Some days on a road trip are so spectacular they stand out forever. This was one of those days.
Day 4: Condon, Oregon, to Florence, Oregon
The John Day Highway from Condon, to our turn onto the Oregon 207 Highway into Mitchell, was as scenic as Day 3 on the trip. Lots of amazing rock formations and vistas.
Highway 207 though, held more in store. We immediately headed uphill, climbing and climbing, until we could see forever from the top of the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway.
The miles disappeared in an instant, and we were in Mitchell, having breakfast in historic Mitchell, Oregon, at the Bridge Creek Cafe.
From there, it was on to the Painted Hills, the attraction we’d selected from the Atlas Obscura, as being distinctive and off the beaten path. And was it ever!
It seemed that multicolored streams of sand just spilled out of the hills, like an opening had somehow split from the center of the earth. They lay in fingers, in layers, and sometimes, in veritable piles. But no matter where you looked, the vista was stunning.
And the story of the painted hills? They’re described as one of the 7 wonders of Oregon, and rightfully so. Here, the tiny claystones differ with ever-changing light and moisture levels, so you see different hues throughout the day.
Click here for directions to this free attraction.
From there, it was back to the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway, and time to add a destination to the GPS. While our original plan had been to head to Crater Lake, I tossed a coin in the air and decided to head across the state, right to the Pacific Coast Highway at Florence.
And as often happens on road trips, the views were totally unexpected and ultimately amazing.
We ended up in Sisters, Oregon, and then, onto the McKenzie Pass over the Cascade Mountains. Now, I’m not really a mountain lover, but the McKenzie Pass was phenomenal.
The vistas weren’t really in how far you could see, but in what you could see. The route is historical, following an 1860s wagon route. It climbs 2,000 feet through the Willamette ponderosa pine forests, emerging from the forest at Windy Point with a view of Mt. Washington and a 2,000-year-old lava flow.
At the summit, you find the Dee Wright Observatory, an amazing construction of lava rock from the flow that occurred some 2700 to 2900 years ago. Climbing up over the rock staircase, you could even see an ancient tree trunk preserved in the lava.
Once we left the Observatory, we started the steep descent, which takes 25 miles, and drops 4,000 feet down exhilarating switchbacks to the dense, verdant Cascadian forests following the McKenzie River.
Then, just when we thought we’d seen everything, we stopped at a wayside in the Jennie B. Harris State Park, and found our first BIG tree!
The drive continued and with the sunroof down, we still could barely see through the canopy of trees to the sky.
After the pass, the scenery was still great — but nothing could compare to what we’d already seen through the day. Our next high point was hitting the Oregon Coast Highway 101 down the Pacific Ocean. Wow! We even crossed our first bridge on it.
And the evening was the perfect end to the perfect day. A great room (they had two whole vacancies when we checked in!) at the Bay View Best Western and prime rib dinner at the Bay View Florence.