Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Sue and Mo at Harris Beach
Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Saturday, May 30, 2020

05-30-2020 Saturday at Hart Antelope Refuge

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 trail, 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.

Warner Wetlands viewpoint in 2013

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.

Photo from 2004 of the developed spring at the Hart Mountain Refuge

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.

Friday, May 29, 2020

05-29-2020 Heading for Hart Mountain

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 are in Site 12 this time at Camp Hart Mountain

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.