I dropped down a gravel road from the western scarp wall of Hart Mountain, a gigantic fault block that, like a keep with retaining walls 3,600 feet high, dominates the surrounding terrain of Warner Valley. The road almost in freefall. The cliffs impose heavy shadows upon the floor of Warner Valley near the town of Plush, in southeast Oregon.
Doherty Slide walls me in on one side. The Slide, named for the prominent talus that buries an eroded lava rim, buttresses a plateau. A range of mountains rests on the tableland above it. The head of a wandering defile opens in those mountains, and the canyon splits the roof of the plateau in incised fissures before emptying itself dry into Guano Valley like a river mouth.
From the bottom of Hart Mountain, I ride the shore of Lake Abert, a yawning alkali basin floored by an oblong sheet of water that mirrors back a towering fault scarp of the same name. The Abert Rim winds for miles over the east shore of the playa. The lake a looking glass to the sky, last night’s rain dwelling in its shallow embrace. Acros the lake, dune-like fells, the Coglan Buttes, drop into the basin from the western shore. The Abert Rim rises 2,500 feet above the ephemeral water, drawing an inland Pacific Coast with sheer basalt capping the talus at the foot of the rim.
After about 15 miles, the lake pinches out into white-boned flats. The immaculate broads of the drying lakebed, 7 miles wide at their maximal extent, turn from desert ochre to a patchy, mantis hue at the north end. The highlands over my other shoulder drop from pined green to borax white in just a few miles.
The Abert Rim stands as one of the highest exposed fault scarps in America, and also the longest at 30 wending miles. The cliffs end at Alkali Lake far north of Lake Abert. From here, you’ll drive through some of the emptiest terrain in any of the lower 48. Bring water. Have gas.
Rock faces higher than the mesas reminiscent of the Colorado Plateau I call home impose themselves over the sage flats. Monoliths rule over the unpopulated highway span between Lake Abert and Alkali Lake Station, which sits on the dry shores of a smaller salt flat.
North of the town of Burns along Highway 395, you’ll travel through vast parks and meadows flat and wide, where trackless ranches merge in seamless weavings into low, pined hills, then back again to ranches. The passes through the uplands drop in elevation as you stream north down the lonely road, following river valleys steeped with ponderosa. The river bend in one set of hills seems identical to the last.
You’ll eventually spit out into coulees hidden between treeless hills. A rare cottonwood gathers in the folds between the gigantic, mounded fells. The farmscape seems almost like the simulations in a Nintendo Wii background, or like Tolkien’s shire. Now, you’re in the Palouse.
Eventually, you’ll reach the Washington state line, where the stench of inland ports along the Columbia and of agriculture on a massively-leveraged scale will steal and steel your nose against scents less offending.
But the ride there’s beautiful, baby. Just take Highway 395 all the way.
© 2022 by Michael C. Just
Mike’s novel, The Dirt: The Journey of a Mystic Cowboy, is available in softcover or eBook formats through Amazon.
You can purchase the book through this website. Or go straight to amazon at https://www.amazon.com/s?k=the+dirt+journey+of+a+mystic+cowboy&crid=1S40Q4BXSUWJ6&sprefix=the+dirt%3A+journey+of+a+m%2Caps%2C180&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_23
Mike’s other titles, including The Crippy, The Mind Altar, and Canyon Calls, are available through this website or through Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002
Four of his short stories have recently been published online:
Lies, Ltd. has been published by The Mystery Tribune @ Lies, Ltd.: Literary Short Fiction by Michael C. Just (mysterytribune.com)
The Obligate Carnivore has been published by the Scarlet Leaf Review @ Category: MICHAEL JUST – SCARLET LEAF REVIEW
I See You, Too has been published by the 96th of October @ I See You, Too – 96th of October
Offload, a short story about a man who can heal any disease, is now live and can be read at The Worlds Within at Offload – The Worlds Within