Turning in his saddle and tilting his dusty hat to shade his eyes, he finally sees it in the distance. The round barn. The year is 1887 and he and the other vaqueros are moving a herd of horses collected over the sagebrush covered plains of the High Desert in Oregon. He had worked so many hours that week that when he finally settled down each night on a bed of hard sandy soil, he instantly fell into a deep sleep.
Moving cattle, horses, and mules for his boss, Pete French, was a hard but satisfying life. Guiding his horse with worn leather reins, he moves to the back of the herd of mustangs and starts driving them towards the barn.
The Pete French Round Barn, near Diamond, Oregon, was built in the 1880’s. The center pole and supporting poles are made from ancient western juniper trees. The juniper shows cuts and gouges from past use but is still strong. Umbrella-like beams radiate out from the center to support the rounded roof of this 100-foot diameter barn. Horses were stabled in the middle part of the building. The 63-foot diameter rock wall in the middle section forms a round corral in the building’s interior. A 20-foot wide circular paddock surrounds it. During the long winters, 400 to 600 horses and mules were moved through and trained in the barn, safe from the harsh conditions outside.
Round barns allowed livestock to be sheltered and trained year round. Teams of horses and mules were trained to pull freight wagons in the barns. This particular barn has an interesting history.
In 1872, Pete French and a group of vaqueros were camping in an area south of present-day Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. He was working for cattleman and wheat baron, Dr. Hugh Glenn, moving 1,200 shorthorn cattle to better grazing lands on Steens Mountain. French met a prospector named Porter who had about a dozen cattle and squatter’s rights to the land. He bought the cattle, rights to the land, and the “P” brand. The laws of the land were a bit different back then so when he moved the cattle onto unsurveyed land nearby, that land became his. Ranchers were required to build fences to keep cattle out of their lands.
French continued to work with Hugh Glenn and together they created French-Glenn Livestock Company. Pete French became president of the company in 1893. The company went on to become one of the best run cattle businesses of the time. French-Glenn Livestock Company had two round barns and numerous other buildings on their 150,000 to 200,000 acres of land.
Though successful as a businessman, Pete French was not well liked by some of his neighbors. Settlers were putting up fences on what they claimed was public land and French contested those claims in court. He fought with one neighbor, Edward Oliver, off and on for ten years. On December 26, 1897, they got in their last argument. Oliver shot and killed French and was later acquitted of all charges.
The round barn has been carefully restored by state and federal agencies. It is now protected as the Pete French Round Barn State Heritage Site. Cycle Oregon and Trust Management Services have also put work into maintaining and improving the site.
The barn is in an isolated location but it’s a remarkable structure well worth seeing. When you stand in it and look around, you really get a feel for the history of the place. It is a place full of many stories. For driving directions, click here.
There is also an impressive visitor center and store near the barn. The Round Barn Visitor Center contains a small museum and a store featuring clothing, jewelry, hunting knives, and a very good assortment of local and regional history books. The store also has a few snacks and beverages. The museum contains artifacts related to the Jenkins family, who have lived and worked in the area for several generations. Talk to Mr. Jenkins, the proprietor of the store, to learn more about the stories this land has to tell.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Rounded
The blooms of sagebrush are not not big, showy, or colorful. Nonetheless, their muted colors and delicate blossoms exude a certain form of grace.
This morning I saw a colorful and glowing sunrise over the High Desert of Central Oregon. What a wonderful way to start an October day!
Weekly Photo Challenge – Glow
Here’s a photo of some cactus plants blooming in my garden this summer. They make gorgeous flowers but you have to be very careful when weeding around them. 😉
I saw this scaly lizard crawling along the rocks at Fort Rock, Oregon. It crawled up to see me at eye level. Maybe it was trying to intimidate me by pretending to be Godzilla (?) There were lots of colorful lichens on the rocks surrounding the lizard as it surveyed me.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Scale
Little Lava Lake is a small lake that plays a very big role in Oregon. Located in the shadow of Mt. Bachelor, this lake is the source of the Deschutes River. From here, the river winds and meanders to the Columbia River, 252 miles to the north. This river supports a wide variety of wildlife and also provides water for power, irrigation, and drinking. It’s also an important ingredient in local beers.
Water from subsurface springs feed the lake. Occasionally water from Lava Lake, just northwest of Little Lava Lake, flows into this lake. Lava flows from past volcanic activity are visible along the shores.
To the north, you get great views of the Broken Top and South Sister volcanoes. To the northeast, Mt. Bachelor looms over the forest. It is a really scenic place to visit in a kayak! I like kayaking this lake because it has lots of interesting nooks and crannies.
There are great opportunities to see wildlife around this lake. Rushes and sedges form dense stands along the shorelines. Lodgepole pine forests border the lake.
On a cool September day as I kayaked around the lake, I saw common mergansers, mallards, a bald eagle, a great blue heron, a Lewis’ woodpecker, a winter wren, and many northern flickers and mountain chickadees. I heard nuthatches and ravens calling from the woods. Douglas’ squirrels and chipmunks were up to their usual mischief near the shoreline.
Little Lava Lake is 138-acres in size with an average depth of eight feet and a maximum depth of 18 feet. The lake is at an elevation of 4,750 feet. It’s located about 38 miles southwest of Bend, Oregon. Little Lava Lake is stocked with rainbow trout that average 6-12 inches in size. We caught a beautiful 12-inch rainbow trolling from a kayak. The brook trout population in the lake is self-sustaining. Whitefish and tui chub also live in this lake. For more details on fishing at Little Lava Lake, click here (on the Fishing tab) or here.
There is a boat launch on the eastern shore at Little Lava Lake. A Northwest Forest Service Pass is required here. Motorized and non-motorized boats are allowed on the lake.
Little Lava Lake Campground is located on the western shore of the lake. It has 13 campsites and two tent-only group sites. Lava Lake Resort is right next door. There is a store there and boat rentals, RV camping, gas, and oil. There are MANY trails nearby to explore.
This old building may appear dull and pedestrian to some. If you look beyond the peeling paint and overgrown yard, you will experience an environment alive with color and song. This building is one of the dorms at Malheur Field Station located near the headquarters of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Birds, and birdwatchers, flock to this oasis in the High Desert of Oregon.
Many people have learned about this area through classes at the field station and visits to the refuge. Stop on by if you are ever in the area!
Weekly Photo Challenge – Pedestrian