And if it’s not the rivers that make you gasp, there are the mountains — either steep or rolling bristling with acres upon acres of deep-green conifers.
Unlike Colorado or Utah’s eye-popping grandeur though, Oregon’s beauty is exquisitely banal — it’s perfectly inescapable, joyfully simple, and utterly lovely.
I have a disclosure that is not a caveat: I lived in Oregon for my last seven years before leaving home for University of California San Diego. While some may claim I’m biased, I will maintain my position is honest — I also lived in Orange County for about seven years and don’t really have anything nice to say about it.
As the endpoint of Road Trip USA, descending into Oregon would have been poignant without the nostalgia. But coming in on the obscure and unknown-to-me southeastern Highway 140 was the right thing to do, making this return a little like entering your house through the chimney. A gorgeous night spent mostly in a little-known warm spring just below the border in Nevada put us in mineral mode, and we stopped to collect a few shards of black obsidian to remind us of our journey through the ancient lava fields of eastern Oregon.
But the nostalgia hit me full force as we rolled through Chiloquin, where I commented that what I remembered about it was kicking their arses in basketball. A night on the bone-achingly cold Williamson River pushed visceral memories up to the ankles, but that’s as far as I could go in to the water, that first day of tender feet before my old Oregon core kicked back in.
Okay, it actually took me another day, as a night on the upper Rogue River also precluded me making it any further into the water than the knobs on my ankles, though I did spend an hour breathing deeply amongst the towering old-growth firs interspersed with incredibly aromatic incense cedar.
There was also the obligatory stop that day at Crater Lake, a cerulean caldera which at around 2000 feet is the deepest lake in the United States. While I waxed sentimental about many childhood visits where I tried to name its elusive colour that is the only one that competes for dream colour with Oregon greens, the Jonai brood were more interested in the abundant still-remaining snow, where they carved themselves a mini ski run to slide down in their Texan cowboy boots.
And then Road Trip USA came to an abrupt and lofty end at the Illahee, my parents’ ranch above the North Umpqua River, where we finally achieved full-body baptism. Over the next fortnight we had up to 26 family and friends with us in the assortment of cabins old and new and the newest accommodation on offer, a gorgeous 20-foot tepee.
When the whole crew made what has become a regular pilgrimage high up to the remote Twin Lakes, it felt almost as though we were still road tripping, but the constant warm hum of familial tones with undercurrents of old tensions and uncertainties, and the well-worn identities available only to those who’ve known each other most or all of our lives disrupted the mantle of intrepid explorers alone in the world.
This wasn’t a road trip anymore, it was home. Just as the new life ahead of us on the Jonai Farm will be home.
Yet as this trip has certainly demonstrated, home is wherever I’m with the Jonai.