Wednesday, September 25, 2013

CycleOregon - Day 3 - Burns to Diamond

I looked forward to today’s ride through the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Linda and I have visited the refuge four times and always found it abundant with birds no matter the season. I expected fewer birds today because of all the people. Indeed, there were fewer birds, but still some good ones.

Farmland south of Burns

One of the few trees
We started with 13 miles through the farmlands south of Burns before a one mile climb to the top of Wright’s Point, one of only two short climbs for the day. Wright’s Point is one of the best examples in the west of ‘inverted geography.’ Millions of years ago, this was a stream bed. Lava flows then filled the stream bed with a layer of basalt. Over the intervening years, the land surrounding the old stream bed eroded away leaving this inverted mold of the original valley. About 200 feet high and 200 feet wide, Wright’s Point runs for about ten miles across the valley today. Unfortunately, few get to know about this geologic phenomenon because no one has seen fit to put any kind of informational marker anywhere nearby.
Heading up Wright's Point
On top of Wright's Point
About ten miles further on, we crossed the Narrows, our first real indication that we have entered the refuge. The road crosses the point between Malheur and Harney Lakes. While the water is low, both lakes still have water and I was able to pick out a few birds including an avocet, a Western grebe, several white pelicans, and a cormorant. Not much, but it was fun sharing my binoculars with the other riders who stopped.

The Narrows

The Narrows

We have our fans
A couple of miles further on, we turned off the main road for lunch at the refuge headquarters. This side trip added about 15 miles to the ride, but was well worth the effort. With everyone spread out over the lawn for lunch, almost all the birds we might have seen made themselves scarce. Hummingbirds still came to the feeders and the resident great horned owl stayed in his roost high in one of the trees. Owls are so good at blending in, that he wasn’t too worried about the crowd gathered below. Barn swallows chased bugs over the pond and a few pelicans were visible through the scope. Otherwise, the only birds were in the taxidermy room where one of the wildlife managers answered questions.

Lunch at Malheur Visitor Center

View from the Visitor Center
Our camp for the next two nights was on a ranch near Diamond. The rancher allowed us to set up our small city on a recently mowed wheat field. Being so isolated we got a real sense of the size of this operation as we approached the camp. From a mile off, it really does look like a small town in the distance. That evening astronomers from OMSI and some volunteers put on a sky party. The area here is one of the most accessible places to get grand views of the night sky. While the lights of our camp dimmed the view somewhat, we still had an excellent view of the night sky and were able to identify the constellations, planets, and major stars – with our guide’s help of course. Long lines snaked behind each of the six telescopes the volunteers had brought.

This was the fifth sign created for us on our way to the Diamond ranch where we spent two nights. It is typical of the welcome we received everywhere we stopped.

Our camp. From a distance it looks like the small town it really is.

Our guide also shared that we have two lunar eclipses, one solar eclipse, and the possibility of the brightest comet of the century visiting us this Christmas. Any of these might mean additional trips to eastern Oregon for the clear skies unencumbered by the lights of a tent city of 2500 people.

Our entertainment for the night was a bike rodeo showing off the skills of some of the Bike Gallery mechanics. Events like ‘no-foot-down’ and the figure-eight race entertained us. Scoring was arbitrarily reminiscent of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” the improve comedy show hosted by Drew Carey several years ago. Or perhaps you were fortunate enough to see the original (and superior?) British version.

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