One goal on our recent trip was to drive Oregon’s highway 31. Rand McNally designated it as a scenic route, but Ruth and I often wonder why certain dotted byways have been identified as especially noteworthy. To get to Route 31, for example, we drove Highway 140 from Klamath Falls to Lakeview, and both Ruth & I found it dot-worthy. Rand McNally apparently hadn’t.
Route 31 began its 119 mile northwest journey for us at Valley Falls where we saw no falls, no people. This part of the State is called “The Oregon Outback”, an entirely appropriate label. Like in The Australian Outback, gas stations, towns with services, and motels aren’t part of the landscape. And when you drive it makes a big difference. Spring is best. But we were driving Route 31 in the transition time between summer and fall.
I had picked up a magazine, Oregon Scenic Byways & Tour Routes, at the excellent Klamath Falls Visitors Center and learned that there’s a geyser named Old Perpetual one mile north of Lakeview, Oregon’s “tallest town” at 4,800 feet above sea level.
There’s a lot of misinformation in the world. While viewing Iceland’s Great Geysir (geyser is an Icelandic word) spew several years before, I was being told that there were only 3 places where geysers exist–here, New Zealand, and Wyoming. Old Perpetual, more reliable than Old Faithful, isn’t the first geyser to disprove this.
The first spectacular view along 31 was 30-mile-long Abert Rim, a fault escarpment that makes a barren Oregon Outback spot a hang gliding magnet.
The first settlement was Paisley, a few buildings on a highway curve and a surprise. We stopped to stretch and, within 5 minutes, found women playing bridge in a room behind a saloon, an unlikely coffee kiosk, chihuahuas, and cold drinks. We soon learned that we were 2 months late for the Mosquito Festival. Darn.
A few miles later Ruth & I were sighting Summer Lake. In September, it looked exactly like the dry salt pans we had seen all over Australia, Lake Eyre being the most famous. Alkaline Summer Lake, almost entirely vast amounts of carbonate salt, is virtually dried up and inhospitable in almost autumn. But in well-watered early spring, it’s temporary home to about 250 bird species and thousands of bird watchers.
Route 31 began rising toward Picture Rock Pass for some eye-filling views of Summer Lake’s enormity. Then there was another tiny community, Silver Lake, which is named for a nearby dry basin that holds water only about every 30 years, like the Australian Outback’s Lake Eyre.
After a 7-mile side trip to Fort Rock, a ring of partially collapsed crater walls, we were back on 31 and trees began to appear sporadically. The Outback feel began to fade as Route 31 traveled through, not sagebrush, but increasingly impressive lodgepole and ponderosa pine forest that must look sensational during snow and ended 2 miles south of La Pine.
Highway 31 certainly earned its Oregon Scenic Byway designation and Rand McNally dots.