The Other Oregon

Currently we are in Summer Lake, OR in wild rain and hail

This was written from Plush Oregon May 23 High 52 Lo 32

Hart Mountain appears on the horizonThere is a mindset called Oregon.  Usually it revolves around lots of green and lots of rain.  Images of Mt Hood, the Oregon Coast shrouded in fog, verdant green valleys dotted with farms, vineyards, little villages with covered bridges are the epitome of beautiful Oregon.  But there is another Oregon, one that covers more than 2/3 of the state.  The East Side as we call it, is high sage desert, bisected by Highway 395, that mythical road so many RV’rs love to travel.  But even beyond 395 lies a wild and empty Oregon called by some the Oregon Outback. 

There is a Scenic Back Country Byway that exits east from 395 just north of Lakeview, following Highway 140 through the Warner Canyon and then leaving the highway to travel north and east through the Warner Valley, where the pavement ends, over Hart Mountain, and crossing the open desert toward the remote wild mountains called “The Steens”.

dropping off the fan into Plush with Hart Mountain in front of usIt is a huge, vast, silent land full of nothing and everything.  Several times in the last few years we have passed along the southern boundary of this wild country on our way east somewhere and looked up at Hart Mountain…saying…remember?  Remember how wonderful it was??  Yes, we remembered and finally decided it was time to return to Hart Mountain and the wild Oregon Outback.

Jeremy exploring the boondock siteOn this week long journey, we didn’t plan to go to the Steens, saving that for another time later in the season.  Our decision was a good one, since the upper reaches of the Steens are still deep in snow. We planned for three nights boondocking, and knew that we didn’t really want to get to the Plush area too early in the afternoon, so had to wait until noon to leave Rocky Point.  It was funny how hard it was to go slooooow, and take…our….time….before….getting….on the road.  Usually on travel days we are all hot to trot and want to get moving early.

hurry up Mom, get your shoes on!The route to Plush, Oregon, where we planned to find a boondock site, is a familiar one: traveling east on 140, through Klamath Falls, continuing east through my old survey area in remote parts of Klamath County near Beatty and Bly and finally arriving at the small town of Lakeview.  Even though we were only 1/3 tank down in fuel, it was important to make sure our fuel was topped off before heading into the outback.  There is no fuel out there, the distances are long, and we would need to use the generator.

Another important Lakeview stop was at the Interagency Office right on 395 just south of town.  I spent $4.00 on a Lakeview District BLM map, at a scale that makes navigating the desert reasonably easy. We also have the GPS unit, (sort of useless when most of the time it says “driving on road”), and the DeLorme Benchmark maps for the area.  The phone and the iPad are useless out here, since there are no signals anywhere.  Well, almost no signals, but I’ll share that one later.

miles and miles of dog safe walkingThe cold, snowy storms that blew through this part of the west were almost gone by the time we reached Lakeview, but there were still huge clouds and some snow flurries here and there as we crossed Quartz Mountain.  Once on Warner Pass, where we expected snow, we were blessed with only a little bit of rain.  The skies cleared as we climbed up over the pass, turned north on the Plush Cutoff and were awed once again by the long uplifted fault block mountain that is Hart.

I love Hart MountainHome to the largest antelope refuge in the country, with a western scarp slope populated with bighorn sheep, Hart Mountain rises from the desert like some kind of mystical dream.  Maybe it is only me, but this mountain calls my soul in ways that even the Steens don’t.  I know, I know, it wasn’t long ago that I was raving about the east slope of the Sierras.  Still, Hart Mountain looming above the Warner Valley is a sight no mountain lover should miss.

It isn’t a group of dramatic peaks.  Instead it is a long linear mountain, with a steep western scarp rising 3,500 feet to the 8,000 foot summit, and an east slope that slips off gently to the eastern desert.  The top looks nearly flat from a distance, but a closer inspection reveals many deeply cut canyons and cliffs that I have never seen except from the road. I think my days of exploring these rugged canyons on foot are long behind me.

back to camp after our evening walkOn this Thursday afternoon, the early beginning to the long Memorial Holiday Weekend, we were very nearly alone on the road into Plush, a tiny community best known for its tiny grocery store and bar and its rock shop.  Armed with our BLM map, however, we had no need to stop, and headed north through town on the Hogback Road.  Within three miles, the road turns to rough gravel, and a few hundred yards after that, road 6175 winds up Miners Draw into the Coyote Hills.  We unhooked at the turn to go check for a place to be.

Just up the road, on the crest of the hill overlooking the valley, we found a large rounded out area, flat as can be, protected on three sides by a low hill and facing the beautiful scarp of Hart Mountain in the east.  The site was clean and smooth except for a small pile of firewood someone had left behind, and we couldn’t believe what perfect luck to find such a spot.

mild sunset at our boondock site near PlushSettling in for the evening, we walked up the road into the hills for awhile, and came back to fix supper while we waited for the sunset.  The full moon was coming up at 7:30 and the sun was setting at 8:30. 

Spectacular, or so we thought.  Even with the clouds in the west, the sunset was rather dull.  I guess with zero pollution there isn’t anything around to refract the light and make color.  Our night was utterly silent, utterly dark except for the moon in and out of the clouds.  Boondocking at its very finest!

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

8 thoughts on “The Other Oregon”

  1. What a great post. You make boondocking sound positively …well…positive!! We're still a little afraid to do an actual boondock, all by ourselves, in the dark, at night, ALONE!! Maybe one of these days. This is certainly an area we have talked about visiting – too much talk, not enough “do”!!!


  2. Oh I'm swooning over this. The header picture alone is enough to do me in. I'm the one you were talking about who had no idea. The picture Donna K paints….all by myself, in the dark, at night, ALONE…..sounds PERFECT!!


  3. The Oregon desert and outback areas sound like an interesting place to visit. Oregon may need to do a better job of letting people know that its not all rainy and gloomy weather.


  4. Oh, you make me wanna' be there! Yes, it is a wonderful part of Oregon, beautiful and empty. We never made it to Hart, but even went back to Steens after we arrived pre-thaw the first time! And we remember Summer Lake and the hot pool there with GREAT fondness. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy those wide open spaces (I know you do) and thanks for the wonderful descriptions.


  5. You know me… I prefer the 'outback' parts of both Oregon and Washington… leave the 'green' for the west siders and folks that like more populated places… We will keep our secret places quiet…


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