Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Sagebrush Porn

Hello, Americain idioth. Travelogue is in full swing again.

A few weeks ago I teamed up with ONDA once again in the eternal struggle against barbed-wire fences. This time it was at Hart Mtn Wildlife Refuge, which, for all you know, could be in Siberia*.

Hart Mtn is kinda like Steens but smaller and less accessible. It comprises two plateaux: Hart Mtn and Poker Jim Ridge. I'm guessing the Oregon Geographic Naming Committee was drinking a lot the night before that was named. I navigated using The Force and arrived as usual--circa 1 a.m. Desert stars are always good but these were extra super good. In the foreground were some fighters doing nightime aerial exercises. They dropped IR flares and hit the throttle, giving everyone an unanticipated sound and light show; the next morning I was the only one not pissed at the military. I just love freedom more than they do. HA

Not the finest picture of me, but check out the big field o' wetlands. We were sweating it out in the sagebrush while ducks quacked a few feet away. Very surreal.

We finished a day early so everyone had the chance to run around as they pleased. I headed up Hart Mtn itself. As I crested the edge I immediately encountered 30 to 40 pronghorn less than a quarter mile away. They froze to check me out, then one-by-one accelerated in small dust plumes across the flat scrub.

The pic obviously doesn't do justice. They're a lot different from deer since they head off in long, straight lines and run so fast--the fastest recorded speed is over 60 mph. Earlier in the trip we'd spooked some and they matched the car at 35 mph and then accelerated so they could angle in front of us. Their species actually evolved alongside North American cheetahs, lions, and wolves several thousand years ago, explaining their speed: no modern North American predator comes close to keeping up.

View off the edge of the plateau. Smoke from several Cascades fires really cut visibility in eastern Oregon that weekend.

LLLLLLLLADIES!!! Yeah, I'm posting naked pictures of myself on the internet ... try to act like you're surprised/shocked. And for those of you wondering, the camera was perched on my backpack and running on a timer.

There was a very small patch of trees clinging to the edge of the plateau. God knows how many brushfires they've survived. The hills were scarred with long stripes of light and dark from fires long ago.

Right behind those trees was a view down DeGarmo Canyon. It was DeFriggin' Huge.

... aaand the famed hot springs--or "spring"--at our campsite. Anything associated with water takes on bigger meaning in the desert.

That night we had a massive dinner, courtesy longtime ONDA member M. F. Holmes. His name is a close second to Poker Jim. Anyway I had an incredible conversation with a former Foreign Service Officer. It's a career I've been considering but had stopped researching at the point of "consult retired FSOs". This guy had a completely open-minded take on his profession and actually shared quite a bit of my outlook on life. The best part was that he and I disagreed on plenty of political matters--they were irrelevant in the larger context of talking about real values, beauracracy, and the politics of getting a job done. Given Eugene's stifling political climate (encompassed by the oft-repeated "FUCK BUSH"), it was refreshing to talk to someone who was: a) highly educated; b) very liberal; c) not given to broad-brushing Republicans as religious fascists; and d) had experienced four administrations, lending his words some weight. I'll have to think about this State Department business. Hopefully no one tells them about my hawt interweb buttcheek photo.

So that was Hart Mtn. I've also been painting my house. BEHOLD:

Scraping paint sucks. It really, really sucks. But at least I saved $12,000 of nonexistent money. And lemme tell ya, that feels really, really good.

Just this weekend was the last fence-pull of the year: the Barrington Trail on Steens Mtn.

Once again I rolled in late to the rally point (but before midnight!) and slept in the back of the wagon. Morning brought an ominous sight:

Oof. The front passed though and the forecast was for improvement over the next two days. Our Dirty Dozen rallied and began the 3000 foot slog up the side of Wildhorse Canyon.

A decent view of Wildhorse.

We pushed hard but the views were great compensation.

Things were kinda brisk once we crested the plateau. Steens crest loomed above us several miles away and a coupla thousand feet up. It's an incredible view.

Our campsite was adjacent to an old corral at 7000 feet. It was cold that night and we couldn't light a campfire. I wore three pairs of pants, two t-shirts, and two hooded vests inside my cinched-down zipped-up zero-degree bag. I was barely warm enough to sleep. Getting out of the tent at night to pee was lots of fun.

The next day had lots of wind and some snow/hail showers. There was enough sun to keep us optimistic but that changed quickly once we reached a more exposed section of fence.

It snowed right after this shot.

The views of Steens were awesome with the clouds. Kinda looks like ... The Falklands? South Georgia? Somewhere in Tibet?

I cranked the wire-roller with one hand while I shot this with the other.

The crew at the end of the day.

Heading "home" to the copse of trees in the small basin just above center.

Another cold night. People were a little better prepared for it but everyone was feeling the effects of the hike in and the subsequent day spent in the wind. I don't think anyone had warm feet for three days. The next morning was kinda dispiriting:

Yikes. That's frost and frozen precip as viewed from our campsite. We had to make a decision about what to do: the consensus was to pack camp, pull some fence, and bail later in the day depending on weather.

The view east of the mountain was hopeful but weather was coming from the gray west.

Steens broods.

Heading out to the fenceline. Oddly enough the rabbitbrush was in full bloom.

A break for snax. Notice the fenceline receding into infinity. There's a gazillion miles of the stuff up there. Gosh, it's almost like someone was up here ranching some years ago. HMMMMMMM. The weather started to clear but we were already heading off the mountain. The original plan was to go out the next morning anyway so it kinda worked out.

Wildhorse Canyon again as we hiked down the side. After three days of sweating, farting, sleeping, farting, farting, freezing, and farting in the same set of clothes, I smelled like I'd been wrestling hobos inside a dumpster used by a cheap Mexican restaurant. You know exactly what I'm talking about.

The 'Yota reincarnated.

That night we decided to car-camp together near the Alvord Hot Springs. It was to be a relaxing end to a strenuous three days. We headed down to the springs at night and skinny-dipped together, but the whole thing was crashed by two redneck hunters. I'll spare the details here (nothing physical) but the experience was enough to largely ruin the trip for me. I need to work on those intermediate steps between letting things slide and letting my anger scorch everything in sight. You'd think at 27 I'd be able to figure this shit out already. Christ.

Well anyway, I woke up the next morning somewhat unsettled. What better way to lift the spirts than blow across a big playa at 90 mph? The Alvord Desert was just a quick turn off the dirt road. God it felt good to get out there again. I cranked Bloc Party and did some big S-turns at high speed.

I'M HUGE, RARRRR. No tripod, so this portrait was taken on the ground ... hence the whacky perspective. Steens is the background mountain.

Bob D at work told me how, Back in The Day, he and his college buddies used to head out to the Alvord and run as fast as they could with their eyes closed to the count of 100. I tried it but only could make it to 40. My mind kept visualizing broken sidewalks, dogs, tree roots, fences ... but really I could have run to the count of 1000. Or 10000. Cool.

Road hazard on the way home.

Jerky on four legs. Mmmm.

The weather allowed for incredible visibility. Just as I finally lost sight of Steens, I started to gain sight of the Three Sisters.

The Three Sisters from the dry side of the Cascades ...

... and from the wet side. This was McKenzie Pass just inside Lane County. I realized recently that it would take about 4 hours to cross our county from Coast to Cascades. Zam.

Yours truly stumbling on basalt.

I had, ah ... a moment of inattentiveness shortly after that last pic and, well ... drifted in to a guard rail. The wagon's side is badly scraped and dinged in--enough so that the shotgun door doesn't open enough to get in and the paint is rubbed off completely in a couple of spots. This should put a lid on my driving ego for awhile. No pictures.

So that's that. Until next year, no more fence-pulls, no more pooping out burrs, and no more smuggling burritos under my arms. Life continues at its mad clip. After all this stupid photo formatting, I've got no will to give any more news.

*Obviously a lie, since I'd have replaced my pliers with a Basselope X-15 delivery system and this blog would be devoted to the pleasures of eating Milk-Bones in our newly commie-free world.