Saturday, August 11, 2012


Discovering McKenzie Pass

McKenzie Pass, OR
In LaPine, OR, it was decided that our trip would be abbreviated.  Family called: declining state of a grandpa.  The further north I might travel, I reasoned, the longer it would take to return if needed.  We decided we’d cut over from Oregon’s high desert to make I-5 in Eugene and, tomorrow, go our separate ways.

It was a hot run from LaPine through Bend and onto Sisters.  There, a leg stretch and hearty cup of frozen yoghurt seemed in order.   

Stitchin' Post, Sisters, OR
Sisters claims one of the greatest quilt stores in all of captivity.  When travelling with my wife, her internal GPS seems to locate these mercantiles.  Fittingly, the Stitchin’ Post stood adjacent to the yoghurt shop.  (I’ve always felt like a good cigar store or perhaps a motorcycle dealer adjacent to a quilt store would be boffo, but have yet to find such a geographical circumstance.)  After a look at the map, we ambled over to check on the merchandise and e-mail a photo home.

Oregon Route 242 appeared the most direct route to I-5.  We’d traveled to these parts before for week-long family stays on the Metolius, but somehow hadn’t discovered the McKenzie Pass route.

Clue one that we’d stumbled across a gem was the cautionary sign reading “Vehicles Over 35 Feet in Combination Prohibited – Last Turn Around Point ¼ Mile.”  A grin stretched across my face. 

Past that wide spot, Route 242 splits forests of ponderosa pine. The road switchbacks and climbs inviting frequent use of low gears.  In places the asphalt seems to tunnel beneath the pine canopy.  In places it openly runs though verdant meadows. 

Cascadian Lava Floe
Closer to the summit, thick floes of basalt have congealed into massive black chunks.  I think it is referred to as "aa," a Hawaiian or Polynesian term.  (Perhaps dental, come to think of it.)  We see nothing of this chunky nature in northern California, only a few hundred miles south and part of the same geologic chain.  Many of the trees appear to be rooted in the solid volcanic rock. 

BMW GSA with Moto Guzzi Stelvio
A slow moving pickup-trailer combination (undoubtedly of less than 35 feet in length) graciously pulls over to let us race by, but we find his pull out is an ideal spot for a picture.

'09 Moto Guzzi Stelvio at McKenzie Pass
Only yards further we arrive at the pass.  Ample parking allows us to enjoy one of those 360-degree top-of-the-world views, even though we’re barely a mile high.

A roadside placard details the region’s geomorphology and pre-European history.  The lateness of the hour – and the number of miles we’d already come – precluded us from climbing up to the Dee Wright Observatory located at the summit.  The good news is that we have yet another item for our ever-expanding bucket list.
North and Middle Sister

 The ride west continues the narrow, windy adventure.  About 40 miles from Sisters, 242 joins Oregon Route 126 for a delightful descent along the McKenzie River as it explores the western flank of the Cascades.  Soon we are in Eugene marveling at our own good fortune – that which led us over McKenzie Pass.


The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has this to say about McKenzie Pass:

'09 Stelvio
The 38 mile McKenzie Pass ride is without a doubt the most spectacular ride in Central Oregon. The ride begins at the Village Green Park in the center of Sisters, Oregon.  The vast majority of the route is on Oregon Route 242 (selected to be on the U.S. Register of Historic Places, March 2011). The route heads west past hay meadows and ascends 2,000 feet through ponderosa pine forests.  The road follows an 1860s wagon route, emerging from the forest at Windy Point and revealing a view of Mt. Washington and a 2,000-year-old lava flow.  The 25 mile, 4,000 foot descent snakes down exhilarating switchbacks to the dense, verdant Cascadian forests and rushes out over the McKenzie River. It is these dramatic transitions through such diverse natural environments that define the uniqueness of this bikeway.

Also, offers more information and an enticing map.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. "A hearty cup of frozen yoghurt?"

  2. I've done that pass many times on various motorcycles and even a bicycle. There is one spot where you can stop and look through the trees and see the road seven switchbacks below.
    It's as if the road builders made a road into a box canyon and refused to admit defeat.
    At the upper end is the remains of a cabin where the postal carrier on skis froze to death one winter.
    Holed up in the cabin for a long storm he ran out of food and fuel. The found him curled up in the fireplace around the ashes of his last fire after the spring thaw.

  3. Good account mister b. Mckenzie pass what's the top run of the stelvio's maiden voyage

  4. Sorry you had to turn back early, Mr. B. Thinking good thoughts for your family.