Central Oregon Wanderings

This post is unique in that I am essentially transcribing it directly from our PERSONAL INSTAGRAM FEED in which we have been sharing the day to day adventure of a family road trip through Central Oregon over the last week; post by post.

While I think you’ll appreciate the following adventure as much as Aubrin did (which includes two ‘tiny houses’) if you would rather read our most recent writings about SHED tiny house you can find them in the newest issue (#78) of TINY HOUSE MAGAZINE. We were honored to be invited to contribute and wrote an article we think a lot of people considering a tiny house would appreciate reading. It is titled ‘Tiny House Stepping Stone: A case for the non-forever [tiny] home‘ and we talk about how our tiny house has contributed in distinctly unique and important ways during different stages of our lives in an attempt to promote the idea that a tiny house doesn’t have to be a forever plan to have profoundly positive effects on ones life while helping support and enable their future goals.

If you want the summary, watch the video below, if you want the experience, keep reading…:)

“I can’t think of a better way to experience Father’s day than to be on another [overly]ambitious road trip in the fully-packed and increasingly unreliable Forester deep into the Oregon outback to visit a couple old favorites and some yet unknown. Every time we depart on a road trip my heart skips a beat and I remember the formative time spent doing this with Samantha in 2008 that cemented our partnership.

Back then we traveled quick and light, navigated by paper map, learned about worthwhile destinations through face-to-face conversation and my biggest worry was figuring out how to approach the topic of pulling over to poop with this beautiful girl I had convinced to tour the country with me.

A lot has changed since then but the feeling I get on the road is raw with nostalgia and happiness, as fresh and unadulterated as that day in July when we pointed her tiny Honda Civic west and made personal history; and we are still pulling over for (baby) poop breaks.”


“We’re back in a tiny house and it feels so good! THE CAMP BEND has one of Bend, Oregon’s only legal tiny houses and you can rent it. It also happens to be the RVIA certified Escape Vista which has been on our bucket list to experience! You know, that tiny house with a first floor bed surrounded by huge windows!aadbe9d2-ac1e-4642-88e6-4e15a274ad7e.jpegOur time here has been an amazing experience here in Bend Oregon and we are thankful to have the opportunity to spend some time in this rad little spot that is part RV park, part airBNB glamping resort and part hostel offering an up-to-date modern experience.

They were able to accommodate us on short notice and it has been the perfect basecamp for exploring Bend and beyond. Many thanks to the manager Tyler and owner Luke who were super helpful and made us feel right at home in ‘The Cottage” tiny house. We wish we could spend a few more nights here but we’ve got an [over]ambitious family adventure route planned along the remote dirt and forest roads of Central Oregon as we seek out unique experiences and geological anomalies.


Chapter 1:

I stood outside under the oppressive central Oregon sun, midway between the Forester and a large swath of deep muddy water that stretched across the narrow dirt road from fence line to fence line. We were a small speck in the middle-of-nowhere Oregon tucked between the outer circumstances of irrigated crop circles who had flooded our path through the desert.


Samantha and Aubrin waited in the car as I unscientifically placed our odds at 50-50 that we would make it to the other side unscathed; or at all. We had been driving for over 6 hours, with another 2.5 to go and the odds of us being back in this particular remote area any time soon were very slim, placing all the more pressure to find a way to do this side trip to a geological anomaly that had been on our bucket list for years.

Three years ago I would have went for it. But now, we have a two year old in the car and the thought of getting bogged down in a mud hole in this heat without cell service pushed our already at-times questionable parenting standards just beyond the point I was comfortable with. I turned the car around and started back down the dirt road.

In a last act of desperation I began trying alternate tractor paths to skirt around the enormous crop circles until we were able to link a couple together to bi-pass our muddy obstacle and continue on to our planned destination. I’ve grown accustomed to even the most remote places becoming crowded these days but on this particular afternoon we arrived to no one, enhancing the feeling that we really had stumbled upon one of earths little secrets. We followed a sage brush lined path past ancient junipers like I had never seen before and then, we turned a bend and walked into the earth…E044241F-A1EF-49CB-BE01-60E0D73F9AAE

Chapter 2:

The temperature gradually dropped a remarkable 20 degrees as we descended deep below the baked surface of central Oregon. Eventually the volcanic fissure narrowed to shoulder width and stretched above our heads for 70 feet before breaking open to the sky as Aubrin Sage tromped gleefully along the bottom.

Volcanic fissures are not in and of themselves a geological anomaly; but they usually become filled with soil and rock from erosion over the years where as the arid nature of central Oregon has in a sense, preserved this fissure in time, allowing a memorable slot canyon experience to those patient enough to seek it out.

We returned to the car, thankful we had put in the extra effort to be here and made our way back through a festive valley en route to our final destination for the night that is sure to be the antithesis of this most recent experience. 




Chapter 3:

The clock showed 7:30 pm and we were still driving south through the Oregon outback. No particular single incident throughout the day was overly problematic but we had started to slip behind our planned schedule and our gas gauge dipped towards 1/4 tank. It was an insignificant detail at the time but proved a stressful point over the coming days.

The plan was to fill up in the small town of Paisley, Oregon before setting out on remote dirt roads for another hour and a half but my research hadn’t tipped me off about just how limited the services would be. We slowed from 65 mph to 30 mph and were immediately upon the center of town, passing a historic looking gas station with the type of pumps you see in old 1950’s photos but with 60+ years of degradation upon them.

It looked far from functional and I drove on looking for the ‘real’ gas station until moments later we were already on our way out of town. I pulled a u-turn and parked between the vacant gas pumps and an adjacent tavern.

I knew from my ‘research’ that this was the only town for a while but I also knew that there was a new law passed in Oregon that allowed people to pump their own gas after a certain time in towns under a certain population for this exact reason; a law that I was expecting would serve us well in this instance. The one scenario I hadn’t really considered was that Paisley was a town so small that it only had one gas station, hosting two archaic pumps incapable of running credit card transactions. [and its claim to fame is the Mosquito Festival…]

I walked into the tavern and asked the bartender if this indeed was the only gas pump around and she confirmed that our options were either next door or 45 miles down the road. I took her recommendation to ‘knock on the side door and hope someone was working on a car and could pump us some gas’ to no avail.

I returned to the car pretending to be confident while crunching numbers in my head about how much gas we PROBABLY had left, and how many miles we would PROBABLY get per gallon and convinced myself (more so Samantha) that we should be fine as long as we didn’t make any wrong turns… [continued in comments]

We headed out of town tracing Juniper creek for 9 miles before realizing we indeed had almost immediately missed our turn onto a poorly labeled forest road. Now with 18 more miles wasted we again had to decide if heading out for the most remote stretch of this trip at 9 pm with a dwindling gas tank was wise. The alternate option of driving two hours to get gas before returning for another 90 minutes into the mountains seemed absurd so we pressed on.

We had plenty of gas to make it to our destination, but the return trip would be cutting it close. I popped the car in neutral every time we encountered a long downhill stretch to conserve gas. Night fell and we navigated a series of dirt switchbacks and rolling hills, slowing for skunks, deer and cows as the road evolved into two tire tracks doubling as spring melt drainage paths and I gingerly tried to avoid introducing our underside to the high center; the protective skid plate had torn off years ago on a similar trip. 

We knew from prior experience that the increasing ruggedness of the trail meant we were getting close and as the Forester crested the treeless butte its fogged over headlights illuminated our stark accommodations. 



Chapter 4:

We awoke in a disheveled state after the prior evenings late arrival and frantic dash to get our belongings from the car to the lookout in 40 mph winds.

The sunrise streamed in under the propped shutters and illuminated the interior of the 12’x12’ Alladin L4 ground mounted lookout. This unique lookout cost under $700 and came in a kit in which all pieces were pre-cut to 6’ or less so that it could be horse packed to this remote location. Once numbering over 100, only two of this style remain in Oregon. It was now a weathered structure, having stood here since 1931 and a national forest service veteran, having spent over 50 years of its existence as an active forest fire detection outpost.

The morning light revealed a significant amount of the surrounding forest had been burned recently. My gaze drifted to the north and the quiet and relaxing experience was broken by the last thing one would want to see from a remote fire lookout… The smoke rose rapidly, almost too much so to be real. A look in the binoculars revealed that it wasn’t a fire but perhaps something even more unbelievable…a fumarole that had broken open through the earths crust and was now spewing ash skyward?

In hindsight that sounds ridiculous but for a few very long moments I was convinced that something wildly unexpected was happening in front of our eyes. It was only after the vertical column of particulate matter began to move horizontally that it became clear the the mountain geography and wind direction had created the optimal conditions for a very tight and fast spinning dust cyclone.

All afternoon from our perch we watched these cyclones move around the charred landscape, with as many as five spinning at once.






Chapter 5:

The sun hung low, highlighting the layers of land that fell away to the horizon. Aubrin Sage remained preoccupied with stone collecting but the fading glow upon her face was enough to stop time.

A simple moment amplified by all of the chapters that had brought us here. One more night to call this glass cabin home; always thankful to occupy the fine line between earth and sky. 




Chapter 6:
We idled down hill with the car in neutral, only putting it in drive to get up over the next crest and repeated this process over the next 90 minutes until we limped back into Paisley, Oregon. We came to a stop beside those archaic gas pumps from our ‘Chapter 3’ post and were greeted by a kind gentleman who filled up the Forester and put this multi-day saga to rest.

We were back on pavement and quickly covering ground towards home but like a good party you never want to end we couldn’t resist the urge to exit the highway one last time in search of a one-of-a-kind temporal anomaly. We were able to ditch the cell signal in no time and followed turn by turn directions [not without mis-step] as we traversed a landscape checkered with cinder cones and snowy peaks.

The same volcanic processes at work creating these beautiful mountains also created much lesser known features below the surface where numerous vacant ‘lava tubes’ allow passage below the forest. We stopped at a non-discript forest pull off in the general vicinity of one particularly unique lava tube, put on some extra layers and head lamps and descended below the surface of Oregon once again for what became the most memorable experience of the trip…



Chapter 8:

I had heard that at the right time of day, at the right time of year, with the right weather,  a phenomenon, simple in explanation but unforgettable in experience occurred at this location.

We approached the peculiar cavity in the forest floor, descended a steel ladder and peered onto the lava tube; our headlamps swallowed by the void. We stepped into the darkness, ducked under a low hanging ceiling,  and continued traversing an incredibly irregular floor until the space swelled into a large cavern.

First one, then two and finally three full light beams pierced the darkness. A steady eye could watch them slowly migrate across the cave floor, introducing vapor through evaporation that accentuated the lights path.

We’ve seen a lot of amazing things in our short time as a family of three  but this might just be the most unique and memorable.





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