Otter Bench hike near Crooked River Ranch, Oregon

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.

Otter Bench hike, Crooked River, Oregon 17April2017

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 map that shows the Otter Bench trail:

Otter_Bench_Crooked_River_Ranch_Trails

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.

Water wise gardening: Growing more with less

Xeriscaping

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, Great Basin National Park, Nevada 8May2017

Mountain mahogany in the wild

Mountain mahogany in landscape 13June2017

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.
  • Attracting wildlife.
  • Spending less time on maintenance.
California Quail near prickly poppy and green rabbitbrush 25may2017

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, Fort Rock, Oregon 9June2017

Desert primrose in the wild

Desert primrose in landscape 29May2017

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, Gray Butte, Oregon 15May2016

Purple sage in the wild

Purple sage in landscape 14June2017

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 12June2017

Oregon sunshine “volunteers” in landscape

Oregon sunshine in landscape 12June2017

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 12June2017

Beavertail cactus propagated from one leaf next to fringed sage

Wear in the world?

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.

BryceNatPk 6May2017

I took a few pictures while on this trip. 1,420 to be exact. Lots of material for future blog posts!

Tumalo Dam Hike

TumaloReservoirHike12 10Apr2017

Bull Flat from Tumalo dam

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.

Construction of the dam ca. 1914

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

Dangerous Beauties

Sisters 1Aug2016The 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.

SistersView2 4June2016Weekly Photo Challenge – Danger!

Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint

Crooked River Railroad Bridge 3Apr2017

Crooked River Railroad Bridge

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.

Crooked River at Peter Skene Ogden Scenic Viewpoint 3Apr2017

Crooked River

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 Scenic Viewpoint 3Apr2017

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 at Peter Skene Ogden Scenic Viewpoint 3Apr2017

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 at Peter Skene Ogden Scenic Viewpoint 3Apr2017

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.

Cooper’s Hawks – Common but cool

Cooper's hawk 21Oct2016

Cooper’s hawk, Accipiter cooperii

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.

Cooper's Hawk 17Nov2016

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.
Cooper's hawk 21Oct2016

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.
CoopersHawk

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.

Snowshoeing at Swampy Lakes

Swampy Lakes Short Snowshoe trail, Bend, Oregon 14Feb2017If 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.

Swampy Lakes Short Snowshoe trail, Bend, Oregon 14Feb2017We 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.

The T. rex within

Tyrannosaurus rex rock by Siobhan Sullivan ©2017

While on vacation, I picked up a rock and it told me what it was meant to be. A Tyrannosaurus rex of course!

I took it home and got ready to paint. All of the ridges and depressions seemed to be in exactly the right spots. Even the greenish color was right. I darkened a few spots and enhanced others. I added scales with a tiny brush. The crooked grin fit right into the contours of the rock. The nostril and eye placed themselves along a ridge and depression.

Look past external appearances and you may find magic hidden within.

Weekly Photography Challenge – Repurpose

Dissipating clouds

Pronghorn near Antelope, OR 12-11-2015

Sometimes you can be trudging along with a little dark cloud hovering over your head and you almost walk by something intended for only you to see. I had one of those moments years ago at Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge. I had been doing research there and often saw pronghorn on sagebrush covered hills in the distance.

Hart Mountain National Antelope RefugeThe refuge was created in southern Oregon in 1936 to protect pronghorn, otherwise known as antelope. This icon of the Wild West is an interesting creature. More closely related to giraffes than deer, their uniquely shaped horns have a bony core that is covered with a sheath that they shed every year. They are capable of running at speeds as fast as 55 miles per hour for short distances.

On that long ago day, I took a hike by myself to sort out my thoughts. I walked on a trail that bordered a willow-lined creek. My head was down, focused on the gravelly trail ahead of me.

Pronghorn at Hart Mountain

I almost didn’t notice the pronghorn next to the trail. It was so close I could have stretched out my arm and touched it. I stopped and looked at it as it stared at me. Pronghorn have enormous eyes shaded by long lashes. The pronghorn looked at me curiously with those expressive eyes. The disc of white hair on its rump started to stand up as it does when they are alarmed. I stood stock still.

I’m not sure how long we both stood there regarding each other. The pronghorn eventually made a soft snorting noise and moved on its way. I stood there for a while and the thoughts of anger I previously had disappeared.

Pronghorn at Yellowstone

Sometimes you just need to move on from things that make you angry or sad. I had a big loss this week but I decided to try to focus on some of the good things in my life. I also took steps towards more happiness.

Here are some of them:
• Rejoiced at having 150 followers on my blog as of this week (Thanks followers!)
• Joined a new children’s book writing group that meets locally
• Joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators group
• Signed up for eight springtime hikes
• Took pictures of wintery scenes
• Continued “research” on coffee shops in Bend
• Wrote, wrote, and wrote some more

I hope you find ways to dissipate the dark clouds in your lives!   sunclipart