Monday, August 17, 2015 and Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Driving north from Steens Mountain along an endless flat plan, through an actual plague of locusts that left a hundred or so crisp bodies embedded in Bruce's radiator grill, we arrived at the desert oasis of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.  Malheur is one of the most extensive freshwater ecosystems in the western United States, and home to hundreds of resident and migrating birds. It also offers some interesting volunteer options for migrating humans.

Retirement comes with lots of times and unlimited options of how to spend it. Some people travel (our current modus operendi), some watch TV (average U.S. retiree spends more than 60 hours/week watching TV), some work part-time, some make home improvements, and some volunteer. (U.S. News). We've been a little curious about volunteering at the National Parks and Forests so a fellow traveler and self entitled "Naturalist Nomad" told us about the website.  In additional to the Park and Forest Services, Fish and Wildlife, the BLM and other Federal agencies all list their volunteer openings. A number of the posts are targeted to folks like us, traveling retirees. Many offer a free tent site, RV pad, or housing in exchange for 25-40 hours/week. Go ahead, take a look at if you're interested.

Camp Host appears to be the most prominent job. While I think S.D. would make an excellent parking garage attendant when he's 85, right now I don't think hosting is our thing. However, search deeper into the site and there are some other, very interesting options, including some at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. We thought the idea of volunteering there for a few weeks, learning more about birds, and giving back a little sounded interesting, and so we were stopping by to see just exactly what the area looked like. And it was really pretty cool. Locust plague aside, it was obviously a very diverse landscape of marsh, lakes, deserts, mountains and plains all located on the Pacific flyway, there was lots of opportunity to learn, and these types of volunteer opportunities might make an interesting addition to our nomadic lives.

We submitted our applications yesterday and will keep everyone posted!!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

To the Steens!

Having decided what we weren't going to do (thru-hike the PCT), S.D. and I were a little fuzzy on what we were going to do. The long term solution would have to sort itself out over time, there were still lots of questions on how best to "live the dream". Short term we wanted to get back on the road.

Steens Mountain Geology
We knew we liked exploring new areas, camping out, and day hiking. It was now August and we needed to get somewhere cool. Temperatures inland and below 4000 ft were now in the 80's and 90's. The coast was getting crowded with summer beachgoers and we wanted somewhere quiet. Additionally we had to get upwind of smoke from the growing number of forest fires, and we wanted to be back in Ashland for Labor Day weekend.

River Valley on the West Flank
And so we went to the Steens! "Steens Mountain is a large fault block mountain in the southeast part of .... Oregon that stretches some 50 miles North South along the Alvord desert."  Daytime temperatures rise into the 70's and fall into the 40s and 50s at night. It's sunny, and being located miles from any major population center, or large water body, we were pretty sure it wasn't a family destination. And while we'd have to drive through the smoke from the 23000 acre fire in central Oregon, and others in Northern California, air around the Steens should be clear.

Perfect Glacial Valley on the East
As usual we left early in the morning driving through Southeastern Oregon and for about 35 miles in the  most desolate section of northern Nevada I could ever imagine. When the road turned back North, back into Oregon and up we arrived in the little town of Frenchglen at the base of the Steens. In Rick Bass's collection of essays "Why I Went West" he often muses on how certain places connect with certain people. His connection is to a corner of Montana. While my connection to the Steens is no where near as strong as his to Montana, and I only 'know' the Steens from our short visit, I do know that I love them!!!

We arrived mid-afternoon and drove east up and out of the town. After a few miles of sagebrush in the dryer, lower elevations, the landscape was replaced by junipers. Higher up it gave way to  aspen and mountain mahogany. Just after reaching timberline we took a right turn off the loop road, drove a short distance down into a small bowl-like area that was once again forested with Aspen and also contained a lake and the small Fish Lake campground, where we spent the night.

View Up Canyon Through Mountain Mahogany
Continuing on the loop road the next day we steadily climbed up through alpine wildflower meadows toward the summit. Being a fault block mountain the summit is more of a long ridge than the traditional pointy-top peak. Being a very old fault block mountain it has also been eroded over the 20 million or so years since it was pushed up. On the east, or steeper side, this erosion was caused most dramatically by glaciers, and the west by creeks, streams and rivers.

So to sum it up. Amazingly perfect U-shaped glacial valleys on the left, steeply-cut river canyons on the right, miles of alpine wildflower meadows, and fantastic 360 views. Oh, and my first mountain mahogany trees!

For some reason, we only spent a day in the Steens, but I promise, we'll be back.