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"Let's see if we can find a place in Burns to get a Oregon non-resident fishing license for Tuesday," I said, adding this suggestion to our discussion as we drove about our next stop before returning home.
"I was hoping you'd say that!" the Lady said and then added. "Let's hike down to Wildhorse Lake! It's been over 20 years since we've been there."
"So we'll stop in Burns and then head for Steens?"
"Yup," the Lady confirmed. "We'll camp at Jackman Park. I like it up high and open."
It was late afternoon when we pulled into Jackman Park Campground.
Our favorite site was empty and waiting for us. Set up camp, supper, showers, and it was time for our evening walk.
We could spend every night of the rest of our lives watching the sunset from up here and be happy and content.
We drove to the top of Steens Mountain (as high as you can take a vehicle) and started down into Wildhorse Gorge, a massive glacially carved gorge in the basalt of the Steens fault block. This is spectacular alpine terrain in the middle of arid eastern Oregon.
It is about a mile and a half of steep trail to drop down to Wildhorse Lake.
It was the height of spring time here.
We stopped along a sand bar where a small inlet stream entered the Lake.
I went to work with my fly rod. Wildhorse Lake holds Lahontan Cutthroats in its water.
I saw several large trout cruising near shore. They came up and examined my strike indicator but ignored my scud pattern. I switched to terrestrials on the surface. I got looks but no takes. This was a slow start but both of us were so happy to be back here at Wildhorse.
We moved over to the opposite side.
The water was deeper with large rocks under the surface for shelter. I went to a small nymph under my indicator. The wind was already building with a little chop already on the surface. The Lady was relaxing, nodding off with her book on her lap when I yelled, "Bring the net, this is a big fish!"
The Lady was by my side. My rod had a deep bend. The trout was deep. We both saw the flash of its bright sides as it fought. The Lady gasped, "That is a big trout." The fly came free and that deep bend in my rod sent back loops and loops of fly line back at me, followed by that little weighted nymph that finished up by zinging round and round the fly line. In fly fisher jargon, this is called a "BFM". You have to have patience to fly fish. "What are you going to do with that!" the Lady asked in amazement. I pulled my readers out of my vest, sat down and went to work. This BFM was so bad even a few choice swear words won't help. Deep breath. Patience. I got it all untangled without clipping away and replacing leader or tippet. BFM, but this time the M was for miracle.
It was time for a break, I joined the Lady in her nest and we snacked. Sherpa Girl had packed darn good vitties.
A roll cast is best for casting this set up - nymph below indicator - with a steep slope behind. I put the nymph where I wanted. The surface chop worked its magic. The indicator popped below the surface. I raised my rod.
"Bring the ghost net!" I called to the Lady. It fought hard but we soon had a heavy, this was a stout fish, 15 inch cutthroat safely in the net.
We admired, thanked him, and carefully released him.
This was the heaviest fish of the trip.
The Lady asked about the texture of the basalt. Were these crystals? Doesn't volcanic rock cool so quickly that crystals are tiny? I did not know the answer.
The next Lahontan Cutthroat brought to the net, although not as big, was still very nice.
The wind continued to build. At times it was almost impossible to stand on the rocks along the shore; the lake covered in white caps. We moved over to the north end, hoping for a more sheltered spot from the wind. As we walked, the wind died down throughout the basin and we got a pleasant break the remainder of the afternoon.
I caught more cutthroat. I believe my total landed was five. The Lady's favorite was when I was reeling line in to move and the line stopped coming in. "It's caught on the bottom. Damn." I said. I couldn't budge it. Suddenly the line zipped across the lake. "No, that's a fish!" the Lady countered.
My favorite trout of the day was this one.
My nymph was out in deeper water when I saw this trout cruising closer in, parallel to shore. I waited until it passed and then did as gentle cast as I could, well ahead of it in its cruising line. It just moved a little to its side and took the fly. It was perfect. The Lady and I both watched the show.
This had been a great day spent at Wildhorse Lake.
We loved the spring time splendor as climbed back out of Wildhorse Gorge.
The trail's a bit thin up at the rim.
We again enjoyed the evening light as we walked after supper.
We started for home the next morning. A raptor studied the landscape for prey from a high tree.
We drove through Page Springs Campground. We were looking for our friend Wandering Sagebrush. We heard he frequents the place and it wouldn't hurt to take a look. No Mr. Sage, but a nice pair of twins.
Our next stop was tiny Fields Station, Oregon. We have been trying to stop by here for quite some time on the advice of our friend MarkBC in Bend.
Beside just being located in a cool section of Oregon, what was the draw? World famous milkshakes.
I ordered an Oreo Cookie and the Lady asked for Coffee. Those are ours in the photo above. I cannot remember the last time I ate this much ice cream at one time. We sat outside and slowly enjoyed our prizes. They were well worth the drive as was just visiting with the folks in Fields. Photos don't come out of wallets anymore. Everybody has smart phones (except us). The Lady had about a third gone from her milkshake when we left. She worked on it for another two hours and finally finished it up. "That was special! That was fun!" she exclaimed.
Stop by Fields, Oregon and get one of their milkshakes. It will go down in history.
We crossed over into Nevada. Our next stop was finding Bog Hot Springs.
Bog Hot Springs is interesting because it is a hot creek. A couple of pools are dammed for soaking.
The water was very hot to the touch. We didn't use the thermometer we keep in the truck because it was too hot to soak anyway. We filed away the location and access.
Our next stop was Virgin Springs in the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. There is a pool for cooling off in and this is an incredible wetland in the middle of arid high desert terrain.
I took a couple of photos of dragonflies for Bosque Bill.
We set out on a lazy drive across the refuge. We would enjoy the afternoon and area and end up wherever we ended up at day's end. Or so we thought.
Our chest refrigerator was causing us concern the last few days. It would turn itself off. We could get it to come back on but the issue was always in the back of our minds. We could add ice as a backup, but ice was a long ways away. We also carry a supply of dry food so we can always eat, so no emergency but an annoyance. This had us a bit on edge.
We both heard the tire blow at the same time and "Flat tire!" was uttered in unison. This was our very first flat tire while driving since we got our truck and camper, over 105,000 miles of driving. As we got out the gear it was easy to see the probable culprit. The road was littered with shards of obsidian. We consulted the map as we topped off the now mounted spare with air using our portable compressor.
"If we continue on, we have 50 miles of this same road ahead of us," I read aloud the information the map presented. "We have the 10 miles of road behind us that we came in on. There we are out to pavement." I turned the map over. "On pavement, we have about 100 miles to a place we can get the flat repaired." We agreed we'd turn back, the sensible option. We carry a plug kit so we could attempt a field repair if necessary, but we'd save that if another tire popped.
So we needed to turn around on this narrow dirt road. The Lady was outside to spot. "That's far enough back, stop!" she directed. This maneuver would take a couple of back and forths. I moved the shift level to drive. The truck would not move. The Lady saw me looking about and the truck not moving. "What happened?" she asked.
At times like this, don't you wish you could always have the perfect answer? Calm and reassuring when addressing the depth of the problem. It just came out. "You don't want to know," I said. The truck was cross ways, completely blocking the road - not that somebody was coming by anytime soon - downhill from a corner.
How's this for a story? A way to finish off our trip?
"The transmission may be screwed," I said to the Lady, now leaning in the driver's window. "The engine revs. The truck doesn't move. It's like it is in neutral." I demonstrated. This did not to help with "calm and reassuring" but the Lady was remaining remarkably calm. I searched for more evidence. I moved the shift lever back all the way to the left. The indicator remained on "D" and then slowly dropped over to "1".
"Ah ha," I said. "This might be easy. I think the dash shift indicator broke." Disregarding the indictor, I moved the shift lever through all the familiar indents. They were all there. They all worked.
We were okay. Okay except for that big shot of adrenaline we had both received. It would take a while to wear off. It reminded us of Momma and Baby moose's encounter with the bear last summer in the Beartooths. They were amped. So were we. But we had three hours to get over it before getting anywhere close to a tire shop.
Mile High Tire in Lakeview, Oregon is exactly the kind of shop you want to take a tire to be repaired. Although closing down for the day, the young man asked, "What can I do for you?"
In short order the tire was inflated, the hole marked, the tire off the rim, an inside patch installed, tire reassembled, installed on the truck, and help with cranking the spare back up under the truck.
"How much?" the Lady asked.
"That's not enough to fix a tire right," the Lady complained.
"Ten bucks to fix a flat. Need a receipt? Where have you two been? Tell me about your trip."
The young owner was repaid in kind. He had questions. We answered and told him all he wanted to know about our trip.
"I was born and raised here," he said. "I love the wide open. Everybody talks about the coast. I went over there. It was nice, but in all those big trees when I couldn't see two hundred yards it scared the shit out of me. Pardon the language, ma'am."
"I need to have open too," the Lady replied. "I love it!"
We headed south on 395. All was good with the world again. We were tired and wanted an easy end to the day. We saw the turn off for an Oregon State Park Campground - Goose Lake. We checked it out - quiet on this Wednesday night, free hot showers in the rest room, flush toilets. We could ease back into civilization.
I cooked the Lady breakfast for supper, her favorite, blueberry pancakes with a fried egg on top. Her last summer break from school was over. Deer wandered by as we walked in the evening. Sandhill crane's crazy vocalizations surrounded us. Geese sounded off.
We returned home the next day.
I'll end this tale with one final limerick from that 1998 backpack trip. My brother Tom, Fastshot, is mostly responsible for this one, although I've done a recent edit.
When Saint Peter finally takes score
and asks what I was here for
I'll say high alpine passes
and fine mountain lasses
and to the west he'll send me once more