Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Eastern Oregon's Epochal Buildings and Rock Formations 

The prospects of viewing dynamic scenery when driving south through Eastern Oregon have become a magnet for Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and me.
Well, actually, I can’t speak for Nora. She does press a nose to the window most of the way.
Then we face a variety of scenic drives from a base camp in in Burns/Hines and a choice between rousing routes for the drive home again.
From Pilot Rock we cruise Highway 395 to the park on Battle Mountain before one of us (like Nora) needs a break.
It’s a pleasant pause in the spring with yellow avalanche lilies glowing on green grass and brown needles beneath ponderosa pines.

From there we leisurely wind our way across wide valleys with willow-hedged streams and, at altitudes of 4,000-plus to 5,000-plus, over woody mountain passes.
We pass numerous old buildings with weathered, unpainted boards or rough-hewn logs that reflect austere lives lived during at least a century past.
I’ve yearned to photograph those buildings. Especially those in Fox,  a demure hamlet between Long Creek and John Day, but I’ve hesitated to stop.
So, I stopped.
I strolled along the road and took photos. Later I turned some of the shots into black-and-white images in Photoshop. The buildings looked even more austere.

Not, however, as austere as rock formations stretching back perhaps a zillion years. And not quite as melancholy.  Or somber.
Along with last-century buildings, these eye-catching basalt spires and rough rim-rocks appear all along Highway 395 and especially along Highway 205 between Burns and Frenchglen where Suburban-sized blocks of  columnar basalt lie in  tumbles beneath three-story cliffs south of the Diamond Craters turnoff.

Occasionally a western fence lizard does pushups on one of the boulders.

Isolated forms also draw attention, such as the bear- or pig-shaped rock near the Buena Vista Overlook, also off of Highway 205.

Well, of course the main reason for a trip to Burns during the spring involves migrating birds that visit the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
And those that stick around.
We did that with intensity every day, then we headed home again, with a 7 a.m. start.
An hour later at John Day, we realized we could be home at lunchtime, and miss some dramatic Eastern Oregon scenery.
So, we turned westward and detoured through a portion of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

North again off of Highway 19, I stopped to ogle Cathedral Rock.

Nora and I strolled the trail into the “Island in Time” at the Blue Basin Area and along the trails of “Floods of Fire” and “Story in Stone” at the Foree Area.
Those bluish-colored tuff formations date back to the Oligocene Epoch that spanned a period from 28-million to 35-million years ago.
It was a time of giant sea turtles, rhinos, bears, dogs, mountain beaver, oreodonts and a tiny mouse-deer.

We didn’t spend much time on the walks, however. They were short, for one thing, and beneath a pate-pounding sun. I carried water for Nora, but she hurried to sit in every scant shady spot that she saw.
Then we meandered through Kimberly and north on Highway 207. We stopped at a high-mountain meadow north of Sprague with grass widows, shooting stars, avalanche lilies and blue bells galore.
Nora nosed into a hollow log, and I lay flat to photograph the colorful blooms.

From there we reached Hardman where I stopped to photograph more epochal buildings.

Then, at a high windy bluff out of Hardman seven antelope lounged on the west side of the road and six mule deer watched from the east side.
I didn’t sop.
We reached Heppner and, after cruising the main drag twice, we lunched at a sandwich/art shop. The sandwiches, a Heppner Special for me and a roast-beef panini for Darlene, still stir our taste buds.
Actually, I don’t know about Darlene’s buds, but she certainly praised her panini at the time.
Finally, we passed through Pilot Rock and Pendleton and reached home at 7:14 p.m., just in time to unload the gear and hustle-up a bite to eat.
Or take a nap?



Saturday, May 04, 2013

Windy Days Fail to Derail Enjoyment of Visitors to the MNWR 

May 5, 2013

Despite two days of sand-driven winds across Harney County, Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I declared our recent four-day trip to Burns/Hines and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge a total success.
We observed  American avocets, white-faced Ibises, giant sandhill cranes, tiny pied-billed grebes and fluffy American white pelicans.

We spotted  antelope and coyotes at a distance and more deer within whispering distance than we could count.
We ogled panoramic scenery while scoping fields and slopes for elk, deer, antelope and coyotes all along the drive to Burns.
We took one arrow-straight, 50-mile detour west on Highway 20 to Glass Buttes and found small hunks of obsidian. We saw a white-colored coyote near the buttes.
Mainly, however, we ambled along various auto routes and loops south Burns, where we also looked for birds, deer, antelope and coyotes.
When I say “ambled,” I don’t exaggerate.
After a visit to the Diamond Lava Beds, for example, we turned south toward Frenchglen, and  a sheriff who had followed half-a-mile pulled us over with Christmas-tree lights blazing.
As I rolled the window down, Nora leaped onto my lap. With tiny tail wagging furiously, she shinnied onto the window sill to lick the officer’s face.
Darlene puckered her eyes and whispered.
“Oh, oh!”
She clutched the camera with the big lens on her lap.
No Problem, however.
A very pleasant, professional officer said he thought I had been drinking because I kept slowing down, angling to the right and driving at about 30 mph.
“Obviously, you haven’t been,” he said after I explained we were looking for antelope, cranes and coyotes to photograph.
He wished us good luck and left.
Ironically, the sheriff’s car was the only one we had seen in two hours, and I thought he wanted to pass.
Speaking of irony, the majority of our good bird photo opportunities on this trip came on two roads that go directly east from our Best Western motel in Hines to Highway 205: Hotchkiss Road and Green House Road.

Each time we left on Hotchkiss in the morning, we stopped often for shots of yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds, black-necked stilts, avocets,  ibises, cranes, willets, dunlins, sandpipers, sanderlings, dowitchers, coots, snipes and such.

Then, along Highway 205, we saw two antelope each morning and afternoon on the north side of Wright’s Point.

On a morning with no wind rippling the waters, Avocets, stilts and American white pelicans stood or floated with their shadows on the water near The Narrows of the MNWR. And terns circled close overhead.

And, of course, we drove the MNWR Auto Route road directly south from the MNWR headquarters toward Frenchglen.
One great white egret foraged along the south side of Benson Lake, but I missed the photo.
A few ducks and two pied-billed grebes floated on roadside sloughs. Dozens of glossy-feathered ibises dined with jerky eagerness in flooded fields beside the road to Steens Mountain.

Accidentally on purpose we timed that trip to lunch at the Frenchglen Hotel. We both had BLTs so thick that I stretched my maw to the limit and squeezed with fingers on both hands for each bite.
Hours later, we stopped again at the MNWR Headquarters.  Hummingbirds had not arrived yet, but I snapped photos of yellow warblers, a male and a female.

And, surprise, those cute little Belding's ground squirrels swarmed all over the place. I say “surprise” because on a visit last fall, all of the little critters had been removed from the headquarters grounds.
The volunteer at the headquarters’ gift shop said they were back now “in full force.”

They’re called “sage rats” and considered major pests  by many locals, especially those raising crops. And shooters visit the area and pay several hundred dollars each for guided trips to shoot sage rats (For a YouTube video Google: Shooting Sage Rats).
So, despite a bit of a breeze, we had a really good trip.
Beside two calm days out of four is a .500 batting average, either way, and that’s a glass half full.