Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge

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"Winter Aspens"
(Hart Mountain, Oregon High Desert)
Oil Sketch on Ampersand Gesso Panel
5" x 7"

A further dusting of snow overnight, but when I awoke at 03:40 I glimpsed Orion blazing in the western sky through the snow covered Ponderosas, but after a couple more hours of sleep, it had clouded over, and by 08:00 there were signs of clearing seen through Warner Pass off to the northwest.  It was now Saturday, 13th December, and I determined to get out onto the open High Desert today.  I did so after first taking a few snow photos and looking at animal tracks , including a coyote that had come through after the dusting of new snow had fallen during the night.  I could see where he had rifled through sagebrush clumps nosing for rodents; I did not detect whether he had been successful.

I studied the map trying to determine where I should go.  I had it in mind to go up to Blizzard Gap on Hwy 140, and do a painting where I had eaten my Thanksgiving ham sandwich on my way to Oklahoma two years before, but I thought I might go towards the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, across the Warner Valley from the Warner Mountains, where I now was.  If I went that way I might be able to find out in Plush (a small village on the way), whether it was possible to get up there or not at this time of the year; I thought it might be possible, since the gravel road was listed as a scenic byway, and thus possibly maintained during the Winter.  If not I would have familiarized myself with the Warner Lakes area of the Warner Valley, and could return from Plush to Adel on Hwy 140 by a more easterly road than the road I was about to take to Plush, this latter being known as the Plush Cutoff Road.  Less than a mile onto the cutoff, after leaving Hwy 140, I had to stop for photos of Drake Peak and again for other vistas opening up the 20 miles or so to Plush.  There was a general store open, and the owner thought I shouldn’t have any trouble on the scenic byway through the Antelope Refuge, or a couple other gravel roads that were maintained by the county, but should stay off the two-lane tracks … thanks to my week long mud-fest I already knew that.  He seemed to know nothing about the Refuge Headquarters. 

I meandered north up the Warner Valley, with the wall of Hart Mountain rising on my right, and viewing the dry beds of the Warner Lakes, some with small ponds or puddles therein, thus giving one’s imagination a hint of what they might be like in wetter years.  Sixteen miles or so out of Plush, I passed a campground at the depression era CCC hut, determined that I could camp there at some point, and shortly thereafter, started up the face of Hart Mountain.  I followed what looked like a recent snowplow track, and by the time I reached the plateau behind, and 1500’ higher than Warner Valley, had this confirmed when I passed the snowplow coming back down the mountain.  In a few miles I arrived at the Antelope Refuge HQ, with not a soul in sight, but with signs of occupation.  I parked and began to study my map, when I noticed a sign on a door across the way … Visitor’s Center – Open 24/7 … and it was.  It was a medium sized room,  heated, and with information brochures, maps and exhibits of the Refuge, and with an indoor loo.  Here I found that there were two campgrounds nominally open all year ‘round; one I had passed by at the base of the mountain, and the other was 5 miles directly south of the HQ, at some hot springs; a proviso stated that open all year weather permitting, which I took to mean until the snow plow could get there.  I drove down to the Hot Springs CG, determined I would stay there, and also that I should spend what was left of the day to drive around and explore painting sights.  Thus … I never did get to Blizzard Gap this journey. 

I drove back to the HQ, signed the visitor’s book in the heated room, discovered in there that a lady had spent 5 days hiking and taking photos hereabouts, and had left about the time I was doing my laundry in Lakeview; the implication being that if a single woman had spent 5 days here recently it was probably at the Hot Springs, and that the CG was truly open in the Winter.  I marked that I would be staying a couple of days, and continued with my recon drive.  I drove 21 miles towards Steens Mountain, out the other side of the Refuge for a couple of miles, thus determining the state of the Winter road, and spotted several future painting possibilities, and retraced my steps past the HQ and back to the Hot Springs CG.  Although the road was plowed to the CG, I made my own road through the snow to my individual campsite.  I was alone … and happy about it.  I prepared supper in the gloaming, as the Winter stars winked on; they blazed fiercely in a crisp dark sky by supper’s end, and I caught a few meteors of the Geminiids Shower, that would reach its peak in the wee hours, and crawled into my sleeping bags, to the hooting of Great Horned Owls away by the Hot Springs. 

The next morning, 50 yards from my campsite, I painted the above Oil Sketch, in the morning light.  The tire tracks in the snow are mine from the evening before.  The snow  is about 4 inched deep, and would be 6 inches by the time I left a few days later. 

Imprimatura: Venetian Red; the Pigments used the usual Rublev Blue Ridge Yellow Ochre, Italian Burnt Sienna & Lead White #2, with Winsor & Newton Venetian Red and Cobalt Blue.

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