creative endeavors of Judy Tilley

Posts tagged “Malheur

2014-09 WA/OR/ID/WY/MT 1/4

*Day 1/Tuesday/September 9:

Because I5 from Marysville to Olympia is such a traffic-choked exercise in frustration, we usually take Highway 20 east over the North Cascades Highway to the dry side of the state or head west on the same highway gaining access to the Olympic Peninsula via the Washington State Marine Highway ferries. This time, the North Cascades Highway was our choice as we were headed east toward Wyoming. It can be a leisurely drive with overlooks and trailheads along the way to Winthrop, an over 150 mile drive from Bellingham.

We usually stop at the Diablo Lake overlook to use the vault toilets and enjoy the vistas of the mountains and the blue green lake. We also stop at the Gorge Creek falls overlook to enjoy 2 waterfalls.  Often, when you live in a beautiful area, you almost take  your environment for granted. I never tire of the mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and rivers. Well, maybe the grey skies and drizzle but then we wouldn’t be the Evergreen State.

Since we left later than usual and weren’t sure about road closures due to the extensive summer forest fires near Twisp, we opted to camp at Klipchuck, a USFS campground (elevation 2940′) in the pine trees off Highway 20 which muffle the road noise. Early Winters Creek is nice to listen to also if you get a creekside site. Mid-week, after Labor Day, is a great time to camp in a popular area in peak season. Our Senior Pass discounted the camping fee to $4.

We wandered around the pine forested campground. Our neighbor had a truck camper trailering a motorcycle. His small dog fit into a pack behind the windshield on his bike which he would take on short jaunts. After our dinner of homemade soup and sandwiches, we fell asleep.

*This journey and subsequent ones will be in honor of my sister’s son who lost his 9 month battle with melanoma yesterday. A former Marine and father of three, he fought a valiant battle with this insidious disease. He loved to travel so we will wander the west in his memory. 

Day 2/Wednesday/September 10:

After returning to Highway 20, we passed through Winthrop (tourist trap) where we fueled up.   At Twisp, we were directed to the Twisp-Carlton Road, a detour around the destructive Carlton Complex fire near highway 153 where that same area subsequently suffered mudslides. 153 connects with Pateros and 97. We were glad to see that our favorite fruit stand/bakery/orchard just before the junction with 97 escaped the fire damage. We bought organic peaches and pears for me and an apple fritter for Tony.

Turning east from 97 onto 17, we passed through Bridgeport and the Chief Joseph Dam (potty break) until we turned south on Bridgeport Hill Road NE. We spotted an interesting fluted rock formation so drove up a dirt road almost getting stuck in some deep sand. Formerly a ranch, all that remains are piles of fencing and collapsed structures, poplar trees (to shield the winds), and a wooden water tower. Now, it is the West Foster Creek Wildlife Area set aside for the sharp tailed grouse, among others.

Zig-zagging down 172, we arrived at Highway 2 (if we wanted to return west to Everett, we would travel this road). Just a short while later, we turned south on Coulee Meadows Road/Rimrock Road/Sagebrush Flat Road which brought us just north of Ephrata. It was a paved road that wandered through wheat fields and abandoned farm houses and outbuildings.

From Ephrata, we went south on 28/283 to its junction with I90 just before George (the Gorge Amphitheater is close by). We crossed the bridge over the Columbia River/Wanapum Lake to Vantage. Our plan was to camp at Wanapum State Park but it was closed because of breaches in the Wanapum Dam down river. Because we had planned this small detour to visit Gingko State Park, we were stuck with staying at the Vantage Riverstone Resort nearby. $11 paid for a grassy strip near residents who lived in permanent trailers.

Gingko Petrified Forest State Park has a trail that winds up a hillside featuring caged specimens of petrified maple, walnut, fir and, of course, gingko. A sign warned of the presence of rattlesnakes but the trail had little vegetation for them to hide in and a local hiker said he rarely saw any. The coolest part was the rustic home for the resident ranger built by the CCC. It is a multilevel Craftsman bungalow.

When we returned to the RV park, we met a couple who knew the parents of the groom whose wedding we shot last August. In a twist of fate, we had met the bride’s parents while we were exploring the Olympic Peninsula near Port Angeles last Spring who asked us to be the wedding photographers. We played with the small dog that belonged to one of the kids who lived nearby, had dinner, then went to bed.

Day 3/Thursday/September 11:

Back on I90, we made a quick exit after recrossing the Vantage Bridge onto Highway 243. This highway follows the Columbia River passing through vineyards and now we were on the opposite side of the Wanapum Dam where we saw work in progress to repair the damage.We cross the Columbia River once again at the Vernita Bridge. Nearing the end of this trip, we will be camping here in several weeks amongst the many people who launch their boats.

On 240 we pass through the Hanford Reservation (DOE) and the Hanford Reach National Monument. Just move along folks, nothing to see here, just gated roads leading towards compounds. Just after turning onto 225, we stop at Horn County Park to bathe Toller at one of the campsites. Most sites are in the open in a grassy area but several are amongst some shade trees along the periphery.

Highway 225 leads us to Benton City and an on ramp to I82. We follow this quiet freeway east and south to again cross over the Columbia River into Oregon. Just for a change of pace, we exit onto a road that will bring us to Oregon Highway 207 or the Hermiston/Lexington-Echo Highway. We could have taken the exit for Highway 395, our eventual main road through the northern part of Oregon. But, we decided to take a more scenic route that would lead us to 395 further south. We would bypass Hermiston and the outskirts of Pendleton.

Somehow, we became lost on a road that ended in a cantaloupe field. Since, it appeared the harvest had finished, we took several that remained and eventually found our way to 207. We were in Oregon Trail territory according to a highway sign. From 207, we turn left onto Butter Creek Road, winding our way through ranch lands along Butter Creek. At Vinson, we turn onto 74 then begin our southbound journey down 395.

In the distance, we could see smoke to the west and south. We stopped at the Ukiah-Dale Forest State Scenic Corridor along Camus Creek for a picnic lunch. There was camping there also, but it was too close to the highway. 395 goes all the way into southern California passing through some beautiful country such as along the Eastern Sierras. Here, in Oregon, there is little traffic except for the occasional logging truck.

We began to scout for a place to camp for the night but wanted to avoid any fires. Toll Bridge campground was an option but it looked like a scene out of a spooky movie (our truck barely made it through the brushy entrance). We explored several roads on either side of 395 along the Middle Fork John Day River but only found several folks fishing and no roads for dispersed camping. Just after we explored those two roads, we drove further down 395 and found an ODOT clearing for disposal of rock slide debris. We had a view of some livestock on the next hillside over, a scenic rocky ridge and the valley below. The highway quieted down and we slept well.

Day 4/Friday/September 12:

395 continues south until a junction with highway 26 at Mt. Vernon where we fueled up. No self-serve in Oregon; there is an attendant who fills your tank. 395 and 26 are the same road east until you again turn south onto 395 at John Day heading towards Burns. Last April, we took a county/USFS road south from Dayville which would have  led us to just outside of Hines near Burns. Somehow, we missed a turn and exited onto 395 way north of Burns.

This time, we found 63 aka the Izee Road, and retraced our route to follow the Burns-Izee Road to Hines. 63 is across 395 by the Zwick Old Growth Interpretive Trail. 63 ends at 68/47 which is the Burns-Izee Road. In a funny way, USFS roads, well, other roads too, take on another number and name: 68/47 or the Izee Road becomes 127 or the Hines Logging Road. We just continued to drive south, eventually ending in Hines where we fueled up at the Shell station and picked up a few groceries at the Thriftway across the highway. At a store nearby, we saw several llamas being loaded with item their owner just purchased. Just part of the rural west.

From Hines, we traveled south on 205 until we turned onto the Center Patrol Road, a graveled road that traverses the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. It was early afternoon and we saw a few pelicans, hawks and songbirds. We returned to 205 toward Frenchglen and our favorite campground, Page Springs, a BLM facility that features nice vault toilets, garbage/recycling, water and a resident deer family. The sites are located near the scenic springs and in the spare pine and aspen woods. Our Senior pass entitles us to half off the $8 fee. After a walk and dinner, we went to bed.

Day 5/Saturday/September 13:

We awoke early to explore the 59 mile Steens Mountain Loop. It is not open year round and was closed when we were there last spring. We were hoping to photograph golden aspens and the scenic gorges: Kiger, Little Blitzen and Big Indian. The road is graveled and graded and there was surprisingly little washboards. Unfortunately, a controlled burn was happening east of Burns so the Alvord Desert was hazy. There were a few educational signs about the Basque shepherds who once kept their flocks in this area. We did see a large flock below when we were checking out an aspen grove.

Steens Mountain is one large fault block mountain, over 50 miles long, steeply plunging from a summit elevation of 9730 feet down to the Alvord Desert, elevation 4200 feet.  In 2000, President Clinton approved the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protective Act which was a collaboration of local landowners and government representatives responding to a movement for national monument status. This area now protects 425,000 acres for recreation and limited ranching.

We met a group of people on SxS UTVs that could carry their dogs. An aha moment for us as we were not previously aware of such machines. They looked sturdy and could allow us to access areas where our F-250 would be too wide or heavy. They can be easily accessorized with extra fuel cans, crates, doors, under carriage plates, etc.

We continued on the loop which ended on 205 further south from Frenchglen. The main overlooks are in the more scenic area and you could backtrack to Frenchglen. The road deteriorates somewhat and there is a narrow section with step dropoffs that is scenic. We passed a crossing where people were fishing the Donner Und Blitzen River. There is also a campground on this stretch, South Steens, that had a few horse trailers.

Once back on 205 which becomes 202 in the Catlow Valley, we stopped at Fields for fuel. The son of the owners said it was for sale due to their wanting to retire. It is one of the few fuel stops here so hopefully there will be new owners who will keep it open in this sparsely populated corner of Oregon. When in areas where services are few it is a best practice to get fuel as you never know where the next service station is. Some that have been around for years are suddenly gone. Or, you might that that urge to explore further than your original plans.

Our planned camping spot was on the Whitehorse Ranch which is bisected by a road which is open to the public. The Willow Creek Hot Springs campground is operated by the BLM. The ranch has 63,222 acres of deeded land and has grazing rights to an additional 287,205 acres of public range land administered by the BLM. It has operated continuously since 1869. Along the road, which is a well-graded gravel road, there are signs of some former buildings, either homes or outbuildings.

The campsite is not well-signed but the GPS on my iPhone worked well enough to find the access road before we saw any signs. Unfortunately, the campground was filled with a group that was partying. We backtracked  a few miles and found a clearing in the sparse sagebrush. There was an amazing sunset that blazed across the western sky in red and golden streaks. The night sky was so pockmarked with bright stars that we had trouble finding the Big Dipper. It was so quiet that we had no trouble falling to sleep.

Day 6/Sunday/September 14:

It was a bright sunny day so we began to search for interesting rocks. We found a few agates and jasper. Eventually, the group at the campsite left so we decided to check it out. It was divided into two parts by a cement barrier: warm and warmer. It felt so good to wash out the desert dust and even Toller took a plunge. I could just imagine how nice it would have been last night. Maybe another time, not on a weekend.

Continuing on the ranch road, we eventually came to Highway 95 (aka the Idaho, Oregon, Nevada Highway). There wasn’t much traffic but what traffic there was were in a big hurry. Even a truck with a multi-horse trailer passed us. It seems that folks from Idaho bring their faster speed limits with them as those who passed us had Idaho plates. Oregon has more sensible speed limits than most western states, imho.

In Jordan Valley, we fueled up and saw the horse trailer folks parked along the road. What was their hurry?  Pleasant Valley Road in Jordan Valley will take you to the start of the 90+ mile Owyhee Uplands Backcountry Byway. We saw a TV program on it once so decided to check it out for ourselves. Pleasant Valley Road winds through small ranches and there was a small local school. We also saw a turnoff for Silver City, a living ghost town in Idaho that we visited last Spring accessing it from the Idaho side.

We drove through cattle country passing the Lone Tree Ranch and the Dougal Ranch which was sited on a lake or reservoir. It was getting dark and we just missed the evening light on a gorge carved by the North Fork Owyhee River. The road twisted down to the North Fork campground, a free BLM campground in the North Fork Owyhee Wilderness. This campground was new and featured a vault toilet, fire rings, and picnic tables. We were the only guests that night. It was quiet and peaceful.

Diablo Lake overlook along Hwy 20 or the North Cascades Highway looking east.

Diablo Lake overlook along Hwy 20 or the North Cascades Highway looking east.

Pine bark closeup

Pine bark closeup

Wooden water tower and poplars, evidence of a ranch off of Bridgeport Hill Road south of Bridgeport, WA

Wooden water tower and poplars, evidence of a ranch off of Bridgeport Hill Road south of Bridgeport, WA

Petrified walnut in Gingko  Forest State park near Vantage, WA

Petrified walnut in Gingko Forest State park near Vantage, WA

Original water fountain at Gingko Forest State Park ranger residence

Original water fountain at Gingko Petrified Forest State Park ranger residence

Ranger residence at Gingko Petrified Forest State Park

Ranger residence at Gingko Petrified Forest State Park

Sign about the Oregon Trail's Butter Creek Crossing along Highway 207

Sign about the Oregon Trail’s Butter Creek Crossing along Highway 207

Buckin' Roll Ranch on the Butter Creek Road

Buckin’ Roll Ranch on the Butter Creek Road

Picnic spot at the Ukiah-Dale Forest State Scenic Corridor campground along Hwy 395

Picnic spot Camus Creek at the Ukiah-Dale Forest State Scenic Corridor campground along Hwy 395

Our campsite at an ODOT debris disposal site along US 395 near the Middle Fork John Day River

Our campsite at an ODOT debris disposal site along US 395 near the Middle Fork John Day River

On USFS roads in the Malheur National Forest

On USFS roads in the Malheur National Forest

Springs near our campsite at Page Springs, a BLM campground near Frenchglen, Oregon

Springs near our campsite at Page Springs, a BLM campground near Frenchglen, Oregon

Quaking aspens off the Steens Mountain Loop Road

Quaking aspens off the Steens Mountain Loop Road

View of aspens along Steens Mountain Loop

View of aspens along Steens Mountain Loop

East Rim Overlook overlooking Alvord Desert

East Rim Overlook overlooking Alvord Desert

East Rim Overlook overlooking Alvord Desert

East Rim Overlook overlooking Alvord Desert

East Rim Overlook overlooking Alvord Desert

East Rim Overlook overlooking Alvord Desert

East Rim Overlook overlooking Alvord Desert

East Rim Overlook overlooking Alvord Desert

Signage on the Steens Mountain Loop Road

Signage on the Steens Mountain Loop Road

Kawasaki Teryx SxS UTV

Kawasaki Teryx SxS UTV

UTV group we met who convinced us that this is the way to ride

UTV group we met who convinced us that this is the way to ride

Official Steens Mountain Cooperative management Area- public and private cooperation for mutual benefit

Official Steens Mountain Cooperative Management Area- public and private cooperation for mutual benefit

Cattle grazing near an abandoned stone building on the Whitehorse Ranch Road

Cattle grazing near an abandoned stone building on the Whitehorse Ranch Road

Sunset at our boon docking spot on the Whitehorse Ranch

Sunset at our boon docking spot on the Whitehorse Ranch

Boon dock spot at Whitehorse ranch-pretty remote

Boon dock spot at Whitehorse Ranch-pretty remote

Rock hounding on the Whitehorse Ranch

Rock hounding on the Whitehorse Ranch

BLM campground and Willow Springs hot springs on the Whitehorse Ranch

BLM campground and Willow Springs hot springs on the Whitehorse Ranch

Whitehorse Ranch

Whitehorse Ranch sign

The road goes on forever it seems on the Whitehorse ranch Road

The road goes on forever it seems on the Whitehorse Ranch Road

This way to Silver City. I wonder if it is as rugged as the way into this living ghost town from the Idaho side

This way to Silver City. I wonder if it is as rugged as the way into this living ghost town is from the Idaho side

On the Owyhee Uplands National Scenic Backway, probably in Idaho

On the Owyhee Uplands Scenic Byway, still in Oregon

Official Owyhee Uplands National Scenic Backway

Official Owyhee Uplands Scenic Byway sign

On our way into Idaho. We encounter lots of these cattle guards.

On our way into Idaho. We encounter lots of these cattle guards wherever we wander in the Open Range Country West.

Gorge cut by the Middle Fork Owyhee River on the byway

Gorge cut by the Middle Fork Owyhee River on the byway

North Fork BLM campground near the North Fork Owyhee River in Idaho

North Fork BLM campground near the North Fork Owyhee River in Idaho

 

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2014-05-06 WA/OR/NV/AZ/UT/ID Part 1/5

Day 1/Tuesday/May 27:
Just a few hours of traveling east in Washington will take you from fir, cedar, maple and alder forests to the pine and aspen variety. We left our home during mid-morning to avoid the “rush” hour on highway 20 eastbound. Most traffic was headed west including RVs and logging trucks. We stopped along the Magic Skagit River for photos of the blue green water tumbling over boulders along moss covered trees lining the shore to the salt water.

We also took a break at the Ross Lake overlook. Soon, we were hitting the passes (Rainy and Washington) then began our descent to the Methow Valley. Snow-covered peaks were replaced by irrigated fields although you could catch a glimpse of the east side of the Cascades occasionally.

In Winthrop, we bypassed the tourist shops to take a look at an old farm that has since been turned into a wildlife refuge. Sadly, the rustic red outbuildings had been removed leaving a rather dilapidated octagonal silo. Last time we were there, we could see owls hiding behind the openings.

Our campground for the night was Foggy Dew, a USFS facility in the Okanogan National Forest off highway 153. The turnoff is just past the very small dot of a town called Carlton which has the Carlton Mall. We traveled for about 5 miles on a one lane road that crossed a single lane bridge bringing us to the site. We chose number 10 which was more in the open. There was only one other camper at the other end in a tent. You won’t find the big rigs here. We paid our discounted senior rate of $4. The vault toilet in our part of the campground was just cleaned and was in decent shape meaning no bullet holes or recent graffiti. The campground is sited between 2 creeks: North Fork of Gold Creek and Foggy Dew Creek. We fell asleep to the creek that was flowing about 80 feet from our camper.

Day 2/Wednesday/May 28:
After breaking camp at 7:00 am, we drove down the single lane road returning to 153 aka the Cascades Loop. It was a quiet drive with little traffic. Highway 153 follows the Methow River as it winds it’s way to the Columbia River near Pateros where the highway ends at US Highway 97. Traffic was light and even lighter when we took Alternate 97. Alternate 97 is above 97 but both follow along the Columbia River along its western shore. Alternate 97 is higher allowing a better view of the River below. There was a road called the Apple Acres Road that was even higher paralleling 97 before it became two highways. It eventually ended at Alternate 97.

Speaking of apples, this is fruit tree country. Just before Pateros, there were patches of cherry and pear tree orchards. None of the fruit stands were open and it appeared that the cherries were just ripening. There was a sign that said Washington cherries are here but the building by the sign was closed. Maybe we can pick some up when we return in 3 weeks.

Alternate 97 passes through Chelan where we fueled up at a Shell station. Chelan is at the east end of Lake Chelan which is a popular recreation area. Progress seems to have found it as there were some high end homes up above the lake and condos closer to the shore. Just before Chelan 97 goes over the east side of the Columbia while Alternate 97 hugs the shore of Lake Chelan then goes through some hilly country until it begins to follow the Columbia on the west side.

We pass through the town of Entiat. All through this area are big fruit processing plants and the season seems to be gearing up as we saw not a few semis carrying new and old wooden fruit bins. By the way, both 97s have a lot of trucker traffic, but the alternate has fewer.

Just before Wenatchee, we head west (hey, I thought we were going east and south) on highway 2/97. But, 2 heads toward Seattle. Unless we want to head towards the Tri Cities area, we need to hook up with 97 south (the alternate has merged with 97 after crossing the bridge to Sunnyslope.). Confusing but several federal entities cluster forcing a pass through Yakima or the Pasco, Kennewick, Richland area which would put us further east than we want. The 3 areas are the Yakama Indian Reservation (not a misspelling), US Army Yakima Training Center and the DOE Hanford Site.

Between Cashmere and the tourist town of Leavenworth, 97 heads south. Before we made the turn, we stopped for a break at the Peshastin Pinnacles State Park. There are some toothy rock formations that unfortunately have huge power lines running through them. No camping but it does attract rock climbers. From 2 heading west you can see the east side of the Cascades which separate the western or wetter portion of the state from the drier east side.

97 twists and turns and loses and gains altitude heading south. Somewhere on one of the curves we go through Blewett Pass, altitude 4102′. We pass through Ellensburg, home of Central Washington University. Instead of following 97 to Yakima, we follow the super curvy highway 821 or the Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway. There are a number of federal campgrounds and we stop at the first one: Umtanum Creek Recreation Site on the Yakima River. There is suspension bridge for foot traffic that crosses the river. We stopped partway over to watched a number of small blue butterflies along the shore congregating near muddy areas. We also saw a pair of goldfinches, our state bird.

Eventually, we came to Interstate 82 which is also 97 and 12 to skirt Yakima on the east side. We pass by Wapato and Toppenish, then Goldendale where my grandfather spent a part of his childhood 100 years ago. He rode a buckskin horse to school and played in the rock piles where the rattlers hung out.

Soon, we can see the Oregon side of the Columbia River. However, we are stalled for awhile as traffic backed up due to a motor home having missed a turn taking out a lamp pole landing sideways in a ditch. We crossed 97 on the bridge to the gas station town of Biggs to fuel up. Diesel was $3.89 a gallon at the Union 76. We left 97 to the truckers taking the Biggs to Rufus highway. At Rufus we turned south on 206 through Wasco.

There are rolling hills being farmed but there are also windmills everywhere. Where there are no windmills, there are huge transmission lines. These wind turbines are huge; they are not your father’s windmills. They were all turning, some more slowly than others.

After winding through the lumpy hills, we arrive at the new Cottonwood Canyon State Park along the John Day River. It was a ranch at one time. Now it is an 8,000 acre state park. The campsites aren’t very private as the trees are newly planted where the fields once were (there are some volunteer grasses in rows). There is garbage (no recycling), vault toilets, water, picnic tables and fire pits. We passed through here in April 2013 when it was being built. The area is beautiful between basalt cliffs and volcanic hills. There are trails for people and horses. Very clean and new. There were 5 campers here among over 25+ sites so it is not crowded.

The canyon runs southeast to northwest but the lighting was soft due to hazy western skies and canyon walls began to block the sun at around 7:00 pm. There was no dramatic sunset or light on the cliffs along the river afterwards. Tired from the long day, we had supper and were in bed soon after dark. The stars are out and can be seen very clearly.

Bird tally for the day: several blue herons, peregrine falcon, red tail hawks, bald eagle, red wing blackbirds, swallows, goldfinches, magpies, flickers and we saw a marmot running across the road to a pile of rocks.

Day 3/Thursday/May 29:
Since yesterday was such a long grueling duel with semis on 97, today we chilled by driving slowly on county roads and 3 digit highways. Since this morning was cloudless and the light didn’t hit the canyons the way I wanted it to, we took our time decamping. Oddly, we camped a site over from a couple from Bellingham.

I spoke with a ranger about how the park came to be. The Murtha brothers ran an 8,000 acre ranch along the John Day River. One had children who had moved away and weren’t interested in hard scrabble ranching. The property was purchased by a river conservancy who sold it to the state piece by piece for a total of $8 million, $1,000 per acre. It was purchased with Lotto earnings which is what funds the Oregon state parks. It opened last September.

We stopped in Condon, a ranching community to buy a few items from the grocery store. The town businesses recently changed their facades to reflect their roots from the early part of the last century. On 206 we noticed more wind turbines and either abandoned farms or, for those ranchers who had the turbines on their property, new machinery, trucks and a tennis court. We did stop by one old home for photos.

From Condon, we continued east on 206 toward our eventual designation of the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day National Monument. We saw a turnoff for Lonerock, so decided to drive the 17 miles to explore. The road was paved for a good portion but then became a graded road. From an overlook we could see the very small community that was still populated (35) nestled in a valley. There was a church, school, jail (1891), community center and a number of homes. It was a very quiet town with no apparent stores. We turned north on the Buttermilk Road driving through canyons and scattered ranches. We saw a few deer and many birds including magpies and doves.

We drove out to 207 passing by the Treo Ranch holdings. We ended up at Hardman, a town down on its luck with a small cluster of homes and a towing shop. From there we drove through the Umatilla National Forest. The road had many switchbacks and elevation changes. It was also very narrow with steep drop offs so thankfully we encountered no logging trucks or semis and little other traffic. We turned east on 406 at Kimberly to check out several campgrounds on the John Day River. We turned into the first one, Lone Pine and picked a sunny site, L5. There are 5 sites, one of which was occupied. Vault toilets, fire pits and a picnic table are standard issue for USFS campgrounds. For all these amenities, we paid $2.50.

Day 4/Friday/May 30:
This morning was a bright, sunny day so no photography although we were in a beautiful setting along the John Day River. We drove south down 19 through the Sheep Rock Unit of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. I shot a few from the side of the road of the various multi-colored layered rock formations. We turned left onto 26 continuing on the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway.

Just past Dayville, we left the highway to venture south along the South Fork of the John Day River on 42, a county road. It soon became the South Fork Road and a gravel surface. There were scattered ranches among the valleys. We also saw columnar basalt along the way and some beautiful gentian blue flowers on tall stalks with several pink ones. Hummocks of small yellow daisies and puffy pale yellow blooms were growing from the rocky scree.

Once we came to Black Canyon, we stopped along the road to investigate the bird condos. There were several kinds that were living in the cracks and fissures of the jagged rocky canyon walls. The river, much smaller than where we camped, flowed below. We saw a ruddy duck fly back and forth along the river while swallows were nesting in the cracks and pockets. Many butterflies we saw were dining on a bush with small white blooms in clusters.

But, the coolest of all was when we spotted a herd of mountain sheep up above us on the cliffs on the other side. There were 4 newborns among the herd of at least ten. They knocked a few rocks loose as they climbed to higher ground. We were very quiet although it was pretty exciting. This is a time when I wished I had a bigger lens (and deeper pockets). But, I did get a group portrait.

The river had become noticeably smaller and we were nearing the headwaters of the many creeks that feed it. It had disappeared from immediate view into a small canyon. Suddenly, in the clearing, we saw it tumbling over some big boulders. There was a turnout for it that ended a few yards from the top. It was also a great place to camp. The wildflowers, mainly lupine, were bunched among the rocks.

We drove by the site of a former mill evidenced by scattered collapsed buildings and rusted ruins of machinery. Further down the road was a group of mature lilac bushes and orange poppies. There were no “no trespassing” signs but we backed up and returned to the main road.

Somehow, we missed a road and ended up teeing into a Highway 395. We kept looking for Izee but never found it, the reason being that we took a turn too soon. There was a rest area across the road, an old growth forest area with vault toilet and picnic tables and paths wandering through some large pines. While we were having lunch, a volunteer for the USFS stopped by who was researching gravel biking routes. He was curious about the road condition which was good as it was graveled and graded last year. He said he had lived in the area since the early 70s and had only seen the mountain sheep once. He also explained that the falls used to be steeper and denser with boulders until it was blasted to allow the steelhead and salmon to travel further upstream.

Once down 395 we encountered few cars and more than a few log trucks. We passed by the towns of Seneca and Silvies. The Silvies Valley Ranch, a huge modern ranch, took up a large portion of both sides of 395 for miles. Tony was getting tired so we drove into the Idlewild campground, a USFS facility right along 395 with the usual vault toilets, fresh water, campfire rings and a picnic table. There was just a class C with a toy hauler and a Tundra/toy hauler combo. We parked at the further end in seclusion. There was some wood in the fire pit so we had a campfire because it was only 4:00 pm and a fire was practically laid. Dry pine burns fast and hot.

After our dinner of soup and sandwiches by the fire, we sat for awhile then went to bed. The traffic had died down for the night. Tomorrow, we go into Burns for fuel and to ask whether Steens Mountain Loop is open.

Day 5/Saturday/May 31:
We really had the best intentions of breaking camp early to do our fuel stop in Burns. Really. But, I overslept and then Toller needed a long walk. We had just finished adding water to our tank when we encountered the camp host. He and we were on the same page on just about every topic. He also informed us that the white-headed woodpecker we saw was only seen here in this area. And, that the mountain goats were actually mountain sheep. The pine forest we were in had trees up to 800 years old. The following floored us: $5,000 ferro-cement picnic tables, $800 fire rings, $35,000 single vault toilets, $55,000 double. Pretty unbelievable. Kinda like the $800 toilet seats.

Our human contact satiated, we went into Hines to fuel up at the Hines Shell and buy a few groceries at the Thriftway across the street. We drove toward the Malheur National Wildlife Preserve taking the Center Patrol Road, a gravel road that tended toward washboard. We saw many red-winged blackbirds, not so many yellow-headed blackbirds, many ducks, harrier hawks, cormorants, and a white egret.

At Frenchglen, we headed up toward the Steens Mountain Loop which the Thriftway checker said was closed at Fish Lake. We passed through rangeland and fields of wildflowers. Soon we could see Steens, a bulky mountain longer than tall. It had patches of snow. The aspens were stunted and had smaller leaves. The BLM or USFS was conducting a juniper management program to see which method could reduce the number of juniper that were crowding out the aspens for a more balanced ecosystem to protect the watershed.

After checking out Fish Lake campground, we headed back toward 205. Once on 205 then 202, we began to look for a place to spend the night. We passed through Fields then Denio just over the border. It was looking bleak as there were few roads that led to other than ranches or dead ended in snake infested grasses (we saw 3 dead ones on the highways that saw little traffic). Finally, past Denio Junction, there was Ninemile Road that looked promising. We saw another camper about ¼ mile away so we found a level area off the gravel road and set up camp. There were mountain ranges all around us, typical of Nevada, barren and buff colored. Windy but not cold and not too out of our way.

A quick dinner of sandwiches and a blog entry then time for bed.

overlook at Ross lake on Washington's North Cascade Highway 20

overlook at Ross lake on Washington’s North Cascade Highway 20

one of the creeks at the Foggy Dew USFS campground on 153

one of the creeks at the Foggy Dew USFS campground on 153

wooded area at Foggy Dew USFS campground

wooded area at Foggy Dew USFS campground

Coltsfoot in bloom at Foggy Dew USFS campground

Coltsfoot in bloom at Foggy Dew USFS campground

Umtanum Creek Recreation Site along the Yakima River Scenic Corridor or canyon Road (821).

Umtanum Creek Recreation Site along the Yakima River Scenic Corridor or canyon Road (821).

camping at Oregon's latest state park: Cottonwood Canyon

camping at Oregon’s latest state park: Cottonwood Canyon

abandoned farmstead along Oregon's  Highway 206

abandoned farmstead along Oregon’s Highway 206

Large wind turbines populate Oregon's farmland along 206.

Large wind turbines populate Oregon’s farmland along 206.

Wide open spaces along Oregon's Highway 206

Wide open spaces along Oregon’s Highway 206

The small community of Lonerock hidden in the rolling farm country east of Condon.

The small community of Lonerock hidden in the rolling farm country east of Condon.

Lonerock's community hall

Lonerock’s community hall

Lonerock's jail 1891

Lonerock’s jail 1891

Detail of Lonerock's 1891 jail.

Detail of Lonerock’s 1891 jail.

Buttermilk Road leading out of Lonerock, Oregon

Buttermilk Road leading out of Lonerock, Oregon

More Buttermilk Road scenery

More Buttermilk Road scenery

Heading for Hardman, Oregon from Lonerock, Oregon

Heading for Hardman, Oregon from Lonerock, Oregon

Sheeprock Unit of John Day Fossil beds National Monument along Highway 19.

Sheeprock Unit of John Day Fossil beds National Monument along Highway 19.

The South Fork of the John Day River along the South Fork Road.

The South Fork of the John Day River along the South Fork Road.

Black Canyon along the John Day River where we saw the mountain sheep

Black Canyon along the John Day River where we saw the mountain sheep

Interesting red rock layer along the South Fork Road

Interesting red rock layer along the South Fork Road

Malheur National Wildlife Sanctuary south of Burns, Oregon

Malheur National Wildlife Sanctuary south of Burns, Oregon

Lily Lake along the Steens Mountain Loop

Lily Lake along the Steens Mountain Loop