December 31, 2013.
Pete French Round Barn and Diamond Craters Auto Tour, plus touring by foot
Photos from the entire trip are on Google+
Last night, we camped at Idlewild Campground north of Burns. We had to get to La Pine State Park tonight to settle down in our New Year’s Eve rental cabin, so our itinerary had to link these two locations in some way. I’d been to both Pete French Round Barn and Diamond Craters before, and I knew they would be worth taking the scenic route to get there.
We first stopped at the visitor’s center near Pete French Round Barn. It was just as I’d remembered: filled with gifts, cookbooks, western clothing, cold beverages and good, old fashioned hospitality. Here, we picked up our Diamond Craters Auto Tour Brochure for use later today.
Next, we checked out the round barn. It has been kept up well, and still stands rugged and strong in the middle of the unforgiving desert. We admired the craftsmanship of the wooden and stone structures, as well as the beauty of the design. This is an excellent little roadside attraction.
Then, we pulled out the aforementioned brochure and drove towards Diamond Craters. At each designated stop, we pulled off the road, got out of the car, and I read the description aloud. It was like a fun, nerdy, motorized scavenger hunt. We learned some new vocabulary words, like graben, maar and tephra. It was really freaking cold outside, so we didn’t wander around at all of the stops. By the time we made it to #10, however, we were ready to stretch our legs.
First we walked around Dry Maar and Malheur Maar, taking numerous pictures from every angle without realizing they’d pretty much all look the same once we got back home. Then we continued cross country to the best-named feature in the park: Multiple Explosion Crater. It was pretty big. All I wanted to do was run down inside it. This was the beginning of our foray through the lava features, walking through narrow cracks, balancing on pointy rock surfaces, peeking into caves and scrambling on top of rocky bumps. It was fun to adventure around, free from the confines of a trail, with a wide array of route options and volcanic features to investigate. This was a much more invigorating style of scavenger hunt.
When we finished having our fun, we meandered back towards the car and completed the driving loop. All that fun meant we’d be rolling into camp after dark, and that was okay with me.
We had a choice leaving Diamond Craters: head straight back to highway 20 via the quickest and most familiar route possible or take a longer detour through BLM land hoping to stumble across something cool. We chose the latter. It’s awfully nice to have a road trip partner who thinks the same way I do (most of the time).
The map pointed us to L-shaped Double O Road, heading west and then north through BLM land, Malheur Wildlife Refuge, and some private ranch land. Double O Road turned out to be gravel, but we took it anyways. Driving was slow but scenic, although there was nothing particularly special about the drive.
Or so we thought…
As we were on the home stretch to highway 20, we noticed some unfamiliar animal figures milling about on the sides of the road. We stopped and watched as (wild?) horses trotted, grazed and milled about just in front of the car. They were beautiful animals, curious, lively, and entertaining. We watched them for several minutes, then continued driving. Not ten minutes up the road Aaron spotted a huge herd of pronghorn on the east side of the road. One by one, their little ears perked up to the sky and all heads turned towards us. We watched them with delight and surprise. This was the most I’d ever seen at once before. We slowly crept up the road and kept our eyes on the leader of the pack. It looked like they were going to make a run for it and cross the street.
It turned out the endless gravel road detour was totally worth it, although I can not guarantee repeat animal sightings in the future!
The rest of the afternoon and evening, we drove on to La Pine State Park. To celebrate the new year we cooked a ridiculously good steak and ramen noodle dinner, made fresh ice cream with an ice cream ball, drank sparkling apple cider and sank deep into sleep just after midnight—our first night in an actual bed in a week.
Another Eastern Oregon desert trip in the books. Will it ever get old? I don’t think so. I haven’t noticed an uptick in visitor density since I’ve been writing about my adventures out there, so I’m going to keep exploring, photographing and writing.
Continue reading about our eastern Oregon adventure here:
West Side of Steens Mountain
Borax Hot Springs
The Alvord Desert
Pike Creek Canyon
Mickey Hot Springs and Mann Lake