Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Steens, Sept 29 - Oct 4, 2007, part I

Hang on to your seat belts, here's a tour of the Steens & some sorry excuse on why I haven't finished my print, sent off my exhibition proposal, and written in my diary, for the last 4 days --

We've talked about visiting the Steens for years but never quite made it until now. Usually, by the time we think of it, it's WAY too late to get a room. This time, we were a bit more flexible and actually tried for 4 other weekends before we were able to find a room for these 3 nights. We stayed at the Diamond Hotel in Diamond, population all of 5 but about to become 6 because one of the residents is pregnant!

For those of you interested in county information, here's the official Harney County Oregon Blue book page.

We left Portland around 9:30am on Saturday. Took I-5 S to OR22, which joined OR20 which then took us all the way to Burns, the 'major' town in SE Oregon (population of less than 3000). From Burns, we made our way to Diamond via 78, 205, and then the Diamond Loop. We actually missed the hotel on our first pass through -- how's that possible, you ask, in a town of 5 people? Well, because the web page gave the address as '10 Main Street', when there was no 'Main Street' marked anywhere...it was the ONLY street in town. And it was a very short street at that!

We eventually arrived at the hotel around 5:30pm, in time to unpack & clean up a bit before joining the other hotel guests for dinner at 6:30pm.

(More about the dinners later.)

After dinner, we borrowed a flashlight from the hotel and went out for a walk. The stars were beautiful, of course. The moon hadn't risen yet, so it was quite dark. We walked for a little bit, turned and waited for the moon to come up. I heard all this rustling in the tall grass to the side of the road, turned the light on the moving grass, and waited to see what creature was going to emerge. Finally, a head poked out, and I saw that it was a BIG, BLACK head. Then a BIG, BLACK shoulder, and then a BIG, BLACK body...and it just kept, on, coming.

I thought, Oh My God! It's a BIG, BLACK, BEAR! Well, you can laugh about it now, but it was a cow, of course. Despite my best rational efforts, I do feel spooked being out there in complete darkness (the flashlight doesn't really do a whole lot for you), so we didn't stay out too late.

The next day, we followed the advice of the guests already there and decided to do both of the Steens loops -- the one at the top of the mountains and the one that runs around the bottom. We also followed the advice that we probably can't do the entire top loop in our little city car, a low clearance Saturn, so we went up the north rim and turned around and came down the north rim as well. In fact, we couldn't quite make it to the top, it was quite steep (with snow on the ground) and we had no chains. But we got pretty close, and here's one of the view points.

(These are all taken with the phone camera...why didn't I use my new Rebel? Well, that would be another Stupid Human Tricks entry.)

I was facing north here in the first shot, and then turned to my right for each subsequent shot.

The Steens rise very slowly on the western slope but drop off very abruptly on the east side. So I'm looking into the valley to the east.

In this shot, the white oval shape at the top right is the northern end of the Alvord desert.

Here you can see more of the Alvord desert.

And I'm facing south at this point.

The gentle western slope...

The gentle Mike...

The gentle car...

And that, my gentle readers, brings us back to right before the first shot.

We came down the north rim rather than making the complete loop around the top and headed south to the town of Frenchglen. Frenchglen is probably about the same size as Diamond, or maybe it's twice as big, but how would you be able to tell?

There is the Frenchglen Mercantile...

...which was not open when we were there because the person running the store had to be over at the Frenchglen Hotel to serve lunch, because it was lunch time. We peeked into the store, and there were maybe 3 shelves of merchandise...it was all a bit lonely looking.

And that lunch was an experience all in its own class -- it was the crankiest , most ornery service! We walked in, and not only was there no greeting or smile (in return for our greetings and smiles), there was no 'sit anywhere you like', 'menus are on the table', etc. You just stood around while she ignored you, until you finally figured out to just sit down. One of the diners asked for menus (their table had none), she said 'on the table' with that are-you-blind-or-stupid tone of voice. When we said 'thank you,' there was no response. She never once smiled at anyone, said an extra word (kind or not), or was the least bit pleasant to anybody in the room.

In a lot of ways, it was all part of the experience, but I was so happy that we were staying at the Diamond Hotel and NOT at the Frenchglen Hotel!

Besides the hotel, the general store, there was an empty house in Frenchglen:

After lunch, we continued on to Fields (SE of Frenchglen), to have a 'famous chocolate milkshake' which so many people rave about. Sadly, I have to report that I thought it was a lot of nothing.

From Fields, we headed north to loop around the east side of the Steens. The road travels between the mountains and the Alvord Desert; hot springs dot the roadside. I wanted to go out to the desert itself, but found no roads that I could recognize as public roads, everything looked like a private driveway. As it turns out, there was one difficult to find road, which we completely missed, so we did not get out to check out the desert surface. But I guess that's what next time is for. And there will be a next time, more about that later.

Anyhow, we stopped at one of the hot springs. This was taken right at the side of the road...

...where the hot spring water comes bubbling out:

Here's another shot:

There's a little tin shack a little further away from the road; it's set up for soakers and such. There were people soaking in it so I didn't take a picture. We walked a little further on and here you can see the desert in the distance. I'm not sure what the white stuff is. Not very far from the Alvord Desert, there's a town called Borax Works, I assume there's borax there, and maybe that's what this is too?

That was pretty much the tour for the first day. We got back to the hotel, had dinner along with the rest of the hotel guests, went out for another walk in the dark, and called it a night.

Now, about those dinners at the Diamond Hotel --

1) They're pretty delicious, but you've got to like beef! Steak the first night, beef stew the 2nd night, and lasagna (with ground beef) the 3rd night.

2) They're communal -- everyone sits down at 6:30pm at 2 large tables and eats family style. These dinners were really half the fun, you never knew whom you'd be having dinners with, and we met some interesting people with wonderful stories and great suggestions on what to do and what to see. Some of them have been going for years and knew a lot.

As it turns out, the woman who used to own the Mockingbird Gallery in Bend (she recently sold it) takes a bunch of her gallery artists to the Diamond Hotel once a year, and they just go out and paint, and several of them were there while we were there. And besides me and them, 2 other photographers showed up, one of them recognized me (we later figured out it must've been from OCAC). The man who owns and runs the hotel also owns and runs a ranch, which is not too surprising. But turns out, he's got an art degree too. A couple of his oils hung in the dining room, and one of them I really liked.

One of the things that came up in our conversations about the Alvord was the subject of the moon rising over the desert. Now, this sounds like a very lovely thing to see! Plans are underfoot [underway & afoot?] to return for the Mid-Autumn Festival (Aug 15 on the lunar calendar) for next year...

Part II tomorrow.


Michael5000 said...

So that's where you were! BlogWorld missed you! (sniffle.)

Cool photos of the Steens. Mrs.5000 and myself stayed at the campground near Frenchglen last year, but for some reason we couldn't/didn't go up to the mountain itself. Very Eastern Oregonian.

fingerstothebone said...

I'm glad YOU missed me...I'm not so sure the BlogWorld cares!

You went all the way out there and didn't go up to the top? Why? Maybe you and Mrs. 5000 can come out for the Moon Rise Over the Alvord Desert next Sept?! You can go to the top then.

gl. said...

i loved the posts about the steens. i haven't done enough exploration around eastern oregon, though in many ways it reminds me of eastern colorado.