Oregon Trip Planning: Dee Wright Observatory

Our second time at the Dee Wright Observatory was even more impressive than our first. We ended up there by default when the campground we aimed for was full. Oregon trip planning isn’t really something that I do very well. I actually don’t tend to do any trip planning at all.

Since we have been unable to get to our cottage this year, I have been trying to fill in the gap by buying another kayak and googling every freshwater lake in Oregon.

Oregon Trip Planning: Santiam Pass

We packed everything from kayaks to remote control trucks and headed to Big Lake Campground, near Sisters, Oregon. Most of the campground is first come, first served. It was mid-week and I was foolishly hopeful. The campground was full. For those of you interested in Big Lake Campground, it shares a driveway with Hoodoo ski area and is adjacent to Big Lake Youth Camp, which happened to be one of CD’s re-supply stops when he hiked the PCT. The campground was crowded and the sites were small. Other than feeling bad about driving all that way and not getting a campsite, I wasn’t too disappointed to not camp there.

Camping everywhere between there and Sisters was full. We headed back west on 242.

Cold Spring Campground had 2 spots available even though it was nearly 7:00 at night. We opted to gamble on the Willamette National Forest and continued west.

McKenzie Highway Pass: OR 242

McKenzie Highway runs between Sisters and Belknap Springs and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I recommend this route as long as you are not in a hurry, enjoy driving twenty miles per hour, and are not prone to motional sickness.

If you chose this route, the pay off is one of the most interesting lava fields I have seen.

It wasn’t long before we caught our first glimpse. The lava runs right up to the road to the north and towers high above it but to the south there is just the usual landscape.

Oregon trip planning at its finest! Check out the lava flow next to the road!

We hoped to camp at Lava Camp Lake Campground. Be careful not to confuse this with Lava Lake Campground, east of Bend. The entrance to Lava Camp Lake Campground is just before McKenize Pass summit when headed westbound. The entrance is difficult to find and is a dirt two track on the south side of the road. You follow this for approximately two miles to a day use area and a hand full of camp sites. Most sites are not on the lake. I wouldn’t have wanted to drive anything higher or much longer than our Sprinter down the road and when we got there, the campsites were full, of course. It is National Forest and I am sure some people slept in day use area parking but we chose a brief walk and drove on again.

Dee Wright Observatory

Less than a half of a mile up hill is one of the most unique places that I have been.

We pulled into the parking lot of Dee Wright Observatory, I opened the door and set up the stove. It was well passed dinner time and we all needed a break and a second to think of what to do next. I was lighting up the stove when some people a few spots away shouted: “you must have the same idea as us.”

It took for a moment to see what was going on but then I realized that this couple was setting up a tent on the sidewalk, a table next to thier car, and two camera tripods. Another couple at the other end of the parking lot were sitting in thier car playing cards and eating chips. Everyone was there to see the comet NEOWISE.

Dark Skies, Oregon Trip Planning

Here we were at the top of McKenzie Pass, surrounded by 8 miles of black lava rock and not an artifical light in sight. It was nearly dusk. The kids and CD went for a hike while I made dinner. We moved the kayaks to the sidewalk and turned the van around for prime coment viewing. We just happened to find a great camping spot!

The excitement in the parking lot was obvious. People were chatting and pointing while be attentive to social distancing. It was helpful that there are two large parking lots and there was never more than six or eight cars at a time.

Between the cool temperatures and the wind, there were few mosquitos. We opened our van doors and watched the sky. We saw the comet in between camera flashes. It was good for the soul.

Cars came and went until midnight or so and then it was quiet and dark. We slept until 9:00 and woke up feeling like we had landed on the moon!

Trees and lava next to each are impressive, however.
Lava and mountains

From the observatory you can see glaciers on the Three Sisters, views of Mt. Washington, and random trees growing out of lava flows. There is a paved walkway with signs discussing different features of the lava flow.

Oregon trip 101, have fun, of course!

Pacific Crest Trail Access: OR 242

CD is pretty much always looking for PCT access. Approximately a 1/4 mile west of the observatory, on the north side of the road, there is PCT day use parking. You can hike southbound and head towards the observatory or northbound and head for Belknap Crater. We did both and they were both amazing! The landscape is so unique. Wildflowers, red dirt, and trees touch fields of black lava. The lava towards 10 or 20 feet above the ground at times and it feels bizarre to imagine how it just stopped flowing and piled up in such dramatic fashion.

The trail is well marked. Footing on the lava is a bit tricky but the dirt trail is easy walking. For this PCT day hike you don’t need much more than a parking permit, sunscreen, snacks, and camera. Enjoy!

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10 Things To Pack For Hiking The PCT.

Are you considering a multi-day backpacking trip or a long thru hike, such as the Pacific Crest Trail? Do you wonder which things to pack for thru hiking the PCT?

You can benefit from our experiences thru hiking the PCT, the Vermont Long Trail, and the West Coast Trail. Here are a list of 10 things that we pack and love!

Hiking the PCT

Please note that this post includes affiliate marketing links. This means that we may benefit from a small amount of any purchase. This would be at no additional cost to you. We only endorse products that we use and love!

For Meals and Food:

  1. Ursack Allmitey Bear Bag. This works for rodents, as well as bears. CD used this for his thru hike in 2004 and we still use it today. You may consider sleeping with it under your pillow depending on how significant the rodent problem. It is durable, effective, and convenient. It is a must – have!

2. Titanium Spork. In the world of sporks, we vote for titanium. After breaking a couple of plastic sporks each, we decided to endorse something more durable. These have lasted us 5+ years and I anticipate that they will last at least another 5.

3. GSI Outdoors Infinity Backpacker Mug. CD did not have this on the trail as he was given it last year. He tells me that he would have taken it if he knew it existed. Apparently, he may consider taking it in place of water bottle. That is saying a lot since he was never far from his Nalgene when we first met.

4. MSR Dromlite Water Bag: 6 L. Methods for carrying water on the trail are a matter of personal preference and comfort . This is CD’s choice. More than 16 years later, it still has not gotten a leak.

5. Evernew Titanium Pot, 1.3 L. It is years later and this pot is still good as new. It is just the right size to feed one or two thru hikers or three or four car campers.

To Stay Warm and Dry:

1. Gators. There are different lengths, colors, and styles for different purposes. Wet grass, snow, mud, rain, and bugs are a few examples. Ours get a lot of use!

2. Camp socks. Spare socks for your sleeping bag are a must! You will thank us later! I currently love “Darn Tough” socks but any socks will work. CD carries three pair of socks. Two for hiking and one only for camp. He continues to stand the principle of camps socks. Whether we are home, in the Sprinter, backpacking, or car camping, we wouldn’t consider getting near our sleeping bags with anything other than our camp socks!

3. Marmot Driclime. This is my favorite layer of all time! CD thru hiked with in 2004 and still wears today. It works for any temperature, packs small, weighs little, and stands up to the challenge. He gave me a Marmot Driclime for my birthday the first year that we met and I was quickly convinced.

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For Health and Safety:

1. Mosquito Head Net. When you need this, you will be glad it is packed. It is small, versatile, light, and effective. We recommend wearing it over a sun hat with a brim all the way around. This will keep the net from sticking to your skin or being irritating.

For more tips on handling mosquitos while on the PCT, check out this post: https://ramblingfootsteps.com/2020/05/07/pct-packing-list-throwback-travel-journal/

2. Black Diamond Head Lamp. CD uses this every day on the trail and at home. It is a way of life I guess.

For a look inside CD’s pack from Northern California onward, please check out the following post. https://ramblingfootsteps.com/2020/05/07/pct-packing-list-throwback-travel-journal/

If you are seeking a different perspective, you can check out the “what I didn’t need” gear list from REI. You may notice some healthy differences of opinion that are worth checking out!

https://www.rei.com/blog/hike/pacific-crest-trail-packing-brought-didnt-need?cm_mmc=sm_pin-_-always_on-_-brought_didnt_need-_-blog

I hope your thru hike gives you everything you need.

Enjoy and Hike Your Own Hike!

PCT Thru Hike: Warner Springs

CD’s PCT thru hike trail journals are interesting. The common themes are food, water, dust, heat, sleeping, walking, and people. It all seems pretty basic really.

Meadow track to Warner Springs. #PCT

Warner Springs offered CD an introduction to the thru hiking community. He left town with a group of 15 or so hikers and they stayed together through a hot springs North of Lost Valley Road, I think.

Looks like Truffula Trees. #PCT
Hot Springs North of Warner Springs. #PCT
#PCT

They rinsed clothes and soaked their joints. Local characters gathered there as well included a local stripper and a guy that carried his pipe, which he preferred to light with a magnifying glass, on a string around his neck.

CD and the pipe guy went to town and returned with watermelon. Apparently watermelon is not common on thru hikes and it was a big hit!

Phlox in the burn. #PCT

That time that CD left me on the road in order to give some thru-hikers a lift to town.

I have had only one experience on the PCT in southern California. CD and I were driving from Palm Dessert to San Diego. As we approached the PCT, I could feel CD’s excitement. I could tell that he really wanted to be a trail angel for someone.

We rolled over a hill in our Honda Civic hatchback and saw two hikers waiting for a ride to town. CD pulled over before he could even tell me his plan. Next thing you know, the two hikers, their packs, and CD were out of view and I was standing on the edge of the road.

It was me, tumbleweed, and the hundreds of rattlesnakes that obviously lived there.

I was out of place in clean clothes, sandals, and with my purse over my shoulder. Another set of hikers showed up from the South. They stopped to chat. They had met on the trail in 2004, did not complete their hikes that year, but went on to get married. On the trail again, they were hoping to complete it this time. I was new to the secret code of “trail names” but we were able to figure out that they had been on the trail with CD in 2004. They had crossed paths in approximately the same section of the trail that we were on then. I thought of this today while reading their names in CD’s trail journal.

A short time later, they got picked up by a passing car. I reached back to the old fashioned communication means of my youth and asked the hikers to send CD my way if they happened to see him hanging around town. I stood there, without a cell signal, waiting for CD.

More than an hour later he came back for me. It was fine. I was fine but I like to remind how about how he deserted me on the edge of the road during a hot day in the desert and didn’t pick me up until dusk.

This came out beautifully by accident. I love the frame of the moon. #PCT

Please follow us to learn more about CD’s hike!

Hiking Pack List: PCT Northern California.
10 Clues That Your Husband Was A Thru – Hiker.
Tips for Handling Mosquitoes While Hiking the PCT.
Backpacking Menu: PCT Thru-Hike Edition