Friday, November 13, 2009

Oregon Desert

Did you know that the state of Oregon is nearly two-thirds desert? The Cascade mountain range separates the ocean and valleys to the west from the High Desert and semiarid grasslands to the east. Most of the land in southeastern Oregon (more than two-thirds) is owned by the Federal government and managed by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and U.S. Forest Service.

Although south central Oregon is an arid region, this part of the country has been homesteaded and a ranching heritage for well over a century.

Earlier this month we traveled there to visit some friends and try out our newly purchased "used" camper... a test to see if we would enjoy this type of travel and exploration. (Click on the images below for full effect of the views.)

Cold and snow were forecast for the higher elevations, but by the time we arrived at 4000 feet only dampness remained from the previous nights accumulation. We were presented with a beautiful sunny day of desert buttes, big open sky and unobstructed views for as far as the eye could see. Harsh and isolated expanse of territories, areas that appeared as wasteland, contiguous miles of sagebrush and bunch grass, yielded rugged and compelling beauty.

Mountains rose sharply, and breathtaking was the gradual descent into the panoramic valley of Lake County. From valleys to mountains, deserts to ancient basins of salty lakes to traversing the narrowing roadway down a canyon pass, we had finally arrived at our destination, Adel. It had been a long day and well worth the journey; now it was time to get set up and relax.

The early morning brought us mule deer climbing upward along the mountain side; a golden eagle soared as his mate stood guard atop the highest point of the cliff; mountain quail bobbed about the surrounding area; we listened to the call of chukars, and Magpies upon scattered trees and thickets would not sit long enough for me to photograph. The sun was bright and the chilling air yielded an occasional dry smell of juniper.

One of our day's adventure was to travel from Adel past the slightly salty Crump and Hart Lakes toward the 251,000-acre Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge. We drove to Plush and far beyond by way of a gravel road to a public area (next to staked claims) where one was allowed to dig (and we were told at least 3 feet down) to find Oregon Sunstones, the state gem. Note: Important! is to fill up with gas before you go and pack water and a lunch, for the area is very desolate and remote.

My husband worked hard, but came up empty. We still laugh at what a joke it was for us to dig when more was found by walking about the sparkling ground and collecting the small residual pieces from previous miners. And too, just down the road they were using heavy equipment in order to uncover veins of the feldspar.

Nonetheless, we had a nice picnic lunch, chatted with a couple of prospectors, and relished in the days adventure. We have a favorite saying: Done that twice, first and last. Laughing out loud now, for it takes so little to amuse.

And yes, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves! We had a wonderful time with our friends and experienced the amazing beauty of this area.

From our campsite, panning west to east: the silence and view surrounding us

Climb to the top of the hill

Driving toward Hart Mountain

Pick a spot and dig for gems

Several days of relaxation and spectacular beauty, but it's time to head on home