Colorful collage of comestibles


Lots of colorful fruits and veggies to buy at the Farmer’s Market yesterday in Bend, Oregon.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Collage

FIRE! Fire pit competition in Bend

Did that get your attention? I went to the Oregon WinterFest event here in Bend this weekend and took some pictures of the Fire Pit Competition that I wanted to share with you. This is the 17th year of the festival so it has a long history in the area. This is the fourth year for the fire pit competition and there are more entries every year.

The dragon and a fire pit with the flag bridge and Deschutes River in the background.

The fire pits came in many shapes and sizes.

Fire pit competition WinterFest

This one had an enclosure with mirrors.

Fire Pit competition WinterFest

This one was like a huge globe.

Flowers of flame and a burning stump.

Fire pit competition WinterFest

This one tied everything together into a nice package.

Some were tall and others were closer to the ground.

Fire pit competition WinterFest

Visitors were glad to have many places to warm up.

Some of the pieces were very intricate.

Would you prefer steaming hot espresso or a roasted garlic?

Fire Pit competition WinterFest

This one provided shelter from the breezy conditions on Saturday night.

Fire pit competition WinterFest

You could tell that the artists put a lot of heart into their work.

Hope you have a nice Valentines’s Day!

Birding Around Bend

A fluttering of wings draws my eyes. An unknown call turns my head. Finding birds and figuring out what they are is like working as an investigative detective. You notice things that don’t fit into the puzzle that forms the background environment. I’m no expert but I look for clues such as the silhouette, size, markings, behavior, and sound. Apps such as iBird and various field guides help you narrow down the list of possible suspects when you are out birding. Sometimes you know what something is right away; other times you need to confer with others. There are times when you have only a fleeting glimpse so then you might refer to the bird as an LBJ – Little Brown Jobbie.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

Birding in the High Desert

Though Bend is located in a desert environment, there is no shortage in the number and variety of birds that live here. We are fortunate that there are so many organizations involved in educating visitors and residents about the wealth of feathered creatures in the area. I have been on birding walks with the High Desert Museum, East Cascades Audubon Society, Sunriver Nature Center, and Deschutes Land Trust. People who go on the walks range from novice to very experienced birders.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Many of the guided walks have one thing in common – water. Even in my own yard a water feature attracts birds like some super powerful magnet. Lakes, rivers, ponds, and even small backyard water features, draw birds in.

I see a rainbow of birds in my backyard from the comfort of my La-Z-Boy recliner. The constant flurry of activity includes the brilliant blue of mountain bluebirds, yellow of lesser goldfinches, red of Cassin’s finch, impossibly smooth tannish-brown and butter yellow of cedar waxwings, and soft gray of mourning and Eurasian collared-doves. A sharp-shinned hawk occasionally comes in for a quick meal. I also get to see unusual visitors such as leucistic American robins and dark-eyed juncos. Leucistic birds have plumage that is partially white and they really catch your eye.

Deschutes County has a wide variety of habitats ranging from high elevation mountains with alpine plant communities to lower elevation sagebrush steppe. You might see gray-crowned rosy finches on the way up South Sister or sage grouse on a lek at lower elevations near Millican. Several websites list birds you are likely to see at various locations. The Birding Oregon site has some detailed information on where to go. Here is the Deschutes County link .

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Birding hot spot in Deschutes County

One of the hot spots for birding in Deschutes County is Hatfield Lake, a wastewater-treatment facility. Nearly 200 species have been observed at this location just north of the Bend Municipal Airport. It also holds the distinction of producing more rare bird sightings than just about any other location in Central Oregon. There are websites such as where people share sightings from this and other locations.

Bird events and guided trips

There are also opportunities to look for specific types of birds. In September and October the East Cascades Audubon Society (ECAS), records the number and types of hawks and other raptors migrating over Green Ridge, located near Sisters, OR. The High Desert Museum (HDM) works in cooperation with ECAS at this event. Up to 16 different species have been observed there during the count. They have seen nearly 500 birds on their best days. In mid-June, ECAS also puts on the Dean Hale Woodpecker Festival where participants go out in search of the 11 species that live in the area.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Damian Fagan, recently hired by HDM, takes participants out on a Museum-sponsored field trip. The Museum and US Forest Service are involved in a bird banding study. Limited space is available on field trips to the study site at Ryan Ranch Meadow.

If you ever want to learn more about birds in this area, take advantage of some of the many field trips available. Participants are always willing to help you spot birds – no matter what your level of expertise is.

Bend = Beer

Why, you may be asking, is she writing about beer on a site that is supposed to be related to history and nature. Well… beer is a big part of Bend’s history.

Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter beer and a growler

Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter and a growler

The history of beer in Central Oregon

Earlier this year, the High Desert Museum had a great exhibit about brewing. It was a temporary exhibit and it has closed but I can still share part of what I wrote about the exhibit. Here is an excerpt:

“The exhibit follows the history of brewing with an emphasis on activity in the Central Oregon region. What started out as saloons set up in tents has evolved into brewpubs that can be found throughout the area. Brewing slowed down during the Prohibition period of 1920 to 1933. Prohibition actually started four years earlier in Oregon due to the protests from some of its residents. Many women that participated in the temperance movement were upset by the bad influence alcohol had on their lives. At one time, there were breweries in nearly every Central Oregon town.

After Prohibition ended, new businesses opened that served a wide variety of alcoholic beverages.  Grant’s Brewery Pub located in Yakima, Washington, was the first craft brewery in the northwest. It opened in 1982. In 1983, after a series of legislative measures passed it became legal to produce and sell beer from independent breweries in Oregon. Craft brewing started in Bend in 1988 when Gary Fish opened Deschutes Brewery. As craft beer became more widely accepted, other breweries opened in two successive waves of activity that began in the 1990s. There are currently 26 breweries in the area with five more rumored to be opening in the not too distant future. Continue reading

Skeleton Cave – A lava tube cave near Bend

Skeleton Cave – the name immediately brings questions to your mind. The designation refers to the discovery of several animal skeletons found inside of the cave. This lava tube cave is located south of Bend off of the China Hat Road (also known as Road 18). Incidentally, 690 caves have been discovered in Deschutes County and 577 of them are lava tubes.

Skeleton Cave in Oregon

Inside Skeleton Cave

There is currently a metal staircase leading down into the cave. In the past it was just like a large pit trap that animals sometimes fell into and then could not escape. Because of this, skeletons and fossilized remains of several species of animals have been found within the cave. These included horse, deer, elk, bear, fox, a large hyena-type canid, lynx, a small carnivore, and various rodents. The horse skeleton found in the cave was determined to be that of Equus niobrarensis. It lived during the Pleistocene era that ended 10,000 years ago.

Inside a cave near Bend

The cave was discovered in 1924, although writing on the cave wall indicates it may have been visited in 1894. An old still was found in the cave. It was surveyed by Walter T. Perry and Phil Brogan. They measured the main cave at 3,036 feet long with a side passage of 1,734 feet. Later, in 1971 Jim Neiland measured the cave more accurately at a length of 3,560 feet.

Lava tube cave

Lava tubes are tunnels that form when slow moving lava develops a hard exterior crust that thickens as the interior, faster flowing, lava continues to flow through until it drains away.

Skeleton Cave lavacicles

On the ceiling of Skeleton Cave you can see “lavacicles” which are a variety of stalactites. They form as the lava drips from the roof of a cave and cools and hardens.

This cave is especially popular with visitors and many have enjoyed exploring it. The temperature inside the cave averages 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Visitors can walk into the first part of the cave and explore deeper sections by climbing and crawling.

Negative impacts to Skeleton Cave

Unfortunately, visitors are impacting the habitats within Skeleton Cave and other caves nearby. The number of recreational cavers (or spelunkers) increased as Bend’s population increased. The parking lot was located close to the cave opening and provided easy access. Skeleton cave was known as “The Party Cave”. Vandals spray painted graffiti and left their garbage behind. Some of the sport climbers left bolts and chalk lines that began to accumulate on the cave walls and ceiling.

Bat populations in the caves were dropping since people were in the caves during their hibernation period. Unlike other mammals that hibernate, bats have very little body fat so if they are disturbed they may die. There are nine species of bats living in the caves near China Hat Road.

Skeleton Cave in Oregon

Conserving cave environments

The Road 18 Caves Project Environmental Assessment was designed to “analyze effects of humans on wildlife resources (including bat habitat), recreational opportunities, geologic features, native vegetation, and cultural resources in nine caves in regards to past, present and future use” in the area located eight miles Southeast of Bend, Oregon. The findings were published in 2001. Some of the recommendations included gating some of the cave entrances, moving parking lots farther away from entrances, preventing entry during the time when bats hibernate, and limiting or removing bolts used by sports climbers. This was a controversial decision because people have a right to explore caves but the caves are also protected under the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act.

In order to protect the habitats within Skeleton Cave, it can only be accessed through private commercial tours. Wanderlust Tours has a special permit to access the caves. They provide helmets, lights, and a naturalist guide.

To learn more facts about caves, visit the Oregon High Desert Grotto website.