Where The Pavement Ends

“You must be the bravest man in Oregon,” he said to me after pulling off my helmet.

“Huh?” I ripped the earplugs from my ears.

“You must be the bravest man in Oregon,” he repeated as his wife and another elderly couple walked toward me.

“Oh really. Why's that?” I asked flattered but confused and wondering did I do something crazy on the road that these folks saw earlier, or even yesterday?

“To come up that road on this,” he said pointing to my motorcycle, “didn't you see the sheer drop offs and cliffs?” Using his hand in a stiff karate pose moved it down from his chest down to his knee. “And all that dirt and gravel… weren't you scared?”

I felt like I was talking with my grandparents as the two couples billowed with a verbal stew of excitement and concern. “It was a little sketchy at times,” I acknowledged, “but it's going down that really scares me.”

They laughed and then hopped in their SUV and headed down the 5 mile road that brought me here. I sat atop Paulina Peak which sits high above the caldera of the Newberry Crater just 30 miles North of Bend. Part of the Newberry National Monument, a 500 square mile preserve of exciting volcano created natural wonders including Lava Butte, Lava River Cave, Lava Cast Forest and two lakes sitting in the crater of the Newberry Volcano, Paulina Lake and East Lake.

Like many of its famous brethren Mt. St. Helens, Crater lake, Mt. Shasta, Mt. Hood and more, Newberry Volcano sits in the Cascade range. More than 7,000 years ago this area was a hotbed of volcanic activity. While at one time there may have been one lake as Crater Lake, but today Newberry Volcano has two lakes separated by pumice and lava.

Sitting atop Paulina Peak I gaze into the rich blue lakes, watch eagles soar and cast my eyes upon the jewels of the Cascades. From here I can see Mt. Batchelor, the Three Sisters, Mt. Jefferson, and even Mt. Hood more than 100 miles north. These snowcapped beauties stand proudly above the Oregon plains and valleys.

While not paved, the road to Paulina Peak is in good condition and offers amazing views as it ascends to the top of the world. But as my elderly friends cautioned, don't let the beauty distract you from the road. It's a big drop. And the winding and switch-backed road requires intense concentration or it's only one car wide — and there are some very wide cars in Oregon.

As magic lighting hour occurs (5-7 pm) I ride through forests of Ponderosa Pines where the sunlight causes the golden amber bark to glow amongst the non-descript pines that surround these beauties. I finally make it to The Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway (I think this was originally called the Cascade Lakes Highway, but things change). It's a nearly 70-mile ride along the Cascade Mountains passing through forest of pine and ponderosa and 6-7 lakes and a plethora of hiking trails.

I come winding around a swooping corner when I spot an elk casually trot across the highway. Later I cruise up a dirt road to a trail head where the sound of my engine through the excellent Adventure Pipe exhaust scares another elk into the woods.

I would have liked to camp by one of these lakes but my lake of preparation has left me without food so I continue along the highway pass Mt. Bachelor and Sparks Lake and into Bend where I find a cheap motel and relish the memory of this beautiful ride.

With less than 70,000 people, Bend, Oregon impresses me with its cozy downtown district, central Mirror Lake area where rafters float and families fix dinners and picnics and lovers walk hand in hand along the winding Deschutes River. Nice restaurants, unique boutiques and galleries and outdoor cafes create an ambiance often obliterated in small towns by development gone out of control and big box disease. I'm excited to stay one more night here.