Sunday, September 6, 2015
McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway, Smith Rock State Park



We slept in today after the scrumptious beer tasting last night, but we got around sometime in the a.m. and set off to see the sights. The McKenzie Pass–Santiam Pass Scenic Byway is an 82-mile-long National Scenic Byway beginning and ending in Sisters, Oregon, about 20 miles west of Bend. As has become our custom, we drove the loop in a clockwise direction. This scenic loop showcases several snow-capped, glacier-clad volcanoes, including Broken Top Mountain, Mount Washington, and the Three Sisters, but unfortunately we couldn't see much of the mountains because of the overcast conditions.

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McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway

Just past Sisters, the road is closed to vehicles over 35 feet in length or pulling trailers, due to the multitude of tight switchbacks ascending through the ponderosa pines before emerging into a lava field at the summit of McKenzie Pass, elevation 5,325 feet. At the pass you can walk up to the Dee Wright Observatory, a lava-rock fortress constructed by the CCC in 1935 which affords (presumably) marvelous views of the mountains, but, alas, not today because of the low clouds. The observatory structure itself is pretty cool, and we had a good, somewhat spooky, view over the large lava field.

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Dee Wright Observatory at McKenzie Pass

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Lava field

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Extra spooky lava field

The next stretch of the drive, from the Observatory to Belknap Springs, is even more curvy and pretty slow going. This part of the byway doesn't have much to look at, unless you count driving through a tunnel of trees as scenic. I'm glad I was the one behind the wheel, or I would have been sick, sick, sick. I think Brian got a little woozy in the backseat.

The road straightens out once you get on Route 126, where we turned back to the east. We stopped at Koosah Falls, a gorgeous waterfall plunging 70 feet over moss-covered lava, one of the top two most gorgeous falls of the trip! In spite of the mountains being obscured today, this was still an outstanding drive.

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Koosah Falls

We lunched at Subway again today, this time in Sisters, then took a beautiful drive along the Deschutes River, with the Sisters Mountains visible in the distance. As soon as we got away from the big mountains, we were in blue skies for the rest of the day, but we could see from afar that it was still cloudy where we'd been this morning. It would be difficult to forecast the weather around here. You'd have to do it block by block!

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One of the Sisters Mountains

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Deschutes River

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Along the Deschutes

The Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint in Terrebonne is a rest area with a view of the Crooked River Canyon and a couple of cool bridges, one with bungee jumpers. Apparently, dogs like to jump here too, so they have to stay in the car.

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Crooked River Canyon

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Dogs beware!

We spent the better part of the afternoon at Smith Rock State Park, situated in the high desert near Terrebonne and Redmond, a few miles north of Bend. Considered the birthplace of American sports climbing, Smith Rock was crawling with climbers. The park is made up of incredible rock formations rising to 550 feet in height, formed from compressed volcanic ash, and surrounded by a relatively flat landscape, with the Crooked River flowing along the base of the cliffs.

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Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

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Crooked River, Smith Rock State Park

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Smith Rock State Park

There are several hiking trails at Smith Rock, including one called the “Misery Ridge Trail” that just didn't sound like that much fun. We opted instead to hike the River Trail, one of the few hikes I know of where the view from the bottom, at the base of the cliffs, is surely as impressive as from the top.

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Misery Ridge Trail - We selected an alternate route

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Climbers defying gravity

To rehydrate from our hike, we stopped in Redmond at Wild Ride Brewing, one of more than two dozen craft breweries in the Bend area. We tried the Mount Up Maple Brown, 3 Sisters Red Ale, and the Brain Bucket Imperial IPA. Everything was pretty hoppy, not really my thing.

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Tom and Brian at Wild Ride Brewing

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Jana and Brian - Prost!

After relaxing at the hotel for an hour or so, we walked over to Kelly D's Sports Bar & Grill, just a couple of doors down from the Rodeway Inn. Knowing by now that everything closes freakishly early in Oregon, I checked their website and saw that they were open till 12:00 a.m. I was skeptical, so we got there before 9:00, and even then the kitchen was closed, but they offered to fix us something from the “late night” menu, which was basically anything they could cook in the deep fryer. We had steak fingers, fish & chips, and they even managed to find a pre-made salad laying around the back from earlier in the night. Then a customer brought in a German chocolate birthday cake for the bartender, and she served us each a big slice. Beer of the night: Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen, made in Portland. We closed the place down at about 10:30 p.m.

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Oregon ducks

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