Bend: Part 2

Since I like to think I’m a good navigatrix, I often make the mistake of traveling without detailed maps or a well-planned itinerary. Jack, the canoe trip guide, had recommended that I visit Newberry Caldera and other sites within the Newberry Volcanic National Monument. I had already planned to go there but was grateful for tips from a local resident. He described a few points of interest and how I might get there. I made some mental notes and transferred them to paper when I got home well after midnight. By the way, it took me about three times as long as it should have to get from Fred Meyer (where the tour van dropped me off) to my motel. Without a map of Bend I had banked on finding the freeway again so I could follow my original directions from Portland. After missing the freeway entrance, though, I decided I should be able to find my way back on surface streets. I don’t know how many times I drove up and down Wall and Bond Streets trying to gain my bearings. I recognized the landmarks, but had trouble approaching them from the right direction.

I felt similar frustrations the next day at Newberry Caldera. Newberry is an active volcano with a 17-square-mile caldera occupied by Paulina and East Lakes. Of course there’s just one major road tracing the rim of the caldera, making navigation simple (you’d think), but I embarked on the drive lacking an understanding of the following points: the area’s immense scale, the location of trailheads, and the fact that there is no road between the two lakes. Disappointed with the signage available, I spent much more time driving than I would have liked. Naively, I’d hoped to spend a great portion of the day hiking and stopping for lunch at a secluded spot in the forest where I could view Paulina Lake. Without specifically planning for it or taking a careful look at the maps posted on Forest Service  kiosks, it was obviously difficult to make a multi-mile hike happen. Some of my other plans, too, were foiled by unforeseen circumstances. The road leading to Paulina Peak was closed due to lingering snow, and there was nobody posted at the tollbooth so I could pay my five dollar entrance fee to the monument. I couldn’t shake the guilt about not paying my share, so I broke a twenty-dollar bill at a coffee stand and used a self-pay kiosk that I’d passed on my way in.

Despite my initial aimlessness, I was able to visit the most important sites on my list. Most of all I was excited to see the Big Obsidian Flow, which is evidence of Oregon’s most recent volcanic eruption. For some reason I’d expected it to manifest as a long, smooth, shiny ribbon of obsidian. After centuries of weathering and freeze/thaw cycles, it’s actually a vast pile of rubble with scattered juniper trees growing from the rocks. There’s a dusty trail looping through jagged boulders and across patches of snow (elevation is about 6,400 feet). It was a good, peaceful walk without too many people around. From the trail’s highest points I could see a sliver of Paulina Lake as well as forests edging the caldera rim. At a closer zoom level, glassy chunks of obsidian resided next to rough pumice. Sometimes they came together, layered, forming a single stone.

Big Obsidian Flow

Big Obsidian Flow

After leaving the Big Obsidian Flow I got lost for a while, driving deep into the East Lake campground before realizing that the road ended there. I stopped at the East Lake Resort to buy a hot drink at the aforementioned coffee stand and chat with the clerk about where I’d been and where I was going. She encouraged me to see Paulina Falls, at the western edge of Paulina Lake, so that was where I headed next. It was a gorgeous double waterfall dropping from a clear, shallow creek. Only a few other people came through the viewpoint area as I drank my hot chocolate and took photos. A flat hiking path led me upstream from the viewpoint toward the lake, where it connected with a shoreline trail. I spent a quiet hour or so following the shoreline, footsteps crunching on snow and squishing in reed-filled marshes. Where the lake was shallow, its water was the same aquamarine color I’d seen at Sparks Lake. There were similar rocks, too—light gray and pockmarked with air bubbles from their explosive origins.

Paulina Lake Paulina Lake 

Upper Paulina Creek

Upper Paulina Creek

I had a couple other destinations in mind after leaving Newberry Caldera and driving back toward Bend. I exited the highway toward Lava Butte and the Lava Lands Visitor Center, which turned out to be closed that day (continuing my minor run of bad luck). Instead I took a Forest Service road that led to Benham Falls on the Deschutes River. This isn’t an actual waterfall, but a series of rapids encountered after a half-mile or so of walking next to a sedate river. It was a beautiful walk bordered by pine forest, wildflowers, and old lava rocks. Unfortunately, it was evening by the time I arrived and the mosquitoes were relentless. I smashed a few and tried to shoo away the others, but ended up with a lot of bites. In my travel preparations I’d totally forgotten about the proliferation of mosquitoes in summer. I was ready to go back into town and relax.

The next day I checked out of my motel. I had breakfast at a great cafe recommended by a local, then for my last jaunt into town I mailed a few postcards from the Post Office. I drove west and headed down a long, dusty gravel road toward Tumalo Falls. I cringed as my rental car was struck by pieces of gravel and consumed by dirt clouds kicked up by other cars. At last I reached the parking area, once again feeling slightly nagged by guilt at not paying the day’s five-dollar entrance fee. The coffee girl at Newberry had said the only consequence would be a five-dollar ticket from the Forest Service; I figured I could handle that risk. I stayed long enough to take in the amazing view from the top of the falls. My camera’s memory card was almost full by that time, so I challenged myself to capture only a few good shots and enjoy the rest of it through my own eyes. I hiked into the forest for perhaps half an hour, then turned around.

Tumalo Falls

Tumalo Falls

I’d decided to take a different route home to Portland, passing through the town of Sisters and the Metolius River basin. The guidebook I’d brought with me made positive mention of the Sisters Bakery, so my sweet tooth and I stopped there for a pastry. A short distance outside of town I entered yet another network of Forest Service roads traversing the Metolius River recreation area. The head of the Metolius River is a protected area that’s accessible by a paved trail. It’s nothing spectacular to look at, but is greatly important as the source of the region’s drinking water. At its starting point, the river is nothing more than a creek that appears to spring from the middle of a tree-filled meadow. It’s interesting to consider how a river establishes its course and grows to become such a major architect of the surrounding landscape. I’m fascinated by water as a force of nature.

Nearby Suttle Lake, my last destination, was no more placid than the river on this windy day. I parked at a picnic area and hiked about one-fourth of the shoreline trail. I found a log to sit on above the choppy water, and watched a boat drifting effortlessly across the lake as waves slapped the bottoms of my feet. When I’m in a place like that, by myself, I try to spend as much time as possible in quiet appreciation; I feel like I should be able to spend the whole day there. But without somebody to keep me company, or a particular activity to do, it didn’t take long for the silence to reach a saturation point. After taking a snapshot to fill the last few megabytes on my camera, I was impelled to return to the car. I had good music to listen to and a mountain range to cross.

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