We walked around the small town of Bandon waiting for the stores to open on a rainy, breezy Veterans Day. We wanted to taste local cranberries, so we piled into the Cranberry Sweets store just after someone unlocked the door at ten a.m.
After listening to the historical spiel, we walked around the store tasting candies to our hearts’ content.
“Happy Veterans Day,” the overly coffee’d retail worker sang. “Any veterans in the group?”
My daughter, who was caught in her tractor beam while she waited for popcorn samples to be put out, looked at her mother and then me, and shook her head no.
For some reason, I felt compelled to speak up. “No, no veterans in our family.”
The two BLM interns from The Chicago Botanical Garden both had the look of someone who has been in the desert one day too long.
Their bloodshot eyes surveyed the bleak landscape in the way you’d expect someone who had seen the same featureless view every day for months and months.
I rode in the government truck with them down to a spot in the lower Alvord Basin just a few miles from the Nevada border. We stopped and opened a gate in a fence and drove off into the sage brush for a long distance, before a small, dark tree began to take shape in the distance.
There is a small, cold desert east of here that I have seen in my dreams for decades.
It sits high up on a plateau created millions of years ago when basalts flowed over the area in giant, motlen floods .
It sits in the shadow of the snowy mountain, which catches the rain, leaving it parched and flat and featureless.
I had seen the Alvord Desert far below the East Rim Lookout on Steens Mountain the previous evening. The twelve-mile-long by seven-mile-wide playa looked exactly as I had seen it in my dreams, a vast, sandy nothingness stretching away to the south.
I sipped hot green tea as I drove over the Santiam Pass at 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning.
The air was still night-cooled, and the tea felt good on my throat, raw as it was from so much smoke from a brutal summer of forest fires.
The familiar landscape of a pass I’ve driven maybe a hundred times gave way to the the suprising landscape of a big burn as I neared the top. The Whitewater fire had burned parts of the forest on either side of the road, and I noticed the mosaic pattern of the burn left swirls of green amidst the blackened earth.
Dropping down into the high desert, as I have called Central Oregon since I first visited there, is always exciting in the way it transitions from the deep green of the Cascades to the beige and sage of the high and dry country. Continue reading Into the Desert: Steens Mountain→