When I entered the Under the Snow exhibition at the High Desert Museum on a busy weekend, I thought of one word: engaging. I watched young children dash from one part of the gallery to another, voicing their excitement the whole way. Adults paused and pointed out interesting facts and features. The interactivity of the displays drew everyone in. This exhibition, created by High Desert Museum staff members, displays information in English and Spanish.
Under the Snow presents information on twenty species of wildlife, plants, and fungi on large and small screens. They live in the area beneath the snow called the subnivium. The snow provides insulation, maintaining a steady temperature even when it’s below freezing outside.
This month, I’m sharing a Great Horned Owl painting I did over the past couple of days. I used acrylic paint on a piece of unfinished oak wood. Sometimes I paint the main subject shape with off white paint before adding the color. I used this technique in my High Desert Mural. This time I did not do the lighter base painting.
The Imagine a World exhibition at the High Desert Museum focuses on past and present efforts to create utopian communities. Participants joined for assorted reasons, including religious persecution, environmental concerns, and anti-war sentiments.
The communities featured are in the Western United States. Founding members often thought of the West as an idyllic, “empty” place to settle. However, they did not always consider who was already living in these environments.
As you enter the gallery, two life-sized astronauts suspended in front of a bold painting of bison catch your eye. Two bright paintings adorn the walls next to this display. These works represent Indigenous futurism. They highlight how important cosmology, science, and futurism have been to Native peoples. Grace Dilon, Ph.D. (Anishinaabe) states that Indigenous futurism is part of the process of “returning to ourselves.” The goal is to recover “ancestral traditions in order to adapt in our post-Native Apocalypse world.”
I’m always on the lookout for beavers when walking the river trails in the Old Mill District of Bend. I listen for the sound of a tail slapping the water and search for the silhouette of a rounded head breaking the water’s surface. Why look for beavers next to a shopping area? Because these industrious creatures found an ideal spot to build a lodge there. I’ve always wanted to know more about beavers, so I visited the Museum’s Dam It! Beavers and Us exhibition.
This multimedia interactive exhibit offers visitors the opportunity to learn all about the North American beaver, Castor canadensis. Tall, cutout panels representing forest trees divide the room. Dappled light shines onto the imaginary forest floor. A re-creation of a beaver dam is tucked into a corner for kids to explore.
In another corner, a large box suspended from a parachute drifts towards the ground—more on that later. An Oregon flag, featuring a beaver, flutters against a wall near the entrance. Video featuring the important connection of beavers with Native Americans plays in another section. A colorful animation featuring the life cycle of beavers plays on a large screen on the back wall.
I took this photo of the Miller cabin in the morning at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. I used the platinum process for this image. This method, popular from 1873-1920, was discontinued due to the high cost of platinum.
This is a kinetic sound sculpture that’s part of an exhibit at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. The exhibit is called Desert Reflections: Water Shapes the West and it runs through September 29, 2019. This exhibit used the combined talents of scientists, historians, and artists.
When you play the video on this post, listen carefully to the music in the background. The sounds of High Desert water and wind were recorded. They were combined with the “color” of music played on a Skinner church organ.
As the artists at Harmonic Laboratory state, “This evokes the richness of the region, a place shaped by many forces interacting in a complex way.”
As you stand underneath the sculpture, the calming tones, continuous motion, and gentle breeze helps you feel some of the energy that’s such an important part of High Desert environments.
This drum painting is part of the new Desert Reflections: Water Shapes the West exhibit at the High Desert Museum. The artist, Ka’ila Farrell-Smith, blends traditional indigenous art forms and contemporary installation art. The traditional concept of a drum is extended into a large rectangular form. Two “hitchhiker” rocks anchor it to the ground.
The sounds and views of this instrument change as it reacts to sunlight. The shadows of the sinew on the back move across the front as the sun moves across the sky. The sinew expands and contracts as temperatures change.
The painting on the front references the Long Lake abstract petroglyphs. It is an example of Great Basin Curvilinear, Rectilinear, and Representational rock art styles.
I liked the back of this work just as much as the front. Loved the lines!
I immediately thought of this picture I took of a white sturgeon when I saw that this week’s photo challenge at Traveling at Wits End was Something that Doesn’t Belong.
In this photo, taken at the High Desert Museum, a young white sturgeon is surrounded by trout. It doesn’t quite fit in.
You might think this odd fish looks prehistoric and you’d be right. Sturgeon existed 200 million years ago, during the Jurassic period.
Though most sturgeon live 11-34 years, they have been known to live up to 104 years (!) They grow to an average length of 6.9 feet and sometimes grow to a length of 20 feet. The maximum weight recorded was 1,799 pounds. In fact, they are North America’s largest fish. So the fish in the picture may look small now, but it has a lot of growing to do!
The Photographs of Edward S. Curtis in the By Her Hand Exhibit
This exhibition features portraits of Native women by photographer Edward S. Curtis from the collection of Christopher G. Cardozo. Curtis took the featured photographs over a 30-year period as part of a project to document Native American’s lifestyle and culture in a time of change. Curtis traveled across North America from 1900 to 1930 photographing over 80 tribes.
By Her Hand Exhibit of Edward S. Curtis Photos, High Desert Museum, Bend, Oregon
Edward S. Curtis worked out of a studio in Seattle, Washington and received financial support from J. P. Morgan. Curtis collected information about the lives of each tribe through photographs, writings, and audio recordings. With the help of Native translators, he assembled a 20-volume set titled The North American Indian. Curtis intended to publish 500 copies but due to a series of financial and personal setbacks, only about 272 were printed. Ninety percent of the original sets are owned by institutions, including the High Desert Museum.
Sometimes you may have looked up at rock climbers on Smith Rock (near Terrebonne , Oregon) and wondered what drives them in their quest to reach the top. This new exhibit helps answer that question. Ascent: Climbing Explored, looks at the history, evolution, and culture of climbing and mountaineering in the West. What began as scientific exploration, grew into an activity people take part in for sheer joy of the experience.
One of the first things you see in the exhibit is a journal entry from John Muir. Muir taught people about conserving wild places through his eloquent writings. In another section of the exhibit, the artwork of Thomas Moran is featured. The paintings he created of Yellowstone in 1871 helped to establish the world’s first national park. The artwork and writings of early explorers were the “social media” of their day. Artist Sarah Uhl, also featured in this exhibit, presents landscape art that is a continuation of themes first presented by 19th century artists. James Lavadour, of the Walla Walla tribe, did the bold bright paintings of mountains near the exhibit entrance. His paintings, and the clean lines of the exhibit, bring a modern look to the displays.
I am always amazed by the beautiful beadwork on display at the High Desert Museum where I volunteer. The carefully crafted pieces represent work by tribes of the Columbia Plateau in parts of modern-day Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
Tribes represented include Umatilla, Wasco, Wishram, Paiute, Washo, Chehalis, Quinault, Nez Perce, Skokomish, Chinook, Tillamook, Yakima, Warm Springs, Haida, Salish, Yaqui, and others.
Doris Swayze Bounds Collection of Native American Artifacts
They are artifacts with an emphasis on “art.” However, Native Americans in the 1700’s and 1800’s did not make art for art’s sake. Beads embellished utilitarian pieces. Beads adorned items ranging from small handbags and knife cases, to deerskin clothing and footwear.
The High Desert Museum houses the Doris Swayze Bounds Collection of Native American Artifacts. Born in 1904 in Oklahoma, Doris Swayze Bounds later lived in Hermiston, Oregon, where she worked as a banker. She always appreciated Native American people and their culture. Many of the pieces in the collection were gifted to her by local Native Americans as a way of showing their respect and affection to her. The artifacts date from the 1870’s to the 1960’s. The collection has many pieces, but I focused on the beadwork in this post.
On January 20, visitors entered Classroom A at the High Desert Museum to find the room filled with lifelike mounts of raptors. One mount depicted a California quail being chased by a sharp-shinned hawk. Another was of a great horned owl perched on a branch. A golden eagle mount, with outstretched wings, dwarfed the other birds on display. Artist Ian Factor welcomed participants in the workshop and everyone got to work sketching the birds. Curator of Art and Community Engagement Andries Fourie also attended and offered help when needed.
My fancy drawing kit
Various art supplies were available for our use. Many attendees brought their own supplies neatly tucked into special cases. Others, like me, had the bare essentials, so we were grateful more were provided.
Drawing from reference materials
A variety of reference materials were displayed. There was a collection of bird wings, talons, and skulls. An articulated bird skeleton stood on a tabletop. We learned the basic form of our subjects by looking at mounts prepared by taxidermists. Though not available at this workshop, study skins, or museum mounts, are often utilized for research and artistic purposes. Photographs can help when you’re doing wildlife art and participants were snapping a lot of pictures. Reference materials are helpful in getting the details right and in understanding the underlying anatomy.
This workshop, like most hosted by the Museum, was open to people of all skill levels. Some attending the event were beginners, while others were more advanced. The artists drew the birds with a variety of media. Several sketched in black-and-white with pencils, graphite, or charcoal; other participants added color with pastels and colored pencils.
The Otter Bench Trail gives you some breathtaking views of the Crooked River. The trail head is near the town of Crooked River Ranch and the trail goes along the base of the cliffs bordering the river. We walked a couple miles in, stopped for lunch, and then headed back. There is little elevation change on the section we hiked but if you decide to head down to the river, it gets steep.
The trail goes through juniper and sagebrush habitat and along rocky talus slopes. If you go off the trail a little ways, you can walk to the edge of cliffs that enclose the river far below. If you have a fear of heights, don’t get too close to that edge. A turkey vulture flew by at eye height when we were close to the edge. Hope it wasn’t waiting for a meal!
You get a good view of some of the geological forces at work here. The basalt columns in the lower cliffs are part of the Deschutes formation. Above them you can see light tan colored tuff. Far above the tuff area you will see more columnar basalt and it is part of the most recent Newberry formation.
There is a small dam on the river a few miles from the trail head.
There are golden eagles nesting on the cliffs and you can see how easy it was for them to find a nest site here. The Horny Hollow Trail forks off from the main trail but it’s closed seasonally when the birds are nesting. It was closed when we were there but I saw eagles flying above the highest cliffs in the distance.
I heard and saw quite a few songbirds on this hike in April. The list of species seen includes Townsend’s solitaire, black billed magpie, mountain chickadee, Brewer’s sparrow, and western meadowlark. It was nice to hear some of these songsters again.
As temperatures begin to warm up, the high desert starts its wildflower show. We saw big showy arrowhead balsamroot, purple phlox and rock cress, delicate pink prairie stars, yellow fiddleneck, larkspur, and white miner’s lettuce. After a particularly hard winter we were grateful to see these bursts of color.
This trail passes through Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Crooked River National Grassland, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife land. There is no fee to use the trail and there’s a good parking area at the trail head.
Here is a BLM map that shows the Otter Bench trail:
Here are driving directions from BLM:
Directions to Otter Bench Trailhead from Highway 97 From Highway 97, just north of Terrebonne, turn left on to Lower Bridge Road (Sign with left arrow says “Crooked River Ranch”). After 2 miles turn right on 43rd St. After 1.7 miles turn left on Chinook Dr. After 5 miles (including a steep descent), go straight on to Horny Hollow Rd (do not take Chinook back up the switchback) Go 1.7 miles to the end of the pavement and park there.
When you go outside into parts of the 135-acre property, you will be able to visit various exhibits. The Autzen Otter area is being renovated and won’t be open again until sometime in the spring of 2016. Be sure to stop by to see the entertaining otters once the exhibit reopens.
Keep going around the trail and make a brief stop at the wildlife viewing area. Here you might get a glimpse of woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, squirrels, and chipmunks. You might get lucky and spot a hawk or owl waiting to get a snack.
The Wind, Earth, and Fire Trail is nearby and it shows how fire plays an important role in forest development. Keep following the trail and stop into the Changing Forests exhibit to learn about forests in the area.
Looking back in time
Next you will see the Miller Family Ranch. The buildings there are built to show what a farm in 1904 would have looked like. Peek inside the cabin to see how a family lived and watch interpreters demonstrate life in those times. There’s also a barn, corral, chicken coop, saw mill, and even an outhouse. The woven wood corral is practical but also a work of art. You may see horses, donkeys, and chickens at the ranch.
Tucked away in the pines south of Bend, you will find a magical place. The High Desert Museum may not be what you expect when you see the word “Museum” in its name. Yes, it does have artifacts in permanent and rotating exhibits but they are beautifully displayed in buildings that blend into the environment. There is much more to this place than traditional exhibits.
Sage Grouse exhibit
Tough By Nature exhibit
What to see at the High Desert Museum
The rotating exhibits cover many facets of the high desert. In December of 2015, these included one on weather, one on sage grouse, and another on women of the American West. There are daily talks and demonstrations about nature and history related to exhibits at the Museum. The Museum also has people dressed in period clothing interpreting history and a small collection of desert wildlife.
One of the first things you see as you drive up the long driveway is the small High Desert Ranger Station. This was an actual station and it was built in 1933 and moved here in the 1980’s. It’s only open during the summer months.