Working our way back home, we decided to travel through Bend, a place I have often heard about. At first I was disappointed; Bend's high desert country, its sparse, scrubby pine forests and under-10,000-foot mountains didn't compare with the lush green and giant peaks we left behind. But the place grew on me. We found ourselves in the most manicured and spacious RV park yet, surrounded by half-million-dollar motor coaches, friendly neighbors, and wonderful quiet (except for the periodic trains hoo-hooing in the distance).
We took an 87-mile drive of exploration around the Cascade Lakes area: more lakes, waterfalls, mountains, lava flows. The big mountain here is Mount Bachelor, which at 9,065 feet doesn't measure up to the big boys we saw, but still supports a 71-run ski area in winter.
The most interesting stop near Bend was the Lava Cast Forest, where an ancient lava flow formed molds or casts around the trunks of engulfed trees. Many of these casts are still standing a few feet high; their depth of four or five feet illustrates where the bases of the trees were and how deep the lava flowed over the area. They also make good hiding places.
We also visited the High Desert Museum in Bend, a facility dedicated to preserving and exhibiting local wildlife and desert culture. They had many interesting exhibits of settler history and some astonishing Indian beadwork; but of course I was attracted mostly to the animals. The ones permanently on display come from rehabilitation centers, either because they are too disabled or too accustomed to humans to return to the wild. My favorites were the porcupines, so cuddly-looking! They also had a number of birds of prey, including a golden eagle and a great horned owl.
When we returned from our long day, our new friends Steve and Donna treated us to some of their delicious watermelon. Life on the road is tough.
Later, Mike decided to introduce Chelsea to our neighhh-bors across the fence, a couple of horses. While he was holding the cat, a horse suddenly thrust its head across the top of the fence and frightened her. She peed all over Mike. Good job, Chelsea.
One of the most picturesque areas around Bend is Smith Rock State Park, about 20 miles north of town. The dramatic rock formations here were created thousands of years ago by settling volcanic ash. They are not only scenic, but their sheer faces attract top-flight rock climbers from all over the world. During our visit on Labor Day, climbers were everywhere for the last gasp of summer.
We hiked a steep trail to the top of a west-facing cliff, where we had a spectacular view of distant mountains and the valley below.
We also spent about an hour watching climbers attack Monkey Face, the park's most famous landmark. When we arrived, three exhausted mountaineers were napping atop the monkey's head, while two more started up from the base. The ascending duo inched their way slowly, one at a time, up the sheer face of the monkey's neck and into the crevice that forms the mouth. Meanwhile, the trio on top started their descent by crabbing down over the left eyebrow to a ledge above the nose. Then, one at a time, each man dangled precariously from a rope while sinking slowly to the foothills 100 feet below. Continuing with our hike, we missed the final fate of the ascending two.