Wednesday, February 15, 2017

WI to AZ 2016, Part 2

One thing we’ve learned about our RV lifestyle is to be flexible (also not a bad approach to life in general). Not making it to Banff or Jasper National Parks, for example, was disappointing. But not life threatening. We would survive because we always have a plan B (and sometimes a plan C and D).
Looking ahead we had friends to visit in Ellensburg, WA, Bellingham, WA, Victoria, British Columbia, Salem OR, and Bandon, OR. Also on our route list was to hook up into the North Cascades (friends said it would make up for our missing Banff and Jasper). There we would try and connect with one of the seasonal rangers we’d met while volunteering at Kartchner.

Deer Park RV site, Spokane, WA
We departed Twin River Canyon (reliving the joy of negotiating the narrow, steep gravel road), then made for an overnight site we’d booked at the Deer Park RV Resort. A very nice park that we’ve stopped at before but since we had no reason to spend much time in the Spokane area, it was an easy in-easy out stop. Following that, we were on our way to Ellensburg via back roads thereby handily skirting Spokane and the Interstate.

Yakama River RV Park, just a ten minute walk from the Yakama River
We had first visited Ellensburg in 2010 where a long time friend of Tom’s, John Creech, his wife Jane and their son Ryan reside. At that time we were pulling our 32’ travel trailer which, with some effort, we’d squeezed onto the Creech property next to their house. This time around there was no way our 35’ fifth wheel would be squeezed. Fortunately, a nearby RV park, Yakima River RV Park, had recently changed hands. Expansion of sites and improvements to the park (some were still ongoing) made it a good choice. Water and electric and a free dump station at the local sewerage treatment plant just down the road worked out just fine.
In addition to John and his family, a former colleague of Tom’s from Lawrence University, Julia Stringfellow, had taken the position of University Archivist/Department Chair/Professor at Central Washington University. Coincidentally, John had just retired from CWU’s IT department.

bullish on the farmers market and with Julia at The Tav
We arranged to meet Julia downtown at the Kittitas County Farmers Market in downtown Ellensburg. Quite the market consisting of farm fresh local produce, baked goods, and street musicians. It was during this time that Tom discovered the secret to grilling fresh peaches, Yes, grilling. Then lunch at a local watering hole, The Tav, with Julia where we recounted many past library adventures and mutual friends at Lawrence.

gittin' on in years and still just gittin' on
That evening we had invited John and Jane out for cocktails to the RV. Unfortunately for us, Ryan was away at a leadership camp so we missed seeing him this time around. Looking at recent photos the lad had certainly shot up in size, now taller than his dad.

grilled peaches for John and Jane at our place
Over the next few days we exchanged meals with the John and Jane. They came out to the RV where Tom got to try out grilling peaches (total success), then over to their house for an evening of John’s grilled fresh salmon (under Jane’s close supervision). Even close supervision on the watchful eyes of their border collies, Tara and Lucy. We really do eat pretty well for being on the road. We also managed to find a small local park to hike and bird along the Yakama River (Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park).

John's salmon to perfection, some local brew, Lucy and Tara well screened
One thing we discovered in Washington was sticker shock when purchasing spirits. Beer, wine, you name it. In 2011, voters had approved an initiative allowing stores bigger than 10,000 square feet, and some specialty shops, to sell spirits. Since then, more than 1,600 stores had applied for and obtained liquor licenses, up from roughly 350 state-owned or state-contracted locations (former state-owned stores were switching to private operation). But the convenience of buying spirits at more locations came at a cost. The new law imposed a series of fees and taxes amounting to 27% on wholesalers and retailers to compensate the state for closing its lucrative liquor business. For example, a 750-milliliter bottle of 80-proof vodka produced by a local distiller, cost about $10 more than what it had at the state’s liquor stores prior to passing the initiative. We decided to hold off buying any spirits until we were out of Washington state.
While we were in Ellensburg we spent a fair amount of time sorting out our route that included seeing friends in Bellingham and in British Columbia only to discover a few setbacks. Our British Columbia friends, it turned out, were not going to be home in their Victoria condo where we’d been invited to stay. They were still in their Ontario condo and wouldn’t be back in time to receive us. Either way, going to Victoria was going to involve a ferry ride and without a place to stay in BC, we would have had to take the RV which turned out to what would have been a very expensive ferry crossing. Just crossing with the truck was expensive enough but now, with nowhere to stay, we regrettably crossed off our trip to Victoria.
Meanwhile, repeated efforts to try and find a place to stay in Bellingham had failed. We texted our Bellingham friends that we would not be able to make it. And then, while looking ahead for places to stay in the Olympic Peninsula, without our having any advance reservations, it looked like we would have to bag that part of our journey as well. Given that we’d done the Olympic Peninsula in 2009, it wasn’t like we hadn’t never been there before. But missing a chance to see friends? That was a real bummer.

taking a break along the Columbia River in Pateros
our site at Bend River RV Park along the Methow River
So. We plotted a route north that would take us up the east side of the Wenatchee National Forest, through the Mount Baker-Snoqualme National Forest, and finally into the North Cascades National Park. The scenery would be incredible, we’d been told. And it was.
Along the way we took a break at The SweetRiver Bakery (yum!) in Pateros along the Columbia River. Then stopped for an overnight stop in Twisp at the River Bend RV Park, just 164 miles away, located in the eastern foothills of the North Cascade Mountains along the Methow River, part of the Cascade Loop Scenic Byway.
Part of the reason for staying in Twisp was to allow time to visit the small touristy town of Winthrop. A fortuitous stop since this is where Carol discovered her best ever Margarita, served to us at the Carlos 1800 Mexican Grill and Cantina. A smooth combination of 1800 tequila with hand muddled lime, lemon and fresh oranges with a touch of orange liqueur. The burgers were equally as pleasing.

heading into the Cascades from the east; our site at Alpine RV Park
Trying to find another RV site further up the road continued to be an another uphill battle. We wanted to park as close to the North Cascades National Park headquarters as possible but several locations were already full. Eventually we stumbled upon the Alpine RV Park (the web site is far more attractive than in person!) which we have to say, ranked on the lower end of the scale with regard to RV parks we stayed. The sites were incredibly tight/shallow. Had the parked filled only with pop-up tent campers, it still would have been too tight. And the park manager was incredibly inept (he appeared to be drunk or stoned) while we had to find our reservation scribbled on a scrap of paper in what passed for an office. We wondered how the place had stayed in business (or how much longer it might remain so). This was definitely not one of those destination RV parks. However, in this instance, beggars could not be choosers and we were relieved to have a place to park for a few days, be it ever so humble.

Chelsea at the visitor center then later for dinner at Mondo
On our way to the RV park, we’d driven into the park's headquarters visitor center (thank goodness there was room to park with our RV!). We caught up with Chelsea, the seasonal park ranger we’d met while volunteering at Kartchner. Chelsea had taken a summer seasonal position at North Cascades National Park and was absolutely loving it there. Apparently her supervisors were equally as pleased. We met Chelsea that evening in Marblemount at the Mondo Restaurant (very friendly staff!) where we heard all about her work at the park.

overlooking Ross Lake
The park encompasses a vast area and we feel like we barely scratched the surface. Still, the next day was spent exploring various park overlooks and trails including Gorge Creek Falls, the Diablo Dam Overlook, the Ross Lake Overlook, and the small town of Newhalem Skagit General Store and a museum. A trivia note: Scenes from the film 1983 sci-fi film "War Games" were shot in Newhalem.
hiking Thunder Creek Trail
Meanwhile, we had continued to exchange texts with our Bellingham friends who hadn’t given up on our trying to visit. They eventually mentioned having a “plan B” which turned out to be a place to park our RV at a friend’s home who had property in Bellingham with water and 50amp hookups. Now, with the visit to Bellingham once again on track, we packed up, stopped at the Mondo for breakfast, then followed Hwy 20 westward as it dropped down out of the Cascades along the Skagit River.

our 'plan B' site at Don's in Bellingham
It wasn’t a terribly long drive from Alpine RV, even with our stop for breakfast and by late morning, we had arrived at Don’s house located northeast of downtown Bellingham, less than a ten minute drive from our friends, Marty and Dave Rehm who had for years been lobbying us to come visit. And without their “plan B” it would not have been possible!
Don was a most gracious host. Once we were backed into the property he showed us where the electrical hookup was and helped run a hose for water.

Dave and Marty at Goat Mountain Pizza and the star, JJ
We’d first met Marty and Dave, as we have so many other fellow RVers, during our first winter  parked at Benson Rio Grande RV Park in South Texas. Dave was still working for FEMA as a project manager while Marty was the “property” manager, maintaining their Class A motorhome. As a result of Dave’s work, they’d traveled extensively, crisscrossing the country following one natural disaster after another. They had longingly talked about their “geezer hutch”, a small home in Bellingham that for years had been a rental property.
But now, with Dave finally retired for the last time (he’d flunked retiring from FEMA several times), they were now off the road and in their remodeled Bellingham geezer hutch.
We met up with Marty and Dave at their home then headed out for a pizza at Goat Mountain Pizza - home fired pizza and local brews and discussion about local attractions they thought we should see while in Bellingham. The Farmers Market, a ferry ride out to San Juan Island, a visit to Fairhaven, an artisan village dotted with iconic 19th century style architecture, and a drive up the the Mount Baker Ski Area. They had even planned to host a party with several of their closest friends to make us feel welcome.

Given our tight schedule over the next four days, we wasted no time in planning a ferry ride for the next day. As walk-ons, no reservation was necessary but arriving early was recommended.

San Juan Archipelago
from Anacortes...
Anacortes was where we needed to board the ferry. It’s located on Fidalgo Island, the eastern-most of the San Juan Archipelago, with easy access via a bridge over the Swinomish Channel  to the mainland. Almost half of the city’s 15 square miles is public park and recreational lands and waters. One thing was most evident: Anacortes is home to thousands of boats. The city is centrally located, roughly equidistant from Seattle to the south and Vancouver, BC to the north. Friday Harbor, San Juan Island
Unexpected traffic delays had us arriving at the ferry terminal later than we had planned (thank goodness we’d left as early as we had). Convenient parking close to the terminal was full but we finally found a spot that wound up being good long brisk walk away from the terminal.  A long cue to buy tickets but we made it just in time to board.
The San Juan Islands are an archipelago located in the northwest corner of the United States between the U.S. mainland and British Columbia, Canada. Bordered by the Strait of Georgia to the north and the Strait of Juan de Duca to the south, the area now is known as the Salish Sea.

always nice to have someone else do the driving
The old adage “getting there is half the fun” certainly didn’t apply to our rushed drive to Anacortes but it definitely was true of our ferry ride. Our nearly two hour cruise through the San Juans on a bright, sunny and calm day with views of the distant Olympic Mountains.
We had a little over three hours to explore Friday Harbor which reminded us every bit of the small towns dotting the coast of Wisconsin’s Door County (including the crowds of tourists). Time enough to shop, browse art galleries, lunch at the Rocky Bay Cafe and make it back in time for our return cruise (which included a brief stop at Lopez Island to pickup more passengers).

Bellingham Farmers Market
The next day, Saturday, was the Bellingham Farmers Market. By all accounts, this was was of the nicest farmers markets we’ve ever encountered. Time to buy more peaches for grilling at the up and coming party at the Rehm’s that evening.

breakfast all day - happy wife, happy life
Saturday afternoon was spent walking about the town of Fairhaven, another artists community town with plenty of art galleries. Too bad we still live in an RV with limited space! Lunch at the Harris Avenue Cafe located in The Terminal Building, the oldest commercial structure on the south side of Bellingham. The cafe (co-joined with Tony’s Coffee and Espresso) served breakfast all day, a definite plus with us. Then it was back to Bellingham to get ready for the party.

party spread including Dave's private stock of brew
And what a party is turned out to be. Several of Dave and Marty’s best friends gathered to welcome us and make us feel right at home - including a real estate agent friend (were we being lobbied to move there?). Bellingham is a city with a population of around 50,000 with easy access to tons of outdoor opportunities in the San Juan Islands and North Cascades as well as its close proximity to the cities of Vancouver and Seattle. The weather? The Cascades to the east retain the temperate marine influence, while the Olympics provide a rain-shadow effect that buffers Bellingham from much of the rainfall approaching from the southwest. It’s a very progressive town and we can see all the attractions. But it’s also a very expensive area to live. Housing prices were through the roof as far as our budget was concerned. Would be cross it off entirely as a place to settle? Not yet. But, they still do have winter, mild though it can be.
One of the party guests, Helen James, was a doctor who specialized in plastic and hand surgery. Marty had earlier mentioned to Helen that Carol’s arthritis in her right hand had been painful for the past several years so Dr. James took charge and performed a cursory inspection. She announced that she could quite possibly treat it. An arrangement was made for Carol to stop by Helen’s office the next afternoon. Like we said, these were incredibly warm and welcoming people!

Mount Baker Artist Point
The next day we spent driving through sections of Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest via the Mount Baker Scenic Byway with Marty and Dave ending at Mount Baker’s Artist Point. Our reward? Panoramic views of Mt. Baker, Mt. Shuksan, Coleman Pinnacle, the Ptarmigan Ridge. Another beautiful day and mountain drive with old growth forest scenery. We’d  packed a lunch which we enjoyed surrounded by views of magnificent proportions. Then we managed to return to Bellingham just in time for Carol’s doctor appointment with Dr. James.

Mount Baker Artist Point
True to her word, within 24 hours of Dr. Jame’s cortisone injection, the pain had significantly subsided allowing Carol her full use of her hand again. Truly a miracle! Carol was told the effects of the injection might last a month a month’s time or perhaps a year. But for now, the reduction of pain to barely detectable levels was most welcome.
The last few days in Bellingham were spent stocking up the larder, having breakfast at Marty and Dave’s and then it was time to move on to our next destination, Salem Oregon.
Our time in Bellingham was eye-opening to say the least. It’s a wonderful the area with everything we could hope to have in terms of culture, scenery, and community. We were thrilled that the Rehm’s could come up with their “plan B” and make it all possible. And thanks to Don (we dropped off a small token of appreciation, a bottle of his favorite Scotch, for his hospitality.
While we were in Bellingham we’d gotten a phone call from Dulce and Bernd Lackemann, the friends we would be seeing next, that the Phoenix RV Park where they were wintering, had ONE opening left for a week long stay and to contact them immediately - the office was holding the spot open but that there was another couple also wanting the spot. As we’d had spotty phone coverage we hadn’t gotten the message right away. Fortunately, Dulce had walked to the RV park office and convinced them that yes, we were indeed wanting the space and to please hold it so by the time we called the office, the site had been reserved due to Dulce’s diligence. Whew! Just more of the same panic and frustration at getting RV spots but this time it had worked out.
As with so many of our RV friends, we’d first met Dulce and Bernd while we were parked in South Texas. We’ve stayed in touch over the years, occasionally running into each other when our paths crossed. Their decision to winter in Salem was to investigate the area as a possible location for when they eventually retired from life on the road.
Salem’s average annual temperature is around 53 degrees F. The area does receive snow and frost but overall average temps in the summer are quite pleasant. Rainfall averages around 35 inches per year. We could see the attraction, weather-wise.

our site and Ducle and Bernd site at Phoenix RV Park, Salem
The city's population is roughly 160,000. As the site of the state capitol, and with the Willamette River flowing through the city, it has many cultural and outdoor attractions including being the site of the annual Oregon State Fair. A bit of trivia: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was filmed at the Oregon State Hospital.
a day out at Oregon Garden
It was very handy being in the same RV park with the Lackemanns so we could easily share meals, happy hours and general conversations covering all manner of world topics. Like Dave and Marty, they were eager to show us some of the local sights. Like the Oregon Garden, an 80-acre botanical garden, featuring more than 20 specialty gardens, and the E.Z. Orchards Farm Market, a great place to buy local produce (strawberries and peaches!). Further afield we took a day trip to explore the Oregon coast starting north of Lincoln and as far south as Bayshore and Waldport before crossing back through the Siuslaw National Forest. Then a day picnic trip to Silver Falls State Park. One afternoon we had lunch at McMenamin’s Boon’s Treasury, a brew pub located in an historic building and popular gathering spot since Oregon became a state. 

at the merket and on the coast with Dulce and Bernd
Part of our time in the RV park included hiring a local handyman to buff out and wax the front cap on the RV which had become badly oxidized. Not cheap but given the amount of work needed, well worth the expense. We also spent a fair amount of time trying to arrange for places to park the RV as we continued our trek south.
Alas, our time in Salem, just as it had been in Bellingham, passed all too quickly. We found ourselves wishing the Lackemanns well as we packed up and pointed our truck toward the Oregon coast.

heading toward Florence, OR
We retraced our earlier route taken with the Lackemanns over to Lincoln City where we hugged the Oregon Coast Hwy 101 going south and following a stop for breakfast at Gracie’s Sea Hag in Depoe Bay (fortunately found a spot to park the RV!) we eventually pulled into the Jesse M. Honeyman State Park, happy to have secured a spot for three nights.

chowder and rings at the Gracie's Sea Hag - we do love our chowders!

site at Jesse M. Honeyman SP
Tom had camped at the state park in the early 1990’s during a road trip west where he had first met members of VWAR-L, a Vietnam Veteran listserv run out of Buffalo State University. This was the first face-to-face with John Creech of Ellensburg, WA fame. 

Oregon Dunes RA
Heceta Head Lighthouse and beach
In addition to hiking some of the park’s trails, we used our location to explore up and down the coast. The Oregon Dunes Recreational Area, Heceta Head Lighthouse (where we briefly entertained the idea of volunteering but decided against it given less than ideal local weather), the Cape Perpetual Scenic Area.

Cape Perpetua
We also included a  brief stop at the a privately owned wildlife preserve and bird sanctuary (but overly touristy), Sea Lion Caves. Carol waited in the gift shop while Tom descended into the ‘paid’ portion of the cliffs to view seabirds. One evening we scarfed down a seafood chowder meal at MO’s Restaurant in Florence overlooking the Sluslaw River. One situation we hadn’t counted on was road construction on Hwy 101 so we had to endure several sections or roadwork where traffic was reduced to one lane which resulted in some very long waits.

chowder at MO's; Stellar Sea Lion at Sea Lion Caves
During our stay in Port Orford, OR in 2010 we'd happened upon a couple, Leslie and Don Sulva who were volunteering at the Free Flight Bird Rehabilitation & Education Center in Bandon. They no longer volunteer for the organization but still live in Bandon and hoped that we would swing by for a visit. They initially offered us space in their driveway but given the tight bends and curves, we opted for the Robbin’s Nest RV Park just south of town. One of those what we term “worn out” parks but like so many locations on this trip, it simply put us in close proximity to people and places we wanted to see.

Don and Leslie at the Fish and Chips Chowder House, Bandon, OR
We managed to cram in quite a bit in the two nights we were in Bandon. An evening meal that first night in Bandon at the Fish and Chips Chowder House  with Leslie and Don (a place we loved during our 2010 visit to Bandon), an evening as guests at Leslie and Don’s for drinks before heading out to a local pizzeria to bring back pizza from Angelo’s Italy.

drinks, healthy snacks, and even healthier pizza at Don and Leslie's
Then a drive down the coast to Port Orford RV Village where we got lucky bumping into other RV friends from California, Rollie and Chris who usually summer in Port Orford. And as long as we were so close, a quick visit to the Port Orford docks for some chowder at Griff’s on the Dock, watch incoming fishing boats unoad their catches, and glimpse whales off the coast.

Chris and Rollie and their upgraded RV at Port Orford RV Park
That same day we also ventured out to Cape Blanco State Park to check for sea birds. Unfortunately, our visit to the light house was met with extremely blustery, cold winds where we could barely get the truck doors open. This was another lighthouse where we had considered applying to be volunteers but as with Heceta Head, the weather conditions, even in the summer, were too daunting.

fish and shrimp tacos; Face Rock viewpoint and beach
On the day we left the Robbin’s Nest we towed back into Bandon for the Saturday morning Bandon Farmers Market and fresh made tacos at the Sprengelmeyer’s Handmade Tacos Stand, purchase chowder to go from the Fish and Chips Chowder House, and peruse Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint. But by now we had pretty much managed to see all the friends we had hoped to see in Washington and Oregon, but we were not done with Oregon just yet. Not by a long shot.

from the coast going inland
Our next destination where we had managed to make a reservation was in Sisters, OR at the Creekside Campground, a municipal park which offers a total of 60 camp sites including 23 full hook-up sites plus a separate “hiker/biker” area. We’d stayed here in the past, back when it was known as the Three Sisters Overnight Park.

Valley River Mall site - with shade!
The distance to Sisters was too far to travel in one day so we were in need of an overnight. We’d heard via the RV grapevine of a popular free overnight spot at the Valley River Center Mall. A Mall? The area where RV's were encouraged to park was next to an extensive trail system, literally a stone throw from the Willamette River. All we had to do was check in with mall security (they drove right to where we had parked) and we were good to go! It sure as heck beat Wal-Mart! And just down the road was a Starbucks for our next morning coffee fix.

what looked like an easy back-in at Creekside Campground was far from it!
From Eugene it was only about 100 miles to Sisters which gave us plenty of time to park which turned out to be a good thing. What should have been a simple back in site took over a half hour to negotiate with the help of a couple of other RVers to help guide. How embarrassing because typically Tom has managed to wedge, squeeze, and finagle far more difficult parking situations! But once hooked up we did an initial walkabout the town.

hiking Dee Wright and Common Merganser along Davis Creek
One of our birding goals was to catch up with white-headed woodpeckers so we spent some time online sorting out some of the area birding hot spots where they’d been seen.
We scoured Indian Ford Crossing, Cold Spring Campground, trails along Davis Creek at Camp Sherman (lunch at Camp Sherman Store and Fly Shop), the Lava Camp Lake Campground, trails at the Dee Wright Observatory, and neighborhoods in Sisters. We eventually found a single white-headed woodpecker at the Indian Ford Campground (after having whiffed where we usually see them at feeders outside the Camp Sherman Store). Compared to our last visit in 2010 earlier in the season, birding for this time of year was slow. In addition to the white-headed, we added 5 more species to our annual list: Williamson’s sapsucker, pinyon jay (a large flock coming to feeders in town), Clark’s nutcracker, mountain bluebird and sage thrasher. For a comprehensive where to bird in Oregon, checkout the online Oregon Cascades Birding Trail Guide which includes the three sisters area.
Malheur NWR
Our last stop in Oregon was the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1908, by President Theodore Roosevelt as the Lake Malheur Reservation. Roosevelt set aside these as yet unclaimed government lands encompassed by Malheur, Mud and Harney Lakes “as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds.” It was the 19th of 51 wildlife refuges created by Roosevelt during his tenure as president. At the time, Malheur was the third refuge in Oregon and one of only six refuges west of the Mississippi.

Malheur NWR
As many will recall, the refuge was the center of national attention when in January 2015, a band of armed thugs illegally occupied refuge headquarters causing extensive damage that has since cost millions of dollars to repair. When we arrived, the headquarters visitor center had still not reopened (now expected to reopen in the Spring of 20178) but the rest of the refuge, including the driving tours, was accessible.

Malheur NWR
The nearest RV park was Narrows RV Park situated at the intersection of Hwy 205 and Sodhouse Lane, the road leading to the park’s headquarters and entrance to the auto tour. The nearest large town was Burns, some 26 miles to the north.
The 187,000 acre refuge consists of lakes, meadows, marshes, rivers and creeks, and upland grasslands, all playing a central roll in the spring and fall migration of waterfowl and summer nesting waterbirds. Fishing and hunting are allowed in designated areas. Hiking, bicycling and cross-country skiing attract visitors along with the 42-mile Donner und Blitzen River self-guided auto tour. Donner und Blitzen may conjure up visions of two of Santa’s reindeer but the river was actually named by soldiers who had encountered a severe thunderstorm with “donner und blitzen”, German for “thunder and lightning”. Birders in particular are drawn to Malheur due to the refuge’s impressive list of 320 bird species.

Malheur NWR and Frenchglen menu
We spent one full day driving the auto tour which began near the park headquarters building and terminated near the town of Frenchglen where we found the Frenchglen Hotel (established in 1916), an Oregon State Heritage Site within of the Oregon State Park system. How delighted we were to discover that the hotel served breakfast. A limited menu but delicious - and free coffee refills - all served by state park volunteers. They served lunch and dinner as well but dinner required a reservation due to limited seating.
It was while having breakfast that we heard about the Steens Loop Tour Route. The 59-mile loop includes the highest road in Oregon as it rises up from sagebrush desert to nearly 10,000 feet up Steen Mountain.

Steen Mountain Auto Tour
From Frenchglen, the first 5 miles of the route traverse the southern end of the refuge. Page Springs Campground sits alongside the Donner und Blitzen River. It’s designated a Wild and Scenic River from here to its headwaters atop the mountain.

Steen Mountain Auto Tour
The tour route climbed in earnest from this point, ascending through quaking aspen. Just shy of the rim is Kiger Gorge, a classic U-shape glacial valley about a half-mile deep. Glaciers once scoured down this mountain, scrubbing away softer sediments and creating distinct notches in the bedrock then basin and block faulting pushed East Rim of Steens skyward.
Steen Mountain Auto Tour and short hike to summit
From Kiger Gorge, the road turns south and skims along the rim. From the East Rim Viewpoint parking lot, Tom hiked up to the Steens Mountain’s summit via a barricaded, steep, rocky roadbed 4-tenths of a mile to the east rim overlook that peered off a steep precipice to the Alvord Desert. On a clear day (and this was a clear day), one can see beyond Oregon to Nevada, Idaho and California. From the summit, the tour route eased down the mountain’s western slope. Overviews and short trails offered looks into the canyons of Big Indian Gorge and Little Blitzen Gorge, returning to Hwy 205, part of the High Desert Discovery Scenic Byway which took us back through Frenchglen. That night, storm clouds settled in atop the mountain and by morning, while eating breakfast at the hotel, we watched camper vehicle after camper vehicle covered with snow as they were leaving mountain campgrounds.
This would be our last day in Oregon. Malheur had been on our bucket list for several years and in spite of the disastrous takeover, we’re glad we made the effort to visit. Our stop at Malheur also put us in a better position to visit a few other western parks that had so far escaped our attention: Great Basin and Zion National Parks.

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