Thursday, August 3, 2017

Hart Mountain & Steens Mountain, Oregon - July 2017 - Part One

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Say Hallelujah!

Things have changed with the Lady's retirement. All years past we've had a big summer trip planned, dates set, and we're off. This year it's different for several reasons. We doing home projects, one that involves contractors and we revolve around their schedule. But the big one is the Lady says this idea of retirement won't hit until all her teaching buddies return for a new school year and she does not. So, our big trip will be later in the summer. Destination? Wherever we want.

Circumstances did allow for a quick week off and we took advantage and headed north at dawn on a warm Sunday morning. We grabbed a sit down breakfast at the Fire Sign in Tahoe City and then headed for our intersection with Highway 395 at Hallelujah Junction.

I've loved that name, Hallelujah Junction, since the first time I saw it on a California road map when I was a kid. It's not much, just a travel stop - gas, a small store, and restrooms. It doesn't take much to get me to stop and this time it was a restroom break for both of us. I entered the store after the Lady and found her in line for the women's room, already in conversation with the young woman ahead of her. They had both decided "it must be a one holer."

"Whosever first can use the men's room," I offered. I opened the door and checked it out. "It's a one holer with a lock, same as the women's. No line."

They both declined. They must have smelled the paint. The odor was strong and unpleasant. Obviously they are battling a graffiti problem at Hallelujah Junction and the wall above the urinal had been hastily painted. I considered the challenges of running a travel stop like this as I took care of business. I looked over the new bright white wall at my face. Red ink caught my eye in the left corner. Careful small print read -

They paint these walls
to hide my pen.
But the shithouse poet
strikes again!

Our next stop was the park in downtown Alturas, attractive and convenient for a brief lunch stop. The place was busy. A crowd was gathered in the central area. A big pickup had backed in with a three horse slant load trailer.

"It must be to haul barbeque equipment," I suggested to the Lady. "They must be having a Sunday picnic."

I set out the chairs as the Lady made us simple sandwiches, butter and jelly for me and always peanut butter for her. In the cool shade of a large cottonwood we watched the activities. It wasn't barbeque equipment that was brought in with the horse trailer, it was a large cattle trough. A hose was draped over the edge. The group gathered round and chatted as it filled with water. A large rotund man wearing a tropical shirt seemed to be the leader. Second in command was a tall lean cowboy, boots and a barbeque apron tied tight. A real cowboy. He never took off his hat.

The tank was filled to the brim. A teenage boy climbed in fully clothed and stood upright in the water. Mr. tropical shirt and the cowboy took their places on either side of the makeshift baptismal pool. They grabbed the boy and laid him backwards into the holy water. Full immersion, students of Christian doctrine would say. Quickly they pulled the soaking wet young fellow back into a standing position. Water sloshed violently out of both ends of the tank. A cheer went out from the crowd. It was a damn fine dunking.

They worked through the line of teenage boys. No young women were baptized. Males as the heads of households may be a key belief of this fundamentalist group. They finished off with a big middle aged man. I feared he might be difficult to pull back up and was concerned about a possible medical emergency. He popped back up, a cheer went out from the crowd. All was well.

Say hallelujah!

Mid afternoon we rolled into Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge's Hot Springs Campground. We enjoyed our previous stay here and it's a great setting for an overnight.

It was hot, humid, with a thunderstorm rolling toward us. The meadow was lush.

We explored all the familiar spots, including the hot primitive pool.

The storm was upon us and we retreated to our cozy refuge and made dinner.

We walked again as night fell around us. The smell of new rain and damp earth was intoxicating. With all the windows and door open on the camper, we climbed up into the bunk and listened to the night as we gave in to sleep.

Monday morning dawned cloudless and bright.

It was time to continue our travels.

We met up with our buddy Steve (aka Wandering Sagebrush on the Wander the West Forum) at Fish Lake Campground on Steens Mountain.

The Lady suggested we grab the highest, most open campsite we would both fit into. We did.

In the empty campground a large group pulled into the campsite directly across from us. Thus is campground life. And you guessed right. It was an annual family camping trip. "We've been staying at the same campsite for 42 years!" And stay they did. I called it, "Camp Sit on Your Butts."

We did not sit on ours but ventured up the road on foot. Rain fell off and on. The Lady took us cross country around Pate Lake. We were surrounded by wildflowers, sage, and groves of aspen.

Our plan for Tuesday was to move over to Indian Creek below the Big Indian Gorge and fly fish for trout. We kept getting distracted while driving the Steens Mountain Loop Road.

Steve suggested taking the 4 to 5 mile 4x4 road into the Nye Cabin. We all were revisiting memories of previous trips to this high meadow perched on the north rim of Little Blitzen Gorge.

This is a wonderful secluded spot.

Steve attended to Fritz the Wonder Dog, his young German Wire Hair Pointer. The Lady and I sought out a view into the glacially carved Little Blitzen Gorge. Although a dreary day, the landscape was still breathtaking.

As we walked the rough road back to our parking area, two A-10 Warthogs roared low overhead and dove into the gorge.


We crawled back up the 4x4 road and rejoined the Loop Road. The distractions continued. We stopped many times and Steve enjoyed sharing stories of many previous adventures up here.

We finally made it down to Indian Creek using a rough road to an old cabin site. It was hot, but our campsite along the small creek, in the shade, was near perfect. Steve and I rigged up our fly rods. Steve went upstream and I went down. It was fun teasing "Little Nippers" - the Lady's name for small trout - out from under limbs, rocks, and cutbanks. It was tough fishing but most refreshing to wade in the cold water.

The road in showed obvious signs of turning into a mud pit with wet weather. As thunderstorms built around us, we pulled up stakes, and retreated to South Steens Campground. We popped the camper tops just in time to nap through two hours of hail, rain, and storm.

We parted ways with Steve Wednesday morning. He and Fritz the Wonder Dog were heading south. The Lady and I, what adventures did we have up our sleeves?

Our adventure continues Part Two - Please Click Here


  1. Thanks Monte.your afternoon in Alturas was interesting.
    Looks like you the Lady and Steve had a nice few days.The fishing sounded nice.

  2. That was fun a fun trip and read! I didn't get a chance to photograph the Warthogs!