Visiting Sisters in the heart of Oregon
Are you interested in taking a minivacation, lasting just six days? Maybe a car trip covering some 1,000 plus miles from the Gold Country or Reno? Perhaps traveling through some of the most beautiful scenery of the West?
This is a trip that does not need to be expensive. The weather is delightful – the roads are not crowded.
And April and May are the ideal times to go to the High Desert Country of Oregon, including “The Oregon Outback,” the town of Sisters and more.
My partner, Dianne Marie, and I made this trip in March this year – and practically on the spur of the moment. This was because we learned of a little place in central Oregon that is known for its annual quilt show and for its delightful ambiance and setting – and it goes by the name of Sisters.
Of course, we had never heard of it. But it sounded so intriguing that we decided to go for it.
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Leaving Grass Valley on a Monday, we drove to Reno for a family reunion and stayed overnight. The next day we took Highway US395 north all the way to Lakeview, Ore. We were in high desert country – and this held true throughout most of the trip.
In addition to the mountains, the most prominent features of this landscape are a number of lakes, such as Honey Lake and Goose Lake, both of which are shallow and presumably alkali lakes. We saw no boats or fishermen and believe neither lake is suitable for that sort of activity, or even swimming.
In Lakeview, Ore., we found a nice little place to stay, the Rim Rock Motel, where the rate was around $40, tax included. Actually, all our motel rates were about the same (except for Sisters).
We spent the next day in Oregon’s Lake County on state Highway 31 in what is called the “Oregon Outback.” Some of the interesting places we visited briefly were:
The 2,000 feet high Abert Rim, known as the highest exposed scarp on the continent (created by a prehistoric earthquake), Paisley, a tiny place that celebrates a Mosquito Festival every summer, and, finally, a hot spring at Summer Lake. It seems this area contains a number of hot springs, but the one at Summer Lake has a historic bathhouse, described as “rustic,” which looked very funky. It almost tempted me to go for a dip.
That night we made it all the way to Sisters without stopping at Bend, which is the biggest city in central Oregon and located about 20 miles east of Sisters. The town got its name from the “Three Sisters” mountains, easily visible from here. These mountains and others here are part of the Cascade Mountain Range.
At this time of the year it was not a problem to find a place to stay, but even so, we had to pay quite a bit more than elsewhere on this trip – $67 per night.
We were told that the rates go up considerably in the summer months, particularly during the various festivals, and there seem to be quite a few. If you go then, you need to make a reservation.
Sisters is a small community of around 9,000, including the immediate surrounding area. It is about 100 miles from either Salem or Eugene, Ore., in the rain shadow of the Cascades, which is why the annual rainfall is only 14 inches. Sisters and the surroundings are very flat, which makes it very attractive for walking or biking.
The elevation is around 3,300 ft. and they do get snow occasionally in the winter months.
We found it to be a very charming community, apparently on the verge of becoming a serious vacation destination. They seem to have many facilities needed for modern living, including a fitness center.
Tourists will find it delightful, since many shops and restaurants cater to the tourist trade. We were so enchanted by the place that we even made the rounds with a real estate agent, just to check out the housing market. Could we possibly be moving there?
Of concern to us was the lack of a hospital, cinema, senior center and public transportation. For these, you’d have to go to Bend, a major population center with quite a number of cultural institutions, as well.
On the bright side, there is still affordable housing here. Quite a few condos are in the process of being built, with prices starting around $200,000 and up. For younger folks, the main attractions are the outdoors and its year- round sports activities.
On our way back home, we decided to take Oregon state Highway 97, going through Klamath Falls.
There was no good reason to stop in Klamath Falls, except for the fact that we had had a full day and needed to rest for the night.
We usually make it a habit to drive through small communities from one end to the other, just to “scope” the place, looking for a likely place to eat and stay. We selected the La Vista Motel, just north of town. It sat a bit back from the highway, looked very decent and was next door to a nice little restaurant.
Our next-to-last day was spent in the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge and the Lava Beds National Monument, which are adjacent to each other in the northernmost part of California. The Wildlife Refuge teemed with all kinds of birds, was totally flat and, in addition to its abundance of waterways, boasts some of the richest farmland to be found anywhere.
In contrast, the lava bed area terrain is hilly, and there is evidence of ancient volcanoes and lava flows. There are many lava tube caves. It is possible to go through some of these; however, only one cave is lit, (“Mushpot”) right by the visitor center. This is a brand new facility. It shows a short video and has good exhibits.
Our final visit was to see the ancient Indian petroglyphs at nearby Petroglyph Point. We climbed up a hill of approximately 300 feet and were able to get a wonderful panoramic view of the valley and Mount Shasta in the distance.
Meanwhile, we were off to Susanville for one more night on the road, and we headed home early the next day.
When we added up the miles, we actually covered 1,300 miles because of the side trips we took. We covered a lot of territory but did not feel rushed.
The variety of scenery and the places we saw were incredible given the short span of just six days. And best of all, we were away from crowds, traffic and the hassles that nowadays make so many vacations more stressful than relaxing.
Walt Fraser lives in Grass Valley and is a frequent traveler.
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