Oregon Backcountry – Revisited

With winter approaching, we headed to the backcountry of Oregon, but this time the both of us. Visiting the same spots from July, in reverse order.

Day 1 – Getting out of Seattle
Friday, September 23rd, 2022

The trip started, and it is always nice to take a week off work. We left Seattle and headed a few hours East to Lake Kachness just for the night. Stephen had been to this camp spot a few times with friends, however this was the first time for Caroline. We managed to get to camp before dark, which is always nice.

Although we had packed the inflatable canoe and life-jackets, they stayed in the truck because the water level on the Lake was extremely low. They are yet to have their maiden voyage. We went for a nice walk around the campground to stretch our legs after the drive.

Lake Kachness
Day 2 – To the Washington State Border
Saturday, September 24th, 2022

After a late start we headed South towards Oregon. It was a very relaxed drive, which would become the theme for this trip. We left the trees and entered the dryer landscape and canyons of Eastern Washington.

Our campground was on the Columbia River, which was a nice green oasis in an otherwise dry landscape. But we are not likely to go back to this spot, because of the nearby train track which challenged us all night for a good nights’ sleep.

Day 3 – Strawberry Mountain
Sunday, September 25th, 2022

This was the real first day of the Oregon back country trip. As we crossed over the bridge we entered Oregon. The first stop was the Painted Hills. This is a natural layering of coloured soils formed by different combinations of mudstone, siltstone, shale and lignite. And they also happen to look pretty. We went for a short walk and enjoyed the morning.

Next we headed East to Strawberry Mountain, which was our camp spot for the night. We arrived early enough to allow time for a brisk walk up to Strawberry Lake. Being so late in the season, we almost had both the campground and the lake to ourselves. Just one other camper and a fisherman.

Painted Hills
Strawberry Lake
Day 4 – Three Fingers Gulch
Monday, September 26th, 2022

Up early and headed down the mountain in search of coffee, which we found in Prairie City at the Roan cafe. It was a beautiful drive to Three Fingers Gulch through Succor Creek State Natural Area. The final 7 miles was down a very rough road, which took about 1 hour and 20 mins to navigate. We had exclusive use of the small wild campground once we arrived. Exclusive, except for the flies.

We had an amazing night of stargazing. We were very lucky to see a train of Starlink satellites.

We have an outdoor dome which does a great job of keeping flies out, and we quickly had that setup so we could enjoy the outdoors. We later heard that this season had a terrible fly problem, which would disappear with the first good frost.

This camp spot is quite magical, and maybe we will be back someday.

Three Fingers Gulch
Day 5 – Alvord Desert
Tuesday, September 27th, 2022

We headed slowly, very slowly, back out of the canyon, pleased that we made the journey there. First stop was Coffeepot Crater, where we got to walk all over the recent lava flows. It was hot.

We continued on dusty and bumpy roads to a viewpoint looking over the Owyhee river. Being the end of the season, the roads had a rather nasty washboard and were much worse than a few months earlier. Molly was up for it however.

We left the backcountry and rough roads at Rome. That was Rome, Oregon. A quick visit to the Pillars of Rome, before heading further South to the Alvord Desert.

It did not take us long to find the access road to the Playa, where we setup camp for the evening. We didn’t quite have the Playa to ourselves, but close to it.

There was a bit of wind, so a good opportunity for the maiden flight of Stephen’s kite. The kite launched successfully on the first attempt, and then soared to cruising altitude with no drama. The flying line was secured to Molly, and we could enjoy the kite without any work.

We secured all of our outdoor furniture for the night, as the Playa is known for its high winds. We slept very soundly. And we will be back to this little gem.

Pillars of Rome
Alvord Playa
Alvord Desert
Day 6 – Steens and Hart Mountains
Wednesday, September 28th, 2022

We did not waste much time getting ready to leave. But before we did, Caroline got behind the wheel and took Molly for a blast around the smooth surface of the Playa. Is this the start of more driving for her?

We headed in the direction of Steens Mountain, which was the highlight for the day. First stop was Fields, known for their extreme rudeness. We had a pleasant encounter with the shop staff, that was both surprising and nice.

The mountain was amazing and displaying its splendid autumn colours. Again the roads were quite rough, and steep. This is also the highest road in the state of Oregon. Molly plodded up allowing us to enjoy the scenery without rushing. At the top we went for a short walk up to the communications facility. We also stopped at the viewpoint a few miles North. Very glad we came here.

Frenchglen is a little gem in the lonely backcountry of Oregon. We took on some diesel as we were heading into Hart Mountain, which has no fuel stations.

The road to Hot Springs Campground was open, but the road beyond to Plush was closed for the week for works. We decided to push on, knowing that we might need to double back the 40 miles the next day. In fact we were not entirely sure that the campground would be open, as the warning signs were not 100% clear. Turned out the road was clear and fast all the way to the campground.

It was busy at the campground, but not full, so we quickly selected a free spot as setup for the evening. This campground is popular because of the three hot springs, one developed and two natural. We took a dip in the developed pool.

Steens Mountain
Steens Mountain

Day 7 – Hot Spring Campground
Thursday, September 29th, 2022

We had an extra day in our schedule, and we decided to spend it at Hot Springs campground. We had been moving relatively fast with the trip being more of a tasting menu at a fine restaurant than a long afternoon at a beer garden. The decision to stay was a good one, at we enjoyed the free day. Stephen went for a hike up the road, we enjoyed more time in hot waters and just relaxed.

We talked to other campers, and the road to Plush was certainly closed.

Hart Mountain
Day 8 – Christmas Valley
Friday, September 30th, 2022

We got up very early, as we wanted to enjoy a little bit more of Hart Mountain before heading back up the road we came in on. We enjoyed this lonely little mountain, and we will be back.

We took the long road via Burns to Christmas Valley. As we travelled West, the land was slowly transforming from untouched beauty to farmland. Haying was in full production as the farmers were preparing for the oncoming winter. This was clearly Trump country and the housing was very grim.

Christmas Valley offers sand dunes, which can be driven on, with the right permits and warning flags. We decided against it, being alone making any recovery more difficult.

We setup the newly acquired hammock, which worked well enough. There was nothing special about this spot, but was a good enough place given all the surrounding farmland.

New Hammock
Day 9 – Sisters, OR with Friends
Saturday, October 1st, 2022

The one advantage of Christmas Valley is that it is near Fort Rock, which is where we headed next. First to a Pioneer Museum and then to the Rock itself. This is Pioneer country and home to the Oregon Trail. The main attraction was the natural rock formation known as Fort Rock, formed from erosion of magma venting to the surface. And more importantly the home of a discovery of sandals dating back 9,000 to 10,000 years. At the time, it was the oldest artifact of native Americans known. We enjoyed time at the park all to ourselves, again the advantages of being in the off-season.

To complete the trip we took forest roads back to Bend. And these roads were terrible. Definitively the most washboard roads we have ever been on. We bumped and rattled our way all the way to Bend.

In Bend we caught up with Lance from Earthcruiser and continued on to Sisters to catch up with Steve and Cindy. And what a great night we had.

Day 10 – Slopping back to Seattle
Sunday, October 2nd, 2022

We made the journey back via Santiam pass. Beautiful forest and hills. We were the slowest on the road, but that was fine.

This concluded our week long journey and very glad to have done it and enjoyed it together. We will be back to most of the places, maybe not Christmas Valley, but all of the other places.