|So close, and so, so rare. Plus I can't wait to see what plants we'll find.
We make past Alturas the first day, and continue through Lakeview, Oregon by late afternoon. We drive Lake Abert just after sunset.
Four thousand feet elevation, fifteen miles long, 7 miles wide, 7 feet deep, 11 feet max. No outlet, about as salty as seawater. No fish, just brine shrimp. Don't swim in it, the water acts like strong laundry soap. Usually offers beautiful views though.
Directly across the very wide valley is an analog, Summer Lake. A cave on the ridge above contains a record of human occupation that dates to at least 14,300 years ago, making it one of the very oldest of the well-documented sites. Similar undiscovered sites may exist here.
This is Basin and Range country, visually and ecologically. Silvery Bigleaf Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), even more silver Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus/Ericameria), pink, sulfur and rust colored buckwheats (Eriogonum) are all dramatically placed against dark red and black basalt lavas. The mostly sheer edge of Abert Rim is 2500' above the lake and runs for about 45 miles.
Look how late the bloom is on these rabbitbrush and sagebrush plants - they're just starting to bloom now, August 19th. Both were already finished in late April in Death Valley. The average frost-free growing season here is a whole 30 days, in July I believe.
We just had to stop for some reflection shots, the water was almost perfectly still.
I used to fly hang gliders every summer for many years out of Lakeview. They had a Fourth of July fly-in. I made one flight from just north of Goose Lake to a few miles past this gentler north-rim section. By the time I got there the thermal lift columns were uniformly flattened out all along the rim elevation from a strong inversion. I circled to within a couple of wingspans from the edge the whole way, checking out every cave, crack and ledge. Didn't see any pronghorns, but I watched bighorn sheep watching me, browsing contentedly just two hundred feet below.
In one of the high, sheer southern sections I saw a small cave with an ancient skeleton. The skull was wearing a gold mask, inset with rubies around the edge, and with lapiz lazuli eyes. There was a large ceremonial knife, gold with a jade handle. The edge was still encrusted with dark blood from the young maiden who had been sacrificed, then thrown off the cliff.
Also there was a wooden chest, with treasure spilling out. But it was just a small one.
I forget exactly where that cave was . . .
All these basalt cliffs are part of the Columbia River Flood Basalts, which cover the eastern halves of both Oregon and Washington, as well as western Idaho and northeastern California. One of these massive flows traveled from southeastern Washington all the way to the Pacific Ocean (310 miles) in no more than a week, from the cooling/crystallization rates.
Amazingly the Best Western in Burns has plenty of rooms. Growing outside is this wonderful pine. Looks like a Bristlecone, but seems to be happy, and growing too fast.
But the needles are in fives and are still hanging on the trunk from nine years ago, key indicators. It's the nicest one I've ever seen.
We're seeing lots of Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), always a striking sight. There used to be a nice one in the middle of 101 just south of King City. It's listed as invasive in almost every state, and province. Not so bad in California, and always pretty, but so is pernicious tamarisk I guess.
We make it into the Blue Mountains north of John Day, and explore until we find a wonderful private spot. In a nearby meadow are Very Serious Astronomers with some big guns.
Wandering around I find Western Larch. Wow, I've never seen one. It's deciduous, with nice fall color. Always grows with a narrow profile. Needs long, cold winters, and doesn't quite make it into California.
And . . . a geranium?? Yes, and native, G. oreganum. Also grows in California.
Hey, that's a Calochortus seed pod. And some kind of lily! Small wild onions have filled our rocky meadow. They are about 1/3 of an inch across and are very sweet, with no sharp taste at all. A real treat.
I see parallel-veined leaves, could that possibly be an orchid?
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