Journey Thru the Wilderness to Westfir

Mileage today: 175 miles. Total: 2,649

We set off from Crater Lake at about 930, taking our last glimpses of the blue mirror as we drove up the west side and then headed north towards Diamond Lake. Our overnight tonight is at a little hamlet called Westfir, in the Willamette Forest.

There was quite a direct route but we had all day and I had a hankering to see some of the pioneer parts of the Willamette valley and in particular some of the covered bridges. So… we studied the road map book and discovered we could take a very minor road across the Umpqua Wilderness and through the Umpqua National Forest. Quick decision made!! Possibly we should have more carefully considered the word “wilderness” in the area title, or even the name of the first landmark “Scaredman Campground”.

We took Rt. 138 west as far as the hamlet of Steamboat where we turned north. The drive thus far had been on an excellent two/four lane road through dense forests on either sides. Very quiet. We didn’t see more than about 5 cars the whole way. It was about to get even quieter….

For navigation we had our detailed road atlas book (thank heavens) and our mobile phones with Google maps running. The route we had planned was indicated as being paved all the way, just a minor road. We don’t mind driving on gravel for short periods, but this was quite a long way – 36 miles between Steamboat and Culp Creek on non-state maintained roads. We had planned a route on a paved road but there were plenty of gravel roads leading off it and a couple of places where you could take a paved road turning that would turn into gravel further along. It was imperative we kept on the paved route.

Anyway, we turned off 138 and started up the tarmac’d one track road heading through the forest. It was in pretty good condition. Within about 100 yards, we entered very dense forest all around us. We proceeded on and Google maps were still working even though neither mobile had any signal at all. After a while a forestry service vehicle came down a dirt track and we followed him for a long time which we found reassuring as Bob had started to consider “what ifs” ie “what if we break down… we only saw 5 cars on the main road in 90 minutes….. who’s going to be mad enough to drive on this one?” There was no good answer to that. “What will we do if we break down? Walk or stay with the car where we have food and water…. and wait….??” Didn’t bear thinking about really….

Then we came to a fork in the road with some very rudimentary hand written signs on. None of the places mentioned were on our map…. I got out and studied the map against the sign. The forestry guy had also stopped and then he drove off down the RH turn.

We decided that straight on was the way to go. Our phones were no help at all by now. The little cars were in a big white area. Worse, occasionally the gps would click back in and try and route us on weird side routes to get back to Steamboat because it had lost signal there and didn’t know we’d actually been there. As I said…. you need a good big scale map if you’re going to do this sort of thing.

There didn’t seem to be any point on our route where we would take a RH turn unless we were at a T Junction, which we weren’t so we didn’t follow the forestry guy. We continued on…… Feeling a bit stressed although the road was not bad at all. Like an English minor country lane in terms of width and condition. It started to climb and we drove along a ridge with a massive tree covered valley to the right and a long way below us. Then, a miracle! Another car came along from the opposite direction. Bob cheered up a bit at that point, he was feeling a bit stressed. Occasionally there would be some debris on the land side of the road, large stones, the odd log….. nothing blocking but had to be avoided. It really was magnificent in there. The roads were managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forestry Department, they weren’t state roads.

Eventually we came down from the ridge to a creek and started to see some signs of activity: a forestry work crew in the woods; a primitive camp ground…. then we joined a clearly much better road – two lanes with markings – although still not a state road – and we knew we’d made it. We felt like Lewis and Clark when they glimpsed the Pacific Ocean!!!!! I suppose it took us about 90 minutes to drive that road and other than the anxiety of being sure we were navigating correctly, it had been fine. Bob really is a good road trip companion, he drove so well and cheerfully under conditions that were a bit trying…..

We stopped for a picnic beside a little lake just past Culp Creek, which was lovely. We started to see some of the covered bridges…. Oregon has more of these than anywhere in the country now, they are fast being replaced. They were the normal pattern of settler bridges from the mid 1800s thru the early decades of the 20th Century. People noticed that covered wooden bridges lasted much, much longer than uncovered ones, hence the design. They were often built with a pedestrian passage as well as one for vehicles and with windows to let the light in.

We stopped and visited the Lowell Bridge and Interpretive Centre which has been saved and slightly relocated after the establishment of the Dexter Reservoir. It had a great display of boards with photographs around the building of the bridge, the history, and the upkeep. Nice to see so many of them being preserved.

We continued on down Rt 58 alongside the huge lake/reservoir caused by the damming of the middle fork of the Willamette River. There are lots of small farms here that probably haven’t changed that much in 150 years. Subsistence farms. Not seen so much any more, certainly not in the UK but it gives a little window in what the settlers established in this valley when they began arriving in the 1840s and 50s. The Willamette Valley was the effective end of the Oregon Trail.  Most people who traveled over the Oregon Trail in the 1840s and 1850s settled in the rich Willamette Valley. The lure was free land. A married couple could lay legal claim to 640 acres in those years for free! That did decrease and become more expensive over the decades but it was a powerful lure.

The valley stretches about 150 miles south from the Columbia River. It is bounded by the Coast Range to the west and the Cascades to the east. You can see the pioneers relief and joy in the names of the places: Goshen (described in the Bible as the best farmland in Egypt), Sweet Home, Pleasant Hill,

Got to Westfir and our overnight accommodation just after 3pm. We are right next to the covered bridge here It is bright red and the longest covered bridge in Oregon. We are staying at the Westfir Lodge which is a b&b set up in a fantastic 1920s large cottage that was the offices of a lumber company. We have the run of the place to ourselves so far this evening which is rather fab. The garden is lovely and we also have use of a fridge/freezer in the garage which we can put our food and freezer blocks in. The decor is very in keeping and it’s a good find.

Westfir sits at the heart of some prime mountain biking country and there are many trails through the surrounding forests. A lot of individuals and groups come here solely to ride those trails and the Lodge caters for them too. There is an attached market and cafe selling local produce and snacks

Tonight we ventured a few miles to Oakridge for dinner to the Pub, The 3 legged Crane/Tap. Very nice place. As near to a British pub as we’ve ever found. Cask beers and real ales. Really nice food in not too big portion sizes and good prices. Bob had a chilli dog plus a lentil curry soup cup. I had 2 cod tacos with guacamole. Just right. Just for once, not too much. Great atmosphere and service. Also a live singer who was pretty good. Came back to find we have the entire lodge to ourselves tonight. No one here at all. Fab