On our way from Bend to Portland, again immersed in the fantastic nature that Oregon has to offer!
Instead of taking a direct north-westerly route towards Salem, we decided on the scenic route. We headed west, straight across the Willamette National Forest towards Eugene. As the McKenzie pass is closed November to July, Google Maps didn’t comply in plotting the actual route we took. From Bend, we took Highways 97 and 20 to Sisters.
There we took Highway 242 towards the Dee Wright Observatory, located on the summit of McKenzie pass, just within the Willamette National Forest borders. It doesn’t look much like a forest though when you arrive…
It’s an amazing site that was built in 1935 amid a 65 square mile (170 km2) lava flow. As the open shelter observatory is also made from lava stone, it blends into its surroundings.
Situated on the summit of McKenzie Pass at 5,325 feet (1,623m), the observatory offers a 360-degree view on numerous peaks of the Oregon Cascade Mountain Range.
On top of the observatory, a 36-inch (90cm) bronze “peak finder” helps to identify the surrounding mountains. Due to some nearby wildfires, it was not clear enough to see Mount Hood (70 miles up north).
Also, “lava tube” viewing holes on the lower section of the observatory have been made to allow visitors to quickly identify the different Cascade peaks.
Shortly after leaving the Dee Wright Observatory, you are amid the Willamette National Forest. The remaining drive was along a very long and windy road immersed in trees with seemingly suicidal squirrels that took the roar of the engine as a cue to cross the road at the very last moment. Considering the surprising absence of roadkill, they are very successful in dodging cars. After turning onto Highway 126 west, the McKenzie Highway, it was a steady decline to only 400ft (120m) west to Eugene.
It was on Tacovore‘s patio in Eugene (530 Blair Boulevard), where we enjoyed our lunch. There was a choice from a dozen or so tacos and four torta sandwiches and some other nacho starters. The kids had their own Grilled Cheese Tacos with Tillamook cheddar and grilled chicken, but they liked the fresh tortilla chips from Chantal’s Chips & Guacamole so much that they were almost gone before Chantal could dig in.
I chose the Carnitas tacos, and they were terrific. Smoked crispy Carlton pork with tangerine, serrano chilies, jicama, cilantro, onions, and house-made crema. The tangerine segments were a surprisingly tasty pairing. You ordered them per taco, but the cashier heard “three” instead of “the”. No complaints here, especially with Lagunitas IPA from the tap.
The remaining stretch of the I-5 was not very eventful, but we did catch up some lost time and were able to arrive on time at our downtown hotel in Portland to enjoy the late afternoon for a nice walk along the Willamette River. More on Portland in the next posts!