As mountain snow begins to slowly melt and the days grow longer and longer, summer's long anticipated arrival is finally in sight. Last weekend we took advantage of the improving weather, packed up a rig from our friends at Wonderland Expeditions, and headed out on our first road trip of the season.
Oregon is blessed with a truly awe-inspiring allotment of public lands, be they BLM, national forest, wildlife management areas, or state forests. Thanks to these public lands and the flexibility of a pop-up camper on a high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle, we were able to plan our trip with dispersed camping in mind. Dispersed camping is free, and it provides a great perspective on the road less traveled, from simple pull-offs to secluded backcountry nooks. Most locations are centered around rough, bumpy dirt roads that curve through our beautiful public lands. The best part: Rather than hiking endless miles up steep rocky passes, you can just pick a dirt road, park your car, and set up camp. This effort-to-scenery ratio is nearly impossible to beat!
Our first stop was Smith Rock State Park, a majestic geological phenomenon that tells a 30-million-year-old story of time, wind, and water. After a leg-burning ascent up Misery Ridge we decided to look for camp. Smith Rock is surrounded by endless amounts of BLM land, so after pulling down a few different roads, some of which were blocked by cattle, we were finally able to find the perfect backcountry spot. In some places, high-clearance or four-wheel drive is necessary, and it is definitely a plus that all Wonderland Expedition vehicles are equipped with four-wheel drive.
The next morning we woke up and headed south to explore another of Oregon's iconic geological formations, Fort Rock, but before we made it there we had a quick stop at the Lava Lands. Lava Lands formed about 7,000 years ago after Lava Butte's volcanic explosion. Interestingly enough, NASA used this area to test equipment and train astronauts before landing on the moon! After exploring we headed to the Lava River Cave, Oregon’s longest intact lava tube, which stretches just over a mile in length. We then made the push to Fort Rock, a 100,000-year-old isolated volcanic tuff ring that rises around 300 feet. After some exploring, we were ready to set up camp. Since we were unfamiliar with this area we were able to use Google Maps to help search the area. Although it took several attempts, we finally were able to set up camp deep in the Deschutes National Forest.
On our last day we woke up early to explore the infamous Crack in the Ground. This volcanic fissure is a result of cooling lava, and it runs about 2 miles long! It reminded us of Utah's iconic slot canyons. We then packed up, heading back to Portland with a quick stop in Hood River. As we passing through Mount Hood National Forest we were able to see a clear view of the majestic Mount Hood. Our 3-day trip was the perfect escape from reality, and it really opened our eyes to all of the hidden gems across Central Oregon!
It’s important to note anyone can take advantage of dispersed camping, however, it's important that we all step up to protect these public lands. Ironically, because we all own public lands, ownership and responsibility become less concrete, a concept known as the tragedy of the commons. We must ensure that we treat these lands responsibly. Always camp at least 100 feet away from any water source, 150 feet from any road, outside of a 1-mile radius from any designated campground, do not overstay your 16-day welcome, and keep your group to 74 or less (more than that may require a special use permit). Learn more about the basics behind dispersed camping here.
Get out there and discover the solitude and remoteness that awaits! For more information on how you can rent one of Wonderland Expeditions' fully outfitted four-wheel drive trucks or SUVs check them out here.
Bulldozing your way through the woods and setting up camp wherever you please, destroying plants, and scaring away wildlife as you go has a significant impact on the environment. By being respectful and following the principles of Leave No Trace, you are protecting these public lands for yourself and for future campers. If you want to learn more about enjoying the outdoors while minimizing environmental consequences, read this blog by Outdoor Project Contributor Matthew Durrant about Leaving No Trace.