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Oregon travel guides keep urge to rove alive

I'm not much for winter traveling. I don't ski, partly because of lingering worries about undoing the surgical repair of knee problem two years ago, and partly because I don't seem to have the time to fit it in without giving up some of my other outdoor interests.

And although I grew up in the tropics, lying day after day on a Caribbean beach to soak up rays, which is where many people go in the winter, doesn't appeal to me. Not only would my Pennsylvania Dutch forebears blanch at the idleness of it, but my restless spirit resists spending two weeks of vacation time in one place. Instead I want to be on the road scoping out unfamiliar Western landscapes where I can hike as well as drive.

Often those fresh landscapes are in Oregon, but every year or two I get the yearning to travel somewhere else in the West.

Luckily I'm sharing my life with a woman who has as much wanderlust as I do and loves to buy travel books to pore over in the offseason. Sometimes they sit for years on our bookshelf unread, but inevitably the right one will be there when the urge to rove strikes us again.

Here's a look at a few favorites that have been particularly helpful to us in our travels around Oregon.

"Trips & Trails Oregon," by William L. Sullivan, Navillus Press. Bill Sullivan, with his array of hiking books tied to the various regions in the state, is Oregon's premier hiking guide writer. Yet he doesn't just write hiking books. His "Trips & Trails Oregon" travel guide fits my type of vacation perfectly. It offers short takes on parks, museums, restaurants and places to stay across Oregon, but also includes tidbits on local history and hikes in areas near those towns. Jam-packed with pictures, it is the kind of book that's a joy to browse through, giving a brief look at attractions in every part of the state.

The hand-drawn maps by the author are among the book's many delights. Although not cartographically exact, they are in some ways more useful to hikers by showing the land forms they'll be walking through. This is my favorite statewide travel guide, the one I relied on most during a visit to Hells Canyon and Wallowa County two years ago.

For scenic drives within each area of the state — those day trips, for instance, you might take while staying a few days in one town — I recommend "Oregon Byways: 75 Scenic Drives in the Cascades and Siskiyous, Canyons and Coast" by Art Bernstein, published by Wilderness Press, and Tom Barr's "Scenic Driving Oregon," part of the Falcon Guides series.

Bernstein, a favorite with local hikers for his "Best Day Hikes" books of Southern Oregon and Northern California trails, gives an overview of the state's best backroads drives in "Oregon Byways." These drives often are along gravel or dirt tracks requiring off-road vehicles, but some can be navigated in ordinary cars. His information is always to the point, with easy-to-read maps and icons indicating whether the route has hiking, picknicking, camping, wilderness access, photo opportunities, wildlife viewing and places to fish. He also outlines the differences in the state's regions in his introduction and includes a long list of cautions for people new to backroads driving.

"Scenic Driving Oregon" is a more general guide, aimed mostly at people who travel in regular cars, although some of Barr's routes also contain short gravel sections. Of the two books, Barr's guide is the more interesting read because of its vivid descriptions of what you'll see along the way. Like Bernstein's book, it has easy-to-understand maps and good pictures of the areas covered. Barr grew up in Grants Pass, and has traveled widely in the state as well as abroad. Besides his state scenic drives guide, he's written for Fodor's Travel Guides and Reader's Digest travel books.

For suggestions on drives specific to Southern Oregon, John Kemper's "Exploring Southern Oregon's Beautiful Places," published by Outdoor Press in Medford, is my favorite sourcebook. Unlike the other guides on my list, Kemper's is written strictly as a narrative with a personal touch that soon draws you in. Travelers who just want the facts may become a little impatient with it, but the facts are all there — they're just woven into the story — and the story is well worth reading. Kemper never hides his enthusiasm for a place or its wildlife. His book is full of color pictures of each landscape, with closeups of its plant and animal life.

He authored a guide on wildflowers of Southern Oregon I recommended in my March column last year and his love for wild blooms permeates this guide as well. In addition to this book he has written "The Rogue Valley," also published by Outdoor Press, which I consider one of the best general guides for anyone new to the area.

Even with these good books and an easy chair for company, this is no season to while away the hours inside. Human bustle gives way to nature's slower rhythms this time of year, making it one of the best times to see wildlife. With trees and bushes stripped of leaves, you can see birds among the branches much easier than in the summer.

Many trips mentioned in these books are possible in the winter if you keep an eye on the weather. Just reading them can lure me into a weekend outing despite my aversion to winter traveling.

As Thoreau said, "We must go out and re-ally ourselves to Nature every day. We must make root, send out some little fibre at least, even every winter day."

Steve Dieffenbacher is a Mail Tribune page designer/copy editor. You can reach him at 541-776-4498 or sdieffenbacher@mailtribune.com

The drive to 7,985-foot Paulina Peak near Newberry National Volcanic Monument in Central Oregon is included in Art Berntein’s “Oregon Byways.” Snow restricts access to this drive during the winter. Photo by Steve Dieffenbacher