we followed meandering road through wide open pastures into Central Oregon, and stopped for the night in LaPine State Park, just south of the city of Bend. It was a lovely high desert landscape, filled with forests of Ponderosa Pine, and after setting up camp we drove around the park, checking out some of the local sights, including a viewpoint, a 500-year-old Ponderosa Pine that stood tall and gnarled among its brethren, and a little waterfall miles back along a small dirt road.

It snowed that night, and we woke in the morning to about a half-inch of snow on the tent, and the snow coming down fairly hard. Feeling cold and not particularly inclined to hang around, we packed up, took down the tent (brushing off as much snow as we could even as it continued to fall), and headed north to the winter resort town of Sunriver. There, we found a cafe open for breakfast, and warmed ourselves with a tasty breakfast of french toast.

After breakfast, we headed to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, just a few miles away. The Visitors Center was still closed for the winter, however, the trails were accessible, and we walked out onto the "lava lands"-- a huge field of lava rocks that seems to stretch for miles in all directions, with the towering cinder cone of an old volcano right in the middle of it. The landscape was impressive, so despite the snow and blowing wind, we walked the full mile loop, out to a viewpoint that looked out over the ruined landscape toward cloud-obscured mountains in the distance. A road led to the top of the Cinder Cone, but it was closed for the winter, as were the nearby lava caves. Alas!

We had more or less made up our minds to head for home that day, but we had a couple more stops in Central Oregon we wanted to make, including the steep gorge and overlook at Peter Skene Ogden State Park, for one. From the overlook you can stand and look down a completely vertical 300-foot cliff face, to the river far below. There are numerous signs in the area warning you to keep pets in the car-- apparently more than one dog has leapt over the short concrete barrier to their death. You can also see the ruins of an old trailer that fell off the old road bridge a good fifty years ago, still littering the river bank below.

A couple miles away from the gorge is Smith Rock State Park, a really impressive formation of rocks that extends up the hillside and along the river. It's very popular with climbers, and we saw quite a few out today, making their way up the sheer cliff side. We walked along the river for a bit, enjoying the scenery, but didn't go too far before heading home. I think at that point we were fairly worn out by the driving-- at least, I was, and we switched drivers several times on the way home, allowing each other to rest. We had hopes of driving by Mt. Hood, but the threat of snow lingered, and in the end, all we saw was lots of cloud banks and some occasional blowing snow.

The rest of the drive was fairly eventful, and we got back to Seattle safely that evening, after five days and three states of travel. More pictures from our adventures in the gallery below:


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