Road Trip in Oregon: Part I (Crater Lake to Madras)

I have a tendency to plan overly ambitious trip itineraries, like Crater Lake and Glacier National Park in the same week.  Portland International Airport (PDX) has affordable flights to Glacier Park International (FCA).  As a result, I decided we’d drive there after finishing up at Crater Lake.  The fastest route would take only 4.5 hours via Eugene, with half the trip spent on I-5.  That would be 260 miles of mostly boring scenery.  By staying to the east, mostly on US-97 and US-26 to I-84, I’d add only an extra hour (and maybe 50 miles) to the trip while getting pass through the beautiful area around Bend, Mt. Hood, and the Columbia River.  Although the drive could be done in a single day, I decided that to maximize our time at Crater Lake, we’d overnight in Madras, which was roughly half way to Portland.

Rachel and I headed through the Pumice Desert on the way out of the northern entrance to Crater Lake National Park around 3pm on Saturday, August 16, 2014.  Leaving the park and traveling east through the forest south of Mt. Thielsen, we picked up US-97 and headed north toward Bend.  The first part of the drive was unremarkable, as the road passed through a collection of mostly sad, small towns like Chemult.  Approaching Bend, however, I was reminded just how much there was to see and do in central Oregon.  We passed Newberry National Volcanic Monument and Lava Butte (as you might guess from the names, both are beautiful volcanic features) without time to stop.  I began to wonder why I’d crammed three states that easily could have warranted a couple weeks each into one ten day span.  (No doubt, I will have forgotten this lesson by the time I plan my next trip…)

Downtown Bend, Oregon. Lowell Silverman photography, 2014
Downtown Bend, Oregon. Lowell Silverman photography, 2014

Bend is a pleasant city of about 80,000 located in central Oregon about two hours’ drive north of Crater Lake.  Residents here may one day be glad they didn’t settle further west when the Cascadia fault inevitably unleashes a megathrust earthquake that will send the underprepared cities of Portland, Eugene, and Salem back to the stone age.  Bend has the enviable combination of a beautiful downtown and close access to all the Cascades have to offer.  During a previous trip to the area long ago, my family and I enjoyed visits to Newberry National Volcanic Monument as well as a trip up the ski lift on Mt. Bachelor to get a view of the volcanoes known as the Three Sisters.

Crane sculpture in Bend
Crane sculpture in Bend

It was hot but not humid when we arrived in Bend around 5pm.  Some sort of craft market was breaking down when we arrived.  We stopped at Red Chair Gallery, a shop featuring (and operated by) local artists.  We purchased a wine rack made by one Justin Kelchak that now serves as centerpiece on our dining room table.  We ate dinner at the hip restaurant Zydeco.  I’d read favorable reviews online.  Rachel wasn’t enamored by the New Orleans vibe suggested (without justification, I might add) by the name, but I eventually won her over, as did the restaurant.  Curiously, the wait for a private table was an hour, but we were seated immediately at a communal table.  My grilled chicken breast over quinoa, black beans, and fingerling potatoes was delicious and one of the best meals of the trip.

Mt. Jefferson seen from US-97. In case you were wondering the story behind the banner that this blog displayed for its first two months, now you know!
Mt. Jefferson seen from US-97. This image was this blog’s banner for its first two months

We departed Bend around 7pm and continued north on US-97.  I was captivated by the sight of a mountain, later identified as Mt. Jefferson, standing in silhouette against a bright orange sunset.  North of Terrebonne, I pulled over to snap a series of photos that I later stitched into the panorama above.  I was hoping there would be a better overlook, and it looked like I was going to get my wish when we saw a sign for the Peter Skene Ogden Scenic Viewpoint.

Crooked River Canyon in HDR just before dusk. On the horizon, Black Butte is visible at left and Three Fingered Jack at right.
Crooked River Canyon in HDR just before dusk. On the horizon, Black Butte is visible at left and Three Fingered Jack at right.
Black Butte has the distinction of having a delicious beer brewed in its honor by Bend's Deschutes Brewery
Bend’s Deschutes Brewery brews a delicious beer named after Black Butte

As it turned out, Mt. Jefferson was about the only nearby mountain that you couldn’t see well from the park.  You could see the Three Sisters, Mt. Bachelor, Black Butte, and (my favorite name for a volcano by far) Three Fingered Jack.  The mountains are not the only reason for the scenic overlook.  Considering the relatively flat terrain nearby, it was a bit of a surprise to see the incredibly deep Crooked River Gorge.

Saddest sign ever. I'm not even kidding. I especially like the birds flying by, mocking the ill-fated dog for its stupidity. I mean, couldn't they have just put an X over the silhouette of a dog?
Saddest sign ever. I’m not even kidding. I especially like the birds flying by, mocking the ill-fated dog for its stupidity in eagerly jumping over that wall. I mean, couldn’t they have just put an X over the silhouette of a dog?

The park has displayed what surely must be the most depressing warning sign I have ever seen in my life, warning of the danger to dogs (apparently small children are of less concern) from the 300′ (91.4m) drop to the rocks below.

Crooked River Railroad Bridge at sunset
Crooked River Railroad Bridge at sunset, HDR

One can imagine the engineering challenges presented by the deep canyon.  Three bridges cross here, but it’s quite a ways downriver before any others do.  In addition to the modern bridge that carries US-97, there’s the 1911 Crooked River Railroad Bridge and the old 1926 Crooked River High Bridge.  The latter was the original road bridge that carried US-97 across the gorge.  It was retired in 2000 not because it was structurally deficient but because it simply didn’t have enough lanes for modern traffic demands.  Fortunately, the High Bridge enjoys a second life as a pedestrian bridge connecting both sides of Peter Skene Ogden State Park.

Rachel crossing the Crooked River High Bridge. HDR
Rachel crossing the Crooked River High Bridge. HDR

We arrived in Madras just after dusk.  Madras is a town at the crossroads of US-97 and US-26 roughly halfway between Crater Lake and Portland (by my scenic route anyway).  My search for lodging along US-97 led me to the Inn at Cross Keys Station.  This independent hotel had the perfect balance of price, availability, and good reviews during my search on TripAdvisor.

Inn at Cross Keys Station lobby
Inn at Cross Keys Station lobby

The hotel lobby was decorated with a Wild West motif, but the large rooms (if not the breakfast buffet) could rival any chain hotel’s.  The comfy bed was much appreciated after nights on the train and camping.  I was surprised to see a Blockbuster Video in the strip mall across the highway from the hotel.  I’d thought they’d all gone the way of the dinosaur years ago, but it seems a few franchisees out west are still eking out a living in the age of Netflix.


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