Thursday, April 12, 2012

Across the border to Bend

March 27 - April 4

Mt Shasta
Having spent so long wandering (peregrinating?) around California, crossing the border into Oregon seemed like quite a significant event, although it did occur in the middle of a snow storm, whizzing past trucks on icy roads, so we weren’t quite sure exactly when it happened. Our need to get the car registered (a month after we bought it) meant that we had to make a bee-line for Bend where my sister Carla’s house was about to become our place of abode for registration purposes, as well as a fun place to use as a base for exploring the diverse and spectacular landscapes of central and eastern Oregon. The west coast is being rained on so we thought we would save that ‘till we came back through in the autumn.

I think we are in Oregon
Rowena and Adrian, who we had stayed with in Santa Barbara were also in town so, together with their friends dropping in and out, the house was always busy and there was always something going on. 
Took to the slopes of Mount Bachelor and the Mackenzie Pass area for some snow skiing, mountain biking through the pine forests to the NW of town, watching the kayak slalom competition through the rapids in the middle of town on the Deschutes River (was hoping to get a photo of someone in a yellow canoe so I could pretend it was me, but not to be), breakfasting in the local cafe’s  and drinking by the log fire in the McMenamin’s brew pub that has been converted from the Old St. Francis School (quite like the notion of converting schools to pubs!) has certainly kept us occupied. 
Gonna have cold butts today!
After California, coming to Bend feels a bit like arriving on another planet occupied by a different species,. Everyone here is very fit (don’t think I’ve seen an overweight person yet - probably not allowed?). Every man and woman and his/her dog (highest rate of dog ownership in the country) runs, cycles, skis, kayaks, swims or, in the case of my brother in law, John, all of the above pretty much every day, and every vehicle has all sorts of adventure paraphernalia hanging off it - so at least we fit in on that count - just need to keep working on the getting fit bit!
We were taking notes

Exploring the high deserts

April 5 - 7

Campsite on the boat ramp
Spectator seats for the battle of the elements
From Bend, we returned to our more confined, but very comfortable, mobile home and hit the road again, this time for a tour around the South East corner of Oregon, starting in the Cascade Ranges and then heading out into the high desert, a remarkable contrast of landscapes caused by the rain-shadow effect of the mountains. Again, we drove through the snow, past beautiful alpine lakes, to spend the night on the boat ramp on the edge of the snow-covered Diamond Lake. The setting sun tussled with the darkening clouds across the lake, slithers of light briefly slashing across the surface before being subjugated by the swirling clouds which cast waves of soft snow across the landscape. Seemingly vanquished, the sun sank below the horizon, but not before handing the baton on to the rising full moon which continued the battle on the eastern horizon, its momentary victories celebrated by the emerging stars - all viewed from within the margarita-enhanced comfort of our snug little house.
Snug as a bug in a rug under a layer of snow
Next morning dawned with scattered cloud and so we wove our way around more circuitous freshly snow-covered mountain roads (like driving through marshmallows) to Crater Lake where we snow-shoed around the rim as the sun came out. All the roads are closed so we shared this magical area with only a few other people prepared to go out on foot or ski.
Crater Lake & Wizard Island

From there we left the mountains and entered the vast eastern plains of Oregon, firstly through agricultural land and then increasingly, as the rainfall diminished, into increasingly less populated ranching country. Our search for pronghorns (antelopey-like deer) took us to the Hart Mountains where we did see a couple of males, but we were to discover that the main herds were still down in the lower plains to the south where we were able to see a few groups in the distance - its hardly surprising that such a vast landscape can swallow up the few thousand animals that remain. 

Lake country below the Hart Mountains

Ground squirrel

Cycling in the Hart Mountains
Again, some of the reserve roads were closed to cars, so we reverted to our bikes in order to explore a bit further into the region. 
While the pronghorn didn’t really cooperate, we were treated to a great sighting of big-horned sheep, a flock of which had come down off the mountains to a salt lick just by a small back road we were taking. A couple of males butted heads, but without any great enthusiasm, before the group headed off back towards the mountains. 

Big Horn boys sizing each other up.

Party time for owls 
April 9(ish)
Because these vast plains are nestled in between substantial mountain ranges, with largely internally draining rivers, there is a vast network of lakes and wetlands, which sometimes house millions of migrating birds, but now was not their time - presumably they are still to arrive from where we saw them a few weeks ago in the Klamath Lakes further to the south. 
We were however treated to some good sightings of ring-necked pheasants and great horned owls. As the sun set over our camp, the latter started to call. Now they may not have sounded all that excited in tone, but I’m sure they were calling “whoop-de-doo, whoo-hoo!” in an owly sort of way rather than the rather unimaginative description of “ 3-8 hoots, the 2nd and 3rd often short and rapid” given by the bird book. 

Musk rat
An early morning walk by the stream that we had camped next to brought me (Christine was still in bed awaiting her cup of tea) upon a musk rat, firstly swimming across its pond and then coming out on to the bank to feed as I sat only a few yards away. While “musk rat”, may not sound  very exciting, they are more like beavers than rats, and build substantial lodges out of reeds in the middle of the ponds that they occupy, so are a bit more exciting than their name may imply.

After searching far and wide for the fabled pronghorns, we turned back in the direction of Bend, with the threat of more rain coming and , would you believe it? 40 miles out of Bend, there is a big flock of the things in a furrowed paddock next to the road looking for all the world like domestic animals - good to see them but the setting didn’t quite work.

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