After I checked out of my yurt at Tumalo, I headed south again to the Lava Lands Visitor Center in the Deschutes National Forest to see the lava fields up close and to go up to the fire lookout station on Lava Butte. The ranger at the entrance booth gave me a 30 minute pass to drive up the road to the parking lot on top of Lava Butte — there are only 10 parking spots at the top, so they limit your time to give everyone a chance to drive up. But I opted to park at the bottom and walk up the 1 3/4 mile road instead. How did I know I only wanted to spend 30 minutes up there? And why drive when you can walk? I was feeling a bit Edward Abbey-ish at this point. Get out of your car and walk for a change, people.
I talked to some ladies in the parking lot who assured me it would only take 35 or 40 minutes to walk up to the top, so I rearranged some stuff in my car, filled up my water bottle, and set off. As I was leaving the parking lot to get onto the road up the hill, a guy in a beat up hatchback came down the hill and swung into the parking lot past me.
“You’ve got water and a good pair of shoes, what more do you need on a day like today?” he called to me out his open car window.
“True. It’s a good day for a walk.”
He drove slowly past me, blond hair and sunglasses. I kept walking, thinking he had just called out as a greeting. But he continued talking to me through the window. “Your shoes are better than mine — you wanna see my shoes?”
Is this guy for real?
Yes. Yes, he was for real. He stopped the car and contorted to stick his right foot out the driver’s side window to show me a flapping sole.
“You may be about ready for a new pair of shoes,” I said.
“Well, Johnny Cash says to walk hard.”
Actually, Johnny Cash walked the line, but who am I to point that out?
“You wanna see my tattoos?” He held out his wrists. “This one says ‘patience,’ but you have to come read the other one.” He held out his left wrist for me to read. This is the point, I was thinking, where he’s either going to pull a knife on me or his other wrist is going to say “faith” and he’s going to witness to me. I wasn’t getting a knife-pulling vibe at all (and I’m usually pretty paranoid about strangers), so I walked back over to the car to read his wrist. “Serendipity.”
“It’s why I stopped to talk to you,” he said and looked at me sincerely.
I laughed out loud. I couldn’t help myself. Nice line, friend. The fact that you have the word written permanently on your skin leads me to believe I’m not the first girl you’ve used that line on. Probably not the first today even.
“You wanna go walk on those trails with me?” He indicated the trails through the lava fields by the visitor center on the other side of the parking lot.
“Nah, I haven’t been up here yet.” I pointed to the butte. “I wanna go there first.” Please, please, don’t want to go back up the hill, Mr. Serendipity.
“I’ve already been there, so I’m gonna go this way. But you’re gonna love it.” Pause. “Man, I haven’t had a smoke in five hours.”
“Sorry about that,” I said, waved over my shoulder, and walked on. I looked back once to make sure he wasn’t following me, and he gave me the peace sign as he drove towards the visitor center. Peace, bro.
Back to Lava Butte…
Walking instead of driving was the right choice. The whole way up the hill you have the chance to savor the view, winding around the cinder cone that once “exuded lava” (so much less violent than erupting, so mellow, so Oregon) through the surrounding countryside. You alternate between views of the lava field, forest, and the Blue Mountains to the east, and amazing views of the Cascades to the west: Broken Top, the Three Sisters, Mt Washington, Mt Jefferson, Mt Hood, and Mt Adams across in Washington. Be sure to go on a clear day, without a cloud in the sky, only the contrails of jets going from Seattle to Los Angeles.
At the top of the butte is a fire lookout station, one of several active stations monitoring the Deschutes National Forest. You can also walk a 3/4 mile trail around the rim of the butte and peer into the center of the cinder cone. I took my time wandering around, admiring the mountain vista one last time on my Central Oregon trip, rejoicing that I’d had the opportunity to be here this week, reflecting on the Majestic Creator who displays His majesty through snow-covered peaks. For reasons I don’t understand, He is good to me.
I headed back down the butte to check out the visitor center and lava field trails before making my way back to Washington. The sun was high overhead and the temperature near 80, warm enough to make me wish for a moment that I could hitch a ride back down the hill with Patience-and-Serendipity. (I’m just kidding, everyone — I promise I never, ever hitchhike. Not in America, at least.)
Goodbye, Central Oregon. It’s been real.