Sisters and Sparks: Oregon’s hidden gems 2



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Imagine you have a tourist ranch and you want to attract more people. How would you go about it? Well, you could try offering residents and newcomers, you didn’t have to repay the loan. Tarting the town up, so to speak. These days Black Butte Resort and the town are run by a home owners’ association.

To date, over 90 in the central Oregon town of Sisters have taken advantage of the offer and it’s been passed into local planning that this style of building has to be constructed. It has transformed a village you’d pass in the blink of an eye into a full blown tourist attraction. Every year it has an annual quilting festival (no need to ask why we were there) that further boosts its attraction.

Some of the galleries in this town have original eye-catching works, none more so than Ken Scott’s one with metal sculptures, in particular the Venetian-style carriage outside and the polished and framed works depicting local scenery inside. Still, there’s the quilt shop, stained glass workshop and any amount of paintings in the galleries, as well as the usual stuff you never wanted but the shop now hopes you can’t do without. We managed to avoid such purchases this time.

Sparks Lake panorama 2 (1280x461)

Lorraine does a tasting at a coffee shop that flaunts itself as the epitome of such beverages but, not for the first time, they don’t match up to her well defined standards. It’s not long before we find ourselves at a loose end and decide to head off to Bend for lunch.

Bend is a delightful town of about 80,000, half of whom come from Portland it seems because the first four lots of people we spoke to hailed from there. The dry air and sunshine apparently have an irresistible attraction to those from the drizzle capital of Oregon.

Eventually we choose the Pine Tavern for food and what a choice. Right in the middle of the restaurant are two mature pine trees growing out of the floor and straight through the roof. While I ponder how the roof might be sealed Lorraine checks out the wine list until my gaze is taken by the lovely garden that tilts toward the Deschutes River.

Sparks Lake (119) (424x640)

The birds are loving it; a robin hops around the plants in a vigilant search for insects while a flock of waxwings are having a wonderful time at the bird bath as mallards paddle back and forth in the river. It feels like you’re part of nature without even leaving your table. The tasty food gets us thinking about what else to do and we decide to have a crack at Sparks Lake.

Sparks is renowned among photographers as being a place to get a good shot but, as is always the case, you have to get the weather right…that’s where Lorraine, the weather goddess, comes in.

It’s not that far from Bend up the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Highway and, as we pass Mount Bachelor, the local ski field, it’s so hard to imagine people skiing over a lava flow; just doesn’t seem right. We’ve a bit of time on board so we slip into Todd Lake first. It’s a 4 km stroll around a placid lake and, while it’s nice and there’s some interesting bird life, we’re hoping for better at Sparks.

To get into Sparks it’s a twisting road with, at times, corrugations and bumps, the like of which we’ve never seen in America where just about everything is sealed road it seems. In fact, you have a less than 1% chance of driving on one, according to statistics. Still, our hopes of a reward at the end aren’t dashed though the weather goddess has let me down a little because of a breeze coming across the lake.

Sisters (44) (424x640)

Its potential is easy to discern however, South Sister and Broken Top stand stark in the background, ready to cast their images on a millpond and, since it’s a while before the earth spins around and delivers darkness, we first amuse ourselves watching a chipmunk letting some birds know just who’s in charge of discarded apple. The frenetic energy they forever display never ceases to warm us to their ways; oh that we should be able to scurry as fast.

We then look in other directions and start to wander down past the lava fields. Where once the flow from Mount Bachelor cooled it formed a barrier to the heated rock still flowing beneath and, in places, it rose up to 70 feet like a giant loaf of leavened bread.

The level of the lake is low, the snow season wasn’t great and it hasn’t rained much since so you can walk some places where you’d normally get your feet wet and thus we follow a narrow band of sand beside the lava wall.

Bend - Pine Tavern (2) (640x424)

You can see how good this place could be but the ripple, however small, frustrates us so we have to be content with the leg exercise and the occasional snap. Still, it’s a pleasant afternoon beneath a virtually cloudless sky and we reach a point where the realisation dawns that it’s pointless to walk any farther. 

We’d returned nary 50 metres before we were rounded up by a young couple, she of boundless energy demonstrated by practising rock climbing techniques up and down the lava flow with mind blowing dexterity. In leaps and bounds reminiscent of a mountain goat did she ascend with a confidence borne of youth. As we waited expectantly for a slip she continued to confound us with her suppleness.

The entertainment over as quickly as it eventuated we idled back to the carpark and stepped back to our original viewpoint. The breeze was faltering and two other photographers were waiting in anticipation so we deigned to join them and everyone’s optimism turned out to be justified.

Though we didn’t get an atmospheric ruddy glow we got a crystal clear sky with classic mirror reflection. South Sister and Broken Top were haze free and it’s easy to see why there are so many shots on the internet of this spot.

We drove home satisfied, we’d seen and digested much without travelling too far.

Have you ever been to this area before?

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Ian Smith

I have written for 3 different motorcycling magazines, soccer publications and, latterly, travel. It has been apparent that I write and photograph from a different perspective to others and have a leaning towards humour as well. My next birthday will be my 70th (scary) but I still love bushwalking and photography and play golf once a week while dreaming about my next trip in my motorhome.

  1. I’ve been twice, the most recent was four years ago. I loved the Grand Canyon and New Orleans, especially along the Mississippi where the old houses were. I loved San Francisco where its like being back at the 70s. In Hawaii Pearl Harbor was heartbreaking.

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