Desert roads are dry


Dust in your rear-view mirror?

We took our first drive out in the Southeast Oregon desert last weekend. At first, I wasn’t sure whether to go this early for fear of muddy roads. It rained last week and I thought the roads would still be wet. But, we gambled with the idea that we’d turn back if things got slick.

We were headed for Cow Lakes, about 23 miles southwest of Jordan Valley, to see if a vast array of migratory birds were coming through the area yet.

After stopping at the Rock House in Jordan valley for a couple of lattes, we drove about 4 miles to the turnoff from U.S. 95 and headed to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s recreation site at Cow Lakes.

Dust. Can you believe it? We were out in the desert around Blue Mountain near McDermott in the fall and it was drier than a bleached cow skull. Apparently, the dry spell continued through the winter at mid-elevations.

The Steens, Mahogany Mountain, South Mountain all have snow on them and we’ll probably see some runoff, but when we got to Cow Lakes, Lower Cow Lake was only about one-third full and Upper Cow Lake was about 3 feet down. The vast wetlands of Lower Cow Lake were dry.

Still, a drive in the high desert of Eastern Oregon and Southwest Idaho can be pretty darn scenic this time of the year. The contrast between the snow-covered mountains and the gray-green sagebrush plateau is breathtaking in the wide-open country.

We ended up seeing antelope, eagles, hawks, otters, chipmunks, ground squirrels, snow geese, an assortment of ducks and songbirds and marmots. It was a pretty good day of wildlife watching and exploring for the early spring in the high desert.

If you head out, heed the tired old phrase of watching the weather and the roads. And, let people know where you are going.

See April 4, 2013 for a story on desert paddling in Idaho Outdoors.

Photo of an antelope getting ready to run – Pete Zimowsky/Idaho Statesman

Posted in Into the Outdoors