Sunday, December 30, 2012

Driving Rural Washington-Oregon Roads for Photos

      Driving Washington-Oregon Rural Roads For Photos

Eleven white swans rested briefly at Bennington Lake on a misty Sunday afternoon (Dec 9).
I thought they were snow geese.
A day later, I did see snow geese, about 5,293,  at the pond behind the McNary National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters in Burbank.
And those are not December’s only dazzling highlights for Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and me.

On the way to Burbank, we stopped at the Whitman Mission where Nora and I took a stroll and watched colorful waxwings gobble red berries in a tree.
Bohemian waxwings sometimes eat fermented berries and become tipsy.
So I’ve heard.
Then, after ogling the boggling swarm of snow geese, we motored on down to the nature area ponds below McNary Dam. As we hurried to the one-holers, Darlene spotted a domestic looking goose on one pond. A later Google search revealed it as a Greylag from Europe.
While Nora and I watched the goose and waited for Darlene at the one-holers, four otters crossed from one pond to the other.
Nora saw them but wisely stood her ground.
This stunning excitement came after we drove during the previous week to McKay Creek near Pendleton to look for elk on the canyon sides and to Heller Bar, on the Snake River, and Joseph Creek Canyon to look for Big Horn Sheep.

Alas, we saw no elk at McKay Creek, and the high canyons remained free of snow. We did see several raptors, however, a few song birds and a ton of pheasants along Shaw Road, rear the Ellis Hunting Ranch.
We also saw a few mule deer high on the canyons and caught glimpses of whitetails in thickets along the creek. We counted 53 wild turkey’s along the North Fork McKay Creek Road.
We enjoyed the usual dazzling lower Snake River scenery, of course, but we didn’t see many critters. I slid to a spot once to photograph a heron in the mist by the river, and Nora and I spent almost an hour re-visiting the ancient Native American petroglyphs at Buffalo Eddy, about 15 paved-road miles upriver from Asotin.
We saw several boats with steelhead anglers back-trolling the high-water riffles of the Snake and fly fishing on the swollen Grande Ronde.
We passed the bar and I stopped along the Grande Ronde River to snap another heron  standing stoically on a stone.
We continued a few miles up the road and along Joseph Creek, to the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area. We did not see any wild sheep.
And of course I treated Darlene to daily dinners, one at the Paraiso Vallarta in Clarkston and one at Subway in Mission. I even bought chocolate-chip cookies and coffee at a store in Umatilla Heights.
Nora, of course, dined on kibbles, z/d canine food from a can and Lean Treats.
It’s amazing how much fun you can have in December, and Christmas is yet to come.

Walla Walla's Fall Colors

                     Walla Walla's Fall Colors

Seven sparrows stood on the edges of a frozen over bird bath. They pecked the ice and looked about, apparently for the deliverer of fresh water.
“Poor birds,” Darlene said, warm in her chair before the window.
She sipped her coffee.
Treading to the porch in white socks, I stabbed with a kitchen knife the thin ice into floating bits.
Nora the Schnauzer slipped out before the door closed and chased birds from the bleak rhododendron.
Back inside I reminisced of warmer times, before big November winds, when trees had spread ankle deep carpets of gold, ruby and russet leaves beneath their dancing boughs and fields had tan and red hues.
About days not all dark and grey.
Nora and I made our usual fall tours of Pioneer Park, Rooks Park and the trails around Bennington Lake.
Although a leaf sweeper worked at Pioneer Park, wide and deep swaths of leaves garlanded the grass. Squirrels darted ahead, scampered up trees and teased Nora by creeping close, just out of reach.
With posted names for trees long lost, I may name a few of the leaves, such as: maple, sycamore (London plain tree?), oak and sweet gum. And perhaps the dark-red sumac.
And there are needle droppers, such as  the tall young redwoods.
One man walked with a black, giant dog of about 200 pounds. He called it Adonis and said it was a European Great Dane.
And, on a sunny day,  we watched happy children climb on the pioneer wagon sculpture.
Rooks Park also had thick layers of leaves, mainly cottonwood I think. Nora nosed through them, sticking them to her legs and head.
For three days, I watched a piliated woodpecker foraging high among cottonwood limbs.
To locate it, I tilted an ear at the playground, listening for a thump-thump-thump and following the sound.
While following Whitetail Trail and the lakeside paths at Bennington Lake (maps are available trailheads), we crossed vivid gold-colored fields and shady thickets. We counted many birds, including a winter-white male harrier that  rose from the tall grass, 15 yards away, and swooped nearby in figure-eights while I smiled.
Woodpeckers and chickadees flitted among the thickets around the lake.
Dozens of dark lead-sinker shapes, but live robins, dropped from the sky to flutter their wings and settle into naked cottonwood trees.
Then Darlene said something about filling up the birdbath with fresh water.
“Put on your coat,” I suggested.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Coastal Stormy Weather

LINCOLN CITY, Ore. _ A thrashing pre-dawn rain buffeted the southwest side of our friends’ beach house at Road’s End.
I rubbed Nora the Schnauzer with a towel, took off my boots and dangled my rain coat on a door knob. I followed Nora up the stairs and through the softly lit living-dining room to the bright kitchen.
Darlene had water heating and bagels warming.
“A  big ol’ black-tail buck browsed next door,” I said.
Alas, I didn’t have Nora on a leash yet. She took off after the deer that bounded off, and I screamed her back.
Then we wandered to the beach and almost blew away.
Yet, Nora went one and two.
Anyway, still dressed in socks and sweat suit, I poured steaming water into the coffee press and stirred. Java seeped while I poured orange juice and drifted to the windows along the upper deck.
A swirling mist dimmed the ocean’s hazy, rolling waves. I pondered the rhythmic thump of grey surf.  
Darlene carried coffee and a pair of two-pound bagels, spread with layers of cream cheese on halves, to the breakfast table.
Nora lay on the carpet, her chin on her front paws. Her brows wiggled. White edges showed as shifting brown eyes tracked the bagels.
Nora savors bagels with cream cheese.
After dining,  we settled in for a cozy day.
Some call it “hunkering down.”
After two hours we gave up on cozy and hunkering.
I dressed, loaded two cameras into the truck, and we headed to the Tanger outlet mall in wind and rain.
Darlene shopped.
Then, ignoring wind and rain, I drove 50 miles to Tillamook. Darlene shopped at Fred Meyer, Blue Heron and Tillamook cheese factories.
Nora used a nearby pet area.
Wind and rain aside, we took the Three Capes Route, via  Cape Meares, Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda.
Road work eliminated Cape Meares.
We drove over the hill to Netarts Bay where a brown pelican skimmed the water 20 feet away.
We stopped at Cape Lookout State Park. Nora and I  spent a somber hour among the damp trees above the darkening beach. We got soaked. When I aimed the camera toward the sea, driven rain spotted the wide lens.
Finally, nagged by hunger, we went over the cape and downhill toward Pacific City and Cape Kiwanda.
At the beach, the rain ceased but not the wind.
I whipped into the vast, empty Pelican Pub beach-side parking lot and let Nora out.
Her ears flapped like hairy wings as I bustled after her. Wind buffeted me northward from the truck toward the steep, sandy cape while Nora sailed in widening circles over the sand. She paused once to welcome an elderly man onto the beach, the only new person she saw.
We passed on dining at The Pelican Pub and sped south to dine again at McMenamins Lighthouse Brewpub at Road’s End.
I considered the Hammerhead Ale but chose my second mellow Terminator Stout with a Distillers Salad in two days.
Darlene opted for the usual diet Coke with  Alehouse Fish and Chips instead of her earlier Oyster Po’ Boy sandwich.
As darkness arrived, we paused at Safeway for chocolate chunk cookies and chocolate milk before hunkering down for the night.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Water Birds at Malheur NWR

BURNS-HINES, Ore. -- Twenty-five miles south of Burns, the Narrows on Highway 205 separates Malheur and Harney lakes, with Mud Lake in the mix.

Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I loitered there at an arch-shaped pullout twice a day, mornings and evenings, Monday through Thursday in early September.

We often make a fall visit to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

So, six times Darlene read and watched while Nora and I strolled back-and-forth for close-up views of grebes, pelicans, black-necked stilts, gulls, terns, black-capped night herons, American avocets, great blue herons and great white egrets.

Once we counted sixteen great white egrets.

One looked different, smaller with breeze-riffled plumes.

I noticed it. So did Darlene.

“May be a juvenile,” she said.

But in September?

We didn’t know. It looked like an egret, and it stood in the water between a full-sized great white egret and a great blue heron.

On subsequent sightings, we forgot the small egret’s differences.

Then, after returning to Walla Walla I visited Tim Blount’s web sight ( He listed the sighting and a photo of a Little Blue Heron near Frenchglen. It resembled the small egret (with a bluish beak and legs). I sent him a photo to identify.

He did: Not a little blue heron or a young great white egret, but a snowy egret and not on my refuge bird list. I found it, however, in my favorite pocket-sized bird book ( Birds of the Inland Northwest and Northern Rockies) with local expert Mike Denny as one of its authors.

I should have checked the book at Hines.

But I didn’t.

Google reveals the little blue heron as “A smallish heron of the southeastern United States. … It is the only heron species in which first-year birds and adults show dramatically different coloration: first-year birds are pure white, while adults are blue.”

Anyway, the frolicking, red-eyed grebes, in the backwater between the highway and the pullout demanded attention.

Terns and pelicans sailed overhead for wing shots with the 500-mm lens.

Herons and egrets launched from the water, stretching skyward with water drops spilling from scaly toes like jewels in the sunlight.

Flocks of avocets in fall plumage, heads down and tails up, burbled the shallows with hectic foraging.

Black-necked stilts prospected for morsels with stiff grace and microscopic absorption.

Sandhill cranes winged westward in V-formation, looking for a field with evening-time forage.

We left Rory and Ryan’s in Hines after breakfast at 7 a.m. Thursday for one more visit to see the birds at the Narrows.

On the way, Darlene spotted a fox on a giant brick of hay. I stopped. Pointed fox ears stood as silhouettes against the sky. I turned back to get the fox on my side.

It had disappeared. Drat.

Nevertheless, we spent another hour at the Narrows pullout. The smaller egret had moved farther out on the water. The blue heron and the white egret had moved on.

We also moved on, heading north toward John Day. We had barely crossed Highway 26, that goes west from Vale to Burns, when we spotted turkey buzzards in the sky and on fence posts.

So, I stopped.

After shooting buzzards for another 20 minutes, we headed home.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Jumping Spiders and River Otters at Mill Creek

Normally I tote the heavy long lens on Mill Creek outings with Nora the Schnauzer.
It’s good for long shots of wild critters.
River otters, for example.
Over three days last week I spent many hours watching two river otters watch me and Nora.
Mostly, while eying us,  they swam back and forth between weirs. They often dived and surfaced to crunch crawdads.
The otters have pointed white teeth.
And they frequently drew close for askance glances at me and hard stares at Nora.
Meanwhile, I waited and watched stubbornly for an otter to pose on a weir or a rock.
Stubborn eventually paid off with full-monty shots.  Well, not naked. They wore two-toned brown double-thick insulated hair coats.
Once they rested, preened and rolled dry for 15 minutes on the riprap across the creek.
After 1,000-plus river otter photos I grinned. Lugging the big-lens paid off again.
Nevertheless, a person should be flexible, which reminds me of jumping spiders below the dam at Rooks Park.
A day before seeing the otters, I parked at the gate to the park and shouldered the big lens. Nora and I moseyed toward the creek.
Despite a late October chill, a lively jumping spider scooted along the smooth wooden rail as we crossed the bridge.
A big one, half-an-inch long.
Then, as we strolled toward the dam, three more jumping spiders cast hard glares at me from atop the 400-foot fence below the dam.
“Drat,” I mumbled to Nora. “Wrong lens. C’mon.”
We hustled to the truck. I drove 12 hectic minutes and dashed into the house.
I fetched the macro lens and a tele-converter for close-up work. We sped back to Rooks Park and crossed the bridge.
For an hour I puttered along the fence going eyeball to eyeball with muscular, half-inch spiders that stood their ground or false-charged with vivid green fangs flashing.
They had shiny, dark, unblinking eyes (four in front and four on top), flat faces, hairy legs and perky, broad-shouldered body shapes similar to classic Porsche automobiles (1959, 356 convertibles).
A Google source says jumping spiders exhibit complicated guile and personality; that they have among the sharpest vision of all invertebrates and use it in courtship, hunting and
Some species, for example, plan and execute long routes from one bush down to the ground and up another bush to capture prey on a particular leaf.
They’re keen hunters.
Nevertheless, Nora at last donned a hang-dog demeanor that said, “Borrring!”
I understood. She couldn’t see the spiders. Not like the otters.
So, we headed home as an osprey hovered above the bridge.
“Drat,” I mumbled. “Wrong lens.”

Solving a gazookis

Rex Stout's Archie Good
win calls it a ``gazookis'' when
a miscreant imposes an
unsolvable problem (seem
ingly?) upon Nero Wolfe.
That's what I faced, a
gazookis, when peering
across a sea of big sagebrush,
camera in hand, and presum
ing to photograph a black-
tailed jack rabbit.
Jack rabbits aren't rabbits,
by the way. They're hares.
That's because they're born
furry and with their eyes
open. Just so we know.
Anyway, this gazookis de
veloped when the 10th (or
29th?) person in about a
month confessed to never
having seen a Lepus
And mo ost of them had
spent years, some even dec
ades, right here in the shrub-
steppe of Eastern Washing
ton, a well-known (although
dwindling) black-tailed jack
rabbit habitat.
I, of course, have seen
dozens, many about 30 min
utes from my front door, at
Wallula Junction.
So, I went to the Wallula
Management Habitat Unit to
document the presence of
black-tailed jack rabbits with
my trusty Nikon camera.
When I parked along the
wash-boarded North Shore
Road and opened the tailgate
for Sadie the Dalmatian, I
looked across the landscape
thick with sage.
``Oooops,'' I said to Sadie.
``What we have here is a
I realized, you see, that rab
bits don't pose in profile for a
photo beneath a sage bush.
They burst into zig-zagging
blurs among, around and
through the bushes.
Only once, according to my
99.9-percent total recall, had a
black-tailed jack rabbit jogged
in view long enough for me to
snap a photo. For about 10
seconds. Maybe five. And I
carried no camera, of course.
It sat on a dirt road when
Sadie saw it. She charged and
the rabbit bounded along in
clear view for about 40 yards,
or about 11 leaps (in each its
front feet hit the ground three
times before coiled-spring
back legs bolted it forward).
Sadie, then in her prime,
gained on the rabbit until,
with a move reminiscent of
Gayle Sayers on a muddy
gridiron, it cut on a dime, shot
to the left and disappeared
into the sage.
Sadie, her vision blinded by
the chase, dashed 10-yards
past the cutoff, slid to a stop
and, blushing, sniffed the
ground to suggest the rabbit
had disappeared into thin air.
Well, gazookis or not, I fig
ured to give it some shots.
I pulled on rain pants and
jacket (for brushing though
the wet sage) and looped the
Nikon with a 70-300 zoom
lens around my neck.
I wound the strap in my
hands, pulled it tight against
my nape to create tension and
steady the camera (like a
rifleman wraps a sling around
his arm).
I practiced zeroing in on
cans, bottles and bones as I
walked along.
And I kept my eyes peeled
and planted silent footsteps
on the sandy terrain.
A leashed Sadie could have
sniffed out a rabbit, but she
stayed glued to my right heel.
Dogs may be unleashed on
the unit area when in the
lawful pursuit of game.
Would she worry about get
ting lost? Humm.
In the nearly four hours
that we tramped around the
area, Sadie left my heel twice.
Once, near Millet Pond (a
wetlands rehabilitation area)
at the refuge edge, we found a
fallen ``shotguns only'' sign.
Sadie stood over it _ reading
it twice? _ with a pained
look, as if I had tricked her.
A second time I stepped on
a sharp-edged, inch-wide and
rusted hoop, possibly from an
old nail keg, and it flapped up
to bark my shin. It's the same
principal as stepping on a
``drat,drat,drat,''I growled.
Sadie, familiar with my
one-footed dance, wagged her
tail and moved away until I
finished. When I wiped away
the tears, we continued look
ing for a rabbit.
By then the morning drizzle
had abated, but fog clung to
ridges south of the river.
Brief flashes of sunlight il
luminated fog banks that
swirled around the giant wind
turbines high on the ridges.
And occasional sun beams
glistened on ice-clogged and
fog bound Sanctuary Pond.
A multitude of tracks in the
sand revealed the presence of
deer, porcupines (skunks?),
pheasants and coyotes. And I
scrutinized the havens be
neath sagebrush for a horned
toad (short-horned lizard), a
porcupine or a rabbit.
We walked two-plus miles
to the white cliffs and back.
We saw one pheasant, two
piles of coyote scat, and tons
of deer and rabbit droppings.
Yes, I took pictures. Scat
photos don't black-tailed jack
rabbits in full gallop.
But they prove there are
more ways than one solve a

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Hummers at the MNWR Headquarters


No Belding Ground Squirrels at MNWR

BURNS-HINES, Ore. -- Silence shrouded the sun-spotted, tree-lined sidewalk as we shuffled from the parking area to the visitor center at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters.

Say what?

No squirrels?

Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I had motored 240 miles from Walla Walla to Rory and Ryan’s in Hines, stored our gear and turned south for another 35 miles. I lugged a camera with 4.2-pound lens to shoot hummingbirds as they sucked sugar water from a red plastic container.

Last spring I also had enjoyed shooting the Belding ground squirrels that swarmed over the lawns.

Some stood on hind legs while wringing their forepaws and chastised us, especially Nora, as intruders.

Darlene called them “cute.”

“I haven’t seen any squirrels, and neither has Nora.” I said to Darlene.

She (Nora, not Darlene) strolled ahead, casually sniffing the ground. No stretching the leash.

Darlene pulled the glass door open and went inside to shop for fuzzy animal toys and nature inclined coloring books for children.

Nora and I stood on the sunny deck. It overlooked a bird-feeding area, a wide expanse of lawn, tall shade trees, the stone museum with hundreds of stuffed birds and the sun-bright Marshall Pond.

Hummers fluttered to the feeders. Two California golden-mantel squirrels ate fallen seeds.

I fired at the masked squirrels, at Brewer’s, song and white-crowned sparrows; at Brewer’s and red-winged blackbirds, yellow warblers, California quail; and at Rufus or calliope hummers (female).

Nora stretched the leash.

Minding her manners, though, she didn’t bark. She saves that for the mailman.

Then local birder Tim Blount ( stepped onto the deck. He knows birds, and he called one hummer a “calliope.”

I nodded.

When Darlene returned, she carried no toys or coloring books. She could, however, answer where all the squirrels had gone.

“She said they hibernated already,” Darlene said, nodding toward the volunteer at the visitor center.

Maybe she rolled her eyes.

I rolled mine at the blue sky.

I turned to ask Blount, but he had moved on.

We headed back at dusk to dine in Burns and rest in at R and R’s.

During that Sept. 10-13 stay in Burns-Hines, we visited the refuge headquarters five times.

Nora and I visited the free, one-room George M. Benson Memorial Museum, with tall class cases offering views of about 200 moth-ball-scented local bird specimens, as well as wings and eggs, for a close-up study.
Display drawers also contain many stuffed rodents native to the area.

We walked to the viewing blind at Marshall Pond and passed 10 feet from a buck lying in the shade.

Mainly, I haunted the bird feeders and shot hummers somewhat redundantly.

Once, when leaving the headquarters on the Auto Tour Road, we counted 27 sand hill cranes in a field.

Then, on the nearby road to the historic Sod House, a coyote stood 30 yards from the road with cows in the background. We saw 14 coyotes on the trip

Finally, Wednesday evening a different volunteer at the center petted Nora on the deck.

She said the Belding ground squirrels, often called “sage rats,”

“were removed” because the overran the area.

An internet stories says the sage rats swarm agriculture lands in Eastern Oregon and people shoot them for recreation and target practice. Big time guided sage rat hunts, with meals and mobile shooting platforms, contribute significantly to the area’s economy (Google: Oregon Sage Rat Hunts).

Anyway, I didn’t ask how the squirrels were removed. Later Darlene said they may have been sucked out of the ground with big vacuum cleaners.

Anyway, that cleared up the mystery of the missing squirrels.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Fowls at Malheur

Fowls by the dozens dipped up tasty tidbits in the grassy lakes, ponds and swamps along roadsides south of Burns, Or.

We saw ibises, avocets, black-necked stilts, curlews, grebes, egrets, herons, and pelicans.

And diving Caspian terns and swallows nipped bugs from the water’s surface and from the air.

Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I enjoyed the Malheur area during our trip to see the Alvord Desert. We spent three days (May 14-16) there during a spring bird migration.

Sure, we occasionally met someone who lamented missing the “white geese and the owls” of the spring’s earlier days. We, however, saw too many colorful critters to feel deprived.

We had left home on a Monday before 7 a.m. We arrived at the junction with Highway 26 from Vale, a mile from Burns, too early to check into the Best Western.

So, we crossed Highway 26 and continued south toward the refuge headquarters. Two miles after crossing a ridge called Wrights Point (see If You Go below), we saw about 30 antelope.

Darlene counted 27 or 31. I ogled them. Nora huffed and puffed at them.

Then, along roadside patches of weedy water, I huffed and puffed as I practiced wing-shooting with the big lens at egrets, brown Ibises and Caspian Terns. Of course I took potshots at the grubbers strutting on stilts at the edges of Malheur and Mud lakes near The Narrows on 205.

Then at the refuge headquarters we saw yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds and the Belding ground squirrels, called sage rats and hunted big-time by guided shooters because of their costly damage to alfalfa fields (Google: Oregon sage rat hunting).

And a dozen intense hummingbirds sucked at a pair of feeders. Hooked, I spent an hour snapping shots of hovering hummers and posing rats.

Before we left for Burns, one perky bluebird, a lazuli bunting, posed on a wire cage around a tree near the headquarters building.

Then I acquired another ton of images on the way to check into the Burns-Hines Ryan and Rory Inn.

On the way Darlene spotted an antelope elder with trophy horns. I drove down a side road for a closer view of the elder relaxing with his cud.

Then I turned toward Burns on Hotchkiss Road, and its roadside wetlands seethed with ibises, avocets and black-necked stilts.

Caspian terns darted sharply over the grass and the road.

I found out why when I stepped from the truck to shoot at swirling, diving terns: Mosquitoes by the billions zipped through the truck’s open door.

Darlene called them “vulture-sized” as she swatted them against the inside windows. I called them mean and nasty.

Yet, I stood firm on the asphalt and snapped at the quick, elusive terns. That evening I perused my images of birds in flight.

“Dagnabbit!” I said.

Not a single good image of airborne avocets or black-necked stilts.

On Tuesday, of course, we spent all day touring the Alvord Desert.
On Wednesday I drove Hotchkiss Road and Highway 205 to the refuge headquarters again. Alas, I fared poorly at logging images of flying stilts and avocets.

I drove south onto the Refuge Auto Tour, which often passes roadside waters. Darlene stopped me to shoot a quail perched on a sage bush.

And twice I strolled the road where ibises, avocets and stilts strutted confidently. Busy eating, they never flew. We turned off at the Buena Vista Overlook and a view of the ponds below.

Finally, as the day and my hopes waned, we reached Hotchkiss Road again on our way to the inn.

The air had chilled and a breeze stirred the grass. Battling fewer mosquitoes, I strolled to the road’s edge where several stilts, avocets and ibises dined. They jumped around, flew a few feet and landed. Satisfactory. And some images turned out OK.

Early Thursday, as we headed toward the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, we drove along Hotchkiss Road one more time.

We faced the rising sun, however, so I pulled into a side road to turn around and get the sunlight on browsing ibises.

“There’s a skunk in the puddle,” Darlene whispered

I grabbed the camera from her lap, aimed it through her window as she rolled it down, and snapped four frames through the barred iron gate.

And, by golly, the skunk looked sharp in the LCD monitor.

Darlene said. “Well, we won’t be skunked today.”

Then we headed north to John Day.


If You Go

We spent three nights at Burns-Hines, a pleasant 240 mile drive from Walla Walla. From there we drove another wildlife-lined 40 miles to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. We toured and watched wildlife in and around the refuge for many hours over the three days. For more information Google Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Wright’s Point is a lava-topped example of inverted topography and a one-time streambed about seven miles long that extends into the Harney Basin (Google: Wright’s Point Harney County).

Painted Hills

After an hour’s drive from the Sheep Rock Unit of the monument, I turned into the Painted Hills Unit at 3:19 p.m. on Thursday, May 18, 2012.

I had lofty plans to walk all four of the trails in the unit, Including the 1.5-mile round trip on Carroll Rim Trail that a pamphlet said “ascends a few hundred feet in elevation to an overlook of the entire region, with a bird’s-eye view of the Painted Hills and a bench at the end to relax and enjoy the view.”

On previous trips to the Unit, I never took the time to climb the CRT. I would do it this trip.

First, however, we visited the Painted Cove Trail and parked between two other vehicles.

A boardwalk trail winds around the colorful mounds to keep visitors off of the red and gold claystone. So, Nora stayed in the car with Darlene and drew ear rubs from the visitors in the other two vehicles.

Anyway, I strolled the boardwalk and read the interpretive posts that explain the geologic nature of the hills. Marks across one deep-red slope looked like prints left by a deer that didn’t understand the “keep off” signs and the purpose of the boardwalk.

From there we followed a really dusty toad to the quarter-mile Leaf Hill Trail, a site of important studies in the 1920s and 1990s.

The trove of leaf fossils found at the site provide information about the ecosystem of the area 33 million years ago.

As the time closed in on 4:30 p.m., we drove parking at the foot of Carroll Rim Trail. I packed a wide-angle lens and a zoom lens, left Nora with Darlene again, and headed up the hill.

A strong wind whipped down the steep slope. The trail slanted toward the ridge at an angle across the sage-dotted slope and through stone-mottled outcroppings with a stunning view of the red-stripped Painted Hills all the way to still snow-dotted mountains to the east.

Despite the smooth and easy slant of the trail to the northeast, I walked slow with frequent pauses to study and to enjoy the view, especially to the southeast.

The altitude gave me a that promised bird’s-eye perspective, and the zoom lens pulled the hills up close.

When I reached the pass, the trail switched directly back and climbed for another 200-300 yards.

And the wind hit me full force. I fastened the chin strap on my wide-brimmed had, but it still flopped loosely. The gusts rippled and flattened the thick bunch grass.

By the time I reached the trail’s end, with benches on a narrow point, the southwest wind nearly toppled me. I cast a 180-degree view, and turned back.

I stumbled for the first view steps, with the strong wind gusts at my back, and moved more quickly down slope.

At the pass, a lizard or a horned toad crossed the trail. I kneeled and aimed the camera through the sage branches. I spent several minutes getting a focused photo.

I couldn’t resist a few pauses on the way, and each one proved well worth the stop.

“Well, did you have a good hike?” Darlene asked when I reached the truck.

I assured her that I did, and we set out for the nearly two hour drive to the John Day Best Western motel.

And to dinner.

Well, we had spent a long day on the road and having fun at the fossil beds.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Seeing the Oregon Desert

At last, the Alvord Desert in Southeastern Oregon, south of Burns lay directly ahead. It looked like a lake. The Alvord Desert averages seven inches of rainfall a year, so I did not expect so much water on May 15. By mid-summer the water vanishes, of course, leaving a dry, flat lake bed. So dry that in 1976 Kitty O’Neil established an unofficial women’s world land-speed record there: 512 miles per hour. The desert stretches about 12 miles north and south and about seven miles across (some say 11 by 6 miles). At an altitude of about 4,000 feet, it parallels the craggy cliffs of the 70-mile long, nearly 10,000 foot high Steens Mountains to the west. The smaller Sheepshead Mountains lay to the east. We started the desert-bound trip on Monday (May 14), when I drove from Walla Walla to Burns-Hines. Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I spent that afternoon watching antelope, ibises, avocets, stilts, egrets, ground squirrels, hummingbirds and so on (more about that here next Wednesday). On Tuesday we left the Hines Best Western Ryan and Rory Inn and set sail for the Alvord Desert at 6:47 a.m. We anticipated a full day that included breakfast at the Frenchglen Hotel, 60 miles south, and a lunch of renowned burgers and shakes at Fields Station, 60 miles south of Frenchglen. We reached Frenchglen at 8:32 a.m., dined on scrumptious French toast and bacon alongside a dozen other breakfast connoisseurs. We climbed to the high plateau that stretches south to silhouettes of the Pueblo Mountains and west to Hart Mountain. Twenty miles from Frenchglen three turkey vultures dined on fresh snake, a high-desert Highway 205 specialty. Nora and I walked to within 30 yards of the diners. Nary a vehicle passed in either direction until we turned east near Fields. My odometer said 114 miles at Fields. At 10:39 a.m. we passed on burgers and shakes. We would lunch later at the Diamond Hotel. Then, fewer than 20 miles from Fields, the paved road turned to dusty gravel that reduced our speed to 20 knots. Sometimes 10. This continued for 45 miles or so to the Juniper Lake Ranch. Soon after we passed Andrews, however, we crested a knoll and the Alvord Desert shimmered directly ahead, fringed by the blue Sheepsheads. “Look at that,” Darlene said. “Impressive,” I said. “Finally.” Nora and I strolled among the sage to soak up the scene. A few miles later I took a dusty trail through the sage to the desert’s edge. Nora and I strolled for 100 yards or so on the hard lake bed beneath a bright sky. Fresh vehicle tracks faded from sight across the wide playa. Darlene preferred not to test it with the truck, but I followed vehicle tracks out a few yards toward the Sheepshead Mountains’ silhouette and turned around. Then we reached Alvord Hot Springs where 174-degree water cools significantly after bubbling to the surface. I stopped near the only vehicle we had seen since Fields. A man reading a book reclined on a wooden platform. As Nora and I approached, he sat up, leaned against a bench and called to Nora. She obliged. The friendly man’s car had California plates, yet he came originally from Wales. He worked in several states (I didn’t ask at what) and visited the springs often. He said the desert had more water this spring than he had seen before. Nora sniffed the warm mineral water but didn’t drink it. I drove on, stopping occasionally to savor scenery and take photos. One address sign said “Alvord Ranch Tom and Jemima Davis” near a stream that burbled down from Steen’s snow fields. We stopped to use the one-holer at Mann Lake and reached pavement again near the Juniper Lake Ranch. Three antelope clustered near a long private drive to the ranch. “That antelope is dropping a baby,” Darlene said. “You’re right,” I said as I looked through the long lens. They were two far away for a good photo, so I inched slowly down the private drive as Darlene scowled at me. So, I drifted to a stop, snapped a three photos, backed to the main road and headed north. We passed pelicans on Juniper Lake and antelope crossed the road in front of us near Highway 78 where we turned toward Burns. I took the turnoff to the west and south toward Diamond. We passed the Peter French Round Barn, the Diamond Craters and reached the Diamond Hotel for that late lunch. Too late, actually. We arrived at 3:17 p.m. Lunch service ended at 2 p.m. We knew that, of course, but time flies when you’re having fun. So we drove on to Burns and took Subway sandwiches back to the Best Western. “A fun trip,” Darlene said. “Good to see the Alvord Desert at last,” I mumbled with my mouth full and handed Nora a tiny bite.

Depressed Mumbles

May 30,2012
Well, I’ve been retired since April 1, 2010.
Yet, I haven’t found opportunities to visit this site very often. Of course I’ve felt the impulse to vent, or simply ponder, here. Today’s news from around the world, transmitted by a gaggle of electronic methods, depresses me nearly every day. The rampant violence, of course, along with widespread poverty, heartbreak and prejudice has been too much for me to wrap words around. Especially prejudice.
This morning, in a typical retirement scene, Darlene and I played a decade-old Heat of the Night TV rerun as background. She leafed through magazines while I surfed the web. Vaguely I followed the plot, which took little effort because we had seen the program before, more than once.
As I said, watching TV can be depressing, but we have spent 70 years with it at least in the periphery of our lives. So, today, until the French Open came on, we watched reruns.
Alas, even as background noise, these old programs set in Mississippi usually dealt with prejudice, especially racial and religious, in the South. And, of course, they brought a scowl to my face. Overall, however, the programs dealt in a surprising way with Southern attitudes. Not of course, that those attitudes exist only in the South or in the United States. Anyway, the program involved a decades-old murder of a black man by a white racist, with most of the perpetrators being very old, dying or dead.
One perpetrator, feeling belated guilt, turned to the Bible. One of his comments indicated a quote from the book that gave him comfort. To paraphrase: If you want forgiveness, all you have to do is ask for it, believing in Him who can give it.
Although I paid less-than-full attention to the program, my hackles rose a bit with this scene. These bigots find in their religions a justification for committing murder. Then, if that eventually wears thin, they find in their religions a forgiveness that gives them comport. And, ironically, the loved ones of the victims also turn to religion for solace or even for revenge.
So, this depresses me. I cannot imagine murdering a man because he acts “uppity” or above the place dictated by his race, religion or class, which the TV program explored and which took place many times in the South.
 In Syria this week, for example, a slaughter of 100 people in a village, including about 50 women and children, took place. To show their disapproval over the episode, several countries expelled Syrian diplomats. Religious beliefs and prejudice, along with politics, lurk behind the slaughter as wells as the expulsion of the diplomats.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

In the Gorge

March 10, 2012

Not Back Yet from yesterday…
An interlude:
Today we drove more than halfway to the Oregon Coast and will spend the night at LaQuinta in Vancouver.
We drove on Washington State Route 14 rather than the Interstate on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.
We consider it more scenic. We prefer the trip rather than hustling to reach a destination.
Also, tomorrow we will take Oregon 26 to Seaside/Cannon Beach for a leisurely 70-mile meander down Highway 101 to Newport. The fly in that plan: apparently the weather will be wet and windy. Call it stormy, OK?
As far as scenery today goes: Satisfactory.
We stopped near a pond (actually on Highway 730, en route to 14) and saw two dozen trumpeter swans. We stopped an average of every 50 miles so Nora the Schnauzer could smell the dog droppings, etc. A large portion of the drive (The Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area) remains free of wind turbines and visible power towers….