Recap- in parts 1 and 2, I almost froze to death from standing too close to a bitterly cold waterfall, we danced at a bizarre venue as 2016 careened into 2017, and watched a wedding proposal at a popular tourist destination.
We were now heading east on 84, following the curves and bends of the Columbia River Gorge before we found our cutoff south to head to Bend. As we headed east, the storm thickened. The blue sky darkened, and semi trucks were pulled over to put chains on their enormous tires. We could tell we were heading into the storm. The highway slowed as drivers became cautious, and thick, heavy flakes of snow fell from the sky, and soon visibility diminished so much that we couldn’t quite tell we were adjacent to a beautiful, tree studded riverbank.
We had one last destination before heading south: Rowena Crest. This is a photographers heaven: easy to get to, dramatic and natural, and not too crowded. Especially when you are like us and get there after the sun has set. We were the only ones to follow the winding and snaking road up to the vista point. Indeed, we had missed not only the sunset, but all the sunlight. We parked at what we assumed was the parking lot, there were no cars and no parking spots could be discerned in the layer of freshly fallen snow. Still, it was silent and serene. I tried to take the best photos I could using my canon t5, limited photography skills, and no tripod.
I had to lean against the cold, snowy railing and hold my hands as still as I could as my f-stop was so large. (The lens was open longer to capture more light, but it makes it more susceptible to capture small movements such as a cold hand that shakes)(That’s about all I know about photography, and that’s not much).
We took our photos, stood in the dark, enveloping and calming and embracing snow, and headed south. Towards Bend, and our stop for the night.
The time was not that late, but it was quite dark. We were headed south on 197, a lonely road, especially at this time. It looked eerily abandoned. Snow piles had drifted onto the road, as when a desert road has been ravaged by time and is partially covered by the sands of eternity. Still, we trudged on. Through the darkness, through the snow, past the dark and shifting landscape, seeing nothing outside but knowing we must be in a beautiful and sprawling part of the state.
Finally, we arrived in Bend. Tired from driving, and our eyes weary from staring so close to our vehicle since we had so little visibility, we slept soundly.
Bend has always been a kind of dream for me to go to. One of my favourite authors (but least favourite moral models) has been Jack Kerouac. His descriptions of travel are romantic, and the destinations are are kind of Mecca of pleasure-seeking and wayfaring youths. One of my former roomates described Bend to me in those terms. It is where the young and the wild go, it is a city to explore and play in, and it is a destination for those seeking natural beauty.
It did not disappoint.
The next morning, we woke up and and made our way to Smith Rock, a place I had only seen in pictures. The air was frigid and intoxicating, the drive was simple and easy, the snow was soft and dreamy.
We hiked around the base of the great rocks. Although this is a place renowned by climbers during other parts of the year, in the middle of the winter it stood, stark, solemn, and silent. We saw a few other groups of hikers, all adorned with brightly colored snow gear. We followed the Crooked River on the Wolf Tree Hike for a little, until we were quite cold and had to head back. We were at the base of a craggy, volcanic protrusion that loomed several hundred feet above us.
It was here, too, where we could be enveloped by silence. The sound of snow has always been hard for me to describe, because it has whichever mood we choose to attach to it: a forlorn melancholic sound, a simple and serene silence that is as calming as it is enticing, or a dramatic and stark contrast to the human-made chorus of sirens, car noises, or construction sounds that so often accompany our daily lives.
We felt so immeasurably small, and yet so wealthy for having experienced it. We left, warming ourselves up the in the car heater, grateful for the visit.
Bend is quite the little town. We also wanted to visit another of my favourite destinations: The Deschutes Brewery. We went on a guided tour, after finding out there are two locations and we were at the wrong one. The guide was warm and friendly, and we were able to see the inner workings of one of the larger craft breweries in the U.S., as well as different artwork that has graced the bottle covers. We sampled beers after, and I found I like the more plant-tasting ales, such as the Sagefight, which tastes of sage and juniper.
Before leaving Bend, we did walk around the downtown area, find a great coffeeshop, meet some locals from whom we bought some cool handmade buttons, and we dined at the few bars that were open in the middle of the week and the snow.
After Bend, we returned home. The road was icy, but the skies were clear. We were careful and cautious, and ended up safe.
It was a good way to finish 2016 and start 2017, leaving behind that wretched year. This year had begun by us taking a quick tour of some of Oregon’s most beautiful destinations. As it was the middle of winter, we fought storms but not crowds, and got to see sights that are not often seen. How many people see Smith Rock, crowned with snowy glory in the frigid winter? How many people get to see Latourell Falls so close that we could touch it, only to feel it’s icy spray? How many people hike to Elowah Falls, and see the balls of ice that form on the rocks surrounding it? How many people see the River Gorge at night while listening to scary stories on Spotify? How many people fight the bitter wind at Crown Point?
It was a good adventure, a jaunt into the cold and into the heart of Oregon. 2017 is already shaping up to be better.
Until next time, never stop exploring.