One perspective upon a first visit to the desert country of southeastern Oregon.

The State of Oregon offers a study in contrasts. The southeast corner is arid, approaching desert in places. Conversely, as one travels further west and north landscape becomes increasingly lush and green, due to higher annual precipitation. Lakeview, in southeastern Oregon receives around 14 to 15 inches of rain a year, whereas Portland receives 37 inches typically.

Our visit to Oregon, which included both Lakeview and Portland, presented many such contrasts.

The woman at the Oregon Welcome Center, just off of Interstate 84, held open the door for us as we arrived. Upon learning of our place of origin, she informed us that she was a native of Clay Center, Kansas.

Before we even met her though, we saw a man sitting at a picnic table at the welcome center, feeding a chicken with a gas container and a sign in front of him reading, “Need gas money.” He described his engine problems to us and said he was trying to get to a town in Idaho.

The woman at the welcome center provided two options for reaching our next destination near Medford, OR: a longer, scenic route, which branched north, or a shorter, more direct route, which proceeded through the Oregon desert. 

We had already planned to take the desert route, and, from our perspective, it proved to be beautiful and glorious, particularly as the sun set.

Traveling through the great Oregon desert reminded me of driving through western Kansas, although the desert was less populated and contained stark, mostly treeless hills and mountains on both sides of the road in places. I fell in love with this magnificent landscape with its array of colors ranging from reddish-brown to sagebrush green and gray. Creeks and rivers (with running water) curved beside the highway for most of the drive to Riley, offering more variety in the landscape and adding groves of trees in places.

As we turned south toward Lakeview, the land flattened out somewhat and sagebrush dominated the landscape in every direction. In the desert, we opted for a roadside picnic one point. Silence reigned here except for a few flies that joined us, along with a solitary car that passed us during our 30 or 45 minutes of picnicking.

We experienced true desert a few miles after our supper break when we discovered sand had crept onto the edge of the road. We snapped a few photographs of these roadside dunes.

Amidst all of this dryness, a body of water, Aber Lake, suddenly appeared. The alkali lake, half-dry in many places, stretched on for 30 or so miles opposite the Aber Rim. This is where we witnessed a spectacular sunset.

This was our first visit to Oregon, a place that typically conjures up images of lush, green misty forests. We would have to wait for that landscape until we arrived in the Willamette Valley, which is incidentally where many of the pioneers on the Oregon Trail ended their long journey.