EXPLORING THE OREGON OUTBACK

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I feel I must address the general remoteness of Oregon (that is, anything at least ten miles west of I-5).

Outside of Bend, Oregon population centers largely reside up and along I-5. Beginning with Portland and heading south all the way to Medford, you can knock off almost all of the top 20 cities in the state by population. Bend and its neighbor, Redmond, make up the bulk of the state’s interior population, with – correct me if I’m wrong, I am newbie resident – Pendleton carrying the torch for the western part of the state with a mere 16,904 people.

Don’t even get me started on the southwest…

Well, nevermind, I’ll bite on it, in fact, I’ll bite off a huge chunk of it.

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…and this direction will take you straight off of the grid…

I planned our initial drive into Oregon through the far less traversed southwest via Winnemucca, Nevada, a route that would knock off some hard-to-get counties in Northern Nevada, and, of course, Oregon. That wasn’t the real point, though, the idea being to find safe passage through a large swath of burning woodlands in the four state area of Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. The relative safety of the deserts of Nevada and southeast Oregon took priority.

Dust blowing around Summer Lake, Oregon

Dust blowing around Summer Lake, Oregon

Until you drive what is known as the Oregon Outback Scenic Byway, you don’t really understand what remote is. After living on the east coast for nearly five years, I’m just getting back to understanding how remote parts of our heavily populated country still are. There is nearly no one living in Southeast Oregon, and you’re reminded of this for hour-upon-hour as you wind through the ever-changing two-lane landscape. The road is aptly named, as I felt I was tossed somewhere in-between Western Australia and the Northern Territory, as if they cut a section of road from Perth to Darwin and placed it smack dab in the U.S.

It is definitely worth the extra work to get out to Crater Lake

It is definitely worth the extra work to get out to Crater Lake

Yes, it is beautiful. The desert gives way to mountains and pines before long, but you still have a long ways before any type of serious population. Do you have to go pee? Good luck finding a rest stop short of pulling off on a random wayside stop and running for the bushes. Running low on gas? Too bad, you may end up stranded, miles from the nearest station. We filled up in Winnemucca, NV despite being at 3/4th of a tank, and we drove for at least six hours without seeing a viable gas station (or at least an obvious one).

Which brings me to Crater Lake National Park – a truly stunning place. I don’t need to get too carried away with the particulars of the park itself (you do know it wasn’t formed by a meteor, right?). I will say, half the fun is getting there (and getting back).

Fires burning just outside of Crater Lake National Park's north entrance...

Fires burning just outside of Crater Lake National Park’s north entrance…

I got used to easy get-in, get-out day trips back east. Crater Lake is doable in a day (from, say, our neck of the woods in Eugene), but it is not the easiest ride there and back. I decided on a loop route, coming in from the northwest on Highway 58 (all roads to Crater Lake cut right through the mountains). Coming back we took a southwesterly route towards I-5 and Canyonville. Needless to say we ended up on the funky Tiller-Trail Highway No. 230 – one of the more hairy Oregon roads to my knowledge (according to my co-workers at least). Someday I may want to further explore the beauty around Tiller, but I had to keep my eyes on the switchbacks…

Truth be told, I never thought Oregon was this wild…and I’m loving every minute of it so far.

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