There is one 59-mile loop road that is gravel, often washboard, and takes about two hours to drive.
Or several more hours if you’re me. I filled up on gas before heading out because stations are few and far between.
I stopped a lot. Several times. One of the best things about this area is how remote it is and how easy it is to turn around for scattering birds. And the birds certainly scattered. I found mostly Vesper Sparrows, Sage Thrashers, and Chipping Sparrows.
I spotted a couple of Green-tailed Towhees.
I finally got a photo of a Mountain Chickadee.
And at one stop I found a large flock of scruffy-looking bluebirds, both Mountain and Western.
Here I also saw a Red-naped Sapsucker.
And Hairy Wodpeckers.
It was good times. The best bird I found was a Black-throated Gray Warbler, but no photos, unfortunately.
At the East Rim Overlook I found stunning views of the valley below historically filled by glaciers. Hard to imagine.
I’d hoped to see Black Rosy-Finch here (or anywhere on Steens Mtn), but I wasn’t so lucky. I saw American Kestrels, Cooper’s Hawk, and a few Red-tailed Hawks dotting the landscape.
Go. I drove all over that mountain back and forth, but saw more scenery than birds.
It might be because it was a holiday weekend, and though remote, the place was probably as packed as the Steens get. It took a while, but late in the day I finally found a suitable camping spot along a BLM road and settled in for the night.
Cozy. Until a truck with three men in it pulled up.
Oh great, I thought, here we go. After what felt like a long standoff, one finally got out and the first words out of his mouth were “Are you in need of assistance?” It took everything in my power not to say something rude back. (If I needed help, wouldn’t I be at the road looking for help?!) No, I’m not, I said instead. Then he asked, “are you planning on camping here?” I said, I was.
Oh great, now they know where I’m camping. He proceeded to mansplain to me that there was a campground with amenities not far down the road. I said thanks, but no thanks, this is BLM land and I am fine. He told me they wanted to scout the area for deer to bowhunt and that they’d just come back in the morning. They seemed nice enough, aside from their entitled, ignorant, and sexist attitude, but I was still bothered by the whole thing.
I felt like I had to defend my position even though I had every right to be there.
I considered leaving, but grumpily I set up camp anyways.
Then Tomas texted letting me know he’d finally made it to Fields, but he’d likely not continue the next day. Tired and achy after a 60-mile battle with the sun, dust, and headwinds, he said he felt defeated. He’d met his match with the heat that had scalded his feet and soured his spam and tuna packets.
Feeling a little defeated myself, I suggested we pack up and fly to Maui instead. Half joking, but also temping. He then asked, “what’s that bird that says “poorwill, poorwill“? Jealous, I told him it’s the Common Poorwill. Minutes later I heard them outside my own tent. That made my night. Leave it to the birds to make things better.
A great soundtrack to fall asleep to.
Crickets and poorwills,