Our recently completed trip to California was really about seeing 2 very scenic highways and following them from their beginning to their conclusion. Both Oregon State Highway 31 and California’s Federal 395 were magnificent experiences. Today I’ll focus on 31 because I have spent much time on 395 already.
Highway 31 in Oregon begins 2 miles south of the town of La Pine and travels eastward to the town of Lakeview. It is marked as scenic all the way and is. It travels along the edge of the Great Basin and has frequent stops to learn about the area via informative kiosks. The first and a few other kiosks sport a baying wolf.
These kiosks are consistently worth stopping for. The Great Basin is basically a self-contained desert watershed that has dried up over millennia and stretches from Nevada to Utah. It includes some parts of what are now Oregon and Idaho. One of the earliest occupied sites on the North American continent, the Great Basin’s lakes have mostly evaporated but the area still gets enough rain and snow to support immense ranches. Highway 31 begins in pine forest and ends around Lakeview with a plethora of hay bales and thousands of cattle and horses to see. The cattle are almost always munching on grass with zero feedlots to pass. The drying lake beds exposed a desert-like landscape dotted with sand dunes and much evidence of volcanic eruptions in the form of craters and lava flows. Ice Age bison like the one below used to roam here. They were surely hunted by early Native Americans who settled this land 13,000 years ago.
Highway 31 is called the National Outback Scenic Highway. Those who travel on it all the way to Lakeview experience 141 miles of glorious views but few humans. From Lakeview south you are on Federal Highway 395 for hundreds of miles. It won’t end until you have crossed a lot of the Mojave Desert. The first big lake you will pass and perhaps stop at in California is Goose Lake, which looks to be in the process of disappearing like the lakes farther north. Travelers see evidence of explorers like John Fremont, signs of Native American influence, and evidence of early loggers and settling ranchers. The land seems underpopulated but rich in wildlife, geologic influence, and human history. Ruth and I watched breathlessly as a local rancher extracted some of his cattle herd from danger. They had managed to go beyond existing fences that some of them got caught in too near the road for safety.
If this colorful region has a capital town it is not traditional Lakeview with its few motels, lots of single dwellings of long use, and one very busy Safeway store without a deli. Its capital is the town of Paisley where residents have a Mosquito Festival every July. This tiny berg was named for Paisley, Scotland, in an area with far more petroglyphs and craters than visitor centers. Ranger stations also far outnumber facilities for visitors. Near Lakeview one of the kiosks provides information about the Abert Rim.