Incredible Indian summer, late October 2010, winter is closing in on us fast. The wild calls before cabin fever hits. We had never explored the Fremont National Forest in South Central Oregon. It is a little out of the way. No it is a lot out of the way. We decided on Crane Mt. semi-primitive motorized recreation area as our destination about seven miles north of the Oregon/California border. We loaded the camper, ATV’s and the dog. Five hours later we pulled into a primitive Forest Service campground at the base of Crane Mt. As we stepped out of the camper we were greeted with a distant bugle, a good omen.
The following morning we arrived on our quads at the summit of Crane Mt. nearly 8500 feet above sea level. We could actually see the curvature of the earth. We started South on the Crane Mt. National Recreation Trail which follows the divide of the Warner Mt., and soon discovered that because of the extreme difficulty of the trail conditions we weren’t having any fun, so we decided to look elsewhere.
Our next target was the Hart Mt. Antelope Refuge lying 70 miles to our north and east. In route we stopped at the last bastion of civilization, the tiny community of Plush. Plush is about as far away from everything as is it possible to get in Oregon. The only reason we remember Plush is because of the sign in the window of the only business in town that read “even though the expiration date has past the milk is fresh”. We bought some milk.
We didn’t know it yet but we were about to discover a gem. Southeast Oregon is covered with millions of acres of grass and sage. You can drive endless hours and never see a tree. After climbing 3000 feet we arrived at the plateau that dominates the refuge. There, located in an extensive mosaic of Aspen groves in their autumn splendor, was the Hot Springs Campground. The camp sites were simple and primitive, nestled in aspen coves which made us want to pull out our camp chairs and stay awhile. So we did.
As evening approached we mounted our quads to go see what was out and about. By dark we had seen over a hundred pronghorn, a monster Mule Deer buck along with numerous other deer and about 30 Sage Hens, all this in an hour and a half and half a mile from camp.
The next morning we were up and out by the crack of dawn. It wasn’t long until we spotted two rutting Pronghorn bucks contending over a herd of does. We watched as they frantically ran back and forth unable to decide whether to fight or focus on the does. What was serious business for them was a comedy for us.
As the day wore on we continued to explore the stunning landscape weaving in and out of Aspen and Juniper thickets. Most of the roads in the refuge are suitable for only high clearance 4-wheel drive or ATV’s. Because of the time of year and access, we never saw another two legged creature.
That evening the Hot Springs provided much appreciated relief for aging muscles. This place is definitely on our “go back to someday” list because of abundant wildlife, isolation, remarkably unique ecosystem and the hot springs. It truly is a gem.
Popularity: 61% [?]