10 pm. The sun is still setting. A thick marker line of orange color blends into the midnight blue sky on the west while, outlined by the moon behind them, mountains rise like pyramids out of the darkness in the east. In a few minutes, we’ll have to batten down the hatches when the wind picks up across the playa, but for now, its calm and peaceful.
The Southern Oregon leg of our road trip has brought us from mountain to plain to playa and back again. This evening we’re the only souls out on this road, camping on a dried lake bed of caked white mud. Last evening, from our campsite beside a hot spring, we watched as a Strawberry Moon rose behind the mountain range.
Its hard to describe all of the places we have stayed so far, all of the beauty that we have seen and tried to capture. You’ll just have to trust me when I tell you to get in your car and explore South East Oregon. Find a map, plot a route, bring extra supplies and go.
Nick scouted a route from a mountain biking excursion that had a few notes and a few places to camp along the way. We entered way-points into our GPS to keep us from going off-route as there is a maze of little-used roads out in these deserts. As you drive along one two-track, you spot 3 ahead and you wonder where those dust trails lead. Paired with a big rain recently, wildflowers of all kinds were blooming everywhere. It was quite distracting.
Our excursion led us in a loop that dipped into Nevada, where we met a park ranger who gave us the map we were hoping to find and the encouragement that the drive we were planning was a great one. Bolstered and having spoken to our first outsider in a week, we took a quick side-trip to a secret look-out over Thousand Creek Gorge and then continued down the planned road.
The next part of the journey was the most stressful because somehow you have to get down from the top of that canyon and whoever made this road thought that the best way was just go straight down it. Maybe if we didn’t have a half-ton camper on the back of our truck we would have felt a little more confident, but as it was, Nick gripped the steering wheel and I gave a whoop when we arrived at the bottom.
Our truck and camper, though having a few little issues from the sink and the exhaust, have proven to be the right choice for us. We skirted the big boulders in the road and drove at an uncomfortable side-angle, and after arriving at our stop for the night popped the camper up and made some snacks like it was no big deal. I’m pretty sure it was a big deal. And I’m pretty sure that most full-time camping rigs wouldn’t have made it.
Stopping in the one-store-town of Fields, we saw a hundreds photographs at Fields Station - locals and visitors have been filling up supplies at this little gas station and store since before cameras were super portable. Get the CCC milkshake and use a spoon… it will make you very happy. Again, trust me. There are only a few gas stations along the route, so when you make your plans, always plan on filling up and counting mileage.
We spent 5 nights out on this trail, driving around Hart Mountain and along the Steens, sleeping beside streams and steamy pools and cracked mud and one abandoned ranch. We only had to skip one piece of the loop because the road was closed due to weather, other than that it was perfect. We saw baby owls and endangered antelope. Dani communed and obsessed over cattle. We were taken by surprise at the never-ending and ever-changing beauty of the landscape in this region. And, we are definitely coming back.