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  • Day3

    A Day at Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge

    May 30, 2020 in the United States ⋅ 🌬 81 °F

    After discovering that our fan was blowing the wrong way and fixing the problem, we slept great until about 7:30. Quiet hours in the campground are from 10PM to 6AM, so we had no problem deciding to turn on the gennie to make coffee, toast a waffle and cook some bacon for a breakfast treat. Although we had no cell service and no internet, we still took a bit of time to charge up the phones while the gennie was running. Our plans for the day included a lot of back country driving and I wanted to be sure that I could access my offline google maps that I had downloaded before leaving home. I had also managed to find the $4.00 BLM map that I purchased back in 2013 covering the area.

    We like this campground because it is reasonably close to the refuge. Even with the steep gravel road and some washboards along the way, it only takes about twenty minutes to get to the Headquarters junction which is the starting point for several side trips, including the Hot Springs Campground.

    Of course, it takes a lot longer if you take time to stop and walk the short loop trail that leads to a wonderful overlook. We were the only ones in the small parking lot and took Mattie out without a leash, but just as we were getting ready to walk up the rail, another car pulled in and we called Mattie to put on her leash. The very nice lady said, “Oh no, don’t do that for me!” Mattie immediately recognized a dog person and ran happily over to greet her.

    Mattie was so excited to be in a new place and was a bit distracted. She loves trails and likes to lead us and is very good about staying on trail. If there is some kind of fork in the trail, all I have to do is point and say, “That way”, and she looks at me, turns and leads off in the right direction. I love how some dogs know exactly what you mean. Mattie has a great vocabulary, and she can even understand when we spell a few words so we have to be careful when saying the word “walk” unless we are ready to go. So sometimes we spell it, but that no longer works.

    The views of the beautiful Warner Wetlands stretching out below us are always thrilling from this point. We have photos of Abby at this same point, but Mattie was a bit too excited to pose properly. The water was quite muddy possibly from recent rains, and the skies weren’t as clear as they were the last time we were at this point. We also noticed there were a LOT fewer flowers in bloom, thinking that maybe we had missed the full bloom and this elevation.

    The wind was also beginning to blow with intention, which made my attempts to photograph tiny flowers with my phone a bit of a bust. I wasn’t ready to pull out the heavy camera while trying to hike rocks with two sticks. I surely do miss my sweet lightweight Lumix. It was destroyed by a suddenly falling heavy framed picture as it sat quietly on a windowsill in our office . Ah well, someday I’ll pop for the bucks to replace it, but not just yet.

    After our hike we continued up the steep hill with a couple of big switchbacks to the broad gently sloping lands of the refuge. Just before the refuge headquarters, which are still closed due to COVID19, we saw an open gate to a dirt/rock road toward Poker Jim Ridge and a spring. It’s a road we haven’t traveled in the past and decided it was a good time to try it out.

    We saw 4 antelope near the road, quietly grazing and they watched us awhile without concern before walking off. Then a northern harrier swooped in front of the car, flying with the distinctive low acrobatics that is typical for this kind of hawk. The bright white horizontal band on the tail was the identifying feature. Too fast for the phone, so no picture once again.

    We made it as far as the spring, which was surrounded by more thick vegetation than we wanted to walk through, so I have no idea if it was warm or not. The creek feeding into the spring was pretty from a distance. Near the spring were remnants of an old homestead.

    All along the road we were treated to the magnificent ridge of the Steens on the northwest horizon. We have traveled to the Steens in the past as well, but to do that from Hart Mountain requires more than 50 miles of bone jarring gravel washboard road across the desert. The only other way to get there is to return to Lakeview and Highway 395, travel to Burns, and then back south through the Malheur Wildlife Refuge to Frenchglen. It’s a great trip, but not one we will be making this time around. Hart Mountain and The Steens are two of the most remote and iconic landscapes in the high desert of Eastern Oregon. We love them both.

    The road continued north toward Poker Jim Ridge, where there is a lot of wildlife, but got too rough for the Tracker and our nerves and we found a place to turn around.

    Returning to the main road and to the closed visitor center we took the familiar road to Hot Springs campground where we had lunch at our old campsite where we tent camped in 2004. We have lots of fun memories of that camping trip in the days when we first started traveling together.

    We neglected to bring our chairs for the picnic, but brought out the red vinyl pads that were a freebie from our Adventure Caravans trip to the Rose Parade in 2017. That made sitting on the ground a bit easier. Getting up from the ground is another story, but we managed with a bit of laughter, rolling over and rising from our knees.

    After lunch, we drove over to the natural hot springs in the meadow where I dangled my legs in the 102 degree water. The bottom was a bit mushy, so I didn’t get all the way down, but it sure felt good on the crazy legs. Mo walked off into the meadow with Mattie searching for the other springs. Mattie was beside herself happy and ran around like crazy, accidentally running through a muddy creek which was deeper than she expected. She raced over to me, running in circles of happiness and covered with black guck. I dangled her in my spring to clean her off but she couldn't get out fast enough. Mattie is NOT a water dog.

    Before we left I checked out the rock enclosure with a partially developed deeper spring. As I walked up, I heard people laughing and talking and called out as I approached. Springs are often clothing optional and I didn’t want to get a big surprise. There were three people who said they had come from Medford and were laughing and talking while soaking in the spring. They were staying in Lakeview, and I wondered just how much all those little aerosol particles were blowing around inside that closed space with people much less than 6 feet apart. I didn’t have any desire to dip in but had a nice conversation from a distance.

    We drove back north to the Blue Sky road and turning south toward Post Meadows. There are a few ungated roads leading to the southeast across what appeared to be featureless desert and we had no desire to wander off in that direction on more bad roads. Besides, there seemed to be nothing out there to see at the moment, and the roads had signs saying they weren't officially open until June 15.

    Once at Post Meadows, with a lovely view of the highest point on Hart Mountain, Warner Peak at 8,017 feet, we stopped at the pit toilet and let Mattie run around some more. Such a happy dog! By this time the winds were getting stronger and we decided that was enough for the day and it was time to head home.

    Along the route, we stopped at Indian Springs for another short walk. By this time the winds were really strong, and as we hiked up a small dirt hill that was built above a man made pond, Mo’s visor went flying. She braved climbing down the slippery steep hill to get the visor. It was a visor from Hells Canyon and I wasn’t about to part with it. From the small man made hill from dredging the pond, we could see the small spring surrounded with thick grass. Mattie ran into the thick grass and had the best find of the day, an old leg bone from what was probably an antelope. She was determined and carried that bone all the way to the car. No clue if this spring was warm since we didn’t try to get up close. Time to get out of that wind!

    By the time we got down the hill and back to camp, the winds were blowing at least 30 mph. Our balloon spinner that we brought from ABQ last fall was blown into pieces but somehow Mo managed to find each piece and put it back together. We also put away the ground carpet that was held in place by 3 big rocks but billowing like a wild sail from the one corner that we neglected to secure. Trying to fold it up in that wind was funny, and both of us were blown around like puppets by the wind catching the carpet like a big sail.

    Inside the rig, the slide topper was whipping around like crazy. Usually our topper is stable in high winds but not this time. For the first time we can remember, we pulled in the slide to protect the topper and stop the crazy noise from the winds.
    We settled in for the rest of the late afternoon, watching the rain to the north, playing some cards, and waiting for the winds to die down, as they often do, so I could bbq a little steak for our Saturday supper.

    Dinner was delicious. We had a nice New York, which I sliced into two pieces, and then we each ate just half and saved the other half for lunch the next day. Pretty good for just one steak! We also baked a potato and I ate half of it and Mo ate a quarter which is her usual style. Funny how much less we eat as we get older and are perfectly satisfied.

    The winds finally died down and Mo built another gorgeous fire. The sunset was a bit of a bust, without the brilliant colors from the previous evening. We sat with the sky and the fire till after 9 before retreating to bed and the dark night. With the winds, another cloud cover formed and once again there was no chance to see the gorgeous starry skies that are such a wonder in this part of Oregon. The darkness and quiet is so very beautiful.

    A perfect day, with another one to come.
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