May 30, 2005

The Empty Quarter

I don’t live in the West. I live on the West Coast. The West, somewhat counterintuitively, is east of here. It’s on the other side of the Cascade Mountains, away from the cities linked up to the Asian side of the Pacific Rim, in the desert, in cowboy country, the place Joel Garreau dubbed The Empty Quarter in his book The Nine Nations of North America.

That’s where I went over Memorial Day weekend. It’s where you should go if you want to go camping on a holiday and get away from the screaming children, the RVs, and the jerk who thinks it's okay to listen to ball games on the radio twenty feet from your tent.

Landscape Near Fossil Oregon.jpg

Head east from Portland over Mount Hood and the landscape dramatically changes. You can still find some trees, but you won’t find anything that looks like a rainforest.


Shaniko Bank.jpg

It’s dry enough on Oregon’s eastern side that buildings in ghost towns like Shaniko have not yet disintegrated.


Strawberry Mountains Sunset.jpg

Some people in Portland don’t like Eastern Oregon. There’s nothing out there, they say. Yes there is. There is sky.


Road Through Green Desert.jpg

Behold the green desert in spring time.


Spring Rains Water the Desert.jpg

This landscape is white in the winter. It’s brown in the summer and fall. But right now it’s green. Almost all of Oregon is green in April and May.


Green Desert Near Fields.jpg

In August 1998 National Geographic published a terrific story on what they called Oregon’s Outback. I had never been there when I read it. Imagine that. An outdoors-loving person like me discovers a part of his own state in a national magazine. But that’s how it goes around here. Hardly anyone who lives in Portland ever goes out there. They don’t even know what it looks like because hardly anyone bothers to photograph it. The outback does not appear on our postcards.

I decided I had to go out there when I read that the landscape terrifies people. It’s so open and empty. You can walk 50 miles in a straight line and not even see a single telephone pole. The southeastern corner is, in fact, the least densely populated part of the lower 48 states.


Lone Tree.jpg

There’s something about a lone tree for miles around that demands I take a picture. I don’t know why, but I just had to.


Lake Alvord.jpg

Lake Alvord only exists for a couple of months. It’s hardpan the rest of the year.


Steens Mountain.jpg

You can see parts of four states (Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and California) from the top of Steens Mountain.


Alvord in May.jpg

Some parts of Oregon are arid even in spring time. When people say “back of beyond” this, I believe, it where they’re talking about. Hardly anyone lives here near the Alvord Desert at all. It is the desert of the desert. Those who do live around here came from the Basque country in Spain.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 30, 2005 10:40 PM
Comments

Howdy, Michael! Yes, it's a shame that so many Portlanders know so little about wonderful Eastern Oregon. I visited the John Day area back around Thanksgiving. Among other things, I got to soak in waters from a hot sulphur spring. The smell took some getting used to, but the water felt great.

BTW, I have a role this summer in "As You Like It" with Portland Actors Ensemble (Shakespeare in the Parks). Will keep you posted.

Wonderful photos, by the way!

Posted by: Sokrates at May 30, 2005 11:43 PM

Lovely fotos, fine sparse prose. Makes me a little homesick for Newberry Springs in the Mohave (near the Calico Ghost Town), between Vegas and LA.
Thanks.

What did Shelly think of the camping?

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at May 31, 2005 05:57 AM

Outstanding photos! What an interesting looking place, especially to this NorthEasterer.

"Some people in Portland don’t like Eastern Oregon. There’s nothing out there, they say. Yes there is. There is sky."

Many people say the same thing about blue water ocean sailing. I say that in places like this, less is significantly more.

Posted by: too many steves at May 31, 2005 07:13 AM

Uh-oh. Now you've done it, Michael...the Sierra Club hordes will be all over eastern Oregon before long. Then will come the screaming children, their RVS, and their blaring radios.

Posted by: Reginleif at May 31, 2005 08:06 AM

Michael,
Really amazing territory!
However, something strikes me about it that I've felt before.

That kind of landscape is such that it feels like it should be hard to get there.
I remember thinking that when I went to Wadi Rum (in Jordan where Lawrence of Arabia camped, and from which he took the title of his book). Now, you can drive all throughout the desert in four wheel drive vehicles. You can get there from Beirut by car in about 8 hours (including crossing to international borders).

I camped out there with bedouins feeling like I was truly in "the back of beyond." But I was disturbed that I would be travelling to Aqaba the next day and then back to Beirut. We left Wadi Rum, looked at Israel across the Red Sea, drove to Amman, and then back to Beirut in one day and had dinner that night at Burger King.

It just feels like that shouldn't be possible.
You shouldn't be able to go from desolate country back to Portland for a cappuccino in under four days.

The Sierra Club invasion is imminent.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at May 31, 2005 09:31 AM

Reminds me of the lands east of home, camping and hunting out by Goose Lake and Alturas, CA

Thanks for the pictures!

Posted by: Bob at May 31, 2005 10:56 AM

I grew in this area on the northern side of the Columbia, near the Tri-Cities. I used to love the fact that I could drive for miles without seeing another human being, and could sleep under the stars without hearing any civilized noises. Thanks for the pics, it's like being home again.

Posted by: kev at May 31, 2005 11:47 AM

Are there many better places than SunRiver/Mt. Bachelor in the summer. I can't think of any.

Posted by: Marc at May 31, 2005 11:50 AM

Wonderful pictures. I just moved to Boise from Missouri and drove to Bend one weekend day and it was a wonderful drive. Spectacular scenery.

Posted by: Tom at May 31, 2005 12:02 PM

Wonderful pictures. I just moved to Boise from Missouri and drove to Bend one weekend day and it was a wonderful drive. Spectacular scenery.

Posted by: Tom at May 31, 2005 12:02 PM

Beautiful. I once drove through in my ancient Honda, nervously watching the temperature needle . . . nothing like cranking the heater to full blast in mid-August.

But what a beautiful place. Time for another visit. Thanks for the photos.

Posted by: Skookumchuk at May 31, 2005 12:10 PM

I just took a drive through Eastern Oregon recently, and while Baker City and Pendleton are hardly the wide open Malheur you document, my brief stay there sure did hint to me that I really do need to get out of "Cascadia" more often. Portland's great, but it really is just one of many Oregons. Thanks for the pix.

Posted by: Peter at May 31, 2005 12:21 PM

Great shots. I was in the Alvord three weeks ago in the middle of a blizzard/torrent (yes, a blizzard in May). The Northern Great Basin hasn't seen this much water since '84. Good burgers and pleasant company (and $3.50/gal. diesel) in Fields as well. Oh, and don't worry, although the Sierra Club has already "discovered" the area (read John Hart's 'Hiking the Great Basin'), in this type of country you can simply take an arbitrary right or left and leave the neoprene clad crowds far behind. Where else in America can one claim a hot spring or a hard-pan for himself for a few weeks at a time?

Posted by: Sean at May 31, 2005 12:26 PM

Six weeks until I'm back... I cannot wait!

I miss that beautiful landscape so much.

Posted by: Nathan at May 31, 2005 12:39 PM

Sean is absolutely right about getting a burger and a shake in Fields; one of the great all-American experiences. The lady behind the counter is great: "You need a shake! What else do you want?"

Posted by: Klug at May 31, 2005 12:41 PM

Hmm. First Tunisia. Now this.

I think that you may be one of those desert-loving Americans....

Thanks for the pics.

Posted by: SWLiP at May 31, 2005 12:42 PM

loved eastern oregon when i rode there on my mc in 1998. it is desserted which ain't all bad. i do recall that it was so hot during one stretch that i literally sweated thru my leather jacket. the cross winds are something too! can't remember where i had the soak at the hot springs tho. lands had something to do with the dodge family. all i recall is the geese honking overhead during the night as i lay in my tent.

Posted by: mark at May 31, 2005 01:32 PM

What is it about listening to a ballgame on the radio that makes someone a jerk? To me, it's one of the quintessential sounds of summer.

Posted by: Kurt at May 31, 2005 01:36 PM

Kurt, I agree--if the radio is playing in your neighborhood. If it's done in a campground in the middle of nowhere, it is impolite at the very least. That is what earphones are for.

Michael, It looks like great minds think alike. However, you beat me to posting. I should have my Memorial Day Eastern Oregon travelogue up by this evening on my site. It looks like our routes may have crossed somewhere around Hwy 26.

Posted by: 74 at May 31, 2005 02:02 PM

I was born in Portland
and raised in Roseburg
and Eugene. When I was
in my 20's a friend of
mine and I spent a lot
of time in Harney County.
It's beautiful country,
and maybe when I retire
I'll move there. Now I
live in the midwest -
also nice. Anybody ever
been to John Day? It's
got to be the prettiest
town in America.

Posted by: Dan at May 31, 2005 02:03 PM

Lebanon.Profile: We left Wadi Rum, looked at Israel across the Red Sea, drove to Amman, and then back to Beirut in one day and had dinner that night at Burger King. It just feels like that shouldn't be possible.

I can board an airplane and get to the jungles of Guatemala in less time than it takes to get to the Alvord Desert from Portland.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 31, 2005 02:38 PM

The Illinois state Dept. of Tourism used to run ads "Just outside Chicago there's a place called Illinois." Most Chicagoans never took them up on this. There were people in Chicago who thought I was heading into the desolate wilderness when I moved from there to Milwaukee. People who have never braved the flatlands around Byron Illiois would no doubt have absolute panic attacks if brought to eastern Oregon. I myself admit that much of my interest is in the possibility of driving a lakester on the Alvord harpan.

Posted by: triticale at May 31, 2005 02:47 PM

Hey, I was driving through there this weekend too.

The Steens are an interesting place. Most of it is classic high desert sagebrush, but the Steens are a basalt uplift that goes up to almost 10,000 feet. That creates an alpine oasis in the middle of the high desert, and the runoff from the snow feeds a series of wetlands nearby. That attracts the birds (and mosquitoes). The birders have discovered this place. almost all the tourists I saw had binocs and vests.

The east side of the Steens, the Alvrod, is not actually all that isoloated. There's about a 70 mile gravel road along the east side. The Steens drops off sharply on that side, and there are a series of ranches every few miles along the road, watered by runoff from the mountain. If you want REALLY isolated, drive highway 140 from Denio to Lakeview. No services at all for 80 miles, and I don't think I saw a single buildng. Most of it is an antelope refuge.

I tried a hike near Alvrod lake last weekend, but there were a series of thunderstorms coming in from the east.

Posted by: Ernst Blofeld at May 31, 2005 03:00 PM

Ernst Blofeld: If you want REALLY isolated, drive highway 140 from Denio to Lakeview.

I did that last year and I got stuck on the side of the road on Blizzard Pass - in January. Had to get pulled out by a semi with a tow chain. There were no cars for hours, it was getting dark, and I watched as a blizzard approached. A genuinely frightening experience. I will never ever drive that road again in January.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 31, 2005 03:09 PM

I quit listening to the voices inside my head, but I'll admit they did offer some interesting ideals

Posted by: Jim Crnkovic at May 31, 2005 03:11 PM

Drove and camped there last summer and loved the place.A long drive from California but worth it. Thanks for the photos. I also note your mention of "Nine Nations", A book I read years ago but think about all the time. It may need an update, but the basic concepts are still true and important. That would make an interesting blog project, to look at the last two elections in terms of political and economic interaction between the nine nations.

Posted by: Jay Dean at May 31, 2005 03:50 PM

Great post. I've lived in eastern Oregon all my life, and still love it. Ontario for me, right on the Idaho border. Frequent trips to Baker, Burns and Westfall, where my family owned a ranch for many many years.

Posted by: CLB at May 31, 2005 03:59 PM

triticale,
But isn't going anywhere in Illinois outside of Chicago like jumping into the middle of a corn field?
I'm sure Wisconsin is nice, but downstate Illinois?
You'd have to post pictures for me to believe it.
I'm sure Michael's Portland friends think the same way.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at May 31, 2005 03:59 PM

John Day is a nice city, but Dayville is a nice little town. The local Sheriff shuts down the main drag (State Highway 26) for the 4th of July parade, and also when they are crossing the road during the 5 mile cross country horse race. It is what small town America used to and still is in certain places. Of course Portlanders don't like it, they are Portlanders. Like the idiot said above, "Are there any better places than SunRiver (sic) in the summer. Can't think of any." Yeah, right! Non better if you are looking for crowded pools and lots of ice cream cone lickers. With radios blaring everything including ball games.

Posted by: Blarney at May 31, 2005 04:00 PM

Born and raised in Bend. Now I'm in Alaska. Boy how I miss the smell of the Sage and Juniper after a good rain. Thanks for the pics, brought back a lot of good memories.

Posted by: Lloyd at May 31, 2005 04:19 PM

Kurt, I agree--if the radio is playing in your neighborhood. If it's done in a campground in the middle of nowhere, it is impolite at the very least. That is what earphones are for.

I assumed from the "twenty feet away" detail that he wasn't talking about a campground in the middle of nowhere, he was talking about a more "commercial" campground with RV's, screaming children and tents twenty feet away from each other. In that context, listening to a radio sounds like perfectly normal behavior.

Posted by: Kurt at May 31, 2005 04:28 PM

There's a great web site called Ghost Towns of Oregon which covers in fair detail a lot of sites from this area, an area I've been intending to hit for a while.

I envy you your ability to mentally hit the road the way you do.

Posted by: Todd Grimson at May 31, 2005 04:38 PM

Hi, Never been here before, but thanks to GR I dropped by. We are desert lovers too even though we've lived on the coast for 36 years and just make forays into the desert during the spring- truly an-explorer's paradise. Make sure you read Rube Long's "Oregon Desert". Maybe I should read it again too!

Posted by: judy at May 31, 2005 05:05 PM

Shhhhhh - one of its many charms is that nobody knows about it. I've been planning all year to go there on vacation from Portland - I've wanted to ever since I saw Fields (pop. 32) on an old AAA map when I was a kid.

Posted by: Jeff at May 31, 2005 05:36 PM

Thanks for these lovely photos and the nice prose. I've seen this part of Oregon only in the brown seasons. Once, in 1965, I drove across country heading for mid-California, but figuring I'd take in the rain forest of Oregon. I didn't bother to check a map that might have told me Oregon's eastern quarter wasn't rain forest. I was driving an old two-cylinder Saab, and very glad I was carrying my own motor oil to mix with the gas. Not many gas stations in those parts.

Posted by: Mary at May 31, 2005 05:42 PM

If you had gone a little bit more north, you would have been in my former "backyard." The Owyhees (including the areas west and south) are indeed beautiful. I never really appreciated them when I was younger, preferring the more alpine Sawtooths, etc.

You're right about the Basque. I grew up on a farm in the Caldwell/Marsing, ID, area, and Basque sheepherders used to herd their sheep from the Owyhee desert into town, going right by our house and stopping to let them graze in the fields. I thought it was one of the neatest things about growing up in that area--until I had to drive behind them. ;) Sheep tend to not get out of the way all that quickly...

Posted by: cardeblu at May 31, 2005 05:43 PM

Wow! Who are all these strangers? I almost get the feeling that I hit the road myself this weekend and bumped into a bunch of fellow backroads travelers at some classic small-town American diner! Eggs over easy anyone? Hash browns or toast on the side? Need another cup a coffee? Change for the cigarette machine?

Having cruised what seems to be almost every country road of what I would roughly call the Atlantic "Piedmont" - from the Maryland-Pennsylvania line south to the Georgia line, west to the Appalachian mountains and east to the Atlantic coastline , I really think there's nothing better than the open American road. Cruising! My version of that doesn't entail camping though - it means 2-3 nights in the back of the truck, brush your teeth at the local McD's, consume as much beer as possible, take a whole lot of photos - mostly B$W, so you can relive the whole trip later at the darkroom - and every 3rd or 4th night, enjoy the luxury of a trusty American chain motel like the Red Roof Inn!

I do wonder sometimes whether those glorious American cruising days may be coming to an end in the not so distant future. But I have no doubts about how amazingly lucky I am to have been born in America when I was.

Posted by: Caroline at May 31, 2005 07:11 PM

Nice pictures--the only problem is that they need to be panoramic to get the full sense of what the high desert is like. I spent many years of my childhood down in the empty country there (Alturas, CA, Lakeview, Klamath Falls, OR), and the smell of sagebrush and (rare) rainfall bring back powerful memories.
I drove 140 from Winnemucca, Nevada to Lakeview, Oregon quite a few times. It is the real west, that stuns visitors to our states (and especially Europeans). It is an empty highway, and there is one stretch (from Denio Junction south) that goes for about 90 miles--30 straight miles, then a 30 degree curve, then another 30 miles and a 30 degree curve, and then another.
But if you're going to drive that highway, make sure you have extra gas and water, and a good vehicle. In the wintertime, ALWAYS check at the little store/bar/motel at Denio Junction (if going west) or at gas stations in Lakeview (if going east) to check on snow conditions, and to make sure that the Doughtery Slide is plowed and open (otherwise you will have to turn and go back.)
As for Bachelor and SunRiver, Bend has become a "hip" community for people congregating and congratulating themselves from escaping the crowds on the west side... It's becoming like Portland without rain and the big rivers.

Posted by: Pseduotsuga at May 31, 2005 07:16 PM

Jeff,

Fields is down to a population of 8 now, and one of the families has a son who just came back from Iraq.

Michael,

Why don't you do a post with some of the photos I shot of you. I realize that you have that annoying modesty dementia, but the ones in the Alvord are pretty good.

Posted by: Patrick Lasswell at May 31, 2005 07:24 PM

What a beautiful place! On a cross-country trip, we visited Bend. The town seemed pretty citified (good coffee) but the area around it was gorgeous.

When traveling out west, I never let the gas tank go below one-quarter full. Once, in Nevada, I broke that rule, and found out that there are many recently-created ghost towns - places that exist on a map, but don’t exist in real life. I love driving on those roads, but not in the dark, running on empty, with two kids sleeping in the back seat.

I’m still a desert addict, though. The best wide-open spaces I’ve ever seen were in White Sands, New Mexico. If you walk away from the parking lot, over a few dunes, you can get lost. Bring a compass.

Posted by: mary at May 31, 2005 08:37 PM

I was born in Boise, Idaho and raised in John Day. I graduated from Grant Union High School. Now I live in Beaverton.

I'd never go back. I'm a west side woman. The East side doesn't hold a romantic charm for me. It's dry in the summer and fall and cold as a witch's tit in the winter. Spring is bearable...sometimes.

I found it constricting and limiting to live on the east side. It's a nice place to visit....

Posted by: carla at May 31, 2005 08:59 PM

Tom in Boise, welcome to the NW. I live across the street from the hospital on Broadway. If you take another road trip I recomend visiting Stanley. The Sawtooths are a great place to spend the weekend. (redfish lake:) If you kayak the south fork is going to be awesome this year.

Posted by: Mike #3or4 at May 31, 2005 09:01 PM

Any of you ever been to Malin? Not a particularly exciting town, but it's kind of neat (what with it being named after a Bohemian horseradish and all). We had a blast with my Czech sister-in-law there checking out the graveyard. Just about everyone's Czech there.

Also, to whoever mentioned Alturas, CA. I love it out there. I also recommend cutting over the mountains to Cedarville. And heck, why not head on over the dirt roads to Nevada to Soldier Meadows and Black Rock (one of the coolest places I've ever been)? I've got a bunch of pictures from out there here.

Posted by: Nathan at May 31, 2005 09:22 PM

lebanon.profile,

What have you got against cornfields? Every bit of terrain has its own interest, and seeing mile upon mile of green food-in-the-making is something, too!

Posted by: Kirk Parker at May 31, 2005 09:33 PM

Nathan,

Where is Malin? I haven't heard of it. Is it in Oregon?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at May 31, 2005 09:37 PM

lebanon.profile:

Here's a bit of Southern Illinois for you. Sure doesn't look like "the middle of a cornfield" to me.

http://www.backpackcamp.com/GardenOfGodsGallery.html

http://www.giantcitylodge.com/photos/large.php?picID=41&page=2

http://www.giantcitylodge.com/photos/large.php?picID=38&page=2

http://www.giantcitylodge.com/photos/large.php?picID=37&page=2

http://www.giantcitylodge.com/photos/large.php?picID=36&page=3

I went to college in the area, so I can attest to the region's beauty. Sure, you'll have to drive 6+ hours from Chicago to get there, but I think it's worth the trip.

"I'm sure Michael's Portland friends think the same way."

For the record, I live in Portland and know Michael. (This isn't meant as a flame, by the way -- just a bit of college-day nostalgia.)

For those interested, the Giant City Lodge is by far the best place to stay in Southern Illinois, IMHO.

Posted by: Sokrates at May 31, 2005 11:12 PM

Excellent site for its links, too.

Keep up your excellent work; not for me but for yourself. You did a nice photo tour of Eastern
Orgeon!

Posted by: Bob at June 1, 2005 12:07 AM

Nathan:
Yes, I've been to Malin (and Merrill). I graduated from high school just up the road in Klamath Falls. We lived in Alturas, CA in the late 60s (I'm a Forest Service brat.)
I suspect, however, that the Klamath Basin is more Central Oregon than Eastern Oregon in flavor, and though semi-arid, not as arid as points east and north-east.
I must confess, that though I grew up a dry-sider (even Medford is a "dry" town), I have gladly given up my place in the desert (which is, actually, 2/3 of Oregon) to be a wet-sider up on the Puget Sound.
Want another picture of the dry side? Take a peek at this photo of the Nevada-Oregon state line.
{{http://home.comcast.net/~lukeythetruck/NevadaOr.jpg}}

Yup,that's me, moving back to the NW after a long hiatus in other parts.

Posted by: Pseduotsuga at June 1, 2005 12:09 AM

This is great! I never knew there were so many desert rats who read Michael Totten. I've been poking around the Basin for as long as I can remember (I live in Salt Lake City), working from valley to valley.

My lady and I decided to go to Malheur Lake and the Alvord the first week of May and the skies opened up in stunning fashion. We camped near the swollen banks of Malheur river. Every wash was flowing and waterfalls lined the volcanic clifs. Heading south, we wandered around the northern boundary of Malhuer Lake NWR, counting dozens of raptors.

The drive on 78 south into the northern end of Alvord has to be one of the most sublime drives in America. It reminded me of the Scottish countryside. We parked it for three days East of Steens'. We watched the Alvord Desert fill up and nearly dry out in a matter of hours over and over again, giving us a sense if how thirsty the land is out there. Incredible hot springs, too.

It should be noted that of the Basin valleys I've been through (and I've yet to make a dent), the Alvord was one of the most popular. Its seclusion filters out a lot of the riff-raff, but it's still well traveled. We camped on Pike Creek, which sports a clobbered porta-pottie whose cup overfloweth. Still, it was one of the prettiest places I've seen.

There are thousands of ranges, valleys and canyons in the Great Basin and on the Columbia Plateau. Too many to fully explore in a lifetime.

P.S. If you end up on the I-80 corridore, be sure to stop at a local Basque restaurant for repast. The baked lamb at the Star Hotel in Elko is top-notch..

Posted by: Sean at June 1, 2005 12:15 AM

Cool, Michael, and thanks. I'm taking my first trip out to Huntington/Ontario in June or July and i can't wait to see how different it is than where i live, just north of North Bend on the South Coast. Looks neat as hell.

Posted by: Pril at June 1, 2005 01:55 AM

Always wonderful when someone discovers eastern Oregon. I was born in Halfway.

Posted by: Ken Summers at June 1, 2005 05:47 AM

Sokrates,
thanks for the links. Great sites!
What I meant by Michael's Portland friends is that they probably think about Eastern Oregon the same way Chicagoans think about downstate.

Posted by: lebanon.profile at June 1, 2005 07:58 AM

lebanon.profile,

Sorry about any misinterpretation on my part, but glad you liked the pics of S.I. Yes, it's true that a lot of Portlanders are of the "never been east of Mount Hood" variety, just as a lot of Chicagoans are of the "never been south of Kankakee" sort. A shame on both accounts.

Posted by: Sokrates at June 1, 2005 12:56 PM

I've driven through there many a time, up 95 (which gave me a thorough shock the time I drove through and realized they moved the highway) and across the state on 20 (and others— it switches.)

Mostly I remember the hills in August, which reminded me of worn velvet. It's pretty country but we were mostly going through rather than to. And I love the High Desert Museum just south of Bend.

(Which reminds me— in between Junction City and Bend is a state route that is utterly gorgeous— if you can take the switchbacks when you're climbing the mountains. No real cliffs, though, but lava and an observatory in the middle of nowhere.)

Posted by: B. Durbin at June 1, 2005 01:57 PM

Malin is south of Klamath Falls on the California border in the Klamath Basin...the highway to Bend is State 242, which runs from McKenzie Bridge to Sisters and is only open in the summer when the snow melts...if you really want to get away from it all, drive the Catlow Valley road from the antelope refuge to the base of the Steens past Beatty Butte...and read William Kittredge's: "Owning it All", a memoir of his boyhood near Plush.

Posted by: D. Kaufman at June 1, 2005 02:29 PM

Michael:

Moved to Burns 6 years ago from the Willamette Valley and was in shock for 2 years. I'm finally "getting" the landscape ~ and reaping the soul-filling tranquility this great space exudes. Here's my take for the uninitiated:

To the Stranger…
Traveling East

Stranger, I too was stunned at first
Coming here alone to find an emptied land
With the contours of creation left naked
Bare hills, sagebrush plains with a wide solemn sky
As sole testament to His glory

Where were the lovely arbors of the valleys,
Those verdant protectors with open arms,
Where the guiding lights of our byways,
The landmarks of our own making?

I was discomfited by the vista
Tearing down Horse Ridge on Hwy 20 at 75 mph
The sudden sight of mile upon mile ~ unpeopled tan
I drew a ragged breath of awe to wonder
Why God hadn’t finished conjuring in this place

Seeming vast and flat, without energy, without soul
Quick judgment would name this desert barren,
Bereft of solace for the human ache
Only slowly has its brand of tranquility
Settled a longing in my psyche

Now I gladly leave the valleys, driving East in anticipation
My every pore open, my lips parted
Yearning to breathe, to sense only nature on the horizon
Waiting for the calm to descend from the distant hills
Waiting for the calm to find me

Stranger, I was wrong about this place
Though our footprints here are soon gone
Carried away on winds from nowhere
The foreign soil can give rise to renewal
Time is its only keeper

The silence here may be overwhelming
But listen closely and you’ll hear God calling
Bidding you to be still and worship
Prepare yourself soon, for an awesome grace is near
Waiting, merely a temporary chore

glb © 2005

Posted by: Gretchen Bates at June 1, 2005 10:22 PM

Michael:

Moved to Burns 6 years ago from the Willamette Valley and was in shock for 2 years. I'm finally "getting" the landscape ~ and reaping the soul-filling tranquility this great space exudes. Here's my take for the uninitiated:

To the Stranger…
Traveling East

Stranger, I too was stunned at first
Coming here alone to find an emptied land
With the contours of creation left naked
Bare hills, sagebrush plains with a wide solemn sky
As sole testament to His glory

Where were the lovely arbors of the valleys,
Those verdant protectors with open arms,
Where the guiding lights of our byways,
The landmarks of our own making?

I was discomfited by the vista
Tearing down Horse Ridge on Hwy 20 at 75 mph
The sudden sight of mile upon mile ~ unpeopled tan
I drew a ragged breath of awe to wonder
Why God hadn’t finished conjuring in this place

Seeming vast and flat, without energy, without soul
Quick judgment would name this desert barren,
Bereft of solace for the human ache
Only slowly has its brand of tranquility
Settled a longing in my psyche

Now I gladly leave the valleys, driving East in anticipation
My every pore open, my lips parted
Yearning to breathe, to sense only nature on the horizon
Waiting for the calm to descend from the distant hills
Waiting for the calm to find me

Stranger, I was wrong about this place
Though our footprints here are soon gone
Carried away on winds from nowhere
The foreign soil can give rise to renewal
Time is its only keeper

The silence here may be overwhelming
But listen closely and you’ll hear God calling
Bidding you to be still and worship
Prepare yourself soon, for an awesome grace is near
Waiting, merely a temporary chore

glb © 2005

Posted by: Gretchen Bates at June 1, 2005 10:25 PM

Ya know what? I love baseball. Well, at least, the Dodgers. But, Eastern Oregon is paradise. Beautiful pictures.

Posted by: jim hitchcock at June 1, 2005 10:58 PM

Michael: I can board an airplane and get to the jungles of Guatemala in less time than it takes to get to the Alvord Desert from Portland.

And yet both are worthy adventures...

Posted by: bains at June 3, 2005 09:07 AM

Nathan told me to come check out your pictures, beautiful. I went out to Summer Lake the week before (wanted to avoid the holiday crowds) to collect Oregon Sunstones north of Plush.

Loved all your readers stories. My favorite trip was when Nathan and his brothers were young we went from Roseburg to Lakeveiw to Plush to French Glen. Stayed in the Oregon State Park Hotel there at the base of the Steens. Got a flat north of FG had to drive to Burns on one of those little tires. Got it fixed at Les Schwab, drove to Glass Butte, collected about 30 lbs of obsidian. Struck out south from there to a ghost town on the map, found it then thought I bet if we keep going south we'll end up in Christmas Valley. The dirt road we took petered out so we headed on to Bend and then home.

Also next time you go to Burns/Alvord Desert ask about the Malhuer Cave, very cool and don't forget your fishing poles.

Posted by: Mark Hamm at June 4, 2005 06:19 PM
Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Pajamas Media BlogRoll Member



Testimonials

"I'm flattered such an excellent writer links to my stuff"
Johann Hari
Author of God Save the Queen?

"Terrific"
Andrew Sullivan
Author of Virtually Normal

"Brisk, bracing, sharp and thoughtful"
James Lileks
Author of The Gallery of Regrettable Food

"A hard-headed liberal who thinks and writes superbly"
Roger L. Simon
Author of Director's Cut

"Lively, vivid, and smart"
James Howard Kunstler
Author of The Geography of Nowhere


Contact Me

Send email to michaeltotten001 at gmail dot com


News Feeds




toysforiraq.gif



Link to Michael J. Totten with the logo button

totten_button.jpg


Tip Jar





Essays

Terror and Liberalism
Paul Berman, The American Prospect

The Men Who Would Be Orwell
Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

Looking the World in the Eye
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

In the Eigth Circle of Thieves
E.L. Doctorow, The Nation

Against Rationalization
Christopher Hitchens, The Nation

The Wall
Yossi Klein Halevi, The New Republic

Jihad Versus McWorld
Benjamin Barber, The Atlantic Monthly

The Sunshine Warrior
Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine

Power and Weakness
Robert Kagan, Policy Review

The Coming Anarchy
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

England Your England
George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn