Tag Archives: Oregon

High Attitude

The Wallowa Mountains

After working a 15-hour day on Wednesday, I decided to spend Thursday morning taking a gondola to the top of Mt. Howard to get a better look at the Wallowa Mountains.

I usually see the range from my hotel room in Enterprise, and the jagged peaks known as the Oregon Alps always remind me of growing up in the little East-Austrian town of Richenau an der Rax.

Having been raised in an alpine town, I’m always intrigued by them. People living life at unforgiving altitudes yet surrounded by immense beauty that constantly makes you lift your head up to behold.

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In the tempest

Lightening over the Siskiyou

I watched a thunderhead build momentum over the Siskiyou mountains all day on Thursday. Up and up it went, 20,000, 30,000 feet into the sky, white, billowy protrusions folding and unfolding from its anvil base along a column that seemed to stretch from the earth to the high heavens.

The gleaming-white column softened and turned pink and then peach and then salmon in the glow of the setting sun. I drove along the upper Rogue River trying to think about fish and fat salmonflies, but my mind was on that cloud and its ominous intentions.

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Canyon Country

When you walk through the canyons of Chicago on a blustery day, not that Chicago is any windier than other American cities, you can feel like the walls are closing in on you.

Canyons of Chicago

Maybe it’s the hordes of people scrambling from the trains to their jobs at some perch high up on those canyon walls.

Maybe it’s the ambient noise of elevated trains, taxis and heeled shoes clipping the sidewalks.

Whatever it is, five-years-ago, I was a mess of a human being.

Canyons of Chicago

Daily panic attacks as I rode the trains to and from downtown Chicago. Elevated blood pressure. Irritability. Lack of creativity. Inability to be mindful. The list could go on.

It wasn’t that I didn’t love Chicago. I did. I had an amazing job working with some of the most talented people in public radio. I got to look at that amazing architecture every morning and afternoon. And I was part of this vibrant, thriving city for three years.

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” 
― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

The Zumwalt in Spring

Dark rain clouds hang low over the Zumwalt Prairie in May, 2018

A flat, steel-gray ceiling hangs low over the town of Enterprise as we leave headed north into the Zumwalt Prairie.

It doesn’t bode well for seeing the menagerie of raptors the region is famous for.

As you ascend the ancient volcanic plateau that houses the 330,000-acre prairie, agricultural production gives way to Idaho Fescue and Bluebunch wheatgrass.

Small cliff faces of exposed Columbia River Basalt line the road, and before the rain begins to fall, we see several golden and bald eagles, a Swainson’s hawk and a dark-morph red-tailed hawk.

As we level out onto the Zumwalt, the Findley Buttes, three shield volcano cones that managed to force their way up through the Columbia River Basalts, rise before us and dominate the landscape. Continue reading The Zumwalt in Spring

Into the Desert: Alvord Basin

There is a small, cold desert east of here that I have seen in my dreams for decades.

The Alvord Desert

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.

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Into the Desert: Steens Mountain

Mount Washington along the Santiam Pass

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

A Hard Walk

These slopes are impossibly steep, impressively rugged and home to the mythical chukar

I once ran a marathon in almost the same time it took me to walk up a hill in search of small gamebirds known as chukars.

Chukars are mythical little creatures, undoubtedly the inspiration for wingsuit flying and possibly the Phoenix.

Originally brought to Oregon from India in the 1950s, they live on hillsides with slopes that seem to defy mathematics, they can run up hill faster than any hunter can go, and they dart away suddenly, as if carried away by the very hands of the gods.

I’ve perspired before. It’s a skill I’m rather gifted at, in fact. I rained down on those parched eastern Oregon slopes, and all the water from the turbulent Deschutes River a thousand feet below me couldn’t quench my thirst.

My colleague David has been telling me about chukar hunting since I started working at ODFW more than a year ago. Continue reading A Hard Walk

Coming Home

The Columbia River Gorge
Mt. Hood as seen from The Dalles, Oregon.

There is a point on U.S. Highway 84 heading West where the road seems to descend into this big gouge in the landscape, past millennia of accumulated sediments in the strata gouged, revealed and polished by successive glacial floods.

It dips down from the arid and Martian-featured landscape of the Columbia plateau and the Channeled Scablands to where the big, blue river rolls peacefully toward the Pacific.

It’s this point where I feel like I’m coming home. Where the landscape transforms from wide plains to steep walls traversed by mountain goats. Where green oasis appear wherever streams and rivers meet the mighty Columbia.

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