Just Drive. Part 1.

June 10, 2015


    With only a day to prepare, I left for a couple nights in Eastern Oregon with a friend.  We had no real goal in mind other than to get out of Portland by heading to the high desert and seeing wildlife. Not only the destination but even the travel route changed multiple times mid-trip.  The choice ultimately narrowed down to either the Fort Rock area or head further SE to Malhuer NWR and the Steen Mountains.  The preferred McKenzie Pass remained closed for a couple more weeks despite the mild winter so we drove through the Santiam route and afterwards passed the vicinity of some places I have been interested in like Lost Lake, Black Butte, 4-Mile Butte and Sunlight Cave. 
Willamette National Forest.  A couple of the Three Sisters and Mt Washington.

Willamette National Forest.  A small portion of the 90,769 acres of forest burned in the Central Cascade Range during The B&B Complex Fires in 2003.

A Columbine wildflower near Cold Springs outside Sisters, Oregon.

Eastern-eyed Click Beetle near Sister, Oregon.

    Deciding to first head SE towards the Steen Mountains and then drive to Fort Rock for the following night, we stopped in Riley for gas at a station with a small wall of free maps and brochures.  We looked through some maps and picked what looked like a 4WD road and asked each station employee if they had ever taken that road all the way east.  No one had.  Since we did not care so much about the destinations and mostly wanted to see wildlife, we chose to drive the dirt roads not caring if a fence or a dead-end eventually forced us to turn around.
   After a couple slow drive-bys and a few pullovers at various unlabeled dirt roads, we finally felt confident we found the correct road we wanted.  Within the first few miles we encountered the first of various groups of grazing cows blocking our route.  Calves quickly ran from the vehicle. The older ones slowly walked to the side.  A few stared as we passed.  All eat the landscape dead.
Traffic on the road that took us towards the Steen Mountains and past that mountain poking up from the horizon on the right.  

Approaching the mountain while losing the road.

Jeff getting closer to try and photograph a Golden Eagle perched on top of the ridge.

The cliffs we hiked through the sagebrush to so we could check out some nesting Common Ravens and look for American Badgers and Western Rattlesnakes. We did not find any badgers or snakes.  However we repeatedly saw Pronghorn Antelope.

Townsend Ground Squirrel.  Picture through binoculars.
Loggerhead Shrike.  Not pictured but also seen: Ferruginous Hawks, Horned Larks, Warbling Vireos, Dark-eyed Junkos, a Yellow-headed Blackbird, Forster's Terns, Kangaroo Rats, a Yellow-bellied Marmot and Pygmy short-horned lizards amongst other animals I am forgetting.  Picture through binoculars.

As the sun began descending, the ground turned into a dry lake bed.  We debated just camping on the road amid all the jackrabbits, squirrels and curlews.

Rolling up on the mountain.  We stopped here to take pictures of some jackrabbits, look at a giant half-buried bone (probably a cow's) and briefly watch some Long-billed Curlews.

A very casual Black-tailed Jackrabbit stretching before the sun goes down.
Picture through binoculars.

Continuing East, we left the mountain behind us, opened up and passed through one last cattle gate to finally enter into the Malhuer NWR area.  We stopped one last time to enjoy the sunset.  From here the drive primarily consisted of avoiding the numerous jackrabbits darting before the truck or the scattering Common Nighthawks trying to roost in the road.