05-17-2021 May Trip to the Oregon High Desert

The high deserts of Eastern Oregon are beautiful, wide open and wild.  They are definitely not warm in winter, with cold winds and snow.  We knew that by mid May, however, the weather might cooperate with our need to camp in a wide open dry landscape with views that go on forever. 

Mo has a great little travel book for things to see and do in Oregon.  In that book she found some interesting things for us to explore. Something we haven’t done in the past is visit a place called “Crack-In-The-Ground”.  Located on a lava flow in an area east of La Pine and north of Klamath Falls, Crack-In-The-Ground is just one of several interesting places to visit.  Although Mo had seen Fort Rock located in the same vicinity, I have never been there, and Mo found another not well known spot called “Hole in the Ground”. 

Between our trip to the coast in April, and this little desert trip, Mo and I settled in at home to enjoy the lovely springtime weather here in Grants Pass.  I enjoy Fall, but my most favorite time of year at this time in my life is the technicolor spring of Southern Oregon.  What I call “green leaf day” happened this year on April 17, just before we left for our last outing to Nehalem State Park with the family. 

Even though we are only 300 feet higher in elevation than the Rogue River valley floor where downtown Grants Pass is located, our green leaf day is several days behind.  I can drive down to town and see leaves popping and back up the hill to our home, they still remain hidden. 

April is filled with daffodils, tulips, forsythia and flowering plums.  By the end of the month the crabapples, cherries and dogwoods are blooming.  In May the rhodies come out in full force, the lilacs bloom early in the month, and some of the most springtime lime green leaves are turning darker and greener.  That lime green moment is so ephemeral. 

In spite of all the lush green lawns and colorful flowers and trees, we miss the desert.  Not that I would want to live there, but we both love to travel to the deserts.  Usually we manage a trip south in January or February, but thanks to COVID that didn’t happen this year.  It didn’t seem very smart to travel to an area with high infection rates at that time.  From what I hear from fellow bloggers, the Arizona deserts were rather chilly and windy this year.  There wasn’t much of a flower bloom either, thanks to the ongoing drought. 

Planning our desert fix was fun, and I looked forward to dark, quiet desert nights with the smell of sage and juniper to accompany the brilliant starlite. We decided that we would attempt to spend three or four days boondocking in a part of Oregon we have traveled, but not spent a great deal of time visiting in depth. 

Leaving around 9 on Monday morning, we traveled east over the Cascades toward Rocky Point and Chiloquin where we fueled up, making sure we had enough fuel to boondock.  We only got caught with less than a quarter tank of gas once in our travels, many years ago attempting to boondock at Joshua Tree NP.  We know now to be extra certain that we have plenty of fuel before parking, or the generator will refuse to operate when there is less than a quarter tank of gas remaining in the MoHo.  I guess it is a smart safety feature so you don’t end up using all your fuel and then being stuck without gas out in the middle of nowhere.

It was early afternoon when we arrived at the junction of Highway 31 and Old Lake Road, which leads north into Christmas Valley and on to the “Crack-in-the-Ground ”.  I had reviewed the google maps extensively and was reasonably certain that were several nice wide dirt places in the road with old fire pits that would serve us well for a boondock site.  What I didn’t see was that the road leading to Crack in the Ground included a few miles of washboard gravel, and then some seriously rough dirt roads that required high clearance. 

We managed to unhook the Tracker to get turned around, and decided to travel back to the junction at Highway 31 where there was plenty of space for parking the MoHo before returning with the Tracker to the rough road north.

It was getting a bit late in the afternoon when we finally made it to the trailhead for Crack-in-the-Ground .  Warm temperatures and clear skies made for great walking and Mattie got to run off leash.  There was a single car in the parking area but we never saw the occupants, no doubt they were hiking deep into the crack.

Crack-in-the-Ground is a volcanic fissure originally formed during an eruption in a lava field dated between 12,000 and 700,000 years ago, give or take a few. The fissure is nearly 2 miles long and averages about 30 feet deep, but in some places is as deep as 70 feet.  We read that the trail is “great” with only 70 feet or so of elevation throughout. The trail to the fissure was just a quarter mile or so, but once we arrived at the “Crack”  we were a bit daunted by the complex jumble of boulders at the entrance.

Mo decided it was a bit too much for her weak knee and ankle, so waited at the top with Mattie while I attempted to explore a bit deeper.  Even with both walking sticks, my crazy weak legs couldn’t handle the big step drops at the bottom of the crack. 

Still, I got down far enough to get a few photos and experience how dark and spooky it could be to hike the entire two miles with no way out except back.  There are bats and other critters down there, and I heard some strange screeching. 

In days past, Mo and I would have hiked that trail, but lately our rock clambering abilities have been severely limited.  Still, it was a great thing to see, even just walking along the top and looking down.  Very nearly impossible to photograph since the crack was so dark and the sunlight at the top was so very bright. 

It was great to walk in the dry sage and juniper desert.  Mattie was so very excited at this first outing that we had to keep a close eye on her, because she wanted to run ahead and stick her head into whatever smelly hole in the ground caught her fancy.  Not good, even if is wasn’t a snake, getting bitten by some other kind of critter wouldn’t be a good thing for her.  Mo finally had to put her on the leash for the last bit of the walk.

At the parking area there is a vault toilet, and plenty of space where I had thought we might camp if we had been able to get the MoHo back on that road.  I read later that RV camping isn’t allowed there.  We had no desire to brave six more miles of rough road to the BLM campground farther north at Green Mountain. 

By the time we got back to the MoHo parked at the site along the highway, the road crews were gone, the big rig that had been parked there earlier in the day had departed, and we had the entire wide open area completely to ourselves.  Even at this remote site I still had Verizon cell service and was able to get some internet to check weather for the next few days.  Things were going to shift, but at least we knew for sure that we had one more day of warm sunshine to explore in the desert.

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.

2 thoughts on “05-17-2021 May Trip to the Oregon High Desert”

  1. Oh, spring in the Rogue Valley is my favorite, too! It’s such a magical time with the succession of blooms unfurling for at least a couple of months. I understand the allure of the desert, too. I’ve never heard of the Crack in the Ground, but it definitely looks spooky!


    1. It sounded spooky as well. I love slot canyons in Utah, red slickrock somehow is more inviting even in narrow spaces than dark basalt with screeching bats!


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