For my second full day in Eastern Oregon
(after a trip to the east side of Steens Mountain
the day before) in April 2012, I headed west to explore the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge.
I got up early as usual and drove the 50 miles from the Frenchglen Hotel
to the Refuge headquarters — 42 miles of the journey on a gravel road. Just like the day before, I marveled that these back-country gravel roads are so well made that cruising at freeway speeds is no problem at all.
Before arriving at the Refuge headquarters, I encountered some of the "antelope" for which the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge
was created in 1936. Unfortunately, the Refuge has been misnamed — they are not true antelopes
(which are from Africa and Asia), but a similar-looking North American version called pronghorn.
After snapping some photos, I proceeded to the Hot Springs Campground,
where I enjoyed a quick skinny-dip in the bath-temperature water and then a "brunch" of roasted bratwurst and pork & beans! During my time in this part of the Refuge I got some good shots (photographic, of course!) of a red-tailed hawk and of a ground squirrel.
Feeling quite refreshed, I headed back to the headquarters, then took the Blue Sky Road jeep trail about fourteen miles to the southern part of the Refuge until the road ended at its junction with the gated Barnhardt Road. There I visited the site of an old army camp,
with only two Civil War-era graves to mark the spot. I also stopped at the Post Meadows "campground," with only an outhouse and a decaying corral to mark the spot.
After returning once again to the Refuge headquarters, rather than heading east back to my "base camp" at the Frenchglen Hotel, I decided to continue west and explore some more. I had been told that the view from the northwestern edge of Hart Mountain
overlooking the Warner Valley
was spectacular — and so was the steep 1,200-foot descent down a gravel road to the valley floor in just one-and-a-half miles of horizontal distance!
Because gas stations are few and far between in this section of Oregon, the final destination of this outing was the hamlet of Plush,
further south in the Warner Valley. Unfortunately, I was a bit ignorant about how far away it was. I had imagined it was near the area where the road reaches the valley floor, but it was actually 24 miles from the Refuge headquarters, and it took me an hour to get there — well, I did stop quite a few times to take pictures, as you will see in this album.
After finally reaching Plush — which, by the way, definitely does NOT live up to its name! — I filled up my truck with gas at the run-down general store, and then turned around to begin my 73-mile, two-hour trek back through the Refuge and on to Frenchglen. I stopped again at the Refuge headquarters for my third bathroom break of the day — it boasts the only flush toilet (open 24/7) for miles and miles around! Less than a mile down the road I encountered the pronghorn for the last time, and got some of my best pictures of these graceful creatures.
All in all, it was a very full day — I traveled 185 miles over a period of 12 hours, and took 653 photos. I've narrowed it down to the best 88 pictures, including 10 panoramas. It's really a region of wide open spaces — Hart Mountain itself is fifteen miles long! — which are difficult to capture except through panoramas.