Saturday, June 8, 2013

Hart Mountain

Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge is only about 190 miles from Roseburg as the crow flies.  However, it took us all day to get there as Hart Mountain is not an easy place to get to, being situated in the middle of the Oregon outback with its wide open spaces and a notable paucity of roads, paved or unpaved. After a full day's 400 mile drive, we (John, Merle, and your intrepid blogster) arrived at the Warner Valley and Hart Mountain itself.

The reason for the refuge
By this time, we had left any semblance of forest well behind us and entered an arid world of sagebrush and wide sweeping vistas of bare mountains and vast valleys in between. Shortly before arriving at the handful of buildings and homes that comprise the hamlet of Plush, we actually espied a lone pronghorn antelope eyeing us disinterestedly as we drove by. Safe to say, we were not in Roseburg anymore.

Hart Mountain rises from the Warner Valley
Many epochs ago, seismic processes uplifted a block of the earth's crust and the net result is that the massive wall on the west side of Hart Mountain was pushed up an intimidating 3,000 feet above us as we drove on the dirt road hugging the mountain's base. The mountain flanked the Warner Valley and even though we clearly were in the arid desert, the valley floor contained a series of large lakes and marshes known collectively as the Warner Lakes. Small creeks tumbling seasonally down the mountain's face had carved deep and incredibly rugged canyons over time. The slow pace required by the rough road allowed us to soak in the views in typical tourist mouth-agape fashion.

Some of the Warner Lakes
Things got way cool when the road peeled away from Campbell Lake and proceeded to climb away from the valley and lakes. The Warner Valley wetlands lay at our figurative feet with view of lake after lake with the barren Coyote Hills chasing the equally barren Rabbit Hills in perpetuity on the other side of the valley. The road inched up the Hart Mountain wall and we must have looked like a tick climbing up a pant leg to anyone looking down.

We set up camp and the mosquitoes are happy
We set up camp at the primitive Hot Springs Campground. Despite the primitive part, the camp was one of the better camps I've camped at. Little Rock Creek trickled through a relatively green valley flanked by willows with expansive views of the sagebrushed hills and snow-patched Warner Peak. We set up camp in the trees where we were isolated from the semi-constant wind. Unfortunately, there was no isolating us from the mosquitoes lurking along the creek. And best of all, there was a genuine bona fide hot spring that became a regular post-hike destination during our stay.

Awww...isn't he cute?

For more photos of our first day at Hart Mountain, please visit the Flickr album.  

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