I'm a bit bummedto be pulling out the parking lot of Mt. Bachelor shortly before my cousin heads back up the lift to attempt his first backflip on a snowboard. But judging from my girlfriend's tone during our short phone call, I'm making the right decision.
I'd driven to central Oregon three days earlier to visit family with plans to camp with Staj and our friends on Friday. Since I'd already be out there, I was anointed camp scout; a job I relish. There are several factors that make the search a little difficult. First, many of the region's roads are closed for winter, which I learn soon after my conversation with Staj when a large DOT gate kept me separated from the area I planned to search on the Cascade Lakes Highway. Physical barriers aside, I also need to be able to direct my friends to our yet-to-be-discovered camp.
Most importantly, though, is that campgrounds are out of the question.
With a short time to search an undisclosed amount of miles, the pressure of my situation set in. Since I bought my Oregon Road Atlas & Gazetteer a little over a year ago, I'd unabashedly praised its magnificence to everyone. The Gazetteer changed my entire approach to exploring the state. You can search the internet for dull accounts of popular destinations that you'd maybe want to see if you don't get tired of the thousands of photos. But you're not going to find the true gems; nor should you. Those are found by examining a map, picking a route you're likely to diverge from to get there and then pumping your fist to the music when you find it.
Now it's showtime. I know Staj is skeptical. My friend Dana hasn't spent much time camping thus first impressions are important. And Brian needs to buy a Gazetteer.
Dodging down a couple dirt roads with no prospects is an inevitability. As I cruise several miles along one road, I veer around a couple dumped mattresses, brake and head back towards the highway. Despite the odds, multiple strikeouts can become discouraging and the thought of my lady revoking any future duties of mine echo in my noggin.
As my prospects around the Deschutes River dwindle, I spy a small blue squiggle east of Newberry Caldera. I know the road into the monument would be closed, but if I can travel up the road just a few miles, there's hope. I throw caution to the wind and swing it southbound.
Bailing off the main highway, a sign notifies me of the ten-mile limitation. Fist pump out the window. I follow the asphalt until it forks off into a gravel road and I glimpse the creek I'd identified in the Gazetteer. Pushing on, I'd drifted further away from the creek but could still make out a small ravine and explored several small offshoots that were better suited to ATVs. No way I'll make it to the creek. Finally, a precarious FS road sign catches my attention and I weave through the pines. With the windows rolled down, the white noise of moving water replaces the twang of the local country radio as I fade it out. I crank the volume up on the creek by tuning into the forks in the faint dirt roads until I reach a junction overlooking a grass clearing beside the creek . I swing the door open, instantly commencing a tribal dance only the trees were privy too.
There's no pit toilets, no kiosk, no bundled firewood for sale. There is a nearby MTB trail,a chair carved from a tree stump and downed trees ready to be split. Most importantly, there's a sense of discovery obtained only from maps and risk.
More camps and side-routes brought to you by the Oregon Gazetteer