Saturday, November 13, 2010

Crystal Crane November Escape

Entry sign to Hot Springs south of Burns.  

Crystal Crane Hot Springs – Malheur Wildlife Refuge
November 11 – 13, 2010

Thursday, November 11 – Veteran’s Day!

We have a four day weekend due to a break day awarded after Thursday’s Veteran’s Day.  Guess the school district figured no one would show up anyway on Friday!  So Rick and I have decided to explore a part of Oregon new to us: south of Burns and the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.  We have booked two nights in the “rustic cabins” at Crystal Crane Hot Springs, about 28 miles south of Burns! 

On our way at 9 with scattered clouds and beautiful sunshine.  The weather looks like it is going to cooperate totally for our get away!  Over the mountains (sadly the larch are past their golden beauty and into a brown stage) with skiffs of snow alongside the road much of the way due to the recent storms.  We spied the pyramid peak of Strawberry Mountain poking up above some clouds as we dropped down into Prairie City.  Our last time through PC we remembered receiving the phone call from Randy that Pop was not improving and nearing the end as we traveled to Mom’s on the coast.  This time I was in the middle of a series of text messages with Luke, who was visiting the Alamo in San Antonio at the time!  Much better conversation!

Through John Day where we stop for a sandwich at the Subway and south to Burns.  Just a beautiful drive over the high plains near Seneca and then down the Silvies River into Burns.  After picking up a few forgotten groceries at the Safeway, we parked downtown and wandered a few shops.  Much was closed for the holiday, including a promising Thai Restaurant!  So we decided to just head on down to the hot springs and eat the dinner of choice:  crab, bread, cheese, and wine! 

We find Crystal Crane Hot Springs, about 4 miles west of Crane, and are situated in Cabin D (furthest from the communal bathroom! L)   It is also the one decorated in Victorian flowers!  So much for the hoped for western room.  Oh well.  The room is small – queen bed, big chair, heater, and small table and light.  We shall make it work just fine!  Besides the price is right ($45 a night). 

Rick was ready for a nap (he is fighting the sore throat today!) and I began to read a Hardy Boys mystery I found in the common room.  I haven’t read a HB in over 30 years!  Hour or two later, we decide to EAT!  A little more reading time after dinner and then it is time to check out the hot springs!

The hot springs have two inflow spots – one that trickles down through the rocks at a VERY hot  180 degrees and another pipe that pours into the pond at a bit cooler temp.  The night is cool, however, (under 30 degrees) so the water cools down quickly.  The pond is advertised at around 88 to 90 degrees overall – much cooler than I anticipated.   Another group is near the large inflow, so we use a smaller one that trickles in VERY hot.  We keep a constant swirling of our arms to cool off the water, but also to keep constant hot water heating us up!  Eventually I swim 3-4 laps across the pond to get a little exercise!  Showers in the two separate little stalls (ONLY two available)  and then back to the room.  Read and relax until 10 when my eyes are struggling.  I finished the HB earlier and have read the entire Reader’s Digest I brought as well.  Rick is working on a western novel he brought.  Nothing too heavy for either of us.  Tomorrow I will start the book I brought with me. 

Friday, November 12: 
View from our cabin window as sun rising behind pond. 
I get up at 6:45 to use the bathroom and wander around taking some sunrise pictures and pond shots.  It is brisk and beautiful outside.  I find a few birds on the lower pond (which is considerably cooler) and watch a few flocks swarm and dart around in the sky.  It is a gorgeous morning.  Inside to begin reading my book while Rick sleeps until 9:15!  At 9 am I give up and pull out some breakfast.  I’m hungry!!!

We are on our way south by 10:15 – heading to Crane just a few miles away.  Rick wants to find the store and get some cold medicine just to guarantee a good nice tonight. We drive into Crane proper, find the boarding school, one of only two public high school boarding schools in the country, but no store.  Back out on the main road and quickly see the Crane store, café, RV park, gas station, you name it!   They have drugs! 

Down to Princeton Junction and then west on a gravel road that will take us across to the Malheur Wildlife Area.  This isn’t exactly the main road into the Visitor Center, but it will get us there in a more direct way from Crane!  You can’t see the lake from the road except in just a few places.  The lake is fairly low at this time of the year – the summer has taken its toll. 

Main pond in front of Wildlife Refuge Headquarters
We arrive at the Malheur Wildlife Area – marked by a tall former fire tower that in the fall is covered with turkey vultures roosting!  The buildings are roofed with multicolor Spanish tiles which look really neat.  Cottonwood trees and a small pond – the main showcase for the visitor center bird viewing completes the center.  A free and always open museum is filled with information and over 200 stuffed birds on display.  The gift shop and center itself was closed for the Veteran’s Day weekend.    

We can see the Malheur Lake up north of the center in the distance.  The skies are clearing or filled with fluffy clouds.  So pretty, but we only spy a few birds in the area.  It really is too late in the season to do much birding.  Maybe we shall come back in the spring when the place is teeming with action! 

All day long the views were far reaching and the sky huge! 
From the Wildlife Refuge we pass the Sodhouse (originally part of the Glenn-French Cattle Empire) and out to Route 205, the main North-South route from Burns down to Fields and on to the Nevada border.  We head north briefly to see the area called The Narrows, but this basin and plateau are so huge and flat, it is hard to tell the difference in where the water shifts.  There is no sign of Mud Lake – I think it is all fields right now.  Harney Lake is further to the west – all still part of the wildlife refuge. 
View north from Buena Vista overlook.  

We backtrack slightly to the south and then head on down to our next stop – Buena Vista ponds.  We are amazed at the variations in the landscape.  I guess we thought the whole area was just flat, but we wind in and around rimrock and canyons and little gulches.  Always thick sagebrush and grassland and lava rock everywhere! 

Buena Vista is another set of ponds often occupied in the spring and summer with birds.  Right now the ponds are in a semi-dry state.  Interesting signs tell the story of how managed wetlands are more productive and better for the birds.  Hence, the draw down of the water, the cattle grazing nearby, etc.  Pretty fascinating. 

Frenchglen Hotel
It is about another 18 miles down to Frenchglen and the famous French Glenn Hotel.  The town has a small school, an even smaller post office spot, a few houses, and the hotel.  Seemed like everywhere was closed, including the hotel.  We had hoped to maybe catch their 11:30 to 1:30 lunch service, but instead ate from the stuff in the car at the little public park next to the hotel.  My only other disappointment was that the clouds have totally socked the Steens Mountain in.  We can see a little snow at the lowest edge and nothing up above.  Maybe another time! 

We head north again from Frenchglen and up to the Diamond cutoff.  This route should take us eventually back up to Princeton Junction just south of Crane.  We are making a nice circular trip!  We soon realize we also missed the turnoff to the Lavabeds area which goes through Diamond Craters.  Turn around. 

The next 20 miles are definitely through a volcanic playground of basalt, lava flows, and maar holes (they look like individual hot tubs in the desert!)  We didn’t stop at any of the stops because I didn’t get the brochure until AFTER we had driven through!  It was pretty neat to look at, however!  You could see the fold lines of the aa flows in several places. 

The Round Barn has a new visitor center built in recent years, probably by the Jenkins family who owns the area and runs historic tours on the side.  Dick Jenkins (70’s?) was running the upscale gift shop and museum.  He was a long time friend of the Kirkpatrick family and we visited for some time about Bill Kirkpatrick, who hunted in this region for over 50 years in a row.  I also bought a new Xmas puzzle which was pretty cool. 

Peter French's Round Barn
Rick and I then drove over the Round Barn itself, a 100 year old relic (restored in several places) from the Peter French era and the cattle empire.  He built the barn to train the horses in the winter time.  It really was awesome inside with HUGE timbers and old rock walls in the inner part.  History says his barn was “ahead of his time” in design. 

From the barn, we continue north past vast fields of golden grassland, more rimrock, and buttes and canyons.  Eventually we rejoin our morning route and return to Crane Hot Springs.  The skies have actually cleared off more and clouds are hard to find!  It will be another cold clear night! 

We relax for a short bit and then head out to the pond for a dip in the warm water.  The place is busier than yesterday – more in the RV part, although the rest of the cabins appear empty.  Maybe just some groups using the springs on a day pass too.  We are in the pond when the sun goes down and watch the purple glow appear on the eastern ridges opposite, all through the misty steam of the water.  Have to wait abit at the end to get one of the showers – one of the downsides to this spot!

Back to cabin to finish off the crab for dinner, plus more cheese, bread, and vino!  A relaxing evening reading and not much more.  I finish a second book!  I think Rick finishes one as well. 

We really should start checking into brands of mattresses when we sleep really well in a place.  This bed was good.  Sound night’s sleep! 

Saturday, November 13:

Rising sun on Saturday morning. 
I wake up at EXACTLY the same time as yesterday – 6:46 am.  Weird.  Up to do a few stretches and exercises, catch the sun rising at JUST the right moment, and do my Bible Study.  Rick is up at 7:45 or so, and we are on our way by 8:15.  We decided to eat OUT for breakfast and out diner of choice is the Crane Café, just 4 miles back up the road.  Rick orders the shortstack and gets two HUGE pancakes.  I decide to try oatmeal and fruit, and get a bowl of oatmeal that must be 20 oz in size!  Well over 2 cups worth!  Wow!  I can’t finish it!  My fruit is peaches, which taste good with the raisins and brown sugar.  More WW points for breakfast than I’ve had in a while, but we are eating out! 

The skies are cloudy, gray, and COLD this morning.  Rick had to scrape a little frost off the windows before we could leave.  But….we can see the Steens Mountain in the distance again! 

Enroute home by 9, stopping Burns long enough to pick up a little gas.  Both of us are fighting the sleepies the whole way home, but we make it safely around 12:30 pm.    

A fun get-away into some new territory.  We will definitely put it on a spring trip itinerary when the birds are more abundant! 

Click HERE to view more pictures from our trip.  

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