Vacation in Oregon, with author Bill Sullivan

January 23, 2004

Bill Sullivan wowed the crowd at the January Potluck with a photo review of six vacations in Oregon. Why worry about being stranded in a foreign airport or catching SARS, Bill asked us, when the geographic diversity, rich history, and physical beauty of our own state mean that you can have a fascinating vacation right here at home? If you stay at a campground and splurge one night at a B&B, you can take a week-long vacation for only $300–400, even for a family.

Going well beyond his usual focus on hiking, Sullivan’s itineraries also included abandoned gold-miming towns, Victorian architecture, and local historical museums, along with waterfalls, hot springs, wildflowers and wild life. For each trip, he recommended a favorite campground and an interesting, reasonable B&B.

The photographs were so stunning and his descriptions so lively that I was ready to pack up and leave the next morning. Just to get your travel juices flowing, here's a list of the trips and a few tidbits about each. Luckily, you don’t have to settle for this quick overview, because the details, with splendid photos, are all in his latest book, “Oregon Trips and Trails”. It is available in bookstores, or you can phone the author, who lives in town, and buy an autographed copy directly from him.

The Columbia Gorge and Mt. Hood: By-pass Multnomah Falls and hike Oneonta Gorge instead; visit Tom McCall Point; and camp at Lost Lake, well away from the howling wind of the Gorge. Did you know that the magnificent Timberline Lodge, built during the Depression as a Public Works project, was in danger of standing empty once completed? To lure people there, the first chairlift in the U.S. (with only one chair!) was constructed on the slope above the lodge, and a hiking trail was built around Mt. Hood.

The North Coast: Start by exploring Astoria, the oldest permanent settlement in the U.S. west of St. Louis. Camp at Short Sand Beach in Oswald State Park, where a small fleet of wheelbarrows stand ready to help you carry your gear from the parking lot to the campsite. Splurge on a night at Heceta Head lighthouse keeper’s house, now a B&B, but don’t get a room facing the lighthouse! Be sure to take the lighthouse tour and see the amazing Fresnel lens, a miracle of engineering.

Southern Oregon: Travel from Crater Lake to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, with visits to Umpqua Hot Springs, Columnar Falls (the magical waterfall without a river), and Jacksonville (an 1852 gold rush town that’s frozen in time). Sullivan’s slides of the Biscuit Fire area show that 85 percent of the old growth trees are still intact, and deciduous trees in the burn area have already sprouted.

Northeast Oregon: Sullivan laid out two week-long vacations in this beautiful area, including John Day's fossil beds and Kam Wah Chung Museum (a Chinese business and herbal doctor’s office preserved since the mid-1900s); the Strawberry Mountains (Oregon’s answer to the Canadian Rockies); the Elkhorn Range of the Blue Mountains (where mountain goats will try to gum your gear to get the salt); the Wallowa Mountains (where gigantic salmon pause at Blue Hole on their way up the Imnaha River); and Hells Canyon on the Snake River. Stay at the surprisingly reasonable Geiser Grand Hotel in Baker City, with its glorious stained glass ceiling and elegant dining room.

Southeast Oregon: Spend a night in the hamlet of Frenchglen (population 16) at a little hotel built in 1916, then explore the Steens Mountain region, with its U-shaped canyons carved out by glaciers; the sun-baked Alvord Desert; dangerously hot Borax Hot Springs (keep your dog on a leash); and the Owyhee River National Wilderness Area, named after the Hawaiian laborers brought in by the Hudson’s Bay Company to hunt beaver.

Bill Sullivan’s book also features a week-long tour of Central Oregon, which he omitted from his slide show. I’m curious to know what he considers the very best hikes and attractions in our own area.

— Beth Kodama


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