Rediscovering America: Oregon

The last four years have been given us amazing travel opportunities.  The world is full of interesting things to see; wonderful people to meet and get to know; and of course this all translates to great video and photo opportunities.

DSC03504_tonemapped2 copyNot only have we been able to experience the vast deserts, wilderness and wildlife of Namibia, but also pretty much the opposite in Chennai, India – with four times the inhabitants of all of Namibia, full of color, sound, smells – and sometimes chaos.  And of course lots of nearby destinations:  South Africa, Madagascar, Zimbabwe; Malaysia, Australia, Nepal and of course India itself. Durga Procession

But it’s always good to come home.  Coming home is mostly about seeing family and friends.  But it’s also a period of rediscovery of our own country.  Not only all of the cultural aspects we have forgotten about or missed out on, but also some amazing natural beauty.  Often it is being away that helps us to “re-see” things we’d have otherwise taken for granted.

SunsetWe spent nearly a month in Oregon. People sometimes talk about the Oregon rain, but in a way Oregon is a kind of sampler of many of the things America has to offer: deserts, mountains, coastline, rain forests, volcanoes, gorges, white water…the list goes on. We didn’t even begin to touch on all the variety Oregon has to offer, but what follows are a few snapshots of a few simple day- and weekend trips we took.

  Coyote Creek  Coyote Creek is just a simple creek, one of several that feeds in to the Fern Ridge Reservoir, about 12 miles west of Eugene.  For a few dollars you can rent a kayak or two like we did, get up before dawn, and drop in near where the creek goes under the railroad bridge, on the southeast end of the lake. Sunrise

Hitting the creek early made for some good photo ops as the sun rose and highlighted the mist rising of the creek.


We saw a family of raccoons washing a snack before bed.  And having missed breakfast we were happy to help ourselves to the abundant berries growing along the banks!

DSC_0844BerriesWe paddled as far south as we could until fallen trees eventually forced us to turn back.  We saw some sort of birds constantly flitting in and out from underneath the railroad bridge and decided to go in for a closer look.  It turned out to be swallows – loads of young swallows who appeared to be just learning how to fly!  In between flights they would hang out at their nests, and the adults would stop by and encourage them to fly again. Learning to Fly

We followed the creek a bit to the north, as it gradually merged with the lake. The channel continued for about another half mile and we could tell all sorts of waterbirds called the area home. We didn’t get any really noteworthy shots of the waterbirds. But we managed to sneak up really close to some birdwatchers before being noticed!


…and then we loaded up and headed back to the house.  It was still early in the day so we had breakfast, and headed out to….

Waldo Lake  Waldo Lake is a 10-mile long lake that is entirely spring-fed, off-limits to motorized boats, and surrounded by dense forest.  It is amazingly clear and clean, and we went there because I wanted someplace I could safely swim.  An amazing experience to swim in this lake – I had forgotten my goggles (but not my wetsuit – an absolute must!) but it didn’t matter – the water is so clean you can just open your eyes while you swim and it looks like you are soaring 80 feet above the lake bottom!


The north end of the lake looked like it had been the site of a forest fire sometime in the last couple of years, and it looked like an interesting place to snap photos, so we went to check it out.

Lake WaldoIt turns out that this forest fire took place in 1996!  This is what a forest looks like after 20 years of recovery. Reflecting ShoreNew life

Despite the mostly lifeless trees, we still spotted some wildlife – such as this American marten.

Marten…and despite the fact that the extremely low nutrient level (the reason it is so clear!) means there is very little life in the lake itself. But these dragonflies that landed on our kayak were working on creating more… Dragonflies   It was a great trip, and I hope to be able to visit Waldo Lake again!

 McKenzie Bike Trail  We also took a couple of trips to one of my favorite places in Oregon – the McKenzie River.  One of the things you can do at the McKenzie River is rent a mountain bike and ride it down the McKenzie River Trail.  For a reasonable fee, the folks at the McKenzie River Mountain Resort will rent you a bike and drive you to the top of the 26-mile trail, or approximately to the halfway point.  Even though it’s generally downhill, I definitely recommend not attempting the full 26 miles if you don’t ride trails quite often.

FernMcKenzie River

The trail, rated among America’s top biking trails, generally runs along the river, sometimes with a treacherous drop-off. It’s not limited to cyclists so watch out for hikers, and bring plenty of water!

ReflectionSome people try and ride the trail as quickly as they can but I recommend taking it slow and stopping for photo-ops along the way.  If you’re interested in seeing what a ride down this trail (albeit pretty slowly) looks like, you can check out the video below.

After we finished our ride, we were pretty sore…and hungry!  Neither of us are big meat eaters…but for some strange reason, the entire bike ride, I kept thinking about barbecued cheeseburgers.  At one point I could have even sworn I could smell somebody grilling them.  So naturally when we were done, all I wanted was a burger.  So we checked out Yelp and read reports on Takoda’s Restaurant.  Supposedly they had a nice outside terrace and good food.  My verdict:  if you do this bike ride YOU NEED TO GO TO TAKODA’S AFTERWARD.  Yes, it was that good….  If you’re in a hurry, you can go into the shop at the gas station next door and buy what they call “chicken on a stick.”  People were raving about it online and we had to try that as well.  MUST EAT!

  McKenzie River Rafting  …let’s not forget about river rafting!  We had a fun, refreshing and generally wet trip down the McKenzie River with High Country Expeditions.  With an excellent guide who made sure we were safe and who told us about the local area, we managed for the most part to stay inside the raft. White Water

White WaterAs in the case of the bike ride, I brought along a GoPro camera and made a short video of the trip! Proxy Falls  Last but not least, if you do make a trip up to the McKenzie, it’s worth stopping by some of the local trails and/or waterfalls.  We visited Proxy Falls – a couple of spectacular sets of falls on a total of about 1 mile worth of trail – definitely worth seeing! McKenzie Trail

On the hike we were wearing Vibram FiveFingers (“toe shoes”). But the paths were so smooth, sandy and warm that I felt inspired to walk barefoot. As we clambered down to the base of the falls, the paths turned rocky but by then I had gotten so many odd stares by hikers in giant steel-toed hiking boots I decided to just go with it. It was fine until I stepped in the water, which was icy cold!

ForestTriple Falls

It is difficult to convey the magnitude of these falls using photographs. There were several photographers there with tripods just clicking away. if you look carefully in the photo below you can see someone standing below the falls, which gives an idea.


We had a great time hiking below, and climbing along the edges of these falls, keeping cool in the Oregon forest.  The short video clip below tries to convey again the scale and grandeur of Proxy Falls.  But it’s best seen in person!

…so that pretty much covers our “summer vacation” – getting to know our home state and country again after years spent living abroad.  After our 3 weeks in Oregon, it was time to head back to the East Coast, where we’ll spend about half a year boning up on our French language abilities.  And then we’ll be off to Madagascar, where we’ll be sure to have lots to share!!

To see other photos from our “summer vacation” in Oregon, check out this set on Flickr.

Waterfall Selfie

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3 Responses to Rediscovering America: Oregon

  1. mgmlvks says:

    Tom – I have enjoyed your photos and explorations of images with great interest these last few years – and it is somehow fitting that I also am from Oregon (Portland, parents life outside of Dallas now) – but been a LONG time in Leavenworth, KS. Your enthusiasm and wonderful pictures made my day!

  2. Tom (Admin) says:

    Thanks so much for your feedback Mike! My wife is from Eugene – I’m from everywhere and nowhere – but it’s a great place to call home when I’m in between adventures.

  3. Lynn says:

    I always enjoy seeing photos of our area from an “outsider” perspective. Even though A grew up here, being gone for so long, it must be a sense of getting acquainted each time you’re back.

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