Growing up, my family would take several trips a year to central Oregon’s high desert. We would stroll down the streets of the western themed town of Sisters, rent a house in the laid back resort of Sun River, or spend several days at Black Butte Ranch. Heading a little further south, and many a summer was spent on the shores of Diamond Lake with several day trips dedicated to exploring Crater Lake, the United State’s deepest lake.
So why has it been several years since I’ve returned to the area? I don’t know, but when a friend invited me on a camping trip to the very areas I’d known as a child, my answer was an enthusiastic yes! We left after work on a Friday and only had to inch our way through south bound freeway traffic for half an hour, until our exit appeared and we headed due east on open road. Via the Detroit Lake route, we passed weekend warriors with loaded up vehicles, bikes and coolers and packs secured to the roof of vans, as kids and dogs stuck their faces out of windows, eyes closed. We drove through a portion of the Deschutes National Forest as the sun was setting, arriving in the quaint and touristy two-lane town of Sisters. We stopped to stretch our legs and eat some food, deciding the town’s wood paneled saloon would do. Instead of continuing for another hour to our original destination outside of the city of Bend, we decided to backtrack and set up camp at Suttle Lake– it was dark, late, and we really just wanted to sit around a fire and have a beer.
After driving through several of the campgrounds around the lake, we finally found a spot and set up camp as quickly as possible. The wind was blowing fiercely at times, but I managed to start the fire as my friend was setting up the tent. After a well deserved drink or two, we turned in for the night, cozy and cramped in our 1-person tent. The next morning we made coffee over our camp stove as the weather decided what it was going to do. We then headed out to North Twin Lake, a small secluded campground tucked away from major roads and hidden by walls of Pondarosa and Lodge Pole pines.
We arrived and set up camp, breathing in the dry, sweet heat of the surrounding forest. We played boardgames and Bocce Ball. We made “camper’s sangria” and ate all of our meals underneath the shade of the trees or in the sun or under the stars… where ever we wanted, completely unplugged and absolutely fine with it.
The next morning we hiked the approximate 2-mile loop around the lake, admiring the rose-red bark and dark veins of the Pondarosa, and the multiple gardens of dwarf mistletoe that had decided to grow along the trail. We contemplated just not returning home and instead making a new life out in the high desert, among the volcano ranges that stretched east and west beyond view.
We followed the Cascade Lakes Scenic byway which then lead us through the Willamette National Forest. We left the high, dry heat and ascended into fog and mist, past Waldo and Odell Lakes, and eventually into the temperate Willamette Valley, then north 2 hours to return to Portland. I needed those three days out in nature more than I knew at the time. I needed that road trip, that temperature change. I needed to cook my food outside and sleep on the ground and drink a beer with my lunch, and to spend time in places that I used to know.