From Stanley, Idaho, we slowly climbed 2,240 feet in elevation up a heavily switchbacked Highway 21 over Mores Creek Summit before descending down into Boise (which locals pronounce “boy-see” not boy-z) 😜. We stopped for gas & groceries and cruised over the state line and back into Oregon. The far eastern side of Oregon is hauntingly desolate and sparsely populated. There was a hot spring along our route that we had been wanting to check out that was apparently on an island in a horseshoe bend of the Malheur River. I drove us and the camper down a questionable dirt road and happened onto a tucked away little camping/parking spot next to a dilapitated bridge. It was getting later in the afternoon and it seemed that this would be a nice overnight spot on our way to Christmas Valley.
We unhooked and then attempted to drive to the hot spring only to be stopped by massive ruts in the road. We turned around and decided to walk, but a gathering of local teens beat us to it. A morning soak would have to do. We woke early to have first dibs on the watering hole, hike down to the bend, only to see that we would be unable to cross the frigid snowmelt swollen river with Frankie. So it was the fourth hot spring bust for us in a week. Bummer! We packed up and in no time were back on the road. The agenda was to drop by the Pete French Round Barn near the Malheur Wildlife Preserve, (which you may remember was taken over by armed “Y’all Qaeda” extremists a few years ago).
The Round barn, that you can read about here, is an impressive structure and its builder has a sordid and interesting history. While we wandered through it marveling at its structure, I felt like I was being watched! High up in the rafters was a massive Great Horned Owl intently watching us, and particularly the Franks. We stared and took photos, then continued along our way. About halfway to our destination we encountered a nasty thunderstorm that threatened to blow us off the road. The windshield wipers could barely keep up with the heavy downpour, but we pushed through and soon outran it.
The next planned stop was Crack in the Ground, but we had to find a place nearby to camp. There was a ton of dispersed camping around the Crack, however the road had so many washboards it would have vibrated the Argosy to pieces. We drove in the direction of another prospect when we stumbled across a forest service/BLM road leading up to an interesting series of bluffs at Shotgun Pass. Cautiously we crawled down the road…. and emerged at a great campsite, clean, large enough to turn around, long range views, and best of all, no one around. We unhooked and headed back to the Crack. It is located a few miles outside of the small town of Christmas Valley where most of the streets have Christmas themed names such as “Jingle Bell Lane”.
Crack in the ground is a giant volcanic fissure 2 miles long, averaging 10 feet wide and 70 feet deep! An impressive geological feature that has a trail running through the bottom. It can be as much as 20 degrees cooler than at the top. The lush green grass at the bottom stands in stark contrast to the sagebrush and juniper covered desert above. We hiked, and scrambled, and marveled at it all for a few hours, until the shadows grew long and returned to the Argosy a little sore and hungry with a couple of frozen pizzas we had scored from a little market. We listened to the chilly wind buffet the camper as we drifted off to sleep.
It’s always a little bit of a downer knowing that you are heading into the last night of a trip. It was an epic one, filled with family, exploration, and adventure. We decided to spend our last night on the road at Crane Prairie Reservoir. This peaceful shallow lake was the home of many species of birds. We fired up our Solo Stove firepit on the banks and watched the evening activity of the vast array of waterfowl.
This marked the end of our Covid trip. The next day we would head West, back towards Grants Pass, and prepare for our return to the new normal. We hope everyone stays safe, and we look forward to sharing more adventures with you toward the end of summer. Thanks for reading!
-Chad, Cate, and the Franks!