We’ve always been explorers, enjoying the back roads of Idaho and now Oregon. We’re not cityites who like to stare at window displays or order lattes. We like to travel back roads, sip home-brewed coffee, and enjoy the scenery.
Knowing we liked quiet places for our dogs to run, a neighbor told us to check out the road from Beaver Creek to Toledo. “It’s mostly gravel,” he said, “and it’s easy to get lost. There isn’t much traffic. Nice drive, though.”
Enjoying a challenge, we filled our coffee mugs, gathered our dogs, headed south on 101, and turned east toward Beaver Creek. We turned left where the road teed and stopped at the Beaver Creek Welcome Center, hoping they’d have a map of the area.
No maps, just a volunteer. “Follow that road,” he said. “Stay left.” He pondered a moment. “Turns to gravel. Think it’s twenty or thirty miles. Been a while since I drove it. If you get lost, you can always turn around and come back.”
We looked at each other. Turning back was rarely an option. Not when we wanted to see something new.
After considerable conversation, we waved a cheerful goodbye and followed the road. Within minutes we stopped at a small park with a picnic table and a large area for the dogs to run. While the dogs sniffed bushes, we picked blackberries and chomped on half-ripe apples from a nearby tree.
“Yuk.” I spit out the bitter fruit.
“Just right,” my husband said happily.
We rounded up the dogs, got back in the truck, and continued on.
No cars tried to pass us. No trucks met us head-on. The only vehicle on the road, we traveled slowly enjoying the drive, heavy with vegetation on both sides of the road.
“Reminds me of the road to Fall Creek,” I said, commenting on the dense undergrowth. But instead of seeing obelisks of mullein and ponderosa pine, the shoulders of these roads were thick with evening primrose, foxglove, and purple loosestrife. I gawked out the window trying to identify the plants: Queen Anne’s Lace, mountain ash, ocean spray, and wild rose. Many more varieties than I would see traveling the gravel road from Fall Creek to Featherville, which held mostly fern and pine.
“Look,” my husband said as two velveted buck dashed in front of us. He hit the brakes and we watched them dart into the trees. We knew they were watching us, waiting for us to leave. But try as we might, we couldn’t spy an eye or an antler.
Moving on, it wasn’t long before we hit gravel. The vegetation grew thicker, canopying the narrow road. Blackberry vines reached toward the truck, each branch heavy with green berries. We were driving into a jungle, secluded and uninhabited, with no signs to guide us.
“Wonder if we should turn around?” my husband said, recalling the words of the Beaver Creek volunteer. Unwilling to give up, we moved forward, deeper into the forest.
“Must be on the right road,” my husband said when we finally spotted a mile marker that looked lost on the gravel road.
“How many miles did he say?” I asked.
“Twenty or thirty.”
We’d been driving almost an hour, but I couldn’t judge mileage. We were moving slow, sometimes five miles an hour, up, then down, wind around a corner. Wind around another corner so dark with shade we couldn’t see the sun.
Climbing again, we broke out onto a sunny hilltop. The panorama of the valley was jaw-dropping, worth the worry of getting lost.
“I know where we are now,” my husband said. “Toledo is right over there.”
Leaving the forest behind, we headed down. Minutes later we were on familiar asphalt again.
“Not even twenty miles,” my husband said.
“Not bad at all,” I said. “Perfect way to spend an afternoon.”
And the very best part of the drive was that we didn’t once have to turn around.