A Vital Oregon

By November 1, 2019 November 16th, 2019 Campsites, Excursions

With Boise in the rear view, our route took us through the flat and well-worked region of SW Idaho, and into the ancient flows of high desert volcanoes. Fault-block mountains with 5000′ drops and incredible hikes along the Donner und Blitzen allowed us to see a seldom-visited but breathtaking section of the state.

On the way out of Boise we blew by Bish’s, the RV dealer from whom we bought Creaky Betty, and the birthplace of a dream.

Unfortunately, they were giving away free winterizations and there was a line of trailers two blocks long waiting to get in.  We gave them a passing salute and a thanks for the deal!

After passing into Oregon, we soon came to a BLM camp that hugged the side of a small eutrophic Lake.  It was the Antelope Reservoir, 5′ deep and teeming with squawking birds from all four corners of the Northwest.  Geese, ducks and swans battled for the shallows and maybe a meal before the oncoming evening.

The sun fell into a pink twilight as I built a fire and made out with the dog, while Rebecca secretly recorded the whole sordid affair.

The only other camper was a chukar hunter who happened to sidle down and share his Johnny Walker Black with us, con limon.  We gifted him peanut butter cookies in what was a real exchange of camper cohorting.

The last rays of the sun couldn’t hold back the near moonless dark that settled on us.  A great night for stargazing!

The next day we drove into the caldera of yesteryear Oregon, where lava flowed from a zillion cracks rather than a single volcano.  This left the land fertile, flat and black for a hundred miles.

We eventually found ourselves in the old trading post of Frenchglen, at the base of a 1000′ fault block escarpment.  After gassing up (the most expensive yet at 4.29/gal), we arrived at Page Springs Campground, just outside of town and on the dirt road that loops around Steens Mountain.

The day following we hiked up the Donner und Blitzen to its confluence with Fish Creek.  Pictured is the confluence.  The path in followed the little river’s contours through its own box canyon, crossing scree fields from cliffside tumble-downs and yellow meadows at the bends.

We lunched on an MRE and just took it easy at an old horse camp within sight of the Fish Creek.  Starting our trek back, I was struck by the beauty of the river flowing through the slip fault.

I’d brought along my fishing gear in the hopes of sleuthing out a trout or two. We stopped by this little ice-rimmed hole on the way back.  The surface was broken by the wells and rises of the fish within, so with stealth and patience I worked the spot until I’d landed three hefty Redbands, the largest at nearly 20 inches.

Rebecca had headed back to camp a couple hours prior. As I climbed a little rise, the sun said its final goodbye and crested, leaving me a mad scramble back to the trailer before dark.

Page Springs Campground sits at the base of the Steens Mountain Loop Road, so the next day we loaded up and headed down the dirt path.  It didn’t really seem like we were making much elevation, but andhour later, we had climbed over 5000′ in elevation, to 9700′.

Steens Mountain is an unusually large fault block mountain, with the west slope gently rising to the precipice. Pictured is the Little Blitzen River Gorge and the alluvial flats to the north and east.

The road ran from juniper-laden riparian valleys to the treeless alpine scrub.  Kiger Gorge to the north was an incredible gutted landscape, glacially scooped with a valley floor 2000′ below.  Glaciers on either side of the ridge met at The Gunsight, a true knife-edge window trail too far for our daily trek.  We saved it for the next time we’re up that way.

Another view across the valley to the far rim of Kiger Gorge.  Just a little further up the road came close to the rim wall, and before us lay a site not often seen: A 5000′ sheer drop to the Alvord Desert below.  Steens Mountain acts as a rain catcher, receiving 70 inches of rain a year, while the desert below gets 7 inches.

While coming down the south side (a 70 mile round trip), we took a side hike out to the old Riddle Ranch.  The 3 Riddle Brothers came to this area to raise horses back at the turn of the century, and built a series of structures on the 1100 acre property.  Lifelong “confirmed bachelors”, their cabin was preserved by the BLM, and is open for walkthroughs.

Although old Ben Riddle died in the ’20’s, the kitchen still was set for coffee and biscuits.  A haunting and nostalgic moment, for sure.

Frozen-over Wildhorse Lake.  We saw herds of wild Kiger mustangs on the way back to camp.  The animals are the closest thing to the original Spanish Barb stock, and didn’t give a hoot about us riding through their presence.  They’re called the “Hollywood Herd” for their showiness.

The whole experience was fantastic, and left us wanting to see more of this little corner of Oregon.  So, until next time, On Donner, On Blitzen!

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