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Letter from Elk City: A last visit to the ocean

By Staff | Jul 9, 2009

Heavy surf crashes against the rocks at Brookings, Ore., at sunset. EDN photo by Michael Tidemann

ELK CITY, Ore. – Some say that Montana takes forever to drive across while others claim that Texas at nearly 900 miles from border to border is long.

However, if you want a truly long drive across one of the lower 48, try crossing Oregon – first south to north and then west to east.

After a parting farewell to the ocean at Brookings, I packed up and headed north on 101. It was early morning, and fog hid many of the bays and estuaries and the shoreline. That was good in a way, otherwise I would have been tempted to stop and take more photos – but I was in a hurry to get back.

I had a good breakfast at Reedsport, complete with sourdough toast, something I haven’t seen very much outside the Northwest or far West. Then it was time to turn inland.

I followed Oregon 38 along the Umpqua State Scenic Corridor, a highway wending through a nature preserve that includes grazing elk, moose, bald eagles, and other wildlife.

A quick shot up Interstate 5 to Eugene took me to Oregon 126 which follows the McKenzie River. I deeply regretted not having more time, because the McKenzie appeared to be a deep, fast, and magnificent whitewater river spilling from the west shoulder of the Cascades out of Blue River Reservoir. I had planned on taking Oregon 242 east past the Three Sisters on the backbone of the Cascades, but the road was blocked with snow seven miles ahead. So I had to settle for continuing on 126 to U.S. 20 through Santiam Pass.

It was there that I stopped and looked over an area that had been blackened by forest fire years before. While many of the trees beside the road remained unscathed, the fire had claimed thousands of acres of grand firs sprawling up the mountainside toward Mount Washington. Anyone who saw something like that would understand the need to use caution with fire while in the wilderness.

This was the day I got lost twice – once when trying to find 126 earlier out of Eugene and again at Bend where I took the wrong turn and ended up driving for what seemed like miles downtown. In both cases, the signage was nonexistent and one person remarked, “You must not be from around here.”

I guess the implication is that the roads were made only for the locals.

Once I was on Highway 20, though, I was well on my way home. After Bend the road straightens out (no pun intended) on its long sojourn across the Oregon high desert.

Fortunately, I had filled up at Sisters, because the gas stops at Brothers and Hampton were closed.

Brothers has always been a favorite stop of mine because it still has the original adobe stage stop building. The Brothers Stage Stop is built the same way, with a saloon, cafe, gift shop and post office. I wasn’t certain about the status of the post office, but the Stage Stop had CLOSED and FOR SALE signs. I certainly hope someone buys it and opens it again, because it’s a good place to stop to top off your tank and grab a bite. Otherwise, it’s 128 miles between gas stops from Bend to Hines, a couple miles west of Burns.

I passed by Glass Butte which has an interesting history. The U.S. Army actually cordoned off Native American tribes from the site in the early 19th century because the Indians mined obsidian from the butte for arrowheads. If you’ve ever seen obsidian, you know it’s a razor-sharp rock (more like glass, really) that made formidable arrowheads against the cavalry.

After Burns I passed through Stinkingwater Pass and Drinkwater Pass, which I supposed were aptly named by the explorers and pioneers, to Juntura.

Juntura is somewhat unusual geographically. It’s in a marshy area in the middle of the eastern Oregon high desert at the confluence of the Malheur and North Fork rivers.

Famished, I ordered a sandwich to go and saw they had cabins for rent so I inquired and found they were a little over $30 a night.

That was good enough for me, so I took a cabin and turned in.