May 5, 2015

Five States in Five Days

Tim and I finally pulled out of our campground in Loveland, Colorado, on April 19 to begin our fast (for us) journey from Colorado to Oregon.  We now had five and a half days to drive more than 1,300 miles.  That’s a lot of miles for two people who consider 250 miles every once in a while a long day’s drive.  Anyway, that was what we had to do since we had reservations and plans with friends in Oregon. 

I’ve stressed before that we also really prefer not to do much driving on interstate highways.  Well, that preference also had to go by the wayside in order to get where we were going in the allotted time.  I-80 through Wyoming, Utah and Nevada would be our route for three travel days.

It was a beautiful, sunny morning when we left Loveland and headed north on US-287, always a scenic road but even more so as we climbed in elevation and saw the fresh snow alongside the road and on the neighboring mountains.  This lovely winter wonderland continued as we turned west onto I-80.  The highways were perfectly clear, and the views were stunning.  I guess I was enjoying the scenery so much that I forgot to take any photographs.  After almost 300 miles, we stopped in Rock Springs, Wyoming, for the night.  It was a good first day.

We were up bright and early the next morning for day two of our journey.  We had dropped in elevation, so the snow was gone, but the drive through western Wyoming was still lovely.  Even the truck traffic on I-80 wasn’t too bad.  We crossed into Utah and made our way through the beautiful Echo and Parleys Canyons.  That was a nice introduction to the state.  We stopped for lunch in Park City, Utah, and then drove through Salt Lake City, along the Great Salt Lake and through the Bonneville Salt Flats.  Unfortunately, this area is known for its poor air quality, and the day of our drive seemed to be a particularly bad one.  Night two found us just over the Nevada state line in West Wendover.  Another 300 mile day.
Kitty Helped Tim Shift Gears on the Long Drive

We gave ourselves a bit of a break on day three and only drove 232 miles.  Knowing that we would have a little bit of extra time, I planned a stop in Elko, Nevada, at the California Trail Interpretive Center.  As we pulled off the interstate, we noticed that the entrance gate to the center was closed.  Darn!  The center was only open from Thursday to Sunday, and we had arrived on Wednesday.  Although I was disappointed, we consoled ourselves with reading the interpretive panels and viewing the trail ruts. As we were taking a walk, a friendly driver called out to us with a warning that he had seen a snake and though that it might be a rattlesnake.  I hurriedly returned to the RV, luckily without incident.  I do not like snakes and am not one bit curious about them. 

Too Bad We Couldn't Visit the California Trail Interpretive Center

It May Not Have Been a Rattlesnake, But I Still Wanted Nothing to Do with Him

The haze that we first encountered while driving through Salt Lake City on day three continued to envelope us all day.  Unfortunately, that meant that the views were less than stellar as we traversed the basins and ranges in Nevada.  We later found out that the haze was actually caused by wildfires in Siberia, Russia, of all places.  Who would have thought!  We drove onward and made it to Winnemucca for the evening. 

Kitty Found a New Favorite Spot

On day four, we left the interstate behind and began the most scenic and fun part of our journey.  My friend Kevin had suggested a scenic route on backroads through southeastern Oregon, so we headed north from Winnemucca and picked up OR-205 after crossing into Oregon.  The High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway skirts the western side of Steens Mountain and the Catlow Rim.  We encountered virtually no traffic, and the drive was so peaceful and relaxing.   This part of Oregon is relatively unknown, but it is definitely worth a visit, with its mountain views, clear lakes and dramatic beauty.

Approaching the Catlow Valley After Skirting the Catlow Rim

Snow-Covered Steens Mountain in the Background

Ancient Basalt Flows Along the High Desert Scenic Byway

We stopped for lunch at the historic Frenchglen Hotel, which was built in 1916 as a haven for travelers.  It is now an Oregon State Heritage Site and still serves its original purpose.  Overnight accommodations, as well as meals, are available.  The marionberry cobbler was a special treat.  We left refreshed and continued our journey on the scenic byway, stopping for the night just south of Burns, Oregon.

Historic Frenchglen Hotel

Marionberry Cobbler, an Oregon Specialty

Day five was another easy drive for us as we headed west on US-20 toward Bend, Oregon.  Although Bend is one of our favorite cities, we only stopped there for lunch.  There just wasn’t time to do any exploring.  We ended our day in Sisters, Oregon, and were thrilled to be surrounded by green once again.  The high desert is beautiful in its own right, but give me the mountains and green grass, green leaves and evergreen trees anytime!  It was cold when we arrived, and we began to check the weather forecast since we had to cross the Cascade Mountain Range the next day.  Heavy snow was predicted that night for Santiam Pass, which would be the high point on our route.

When we looked at the weather reports the next morning, we were confident that we would not run into any trouble on the pass.  Most of the roads that cross the Cascades are scenic highways, but we really couldn’t appreciate the views as we began our climb since dense fog and mist reduced visibility.  As we climbed toward the pass, we noticed fresh snow on the sides of the road, and soon it began to snow.  The snow wasn’t sticking to the roads, so it was no big deal, and we crossed the pass with no problem.

Snow on Santiam Pass

As we descended the mountain, we began to follow the McKenzie River on OR-126.  The drive was beautiful and became even more so as we started to notice flowering trees and shrubs.  Was that a dogwood I saw in the distance?  Yes, it was, and I was so excited to see one of my favorite trees in bloom.  Not just dogwood, but also rhododendron, azaleas and wisteria.  So many of my favorite spring flowers that I hadn’t seen in several years.  What a nice welcome.

Favorite Spring Flowers

We arrived in Eugene, Oregon, and settled into Armitage Park for the weekend.  I had read many glowing reports about this county park, and all were spot on.  We were looking forward to staying still for a few days and enjoying the surrounding area.  Eugene is a great town and the home of the University of Oregon.  Tim and I ventured downtown for the Saturday Market where we had fun just people-watching.  What an interesting cast of characters!

On Sunday my friend Kevin, who lives in Portland, met us in Eugene, and he and I took off for a day of wine tasting.  Oregon wines happen to be my favorites, especially the pinot noir for which the Willamette Valley is famous.  Our first stop was LaVelle Winery, where I tasted my first white pinot noir.  It was so good that I purchased a bottle to take home, but isn’t that name an oxymoron – a white, black wine?  Although wine tasting was the point of our visit there, I was even more excited to see a flowering cherry tree, still in full bloom.  Many of the cherry blossoms had fallen to the ground below, creating a soft, pink carpet.  Stunning!

Cherry Blossoms Are Stunning

 Next up was Sweet Cheeks Winery, and then King Estate, where we had lunch.  Kevin and I shared a cheese and charcuterie plate, and enjoyed their award-winning pinot gris, one of the few white wines that I really enjoy.  Even if someone does not drink wine, it is fun to visit the wineries because the settings are often so spectacular.  That was certainly the case at King Estate, which is perched on the top of the hill amid acres of vineyards.

King Estate Winery

Overlooking the Vineyards at King Estate

Tim, Sarah and Kevin

We ended up back in Eugene where we picked up Tim and headed back downtown.  Kevin treated us to a fabulous dinner at the Oregon Electric Station, a unique restaurant that is housed in a historic railway station.  We sat in a Pullman car for a very special meal.

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