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Explore Southern Oregon on a Scenic Ride
Experience the abundant natural beauty of Southern Oregon by planning a motorcycle ride or car road trip along one of their Scenic Byways.
Umpqua River Scenic Byway starts in Oakland, a one-time pioneer town filled with points of historical interest. From there, the Byway winds through Elkton, a wine lover’s paradise, to the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area and Reedsport, which sits along the stunning coast of Winchester Bay.
If you find yourself near Diamond Junction, drive the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway. Highway 138 brings you to Crater Lake, the deepest lake on the continent. Rim Drive takes you along the lake and onward to Upper Klamath Lake and legendary Klamath Falls. From there, return to the historic town of Klamath Falls or visit the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Don’t forget your binoculars!
Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway is a National Scenic Byway with chances to explore Susan Creek Falls, Toketee Falls and Watson Falls. If you follow this route on Highway 138, you’ll find yourself investigating Diamond Lake and Umpqua National Forest, while also catching glimpses of Mt. Bailey and Mt. Theilsen. Keep following the Rogue River for another chance to see Crater Lake and the infamous Oregon Vortex.
Day One: Home to Bend
Miles Ridden: 18
I’m returning to Oregon again, and I couldn’t be more excited. Last year, I explored western Oregon and I had a great time riding along the beautiful coast. The year before that, I rode through the Northeastern part of the state. This time, I’m starting out in Bend, and riding in Central Oregon. I’ll see high desert, deep forest and beautiful lakes. I can’t wait.
My early morning flight lands in Portland, and I take a puddle jumper to Roberts Field, Redmond Municipal Airport. I collect my luggage and climb into a cab for the 18-mile ride to Bend, where I’ll pick up my steed for the trip at Wildhorse Harley-Davidson. My cab driver, Billy, is a very interesting guy. He’s new to the job, but clearly really enjoys his work. I hear a little bit of his story – Growing up in John Day, Oregon; 10 years in the Army, serving in Germany, Japan and the Middle East; then back to civilian life, eventually finding his way to his current profession. Billy’s going to do very well as a cab driver, I can tell. He’s got the gift of gab, and he’s a good listener, too.
It’s been two years since I last rented a bike at Wildhorse H-D, but Kelly in the rentals department recognizes me right away. “You’re that writer guy, aren’t you?” I’m flattered – and the fact that I’ve rented from the dealership before really expedites the whole process. My information is already in the computer, and we don’t have to spend a lot of time getting oriented on the bike. The bike, which by the way, is a gorgeous, a Big Blue Pearl Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited with just 2,000 miles on the ticker. I load my gear into the saddlebags and TourPak, strap on my helmet, pull on my gloves and I’m ready to go. Kelly will hold onto my suitcase for me for the week while I ride through Oregon.
I’ve had a long day of travel, but I’ve got a very short ride today. I check in to the hotel, and I’m thrilled to find out that they have an outdoor swimming pool on the premises, because it’s really hot today. I ask the cool front desk clerk for a dinner recommendation, and he’s a font of information. Bend has a plethora of small breweries and brewpubs, and it seems that everyone has their favorites.
I check in to my room, and head out to explore Bend. I decide to jump on the bike, even though downtown Bend is walking distance from the Best Western. Bend is an incredibly livable city of 75,000. The Deschutes River runs right through town, and there are parks and green spaces all over the place. Over the past few years, Bend has made an effort to replace many of its traditional traffic light controlled intersections with traffic circles or rotaries, which can be confusing to the uninitiated. Once you get the hang of a rotary, it’s great, and much more efficient than a traffic light.
Bend is a very active, health conscious place. Bicyclists and bicycle shops are everywhere, along with yoga studios, gyms and massage centers. On a hot day like today, the people of Bend are out in their parks, wearing their bathing suits and soaking up the rays. It’s quite a fine sight to see.
It’s time for dinner. There are many brew pubs in Bend, but the granddaddy of them all is the Deschutes Brewery & Public House. Founded in 1988 by Gary Fish, Deschutes Brewery was one of the pioneers of the craft brewing movement. Many of the other brew pubs in Bend are descendants of Deschutes, owned and operated by alumni of the original. The downtown Bend location is Deschutes Brewery’s flagship, and was recently renovated and expanded. It is a big, yet comfortable pub, with an open kitchen and an unfussy, yet sophisticated menu. The brewery’s beers are the stars, but you don’t have to drink in order to appreciate the ambiance and the food. Since I have to climb back on my bike after my meal, I limit my beer consumption to a sample of Twilight Summer Ale, a seasonal selection. It’s delicious. So is my Garlic Burger. It’s a good thing I’m traveling solo.
I’m back at the hotel now, and the weather is breaking. The sun is still out, but is hidden behind dark clouds as a thunderstorm rolls through town. I stand out on the covered walkway outside my second floor room and watch the lightning strikes in the distance as the storm moves across the edge of the Cascade Mountains and into the Deschutes Valley.
I retire to my room, and fall asleep listening to the staccato patter of rain on the roof. Tomorrow, the real riding begins.
NEXT: DAY TWO: BEND TO LAKEVIEW
Day Two: Bend to Lakeview
Miles Ridden: 180.6
I wake up early, and head to the breakfast room in the hotel. I have my iPhone with me, as I do on most trips. While I eat breakfast, I read a series of emails that promise to put a bit of a crimp in my trip. Someone has hacked my American Express account, and has tried to buy a bunch of software downloads from a major retailer. Both Amex and the retailer flagged the attempted purchase as fraudulent, which is good. What's bad is that Amex has frozen my card. I spend the next hour on the phone cancelling my card, confirming some charges and figuring out what to do next. Luckily, I always travel with a backup card -- in this case, a Visa -- so I'll be able to continue my trip without interruption. I'll have to deal with other consequences and inconveniences of this fraud when I get home, but for now, it's handled. Thanks to a good, free Internet connection at the hote, I'm able to resolve some issues and get on the road again.
I don't ride out of Bend right away. I ride around some more, exploring and experiencing the town. It's easy to see why Bend has become a magnet for active retirees. The mild high desert climate means that there's only 12 inches of precipitation per year, yet the mountains are close enough for winter day trips for skiing and summer day trips for hiking. Mt. Bachelor looms over the city from the edge of the Cascades Mountain range to the west, begging to be explored. The Deschutes River runs right through town, so water sports and fishing are also easily accessible. St. Charles Medical Center is the town's largest employer, and is noted for its superb health care, with an amazingly favorable patient to physician ratio. There are 37 public parks in Bend, lending a great green feel to the whole town, a feeling that's not likely to change in the face of continued development. In addition to the usual big box retailers clustered along the highway, Bend's downtown is still populated with small independent stores, restaurants and coffee houses. And, of course, the beer. Bend is a great beer town, and if you're going to retire, you want access to great, local beer.
After exploring for a while, it's time to get on the road. I'm heading south, so I get on US-97 toward Klamath Falls. None of the roads in this part of Oregon are particularly big, not like the freeways or interstates that feed other parts of the state. I ride down US-97, and the scenery quickly changes from civilization to suburbia to tree-lined road, as I follow the road into the Deschutes National Forest.
The High Desert Museum is just five miles south of Bend. According to the museum's website, "The High Desert Museum is nationally acclaimed for inspiring stewardship of the natural and cultural resources of the High Desert. It offers close-up wildlife encounters, living history performances, Native American and Western art, nature trails, tours and educational programs for all ages. An independent, nonprofit educational institution, it is on 135 forested acres." I pass by the museum's welcome sign, vowing to return for a visit soon.
The Newberry National Volcanic Monument is a fascinating geological region directly south of Bend. It is actually a 17 square mile caldera at the summit of a 500 square mile seismically and geothermally active volcano. A caldera is the crater that is left following a volcanic eruption -- which is a little intimidating. This eruption happened many eons ago, but the volcano is still considered active. The Newberry Volcanic Monument, which was created in 1990, contains the Lava Lands, Paulina Peak (7,985 ft) and Lava River Cave. It's a very rich, unique park full of natural beauty and great wonders. I ride directly past the Monument entrances without stopping to explore -- the temperatures today are already above 90 degrees, and I'm not dressed for a summer hike in my motorcycle gear. Just one day into my trip, and I'm already finding places that I must return to in the future. That's a good omen.
Thirty miles south of Bend on US-97, I reach the town of La Pine, where I turn left onto Oregon Route 31. I've gone from a four-lane road down to a two-lane road. My Electra Glide purrs as it chews up the miles. I follow the gentle curves of OR-31, relishing the cooling breeze. Even in 93 degrees, it's pleasant to cruise along on my Harley-Davidson. I'm an ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time) guy, so I'm wearing my full-face helmet, a Harley-Davidson FXRG Perforated Leather Jacket, Cordura and Kevlar riding pants, FXRG Motorcycle Boots and leather riding gloves. Underneath it all, I wear CoolMax riding shorts, a CoolMax t-shirt and CoolMax socks, a high-tech layer that does a great job of wicking away moisture from my skin. I'm comfortable and safe in the heat. I just have to listen to my body, and make sure that I stop frequently for water to rehydrate. Heat is insidious when you're on a bike. You get hot, you sweat, and because you're moving through the wind, your sweat evaporates quickly. Since you're still hot, you sweat more. Before you realize it, dehydration and heat exhaustion set in, and the first thing that's affected is your brain. You get a little light headed and lose concentration. That's bad when you're driving a car; it's worse when you're riding a bike. So, to fend off heat exhaustion, I drink a lot of water at every break, and the hotter it is, the more breaks I take.
I arrive in Lakeview a little ahead of schedule. I ride through town until I spot the Tall Town Cafe and Bakery, a small restaurant in a bungalow on the main drag of Lakeview. I have a sandwich and some pie, enjoying the air conditioning and observing the interactions in the cozy establishment. It seems like the waitress knows every customer by name, and the customers all know each other. I'm the odd man out, a fly on the wall watching small town life. Cool.
I check in to my room at the Lakeview hotel, which is directly in the center of town. The helpful young woman at the front desk suggests a few places to explore in town, but laments the fact that I'm here on a Monday night. There are more than a few restaurants and pubs in Lakeview, but the best ones are closed on Mondays. Most of the local social activities are dark on Monday as well, including the historic Alger movie theater downtown. Despite the heat, I set out to experience Lakeview on foot. I grab my camera, and go looking around downtown for interesting sights.
Lakeview is known by the nickname "Tall Town" because it is situated at an elevation of 4,808 feet, making it the "Tallest" town in Oregon. A giant illustration of a tall, thin cowboy stands as the town mascot, adorning a sign on Main Street. Lakeview was founded in 1888, and many of the buildings in the tiny downtown are from the late 19th and very early 20th centuries. Lakeview is loaded with authentic charm, and I have a great time photographing its treasures.
Once the sun finally goes down, it's time for dinner. I've worked up an appetite walking around town, so I decide to fill my belly at El Aguila Real, the Mexican restaurant next door to the Best Western. The food is old fashioned, stick to your ribs Mexican, and I eat until I'm full.
Back in my room now, I'm looking forward to the next leg of my trip. The altitude of Tall Town puts me to sleep instantly, and I dream of volcanoes and eagles. Nice.
NEXT: DAY THREE: LAKEVIEW TO MEDFORD
Day Three: Lakeview to Medford
Miles Ridden: 228.3
One thing that I love about the High Desert climate is that no matter how hot the day is, once the sun goes down, it's nice and cool. Yesterday was a scorcher, touching triple digits. Today promises to be just as hot. Last night, I was able to turn off the air conditioning in my room in the Lakeview hotel I opened the windows and enjoyed the cool desert air, and I slept like a desert log. This morning, I feel great. I wolf down some of the free hot food in the breakfast room, and I study my maps.
Even though motorcycle touring is a lot about spontaneity for me, sometimes I nail down events that are tightly scheduled. I'm riding west to Medford, and on the way, I'm going to stop in Ashland, Oregon and see if I can get a ticket to a performance at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is a professional non-profit regional theater that has been in operation since 1935. Every year, the OSF presents an 11-play season (four by Shakespeare, seven by classic and contemporary playwrights). The OSF has three theaters, one of which is an outdoor modern replica of an Elizabethan playhouse. The OSF will present 790 performances in 2012, employing nearly 575 theater professionals. It is right in the heart of downtown Ashland, and acts as the anchor for a very literate and artistic little town.
Most of the OSF's tickets are sold in advance on subscription, but I know that there are always last-minute cancellations and odd availabilities at any theater. So I slide in to the box office, and I'm delighted to discover that a single ticket has just become available for tonight's 8:30 pm performance of Animal Crackers, a play with music adapted from the classic 1930 Marx Brothers movie. With a book by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, and music and lyrics by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, how could it be bad? I am really looking forward to seeing how they handle the Marx Brothers -- will they do impersonations or will they create new characters?
After picking up my ticket, I ride through Ashland and ride 15 miles north to Medford, where I check in to my room. I'll be staying here for two nights, which is really unusual for me on my motorcycle trips. But there's so much to see in the area that I'm going to need to stick around.
It's really hot in Medford today -- it has been hot all day. So I change into my swim trunks, and take a dip in the big outdoor pool across from my room. A nice clean pool is such a great luxury on a motorcycle trip. I'm so glad that I remembered to pack my suit, as I emerge from the cool waters refreshed and ready for the evening.
I'm at one of those creases in time right now. I know that there are plenty of fancy restaurants in Ashland, but I haven't eaten since breakfast, and if I head to Ashland now, I'll be wandering in the heat for hours. I decide to have a simple dinner at the Black Bear Diner, which shares a parking lot with the my hotel. The Black Bear Diner is part of a small western chain of restaurants, with 50 locations and growing. I've eaten at one before, and if you've got to eat at a chain, this is one of the good ones. Traditional, straightforward American food at reasonable prices -- just what I'm looking for this evening. I have a turkey club and some fries, and I'm ready to attack Ashland.
Oregon Route 99 connects Medford and Oregon, paralleling Interstate-5 in a much more sedate fashion. There's not much to see between the two towns -- just some industrial parks, mobile homes and car repair shops. Ashland nestles in some hills, and is a pastoral, lovely little city of 20,000. Ashland Creek runs right through downtown. People of all ages are out walking, bicycling, sitting and enjoying the tree-shaded streets.
I've arrived early for my show, so I find a convenient parking spot for the Electra Glide and set off on foot to explore downtown. I discover two great -- and I mean GREAT -- music stores, each with astonishing selections of new and used CDs and vinyl records. The Music Coop at 268 East Main Street has one of the best blues and early rock sections I've perused; and CD or Not CD at 343 East Main Street specializes in Punk and Indie Rock. I'm sure the students at nearby Southern Oregon University are thrilled to have these great stores in their town.
There are dozens of antique stores, book shops, boutiques and art galleries downtown, too, and I wander in and out of the ones that catch my eye. I wind up buying an antique Art Deco pin for my wife in one store -- she'll like that, and it won't take up much room on the bike.
Finally, it's time to hike across to the August Bowen Theater at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I spend the next two and a half hours laughing at the exploits of Captain Spaulding. The production is great; an inspired interpretation of the Marx Brothers' style, not a slavish impersonation. I had a great time. I'd go see it again, and that's saying something for me.
It's eleven o'clock when the curtain falls on Rittenhouse Manor. I collect the Electra Glide, gear up and ride back up to Medford. I decide to take the dreaded Interstate route, because I noticed lots of places along OR-99 that would be prime locations for a deer or elk crossing, which I have no desire to deal with this evening (or any evening). Deer and elk are abundant in Oregon, and they are most active after dark. They have the nasty habit of jumping out in front of a motorcycle and freezing when they see the headlight, and they can be very difficult to avoid. Given the option of riding along a dark, tree-lined rural route or a well-lit interstate highway, I'll choose the highway for a quick 15-mile blast. It's much safer, even if it's not much fun.
I arrive safely back at my cozy hotel, and collapse into my room. This was a long, hot satisfying day. Tomorrow promises to be another animal altogether.
NEXT: DAY FOUR: MEDFORD
Day Four: Medford
Miles Ridden: 193.5
I'm up and at 'em. I'm spending a second night here at the hotel in Medford, and that means that I don't have to pack up all of my gear and load the bike. I can leave my luggage in my room, and travel light, just carrying what I need for the day. I enjoy the hot breakfast in the hotel's lounge, using the time to study my maps and plan my ride. It's funny -- when I'm at home, I'm addicted to the daily newspaper. I feel like I can't really start my day until I've digested the news of the day. When I'm on the road, I couldn't care less. I completely disconnect from the rest of the world, and immerse myself in my travels.
Today, I'm going to spend the day discovering one of our country's great natural wonders: Crater Lake National Park. I'm going to ride up to the north entry of the park, and then ride toward the lake from that direction, which is supposed to be the most stunning approach. Even though it's going to be close to 100 degrees in Medford today, there's a chance that it will be foggy and cold at Crater Lake, just 75 miles away. There's no guarantee that all of the roads will be passable in July, as there may still be snow. I've got my fingers crossed for a clear day.
I ride out of Medford on OR-62 (Crater Lake Highway), through the towns of White City and Eagle Point. Each little village along the way offers the opportunity to float along the Rogue River in an inner tube, or to raft this calm part of the river. Lots of people seem to be enjoying the respite from the heat of the day. It looks like fun.
I stop to take some pictures at Rogue Gorge, a beautiful bend in the river where the water has carved a passage through a canyon of rock. The rushing water is calming and impressive at the same time. I meet a couple of other motorcyclists while I'm taking my break. They're riding dual sport bikes, and covering a lot of distance today, enroute from Ashland to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. They're stopping at Crater Lake on the way, unable to resist a chance to see the park on a clear day.
I turn onto OR-230, which will take me along the western border of the park on my way up to the northern entrance. Twenty-four miles later, I turn right on OR-138 and 4.5 miles later I'm passing through the north entrance of Crater Lake National Park. I pay the $5.00 seven day use fee -- it's $5.00 per person on a motorcycle, or $10.00 for a car load, which doesn't seem quite fair to me, but I don't make a fuss.
I follow the signs toward Crater Lake. A meandering, 20 mph road winds through the park, gently gaining altitude as I travel. After a few minutes, I realize that the hills around me have patches of snow on them. The further I travel, the more snow I encounter. I have trouble believing what I'm seeing, because it is really hot outside. I park my bike by the side of the road, dismount and go to touch the white stuff. It is actually snow, and it's thick and cold. I get back on the bike, and continue following the road.
I crest a hill, and come to a small parking lot on the left side of the road. Beyond the road lies Crater Lake.
The lake takes my breath away. Other visitors, total strangers, park next to me, and gasp in disbelief. We all look at each other to confirm that what we're seeing is real.
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States. It is so deep, 1,943 feet at its deepest and an average of over 1,100 feet deep in fact, that its water is an otherworldly shade of blue. Back in the days of film photography, Kodak labs was known to return developed film to customers with an apology -- they couldn't understand how their color film was turning up with such an unbelievable shade of blue, and they were sure that a flaw in the film or their processing was causing the results. That's how blue Crater Lake is in person.
Crater Lake isn't actually a crater -- it's a caldera, the result of a violent volcanic eruption that happened over 7,000 years ago. The lake is fed by snow and rainfall, and the waters are depleted by evaporation. There's no river in or out, so Crater Lake is almost a closed ecosystem. As a result, the water is pure and clean. The only fish in the lake were introduced by man, as the lake was stocked from the late 1880s until 1941.
After taking countless photographs of the lake, I climb back aboard and roll around the western edge of the lake up to Crater Lake Village, a small collection of buildings housing a gift shop, cafe and bathrooms. Families romp in the snow -- everybody's seems surprised to discover snow banks in the heat, and they have a blast having snowball fights. I dodge a few missiles, then duck into the cafe for some hydration, and a turn around the gift shop looking for refrigerator magnets.
Back on the bike, I continue to follow the shoreline. I'm hoping to circumnavigate the lake, but I discover that Rim Drive, the road around the southern end of the lake is still closed due to snow. In July. Wow. So, I follow Munson Valley Road south to Crater Lake Highway, exiting the park and heading back toward Medford. It's about 65 miles from the south entrance of the park back to the Best Western, a beautiful ride that I'll be able to enjoy, cruising back along the Rogue River and Crater Lake Highway.
I return to the Best Western Horizon Inn, and once again take an early evening swim in the outdoor pool. It can certainly get hot in Oregon.
I dry off, shower, get dressed and jump back on the bike for a short ride through Medford. A mile or so from the hotel, I stop at the flagship store for the mail order grocer, Harry & David. Harry & David was founded in Medford in 1934, and they are now a major gourmet food maker and distributor, with their famous Fruit-of-the-Month Club taking center stage. The company offers four daily tours of its factory for a fee of $5 each. I'm too late for a tour today -- they take place at 9:15 am, 10:30 am, 12:30 pm and 1:45 pm each day -- but I do take a quick spin around the company store, which is bursting with delicious food and produce, and plenty of free samples.
I ride in to downtown Medford for dinner. I park in front of the restored Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, a beautiful 1924 facility that seats 732. The theater operates as a non-profit community performance space that presents productions by local groups, as well as hosting professional productions and major acts for short runs. Big names like George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Weird Al Yankovic, Wayne Brady and Brian Regan are scheduled to appear this fall, interspersed with performances by the Teen Musical Theater of Oregon, Next Stage Repertory Company and the Rogue Valley Symphony. The theater is named for Ginger Rogers because she performed on its stage back in 1926 (early in her career), and owned homes in the area from 1940 until her death in 1995. Ms. Rogers appeared onstage at her namesake theater in 1993 at a benefit performance celebrating the theater's rebirth.
I take a short walk down Central Avenue to 38 Central, an elegant restaurant and wine bar housed in a historic storefront. I enjoy a beautifully prepared meal of gazpacho and chicken with chickpeas from the restaurant's menu of "American Classics." It's a meal that would stand up proudly against fine dining in any major city. It's a real find in downtown Medford, Oregon.
Back at the hotel room, I go to sleep eager to hit the road again tomorrow. I've enjoyed staying in Medford for two days -- there's so much to see and do around here that I'm sure I could stay for a week and never get bored. But I'm a ramblin' guy. Tomorrow I ride.
NEXT: DAY FIVE: MEDFORD TO GRANTS PASS
DAY FIVE: MEDFORD TO GRANTS PASS
Miles Ridden: 55.6
I don’t have far to ride today, but I’ve got plenty to do along the way, so I stoke the boiler with a good hot (free) breakfast at the hotel in Medford, Oregon. I’ll be leaving here after staying for two nights, which is one more than my usual on a motorcycle trip. I haven’t lost the knack for packing, and I’m ready to ride.
My first stop today is at a location that I’d consider a tourist trap. Not that there’s anything wrong with that -- I prefer the term “Roadside Attraction” to “Tourist Trap,” actually. The idea of interesting, entertaining flim flam along well-traveled routes reminds me of an earlier time, and the ones that have survived are like time capsules. It takes a lot more to get a traveler to pull off of the Interstate today than it did to get a family to take a detour from the country highway. When I’m not in a hurry, I like to stop at roadside attractions to see if they still hold up in a faster-paced, more cynical world.
I ride along OR-234 to the town of Gold Hill, and follow the signs to the Oregon Vortex. I turn down Sardine Creek Road and ride a few miles until I come to the attraction’s entrance. I park the Electra Glide, pay the $9.75 admission fee, and wait for the next guided tour along with 10 or so other tourists.
Our tour guide gives us a one hour tour of the attraction, the highlight of which is the “World Famous House of Mystery,” a half-collapsed shack on the side of a hill. The concept of the Vortex is that the property is located at a “spherical field of force, half above and half below the ground.” The guide asks us to imagine a tornado or hurricane of magnetic activity, a disturbance in the usually orderly magnetic forces that whirl around the planet. This Vortex results in some highly unusual phenomena, which have been chronicled and described by the Vortex’s discoverer, John Lister. The presentation is carefully crafted, and a great piece of theater. If you accept the premise of the Vortex, you can easily nod your way along through the tour accepting every subsequent statement as true, and by the end of the tour, you’ve been convinced (and convinced yourself) that you’re seeing people change relative sizes depending on where they stand within the Vortex. I enjoy going along for the ride, keeping my cynicism in check and letting my eyes trick my brain for a little while. It’s fun, and for a tourist trap -- I mean roadside attraction -- it delivers as promised.
I climb back on the Electra Glide, happy to have escaped the Vortex with all of my magnetic qualities unaltered, and ride on to Grants Pass, population 34,000. I called ahead to the hotel to request early check-in today. Because I’m a member of Best Western Ride Rewards as a Harley-Davidson Owner, I’ve been accumulating reward points at an accelerated rate over the years. I’ve achieved Platinum Elite Level thanks to all the trips I’ve taken this year, and on occasion, it comes in handy when making a special request. I need to check in early so that I can change into clothes for my next activity.
The front desk is incredibly helpful when I check in. They have area maps with very clear directions for the local attractions, and are happy to give me a specific plan about how to get through town to my next destination. I love it when people are good at their jobs, and enthusiastic about their hometowns.
I unload my gear, pack a change of clothes in the TourPak, and ride through downtown Grants Pass to the Rogue River and Hellgate Jetboat Excursions. I have made a reservation for a “2-hour Quick and Scenic” day trip, the quickest (and least expensive) of the Hellgate tours at $39. I park the bike, strip off my riding gear to reveal a bathing suit and some Crocs. I take my point-and-shoot camera in a Ziploc plastic bag and head to the dock for my 1:45 pm jetboat ride.
The jetboat is powered by three Chevrolet V8 engines that push the propeller-less boat along the water’s surface. At speed, the jet boat can travel in water that’s just inches deep. The boat I’m on carries about 50 passengers in 10 rows of 5 passengers each. The pilot/guide sits on an elevated platform at the rear of the boat, and maintains an informative, entertaining narrative as the boat glides down the Rogue River toward Hellgate Canyon. We see some great riverfront homes as we fly through Grants Pass. Soon the banks of the river turn more rural, and we see wildlife, including several deer, turtles, osprey and even a few bald eagles. The ride is a blast, as the pilot/guide is an expert, and the boat achieves breathtaking runs of speed. The boat drifts sideways as we follow the bends of the river, and the pilot can execute spectacular spins, dips and dives that have everyone on the boat laughing and soaked to the skin. Good thing I brought a bag for my camera. We reach the point where the river becomes a Class 2 rapid, then turn back and retrace our route to the Grants Pass dock. I’m not a fan of thrill rides, but I loved this jetboat experience. It was like a rollercoaster on the water through nature, and I felt completely safe despite the high speeds and the boat’s acrobatic maneuvers. It’s a total blast! Two hours pass very quickly, and before I know it, I’m struggling back into my motorcycle gear and riding back to the Best Western Grants Pass Inn.
The front desk recommends a favorite local restaurant for dinner: Wild River Brewing & Pizza. Of course -- this is Oregon, so it must be beer time. I have a delicious hand tossed European-style pizza and some salad, and I grab a bottle of Wild River Honey Wheat to take back to the room.
Today was a day full of mystery and adventure. I’ve got just one more full day of riding ahead. The Wild River Honey Wheat Beer helps me get to sleep quickly.
NEXT: DAY SIX & SEVEN: GRANTS PASS TO LA PINE, BEND, AND HOME
Day Six & Seven: Grants Pass to La Pine, Bend, & Home
Miles Ridden: 267.0 + 35.2
I know that it seems like I’ve been complaining about the heat a lot on this particular trip, but it has been scorching hot all week, easily over 90 degrees and approaching 100 degrees on most days. The forecast calls for more of the same today, so I’m getting an early start.
My Grants Pass hotel recognizes that not all travelers enjoy exactly the same breakfast, so they offer three different options: The traditional hot and cold breakfast buffet in the lobby; a packaged “to go” breakfast for travelers in a hurry; or a 10% discount off of the menu items at Elmer’s Restaurant, adjacent to the hotel. I have some ride planning to do (and the “to go” breakfast is difficult to eat on a motorcycle, especially with a full-face helmet), so I choose to eat at Elmer’s and kill two birds with one stone. I have a couple of cups of coffee, a ham and cheese omelet (my favorite) and some cottage cheese while I study my map and GPS. By the time I’m fueled up, I know where I’m headed.
I check out of the hotel, which I have to say has the nicest front desk staff I’ve ever met. I climb aboard the Electra Glide and head south on US-199 for about 30 miles until I reach OR-46, which I follow for 17 miles east to the Oregon Caves National Monument.
The Oregon Caves were declared a National Monument by President William Howard Taft in 1909, following their discovery by Elijah Davidson in 1874. They are a natural formation, and seem to have escaped human occupation or exploration until Davidson’s dog Bruno chased a bear into the caves and Davidson followed. Now, the National Park Service conducts tours of the caves during the summer, and it is possible to see the remarkable formations underground first hand. The guided cave tour, which costs $10 per person, takes about an hour, and is fairly strenuous physically. The temperature in the caves is 44 degrees year-round, and there are numerous stairs and narrow passages to navigate. In some places, you have to pass beneath ceilings as low as 42”. Photography is allowed, but no backpacks, large purses or tripods are permitted in the cave.
If you’re at all claustrophobic, afraid of the dark, or have difficulty walking, skip the tour and explore the hiking trails outside of the cave. Touring the cave is quite rewarding, as the inside of the cave is like another planet. The colors, sights, sounds and shapes are remarkable, and a real reminder of the power of water and the ever-changing nature of our world. We think of the mountains and rocks and rivers as permanent. They’re not. They’re constantly moving, constantly changing. As measured by time, a rock wall is as liquid as a body of water. Tramping through the Oregon Caves is a great reminder of this fact.
I emerge from the chilly caves into the heat of day. I’ll be riding through some familiar territory again today -- luckily, the roads are all great, and the scenery is fantastic. I ride back through Medford, and pick up Crater Lake Highway. I stop for a breather at the Rogue River Gorge again, and take one last look at the rushing water. I ride past Crater Lake National Park’s north entrance again, but this time, instead of turning in, I continue to ride east. I pick up US-97 and head north through Chemult and Crescent until I reach the town of La Pine on the edge of the Deschutes National Forest.
La Pine is a community of 5,800. It is considered part of the Bend, Oregon Metropolitan Statistical Area, but it feels like its own, rural village. The La Pine hotel is easy to find on US-97. It feels anything but rural, with a big, covered entrance and a two-story lobby with a grand staircase ascending to the second floor balcony.
I check in to the hotel, and decide that I’d rather not ride any more today. There are several local restaurants and a few fast food chains within walking distance of the room, and there’s even a big independent grocery store across the street. I decide to try out the local asian place, Hunan Chinese Restaurant, and it hits the spot. I drop in at the grocery store, pick up a local brew, and return to the hotel. I sit out in front with my beer, my cigar and my book as the sun begins to set in the west and the air cools down. A group of six Harley riders pull up, park beneath the canopy, and go check in the hotel. I check out their bikes -- a nice collection of three late model Electra Glides, a Road King, a brand new Heritage Softail Classic and a Dyna. Soon, the riders return to their bikes, take out the detailing kits and start to tend to their steeds. I’m a little embarrassed -- my rented Electra Glide looks like it’s been coated with bug guts for a week (because it has). It’s hard to get motivated to clean a rental bike. It’s inspirational to see owners taking pride in their bikes.
In chatting with the riders, I discover that they’re members of a HOG chapter in Portland, and they’re doing advance work for a group ride that’s coming up next month. They’re riding the roads, checking the accommodations, and arranging the meals for a 40-rider group that will be coming through Central Oregon. Cool.
While we’re chatting, a chartered bus pulls up to the hotel, and fifty or so senior citizens climb off, gather their luggage and go to check in to the hotel. Turns out that they are a Road Scholar Tour Group and they’re on the tail end of a week long exploration of Central Oregon, too. I’ve never taken a group tour like the non-profit Road Scholar program offers, but it seems like a great idea for travelers who want to combine learning and travel, and who enjoy guided tours.
I don’t get much reading done this evening with all of the interesting people passing through the lobby of the hotel, but I don’t mind. La Pine feels like the crossroads of the world this evening.
In the morning, I have breakfast in the expansive lounge on the Newberry Station Hotel’s first floor, then check out, load up and head out. I make the quick 30-mile ride back to Bend, pulling in to the parking lot at Wild Horse Harley-Davidson right on schedule. Kelly calls a cab for me while I transfer my gear from the Electra Glide back into my suitcase.
During my ride to the airport, my cab driver points out a commotion in the sky over Bend. Two men, Kent Couch and Fareed Lafta, have just launched a tandem lawnchair balloon rig with the aid of 350 helium-filled balloons. My cab driver is convinced that their destination is the moon, and refuses to believe me when I promise him that a helium-filled balloon can not reach the moon. We agree to disagree, but watch as the contraption disappears into the clouds. I find out later that Couch and Lafta were headed for Montana -- not the Moon -- in a world-record attempt. They reached an altitude of 11,000 feet when 35 of their 350 balloons burst, and the mission was scrubbed. They returned to Earth unharmed, though they may face charges from the FAA for failure to file a flight plan.
I’ll stick with adventure closer to the ground. I had a great time riding through Central Oregon for a week, and I feel like I barely scratched the surface of what the area has to offer. Crater Lake was a revelation, and worth the whole trip by itself.
Oregon is a fantastic destination, with significant attractions abounds. When is your next visit?
Total Miles Traveled: 978.2