Hey everyone, we’re back from our Oregon road trip. Actually, it was 2 short road trips with a break at home. It was really nice to get out of town for a few days. This summer is surreal. Like many people, we have been stuck at home since March. My wife and kid are perfectly happy with it, but I was getting increasingly restless. This year we planned to visit Hawaii and Thailand, but those trips got canceled due to the pandemic. I thought we could take a long road trip to visit friends and families in California instead. However, COVID is surging hard there so that trip got canceled too. Ugh! How disappointing. So we decided to make the best of it by visiting a couple of in-state locations we haven’t been to. It worked out quite well. We had a lot of fun and I feel a lot better. Now, I can hunker down the rest of 2020…
I lived in Portland for over 25 years, but I haven’t spent much time in Eastern Oregon. It is a huge rural area. I visited a few skiing and rafting attractions with my friends in the 90s, but haven’t gone back in recent years. Usually, we travel to other countries or drive west to the beaches when we take a vacation. Anyway, we had plenty of time this summer so I got to cross this one off the list. I decided to visit the John Day National Monument area and off we went. (Mrs. RB40 hates trip planning so I’m in charge of our vacations.)
Smith Rock State Park
Smith Rock is considered the birthplace of modern American sport climbing. Thousands of routes attract climbers from all over. I don’t know anything about climbing so this wasn’t high on my list. Luckily, Smith Rock was on the way to our destination so we stopped by for a quick hike.
We picked up 2 orders of burritos in Madras and had a picnic at Smith Rock. Surprisingly, the food was excellent. Who knew you can find authentic Mexican food in Madras. Mrs. RB40’s grandma used to tell us about some terrible enchiladas she had in Central Oregon many years ago. She said it was covered in brown gravy. But this was way back in the 80s so I should have known that the food option is much improved now.
Anyway, we went hiking after lunch and had a nice time. The trails are open, but they want you to wear a face mask. We kept our masks on hand and put them on when we couldn’t keep our distance. It was very hot so bring plenty of water if you plan to visit.
After our hike, we drove to Mitchell. Mitchell was like an old west town. There was one street with a few stores and that was it. The population was 130 at the 2010 census. We decided to sleep in Mitchell because it was perfectly situated in the middle of the John Day National Monument area. There are actually 3 units (sites) about an hour apart. If we stayed in a bigger town, we’d have to drive at least 2 extra hours each day.
The Painted Hills is the first John Day unit we visited. It’s really neat. The hills are vivid red, yellow, green, and white. This is what I imagine Mars looks like. This is the main attraction for me. I’ve heard about the Painted Hills for a long time, but they are so out of the way. We enjoyed it tremendously. There are several easy short trails at this site. We visited twice, at 7 pm and another day at 8 am. The lighting for pictures is tricky here. It wasn’t busy when we were there.
Coincidently, it was our 21stanniversary. Yay!
Lucky Strike Mine
I read about Lucky Strike Mine a couple of years ago when our son was into rocks. You can dig for thundereggs there. Thundereggs are spherical rocks filled with minerals. You can cut them in half to reveal intricate patterns and colors if you’re lucky. The Lucky Strike Mine is located in the Ochoco National Forest (close to Mitchell) and we had to take some unmarked Forest Service roads to get there. Google Maps wasn’t helpful because it is not accurate. One road it wanted us to take doesn’t exist. Luckily, I found pretty good written directions on the internet. I verified it with the satellite view on Google Maps so I was pretty confident we’d make it.
After 30 minutes in the woods, Mrs. RB40 thought we were lost, but I kept going. Turned out we were on the right road and we made it to the mine soon after. The mine was neat. There were two spots where you can dig. A rockhound club from Salem was using power tools to dig at one site so we went to the other site. This was when RB40Jr found out mining isn’t much fun in real life. (His favorite game is Minecraft.) We dug around for about 90 minutes and came away with a bucket of thundereggs. It was an interesting experience, but once was enough. The rocks cost $2 per pound with a 15-pound minimum. We spent a bit more than the minimum. I think of it as supporting the locals. Anyway, 2020 is the last year they’re open for public digging. There aren’t many places like this left. Now, I have to figure out where I can get these rocks cut.
Sheep Rock is the 2nd unit we visited. There is a nice Paleontology center here, but it’s closed due to COVID. That’s too bad. I read that they have a nice fossil collection. We went for a hike and relaxed instead. That’s okay. We’ll have a chance to see some fossils at the next stop.
Yay, we got another chance to dig! We visited Wheeler High School in Fossil, OR. There is a fossil bed right behind their football field. They ask for $5 donation per person and you can dig to your heart’s content. There are plenty of plant fossils here. We spent about 90 minutes digging and splitting limestones. We found several fossils so that was exciting. We got here around 9 am and it was already starting to heat up. Get there early and bring plenty of water.
Here is the best one we found. You can see needles on both sides of the split. I think these are redwood needles.
Clarno was the last John Day unit. We dropped by on our way home. Mrs. RB40 went hiking and the guys rested in the shade. This whole area used to be a lush tropical rainforest 50 million years ago. There are fossil records in all these rock layers.
For our 2nd road trip, we visited Newport. It’s our favorite Oregon beach town. The restaurants here are way better than other beach town eateries, IMO. We splurged on seafood and a nice hotel.
Yum, a nice cup of chowder.
Our hotel was at Agate Beach. Unfortunately, there are no agates on the beach anymore. However, the beach itself is really nice. It’s a wide long beach with a bunch of mini dunes. RB40 had a blast playing there. The water was freezing cold as usual. We have never been here so it was a nice discovery.
Beverly Beach is really neat. You can walk along the hillside and find shell fossils everywhere. Visitors can keep the fossils they find, but you can’t dig. I found several nice fossils to take home. This is one of my favorite beaches in Oregon because you can get free souvenirs. Nice!
Make the best of it
Alright, that’s it for our summer vacation. We couldn’t take a big trip, but we made the best of it and enjoyed exploring new places in Oregon. It was really nice to unplug for a few days. I feel a lot more relaxed now.
Did you take a summer vacation this year? Where did you go? Enjoy the last few weeks of summer!
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Originally posted at https://retireby40.org/oregon-road-trip-2020/