Hoping for Coyotes

Alas poor readers you’ve waited out quite the dry spell of blog posts. Yet while I’ve not been writing, I’m still out adventuring. So don’t worry, I AM doing one of the things I’m called to do.

So, today I return with a little travelogue following a visit to one of Oregon’s newest state parks – Cottonwood Canyon State Park.

From Portland, there are a few routes to take, Mr Mudlips and I chose a circuitous and backroadsie path. So, from Portland, we exit from the interstate and climb out of the Columbia Gorge onto the greening wheat-producing Columbia Plateau. High above the river is a land of well-worked rolling hills and canyons of basalt poured out over 10 million years ago from some volcanic fissure. We wind through the wheat land down miles of some-paved-some-gravel country roads, one a dead-end but followed anyway for its vista overlooking the mighty Columbia River several thousand feet below.

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And from those same roads, the other story here – strong winds – is obvious with the proliferation of large wind farms dotting the wheat fields.

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We zigzag to the fine wheat-growing town of Condon, Oregon where we find the best darn lunch of fresh greens and veggie salad, home-made soup and bread from one of the friendliest proprietors  at Sandi’s Deli & Catering- all in the local pharmacy/variety store . So, there’s some window-shopping while we sup.

Then on to our destination. As we head north to the park, we descend from over 2800 feet down to about 600 feet. The wind is still with us but the temperatures are slightly warmer and the new park quite welcoming. While open to the public the park is still not finished as staff is still planting trees and grass.  But, who cares, the views are spectacular.

The John Day River flows through the 3000+ acre park and the tall basalt cliffs it cuts through in this canyon are exposed and dramatic.  To our surprise, no other campers!  Well, it is a week day, with a high of perhaps 47 degrees and a chance of rain overnight. But, hey, I thought Oregonians were tougher than that.  The vacancy rate allows us our pick of campsites, so we settle in and test out the view from the tent: approved with flying colors – or should we say basalt cliff colors!

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After the chores are done a short nap and then an exploratory hike down river towards those tent-viewed cliffs. We find several secrets – birds nesting, sheep trails (big horn sheep), and rocks that echo the river as if the river flowed through their ferric minerals instead of below the bank. After a few miles back to camp, where we don our warm wear,  huddle under blankets, sip tea, and await sunset and supper time.

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A day well spent, means a night well slept. Sleep was sound and restful, although I rue not being awaken by the howl of coyotes or the hoots of owls. The sun rises and the clouds part – no rain today. Just another hike, this time upriver.  More secrets are revealed by the flora and fauna: we startle two very healthy deer that bound up the steep scree slope of the hillside and are 300 yards away in a matter of a minute. Ducks and geese flush from the reeds and blushing willows that line the river in places. The Canyon Wren calls his laughing call, we hear it often but never espy the little brown job of a bird.

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We head toward the bend in the river drinking in the color and texture of the weathered basalt cliffs.

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After reaching the end of the trail it’s a stroll retracing our steps as we  return towards camp. But, from this direction the views are different. Along the way we dream of climbing high to vantage point atop an outcrop and of floating down the river in a raft.  Ah, but not this time, next time perhaps.

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We  spot a Prairie Falcon perched atop one of the outcrops – he’s there just to the left of where the con trail intersects the horizon. We follow him in flight and watch as he joins another of his kind, then they perch together for a spell near what appears to be a nesting site – not showing that photo.

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And, just as the falcon headed home, so did we. But what a sweet, short, desert interlude it was. Oregon, my dear readers, is a great place to be. I was in a Sitka spruce forest at the coast just 3 weeks ago, up to my ankles in mud, and then here I was in the sage brush desert of the Columbia Plateau watching Prairie Falcons and seeing the first blooms of the desert’s spring wildflowers.  I hope your homeland is equally rich and diverse and I hope you have time to get outside, if even for just one night, feeling the wildness, connecting with nature, and hoping to hear the howl of coyotes.