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One-tank WONDERS.

Byline: Randi Bjornstad The Register-Guard

With gasoline prices for the family car topping well over $4 per gallon and the cost of airline tickets heading up, up and away for the same reason, vacationers everywhere reportedly are curtailing their summer travels this year.

Fortunately, we live in an area where there's plenty to see and much to do on less than a tank of gas, if you just put your mind and your imagination to work. To get you started, here's a bunch of activities you can do without having to choose between gas and groceries - plus a bonus: If you simply can't try out these suggestions in person, a movie recommendation or two that gets you a little closer to the real thing - but from the vantage point of your own living room - might be just what you need.

Sand dunes

While you may not be able to take that Sahara Desert camel trek you've always dreamed of, you can create a reasonable facsimile right here near home by spending some time in the breathtakingly beautiful Dunes National Recreation Area.

The dunes, which run along a 40-mile stretch of the Oregon Coast from Florence to North Bend-Coos Bay, offer spectacular vistas of sand ridges sculpted and resculpted every season as the winds change from northerly in summer to southerly in winter. Some of the most amazing are the long, slanting "oblique dunes" that can be as much as 150 feet high and a mile long.

Other formations include the u-shaped "parabola dunes" and the smaller, wavelike "transverse dunes."

Besides just the opportunity to marvel at the beauty of the dunes, the recreation area offers plenty of other activities - camping, fishing, off-road vehicle driving, hiking, swimming, canoeing, sailing and waterskiing.

If for some reason both the Sahara and the dunes are beyond your means or your abilities, head for the nearest movie rental shop or boot up Netflix for a copy of "Lawrence of Arabia."

Hailed by many as one of the great epic movies of all time, the 1962 British movie, directed by David Lean, chronicles the real-life adventures of T.E. Lawrence as told in his book "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom." The 216-minute film offers achingly gorgeous footage of the Sahara and other amazing deserts as well as moviegoers' first very long look at the blue-eyed, chiseled visage of Peter O'Toole in his first leading role.

If that doesn't satisfy your appetite for deserts, check out the Nevada-based "Desert Bloom," featuring Jon Voight (1986); the 1951 World War II film "The Desert Fox," with James Mason as German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel; or "The Desert Hawk" (1950), with Rock Hudson and Jackie Gleason in supporting roles.


It's not necessary to yawn when you hear the word "museum." Most of them these days aren't the stuffy, airless places of generations past, with moth-eaten exhibits and dusty shelves full of stuff you can't even identify - at least not around here.

The Convention and Visitors Association of Lane County mentions more than a dozen museums on its Web site (www.visitlanecounty?.org) - and there no doubt are even more within the range of a tank of gas - varying from mining memorabilia in Cottage Grove to pioneer history in Florence, with airplanes, clocks, telephones, art and nature in between:

Center for Appropriate Transport - 455 W. First Ave., Eugene, not only features a collection of rideable bicycles but also rents bikes and promotes "sustainable transport." (683-3397 or 344-1197;

Oregon Air & Space Museum - 90377 Boeing Drive, Eugene, has full-sized aircraft from WWI and WWII, plus scale models, flight suits and space memorabilia. (461-1101;

Qwest Pioneer Telephone Museum - 112 E. 10th Ave., Eugene, features the history of the telephone from 1874 to now, with replicas of Alexander Graham Bell's original phone and others from around the world. (747-8405)

Conger Street Clock Museum - 730 Conger St., Eugene, exhibits handmade cars, tractors, trains and clocks in 20 window exhibits, plus a communications room, camera collection and miniature pedal car collection. (344-6359;

Bohemia Gold Mining Museum - 737 Main St., Cottage Grove, has tools, rocks and photographs from the area's gold-mining days. (942-9044)

For a movie that features museums, try "National Treasure," directed by Jon Turteltaub and starring Nicolas Cage. The 2004 Disney action movie involves a treasure hunt to find a trove of gold and other valuable artifacts hidden by the Founding Fathers of the United States using a series of clues, including one purported to have been written on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Museums important to the PG-rated film include the National Archives, Old North Church in Boston, Trinity Church in New York City and Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Lava Beds

The Dee Wright Observatory is like a small castle built of lava rock. In fact, it was built during the Great Depression - completed in 1935 - by members of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp, and it's named after the camp foreman, Dee Wright.

The observatory sits at the summit of McKenzie Pass, on Highway 242, in the middle of miles of lava beds at an almost mile-high elevation of 5,187 feet. Its viewing windows are situated to showcase several mountain peaks of the Cascade Range, and there's a bronze "peak finder" to help visitors locate even more.

Interpretive panels along the paved trail up to the observatory include information about early travelers in the area as well as its special geology. Visitors also can hike the nearby, '-mile, paved Lava River Trail through what thousands of years ago was a lava flow.

Starting from true north and moving east, the panorama from the observatory includes views of Mount Jefferson, Cache Mountain, Bald Peter, Dugout Butte, Green Ridge, Black Butte, Black Crater, North Sister, Middle Sister, Little Brother, Four-in-One Cinder Cone, The Husband, Condon Butte, Horsepasture Mountain, Scott Mountain, South Belknap Cone, Belknap Crater, Little Belknap and Mount Washington.

For the movie version of what happens when a volcano erupts, try "Krakatoa, East of Java," a 1969 film directed by Bernard Kowalski, which has a thin story line but culminates in a wild and fiery volcanic eruption and tidal wave.


Everybody knows that the Eugene-Springfield area has lots of bicycle paths, but outlying areas of Lane County also boast many rides that can be reached by bike-toting vehicles within an hour or so, leaving plenty of daylight left to ride, picnic and get back to the cities before dark. The Convention and Visitors Association of Lane County lists a dozen or so on its Web site (

Middle Fork Trail - 27 miles of easy to difficult riding along Forest Road 21 near Oakridge, accessible year-round and featuring views of flowers, wildlife and waterfalls.

Youngs Rock Trail, also near Oakridge on Forest Road 21, is a more difficult, 6-mile trek with some very steep sections, but it offers views of Dome Rock, Diamond Peak and Sawtooth Mountain. (782-2283)

Row River Trail - On the former tracks of the Oregon Pacific and Eastern Railway, the 15-mile paved trail runs from Row River Road in Cottage Grove to Culp Creek. Bikes share space with walkers and horseback riders. (

Aufderheide Trail - 46375 Highway 58, Westfir. Part of the West Cascades Scenic Byway, this connects Highway 126 and Highway 58, winding through the Willamette National Forest along the McKenzie and Willamette Rivers. (782-2283;www.byways?.com)

Bicycle movies seem to have one of two themes: Either someone's trying to recover a stolen bike, or someone's trying to start a business with a bike, usually a messenger service.

With that in mind, consider the 1947 Italian classic, "The Bicycle Thief" directed by Vittorio De Sica, about a man who needs his bicycle to keep his job - it gets stolen - and the disastrous aftermath for him and his young son.

For a bicycle messenger movie, try Kevin Bacon in "Quicksilver," made in 1986 and directed by Tom Donnelly.

Oregon Vortex

You need really good mileage - or a very large gas tank - to get to the Oregon Vortex and back on one tank, but it's worth the trip. To get there, take Interstate 5 south to Exit 43 onto Highway 234 and turn east on Sardine Creek Road and follow the signs (and the traffic) to the Oregon Vortex.

The vortex is a strange place where nothing is quite as it seems, with people appearing taller than normal when they stand in one spot and shorter than they should be in another.

Angles of roofs, walls and windows look crazy, and a broom stood on its bristles appears to lean at an impossible angle.

The vortex's Web site ( claims the place "is a spherical field of force" that acts like a whirlpool akin to the elemental construction of the universe, where everyone stands inclining toward magnetic north.

Vortex lore has it that American Indians called the place "forbidden ground," and their horses would not enter it.

You be the judge.

Don't expect to find a movie about a "real" vortex. There was a 90-minute film made in 1981 called "Vortex," though, by directors Scott B and Beth B and a little-known cast. The New York Times reviewed it when it played at the New York Film Festival and called it a "private eye spoof."

Oregon Coast Aquarium

The aquarium is a perennial favorite destination located on Yaquina Bay at 2820 S.E. Ferry Slip Road in Newport.

"Passages of the Deep" is popular and cool, its transparent walkways teeming over, under and around with sea life - but knowing that same space once housed Keiko gives it a bit of melancholy.

The newest exhibit, "Oddwater," shows how various sea creatures have evolved in strange ways to succeed in their environment.

There are always the tried-and-true puffins and other seabirds preening and diving in their aviary, the sea otters frisking in their pool, and the sea lions and seals gliding smoothly past underwater windows, and the many indoor aquariums with fish and jelly fish to round out the experience.

Choosing an underwater movie is simple: Get on board with "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," directed by Richard Fleischer in 1954 and based on Jules Verne's novel. The classic Disney show offers a little of everything - battles, monstrous sea creatures, the unbalanced Captain Nemo, cannibals and the ultimate destruction of a place called Vulcania in a huge - probably atomic - explosion.


You can do double duty if you visit the Dunes National Recreation Area, because it's famous not only for its sand but also its birdwatching. According to the Convention and Visitors Association of Lane County, the recreation area harbors many interesting birds, including white-tailed kites, northern harriers, violet-green swallows, downy woodpeckers, hermit warblers and great horned owls.

Closer to Eugene-Springfield, the Fern Ridge Wildlife Area covers more than 10,000 acres and provides habitat for 250 species of birds, such as great blue herons, great egrets, yellow-headed blackbirds, black terns and osprey.

The wildlife area has distinct sub-areas; Perkins Peninsula Park is the favorite location of migrating songbirds, while K.R. Nielsen Road attracts kites, hawks, eagles and falcons, as well as various species of migrating geese. The Fisher Unit at the end of Royal Avenue is home to a wide variety of marsh birds.

Up in the Cascades, at Salt Creek Falls near Oakridge, watch for black swifts, red-breasted sapsuckers, Nashville warblers and several types of woodpeckers.

But don't watch "The Birds," Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 horror film about a Marin County, Calif., community taken over and terrorized by feathered friends run amok, before you go. Or maybe after, either.


Lane County has more lakes than most people will visit in a lifetime. To prove it, go online to oregon ? and head for "lakes." You'll find a listing of 249 bodies of water, virtually all of them within one-tank distance.

Among the best known: Waldo, Triangle, Siltcoos, Munsel, Cleawox, Clear, Woahink, Odell, Midnight, Siltcoos, Dorena.

But for the more adventurous, check out some other names: Boo Boo, Questionmark, Jo Ann, Herb, Craig, Gosling, Lopez, Birthday, Blair, Bug.

But wherever you head, be careful, whether swimming, boating, fishing, canoeing or just wading. Do a search for "water safety tips" online - and then follow them.

Lake movies aren't very plentiful. For some light watching, check out "Lake Placid Serenade," a 1944 piece directed by Steve Sekely and described by reviewer Leonard Maltin as a "flimsy musical romance about an ice skater played by real-life skating queen Vera Hruba Ralston."

Or, for another approach, pick from a couple of dozen movies with 1940s star Veronica Lake.
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Title Annotation:Travel
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 20, 2008
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