Grant's Getaways: Oregon adventures with kids
Father’s Day is just around the corner this Sunday and I have three terrific getaways that are perfect family adventures: rolling along the Oregon coast, camping in the Oregon Cascades, or digging for the Oregon State Gem called “Sunstones” in the high desert. These three trips are part of my new book, Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures With Kids.
Searching for summer adventures for the family? No finer time to begin than right now.
First stop: The Oregon Coast at Bay City, where you’ll discover a new form of railroading that will get your heart rate going and leave you with mile-wide smiles when you join the Oregon Coast Rail Riders.
Nate Bell says if you can sit, you can join the Rail Riders.
Bell is the lead guide for a new way to see Tillamook County. Oregon Coast Rail Riders offers a two-hour round-trip that begins in Bay City and stretches south on unused railroad track in Tillamook County.
There are five road crossings that require Nate Bell to raise a traffic stop sign and then move the riders along safely. The slowpoke pace is perfect for sightseeing a coastal countryside that folks who travel nearby Coastal Highway 101 miss.
“It’s beautiful – it’s gorgeous,” exclaimed first-time rail rider, Rachael Yingst. “I love it – there’s a bit of exercise but it’s not hard to pedal at all.”
An hour into the southbound ride, it’s time to turn around – the all-aluminum frames and polyurethane wheels weigh a mere one hundred pounds.
It’s the sort of ride that puts a smile on your face, and the sort of setting that keeps it there all day. It’s a rail ride unlike any train you’ve ever traveled on and a fine way to explore new country.
Second stop: When summer arrives, I like to head for the Oregon Cascades and explore Clear Lake: headwaters of the McKenzie River.
The waters of Clear Lake in the Central Oregon Cascades are so clear, it is hard to see where the water ends and the bottom of the lake begins. If you love hiking, fishing, photography or camping, Clear Lake is the place to be.
Clear Lake is nicknamed the "Lake Born of Fire!" It formed 3,000 years ago when a lava eruption reached the McKenzie River and backed up water to form Clear Lake.
Early recreation arrived in the 1920s when the Santiam Fish and Game Association was formed by nearby Linn County residents who wanted to protect the lake.
The SFGA built cabins, a store, docks and rental boats – and the place thrived year-round as an affordable getaway. In 2007, Linn County bought the site and manages it in partnership with the US Forest Service.
Family traditions continue today with a rod, reel and bucket of night crawlers for visitors like Will Tucker and his grand-daughter, Stella Lang, who were having a ball catching rainbow trout.
“We always catch at least one,” noted Tucker. “So we can have a trout for dinner. This is a nice one, little more than 14 inches long. All of my children caught their first fish on this lake and today, six of my grandchildren have caught their first fish here. Clear Lake is a mecca for trout fishing folks – even better, it’s open year-round.”
Will Tucker grew up playing as a kid at Clear Lake and he loves to share its beauty – and its secrets, like the easy hike (along a six-mile-long looped trail) to reach the underground spring that feeds Clear Lake.
Will also showed off many of the lake’s submerged trees; part of a forest that’s as old as the lake:
“These trees that you see underwater, they were captured or trapped by the lava flow that created the lake – they were submerged when the water backed up. They still stand in the lake because the water is so cold – too cold to rot and they’ve been here 3,000 years. There are dozens and dozens of these and it will be thousands of years before they disappear. It’s just an incredible place to visit,” he said.
Clear Lake is all of that and even more! The sort of place that lets you set your clock back – relax – and enjoy – it’s Oregon.
Third stop: Oregon’s high desert is a vast stretch of the state where distances are great and people are few – but if you know where to look, there are remarkable treasures waiting to be found
When the Spectrum Sunstone Mine rock hopper fills up and the generator fires up the conveyor belt gets your hopes up: that Oregon’s State Gem called Sunstones will roll past you by the hundreds.
The Spectrum Sunstone Mine is located 30 miles northwest of Plush, Oregon and you’ll want to bring a bucket to hold the sunstone riches you find in this pocket of the high desert.
Sunstone Mine Manager Jessica Schenk said, “It’s very quiet out here and it’s very rural so be ready for that – plus, there’s no shade whatsoever so bring a sun hat, gloves, water and a bucket to carry your sunstones back home.”
Chris Rose, owner and operator of the Spectrum Mine, said that he’s been working his claim for more than 12 years. He showed us how easy it is to find them. In a matter of minutes, he worked the soft dirt with a rock pick and pried a gorgeous 25-caret red sunstone from a six-foot-deep sunstone pit.
He noted that the “redder the sunstone, the more valuable the sunstone.”
“Now, these are cut-able stones (they can be faceted and polished by a jeweler) and they’ll be worth $100 a carat. This one is about 25 carats is pretty rough but after being cut and cleaned it will probably be about a 5-carat gem – not bad, eh?”
Not bad at all! The Spectrum Sunstone Mine is open to the public and for a fee, you can scoop up shovel-loads of sunstone-rich ore, dump each onto a screen and shake away the dirt to find the stones.
That’s the technique Colleen Schlosser and young Jonah Luedecke chose after they traveled to the Spectrum Mine from Portland – in fact, it was their third visit of the summer to explore and dig sunstones! We watched as Jonah found a dandy sunstone in minutes. It shimmered in the brilliant sunshine and showed off a golden hue.
Colleen didn’t mind the SE Oregon remoteness or the summer heat that rose to the high 90s across a rugged countryside that few folks visit.
“Oh, not at all – this is great mother-son camping time and we are treasure hunting. It’s exciting because you are constantly picking sunstones from the ore that Chris digs up for us – plus, these are state gemstones after all and that’s fun too. I love Oregon and it’s cool to bring home buckets of the state gem to show off to our friends and family – and I craft jewelry with them,” she said.
Sunstones are copper-laden crystals that formed tens of millions of years ago. The crystals flowed to the surface with volcanic magma and are concentrated in this part of Southeast Oregon. It’s the microscopic copper bits that give sunstones their color – that color ranges from light champagne to ruby red.
“It’s a seven-hour drive to get here and I enjoy it,” added Schlosser. “It’s beautiful in that country, the desert; the smell of it, the mountains – it’s quiet. The whole thing is really just a fun trip.”
If you like to explore Oregon with the family be sure to check out my new book: “Grant’s Getaways – Oregon Adventures with the Kids.” You’ll find 48 uniquely Oregon adventures that highlight the people, places and activities that will make the family feel right at home.
The stories offer detailed directions and promise to set you on your own path of discovery across Oregon. The new book is also available as e-book download so you can take my new book with you on the road.