Hitched Up: Oregon’s High Desert

Searching for sunshine we left Oregon’s gorgeous, but cloudy coast for the High Desert. Our first stop was Prineville Reservoir State Park. I’m typically not a big fan of reservoirs because oftentimes they’re artificial and really look the part. Another thing— speedboats. Don’t get me wrong, boats are loads of fun, but their loud engines aren’t as thrilling when you’re watching, speedboat-less from the shore. The last reservoir we visited was terribly littered and appeared to be more of a place to party than a place to connect with Mother Earth. I can almost still smell the stale beer in the air. Prineville, however, was quite different. Perhaps during busy season we would have had a different experience, but our late-September visit was quiet and peaceful. The park was clean, the campground was full of trees, and the water was smooth. 

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Our campsite overlooked the water, like several others, including an ADA accessible site with a view of the reservoir through the trees. As I explored the grounds I was really impressed with the park’s accessibility overall. Near the boat ramp there are standard accessible parking spaces and extra-long accessible parking spaces for vehicles with boat trailers. There is also a large accessible fishing pier with benches.

An accessible, paved trail runs throughout the campground and there are multiple accessible restrooms and showers. The day-use area is also accessible with horseshoe pits, picnic tables, and a trail that leads to the beach. The accessible picnic area provides a great view of the water and beach (in fact, the best view out of all the picnic spots). There was also an observatory for star-gazers, though it’s only open seasonally from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

We hadn’t been out in the kayak lately so we suited up Gaius in his little puppy life vest and headed down to the boat launch. The smooth water made for a very pleasant paddle and with the exception of a few fishermen, we pretty much had the entire reservoir to ourselves. 

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We enjoyed our stay but were pretty excited to head over to our next destination. We camped near the city of Bend, OR in La Pine State Park and it turned out to be a great home base while exploring the area. We were only a quick drive from Newberry National Volcanic Monument and stopped by to check out a really cool cave I was eager to visit.

img_8482The cave is a massive lava tube that was formed by a volcanic eruption over 80,000 years ago. The exact size of the cave is unknown but visitors can travel a mile into the pitch-black darkness before reaching a stop sign with instructions to turn around.

Unfortunately, the cave is not accessible. Though the floor inside the cave is mostly flat, there are lots and lots of stairs to navigate upon entering and exiting the cave. Throughout the cave there are several areas with large rocks and holes and a few passages with low-clearance where most adults will need to duck down. The park has high-power flashlights available to rent for $5 but we opted to bring our own light. And of course, it died. In the middle of the cave. Leaving us in absolute darkness. Luckily we had our cell phones handy and used their flashlights until we reached the exit. Did I mention the cave was freezing? If you look closely at the picture of Mitch below, you can see his breath (and also that he gave me his jacket to wear because I forgot mine). 

We also did a bit of exploring at our campground in La Pine. The park sits along the beautiful Deschutes River in a forest of ponderosa pines. In fact, Oregon’s largest ponderosa pine is located in the park and can be visited via the short and accessible Big Tree Trail.

Another accessible option is the McGregor Memorial Viewpoint which offers breathtaking views of the winding Deschutes River.

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We headed a bit further south to camp near Crater Lake National Park. Our campground was right on the outskirts of a state and national forest so there were plenty of beautiful trees and a beautiful little creek ran right behind our site. Mitch even took to the outdoors with his guitar and played by the water. We had a little fun and didn’t kill each other trying to maneuver a canoe through the log-ladden creek, although we learned quickly that we much prefer our kayak.

We had some down time in the RV due to a few days of rain but once the skies cleared we made a trip to Crater Lake National Park. Contrary to popular belief and its namesake, Crater Lake was not formed by a meteor. The lake was formed when the volcano Mount Mazama erupted 7,700 years ago then collapsed forming a caldera that eventually filled with melted snow and rainwater. At 1,943 feet, the lake is the deepest in the country and as far as I can tell, one of the most beautiful too. When we caught our first glimpse of the water, we were completely astonished by how blue it was.

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The cinder cone that sits above the water’s surface is known as Wizard Island and can be reached by boat. I’d love to trek out there someday but for this trip we decided to stick to the roads (and our heated seat-warmers). One can drive around the rim of the lake on the scenic 33-mile loop that has several viewpoints and trailheads. There are four trails specified as “accessible to wheelchair users with assistance” within the park-  Sun Notch, The Pinnacles, Godfrey Glen, and Plaikni Falls. We hiked the Sun Notch trail and after a bit of an incline reached the rim’s edge overlooking the water. This short, but somewhat steep loop trail is approximately .08 miles and its terrain is mostly pavement or packed dirt.

The sun was shining bright but the wind was in full-force and we were shivering in the 39 degree temperatures. Too cold to attempt any more hiking, we stuck to the pullouts along the rim trail. They did not disappoint and we had amazing views all around. Most of the overlooks are accessible though many do not have developed parking areas or designated, lined spaces. Those with developed parking areas have accessible parking spaces and paved paths.

On another sunny day we grabbed Gaius and hopped in the truck to check out the Wood River and determine if it was paddle-worthy. We found that not only was it paddle-worthy, it was downright dreamworthy! Gorgeous shades of green and blue glimmered through the crystal clear water while yellow and orange grasses and tall green trees lined the shore.

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The water was so pristine and clear that its surface was barely even visible. As we floated along the smooth water it almost felt like we were hovering or flying above the riverbed. Before too long we reached some fun obstacles to conquer, like forks in the river, downed trees, and shallow beds of sand (where we accidentally beached our boat a few times). We had a blast and even Gaius seemed to enjoy riding along.

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We had the whole river to ourselves on a lovely day. It was beautiful, peaceful, and quiet as we gently floated along watching hawks and other birds near the banks. Rowing our boat gently down the stream, merrily, life really was was but a dream…

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And then it wasn’t. Suddenly the wind picked up and the sun hid behind the clouds. The current grew stronger, carrying us faster, and we decided to turn back before things got worse. Our 35 minute joyride downstream yielded an hour-long paddle against the current. We rowed and rowed and rowed with all of our might. Sometimes it felt like we weren’t moving forward at all and if either of us stopped paddling for even a moment we would quickly lose ground and drift backwards. Now cold and wet we paddled nonstop until we finally made it back to where we started. It was an adventure and totally worth it.

Tomorrow we head off on our next adventure- Western Oregon and the southwestern coast.  Thanks for reading!

 

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