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?