Friday, August 4, 2017

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

 please remember you can click on a photo to see a larger version
Exploring Steens Mountain.

The plan was to fly fish but we got distracted. There is just so much to see and discover.  We first headed out the Little Blitzen Trail, the route up into Little Blitzen Gorge. This needed to be checked out.

It was still early. The thunderstorms were not yet building, so we drove back up to the top and hiked out the ridgeline overlooking Wildhorse Lake.

We continued out the ridge, past trail's end.

We circled back around the ridgeline where marvelous views into Big Indian Gorge opened up at our feet.

We returned to the rim trail.

Storm was again building. It was time to get to lower elevations. The Lady's favorite campground on Steens is Jackman Park.

It was empty and we set up camp as rain began.

The Lady and I teach land navigation for various agencies and groups. Everything about maps pique our interest, especially names given to features. Sometime names are quite insensitive, such as Dead Mexican Gulch that we visited in Colorado's Flattops. Our recent trip to Squaw Tit in Nevada's Buffalo Valley got me digging deeper into this issue. I discovered a excellent book on the subject, very well written, and published by the University of Chicago Press -

If you are curious about the subject, and enjoy a heartfelt chuckle or two, I highly recommend this book.

The rain let up enough for us to head out on a walk. Our destination? You bet, Whorehouse Meadow!

We consulted our USGS 7.5 topo to plan our route.

What's with this "Naughty Girl Meadow"? This is where the story gets good, very good indeed.

Ask around Oregon and the predominate story is that the name "Whorehouse Meadow" was sanitized to "Naughty Girl Meadow" by that damned bunch of politically correct bureaucratic sissified prudes over there in Washington DC. A very believable story and likely accounts for its longevity. Too bad it's not true.

I'll come back to this. First, let's visit the meadow.

Pretty place, isn't it? Does it stir up thoughts of romance? Hein' and shein', wild west style?

It the early days of sheep and cattle grazing up on Steens this is where the working girls set up shop, canvas tents and such, and helped ease those long lonely nights the shepherds and cowpokes were suffering through; true American enterprise. I had also heard, if you looked in the right place, find an old aspen, you could find a price list still visible, carved into the tree.

The search was on.

This was the oldest carving we found.

The mosquitoes were awful and the Lady soon tired of the search and that constant agonizing buzzing all around.

"You wouldn't find me dropping my drawers in this place!" she exclaimed. "Imagine the bites and welts!"

When the USGS produces a map, exacting standards must be met, very exacting standards. Everything must be field checked, including place names. In the early 1960's USGS was mapping and preparing the first 7.5 topo maps for the Steens area. One person was tasked with canvassing all segments of the community as to local names for features and sites. The field notes still in the files indicate that when asked about this yet unnamed meadow on any official map, the answer given was repeatedly "Naughty Girl Meadow".

Did the locals at the time want to quiet the idea of whores in Oregon? Was everybody in a conspiracy to play a trick on this lowly government employee just trying to do his job? We'll probably never know. In 1968 the USGS issued the Fish Lake, Oregon 7.5 minute topo map, as pictured above; the still current edition of this map - Naughty Girl Meadow.

The Viagra hit the fan.

Newspaper articles, letters to editors in newspapers, calls to senators and congressmen. Oh my god the outcry! The Oregon Board of Geographic Names met and ruled it was "Whorehouse Meadow". The National Board of Geographic Names usually sides with the local board and said, okay, its "Whorehouse Meadow". No big deal.

In 1976 the BLM issued the first Steens Mountain Recreation map and for the first time the name "Whorehouse Meadow" appeared on a map.

Why does the Lady prefer to stay at Jackman Park? Because this is accessible for our evening walks. Wednesday night was the finest evening of our trip.

Thursday morning dawned bright and cloud free........................................

..............................a good day to go fishing.

Wildhorse Lake rests in the uppermost basin of Wildhorse Gorge, spectacular country.

The Lady carried her ghost net. She wanted to give it a workout. She wanted beautiful, big Lahontan Cutthroat trout. I was the one that had to catch them.

This was our third trip down to Wildhorse. Even if not a single cutthroat was landed, this place is heaven, well worth the hike down.

We hiked around to the talus side of the lake, dropped the packs, got on our wading sandals, put together my fly rod, and began one of the most special fly fishing days of my life.

We had spotted trout cruising the shallows as we wandered quietly along the shore. I'd save working with a dry fly for later and started with a size 16 bead head pheasant tail nymph pattern (every once in awhile you do get information out of me). On alpine lakes I like to fish it under a floating strike indicator that is easily movable to allow fishing at different depths. The high floating indicator - the Lady calls it a bobber - I never do - works very well when the wind blows, imparting a seductive wiggle to the fly suspended below. The wind always blows at high alpine lakes.

We moved back the way we came to begin fishing where a small feeder stream slides into the lake. The Lady followed with the camera, her ghost net, and her book. She found a good spot to read and doze as I got on with fishing. She never had a chance to open her book.

Number two pulled hard and ran deep.

This one sported beautiful spawning colors.

We were alone in the basin, utterly immersed in solitude and grandeur.

We slowly moved around the lake. I prefer to sight fish for trout, taking the time to observe cruising patterns and behavior, and then make the best presentation I can.

The Lady was in heaven, learning patience when a large trout is brought to the net. I would carefully remove the hook and she would have the joy of carefully releasing the trout. "Returning to its watery fold," my cousin Keith would say.

We were half way around the lake. We stopped for a long break, enjoyed our snacks, laid back in the grass, watched the sky.

"I have really caught enough trout," I said to the Lady. "I don't need to fish anymore. This is a great day."
"My count is eight," the Lady replied. I had no idea she was keeping track. I wasn't.
"We are going to circle the lake," she went on. "When I spot a big cutthroat, you catch it for me. Okay?"
I could not refuse.

One trout she named "Bobber Head". If you've fished with strike indicators, you know it is common for fish to occasionally hit the indicator. Sometimes it can be dramatic and exciting. "Bobber Head" not only struck at the indicator but held it in its mouth, took it deep, and violently shook it. It was like a rerun of "Jaws."

"Come on Bobber Head," I patiently said. "Let go and the spot the fly."

"Bobber Head" was brought to the net and returned to its watery fold.

The Lady spotted several more trout. I caught them for her as directed. She had the joy of netting and releasing.

We reached where we had stashed our packs and boots.


As I disassembled my fly rod, I realized what a truly remarkable day this had been. Never did I put a wind knot in my tippet. Never did I snag a fly on the lake bottom or in lake side vegetation. Never did the wind catch my fly line and wrap it two or three times around my head and then snag the fly at some hidden spot on my back side. Never did I have to replace tippet. Never did I have to replace or change the fly. I snipped off the same nymph I started with and returned it to my fly box. Never will I have a day of fly fishing like this again.

Completely satisfied, we climbed out from Wildhorse Lake in the mid afternoon.

The Lady reported 15 trout were caught and released. Most were in the 14 inch range. Three or four were up to 16 inches. Two were 12 inchers. Beautiful Lahontan Cutthroats.

We returned to Jackman Park. Our showers and dinner, and our evening walk rounded out a wonderful day.

Tomorrow would be completely different.......................................

Our adventure continues in  Part Three - Please Click Here.


  1. Monte your stories are so well told.
    I can appreciate the time you put into them.
    And the fishing WOW is all I can say.

    I have had a day or two like that but usually at Heenan Res.
    Thanks to you and Julie for the chance to see that country.

  2. Monte, you make me regret not staying another day and going into Wildhorse with you. Lahontan's are such beautiful fish! Well done amigos!!!