May 19, Somewhere west of Dougherty Rim, Oregon. A tiny new sage plant shares the vestibule of our tent, nearly filling it. He seems glad to share his spot with us, scenting up our home wonderfully. We lie in our sleeping bag watching alpenglow paint the escarpment we just descended, and warm the sagebrush and cows spread over the valley. Every now and then I pinch some sage leaves from our little friend, roll them between my fingers and perfume our home again. I know we are nearing the end of the wide open spaces we’ve come to love; I wish I could bottle the scent and take it home. But, would it mix well with the salt air of Dungeness?
When we left Denio Junction, patches of blue encouraged us, though scattered curtains of showers reminded us how vulnerable we were. At least Claire’s cough was gone and she felt good. It was cold. We were wearing most of our winter clothing including our big lobster-claw mittens.
The blue sage was filling in with bright green grass and the cattle looked very happy. In the distance we saw steam rising from scattered hot springs and vowed to return to explore them someday. Far away, a few ranch houses surrounded with poplars and junipers nestled up against the base of the mountains in green places that held springs.
At the top of our first pass of the day, we encountered hail, hard driven by a north wind; as we descended, ball bearing hail bounced on the asphalt, and my face took a beating. I was glad to start climbing again to warm.
As we approached our second pass of the day at 6,240 feet, we were swallowed up by a black snow cloud that didn’t show any intention of spitting us out before turning us into tandeming snow people. What wonderful weather for late May. It’s the altitude; this is all high country.
But, after a few miles, the snowstorm passed beyond us, and left us with some blue holes and beautiful views of a high basin in the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge.
The refuge is a place set aside where pronghorns can roam without encountering fences. Pronghorn are not antelope or deer, but are in the sheep family. They don’t like to jump fences, and that keeps them from moving to food and water in ranch country. Their numbers have declined drastically as the fencing of the west has become nearly complete.
The next morning we awoke to clear skies, a heavy frost and frozen water jugs. Even our little sage plant looked cold, and he didn’t have much scent in the cold air.
We snuggled deeper into our bag and listened to morning come to the desert. First a gaggle of geese began honking in some nearby wetlands, and that set off a chorus of coyotes, which started the steers to bawling. We gave up on sleep and braved the cold, which we soon forgot in the strong sun.
We saw Juan Trevino (potato trucker) deadheading to Klamath Falls today; big wave and big smile. What a great guy! I forgot to mention before that Juan went to school for a year of middle-school in Sequim and remembers fondly the great salmon fishing in the Dungeness River. I didn’t want to tell him the sad truth about the fishing there now.
We saw lots of pronghorns on the way to 6,200 foot Blizzard Gap. As we descended into Adel, we passed many wetlands filled with birds of all sizes and descriptions, pelicans, yellow-headed blackbirds, and lots of diving and wading birds. The lush valley is surrounded by mountains; an amazing oasis in the high desert.
The town of Adel is small, consisting mostly of the store/restaurant/gas station. The building dates to the last century and has not changed much.
As we ate snacks and drank coffee, cowboys began to wander in from the range for lunch; the music of boot-heels on oiled wood flooring and jangling spurs announced each arrival. No pickup truck cowboys these, they’d been moving cows from the saddle all morning.
Three young good looking cowboys sat near us, under mulie and pronghorn heads lining the walls, talking about all the rain and how high the grass is, where fences still need mending and such. They all wore print shirts and black hats. It’s unusual to see young men starting to cowboy; most of the ones we’ve seen have been old men just hanging on. Not so here. This is still country that needs real cowboys and the life must be good.
There are sagebrush plains, grassy meadows, meandering wetlands, dancing trout streams lined with ponderosa and high country for skiing. The diversity is amazing and wonderful. We saw beaver working aspens and juniper along Deep Creek as we climbed out of Adel. Beautiful. This southeast corner of Oregon and northern Nevada is some of the best of the Great Basin.
After climbing in sunshine most of the day we dropped into Lakeview, all the way down to 5,000 feet and found Hunter’s RV park. There are wetlands and meadows running all across the valley to timber-covered mountains in the west. Geese and wading birds jabbered us to sleep well after dark.
It clouded up during the night and began to rain hard. Dawn was weak and showed more ink-curtain skies dragging waves of rain across the valley and dumping on us. We stayed in the tent snuggling, reading and napping to the raindrops all morning. We decided we were better off than in the motel back in Denio Junction. We had something to read, our sleeping pads were more comfortable than our bed there, and our roof didn’t leak as much.
Sometime in the afternoon, hunger drove us out, and the rain eased enough for us to pack up wet and beat it to a motel before our site became one of Lakeview’s lakes. It was cold again and when the ceiling lifted a couple of hundred feet, we could see fresh snow on the mountains to the west where we will go tomorrow, crossing another pass and leaving the desert after so long.
We will be crossing a divide of another sort, not a geographic divide, but an emotional one. We will enter the Northwest that we remember, where home and family and friends are. We will leave behind the great American deserts where we have found so much adventure and knowledge and sensual joy. We will leave our new familiars, the great open spaces, the ever-changing, ever-challenging, ever-rewarding open road.
We are seeing the curtains of closure rustle in the wings of our year-long road show. Something, someone, hidden there has the curtain cords in hand, anxious to close our act, suggesting it is time to take our bows and leave this stage. We’re not interested in bowing to the footlights or hearing applause. The road still holds us…
But home and friends await, and we are slowly beginning to draw to a close this year of our life. We return to the Northwest changed, and not a little fearful of what that will mean.
May 22, Freemont National Forest, just west of Bly, Oregon Cold headwind today, but partly sunny with little chance of rain.
We passed through a beautiful valley of ranches a few miles out of Lakeview. Wide green meadows rimmed with low hills and ponderosas. Three cowboys rounded up a herd of Herefords with the help of two black and white shepherd dogs. The cows stood very still watching the dogs intently.
At Quartz Mountain pass, we reached 13,000 miles and officially left the Great Basin. Claire took a picture of me slumped beside Zippy crying under a sign, “Leaving The Great Basin.”
We stopped to photograph one of the many roadside crosses marking automobile wrecks across the country. Part of the personalized decoration on this one was a flattened out beer can nailed to the nexus of the cross. Many have had hints that alcohol was a big part of the victim’s life, and most likely, death.
In Bly we ate lunch at Sis and VL’s Gearhardt Grill. They had a great buy on steak and eggs and I was hungry!