Road Trip Day 6: Crater Lake, Tumalo Falls, Bend, John Day Fossil Beds

by Kara on August 3, 2010

This morning we got up at 4:50 am and headed straight back up to Crater Lake for the sunrise. This time Stephen found a more appropriate spot and I think he got some good pictures. I sat in the car and worked on a review of blogging on the iPad with WordPress, and downloaded my email because I found a good spot.

Next we headed out to Bend, to begin the next leg of our trip. We stopped in LaPine for breakfast and had a good enough Internet connection that I could transfer the previous day’s iPhone photos to my iPad for whenever I have time to upload that day’s blog.

Tumulo Falls, copyright Kara Sjoblom-Bay

From Bend, we drove out to Tumalo Falls. Unfortunately, it was still mid-morning and the falls were partially in sun and partially in shade, so we decided we should come back later to catch it in full sun so Stephen could get better pictures.

We drove back into Bend and I bought a pillow at Bed Bath & Beyond, so I could camp more comfortably. Then we went to Trader Joe’s and Food4Less to replenish our grocery supply. Most of our purchases came from Trader Joe’s, which makes lots of pre-packaged foods that are easy to prepare on a camp stove. I ran into Foods4Less and got more plastic cutlery, chewy granola bars and bacon bits for Stephen.

One thing we found interesting about Bend is that we only saw white people there. Not once did we see a person of color. I am sure some non-white people live there, but we didn’t see them. One of the things we are doing on this trip is looking at some of the places in terms of their potential as retirement locations. I really liked Bend, but I am not sure I could live in a place that is all white people all the time. Maybe Stephen and I are spoiled by the diversity of the bay area, but even the tiny little Iowa town my brother and his family live in seems more diverse than Bend. But don’t get me wrong, I thought it was a nice city, and I would seriously consider it after some more research. We haven’t even been to Eugene or Portland yet, so there are other spots to consider as well.

It finally dawned us that there is no such thing as a self-serve gas station in Oregon. We asked the girl who pumped our gas at a Shell station in Bend and she confirmed that you can’t pump your own gas in Oregon. I’m not sure you could even find a full-service gas station in California anymore. I actually kind of prefer pumping my own gas now – I guess I don’t like giving up any control.

After finishing our shopping, we drove up to the Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint in the middle of Bend, but found that in the midday haze, the view wasn’t very photogenic. So we headed back to Tumalo Falls, which was photogenic. By that time, the falls were in full sun, so Stephen was able to get some excellent shots. One thing to note is that visiting the Falls requires a Northwest Forest Pass, but you can buy a day pass on-site for $5.00.

John Day Fossil Beds, Painted Hills Unit, copyright Kara Sjoblom-Bay

Next we took off for the John Day Fossil Beds – Painted Hills Unit, which is a couple hours drive from Bend. There is no fee for entering the John Day Fossil Beds site, but they do provide a donation slot, so I threw a few dollar bills in. I have one suggestion if you are going on a trip that require lots of small Entrance fees and donations. Have a garage sale right before you go. I ended up with nearly $600 in bills of various sizes at my recent garage sale, so I haven’t had to go anywhere near an ATM machine. We use credit cards for things like gas, and I’m hoping the bills will last the entire trip.

Stephen taking photos at the Painted Hills Unit, John Day Fossil Beds, copyright Kara Sjoblom-Bay

We drove around to scope out all the potential picture taking spots. The painted hills were breathtaking, but we were there a little early to get the right light, so we had a little picnic until the sun went down a bit. They had a nice area with picnic tables and restrooms. Despite being pit toilets out in the middle of nowhere, all the national park washrooms we used seemed clean and well-maintained.

Finally the sun was right to take pictures. I sat in the car for awhile and watched a movie (Coraline) on my iPad, because I knew Stephen would be a long time. After the movie ended, I walked down the trail to where Stephen was just finishing up. The light in the sky was almost gone – there was just a bit of purple. It was like being the only person on earth. I couldn’t even see Stephen from where I was on the trail, and it was so peaceful and beautiful walking through the warm gentle breeze on the desert trail.

Twilight at the Painted Hills Unit, John Day Fossil Beds, copyright Kara Sjoblom-Bay

Because we hadn’t had a cell phone signal since Bend, we hadn’t yet made any hotel or camping arrangements, and it was nearly 9:00 pm by the time we finished at the fossil beds. We decided to drive toward the town of John Day, since the area is very isolated and there isn’t much around. John Day was probably a 90 mile drive from the Painted Hills Unit. Near Mount Vernon, I finally had a cell phone signal, I started calling hotels in John Day. The first place I called, Best Western, told me they didn’t have a room and that the whole town was booked up. I called around some more, but found that indeed, there were no rooms to be had.

I felt like crying. It was after 10:00 pm and we had no place to stay, and we were so tired. Upon entering John Day, we saw a billboard for Historic Hotel Prairie, 13 miles down the road in Prairie City. I Googled them and them called them up. They had a room! She said to call when we got there and she would come down and let us in. I thought she meant downstairs, but she actually had to drive down with her two little kids to check us in, which I really appreciated. On the phone, she said the room was $85, but when we were checking in, she asked if we had AAA, so we got 10% off that rate.

What a treasure the Historic Hotel Prairie turned out to be! I am positive none of the places we could have stayed in John Day would have been as nice. Our room (#1) was very small, but lovely. It was pristine, and the bathroom was fantastic. For us, a huge bonus was that they had free wireless, so I could get caught up on posting to my blog. They also had a little kitchen down the hall, which was great for us since we have our own food with us.

The woman told us that the hotels in John Day had been solidly booked for a month and a half, which has been good for the Historic Hotel Prairie. It’s great they had that billboard, or we might not have found them. If you’re in the area, this is the place to stay. It is one of the nicer hotels I’ve stayed in, the price is reasonable, and they are very friendly. I definitely recommend it!

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