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| Neal and Marian Johns | Trip Reports

2001 Trip Report - Southeast Oregon

The Johns' Southeast Oregon Trip, 2001

by Marian Johns 


We couldn't have asked for better traveling companions. We heard no whining - well, maybe an occasional mumble or grumble about the dust. We saw some scenic wonders you seldom read or hear about. The eastern half of Oregon is a virtual desert with sparse vegetation and low rainfall, courtesy of the Cascade Mountains which capture and hold moisture on their Pacific side. Luckily for us, the desert clime also limits human settlements. On the other hand, gung ho environmentalists who also covet the beauty and solitude of this land are in the process of restricting access and "protecting" it from the likes of us by creating Wilderness, Wild and Scenic Rivers and new national monuments. (Just had to put my two cents worth of opinion in here.)

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Bill Ott and Lorene Crawford were our back-up navigators. Reda Anderson graciously manned the sweep position all week. Ted and Joan Berger endured our relentless jibes about their big noisy diesel pickup. CB entertainment, in the form of frequent trivia quizzes, was supplied by Mike and Phyllis Aguilar. Dave Welbourn saved the life of the lost Indian we found (story later). And yours' truly, along with current hubby, Neal, piloted these adventurers and enjoyed a dust-free view at the head of our caravan. The solution to dust is to become a trip leader. Hint. Hint.
a flint knapper's paradise. We got ourselves into a bit of a pickle when we, led by me, tried to ascend Glass Butte via a used "road" which ended abruptly on a steep side slope. It took half an hour to get everyone turned around and back down to more level ground. Tuesday we visited the Round Barn built by Pete French back in the 1800's. It boasts a diameter of 100 ft., a 60 ft. inner rock wall and 12 giant juniper poles that support a roof covered with 50,000 shingles.
off of the eastern face and the Alvord Desert 5,000 ft. below. Then it was down Catlow Valley and across to the Alvord Desert and the small community of Fields noted for its great milkshakes. Resistless Neal had one for dinner. North of Fields, we bypassed Alvord Hot Springs temporarily and continued two miles farther to Indian Creek where we found an inviting place to camp beside a green ribbon of willows and cottonwoods watered by a small stream. Wednesday morning, most of us returned to the hot springs for a welcome dip. We found a dressing room, a wooden deck and two concrete pools, one of which is enclosed. It's open to the sky above, the surrounding mountains, the desert, and to anyone who cares to stop. A little later we took an unknown, but shorter dotted line road to Burns Junction i.e., our spirit of adventure was alive and well. On the way we stopped at Mickey Hot Springs which, reportedly, simmers at 200 degrees. Several pools and small vents emit steam and bubbling water. A BLM sign warns visitors of a deceptively thin surface over nature's hot water plumbing. A few miles farther, we came to an unnamed Artesian well with an impressive flow of cold water. It's a mystery how those dry and desolate mountains squeeze out so much water. A small group of wild horses was observed along the way and also a herd of approximately 30 pronghorn antelope. Of course they ran off before I could find the camera in the chaos that exists behind our front seats. 

We soon reached Jordan Valley and stopped there for lunch at the Basque Inn. Then it was onward to beautiful Leslie Gulch with its colorful eroded formations and spires. Last year we were thrilled see 10 big horn sheep here. We weren't expecting to be so lucky this year, but low and behold, there were seven in just about the same place where we saw them before. We made camp that evening in Succor Creek State Recreation Area, another lovely spot with a pretty creek, towering walls and more colorful formations. The canyon was alive with chuckar, quail and sage hens.
Thursday's destination was the Owyhee River via the route past Jordan Craters and down Birch Creek.This access to the river got everyone's attention, not only because of its impressive vistas, but also because of the steep switchbacks. Along the way, we spotted another group of big horn - this time we counted eleven. Once at the bottom, we drove down river to a spot under some shady trees for lunch. Then we headed farther south to Three Forks where the South, Middle and main Owyhee Rivers join. We discovered this gem of a place last year and I consider it to be one of our all-time best finds. Here, warm springs cascade out of the canyon walls into the river below. Most everyone waded across the river to the nicest of the warm springs that evening for a refreshing soak. Unfortunately, if the pro-Wild and Scenic River crowd gets its way, this access road will be closed (mumble grumble). Friday morning we started off to explore more forks of the Owyhee River in southwestern Idaho. This trek took us into unknown territory. Even after careful study of our maps, we weren't sure where to start, so we stopped at a Duck Water Valley Indian Reservation office for directions and were kindly offered a guide to take us to the beginning of the road we needed. Once oriented, we were able to find our way to the rim of Owyhee's East Fork canyon. The road down to the river was a bitchy, snail-paced one filled with boulders. At the bottom, however, we were rewarded with a beautiful campsite right beside the river.  The next morning we needed four wheel drive getting out of the river gorge. At the top we were greeted by a lone Indian who, we soon learned, was lost. So much for their once touted survival skills. The day before, he and a friend had tried to drive from McDermitt, Nevada to Owyhee, Idaho using dirt roads as a short cut instead of taking the highway. Without maps, they were soon lost and wandered around in circles until they eventually came to the East Fork. Since they were running low on gas, our lost friend, Nelson McKee, offered to walk down to see if the road crossed the river. The road didn't cross, so after two hours, Nelson returned to the truck at the top only to find his friend and the truck gone! It was getting late so he walked back down to the river where he spent a chilly night feeding mosquitos. In the morning he began to walk again and luckily found us. Dave Welbourn cleared off his passenger seat and offered Nelson a ride which he gladly accepted although we were headed for the even more remote South Fork and Little Fork. We dug out our new emergency satellite phone and contacted the sheriff to let authorities know that Nelson was alright - in case anyone was looking for him. The road to the South Fork was long and tedious but once there, the views of the canyons and river were spectacular. At the bottom we found the 45 Ranch, now owned by the Nature Conservancy. After lunch by the river, we headed back to civilization, where we dropped Nelson off. About 4:00 p.m. I suddenly remembered that it was my birthday and we all agreed to have a birthday dinner in Elko, Nevada. Upon arrival there, we collapsed in motel rooms and later walked over to the Biltoki Basque restaurant. What a meal! Soup, salad, seasoned green beans, Basque beans, spaghetti, French fries, paella (a rice dish with clams, shrimp, crab claws and sausage), tri-tip beef, tongue, lamb, and halibut, plus ice cream for dessert - a fitting end for a fine week.