Posts Tagged ‘catlow valley’

We left our pretty (but littered) campsite on Sunday morning after I warmed up some. It was a short drive down off the mountain and into Burns where we stopped to resupply our groceries and get gas. From Burns we were heading south to French Glen and on down along the Catlow Valley to the junction to Fields Station before turning north again and coming around the east face of Steens Mountain. In essence, we were circling the mountain.

It’s a long old drive through some fascinating country. Just south of Burns, you climb a steep hill – sort of like up and over a short, narrow ridge of basalt and sagebrush. On the other side, you drop down into a dry lake bed. Actually, it is two dry lake beds: Malheur and Harney Lakes. 24 years ago when I first saw this country, the lakes were at a five-hundred-year flood level and actually met out there, flooding out homes and the highway (which is built on a dike). But the water has long since receded and memories are short (we saw new homes out on those alkali flats that not so long ago were under deep water).

The highway circles around Malheur National Wildlife Refuge which is a marshy refuge that is home to birds most often associated with the ocean: pelicans, avocets, white-faced ibises, a myriad of ducks, geese and even occasional swans. It’s great country for an avid birder. Also hiding out on the refuge are trophy mule-deer bucks and big antelope bucks.

All around this country are large cattle ranches and much of the drive is through what we call “open range”. Basically, cattle have the right of way.

Which brings me to the cattle drive. There’s nothing quite like being stuck in the middle of a cattle drive. Don and I may be from Portland these days, but we grew up in rural counties of Oregon and Nevada. We grew up with the knowledge of how to drive through one: essentially, you slow down to a mere crawl and wait for the cows to part. Try to move too quickly and Bossy might kick out a head lamp. And there’s the cow poop to deal with.

I did the tourist thing and took photos through the windshield. I mean, why not?

Here we have a nice crowd of Angus-cross cows and calves, with plenty more trailing up the highway to meet us. You can see why coming to an almost stop might be necessary: bovine intelligence comes to a complete standstill as the cows contemplate bolting to one side or another or back the way they just came from.

Back the way they just came from ride the cowboys on ATVs or horses.

In this case, back the way they came were two very tired, hot, dusty cowgirls and their equally hot, tired, dusty Quarterhorses. After I snapped the photo, the girls gave us a Princess wave and we all laughed.

There were cowboys coming up, too, but they were big boys on ATVs and not as photogenic.

We continued on to French Glen without incident. At French Glen, you are on the western slope of Steens Mountain and it seems less than impressive because you are on the gradual side. But that changes on the eastern side.

It’s a steep climb out of French Glen over a long plateau before you drop down into the Catlow Valley and the Roaring Springs Ranch country. You really have to watch for loose cattle on this section of the drive, but we were more focused on what might be crossing the road without any legs.

(Wanna hear a bad joke? What do you call a cow with no legs? Answer at the end of this post.)

We try to avoid running over snakes. They could be bull snakes, for one thing, and who wants to kill a bull snake? Or they could be a racer or something else “benign”. But most often they are exactly what we found: a Great Basin rattlesnake. A fat one, too, full of some poor golden-mantle groundsquirrel dinner and making for the sagebrush as quickly as it could.

This is the only time I approach a rattler: when it is clearly on the retreat off of hot pavement. Even so, I didn’t get anywhere near striking distance to this beauty.

We made sure it cleared the road, then we headed on down to the pass between the Catlow Ridge and the Pueblo Mountains that would drop us down into the ancient lake bed of Lake Lahontan. And there will be more on that tomorrow (or when next I update my blog).

Answer: Ground beef. I told you it was BAD.

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