In search of a fresh perspective

In search of a fresh perspective

Sometime about midday on a recent Saturday I pulled my motorcycle onto the rocky shoulder of Highway 31, somewhere along the western shore of Summer Lake in Central Oregon.

The arid smells of the high desert mingled with the musk of the lake and the surrounding pastures. Despite the barrenness and apparent inhospitality of the place, there was a rugged beauty, with sprawling, low-lying hills and long stretches of open country. The 20-mile-long lake was colored more earthen than the deep, clear blues of high mountain lakes I'm used to seeing.

At many points along the journey — which took me on a wide arc from the Rogue Valley, across the mountains and through the high desert — I reflected on the diversity and beauty of Oregon, but the Summer Lake region evoked perhaps the most powerful expression of that sense. It was so unlike the places with which I'm familiar, but it was a scene that perfectly illustrates the diversity of the Oregon landscape — a wide, beautifully colored spectrum ranging from dripping coastal wetlands to massive arid deserts.

I had only two days for a motorcycle trip and wanted to see as much of Oregon's wild variety as possible. Deciding only on a general route, and knowing that I had to reach Bend by nightfall, I chose a course that took me through the high Cascades and then out into the wide open spaces of south-central Oregon.

Alone and seeking a fresh perspective, I loaded a backpack with the bare-minimum of personal effects, and climbed into the Cascades on Highway 140. Up in the high-lakes region near Fish Lake, with the sun shining brightly and snow still piled under some of the trees, the change of season was tangible. Wildlife was out in force.

Heading east on 140 I eventually dropped into the Klamath Basin. The area features a mixture of semi-arid land and marshy wetlands, marking a midpoint on the journey between vastly different environments. After leaving the basin, I entered the Fremont National Forest, where the dryness increased. The landscape became flatter, more desolate, dotted with sagebrush and stunted pines.

After filling up in Lakeview, I turned north and passed unimaginably beautiful hillsides ringing dry grasslands cut by tiny, winding streams. Not far past Paisley, Summer Lake emerged, dominating the view for 30-plus miles before Highway 31 led me back into a different sort of highlands near La Pine, where tall trees again dominated the land.

I had the good fortune of spending the night in Bend on a gorgeous evening, with enough time to wander through the riverside Drake Park and eat in the quaint but increasingly cosmopolitan downtown. The town, nestled in some of the wildest and most rugged country in the state, exhibits the quintessential Oregon diversity, in terms of people, land and culture.

Well rested and eager to get back on the road, I left Bend Sunday morning and selected the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway to take me south. The road is heavily shrouded by tall pines and skirts some of the more stunning bodies of water in Oregon — Caltus, Elk and Lava lakes, and Crane Prairie and Wickiup reservoirs. These were cool and moist highlands, with innumerable little crystal-clear ponds — teeming with life in, around and above — intermixed with the enormous lakes.

Later in the afternoon the road took me past the twisted spire of Mount Theilsen on the Volcanic Legacy Oregon Byway, cutting through lodgepole pine forests. Veering eastward on Highway 62, I decided to drive up to the rim of Crater Lake. I had never seen the lake at that time of year, but dappled with snow and briskly cool, the lake emerged in a new form, even more serene and beautiful than I remembered it.

Having returned with a fresh perspective, I now see the map as a doorway for future exploration. Each road has become part of a hypothetical route, bridging unseen sights and places, and the flower of Oregon's diversity tempts me back to the road.

Chad Robert Snyder is a freelance writer living in Jacksonville. E-mail him at

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