Brilliance of the Desert: One Word Sunday

Last summer we took a trip to southeastern Oregon where we saw the brilliance of the desert.

Contrasting colors atop 9,733-ft Steens Mountain.

Brilliance of the desert - Steens Mountain August 2019

Colorful soils rounding a bend.

Southeastern Oregon Road

Rabbitbrush in bloom near Big Indian Gorge.

Brilliance of the desert, Big Indian Gorge, Steens Mountain, Oregon 28 August 2019

Mountain mahogany trees growing on a ridgetop.

Mountain mahogany at Steens Mountain

Some think of deserts as dull and boring. However, if you look at things in a different way, you’ll witness the brilliance of the desert.

One Word Sunday – Bright

Prostrate lupine – a tiny beauty: Friday Flowers

Prostrate lupine on Steens Mountain, Oregon 29 August 2019
Prostrate lupine

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.”

Prostrate lupine blooms in June, July, and August. The plants I saw in late August were growing at 9,000 feet in elevation. Everything blooms later there.

Kiger Gorge Overlook, Steens Mountain, Oregon 28August2019
Kiger Gorge Overlook

This lupine ranges north to the Cascade and Olympic mountains in Washington State, south to northern California and east to western Idaho and Nevada. Prostrate lupines grow on talus slopes and in rocky pumice soils at high elevations.

Prostrate lupine is a perennial that grows in areas with heavy snowfall in the winter and short dry summers. Like other lupines, its flowers attract pollinators.

Friday Flowers

Revisiting Steens Mountain: LAPC

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.

East Rim Steens Mountain Oregon
Then: From the East Rim with the Alvord Desert in the background
Revisiting Steens Mountain, Oregon
Now: From the East rim with the Alvord Desert in the background
Driving east from Hart Mountain, Oregon
Then: The road east to Steens Mountain, Oregon
Revisiting Steens Mountain
Now: The road east to Steens Mountain
Kiger Gorge, Steens Mountain, Oregon
Then: Kiger Gorge
Kiger Gorge, Oregon 28August2019
Now: Kiger Gorge

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Pick a Place

Flying Saucer Cloud: Monochrome Monday

Flying saucer cloud, Steens Mountain, Oregon 28 August 2019

I saw this flying saucer cloud hovering near Steens Mountain a few days ago. I see why lenticular clouds, like this one for example, are often called UFO clouds.

Monochrome Monday

Circling Steens Mountain Tour

Up with the birds for a Steens Mountain tour

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.

Steens mountain tour, geese beneath a stormy sky 6April2018

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.

Steens mountain tour, pronghorn buck eastern Oregon 6April2018

 Steens mountain tour, views of the east side of Steens Mountain, Oregon 6April2018We 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.

Steens mountain tour, burrowing owls eastern Oregon 6April2018Visits to places wet and wild

Crystal Crane Hot Springs is a resort with a large hot spring-heated pond and a recently created cold water pond for wildlife. We checked out the wildlife in both ponds. I’m not sure if the people visiting the hot spring appreciated a bunch of people walking nearby with cameras and binoculars.

Steens mountain tour, black-necked stilt in eastern Oregon 6April2018Waterfowl seen here, and at other ponds and lakes on this tour, included swans (tundra and trumpeter), northern shovelers, cinnamon teals, redheads, common mergansers, and American coots. Western grebes were starting to do a little mating behavior but we didn’t get to see them do their unique walking-on-water display. American avocets and black-necked stilts gracefully waded through shallow water. Killdeer were seen and heard as they tried to make sure we didn’t get too close to their nests.

Raptor rapture

We saw quite a few raptors on the Steens Mountain tour. Northern harriers drifted over marshy areas. Bald and golden eagles hunted near fields. Swainson’s hawks, red-tailed hawks, and rough-legged hawks perched on pivot irrigation systems looking for prey. American kestrels perched on power lines watching all the birdwatchers driving by. On the field trip I was on the next day, we saw a ferruginous hawk peeking out of a nest in a lone juniper tree. This tree is one of their favorites for nesting, but last year ravens took it over.

Steens mountain tour, ferruginous hawk nest eastern Oregon 6April2018Small but significant

Songbirds sought shelter from the weather but luckily we saw several species. It was a little early to see some of the shrubsteppe-dependent songbirds, but western meadowlarks and sage thrashers perched high singing their bright songs. Yellow-headed blackbirds, red-winged blackbirds, and marsh wrens sung in marshy areas. The descending call of the canyon wren was heard near rocky buttes.  Say’s phoebes were seen perching briefly then flying out to do a little fly catching.

Steens mountain tour, western meadowlark eastern Oregon 6April2018Dining at an iconic location

We stopped for lunch at the Fields Station Cafe, at the southern end of Steens Mountain. The isolated small town of Fields is famous for the burgers and shakes it serves at the cafe. We ordered ahead for our large group. I didn’t know if I would partake in slurping down one of the giant milkshakes but ended up splitting one. I think I was able to finish one-quarter of a coffee milkshake. It was just enough to give me a much needed infusion of caffeine. After lunch, we crossed the highway to a grove of trees. A great horned owl, perched in the cottonwoods, eyed us warily.

Steens mountain tour, great horned owl eastern Oregon 6April2018Home on the range

Steens mountain tour, cowboy eastern Oregon 6April2018Wranglers were out on horseback herding cattle on the west side and east side of Steens Mountain. Harney County is 10,226 square miles in size. It is the largest county in Oregon and one of the largest in the United States. Yet with a population of only 7,200 people, it somehow still has a small town feel. One of our guides recognized a cowboy working the range many miles from Burns, where we started our tour.

This was a long, but good, day in Harney County. Our guides knew the country well and helped us spot wildlife. They also told us some of the interesting history related to the area. They pointed out to us what makes this country so special and that’s what made the Steens Mountain tour great.

Steens mountain tour, old cabin eastern Oregon 6April2018

Daily prompt – Partake

Spare: Daily Post Photography Challenge

Spare -Driving east from Hart Mountain, Oregon
Then: The road to Steens Mountain, Oregon

The road to Steens Mountain in Oregon may appear Spare , but there is an abundance of beautiful sights, sounds, and scents in the high desert.