Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: Dee Wright Observatory and Balancing Rocks


Day 11, Thursday, August 3, 2017

We didn’t have a need to get up really early this morning, so I took a brief walk, had breakfast, and hit the pool. It was so hot out that it was already warm enough for swimming!  I loved spending some more time in the pool!

Me at the Pool

Once we got going, we headed out and went to the Dee Wright Observatory.  It is an observation structure at the summit of McKenzie Pass in the Cascade Mountains near Sisters.  The road up to the summit of McKenzie pass is the route of an 1860 wagon route on the Oregon Trail.  The pioneers actually had to build the road in order to get the wagons across the lava – and you think your commute is bad!

The road leading to Dee Wright

The observatory is a 5,187 feet in elevation, and offers panoramic views of the nearby mountains.  The area around the observatory consists of 65 square miles of black lava rock.  It was built in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and was named for the foreman of the project to build the observatory, who died before the project reached its completion.

Dee Wright Observatory

When it is clear, you can see Mount Washington, Mount Jefferson, South, North and Middle Sister, Mount Hood and many more.  Unfortunately, the day we were there, the area was covered in a thick haze of smoke from the wildfires up in Canada.  We could see the closer mountains, but not as well as I would have liked, and the mountains further away were not visible at all. I will have to visit again.

The observatory structure is very cool because it has multiple windows built into the stone structure where you can see the various mountains framed in stone – and they are all labeled so you can tell which mountain you are looking at.  We checked out all the windows, and took photos.

 

We also did the nature trail walk, which explained the volcanic eruptions that occurred in the area, the different types of lava flow and how plants and animals returned to an area after the landscape is changed by volcanic eruptions.  There were small trees and shrubs growing, and there were hundreds of monarch butterflies!

 

After we went to the Dee Wright Observatory, we went into downtown Sisters to get lunch; burgers and fries that were good, but nothing to get all excited about.  We wandered around town for a bit and poked around in some shops before we got on the road for our next destination.

Our next stop was the Oregon Balancing Rocks.  If you hadn’t heard of them, never fear – I hadn’t either.  Apparently, years ago, my brother and sister in law saw a documentary on the Oregon Public Broadcasting Station about the Balancing Rocks.  They visited many years ago, and wanted to see them again with the kids.

The Balancing Rocks in Oregon are similar to the more famous balancing rocks in Arches National Park in Utah.  The harder stone above is held up by softer stone underneath.  The softer stone erodes away more quickly, leaving these mushroom-shaped capped stones.  The Oregon Balancing Rocks are not nearly as exciting as the rocks in Arches though – the colors are more brown than red, and they aren’t nearly as pretty.  There were lizards there though!

I have no idea where these rocks really were, besides about 30 miles north of Sisters down a gravel forest service road, somewhere overlooking Billy Chinook Lake and the Metolius River (how’s that for vague?).  There is an unmarked small gravel parking lot at the trail head, but no services.  The quarter mile trail is well maintained gravel though – and the kids enjoyed running down it with abandon.  Which they probably shouldn’t, because I am sure this area has rattlesnakes – but hey, I’m the aunt…

We checked out the rocks, and checked out the view, which was hazy because of the wildfire smoke, and took some pictures of the lizards, but really, there isn’t a whole lot to see out there in the middle of nowhere.  Like I said, they aren’t as exciting as their more famous cousins in Utah…

 

After the Balancing Rocks, we started the long drive home.  The wildfires made the sun bright red and the sky really hazy.  We even got out of the car for a minute to take photos of the sun because it was so unusual.  We got home to my brother’s house about 8 pm, unpacked the car and discovered a house that was about 87 degrees upstairs – Yikes!  Home sweet home!  The air conditioning and some fans did manage to cool it down to 85 by the time we got into bed – that certainly isn’t much though!

The wildfire sun and haze

Distance for the Day: Sisters, Oregon – Dee Wright Observatory, Sisters, OR – Balancing Rocks, OR – Portland, OR (4 hours, 15 minutes; 185 miles – this is a guess, because Google Maps is being fickle and wouldn’t let me map some of these because the roads are still closed for the winter)
Fees: None
Lodging: Back home at my brother’s house

4 thoughts on “Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: Dee Wright Observatory and Balancing Rocks

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