The Loop around Steens

My first trip to Malheur was 35 years ago when I took a class called “Paiute Survival Skills”. We slept under a tree at headquarters the first night and then we pitched a tent by the Donner and Blitzen River. We identified and dug plants with edible bulbs and cooked them up for diner. I have returned on a regular basis and each time I have discovered something that I haven’t seen before.

This year we stayed in an old house trailer at the Malheur Field Statioin which provided us with basic comforts but you need to bring sleeping bags and towels from home. Our plan was to drive the big circle around the Steens and then back to the Field Station. We got a good look at a Short-eared Owl that was being harassed by Red-winged Blackbirds. The Owl lit on a light pole but the little birds chased away before we could take a picture. Short-eared Owl hunt during the day time and are often mistaken for hawks.

We saw some Avocets sitting on the roadway. They are wading birds that are just a little bigger than a seagull and they are black and white with a salmon colored head and neck. They had their young nearby and the adults faked a broken wing to lead us away from their chicks. This was the first time that I had observed their display.

Further down the road we saw some several Prickly Poppies blooming along the road and we stooped to take some pictures. The flowers are a couple inches in diameter and silky white. The road that we were traveling runs between the east side of Steens Mountain and the Alvord Desert. We saw a herd of pronghorns near landlocked Lake Alvord.

We saw a fair number of hawks on the power poles but one of them turned out to be a Merlin. Merlins (formerly pigeon hawks)are actually a small falcon and this was my first picture of one. Falcons have a dark streak extending from the eye and down the cheek Their smaller cousin, the brightly colored Kestrels (formerly sparrow hawk) are also falcons and they are commonly seen on the power line near open fields in northwest Oregon.

Fields is a good place to stop for gas and actually, it is the only place to stop for gas near the desert. They also have a little restaurant and they advertise what they call their world famous hamburgers and milkshakes. Their burgers are big and tasty and you need a spoon for the the milkshake. I ordered a burger with no fries. The full meal deal is too much food for me.

We headed back north from Fields and we turned off on the Domingo Pass Road into the Pueblo Mountains which are just south of the Steens. This is a road for vehicles with high clearance and it has been raining, forget it. Our goal was to find and photograph some Bruneau Mariposa Lilies. To find the flowers that you are looking for, you have to be in the right place at the right time and found lots of them.

We returned to the main road and then turned off to Caitlow Valley and drove north to French Glen. Larry drove up the road to Steens Mountain but we had to eventually turn around because the gate was locked. The had so much snow this year that they have delayed opening the road to the top. The snow melt has also caused flooding of the Donner and Blitzen River and the lakes at Malheur are a whole lot bigger this year.

We stayed another night and then we headed north to Burns. A breakfast of a McMuffin with egg, a yogurt with fruit and a senior coffee are a big luxury when you are on the road. .

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