Desert Days

Looking east from Buena Vista, Malheur Wildlife Refuge, the golden hour

A couple of days ago we returned from our fourth road trip of the pandemic. This time we treated ourselves to four days in Oregon’s High Desert, checking out some places that were new to us as well as revisiting an old favorite. It was good to be back in this bold, big-sky part of the state, which always feels expansive and eternal.

Highlights included:

  • Cruising down the Outback Scenic Byway (Highway 31) for the first time.
  • Getting a taste of the Warner Valley, the northwest corner of the country’s vast Basin and Range terrain. It’s full of geological wonders we hope to explore when we have more time.
  • Our first visit to Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, where we saw a huge Golden Eagle take off from a clump of lava just feet in front of us, and later drove past wild horses and a herd of pronghorn.
  • A drive up Steens Mountain at the perfect time of year and day to appreciate the quaking aspen, which were blazingly colorful across swathes of the landscape. At one point we sat for a while between two low-growing clusters of aspen right next to the road: it was like being surrounded by shimmying dancers clad in golden sequins.
  • Two nights at the Field Station in Malheur Wildlife Refuge: my fourth visit since 2010, Zachary’s second. This setting appears in The Nighthawk’s Evening, an outstanding book about a bird that is less well known than it should be, coming out any day now from OSU Press. The author is scientist Gretchen Newberry, a friend who shared a visit to the Field Station with us in 2011.

The only disappointment was that when we reached Lakeview, we learned that Old Perpetual, Oregon’s only geyser, was inactive due to the low water table in the drought-stricken area. We hope it will be geysering away at its usual 60 feet up, every 90 seconds, the next time we are in that area.