Monday, July 09, 2012

Old Mckenzie Highway: A Day Trip

    There are a number of special spots in our area that beckon us to return again and again. The Old McKenzie Highway is one of them, and yesterday we headed up the river to explore this magical place together. Due to snow, the road is closed much of the year, but it's worth the drive when it's open. It's been a few years since we've done this particular outing, so for most of the kids it was like discovering it for the first time. 

The Proxy Falls loop is a perfect hike for kids of all ages. It's only 1.25 miles, with moderate elevation change. The well maintained trail begins in a beautiful shady forest with a lush understory of viny maples and rhododendrons, whose last pink blossoms decorated our path. After a few minutes the trail opens up to a lava field. The boys were busy collecting rock samples along the way. Poppy played "leader" and she and Raphael ran ahead joyously. They had loads of fun hiding behind big trees and jumping out at us as we came along. "Ambush!"

Lower Proxy Falls cascades about 200 feet over a mossy cliff. At this time of year Proxy Creek is full and the falls are spectacular. I also love coming here in Autumn. Although the falls aren't as showy, the viny maples with their brilliant reds and oranges make the hike just as beautiful.

I stayed at the lookout with Poppy, Raphael, and Pearl while Erik and Peregrine hiked down to the bottom of the falls to take pictures and climb on fallen logs. I love this shot Erik got from the base of the falls.

Another short hike through the forest led us to Upper Proxy Falls., which tumbles into an  inviting little pool. A cool breeze blowing up the path beckoned us to hurry along. 

Framed in green, the pool empties into an underground spring, making it a peaceful place to sit and watch the kids splash and play. Pearl marched right in and promptly got soaked. The other kids all enjoyed wading and playing in the cold water.

Everyone was a little cooler after their dip in the pool, and the hike back to the trailhead was done in varying states of dryness and with a couple kids in their bare feet. 

I had to strip Pearl of her wet, mucky clothes and soggy diaper. Since Peregrine had shed a layer, I made her an improvised outfit from his button up shirt. (This isn't the first time big brother's extra shirt has come in handy. I was reminded of this time I used one to make a diaper for Poppy!) 

The kids were fantastic hikers. We took turns carrying Pearl along some parts of the trail, but everyone else  scampered along the whole way with great enthusiasm.

We left Proxy Falls and continued east into the Cascades. Have I ever mentioned how much I love the mountains? The road twisted and turned and led us through meadows. Glimpses of the Sisters Mountains and other rocky, snow capped peaks kept me sighing with happiness and reminding my family that "I love mountains". We had just missed a thunderstorm, and everything was vibrant under the dark sky. Wildflowers bloomed along side of the road, and in spite of it being over 70 degrees there were still large patches of snow that refused to melt. 

At the summit of McKenzie Pass sits the Dee Wright Observatory like a medieval fortress made of lava rocks.  From inside, one can observe vast lava fields beneath Belknap Crater, as well as the fertile "islands" where  lava flowed around the hill, leaving mounds of green in an otherwise desolate landscape. You can also look out various "windows" that direct your eye to different mountains all around. Atop the observatory is a compass pointing to the surrounding peaks. It was very windy and there were some big drops of rain leftover from the storm, but the kids enjoyed running up and down. 

The sky was a beautiful play of light and dark.

The hikers triumphant! (Yes, the kids started out wearing matching shirts. By the time we got here  a couple of them had changed into drier duds. Thank you Nana and Papa for these shirts! We felt so "homeschool" with all the kids matching.) 

Hanging out in the observatory with my Pearl Girl and the Photographer Husband. I chose to leave my camera at home, and was very happy to not have it with me. Thus, all photos on this post courtesy of Erik! 
(And why yes, that is a Texture Comfy Skirt. Of course! Lives up to its name in every way, perfect for, well, pretty much every occasion!)

My kiddos with Mount Washington in the background.  I love them. (The kids, that is. I love mountains too, but this time I was talking about the kids.) 

Classic Pearl, little finger outstretched, excitedly saying "Mountain!"

Spotted through the viewing hole: one Poppy Joy!

The lava fields are stunning as they stretch across the valley. We even spotted a couple lava tubes as we drove, but left them to explore another day.

I thought this outcropping of rocks was entirely dramatic.  
I love the contrasts of this one, sunbleached tree against the dark lava field.

    We rustled up a simple dinner from the grocery store in Sisters before heading west toward home. As we drove the clouds turned orange and pink and the McKenzie River accompanied us back to the valley. We had our share of kids fighting and whining after our long day out. (I'd like to say the parents maintained perfect patience and grace in all of this, but we had our moments of frustration as well. Just to be honest.) It was dark and way past bedtime when we rolled back into our driveway, and thankfully most of the kids fell happily into bed. It was a lovely day sharing a favorite place with my "little people" and making memories we'll hold in our hearts for a long time. I was reminded of what a beautiful place Oregon is, and thankful for these days of exploring it together.

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