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Into The Great Wide Open

August 27th, 2012

Large trucks for tough work... OSU Motor Pool vehicles get you where you need to be!

Large trucks for tough work... OSU Motor Pool vehicles get you where you need to be! (Author Mark T. Ford pictured)

Into The Great Wide Open 

The High Desert of Oregon, Lots of Sagebrush and Volcanoes!

Author: Mark T. Ford, Geology and Geophysics, CEOAS (College of Earth, Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences)

Place: High Lava Plains of Oregon


My research into the causes of volcanism in the High Lava Plains of Oregon took me to all kinds of places. I traveled from the top of the snow-capped Steens Mountains, down to the chain of lakes in the Warner Valley and across the Alvord Desert. From the flanks of Newberry Volcano to the sunstone mines outside of Plush, I trekked all over eastern and southern Oregon. At first glance, there is little more than open space, sagebrush and volcanoes over much of that land. A few hours each day were spent driving long distances at high rates of speed on the highways with a few more hours driving very slowly to cover just a few miles on two-tracks and gravel “roads.”

On my travels, I met a number of interesting characters including Fred Otley, a cattle rancher in eastern Oregon. He seemed keenly interested in my work and welcomed me to enter any of his land holdings to sample volcanic rocks. “Let’s break out a map and see where you want to go,” he said. To which I replied, while digging through my pile of maps to get the ones covering the nearby areas, “How much land do you have?” He responded, “Well, I’ve got land I ain’t seen yet.” That’s a lot of land! Legendary central Oregon rancher and author Reub Long of Fort Rock fame once quipped, “You don’t measure distance by miles but by looks. It is ten looks across the Oregon high desert.” In my estimation, ten “looks” equals about 350 miles.

In addition to meeting characters and collecting lots of rock samples, I also got a chance to see and experience some interesting phenomena and some great scenery. While I was camped out in the wild lands most of the time, occasionally I would stay at a hot springs to help sooth my boot-weary feet and relax my bones and joints. I also saw two jet fighters “dog-fighting” over the Christmas Lake area, the largest juniper tree in the state, lava tubes and caves, the “Lost Forest,” which is located in an otherwise barren desert, countless wild burros and antelope, sundogs encircling the noon-day sun, raging rangeland fires, eagles at some of the mountain lakes and much, much more. But, maybe the best scenes of the entire field season were the stars, sparkling in all their heavenly glory, set perfectly in the dark Oregon desert sky, serenaded by a chorus of coyotes.

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