Oregon Road Trip: Southern Oregon

In October 2017 John and I took a road trip across Oregon (our fourth!). We spent a week traveling throughout Portland, the coast, southern Oregon, the Willamette Valley, and central Oregon. These trip recap posts will be organized by region for guidance, in case you want to replicate anything we did on our trip. The map reflects the days traveled, and I will reference what day the pictures/information corresponds to.

OR Map 1

Before arriving at our big stop for Day 3, we needed some lunch! Because we were in the wilderness of northern California and southern Oregon, we had few options. We came upon this hot pink burger shack – She She’s Drive In Restaurant in Gasquet, CA. It wasn’t fancy, but it got the job done. John certainly enjoyed his burger.

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An hour drive late, and officially back in Oregon, we arrived at our destination – the Oregon Caves National Monument!

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We’ve wanted to come here for so long but I’ll be honest, it’s a bit grueling to get to. No Oregon roads really get here to Cave Junction from the coast, which is why we had to go south into California and then back north to the Caves. There is one, long, winding, punishing 10 mile long road up into the park. It felt like it would never end!

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Our park ranger-led cave tour was at 3pm and they last 90 minutes. We had some time to kill in the visitor’s center before our tour. The coolest thing they have there is a 3D model of the interior of the cave tunnels!

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The entrance to the caves is kind of missable…

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But once you get inside, oh man is it amazing!

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Oregon Caves is a solutional cave – which means it was originally formed in limestone, but developed into other types of rock, like marble – but more on that in a minute. The cave passages total about 15,000 feet.

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The caves are now primarily marble – though they weren’t always. The parent rock was originally limestone and was part of a tectonic plate beneath the Pacific Ocean. As the oceanic crust and North American tectonic plate grew, the limestone was subject to heat and pressure such that it metamorphosed to marble. Further tectonic movements eventually lifted the marble to above sea level where it sits here.

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The cave itself was created long after the marble formed. As groundwater seeped into cracks in the marble, it eventually dissolved enough rock to expand some of the cracks to the size of tunnels. Through those cracks came acid and more water, creating wide, interconnected tunnels. It’s basically this process, and gravity, that have created what we see in the caves today. So fascinating! The National Park Service has a great brochure explaining in more depth how the Oregon Caves were formed, from a geological perspective.

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The exit of the cave is just as non-descript as the entrance but it dumps out a short hike from a gorgeous summit overlooking the park/forest below.

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Much like all of Oregon, this place was absolutely magical.

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And the views from the top of the Siskiyou Mountains was amazing.

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After we had our fill of the splendor from the top, we hiked back down to the visitor’s center.

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The sun was just starting to dip and the weather had started to transition from beautiful day into crisp Fall evening. Perfection.

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We’d had a long day of driving and still had about an hour more left to go until we got to our final destination for Day 3 – Medford, Oregon. We stopped at the halfway point in Grants Pass for asian food at Taroko Asian Tapas Bar. We were starving and it was delicious!

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Day 4 (which was incidentally my birthday) began in Medford, Oregon – the home of the Harry & David headquarters! We had done the full headquarters and factory tour before in 2013 so we didn’t repeat that again, though I highly recommend it!

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We did stop in the store and load up on Moose Munch though!

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After we left Medford, about an hour’s drive north, we stumbled upon the Prospect State Scenic Viewpoint in Prospect, Oregon where we stopped to enjoy Mill Creek Falls.

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15 minutes north, still in Prospect, is the Rogue Gorge Viewpoint – which we’d been to before but we had to stop and see it again.

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Such a beautiful place to stop and stretch your legs.

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Here’s a little 10 second video of the falls:

And just 25 minutes from Prospect is Crater Lake National Park. I won’t rehash what happened last time we tried to come up here – you can read that harrowing tale here – but the weather looked beautiful, even for October and even though the season’s first snow had happened literally the day before, so we went for it.

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We headed first to the Crater Lake Lodge for some lunch. The Lodge is pretty amazing – real old school rustic, but charming and exactly what a lodge inside of a national park should be. Lunch was great and we were ready to take on Crater Lake!

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The weather was so unbelievably stunning, I couldn’t believe we were finally here getting a second chance at Crater Lake! And, it was my birthday – so I saw this as a meant-to-be birthday redemption miracle.

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We drove along the lake’s Rim Drive to see Crater Lake from as many angles as possible. The view doesn’t get old at all.

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Crater Lake is a caldera lake, which means it was formed from volcanic eruptions that collapsed and formed a depression, or crater. Eventually, rain and snow accumulated and formed a lake. Scientists estimate it took about 720 years to fill the lake to its present depth (almost 2,000 feet). Lava eruptions created a central island – Wizard Island – which is the land mass you see inside the lake. The lake’s deep blue color and water clarity is a result of pristine waters (i.e. very little pollution and almost no microscopic plants), so lots of UV light can get through and reflect back the deep blue color (great article here on this topic).

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Crater Lake is a perfect example of why the National Park Service is so important, and why the preservation of the natural wonders of the US are essential. The world would be a significantly less beautiful place without it; not just the nature and beauty of this place, but the history and the tradition of visitors coming here to see it for themselves. I cannot say enough about how fundamental National Parks have been to our travels and what we would be missing without experiencing them. If you find yourself in Southern Oregon, even in a snowstorm, know that at least trying to visit Crater Lake is worth the trip.

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Next up on our regional tour of Oregon state: Central Oregon!

Author: Domestocrat

I'm a lady who enjoys photography, football, cooking, long drives with the windows down, This American Life, kettlecorn, hot yoga, pop punk, my nephews, my cat Reggie, and my home: Boston.

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