An Oregon state of mind

In this part of the country, you can walk the coast and hike the mountains in a single trip

Newberry Crater
Newberry Crater

Now that winter is looming, I’m thinking longingly about a trip this coming summer to Oregon, where even now the water is still in liquid form and you don’t have to worry about slipping on your driveway as you take the garbage can out to the curb.

Whenever I go West to visit Rod Sando, Minnesota’s former DNR commissioner, it doesn’t take me long to develop an Oregon State of Mind — ever-changing topography and geography, always-interesting debate and discussion and noticeably accommodating people, who pump your gas with a greeting, check-out your groceries with a smile and serve your coffee with a compliment.

In short, Oregon is a civilized place to be, one that represents the best of what this country has to offer.

I’ve been going to Oregon, along with my former WCCO colleague Roger Nelson, for the past decade.

After spending the first evening with Sando and his wife, Jan, at their house, eating fresh sockeye salmon and telling a few stories, we hit the road in his Toyota pickup truck — a 2004 model with 198,000 miles.

It’s kind of like the three of us — a lot of miles, a few scratches, but still running. Over the years, we’ve seen the coast, hiked in the mountains and crossed the high desert.

Larger than life

This year, we perched on the rim of a volcanic crater — the Newberry Crater — and the crystal-clear, deep lake that formed in its caldera, or basin. It’s all part of a Newberry National Volcanic Monument, which takes your breath away and fills your senses.

Near Bend, Ore., it features a lava butte, a lava-river cave, an old-growth forest, an 80-foot twin waterfall and a log lodge built in 1929. We stayed in a cabin about that old and we put its wood stove to good use.

The temps at night got down to the low 30s and one day in June we awoke to a covering of snow.

Sando cooked eggs and thick-cut bacon; we drank coffee, we ate blueberries and decided to pass on fishing on the wind-whipped lake. The “youngsters” who did venture out wore gloves and down jackets. We’re smarter now.

That was clear from our discussions. We agreed we need good music, a meaningful relationship with the outdoors and a sense of stewardship, leaving this earth in at least as good a shape as we found it.

To drive that point home, Sando took us to the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area along the coast — 2,700 acres of volcanic rock, lush ferns and 500-year-old Sitka spruce trees.

They tower overhead. It’d take the three of us holding hands to wrap around the trunk of one. They inspire awe and silence. The sunlight reached the forest floor in brilliant, white shafts. It felt good to have Sando’s son, Kyle, with us on that day. It was a forest that needed at least two generations to properly appreciate it.

Freedom among the frogs

Nelson and I appreciated a young woman who waited on us one evening at a Red Robin restaurant in Woodburn. We were in a place known for craft beer and gourmet burgers, inquiring about green salads.

A bit weary and very pregnant, she patiently talked us through our options.

When she delivered the bill, she told us the baby was due in a couple of months. At the moment, however, she was just waiting tables — no ring on her finger, but a smile on her face.

Before we left Oregon, we talked with Sando’s wife about her recent trek along the El Camino — 500 miles in 32 days — in France and Spain, following the pilgrimage route of St. James.

“For me,” Jan said, “it was about being in the moment — one foot ahead of another, one step at a time. Look at the stones. Hear the frogs. See the beauty of the grape vines. And in the end, maybe, discover the freedom to be yourself.”

Indeed, I discover a little of that each time I climb into Sando’s pickup.

Dave Nimmer has had a long career as a reporter, editor and professor. Now retired, he has no business card, but plenty to do. Send comments or questions to