As for most around the world, 2020 has been a long and winding road. As for Together Anywhere, a new, small travel business, we were a bit unprepared for a pandemic and the largest decline in the tourism industry. We slowed down, we learned, and yet, we continued moving forward.
In May 2020, tensions rose again as our attention turned to the continued gap in awareness of inequity in our state and country. And yet, Together Anywhere continued moving forward doing what we know how to do best: tell stories. We wrote stories of race in Oregon and highlighted the history that formed some of our shameful present.
By August, we released our Mount Hood driving tour and we thought the worst had passed. Our sights were set on our next tours around Oregon and picking up those final touches on the Cascades routes. Next, something no one could have ever predicted… Oregon was on fire.
We chose to start a travel business because we love to connect to the places and the people around us. However, we realize that as of September 2020, this is a time for healing in Oregon, not promoting tourism.
After the fires, we decided to unplug for a bit. No social media, no undue pressures to meet deadlines. We are aiming to take care of ourselves, connect to earth, to ourselves, and heal. On September 25, we took to the road, reconnecting with our travel roots and reminding ourselves of the healing in nature, in the unknown, and in slowing down. We’ve seen friends, we’ve seen new places, we’ve seen ourselves. Our true selves, not the selves that are worn out and tired from trying hard to fight against nature.
Traveling in a global pandemic is surprisingly easy. We rent private Airbnbs, we cook our own food, we avoid crowded places (especially in places that don’t seem to know there is a pandemic happening… I’m talking to you Sandpoint, Idaho).
Pictures of our travel so far with more to come:
Rowena Crest on the Columbia River Gorge
An awesome dog park in the Tri-Cities in Washington
Our cute cabin outside Sandpoint, Idaho
Hiking around Lake Pend Orielle and visiting local spots in Sandpoint, Idaho
One of the most special drives in Oregon has to be the approach to Mount Hood. This drive provides the traveler with an experience of the best parts of this state we love: old growth forests, waterfalls, dramatic mountain views, and volcanic topography. And then there is the hiking… and biking… and stories! Did you know the Oregon Trail came right through here? And that it is one of the oldest tour routes in the state? Well I am going to have to break up this trip into multiple posts because there really is just too much to share, this first part will cover only 20 miles of the journey. I will be back for more later.
This segment and so much more is best heard and experienced on our GPS audio tour app of the Mount Hood National Forest. Together Anywhere has a separate app highlighting the Central Cascades of Oregon. Our interactive map below displays highlights of the various tours Together Anywhere has created. The maroon points on the top are the ones described here in this post.
Driving east on Highway 26, we cross into Clackamas County, named after the Clackamas Indians, who were part of the Chinookan people. Clackamas was one of the original 4 districts of the pre-state Oregon Country established in 1843. Clackamas County’s Mount Hood Territory contains many rivers, numerous lakes, 50 parks, and over one thousand miles of trails. I won’t have time to tell you about all that there is to discover here. But the website, MtHoodTerritory.com has in depth information on the abundance of year round recreation opportunities including several foodie and farm trails and an informative historic heritage trail app. My hopes are only to keep things from becoming boring, but if you like Boring, the town is just off the exit ahead. Boring takes its name from a pioneer settler whose family established here in 1856. Interestingly, the town sits upon a 2.6 million year old lava field and has nearly 80 extinct lava vents.
One notable place in Boring is the North American Bigfoot Center. The legend of Bigfoot has created intrigue, entertainment, merchandise, and controversy surrounding the fact or fiction debate for centuries. Have you ever seen the 100-episode show ‘Finding Bigfoot’ on Animal Planet? One of the four cast members, Cliff Barackman, known for his scientific mind and research skills, opened this gift store and partially free exhibit hall in 2019.
It is located to the left after you take the exit ramp, near the Shell gas station. With his detailed displays of Bigfoot photos and data, you can finally, once and for all, determine for yourself, if the legend of Bigfoot is real.
Boring isn’t so boring after all, is it?
As we approach the city of Sandy, we will gradually slow down all the way to 25 miles per hour. After a few stop lights, I will point out a turn to a scenic overlook called Jonsrud Point. This is one of the best places to photograph Mount Hood on a clear day. If the skies are favorable and you have a few minutes to spare, I recommend a stop. I also have a story and some tips to share as you make your way to the viewing platform.
When the first emigrants happened upon the bounties of Oregon, there was no computer or internet, no phones, no light bulb, no antibiotics, no refrigerators, no cameras, and certainly no cars. So how did people get around? The Native Americans and early settlers went by foot, horse, and boats. In 1845, the first Oregon Trail families found a way to bring wagons around the mountain. I will tell you more of the famous, or infamous, wagon trail on our return trip as this paved the way for the road we travel today. Around one hundred years ago, automobiles took over the roads and in 1925, this highway was officially opened. Tourism only stopped briefly during World War Two. Since then, it has been on the rise and Oregon tourism now generates over $12 billion dollars a year. There are many positive and negative impacts resulting from increased visitation. More dollars mean improvements to the infrastructure and thriving businesses but it often brings with it overcrowding on roads and in parking areas, disturbances to the environment and ecosystem, and local frustrations.
If you have the chance, I encourage you try out the Mount Hood Express transit bus that runs seven days a week, multiple times a day from Sandy all the way to Timberline Lodge and back. The first hop-on point is on Champion Way turning right as you see a Fred Meyer. The free parking area is just across from the cinema. For just a few bucks a trip, or a little more for a day pass, you can explore the communities and popular stops along the corridor without contributing to the road and parking congestion. The busses are equipped with bike trailers and ski boxes for storing your recreational equipment as well. Another pick up location is at Centennial Plaza near the Sandy Historical Society building. However here, there are fewer opportunities to park a car for the day. Other car free initiatives include the carpool matching tool “Get There Oregon”, the Timberline Resort Shuttle running from Government Camp to Timberline, the Skibowl Village Shuttle, the Meadows Park and Ride and the Green Dream Bus from downtown Portland to Meadows ski area, in addition to various other charter services. The remainder of our drive today matches the route of the Mount Hood Express. I really hope you consider these options either today, or in the future, for contributing to a greener Oregon.
Here we are in Sandy, Oregon, also known as the Gateway to Mount Hood. The one way Pioneer Boulevard first passes the Sandlandia Food Carts, then several other outdoor and outfitter shops, the amazing Thai Home restaurant, multiple coffee stops, and eventually, Joe’s Donuts, the red and white checkered building that deserves a stop either now or on your way back from the mountain. The Sandy Mountain Festival is host to over 100 artists during the second weekend of July while seeing 30,000 visitors to this city of 10,000 residents. Sandy Area Metro is the city’s extensive public transit system, connecting all the way to the Portland TriMet’s Max light rail station back in Gresham. This, combined with the Mount Hood Express, means that travelers can go from downtown Portland or the Portland airport to Timberline for less than ten dollars. Public transportation at its finest if you ask me, and we can always use more of that. In fact, there is another pickup for the Mount Hood Express at the Centennial Plaza, on the left side of the road just near the beautiful cabin-like Sandy Historical Society Museum.
The museum is a great stop for history and tourist information. Sandy, named after the nearby Sandy River, is the last incorporated city on Highway 26 heading east for nearly 100 miles. Madras, in Central Oregon, is located on the other side of the Cascade mountains and has a drastically different climate and landscape ….which I’ll get into later. So stop in Sandy and stay for awhile unless you’re ready to dive into the Mount Hood National Forest. My introduction is just a few minutes down the road…and I can’t wait to share what I have in store for us!
Assuming traffic and weather are just right, it would take about 45 minutes to get to Timberline Lodge and Ski Area, nearly 6,000 feet up the mountain. However, I really urge you to take your time traveling down this stretch of highway. Not only is there much to do in this area, it is also one of a handful of safety corridors in the state. Typically, this means that the accident and fatality rate is over 150% of the average for a similar highway and extra safety measures have been taken. As the signs request, please turn your lights on and stick to the speed limit. This area has many unforeseen obstacles, like changing speed limits, changing number of lanes, pedestrians, bicycles, cars, trucks and buses turning on and off the highway, and of course, the impact of snow in high elevation areas.
Government Camp, less than 30 minutes away, receives 87 inches of rain and 246 inches of snow each year. Let’s compare that to Central Oregon on the other side of the Cascade mountains. Bend receives about 10% of that rain amount and only 8% of that snow. If you make it to the east side of the Cascades, you will notice a dramatic shift in the landscape. Different trees, different animals, and a very different climate. What this really means is that more than half of the year, there is some kind of precipitation happening on the mountain. This is a good thing for those who love the lush, green forests in the summers and super sick dumps to rip your way through the pow pow in the middle of the winter. No matter what the weather, I always find tripcheck.com to be a helpful resource when heading out on Oregon highways. Even with all of this precipitation, the summers can be quite dry. Every year, area residents and the forest services are on high alert for the threat of wildfires. Between lightning strikes, abandoned campfires, and other human events, the potential for wildfires is high during most Oregon summers. Initiatives like keeporegongreen.org and the US forest service’s famous 75 year old spokesman, Smokey Bear, do their best to educate visitors each year. “Remember… only YOU can prevent forest fires.”
I hope it is one of those sunny Oregon days when the mountain is out. There are just too many great views of Mount Hood on the drive to direct your attention there each time. Plus, if it is snowy or raining, me talking about a mountain you can’t see behind the clouds would just be mean! I’ll leave the mountain view excitement to you in the car and instead tell you what I can about the Mount Hood National Forest, a great destination for all types of weather… if you have the right gear with you. The 1.1 million acre Mount Hood National Forest is one of the most visited forests in the United States welcoming over 4 million visitors annually. The national forest sits in six Oregon counties, offers numerous recreational opportunities, and provides drinking water for over one million Oregonians. There are eight Wilderness areas within the Mount Hood National Forest covering over 30% of the land such as the Bull of the Woods Wilderness. These Congressionally designated areas attempt to reduce the human impact on the land and wildlife, by prohibiting access to motorized vehicles and equipment. Outside of the wilderness areas, you can find one hundred developed campsites, navigable forest roads, motorized boating opportunities, and unique places like Timberline Lodge. The lodge is actually owned by the United States government and the facility is leased on a continual basis.
Fun fact: Oregon has more forest roads than any other state with almost 71,000 miles belonging to the National Forests. That amount is three times the circumference of the earth! The next closest is California with 26,000 less miles to worry about. Maintaining roads is a difficult task for any state but when there are tens of thousands of miles, the amount of work is enormous. Forest roads are notorious for downed trees, road washouts, and rock falls in the spring and summer. In the winter and early spring, I wouldn’t even risk the chance of getting stuck or lost and, thankfully, most roads are blocked off and closed during these times of year. No matter what the weather, I really recommend that you check with rangers at the Zigzag Ranger Station if a forest road adventure or wild camping trip is in your future. If you are planning on spending any time outside of commercial entities, like going on a hike or visiting any national forest designated area, you should have a Northwest Forest Pass or Interagency Annual Pass in your vehicle. And between November 15 and April 30, You are required to display a valid Sno Park permit behind the windshield of your vehicle when parking at designated winter recreation areas like Timberline Ski Area or any sno park.
At this point in the drive, the Mount Hood Highway is right alongside the Sandy River. This river was shortened to be called “sandy” after it was named “Quicksand River” by the famous explorers Merriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1805. They noted that the bottom of the river was unable to be walked across, as it had sand deposits at the mouth. This was the result of 18th century eruptions that had flowed all the way to where it joins the Columbia River. Along with the Salmon River, the Sandy River is one of the two nationally designated Wild & Scenic Rivers and originates from the glaciers on Mount Hood. Both rivers are the focal points for many hikes, waterfalls, fishing trips, whitewater boating, and camping. The two rivers meet up ahead in Brightwood near the Sandy Salmon Bed and Breakfast Lodge. You will notice on the map that we will pass through many small communities with names like Brightwood, Welches, Wemme, Zigzag, and Rhododendron.
Since 2006, the former towns have been collectively known as the Villages of Mount Hood. This designation allowed the local residents to form a quasi-government that gives more direct control over the issues that affect them like zoning, transportation and recreation. In fact, they are known as the ones responsible for the establishment of the Mountain Express, now known as the Mount Hood Express shuttle system. On the westbound tour, I will tell you more about the history of these communities. Two notable experiences are located on the other side of the Sandy River after crossing the Marmot Bridge off East Sleepy Hollow road. First is the Barlow Wayside Park, a one and a half mile trail system with a self-guided natural history brochure, an informational kiosk, and interpretive panels. This park receives about twice the annual rainfall amount of Portland and is full of a moisture rich habitat of trees, plants, and wetlands. The park connects to the Sandy Ridge Trail System, with a parking area just a bit further down East Barlow Trail Road. This mountain biking paradise has over 15 miles of multiple loops accessible year round. These two areas are part of the original Barlow Road and, if you don’t already, you will know all about what that means if you are joining me on the return trip down westbound Highway 26 in the future.
We just passed the Sandy-Salmon River merger I spoke about before and crossed over the Salmon River. In just a few minutes, the speed limit will slow to 45 mph and remain low until we pass the community of Rhododendron. Just as the speed limit drops, look out for the Wildwood Recreation Site on the right side of the highway. Here you have a wonderful opportunity to explore the Salmon River’s calm lower section at this day use area maintained by the Bureau of Land Management. Restrooms, picnic areas, a playground, athletic fields, group shelters and kitchens, summertime swimming, fishing opportunities and hiking make this a popular year round destination. The Wildwood Wetland Trail is an easy, wheelchair accessible interpretive boardwalk and gravel trail that highlights the stories of a field naturalist. The Boulder Ridge Trail is a difficult half to full day adventure into the Salmon Huckleberry Wilderness and connects to a larger network of trails towards four thousand foot Huckleberry Mountain. The crown jewel of Wildwood Recreation Site is the Cascade Streamwatch Trail, which features a unique below the surface level viewing chamber where you can observe native fish in their natural habitat of the Salmon River. What kind of native fish, you ask? Salmon of course! There are seven species of Pacific salmon and five of them can be found in North American waters. Can anyone name a few? I’ll tell you in just a minute.
Even though the Cascade Streamwatch Trail is a short walk and also wheelchair accessible, I would plan to spend over an hour here as you sit and wait for the elusive salmon to arrive. The fall is your best opportunity when the spawning salmon, like the coho, make their yearly run. While you are at it, maybe you’ll see some wildlife like a beaver or river otter or one of the many bird species in the area… but more on this later. Wildwood’s online information indicates that it is open March through November but I was here in January with no indication of it closing for the season. Don’t forget to have your national park pass in the car or be ready to pay the daily use fee. Did you figure out the fish? The five types of North American salmon are: coho, chinook, chum, sockeye, and pink. Now you know… or maybe you already knew all five. In that case, well done.
Well, that is about it from Boring to Wild(wood). I will pick it up here next time. Happy adventuring and take us along with you next time by just downloading the app!
Did you know that the modern beer scene in Oregon is less than 40 years old? In this post, you can learn why.
But first, some news. We are uploading our Mount Hood tour to the app store TODAY!!! The one hour drive from downtown Portland to Timberline Lodge and back gives us more of what we love: old growth forests, waterfalls, dramatic mountain views, and volcanic topography. And then there is the hiking… and boating… and biking… and stories! Ok, let’s just get to it!
We had so much fun, and put in a lot of research time, figuring out this story of Oregon beer. It is our longest narration yet at nearly 7 minutes long. And we share it here free! This is only one point of 88 on our new tour. Here we go:
(Imagine you are driving west on I-84 toward Portland) Sticking with me all the way to the end? I knew I liked you. Provided there is little traffic, we have about ten minutes until we reach downtown Portland. There are so many interesting stories of this area to tell but I’m going to have to save most for another time. This upcoming story speaks to a passion of mine, especially post road trip: drinking beer. A quick warning, If it is one of those low traffic days and you are speeding down the highway, you might not get to hear the whole story.
Mmm…Mmm… I love a good Oregon beer.
As we learned on our journeys to the Oregon wonders today, the history of this area is complex and riddled with disease and death, settlement and land rights and governmental chaos. The story of beer and other alcohol in Oregon is no different. The Oregon Territory, first settled by white Christian missionaries, is known as the first place to enact prohibition laws in the United States starting in 1844. However, it is likely that the harsh living conditions had the increasing amount of settlers wanting the escape offered by ‘spirits’, and that short lived prohibition was repealed just one year later.
Then again, five years before the national prohibition in 1919, popular vote in Oregon restricted sales, advertisement and manufacturing of alcohol, including beer and wine. This ban led to the death of every successful brewery, except for one: Henry Weinhard’s. The website for Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve tells us: “Henry Weinhard left Germany in 1856 with nothing but a recipe, a copper kettle and a thirst to share his beers with the people of America.” He is fondly remembered for offering to pump beer into the Skidmore Fountain downtown at its dedication in 1887. His story was one an American immigrant’s dreams are made of: take an idea, find a place to plant it, and watch it grow. By the end of the 19th century, Henry Weinhard’s beer could be found across the United States and across the Pacific Ocean in Asia. He passed away one year before Portland hosted the World’s Fair, also known as the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition. Weinhard no doubt passed away knowing he was leaving behind a lasting legacy… and then everything changed. Thankfully, Weinhard was not alive to witness the near collapse of his beer empire during Prohibition.
Henry Weinhard’s company, and legacy, weathered the Prohibition Era by selling non-alcoholic products like syrups, sodas, fruit juices, and popular for the time: ‘near beer.’ After Prohibition, the company merged, became Blitz-Weinhard and kept brewing beer in downtown Portland until 1999. Only one signature beer, ‘Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve’, can still be bought today… from MillerCoors. Some of the factory buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and can still be found at the original site, now known as the Brewery Blocks.
After the Prohibition Era ended in 1933, alcohol production and consumption was monitored by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, or OLCC. They set up laws with strict requirements which made it difficult for individuals to enter the industry. For fifty more years, beer drinking in Oregon was limited to production from large distributors like Blitz-Weinhard, Olympia and Rainier. Under the OLCC restrictions, home brewers were sharing their creations with friends and family while bootleggers were illegally selling. Not until the mid-1980s did the McMenamin brothers, the Widmer brothers, the Ponzis of BridgePort Brewing, and other beer stakeholders received legislative support for their ‘Brewpub Bill’. This concept of brewpubs finally allowed independent brewers the chance to sell their beer to the public. Now, there are a lot of things to love about the 80s, but the beginning of Oregon craft beer? That has to be my favorite!
Let me first answer the question: what exactly is craft beer? Well, craft beers are usually created by small, independent brewmasters who place an emphasis on the quality and flavor using a variety of ingredients.
Finding fresh hops for the recipe is an important step in creating craft beer. The hop plant, very closely related to the cannabis plant, is used as a preservative and balances out the sweetness of the grain, lending many beers their signature flavors and aromas. For instance, the popular India Pale Ale, or IPA, has an extreme abundance of hops to alter the taste towards bitterness. The symbiotic relationship of Oregon grown hops and brewing has had just as much of an impact on craft beer as did the Brewpub Bill. For a while, there was friendly competition in pursuit of the hoppiest beer ones taste buds could handle. Oregon craft brewers were hoppy, I mean, happy, to participate, especially since many of the most sought after hops, like the Cascade and Willamette hops, are found in the lush fields of the Pacific Northwest. The Cascade hop plant, named after Oregon’s beloved Cascade Mountain Range, was developed at Oregon State University in the 1960s and has been a large factor in the transformation of the craft beer industry.
Before the Brewpub Bill, there were only around 100 breweries in the United States. By the turn of the 20th Century, that had gone up to one thousand. In 2018, the craft beer industry had grown by over 750%. That’s right; nearly 8,000 breweries!
Getting thirsty and looking for a taproom suggestion? Well, there are just too many to name and I really don’t like to play favorites, especially since I kind of like them all.
As of 2018, the Portland metropolis was home to over 100 craft breweries and over a third of all the breweries in the state. Just one year later, the saturated market saw multiple closures. Most notably was Bridgeport Brewing that had been Oregon’s oldest microbrewery, going back to when it’s founders helped pass the Brewpub Bill in 1984. Their flagship IPA should also forever be remembered as influential in starting the hop revolution.
A good place to learn about Oregon beer is to visit Oregoncraftbeer.org. Of course, a Google map search will probably show you a multitude of brewpubs just a couple minutes away. And while you enjoy sipping your pint of Oregon beer, may you rejoice in the impact of the Brewpub Bill, the craft brewery explosion and the hop revolution. Cheers!
This segment and so much more is best heard and experienced on our GPS audio tour app of Mount Hood and Timberline. While it isn’t out just this second, the app should post any day. In the meantime, you can check out the Oregon Central Cascades Driving Tour between Salem, Eugene, and Bend.
#1: Cougar Hot Springs off of Highway 126 (featured above)
In case you don’t know already, Together Anywhere creates GPS audio driving tours around the state of Oregon. We are three young-ish, new business owners, with lots of dreams and a community of people supporting the dreams. This article is about one specific supporter, a dreamer in his own right.
When starting a new business, there are a lot of things to consider… market research, business planning, funding, naming your business, product development, permits, legal structure… the to-do lists never stop.
And then, there is branding and marketing. This is a daunting task, especially when it is for a unknown product that requires a lot of eye-catching marketing strategies. We didn’t have to look far to find our inspiration in Taylor Allen. Less than an hour from our homebase, our talented friend has been uniquely highlighting the beauty of the Oregon landscape for years. And we love what he can do…
The back of our business cards…
…and the front. Each partner has a piece of the puzzle!
The friendship between Together Anywhere founder Andrew Hussey and Taylor Allen began over twenty years ago. In the late 2000s, Andrew and Taylor started the band Jamalia with some other Jam-Aliens. Christy Hey (another TA founder) joined the group in 2010. Andrew, a singer-guitar playing-songwriter, and Taylor, a songwriter-drummer, still play music together sometimes and consider yourself lucky to catch a set. And today, the off the stage creativity continues in the collaboration with Together Anywhere and Taylor Allen Artwork!
Taylor in his studio in Eugene, Oregon..
Taylor finds inspiration for his paintings in Oregon nature.
A bit about Taylor: Born and raised in Salem, Oregon, he went to the University of Oregon and has now lived in the Eugene area for over twenty years. Taylor loves Eugene and Eugene loves Taylor… just go out for a drink with him sometime. People know him and love him.
His artwork always begins at home at his studio in Eugene, Oregon. And close to home, he has painted a few of the local Eugene favorites like Spencer Butte and the home of the Oregon Ducks football team.
A lover of nature and seeking new creative direction, he started painting in 2013. He was inspired to paint after many hiking trips in Oregon.
Taylor’s work has evolved to include a variety of artistic expressions. He primarily uses acrylic and oil paint on medium to large canvases. Surreal type sunsets in wild natural settings are his favorites, especially when it involves iconic Pacific Northwest locations. His art is deeply rooted in the beauty of the natural world.
As Together Anywhere was getting started, it just made sense to partner Taylor Allen in developing our business identity. We recognized his talent for capturing Oregon and we wanted to present his artwork to across the state. We started with logo backgrounds and business cards, and developed into rack cards and printed ads.
We were preparing to partner with Taylor at multiple Oregon events in the summer of 2020, selling his art, our merchandise and promoting our Oregon tour app. However, COVID-19 had different plans. During the pandemic, Taylor continues to actively paint and explore creative avenues out of his Eugene studio.
His most recent painting, found on his Instagram, was an addition to his Norwegian Gnome Adventure series titled, ‘Mystic Mountains II: Velkommin til Norway.’
Even with the pandemic putting in person events on hold, we continue to highlight his artwork in our app. Taylor brings color and life to a landscape in a way that digitally altered pictures can, but hey, there is Instagram for that!
In his seven years of painting, Taylor has been uncovering beautiful Oregon destinations with his signature sunset styles and colorful imagination. His paintings have us wanting to create a tour just so we can highlight his artwork!
Taylor has covered Oregon locations like the Willamette Pass…
…to other iconic Oregon spots like the Oregon Coast.
Our new driving tour that will be released any day features a brand new Taylor Allen commission! If you are interested, Taylor regularly does private commissions for customers. Contact him via Facebook or through his Etsy. We can’t wait to see what Taylor creates next!
We are looking ahead to 2021 and beyond, planning Together Anywhere and Taylor Allen collaborations for Oregon destinations we add to both our libraries.
It just makes sense that a 20+ year friendship plays such an integral part of our origin story. And eerily, our company and Taylor have the same initials… TA. Was it meant to be all along?
Together Anywhere dreams that one day, Taylor Allen becomes a household name like Thomas Kincaid or Bob Ross. You can buy his art or commission a Taylor Allen original at taylorallenartwork.com!
And, to conclude, here is a Taylor Allen sunset on an advertisement for our driving tours.
Thanks Taylor for being an awesome friend and partner! You are a great ambassador to Oregon’s outdoors!
One of the most special drives in Oregon has to be the McKenzie Scenic Highway 242. A scenic byway only open six months a year, this drive provides the traveler with an experience of the best parts of this state we love: old growth forests, waterfalls, dramatic mountain views, and volcanic topography. And then there is the hiking… and boating… and biking… and stories! And did you know that astronauts have been here? Well let’s find out more.
I couldn’t get to all the stories I wanted to share in my last blog post so this is part two of this incredibly unique part of Oregon.
This segment and so much more is best heard and experienced on our GPS audio tour app of the Cascade Mountains between Salem, Eugene, and Bend.
Ok back to the pass… Are you ready? Let’s go take a mini-road trip!
Do you remember the story in my last post about Felix Scott and his attempts to build a road? As Scott’s road-building crew neared the lowest route across the mountains, they encountered miles of snow and jagged lava fields at McKenzie Pass. John Templeton Craig (one of Scott’s workers) favored chipping out a road through the lava fields, but Scott decided to skirt the lava fields using a notch at Scott’s Pass on the shoulder of North Sister that was 1,000 feet higher, steeper and with a thicker snow blanket. Scott’s route was later abandoned and is known today as the Scott Trail in the Three Sisters Wilderness.
After working for Scott, Craig spent the next 15 years laboring and championing his vision of a lower crossing through the McKenzie Pass. In 1871 he formed the McKenzie, Salt Springs and Deschutes Wagon Road Company and began to build his toll road. He cut trees, chipped and chiseled a roadblock out of the jagged lava fields just north of North Sister to form a McKenzie Pass crossing lower than any other available at the time. By the fall of 1872 the new road opened and began collecting tolls of $2 for a wagon, $1 for a horseback rider, and 10¢ per cattle and 5¢ per sheep. After its completion, he secured a federal contract to deliver mail from the Willamette Valley to Camp Polk in Central Oregon over the pass. In summer, the mail was carried on horseback. In the winter, it was carried on John Craig’s back as he skied across the difficult terrain. To accommodate the mail carrier, a small cabin was built about half way across, in which he could spend the night.
For years. John Craig safely made these trips. He set out, unknowingly, for his last journey over the mountains, delivering Christmas mail in 1877. The mail and his body were found the following Spring, curled up in his cabin, frozen to death during the harsh winter of the Oregon Cascades. In 1930, the Oregon Rural Mail Carriers Association erected a memorial to John Craig at the site of his tomb. You can stop for a visit to the memorial that honors the spirit of this accomplished pioneer. If you are a winter sports enthusiast, you can join the Oregon Nordic Club on their annual John Craig Memorial Trip to the top of McKenzie Pass before the road opens to cyclists and vehicles each spring.
Now, onto geology! While the road has been skirting the 85 square mile lava flow through the uncovered forest, you will soon have no choice but to travel through the lava field itself. But luckily, you are driving on a paved highway, unlike the Native people and wagon road settlers before us. Parts of this lava field were formed as recently as 1,500 years ago by Belknap Crater, the Yapoah cinder cone, and other volcanic vents. Different from the stratovolcano that erupts with spewing lava, the Belknap Crater shield volcano is much like the volcanoes of Hawaii that release fluid lava flowing in all directions.
I highly recommend exploring the Google Maps or Earth satellite view of this area to experience the remarkable landscape from above. You can view the 7,000 foot Belknap Crater from the road or by climbing up the Dee Wright Observatory ahead. Fun fact, it was named for the son of the Belknap Hot Springs developer who was heavily involved in the creation of the toll road in the 1870s. But, before you get to the top, there is an Insta-worthy photo opportunity of the Three Sisters mountains at a pullout ahead on the right.
Near the summit, you encounter the Pacific Crest Trailhead, known historically as the Oregon Skyline Trail. This foot and equestrian trail ran north to south and was originally established between Mount Hood and Crater Lake in 1920. It was extended into the entire state of Oregon in 1936, and in 1968, was integrated into the Pacific Crest Trail. Today, the Pacific Crest Trail, often called the PCT, extends from the US border at Mexico traversing 2,650 miles to the border with Canada crossing California, Oregon, and Washington. Less than one thousand people attempt to hike the whole route each year and just over half of them actually make it. From the same parking lot of the PCT, you can also go explore parts of the original 1870s wagon road just a few hundred yards from your car. While they haven’t been in use for over 100 years now, there is surprisingly little change.
And just like that, you arrive at Dee Wright Observatory. With parking on both sides of the highway, this is a must stop location on this journey. It’s built out of basaltic andesite lava rock and was completed in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC for short. It was named for the CCC foreman Dee Wright who died just after completion. Due to his accomplishments as a foreman, forest service guide, trail builder, and all around wholesome Oregonian, the observatory was named in his honor. The CCC hand built this structure as a shelter for travelers passing through the area, and, as the plaque inside tells us, “to facilitate public enjoyment of the unusual and interesting combination of historical and geological features nearby.” You can walk up to the observatory, read informational signs along the way about Native American and settler experiences, continue inside to view each mountain through the lava framed windows, and finally, climb to the top for the ultimate 360 degree view of the High Cascade mountains and their glaciers as well as a bronze peak-finder to assist with naming the geologic features you witness. From this location, the North and Middle Sister feel close enough to touch on a clear day, you can even see Mount Hood, 78 miles to the north!
Before you leave the 5,325 foot summit, I want to make sure you didn’t miss the Lava River National Recreation Trail just east of the observatory. This easy half-mile paved trail takes less than a half an hour to complete and has multiple interpretive signs describing the geological formation of this post over 2,000 years ago. There is also a turnoff to the right providing more parking, primitive drive in camping, and access to more backcountry trailhead but don’t forget, you guessed it, the permits! And now, about the astronauts! If you have thought this lava strewn landscape looks like the moon, you aren’t the only one. During the mid 1960s, NASA started sending future lunar astronauts to areas like Hawaii, Iceland, and various locations in Central Oregon to study the geology and experiment with pressurized space suits on the uneven and sharp terrain. NASA started referring to the Bend area as “Moon Country” and locals befriended the future astronauts. Rumor has it, Apollo 15 astronaut Jim Irwin was sent a rock by an Oregonian friend subsequently placing it on the moon in 1971! If this is true, then Oregon is definitely out of this world!
After the pass, you descend from the McKenzie Pass summit and not lose that much elevation as Central Oregon sits at over 3,000 feet. Since you learn more about specific Cascade mountains on the drive from Sisters to Bend, I’d like to share a bit about the Cascade Mountains in general. Stretching from British Columbia in Canada down to Northern California. This mountain range is part of the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire and is the source for all eruptions in the lower 48 states for the last 200 years. Locals who are old enough to remember surely recall the most recent eruption of Washington’s Mount St. Helens in 1980. In Oregon, the Cascades cover 17% of the state, an area larger than the smallest nine States. Almost all are volcanic, and formed out of the Cascadia Subduction zone, a convergent plate boundary where the ocean floor is gradually slipping under North America, causing deep earthquakes and active volcanism. Geologically speaking, these mountains can be divided into the Western Cascades, or Old Cascades, and going to the High Cascades, newer mountains with more potential for future eruptions. Maybe you have heard of the famous Oregon volcanoes: Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, the Three Sisters, and Crater Lake also known as Mount Mazama. A trivia question for the car…what are the two main types of lava?
To the east, just after you leave the pass, is the trailhead for Black Crater, a difficult 7 mile out and back hike that was heavily damaged in the 2017 Milli Fire. The hike itself might seem mundane after the wonders you’ve encountered on the drive but ends in a red cindered peak and views of the lava field below. A quarter mile past there on the left is your last chance to view the lava field as you head towards Sisters. At Windy Point, you get a great view of Mount Washington and more interpretive signs about the geology of the area.
I hope you have enjoyed our journey to the moon-like part of Oregon. Central Oregon is filled with information about volcanoes and geology. If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend the Lava Lands Visitor Center, the interpretive hub of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Just 20 minutes south of Bend, it offers an amazing 3-D topographical map of the area and takes you deep underneath the Earth’s surface. Did you figure out the two types of lava? Pahoehoe and A’a. Like many other volcanic terms, these names are derived from the Hawaiian language. There is actually a third one named pillow lava only found on the ocean floor.
Well that wraps up the McKenzie Pass for now. Again, it is best explored with our app.
In case you don’t know, Together Anywhere has created a way to explore Oregon through stories while driving, remaining separate from other travelers as you go down the road, learning more about this beautiful place we get to live. This short post is an example of our tours, except our tours speak to you! You just download the app, choose your drive, and you are on your way!
Soon, Together Anywhere will be releasing our tour of another one of Oregon’s big volcanic spots… Mount Hood. There are so many more stories to share!