I know that it seems like I’ve been complaining about the heat a lot on this particular trip, but it has been scorching hot all week, easily over 90 degrees and approaching 100 degrees on most days. The forecast calls for more of the same today, so I’m getting an early start.
The BEST WESTERN Grants Pass Inn recognizes that not all travelers enjoy exactly the same breakfast, so they offer three different options: The traditional hot and cold breakfast buffet in the lobby; a packaged “to go” breakfast for travelers in a hurry; or a 10% discount off of the menu items at Elmer’s Restaurant, adjacent to the hotel. I have some ride planning to do (and the “to go” breakfast is difficult to eat on a motorcycle, especially with a full-face helmet), so I choose to eat at Elmer’s and kill two birds with one stone. I have a couple of cups of coffee, a ham and cheese omelet (my favorite) and some cottage cheese while I study my map and GPS. By the time I’m fueled up, I know where I’m headed.
I check out of the hotel, which I have to say has the nicest front desk staff I’ve ever met. I climb aboard the Electra Glide and head south on US-199 for about 30 miles until I reach OR-46, which I follow for 17 miles east to the Oregon Caves National Monument.
The Oregon Caves were declared a National Monument by President William Howard Taft in 1909, following their discovery by Elijah Davidson in 1874. They are a natural formation, and seem to have escaped human occupation or exploration until Davidson’s dog Bruno chased a bear into the caves and Davidson followed. Now, the National Park Service conducts tours of the caves during the summer, and it is possible to see the remarkable formations underground first hand. The guided cave tour, which costs $10 per person, takes about an hour, and is fairly strenuous physically. The temperature in the caves is 44 degrees year-round, and there are numerous stairs and narrow passages to navigate. In some places, you have to pass beneath ceilings as low as 42″. Photography is allowed, but no backpacks, large purses or tripods are permitted in the cave.
If you’re at all claustrophobic, afraid of the dark, or have difficulty walking, skip the tour and explore the hiking trails outside of the cave. Touring the cave is quite rewarding, as the inside of the cave is like another planet. The colors, sights, sounds and shapes are remarkable, and a real reminder of the power of water and the ever-changing nature of our world. We think of the mountains and rocks and rivers as permanent. They’re not. They’re constantly moving, constantly changing. As measured by time, a rock wall is as liquid as a body of water. Tramping through the Oregon Caves is a great reminder of this fact.
I emerge from the chilly caves into the heat of day. I’ll be riding through some familiar territory again today — luckily, the roads are all great, and the scenery is fantastic. I ride back through Medford, and pick up Crater Lake Highway. I stop for a breather at the Rogue River Gorge again, and take one last look at the rushing water. I ride past Crater Lake National Park’s north entrance again, but this time, instead of turning in, I continue to ride east. I pick up US-97 and head north through Chemult and Crescent until I reach the town of La Pine on the edge of the Deschutes National Forest.
La Pine is a community of 5,800. It is considered part of the Bend, Oregon Metropolitan Statistical Area, but it feels like its own, rural village. The BEST WESTERN Newberry Station Hotel is easy to find on US-97 in La Pine. It feels anything but rural, with a big, covered entrance and a two-story lobby with a grand staircase ascending to the second floor balcony.
I check in to the hotel, and decide that I’d rather not ride any more today. There are several local restaurants and a few fast food chains within walking distance of the BEST WESTERN Newberry Station, and there’s even a big independent grocery store across the street. I decide to try out the local asian place, Hunan Chinese Restaurant, and it hits the spot. I drop in at the grocery store, pick up a local brew, and return to the hotel. I sit out in front with my beer, my cigar and my book as the sun begins to set in the west and the air cools down. A group of six Harley riders pull up, park beneath the canopy, and go check in the hotel. I check out their bikes — a nice collection of three late model Electra Glides, a Road King, a brand new Heritage Softail Classic and a Dyna. Soon, the riders return to their bikes, take out the detailing kits and start to tend to their steeds. I’m a little embarrassed — my rented Electra Glide looks like it’s been coated with bug guts for a week (because it has). It’s hard to get motivated to clean a rental bike. It’s inspirational to see owners taking pride in their bikes.
In chatting with the riders, I discover that they’re members of a HOG chapter in Portland, and they’re doing advance work for a group ride that’s coming up next month. They’re riding the roads, checking the accommodations, and arranging the meals for a 40-rider group that will be coming through Central Oregon. Cool.
While we’re chatting, a chartered bus pulls up to the hotel, and fifty or so senior citizens climb off, gather their luggage and go to check in to the hotel. Turns out that they are a Road Scholar Tour Group, and they’re on the tail end of a week long exploration of Central Oregon, too. I’ve never taken a group tour like the non-profit Road Scholar program offers, but it seems like a great idea for travelers who want to combine learning and travel, and who enjoy guided tours.
I don’t get much reading done this evening with all of the interesting people passing through the lobby of the BEST WESTERN, but I don’t mind. La Pine feels like the crossroads of the world this evening.
In the morning, I have breakfast in the expansive lounge on the Newberry Station Hotel’s first floor, then check out, load up and head out. I make the quick 30-mile ride back to Bend, pulling in to the parking lot at Wild Horse Harley-Davidson right on schedule. Kelly calls a cab for me while I transfer my gear from the Electra Glide back into my suitcase.
During my ride to the airport, my cab driver points out a commotion in the sky over Bend. Two men, Kent Couch and Fareed Lafta, have just launched a tandem lawnchair balloon rig with the aid of 350 helium-filled balloons. My cab driver is convinced that their destination is the moon, and refuses to believe me when I promise him that a helium-filled balloon can not reach the moon. We agree to disagree, but watch as the contraption disappears into the clouds. I find out later that Couch and Lafta were headed for Montana — not the Moon — in a world-record attempt. They reached an altitude of 11,000 feet when 35 of their 350 balloons burst, and the mission was scrubbed. They returned to Earth unharmed, though they may face charges from the FAA for failure to file a flight plan.
I’ll stick with adventure closer to the ground. I had a great time riding through Central Oregon for a week, and I feel like I barely scratched the surface of what the area has to offer. Crater Lake was a revelation, and worth the whole trip by itself.
Oregon is a fantastic destination, and there’s a Best Western Hotel near each significant attraction. When is your next visit?
Miles Ridden: 267.0 + 35.2
Total Miles Traveled: 978.2