We have both been enjoying our time at home, with plenty to do and lots of inside and outside space in which to enjoy each other's company. Still, both of us have been getting a bit antsy and when Mo said last week, "I'm really getting ready for a trip!" I excitedly agreed. "Let's try Hart Mountain", I exclaimed.
Hart Mountain is in Eastern Oregon, is several hours from home here in Grants Pass. We have camped in a tent in the campground at the Hart Mountain Refuge, and have boondocked in the area in the MoHo. However, the road to the main campground is still dirt and washboards for more than 20 miles, so we don't take the MoHo up there.
There are so many quickly changing rules about when and where people can camp that we thought it might be best to try to boondock in the place we stayed in 2013, just a big wide equipment type place in the middle of nowhere but not officially on BLM land. With the internet proclaiming that renting an RV is the best way to vacation right now, we weren't quite sure that there would be an empty space for the upcoming weekend.
Boondocking north of Plush across the Warner Valley from Hart Mountain in 2013
I looked up the information about the Hart Mountain Campground, which is actually on the refuge and found out that our little campground at the end of the pavement on the way to the refuge, just inside the boundary is open! Yippee! There are no reservations, but we will leave early enough to arrive mid day and are reasonably certain that there will be a spot for us. So looking forward to some MoHo time.
The previous photos are some we took back in May of 2013, the last time we traveled to Hart Mountain and when we found the newly built Hart Mountain Campground but we didn't camp there. At the time, it looked like a great spot. Dry camping and no hookups, but somewhat safer at this time than trying to boondock in lands that may or may not be open.
Now, as I write this on Friday night, I am sitting by the fire at twilight in shorts and a light shirt. At 7 this morning I had no idea the day would end like this. As we were preparing to get on the road, Mo turned on the gas for the fridge and nothing happened. A bit of trouble shooting led us to believe it was possibly the LP detector. Our detector is an older version that includes an on/off switch to manage the LP from inside the rig when needed.
We waited till 8 for nearby Caveman RV to open so I could pick up a new detector. When I walked in with a photo of the part, they were quite rude and insisted that it couldn't be replaced. They said the detector was an old style that was no longer used, and even if they could find one, it would cost several hundred dollars, and they had no openings for several weeks to do the job. They also said they hadn't been used in anything since the 1990's and was only used by low end RV builders. Hmmm. Our Dynamax was built in 2006 and isn't a cheap rig.
I drove a few blocks west to Affordable RV and they were extremely accommodating in spite of their crowded schedule. They told me if I brought the rig in at ten they could do a temporary fix so that we would have propane and wouldn’t have to delay our trip while they waited to receive the new part. In minutes the technician had the part disconnected and the propane valve on. He refused to charge us, saying they would let us know when they got in a replacement. Such great service and caring people. They laughed a lot and kept saying, “We don’t want you to miss your trip! We know how long you have waited for it!” We were very impressed.
Much to our surprise, we were on the road by 11:30. The trip to Hart Mountain is about 249 miles east, traveling along Highway 140 through Klamath Falls toward Lakeview on Highway 395, north a bit and then continuing east on HWY 140 toward the tiny community of Plush. With our late start, we decided to stop by Klamath Lake at the familiar Howard Bay launch site for a sandwich and to switch drivers from me to Mo.
Even with our rest stop, we were quite tired by the time we gassed up in Lakeview at $2.45 per gallon/cash price, and still had 90 minutes to go to our campground destination.
I took over driving again at Lakeview and with the two hours of rest since my previous shift, enjoyed it thoroughly. There are two roads that exit Highway 140 north toward Plush. The route through Adel, farther east, is lovely and travels down a beautiful canyon and through the southern lakes of the Warner wetlands. The route we chose exits up a steep hill on a narrow road that approaches Hart Mountain from the southwest. It is from this road that the magnificent view of the iconic mountain rises on the northeast horizon.
I spent much of that driving time trying to understand what it is about a particular mountain that elicits such deep feelings for me. I love many mountains. Shasta, Rainier, Mt Hood, so many gorgeous volcanoes that fit all the descriptions of snow covered rugged peaked mountains that people love.
Hart Mountain isn’t a volcano. It isn’t a snow capped peak. It is a tilted fault-block mountain with an incredibly steep scarp on the west and a long, gentle eastern slope dropping to the wildness of the Eastern Oregon high desert. It rises like a friendly monster massive beast from the volcanic lowlands that are on its west flank. It is long, a rugged ridge that lies in a generally northeast to southwest direction, with nearly 3500 feet of elevation from the Warner Valley below to the top of Warner Peak, the highest point on Hart Mountain at just over 8,000 feet.
I tried to explain to Mo how I felt that Hart Mountain somehow had a soul, or a spirit, as if it is somehow alive and breathing. She nodded just a little and said hmmmm….So, I am curious if any of you have met a mountain that is a living, breathing thing that you feel inside your soul. I am that way about Hart Mountain. Go figure.
I love the feel of that mountain in ways I can’t begin to explain, I love its bulk and its many canyons, and the way it reflects the light at sunset. I love knowing that there are wild bighorn sheep crawling around on the cliffs even if my binocs aren’t strong enough to find them. I love that on the broad eastern flank of the mountain are some of the most protected herds of pronghorn antelope in the country, with about 1,900 on the refuge at last count.
On our last trip to Hart Mountain in 2013 we had boondocked across the valley in a nondescript wide place in the gravel, albeit with a great view. This time we knew that Camp Hart Mountain was open and hoped that even with our late arrival on a Friday night, there would still be a space for us to camp.
We arrived around 6pm, to find only 2 of the 14 spaces occupied. The campground was newly opened when we discovered it in 2013 and at that time they hadn’t decided on a fee. I guess they still haven’t decided, because the campground is still free. There is a pit toilet, picnic tables, potable water at the main picnic shelter and reasonably level dirt sites. We settled in and marveled at the very crazy weather. It was hot, (92F) and cloudy and there wasn’t a breath of wind.
After setting out our rug and chairs and unloading the firewood, we played cards a bit waiting for sunset time to enjoy the campfire. Supper was super easy, Costco hotdogs and baked beans! Our firewood is from the large pile of well seasoned oak and madrone we have at home stored from the trees we took down on the property back in 2013. That wood makes for some wonderful campfires, and the coals really made me wish that I liked roasted marshmallows enough to remember to bring them.
When we finally went to bed, we could barely breathe because of the very uncomfortable heat. We had all the windows open and the fan on full blast but nothing seemed to bring any relief into the bedroom part of the MoHo. It wasn’t until 4 in the morning or so that we figured out that we had somehow switched the Fantastic Fan from out to in and it wasn’t pulling fresh air into the rig the way it usually does. That hot night certainly wasn’t anything we had expected from what we had read about the predicted weather. There was a huge storm heading for the northwest and we had almost postponed our trip because of it. We had expected rain and wind but certainly not a hot, muggy night.
After we turned the fan to pull in the cool air, I slept like a baby with some truly fantastic, magical dreams. Perfect for a first night at the base of my favorite magical mountain.