We had snow last weekend (Thursday through Monday). Fifteen inches here in Olympia. Down in Oregon they had a whopper of an ice storm with freezing rain followed by an abrupt thaw.
We enjoyed our snowfall, made snow creatures, visited with neighbors at a front porch cocktail party (it’s a long porch and we put in a couple infrared heaters), and kept an eye on the weather reports.
We didn’t know if we’d be able to make it to Eugene, but the weather cooperated.
We made our target and hit the road just before six am with masks, coffee and Perfect bars. Melting snow on the roadside, but clear, wet roads.
I love driving while the sun is coming up. Watching the morning light grow in the cloudless sky as we drove past miles and miles of trees with shattered branches was amazing. It was a clear, crisp, beautiful day and the contrast to the devastated trees was stark. We’ve had ice storms in Oly in the past, but this one hit farther south.
Shattered branches nearly to Salem.
Havoc from the ice storm closed rest areas just when we wanted them. Miles and miles of closed rest areas. Among the shattered trees in the parking areas were two crushed cars. Beautiful. Devastating. Power.
Oregon Trail’r and Brave Horatio
We pulled into Oregon Trail’r about ten o’clock and were warmly received by Jon and Sawyer. These guys are the best. Just the best.
Brave Horatio fit right in among the Do-Drops and Terradrops (original and Alpha) being created. I think I counted 12 trailers under construction. I love the possibilities inherent in spaces like this.
In addition to getting us set up with our new side table, Jon and Sawyer upgraded the brackets for our original side table just to be nice.
I was so involved in looking around the shop and chatting that I forgot to take pictures. Luckily they made a great video (one of several). Enjoy!
After a magnificent sunrise and breakfast on the desert, we headed out to explore. I had found three springs (Wild Horse Spring 1, 2, and 3) on an online map and wanted to find them and Borax Lake was also on our agenda.
We took note of the geographic features near us and checked to make sure we’d dropped a pin, then headed out.
Never pass a potty
The bathroom at Alvord Hot Springs was a very welcome sight. The people waiting to use it were a little disappointing, but I like meeting new folks. The woman I chatted with (both masked and distant) was quite nice.
While I was using the facilities, Bill had an, um, fascinating? conversation with another woman. She and her husband were travelling–and sleeping–in separate cars because she needs her own space. She was fascinated with Brave Horatio and explained to Bill that it would be perfect–she and her husband could travel in one car, then he could sleep in the car while she slept in the teardrop.
While she’s explaining how much of her own space she needs, she’s also continuing to crowd in close to Bill. He said he just kept backing up and backing up.
I’m thinking her husband might want to reconsider his marriage contract.
Hot springs are gorgeous and they don’t always smell
I am fascinated with hot springs. I’m always thrilled that hot water just comes out of the ground. Magic. That said, I’ve been in very few hot springs. Sometimes I want to, but am not sure how one goes about it. Sometimes they’re kind of a smelly mess …fascinating, but a smelly mess.
I wanted to be brave enough to soak. It’s a stretch for me, but I would have liked it. Bill was not going to join me. Because we’re in the middle of Covid-19, I would have to occupy the tub all by myself. I’d have to wait until it was available and then try to nicely dissuade others from joining me.
I did not even get my towel out of Freya.
BUT–hot springs are about more than soaking. They are magical, beautiful, and fascinating even if you never dip your toe in. I walked down the path and followed the steaming stream back up toward the road. So cool. Big pools and small cascades and tiny trickles. All steaming. All coming right up from the ground all by itself. Everything surrounded and surfaced with a skim of odd colors and textures.
Searching for Wild Horse Springs
While researching this trip I ran across a map that showed three springs: Wild Horse Springs 1, 2, and 3. They looked close-ish to roads and I wanted to find them. I had unlikely thoughts about herds of horses drinking and milling about.
I’d clipped three snaps of the map, close in then farther and farther out. What I didn’t have was a map that actually showed where they were in relation to the desert or the mountain. Somehow I thought they were just up the road from Alvord Hot Springs. We turned right out of the driveway.
Have you ever looked at several maps and thought you had a good idea of where things were in relation to each other…then they’re just not? This was one of those times.
We drove with Steens Mountain on our left, down the Fields-Denio Road a lot farther than I expected. We passed Mann Lake and Juniper Lake and Ten Cent Lake. When Fields-Denio T’d with 78, we turned right. Bill kept asking me if I was sure of the directions. Of course I wasn’t sure. This was an adventure.
Past North Fork Ryegrass Road (which I’d also like to explore) and Iron Mountain Road (which I’m sure is lovely, but didn’t capture my imagination) and a whole lot of wide country.
We finally found the road we wanted and it was closed. Oh well. Onward!
We stopped to top off the tank at the intersection with 95, then turned south to head back to Fields via White Horse Ranch Lane.
White Horse Ranch Lane is gravel, but nice gravel. Wide and open with low plants on both sides. Another vehicle turned in ahead of us and we saw it parked on the road a little bit in. We waved at the guy crouched off the road a couple feet. He didn’t wave back. As we passed I noticed that his backpack was making a rudimentary shield as he squatted to do his business. A mile or so farther on we noticed that him turn around and head back to the highway. Clearly just a comfort stop. Bathrooms are few and far apart out here–never pass a potty.
We had the road to ourselves the rest of the way into Fields. It’s a great road! Slow gentle rises and slow gentle curves delivered us to view after beautiful view.
At the top of one rise a driveway rambled away to the left curving around a little hill. I think I’d like to meet these people. They’ll probably never know how much I enjoyed their roadside art installation.
Down some more gentle swoops, through ever greener, human-touched land we turned right toward Fields.
I’d read about the amazing milkshakes at Fields. They also have gas and potties–a pretty much perfect triad.
Fields also has hotel rooms–two of them–we sat in the sun at a picnic table in front of room 1 and thoroughly enjoyed our milkshakes. They come in those tall metal containers, all frosty on the outside and are nice and thick. Of course we didn’t split one. Bill had fresh banana and I had raspberry.
Our dinner plans quickly changed to less.
We chatted with some folks who come here every year, staying at Fields and spending their days on the desert. The hotel rooms were cute. Separate little buildings with tiny green lawns.
Borax Lake sits above the surrounding desert
I don’t always suck at map reading. I took us pretty much right to Borax Lake and Borax Hot Springs.
Not to far off the south end of the Alvord Desert flat is Borax Lake–home to the endangered Borax Lake chub. There’s a short, reasonable dirt road to a gate then a walk to the lake. As you get closer the ground begins to be covered with white crystals. They look a little like those dribble sand towers we used to make when we were small, very delicate feathery crystals. That’s the boric acid and arsenic. Don’t taste.
It’s odd to be walking on a flat, flat part of the earth and have to walk up a 20-30 foot rise to the edge of the lake. There were a couple ducks near the edge and you could see where the water wells up in the middle. The lake is elevated above its surroundings because it continually brings up minerals, so keeps raising itself higher. The lake is pretty warm, it varies between 61 and 100 Fahrenheit at the edge.
It’s a pretty little lake. We didn’t see any fish, but weren’t looking for them. I didn’t know they existed until I googled for more information on our way back to camp.
From the lakeside we could see the surrounding country really well. I didn’t see any hot springs.
We went further down the road, through some squelchy stretches of grassy vegetation and finally saw steam rising.
These are pretty incredible hot springs. You look down and down and down. Holes right into the middle of the earth. These springs run between 105 and 300 Fahrenheit and the ground near them is undercut and fragile. We were extra careful.
After not-passing-the-potty at Alvord Hot Springs, we were back on the desert.
Did I mention that there’s nothing to do on the dessert, except what you bring to the experience?
I walked, and twirled, and made bubbles. Bill played guitar and took pictures. We talked and read and shared some wine.
Then I took our little wine charm guys for a hike up one of the little sand bumps.
As we packed up and headed for the Alvord Desert, a song clip kept running through my head, “Off we go, home in tow, down the highwa…son of a gun we’re gonna have great fun on the playa.” It was the wrong song. The Alvord Desert is amazing, beautiful, and very, very quiet. For us, not a place of boisterous fun. Absolutely magnificently wonderful.
A quail chorus sang us out of Page Springs Campground and we headed to Fields around the south end of Steens Mountain. We passed Skull Mountain Road and a small airstrip on the Roaring Springs Ranch. We saw pronghorn and a magpie hitching a ride on a cow, then an entire cow parade.
The folks keeping an eye on the cows grinned as I shot video with my phone out the window. I wonder if they’d find my workday as interesting as I found theirs.
As we drove up a rise a white surrealistic landscape appeared in the V framed by the road cut. It grew into a remarkable view of the south end of the desert. Amazing.
I was a little nervous about actually getting onto the desert and a little nervous about figuring out where to set up camp. Neither was worth worrying about.
I’d called Alvord Hot Springs to make sure they were open and to get an idea of how desert access worked. They were really nice and I almost understood the process.
There were cars in the parking lot, a couple people near the accommodations (pretty charming looking repurposed modular MASH units) and a masked couple talking at a picnic table in front. I was happy to pay for a couple days use of their private road and so, so happy to use their bathroom! We paid for a days use of the hot springs but didn’t. Covid and hot spring use are difficult to manage.
The road was nice and we appreciated the tip about the damp mud near the outlet. We dropped a pin on our map to make sure we could find the road again. The mountains make good enough markers, but the pin was reassuring.
Pulling Brave Horatio out onto the dry lake bed of the Alvord Desert was a little unnerving. There aren’t many places left where you can just drive anywhere at all. It took some getting used to. We’d decided to camp toward the north end, but not too far from the west edge. We drove into an area of small bumps and parked, deciding that the small bumps would slow down anyone out for speed.
It was weird to just stop and camp. It’s flat, flat, flat. Like camping on a gigantic dried up mud puddle. Amazing mountains around all the edges and miles and miles of light pinkish brown dried mud. I took my shoes off and enjoyed the softness on my feet.
We dropped a pin where we left Brave Horatio and went out for a spin in Freya. It felt like we were flying over that flat space–we got up to about 30 mph. It felt fast and a little thrilling to just steer where ever we wanted. No lines, no signs, no people or vehicles. Miles and miles and miles of flat. We drove toward the south end of the desert, then around the eastern edge and back north. It was interesting to see where larger dunes formed and the areas that included some fist size black rocks. We only saw a couple other vehicles the whole time.
Back at Brave Horatio we started to realize how very quiet it was and how very little there was to do. Bill played guitar. We read. I knitted. I twirled in a circle with the bubbles I keep in the galley.
We could see two camps. One to the southwest and one southeast. Both were so far away that binoculars showed people, but not their features. We later discovered that the camp to the east of us were friends of my nephew. Such a small world.
Peeing in the desert is also a little surreal. It’s flat, it’s unvegetated, it’s dry. Pick a direction, walk away from your camp, pee, and pack out your paper. Kind of fun.
I worried about poop.
My primary plan was to wait and use Alvord Springs’ bathroom. Luckily, my backup plan was untested.
We sang What a Wonderful World into the quiet desert dark, enjoyed the milky way, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars and tucked ourselves into Brave Horatio.
It got windy for a bit. Brave Horatio wiggled a little as the wind whistled around, but he stayed put and we stayed snug.
South Steens Loop is washboard. Miles of washboard. Faster speeds smooth it out.
We saw 39 of the South Steens horses today!
The first group was less than a mile from the turnoff onto South Steens Loop.
Crossing the Blitzen River moved us out of horse country
The scenery is gorgeous and changes dramatically around every turn. Amazing.
The Riddle Brothers built their ranch in the most beautiful valley ever
Just before the South Steens Campground is the turnoff to the Riddle Brothers Ranch. If you’re ever in the area, take this turn. You can drive to the gate every day and beyond it to the ranch house Wednesday through Sunday. It was Tuesday, so we walked in to the spectacularly beautiful valley. A gap in the Steens frames the backside. A stream runs through it. Gorgeous.
One of the informational signs on the gate included a picture of the Riddle Brothers and some guests. How did anyone even know where they were? How did they get here to visit? I think it would take several days on horses. This beautiful spot is remote, remote, remote.
So MUCH wind at the summit. I kept trying to unlock my door, then realized it was unlocked. The wind was holding it closed.
We decided not to get out of the car. The walk to the actual summit will have to wait for a return trip. I could not even imagine being on the brink of the escarpment in that wind.
What a Wonderful World
We’ve been singing “What a Wonderful World” every evening since March 29. It’s my way of reassuring myself amidst the pandemic. We always sing outdoors, usually from our front porch (sometimes our neighbors come out to wave). This is day 198.
The last couple nights, I’ve walked down to the river and sang solo to the dark. Tonight Bill joined me and our singing spot was near the campfire.
Sun on rimrock, mild temperature, and wind. Perfect day to head out in search of wild horses
We had to pause for a couple of cows crossing the highway and a bit further on for a bevy of quail. In a roadside field a cowboy on horseback was moving some cows toward a trailer. Harney County.
The BLM office in Hines was closed. Columbus Day. I forgot that our federal government still celebrates the beginning of the massacre of this continent’s indigenous peoples…and I can’t buy the map I want.
The BLM wild horse corrals just to the west were open. Horses eat every day. There’s always controversy around managing wild horse and burro populations. It’s worth cruising the web to find out about. They did have a (small) paper map and a helpful guy. Palomino Butte here we come.
Hang a left at Double 00 Ranch road and start looking. Not far in we saw a single horse on one side, then a group on the other. Seems too easy.
Nice country, but no more horses. We had no idea how long the road was or where it would pop us out. Enough. Enjoyed the same group on the way out.
The BLM guy cautioned against Kiger and Riddle Mountain–bad roads. I wanted to find a Kiger Mustang. We headed toward Diamond taking the route through Malheur.
Hey! The other end of Double 00 road is just before Sodhouse Lane and the turn to Malheur Headquarters.
The headquarters were closed (did I mention Columbus Day), but the lovely bathrooms were open. Canada Geese and wigeons were on the pond. Well worth the stop.
We took the Happy Valley route and found Kiger Wild Horse Viewing Road. Even if there are no horses, wow!
The road skirts the end of a rimrock box canyon. Just a short jaunt from the car, basalt pillars, rusty wire, and the spine of some largish mammal, one pillar separated from the rest. Right out of Zane Grey. As we approached some very large crows exited the canyon straight up. Too cool.
Freya got a little test. The road was dirt, stone, and ruts. Wouldn’t have been too bad if someone hadn’t driven it when the mud was a foot deep. Freya did well.
And…we found horses!
and pronghorn. I love pronghorn.
About 7 miles in we headed back out. Back past the hunting camp, the bluebirds, the beautiful Juniper, and the sage. Back over the ruts, rocks, and washouts. Wish I knew how far to the overlook. Wish I was certain we took the correct tine of each fork. (My map didn’t show any forks or distances.)
Mattress, mattress pad, sheets, and blanket still soggy.
We did stay warm and get some sleep, Me more than Bill. Good thing we had three car blankets. They shielded us from the worst of the damp.
The forecast is much better today and we have a plan.
After bagels, smoked salmon, cream cheese, onion, and capers… with Batdorf and Bronson coffee! We spread the car blankets out in Freya, clamped soggy bedding to our little above bed shelf, opened B Horatio’s vent and windows, locked his doors and headed up North Steens Mountain Drive.
We weren’t ignoring the problem, we we’re reconoitering. Our original plan before the deluge and truck joust was to camp up Steens Mountain at Fish Lake Campground.
We’re off to check out Fish Lake before hauling Brave Horatio up to over 7,000 feet on a nice, but gravel road.
Steens Mountain is amazing in October. The Quaking Aspen are in various stages of decidging (my son’s very useful word). They were bright white and gold. Junipers and sage and bitter brush and who knows what. A tapestry of muted vibrancy.
Fish Lake looks great. We’ll come camp some late spring. A skiff of snow made our decision for us. We explored a little further and turned around.
It’s Sunday and lots of folks headed out. We moved to spot 6, near the river, in the sun, and — most important — graced with some well spaced trees.
We strung line and had soggy bedding hung out wicked quick. Looked a little like the Clampett’s, but we’ll sleep dry tonight!
We left thing drying out in camp and ducked into French Glenn for firewood and toothpaste then spent a couple hours driving Malheur’s Center Line road.
We discovered a great new way to make the bed, walked to a beautiful spring on the Blitzen River Trail, had a roaring good campfire and roaring hot chili and tucked into our dry, warm nest.
We planned to spend September 2020 visiting friends in Perth (Hi, Jane and Tom) and borrowing their campervan for a trip up the west coast to Karijini National Park.
The world had other plans.
My stint with the Department of Health’s Covid-19 case investigation/contact tracing team ended in September so we decided to camp for a week somewhere remote and uncrowded. Steens Mountain here we come!
We did our final packing at 5:30 am in the rain. It was predicted and unpleasant.
If the rest of the week follows the forecasts, today will be our only aquacamping day. Fingers crossed.
Freya’s brand new, all-weather tires are an unexpected disappointment. We hydroplaned a LOT down I-5. The tires did not track at all. Skittering and slipping on the freeway wakes you up right quick. Something to discuss with Honda when we get back.
A quick stop in Sandy for gas and cocoa and we headed up and up and up Mt. Hood then down and down and down. Out of the Doug Fir and into Ponderosa and Quakies.
On the Warm Springs flat the rain let up. Looking across the the rocky prairie to the sunkissed hills–gorgeous. Mill Creek Gorge–gorgeous. All that rimrock–so gorgeous.
Oh, holy hell!
About 30 miles from Bend we’re driving along on 97 approaching a wide, flat, paved intersection when an old truck just starts crossing the highway in front of us…not nearly far enough in front. It’s heading right at us.
Can’t slow down, we’d be toast. Luckily the pavement was dry. Luckily their was no oncoming traffic in the two opposing lanes. Luckily the highway was wide enough. Luckily Bill can think and act quickly.
Bill swerved way out into the oncoming lanes as the truck just kept crossing the highway. No reaction from the driver…I don’t think they noticed our fairly large rig pulling a small, but noticeable trailer. I think we cleared that truck by about 3 feet.
We moved into the slow lane, hearts beating. As people passed us, they smiled in disbelief and offered emphatic thumbs up.
I’m glad we’re not dead. I’m glad our adventure didn’t end with tow trucks and rental cars. I’m glad Brave Horatio follows along so closely.
Life goes on
Stopped for take-out lunch at Life and Times in Bend then through another heavy rain storm and off across the Western Juniper plains of highway 20.
Pulled into Page Springs Campground about 5:30. Raining off and on. Only one spot left (Hooray, 1 spot left!) Discovered that Freya also needs larger mud flaps. Poor Brave Horatio was a little bit drowned.
Ate beans and weenies in the car. Made a plan to allow some sleep on soggy bedding. Not the best camp evening ever.
Yep, all that happened and an amazing tour of the Siskiyou Smokejumper Base Museum as well. We pulled in and thought it might be closed. We stretched our legs looking at the planes in the field. As we walked toward the buildings a man came out. So friendly, so knowlegeable.
Siskiyou Smokejumper Base Museum
He had been a jumper from this base for over ten years (transferring to Alaska when it closed down). I wish I remembered his name. I’ve never had such an interesting and thorough tour anywhere.
The museum itself has an unique history. When the base was decommissioned, smokejumpers began lobbying congress so it wouldn’t be destroyed. Ten years of constant lobbying later, they got the right to make a museum. So their families and friends joined them at the site to refurbish buildings. They brought their equipment and photos. Cool.
We saw the very sturdy sewing machines in both rooms–the beginner’s room where young men learned to sew and made stuff that lives did not depend on and the advanced room where you sewed jumpsuits and other life-dependent gear–and only after many years in the first room.
A couple chutes where stretched out on tables and more hung in the drying shed. There were amazing photos.
This museum is free–we left a large donation. So worth it. We’ll stop there again and bring others.
Taylor’s Meat, Cave Junction
Whenever we’re by this way we stop at Taylor’s. We try to time it for lunch.
We bought great big beautiful milkshakes and the usual assortment of jerky and sausage. Mark and Jess enjoyed it too.
Schmidt Family Winery, Applegate Valley
We met Jo and Bruce at the Schmidt Family Winery for an ad hoc dinner. Schmidt wine, Schmidt cheese and olive plates, a Schmidt pizza, some Taylor meat, and camping apples.