Oregon, Idaho, and Utah

Saturday, May 28
My back was almost normal this morning as we packed up to drive across Oregon. We had omelets and pancakes in Crescent City at the Apple Peddler Restaurant.

Our first stop after breakfast was at the Oregon Caves National Monument. Then we drove to Medford to gas up at Costco. We also hit up a Subway and picked up some sandwiches for lunch.

We drove to Klamath, then down south to Tule Lake NWR. The years-long drought has decimated the lake to only 5% of its size, so the wildlife just wasn’t there.

Since we were just a few miles away, we also visited Lava Beds National Monument and explored Skull Cave. The cave was very wide so we didn’t need to use our flashlights until we had gone about 100 feet in, then it was suddenly dark. It was a fun little adventure.

For dinner we shopped at the truck stop across the road from our hotel. Sandwiches, grapes, and mini carrots made for an okay last minute supper.

Woodland Villa Cabins, Klamath, CA. 4.3 beds were great! Bathroom was tee-tiny.

Sunday, May 29
We headed for Boise today, stopping by Malheur NWR to see what that location had to offer. When we arrived at the visitor center we saw yellow-headed blackbirds everywhere. They were especially swarming the bird feeders.

We were pleasantly surprised to see how popular Malheur was compared to other NWRs we have visited. There were a lot of birders at the visitor center having a grand time looking at various small birds in the trees that grew nearby. This NWR even had a bookstore, where I got a stamp in our little book.

We drove half of the very long wildlife tour and then headed north to Burns, Oregon to get a little gas since we were running to close to call to make it to Boise.

It was getting late so we stopped to have dinner at Mackey’s Pub in Ontario, Oregon to fuel ourselves up before the final push to our hotel in Meridian, Idaho.

Sleep Inn & Suites, Chiloquin, OR. 5.0 except for being in the middle of nowhere, it was perfect.

Monday, May 30
Today we took the day off from traveling and photography, opting instead to take care of laundry and catch up on photo sorting.

Tonight I had dinner with one of my oldest and dearest friends, Robin. We talked about her son, who had passed away the month before, and caught up on other aspects of our lives.

Tuesday, May 31
We visited Deer Flat NWR first thing this morning and got a few more photos of cliff swallows, this time nesting. There was only one western grebe, a few white pelicans, and I finally got a nice picture of a magpie. We also discovered several yellow-bellied marmots in the rocks of the dam.

Our next shooting location was Morley Nelson Snake River Raptor Conservation Area (quite a mouthful) where we hoped to see a prairie falcon. We saw a harrier hawk first, being harassed by blackbirds. Then we saw our quarry, a falcon sitting atop a power line tower we came across. We took plenty of pictures before it flew off.

We continued down the road and came across a badger. It was on the roadside, dead. The victim of a driver in the dark hours.

Further on we stopped and hiked out to the canyon overlook. A rock wren was perched up on the wall to my left, so I got a nice shot of that. There were also violet green swallows and cliff swallows zooming around and beneath us.

We searched the canyon for signs of golden eagles and other raptors, then saw a falcon fly to and perch along the canyon wall. It was quite a distance off, but we took pictures anyway.

Then, it flew. We kept it in our sites and watched as it was joined by a second falcon. They swooped and sparred with each other. We watched and shot until they were out of range.

On our way out of the area we saw another falcon up on a different set of power lines. Then we saw a huge red-tailed hawk sitting on top of a small outcropping of rocks. We stopped and got off a few shots before it flew away.

Just before leaving the area, we spied an American kestral.

Since we had all afternoon left to us we decided to take in a movie and went to see Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. Afterward we had dinner at Pita Pit.

Wednesday, June 1
We left Boise and drove west to the Hagerman Fossil National Monument. This is a site where the Hagerman Horse, the predecessor to our modern horses, was discovered by Elmer Cook along the Snake River in 1928. He knew it was somehow important, and eventually the fossils were turned over to the Smithsonian Institute. Future expeditions unearthed the remains of over 200 Pliocene horses. There is currently the fossilized bones of a complete, assembled, Hagerman’s Horse in the visitor center.

We left there and drove out to the Snake River overlook, then to the Oregon Trail overlook. At the Oregon Trail overlook we tried to see the old ruts from the pioneers’ wagons, but it just wasn’t easy to see with the spring growth of prairie grasses.

Our next stop was at the Minidoka National Historic Site. This was a sobering location, and a reminder of a very ugly part of American history. This was the site where over 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry (Nikkei) had to leave their homes, jobs, and lives behind, and were forced into this, one of ten prison camps spread across the nation. We left Minidoka quietly, commenting later about how we couldn’t comprehend this chapter of our history.

From Minidoka we traveled farther east and south to visit Rock City National Monument. On smooth dirt roads we traveled alongside, and sometimes on, the Oregon and California Trails. In leaving the Monument boundary we drove some beautiful back roads for probably 30 or more miles on those same dirt roads. We passed several dilapidated log cabins and lots of cattle.

For dinner we stopped in at The Rusty Spoon, then we checked in at our hotel.

Since Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge was only 5 minutes away, we drove over there and onto its wildlife drive. It is a stunning, and huge, sanctuary bordering the north end of the Great Salt Lake. We did run into a problem with swarms of mosquitoes though. As soon as we’d stop the truck there would be thousands of them swarming us. I sprayed up and went out to shoot several times and they didn’t bother me. As the sun set we headed out and watched two short eared owls hunting near the road. We didn’t realize they were owls until they were flying away. We kicked ourselves for not being better photographers and being ready to get a shot like that.

We decided to take another night at the hotel and explore the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge again tomorrow morning.

Best Western, Meridian, ID. 4.9 comfortable, great water pressure, quiet, good price. A little old, but still in good shape.

Thursday, June 2
This morning we headed back out to Bear River and had a great 4 hours of a crawling drive with frequent stops. I got some of the best pictures of cinnamon teals, barn swallows, and pheasants ever. There were a number of other species that we got improved photos of as well. We found out that the mosquito swarms we’re actually midges, which was a relief, but they were still horrible.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat at a truck stop for lunch, then drove out to Golden Spike National Monument. We got a stamp in our book, listened to a ranger talk about the building of the continental railway, then watched a full size train from that era move up and down the tracks. I felt like a kid again.

Back at the hotel we dumped our memory cards and rested, then we got something at Subway for dinner and headed back out to the refuge, hoping to see the short eared owls again.

After driving back and forth along the 12 mile stretch of the refuge road we began the final drive back towards the hotel. Suddenly Alan spotted them, two owls. We drove after the closest and tried to get some photos in the waning light but it was not working. We drove back to where we first saw them and then we saw the other one hovering over the field. We got out and took some pictures, then followed it to the next field and got some more before it moved farther away. Our cameras showed some promise for a halfway decent picture or two, but we’d have to wait and see what the laptop would show.

By 9:30 we were back at the hotel eagerly dumping our cards. The owl images were very grainy, but with the magic of Topaz AI and Lightroom, I squeezed out a few good pictures for both of us.

Holiday Inn Express, Perry, UT 5.0. great parking

Friday, June 3
We visited Timpanogos Cave National Monument, a location south of Salt Lake with several caves that can be hiked to. We elected not to do the “strenuous” hike and simply checked out the history, got a stamp in the book, then left to get gas at Costco.

From Costco we drove toward Colorado National Monument, stopping in Green River for lunch at Tamarisk Restaurant, known for their Navajo flat bread.

Colorado National Monument was our next stop. We were cautioned by the ranger at the fee booth about big horn sheep along or in the road leading up to the visitor center. What we didn’t expect was to see at least five of them standing on the outcrops as if posing for a picture. We hiked the one mile nature trail behind the visitor center and got a new bird – the Gray Flycatcher. We also saw a long tailed weasel scurry by along the canyon side but missed getting a shot.

Afterward we saw a movie, got the oil changed, then went to dinner. The hotel was an hour away, so we got in late.

Holiday Inn Express & Suites Silt-Rifle. 5.0

Saturday June 4
Today we visited Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. While at the visitor center we saw a group of very young chipmunks. There were six of them all checking out the weird humans who were checking out the cute chipmunks. We drove along the park road and did two short hikes, adding a Virginia’s Warbler to our life list.

Curecante National Recreation Area was our next stop. We hiked a trail popular with birders and saw swallows, magpies, yellow warblers, and red-winged blackbirds, but not much else.

Our last stop for the day was Great Sand Dunes National Park where I took some landscape photos of the dunes, and Alan got some pictures of pinyon jays.