Last weekend, Jack and I headed out on our annual fall-color pilgrimage via the McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway Loop. Each trip, we try to venture to uncharted territory (for us, anyway) and see if we can discover even more beautiful autumn scenery than previous years before.
So far, we have yet to be disappointed. That’s because at just about every bend in the road off Highways 242, 126 and 20 between Sisters and McKenzie Bridge along the area’s extensive network of trails, side roads and logging roads can be found some of nature’s most spectacular jewels outfitted in a spectrum of brilliant shades.
This year, we wanted to show our friends Bill and Marty one of our favorite secret vista points not far from McKenzie Bridge, so we planned on just revisiting familiar ground. Luckily, we got more than we bargained for. Shortly after brief photo stops at Dee Wright Observatory and Lava Camp Lake, Marty (or was it Bill?) suggested we stop at Proxy Falls.
So why hadn’t Jack & I had already explored one of Oregon’s most popular waterfalls? Simple: It’s one of Oregon’s most POPULAR waterfalls (we hate crowds). Left to our own devices, we probably wouldn’t have stopped on this trip, either. But our friends cheerfully insisted.
Sure enough, we did indeed encounter quite a few folks along Proxy Falls’ meandering loop trail. However, I have to admit, I hardly noticed anybody who passed me (I made lots of photo stops) because the scenery surrounding me was so gorgeous. The colors were just beginning to make their presence felt among the coal-hued lava beds and old-growth forest, but because of the extent of trees and plant life in transition, the overall effect was impressive.
I’m not sure that everyone, after spending all that time oohing and aahing at the main Proxy Falls (which plummet dramatically down the cliff in front of you some 200 feet), know to venture off the main trail to the secluded Upper Falls nearby. The route isn’t marked as such (the confusing nondescript wooden signpost pointing away from the trailhead makes no mention of the falls). So all you by-the-bookers — myself included — take note: This diversion is worth the trip.
In fact, I actually think this is the more beautiful of the two falls, even though its descent isn’t as extensive as the Lower Falls. The location — all-but-hidden in a little forested nook with a gentle pool at the base — has a mystical Alice in Wonderland feel. And as you can see (if you look really closely at the photo, right), I wasn’t the only one who considered the spot worth photographing.
Next up, after an early-afternoon picnic feast along the McKenzie River (at another spontaneously discovered spot worth revisiting: Paradise Campground), we attempted to find our highly touted secret spot. Alas, once we left Highway 126 and ventured down the side road that led to our destination, turn after turn proved incorrect. Note to self: If you stumble upon a once-in-a-lifetime, little-known location at the top of the world that you want to return to, write down the directions, ideally somewhere you’ll be able to find them.
As daylight began to dim, I began to wonder if we were going to ever find our secret spot. Then volia!, there we were — far, far from anything resembling a crowd (we hadn’t, in fact, seen another human for miles) — overlooking the entire Cascade Mountain Range, with those awe-inspiring mountain peaks seemingly at eye level. Spectacular!
What’s more, our timing couldn’t have been better: We lingered long enough to watch as the translucent alpenglow swept across the summit of the South Sister and her equally famous neighbors.
Those celestial images will stay with me forever.
Here are a few more photos from our day:
- In Search of the Spectacular Fall Colors of Central Oregon
- Fall Outing to Tokatee Golf Club
- Shades of Autumn in Central Oregon
- Camp Sherman: An Ideal Autumn Escape
- Blinded by Downtown Redmond Fall Colors
About the Author
Lisa Broadwater, GRI, CDPE, is a Central Oregon-based real estate professional who specializes in listing and selling homes, especially in Sisters, Tumalo, Bend and Redmond.