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Our last stop was in the Bitterroot Valley to visit some good friends. We enjoyed another really nice hike in the mountains and playing with their new puppy. Don’t ask me why I don’t have photos of the pup. I don’t know. That’s just not like me. You can see Mary’s photos from the hike here. It was hard to say goodbye and end the trip but it’s always good to be home.

The girls and I drove north and east from SE Oregon up to the tiny mountain town of Stanley Idaho and a different time zone. It is located high in the Sawtooth Mountains. We drove north out of Boise along some beautiful rivers and through some impressive mountains. Fall foliage was getting started as was deer season. We saw many hunters along the way. Our destination was Redfish Lake. It was named for the legendary sockeye salmon runs of the past. In the 1800’s it was estimated that 25,000 to 30,000 sockeye returned to spawn at Redfish Lake. Now, even with hatchery programs, the numbers of returning fish are only in the hundreds. One year there were only 17.

I knew there were quite a few campgrounds in the area but apparently they close most of them at the end of September. One campground was still open on the lakeshore so that’s where I set up camp. Sky was delighted to have a big lake and Luna was happy to have colder weather. The elevation was about 6500′ and towering mountains arose on the far side of the lake. I read that the highest one was over 12,000′. Snow had fallen the night before we arrived. We visited an old mining area near Stanley with its discarded equipment and dilapidated buildings. Sadly, all of the interpretive signs had been removed. We also enjoyed a hike up Fishhook Creek.

We camped at Page Springs campground, located at the south end of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and on the road to Steens Mountain. At night I enjoyed listening to owls – Great Horned and also Western Screech Owls and the singing of coyotes. Ruby-crowned Kinglets positively dripped off of every shrub and tree. There were lots of raptors everyday wherever we went.

The girls and I ventured onto the Refuge a couple of times – more gravel roads. It is very dry as is much of the northwest this year. Hopefully recent rains have improved the situation. I did manage to see a few birds and a very beautiful coyote on the main road. The canid stayed on the road til an oncoming truck forced it to choose another pathway. American White Pelicans moved round and round a pond cooperatively fishing at the Malheur NWR headquarters.

One day, we drove to the top of Steens Mountain and another day we drove the long loop. It seemed very long – sixty miles of gravel road. By the time I finished it and returned to camp, I was pretty well done with gravel for a while. Views from the top and into the gorges – Kiger, Big Indian and Little Blitzen – are truly amazing. I hope to return someday when the skies are clear and not filled with wildfire smoke. From the top, I could barely make out the Alvord Desert. It is supposed to be one of the highlights of a visit to Steens.

The girls and I recently returned from two-plus weeks on the road with the new (to us) camper. It was a trip full of ups and downs. We crossed many steep passes in Oregon, Idaho and Montana. The northwest has lots of mountains. We drove to the top of Steens Mountain, nearly 10,000 feet high in SE Oregon and we drove to Stanley, Idaho – a tiny mountain town at over 6000 feet in the Sawtooth Mountains. I can’t begin to name all the passes we crossed in Oregon. Highway 395 just seems to go up and down all the time.

Seeing these beautiful places was a great high point of the trip but there were also lows. Smoke-filled sky in Oregon dimmed the views of and from Steens Mountain. Hot temperatures left Luna wilted and slowed down our adventures. And since it was unseasonably hot, the rattlesnakes were still active. I suppose the lowest of the lows was two flat tired on the 4 Runner. I did manage to to get them both changed and I endured two long trips (seventy miles, one way) to the tire store, taking up two full days of the trip.

The girls and I did enjoy camping next to a river with shady trees to provide afternoon respites. Morning and evening walks were delightful. Page Springs used to be a sleepy place, visited mainly by birders and other wildlife enthusiasts but in 2020 covid year, everyone is searching for out of the way places to camp. The campground host said it had been full most every night since Memorial Day. I remember when Ken and I camped there on our honeymoon and nearly had the place to ourselves.

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