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.”
On a recent trip revisiting Steens Mountain, I thought back on what this place looked like decades before. When I got home, I browsed my photos and realized several pictures I took on this trip were taken in nearly the exact same spot.
Places seem to me to have some kind of memory, in that they activate memory in those who look at them.
W. G. Sebald
Some places call you back to them. While revisiting Steens Mountain this summer, I realized it is one of those places for me.
Here are a few “then” and “now” pictures I took of the Steens.
On April 6, I was up bright and early for a birdwatching trip that would encircle Steens Mountain in a single day. Being a bit of an introvert, I wasn’t sure I wanted to partake in a tour like this one. The Steens Mountain tour was one of 22 tours available for nature enthusiasts at the Harney County Migratory Bird Festival. The festival, which started in 1981, takes advantage of the annual spring bird migration in the Harney Basin. More than 300 species of birds use this area annually.
A land full of drama
At 6:00 am, participants in the Circle the Steens Mountain & Alvord Desert tour met at Burns High School. The weather was not cooperating for the 200-mile trip. A big storm system was blowing in. Twelve hours and 76 bird species later, we returned to the high school. Though we didn’t see any rare birds, we did see a lot, considering the weather conditions. Our views were framed by the dramatic landscapes of Harney County. The pale colored sands of the Alvord Desert stood out in contrast to the dark stormy skies. Steens Mountain provided beautiful panoramas from many different angles. We also had great views of pronghorn and deer.
We traveled east of Steens Mountain, south to Fields, then north along the west side of the mountain. Our tour guides, Joan Suther and Rick Hall, worked for the Bureau of Land Management locally for many years. The first brief stop was to look at burrowing owls. The small owls were seen braving the wind on this tour and the one I was on the next day. Flocks of snow geese and Ross’ geese were in fields nearby. Our next stop, at Crystal Crane Hot Springs, was much longer.