There are many wild Oregon places and this post highlights just a few of them. The ever changing skies can make familiar landscapes look completely different. Here are some portraits of Oregon’s wild places.
Oregon is an inspiration. Whether you come to it, or are born to it, you become entranced by our state’s beauty, the opportunity she affords, and the independent spirit of her citizens.
It’s time for some fun photos to go along with the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge theme of Just for Fun. Here are some of my photo bloopers for your enjoyment. This is what I do with some of my photos that don’t turn out quite right.
Grizzly bear and ravens at West Yellowstone, Montana
The Three Gossips at Arches National Park, Utah
Swallows at Summer Lake, Oregon
Close-up of western juniper bark, Bend, Oregon
Three mallards in the Deschutes River, Bend, Oregon
Learn about the natural world by visiting Sunriver Nature Center
Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory is a great place to learn more about the natural world. This small interpretive center is on the west side of Sunriver, Oregon. It’s in an area that includes pine forests, meadows, and the meandering Deschutes River. The “edges” between these habitats are good places to see wildlife.
You can observe local wildlife by walking the trails on your own or going out with a guide. The Sam Osgood Nature Trail winds around the property. In the spring and summer keep an eye out for trumpeter swans. Guided bird walks take place every Saturday morning in the spring, summer, and fall. I have been on several of the walks. You’ll see waterfowl in the pond, raptors flying overhead, and songbirds along the walk. Great gray owls have been spotted in the area occasionally. You never know what you might spot on one of these walks.
There are also programs for families and kids. There are Kids Nature Camps for kids 4-10 years of age at certain times of the year. Family programs might include offerings such as Family Birding, Aquatic Explorations, and Eco Bike Tours. During the school year, staff travel to nearby schools to give presentations.
The Sunriver Nature Center building has live animals, diorama displays of local habitats, hands-on exhibits, and a collection of rocks with a focus on meteors. Their collection of live animals includes birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Birds of prey are used in daily educational talks in the amphitheater.
This is a licensed rehabilitation center so there may be some birds not on public display. With the help of staff and volunteers, the birds get much needed medical attention. If possible, they are released back into the wild.
The Oregon Observatory
The Oregon Observatory offers spectacular views of daytime and night skies. There are opportunities to see galaxies, nebulae, and planets and their moons. The observatory has a large collection of telescopes available. Kids can learn about astronomy through visits, classes, and through community outreach. Look at these amazing photos from the observatory! Hours vary – click here for the most current information.
A few sights to see at the Sunriver Nature Center
One of my favorite places to hang out is near the bird feeders. You’ll see lots of birds, and an occasional squirrel, taking advantage of a free meal.
Here’s a room where reptiles, amphibians, and insects can be viewed. It’s called the Creature Cave.
Birds of prey can be seen up close and personal in their enclosures. A building was constructed recently to house and exercise the Center’s raptors.
Check their website to find out about current events and to register for camps and walks. Staff and volunteers take some of their wildlife ambassadors (like the great horned owl pictured below) to events in the area. Sunriver Nature Center is a non-profit that depends upon donations. Click here to donate.
The ground trembled beneath a stunted sagebrush shrub. The Toad Queen emerged from her burrow to a changed world. Clouds of smoke hung over the land from a wildfire. The spadefoot toad gazed at this new world through golden slitted eyes. Sand tumbled down her spotted back.
A purple larkspur plant stood near her burrow. Its head of flowers tilted toward the earth, wilted from the blistering heat.
The Toad Queen heard a meadowlark singing nearby. The song stopped abruptly, interrupted by a fit of coughing.
“What happened while I slept in my burrow?” She glanced around at the desert landscape.
She and the other spadefoot toads had pulled moisture from the soil as they slept underground and it helped them survive. Other creatures had not been so lucky. The carcass of a sage sparrow fledgling lay near her burrow. A few feathers clung to the tiny dried out body.
“Wind and fire are taking the water from the land,” her mate said. He had emerged from his own burrow. The toad shook the sand off the black spades on his hind feet.
“The sun is drying everything,” she said. “We must call for help.”
A call for help
Her mate called the spadefoot toads. His loud croaking call carried far over the sagebrush steppe. Other toads joined in and soon the air was filled with a chorus of croaks.
Over their heads, dark clouds collected in the smoky skies. Thunderheads formed. The patter of rainfall on the earth woke other spadefoot toads. They emerged from their burrows and joined in the chorus. The air was alive with the energy created by their song.
Rain fell, dousing the fires. White smoke rose from the burning trees and shrubs doused by the rain. Hours later, the fire was out.
“Thank you,” the Toad Queen said. She smiled at the group of spadefoot toads gathered around her.
The meadowlark alighted on a greasewood shrub near the Toad Queen. His melodic song of gratitude echoed across the landscape.
Renewal and change was coming to this land, but it would take time.
We used to have two miniature horses. One, Scooby Doo pictured on the left, was a dwarf mini. He stood at only 27″ at the withers. His pedigreed companion, Calypso Blue pictured on the right, stood at 32″. Calypso was calm and even-tempered. Scooby had a lot of personality and let you know it.
When it was time to move, the farrier who trimmed our horse’s hooves took Scooby. He had worked with a lot of horses in his days and could see that Scooby was a big personality in a small package.
Do you ever drive by a place a million times and think to yourself, “I’ve got to stop there one day.” This rockshop, south of Redmond, Oregon, was one of those places for me. We finally stopped last summer. The shop has hundreds of carefully labeled rocks inside and out.
Canutts Gem and Rockshop display room
There are a wide variety of rocks in Central Oregon and this shop displays some of the beauties collected over the past 42 years by the owner. Owners Mel and Jerry Lindbeck obviously have a love of rocks. Mel shapes some of the rocks into spheres, bookends, and display pieces.
Canutts Gem and Rockshop
Lovely displays of rocks
We have been to plenty of rock shops over the years but this one displays them in lovely ways. The front room has a couple display cabinets, a table with small rocks, and windows lined with slices of semi-transparent agate.
Canutts Gem and Rockshop displays
The back room is filled with neatly arranged specimens. In other rock stores we have visited, dust and dirt seem to be part of the collection. Not here. The polished spheres shine and sparkle, reflecting the light. The many amazing specimens invite you to take a closer look.
Canutts Gem and Rockshop outside displays
This is a good place to see some of the rock native to this area. Inside you can see thundereggs, petrified wood, jasper, agate, obsidian, and less common things such as Hampton green petrified wood. Outside you will see some of these same types of rock in boulder-size specimens. You will also see smaller specimens of some of the rocks in water-filled birdbaths that bring out their color. Rough rock is also on display outside in big piles.
Canutts Gem and Rockshop outside displays
And more rocks…
Canutts Gem and Rockshop outside displays
Though most of the rock is from Central Oregon in this shop, there are specimens from elsewhere as well. Pyrite, malachite (one of my favorites), lapis lazuli, copper, quartz, and fossils are all represented. Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to see the owner’s sense of humor about a special fossil in their collection.
So if you like rocks, think about stopping at this roadside attraction on Highway 97. To find out more about the shop, go to Canutts Gems and Rockshop.
Canutts Gem and Rockshop roadside sign
Please support our local businesses and buy rocks for yourself, friends, and family. Remember, a rock makes a special gift that lasts forever.
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.
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.
I previously posted a picture of the artist at work on this bridge here but thought you might want an update. Here is the completed painting. A different artist painted the inside of the tunnel. Lots of beauty on the bridge, inside the tunnel, and all around.
Last summer I was out for an early morning walk and happened to see an artist at work painting a mural on a bridge. Sandy Klein was painting spring flowers and birds on this bridge of art in the Old Mill district of Bend, Oregon. The beautiful artwork sprinkled throughout Bend accentuates its natural beauty.
Have you ever seen a plant out in nature and thought to yourself, “Wow, I wish I could have that in my yard!”
Mountain mahogany in the wild
Gray rabbitbrush (transplant) and mountain mahogany in landscape
Well sometimes you can and if you include certain types of plants, you’ll benefit in several ways including:
Saving $$$ on your water bill.
Ensuring that your garden plantings survive and thrive.
Spending less time on maintenance.
California Quail near prickly poppy and green rabbitbrush
Water wise gardening, otherwise known as xeriscaping, incorporates plants that require less water. The plants can be native to the area or from other areas with similar environments. There are hundreds of these types of plants that can be incorporated into your garden.
Deciding what to plant
You need to consider the environment where you live. I live at an elevation of 3,400 feet in an area that gets about 10 inches of precipitation per year. Water is a precious resource here.
Desert primrose in the wild
Desert primrose in landscape
When deciding what to plant, you can start by going to a local plant nursery. You could also check out information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative Extension System. Click here to find resources in your state. Local sources can tell you more about water requirements for different plants and what grows there, soil types and amendments, how to water efficiently, what mulches to use, and how to maintain your landscape.
Purple sage in the wild
Purple sage in landscape
Plan and design your landscape before you start purchasing plants. Consider establishing “zones” where plants have the same soil, light, and water requirements. Figure out what type of watering system you want to have. We use a drip irrigation system to target the plants with limited amounts of water. If you choose plants that grow well in your environment, they may require very little water once they are established.
Finding water wise plants
Find a source for getting plants that grow best in your area. I am very lucky to live near Wintercreek Restoration and Nursery, a nursery that specializes in native plants. I have also successfully transplanted drought tolerant native plants from other parts of my property. Some plants, like buckwheat, are more successful if raised from seed. Native plants may not need additional soil amendments when you plant them. Be sure to mulch around plants after planting them and do maintenance as needed.
Oregon sunshine “volunteers” in landscape
Oregon sunshine transplant in landscape
It can be a daunting task to get started with a water wise landscape design. You can hire a landscape designer or do it yourself. We have done it ourselves using local resources. I often buy plants that are small because they cost less. Last year my garden looked kind of pitiful. It takes time for the landscape to mature so I have to remind myself to be patient. This year, even after a heavy snowfall winter, the plants are much bigger so I am beginning to see their potential. Yay!
Beavertail cactus propagated from one leaf next to fringed sage
Can you guess where I was earlier this month? Yes! I was on a 2,754-mile road trip to see parks in Utah and Nevada. We visited five national parks and one state park in Utah and one national park in Nevada.
I love the artwork on these t-shirts. It’s nice to remember a place with a wearable piece of art.
I took a few pictures while on this trip. 1,420 to be exact. Lots of material for future blog posts!
It’s hard to imagine that the big flat area pictured above was once filled with water that all disappeared. Developer William A. Laidlaw was in this area in the early 1900’s and he promised settlers a project that would irrigate nearly 30,000 acres. Local businesses and settlers put up some of their hard earned dollars for the project but then figured out they were being taken advantage of. Laidlaw was burned in effigy in 1907 and 1912. New plans were made by the state for a reservoir.
Tumalo Dam construction. Photographic copy of TID photograph (from original print on file at TID office, Tumalo, Oregon).
In 1914, the huge earthen Tumalo Dam on the edge of 1,100 acre Bull Flat was constructed. It took 18 months to complete. The reservoir was filled with thousands of gallons of water. A couple of school kids were passing by the reservoir one day and heard a roaring noise like a tub draining. A giant whirlpool was sucking down the water at the rate of 220 cfs – as fast as it was being filled. Yikes!
They tried plugging the hole with bales of hay and detonating dynamite on floating barges. Nothing worked. It turned out the engineer that designed the project had not done much work on the soil at the site. It is extremely porous and modern day engineers liken it to a sponge. There are also lava tubes underneath the surface. Continue reading →
The Three Sisters volcanoes in Oregon are beautiful but one of the three is dangerous. The photo above shows Middle Sister, a dormant volcano, and North Sister, an extinct volcano. Their other sibling, South Sister, is the troublemaker. This volcano last erupted about 2,000 years ago and research in 2000 indicated uplifting activity so it could blow again. See all three Sisters in the photo below. South Sister is on the left – some distance from her siblings.
Driving along U.S. Route 97 north of Redmond, Oregon, a bridge dramatically spanning a deep canyon grabs your attention. The Crooked River Railroad Bridge was built in 1911. It passes over the Crooked River, 320 feet below.
There is a nice rest area here with picnic tables, restrooms, and scenic viewpoints. You can get a bird’s eye views of birds of prey, swallows, and other cliff dwellers from here. We had a bald eagle glide over our heads while a turkey vulture drifted by nearby.
The Crooked River, true to its name, meanders in a twisting course through the canyon below the bridge. You get great views of the lichen covered cliffs from this viewpoint. This area was formed about 350,000 years ago as lava flows from the Newberry Volcano, 40 miles to the south, moved northwards.
This viewpoint is named after Peter Skene Ogden, who first entered central Oregon in 1825 when working as a trapper for the Hudson’s Bay Company. For more about the park, click here.
If you are a thrill seeker, you can bungee jump from the bridge in the summer. After a pilot program in 2016, the state gave final approval for bungee jumping businesses here.
Note the signs about leaving your dogs in the car. Unfortunately, some have perished when they accidentally ran off the cliffs.
Caution signs at Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint
The Crooked River Railroad Bridge has an interesting history. Two competing railroad companies were building rail lines on both sides of the Deschutes River in an attempt to be the first to reach the timber-rich country near Bend. There were also plans to connect this line to railroad lines from other parts of the state.
Jim Hill, owner of The Oregon Trunk Railway (a subsidiary of Great Northern Railway), worked on the west side of the river and Edward H. Harriman, owner of the Union Pacific Railway and other railroads, worked on the east side. Workers in the two competing companies got in fights and raided each other’s camps stealing food, alcohol, and supplies. When they reached Crooked River there was only one area where the geography allowed for bridge construction.
Since Jim Hill had bought that property two years before, Harriman’s company was forced to negotiate with him. Harriman had passed away in September of 1909. The terms of the settlement allowed other railroad companies to use the rail lines from the Columbia River to Bend. The two lines were eventually merged into one with the best grades adopted for use and the rest abandoned.
View from the Crooked River High Bridge looking west
Construction of the bridge, designed by architect Ralph Modjeski, started on May 18, 1911 and it was completed on September 17 of that year. The fast pace was due to a rush to complete the line to Bend, 25.5 miles to the south. Jim Hill drove the golden spike in Bend on October 5, 1911.
Rex T. Barber Veterans Memorial Bridge
If you visit the viewpoint, you will see three bridges. The Crooked River Railroad Bridge is located farthest west. The Crooked River High Bridge was completed in 1926 and it served as the main north-south highway until 2000. In 2000, the higher-capacity Rex T. Barber Veterans Memorial Bridge replaced that bridge. Formerly known as the Crooked River Bridge, its name was changed in 2003 to honor local World War II fighter pilot, Rex T. Barber. On one of his missions Lt. Barber, in his Lockheed P-38 Lightning, shot down a plane carrying Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto over Bougainville Island, northeast of Australia. Admiral Yamamoto planned and led the attack on Pearl Harbor. There is a lot of history, and beauty, associated with the Crooked River bridges.
Apparently some hawks think our backyard water feature is their personal smorgasbord. I often see a swoosh of wings go by as songbirds scatter. The Cooper’s hawk, and the very similar sharp-shinned hawk, are frequent visitors to our backyard. Like the jays that always seem to follow me, the Cooper’s hawk has now decided it must be one of my totem animals. I have seen them in a wide variety of habitats here in central Oregon. They always pose nicely for my camera. Here’s a bit more about them…
Range: Cooper’s hawks live throughout the United States, southern Canada, and Mexico. Their breeding range extends from southern Canada southwards to the northern parts of the U. S. They winter and live year-round in the southern and central parts of the U.S. and in Mexico.
Identification & unique characteristics: This medium-sized bird has the rounded, broad wings, and relatively long legs that help to identify it as an accipiter hawk. Adults are gray on their backs and on the upper side of their tails and wings. Their head has a darker “cap” and they have red eyes. There are thick dark bands on the tail. Their breasts have orange-reddish bars. Juvenile birds are brown on their upper parts and their breasts are streaked with brown. Their eyes are yellow. This hawk has a length of 14-18 inches and a weight of 8-14 ounces. Females are always larger. Cooper’s hawks fly in a distinctive way – a couple quick flaps and then long glides. This bird is silent much of the time though it does sometimes vocalize with a cak-cak-cak call during the breeding season.
It can be very challenging to figure out if you are seeing a Cooper’s hawk or a sharp-shinned hawk. Cooper’s hawks have a larger head, thicker legs, bigger feet, a paler back of the neck, and a rounded tail with a thicker white tip. The Northern Goshawk looks similar but it is much larger and it has a more distinct white eye stripe.
Behavior & life history: The breeding season begins as early as March. Courtship includes aerial chases and displays with gliding flights with their wings held up in a ‘V’ position. In bonded pairs, the male does a bowing display to the female before and after building the nest. Cooper’s hawks prefer to build their stick nests 25-50 feet above the ground in trees located in areas with flat habitat. Eggs are incubated for 30-36 days and the young birds are in the nest for 27-34 days. They lay 2-6 eggs. This skillful flier often sits in wait and in a sudden burst of speed captures its unsuspecting prey. They mainly eat birds but also prey on small mammals and, occasionally, frogs, snakes, and lizards. Bird prey ranges in size from warblers to robins on up to grouse (and chickens!). Cooper’s hawks live up to 12 years in the wild and as long as 20+ years in captivity. Predators of this bird include red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, and raccoons.
Habitat needs: Cooper’s hawks live in a wide variety of habitats that include mature forests, mixed woodlands, edges near wetlands, and in open country. They prefer to live in forested lands but are now common in urban and suburban areas. This may be due, in part, to the abundance of rock pigeons, one of their favorite prey species. This bird and other birds of prey are also attracted to backyard feeders.
Status & conservation: This hawk’s population is considered stable at this time. In the past, Cooper’s hawks were adversely affected by the pesticide DDT but after it was banned in 1972 their numbers increased. Since they prey on chickens, they were heavily hunted in the past. One of their names is “chicken hawk.” Cooper’s hawk populations may be affected by habitat loss and degradation.
Interesting fact: Cooper’s hawks do not have the notched bill that helps falcons kill their prey. They kill their prey by squeezing it and sometimes they even hold it under water to drown it.
If you want to go snowshoeing close to Bend, check out the trail at Swampy Lakes Sno-Park. It’s a short ways away from the more popular Virginia Meissner Sno-Park and is tucked in the shadow of Mount Bachelor. There are plenty of parking spaces but make sure you purchase a Sno-Park Parking Permit before you go.
Both Virginia Meissner and Swampy Lakes Sno-Parks offer trails for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and fatbiking. Some of the other sno-parks in the area also have places for snowmobiling.
We walked 1.75 miles on the easy Short Snowshoe Loop but there are a couple other trails that are longer and more difficult. The more difficult Long Snowshoe Loop trail is 3.25 miles long. If you want to get some good views from Telemark Butte, you’ll have to go on the longer Porcupine Snowshoe Loop. That loop is 4.1 miles long and it’s rated as more difficult. You can stop for a rest after 2 miles at the Swampy Shelter.
The Short Snowshoe Loop winds through beautiful pine forests and it has little elevation gain. The trailhead is at an elevation of 5,800 feet. You won’t get great mountain views but you may find the same solitude that we did last week. There were several cross-country skiers using the trails nearby but we didn’t see any other snowshoers. The trail was in great shape. We could see some fatbike tracks on our trail – they are not allowed on ski trails – so other people were out there recently. It was a nice quiet walk on a sunny winter day.
Make sure you bring the proper clothing and equipment for your trek. Go on a trail that fits your abilities – they are well-signed. There are directional signs but I would also bring a map and compass (and maybe a GPS). Here is a map: Swampy Sno-Park Trails
Fun Facts: Did you know that you can burn 450 calories an hour snowshoeing? If you run on snowshoes that increases your calorie burn to 1,000 calories per hour. Yes, people do run on special snowshoes designed for that purpose. According to Snowshoe Magazine, you burn 45% more calories snowshoeing than walking or running at the same speed due to exercising in the cold, having additional weight on your feet, and working against the resistance of snow.