A beautiful October walk along the Mill A Loop Trail in Bend, Oregon. The rising sun’s rays highlight gold and red fall foliage. The sunlight was hitting the trees just right on this autumn walk.
An American flag flies from one of the Old Mill smokestacks. Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) renovated the 28,000-square-foot former lumber mill and opened a retail store there in 2005. They retained much of the building’s historic charm and it’s one of Bend’s iconic landmarks.
They are trying to purchase 880 acres that are currently in private hands. The Land Trust and Global Wildlife Conservation organizations will match funds for each donation to make the $182-per-acre purchase.
Once the purchase is complete, the public will have access to the land. The purchase ensures that the site will not be developed in the future.
This bit of the desert includes interesting natural and archaeological features. The salt flats and rimrock hillsides are home to mule deer, pronghorn, greater sage grouse, and burrowing owls. Migratory birds live in the sagebrush and greasewood habitats.
The Paisley Caves contain evidence of humans that dates back to over 14,000 years ago. The nearby Fort Rock Cave and Catlow Caves contain similar artifacts.
If you donate to this site, you can visit “your” acreage. I haven’t visited the parcels I helped purchase yet, but I can’t wait to see them in person. It will bring me great joy to see how I made a difference, one acre at a time.
New photo challenge
There is a new weekly photo challenge called “On the Hunt for Joy Challenge” and the topic this week is “Get Outside.” I thought this would be a perfect time to feature this conservation opportunity.
On your way to see Old Faithful, you may want to take the 2-mile long Firehole Canyon Drive to the “heated” Firehole swimming hole in the Firehole River.
You will drive past the 40-foot waterfall of Firehole Falls.
Just a little farther up the road, you’ll see the Firehole swimming area. The hot springs of Yellowstone National Park feed into the river and heat the chilly water to a comfortable temperature. There is another swimming area called Boiling River near the north entrance of the park.
Please read the regulations and find additional information about the Firehole and Boiling Springs swimming areas at Swim and Soak prior to your visit. Most of the park’s hot springs are extremely hot and soaking in them is prohibited. These are the only two places where swimming is allowed.
On our last few visits, we have been at Yellowstone in May and June. The Firehole has been closed to swimming because the water level was too high. It’s a nice place to take a short break when you are out exploring the park.
You can access the area by this staircase when it’s open.
Swimming the river in the summer
When the water levels drop in the summer, you can drift the river beginning near the cliffs. Large signs warn you about the risks of swimming here so use common sense.
I took the following two pictures in July 1998. Note how the trees in these pictures show the effects of the fire of 1988. Compare them to the pictures above, taken in 2011 and 2018.
In nature, lightning causes fires that help thin overgrowth and release the seeds of certain types of pine. The photos in the beginning of this post show how a healthy forest is regrowing in Yellowstone.
This is what the Firehole swimming hole typically looks like on a warm summer day. I have many fond memories of swimming here with my family over the years. It is a special spot!
We stopped at the Kiger Gorge overlook on Steens Mountain in August and saw tiny flowers at our feet. These are prostrate lupines, Lupinus lepidus var. lobbii. I put my hand in the picture just to give you an idea of the scale.
This native plant grows in alpine habitats. The tiny blue or purple flowers measure 1/3 inch across. The plant grows to a height of 4-6 inches. Another common name for this low profile plant is “dwarf lupine.” Lupines have distinctive leaves that are almost star-like in form. The seedpods are often covered with soft “hair.”
Prostrate lupine blooms in June, July, and August. The plants I saw in late August were growing at 9,000 feet in elevation. Everything blooms later there.
This lupine ranges north to the Cascade and Olympic mountains in Washington State, south to northern California and east to western Idaho and Nevada. Prostrate lupines grow on talus slopes and in rocky pumice soils at high elevations.
Prostrate lupine is a perennial that grows in areas with heavy snowfall in the winter and short dry summers. Like other lupines, its flowers attract pollinators.
It’s that time of year when you share some of your favorite pictures. As usual, I have a hard time narrowing it down. Please enjoy this selection of wild places, wildlife, history, and a pinch of art at the end.
May the new year bring you wisdom, patience, and peace.
Sunflowers & stagecoaches? You may be wondering how those two things go together.
Last August we explored the Steens Mountain area by car. Did you know you can drive all the way around this 50-mile long mountain and to its 9,700-foot peak at certain times of the year? The views from up there are breathtaking!
The following pictures are from the dirt road on the east side of Steens Mountain. Common sunflowers, Helianthus annus L., were in full bloom along the road.
As their name implies, common sunflowers are common throughout the conterminous United States and in parts of Canada and Mexico. Sunflowers have been introduced in other parts of North America and throughout the world. They occur in a wide variety of habitats including prairies, roadsides, near railroad right-of-ways, savannas, and forest edges.
These leggy plants grow 1.5 to 8+ feet tall and bloom from July through October. Their iconic flowers actually have two kinds of flowers. The yellow “ray” flowers look like petals but each is an individual flower. The “disc” flowers, at the center of the brown head, are usually small. If you magnified your view of the center of the flower, you would see that each of these disc flowers had five petals. The alternate leaves, and the main stem are covered in coarse hair.
The value of sunflowers
Sunflowers are valuable to both wildlife and people. The seeds are sought out by many species of birds. Do you have sunflower seeds from the cultivated variety of sunflower in your bird feeder? If you do, you know how much birds and other wildlife enjoy eating them.
Now on to how this plant is used by humans. Wow! Where do I start?
You have probably munched on sunflower seeds, but did you know the yellow flowers are also edible? They make a colorful addition to a salad.
In July of 1805, the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled along the Missouri River in Montana and recorded these observations on sunflowers.
The sunflower is in bloom [NB: Copy for Dr. Barton] and abundant in the river bottoms. The Indians of the Missouri particularly those who do not cultivate maze make great uce of the seed of this plant for bread, or use it in thickening their soope. they most commonly first parch the seed and then pound them between two smooth stones untill they reduce it to a fine meal. to this they sometimes mearly add a portion of water and drink it in that state, or add a sufficient quantity of marrow grease to reduce it to the consistency of common dough and eate it in that manner. the last composition I think much best and have eat it in that state heartily and think it a pallateable dish.
There are many medicinal uses of this annual plant. Flowers were used for heart problems and in treating burns. Roots were used in treating blisters and snakebites. Native Americans made a leaf tea to treat lung ailments and high fevers. A poultice was applied to snake and spider bites. Seeds were used as diuretics and to help heal coughing.
Some current uses
In addition to the historical usages, sunflowers are used in creating dyes, soap, cattle and chicken feed, and a fine silky fiber, similar to hemp. Sunflower oil is widely consumed in both North America and Europe.
Fun Fact: Some Native Americans believed sunflowers were a symbol of courage. Warriors would carry sunflowers cakes with them into battle. Hunters would sprinkle themselves with sunflower powder to keep their spirits up.
Sunflowers & stagecoach stop
So now you know more about sunflowers, but why is this post called Sunflowers & Stagecoaches? While taking pictures of the sunflowers, I remembered to look for an old stagecoach stop I had seen on a Circling Steens Mountain birding field trip. Ah ha! Found it. See the dark spots in the middle of this photo? Those are the remnants of a stagecoach stop.
Here’s a closer look. The crumbling rock walls are all that’s left of this stop.
In the late 1800s to early 1900s, stagecoach routes crisscrossed the West. On the more heavily traveled routes there were stops every 25 miles or so. Why that distance? That’s about how far a team of horses pulling wagons full of goods and passengers could travel. Their progress was slow due to difficult terrain and weather that could quickly change from scorching heat to bone-chilling cold.
Some of these stations were just for changing horse teams while others had accommodations available for travelers. The stops in Fields and Frenchglen offered more options for weary travelers. One stop near the one pictured above charged 25 cents for overnight lodging and meals. The charge for the care of each horse was an additional 25 cents.
Travel along these stagecoach routes was not fast. For example, the east-west route from Ontario, Oregon to Burns, Oregon took approximately 40 hours. Today that 130-mile route takes 2 hours 12 minutes. But imagine all the sights those early travelers must have seen on those slow journeys…
I saw these blazing star beauties at the top of Pilot Butte in Bend, Oregon last August. Pilot Butte is an extinct volcano that is a state scenic viewpoint. It’s a great place to visit for a 360 degree high desert view! You can see in the photos that these flowers are growing on cinder rocks. The Sisters volcanic peaks are in the background of the last picture.
Blazing star, Mentzelia laevicaulis, is a native plant that grows along roadsides and on sandy, gravelly, or rocky slopes. This plant has showy star-shaped flowers filled with bunches of yellow stamens. The flowers can measure 5-6 inches across.
They grow 3-6 feet tall and bloom June through September. The rough leaves are gray-green in color. One of their common names is ‘stickleaf’ because the leaves have barbed hairs that stick to clothing, etc.
Native Americans used them medicinally for several ailments. Roots were used in treating earaches, rheumatism and arthritis, and thirst. Fevers, mumps, measles, and smallpox were treated with a root infusion. Root infusions were also used to reduce swelling of bruises. Leaves were boiled and the liquid was used for stomachaches and as a wash for skin conditions.
Blazing star plants range from southern Canada south through the western United States (Zones 9a-11).
They can be grown in gardens from seed or starts. This plant grows well in full sun in gravelly or sandy soils. They require little water and the bright yellow flowers look great in rock gardens.
Blazing stars are biennials or short-lived perennials. They are hardy and deer-resistant. The blossoms are of special value to bees, butterflies, and moths.
Fun fact: The spectacular flowers open mid-morning and stay open throughout the night so they are a favorite with nocturnal pollinators like hawk moths and carpenter bees.
Sometimes you get lucky when you’re taking candids of critters. This little burrowing owl gave me a knowing wink right when I took its picture.
We visited the Caswell Sculpture Garden in Troutdale, Oregon a couple days ago. This sculpture of two great blue herons is right by the entrance.
I noticed a movement near the willows right behind this sculpture. I spied a real great blue heron!
This ground squirrel didn’t want me to know where it was hiding its cache. It had so much in its cheek pouches it could barely walk.
These spotted pigs look content in this shot, but one of the piglets had just escaped its enclosure. I scooped it up and returned it to its family.
There are lots of opportunities to take candids of critters right on our property. This morning I was out walking my dogs and I noticed this orange tabby cat. He blended in so well with the plants around him that my dogs didn’t even notice him.
I took this candid shot of my dog, Shelby, relaxing on the window seat. See her ball right next to her head? She is dreaming of when she can play fetch again. 😀