The Old West Lingers on in the Oregon Outback

 

 

Cow skull decorates front of Frenchglen Mercantile, OregonAn old cow skull and handmade chair on the porch of the Frenchglen Mercantile

 

“Next gasoline 99 miles,” read the sign just east of Bend, Oregon.  We were on a late April trip to eastern Oregon, land of high desert and vast, sagebrush-covered distances.  There used to be several mom-and-pop gas stations along this straight stretch from yuppie Bend to cowboy Burns, 

remote oregon outbackbut these places now sport broken windows and tumbleweeds.  Just the kinds of places that Americans think of when we imagine Route 66.

 

Driving past the road to the Pine Mountain Observatory; it’s the wrong time of day to stop for sky-watching.  Passing Glass Mountain, a mountain of shiny obsidian (black volcanic glass); someday we’ll stop, but our time is limited.  A quick stop to check out the restored buildings in the historic Civilian Conservation Corps at Gap Camp Ranch, where young men labored under the hot sun and into hope.  

 

Into Burns, a small town of ranchers and loggers hit hard by the timber wars of the 1990s, that left mills without enough logs from public land to stay open.  Burns is the place to fill up with gas and groceries for the push into even more remote country.  I stop here for some quick photos of signs and an abandoned motel.  Then we push on for another 60 miles without a town along the route.

 

We pulled into Frenchglen (population 11) as twilight approached.  This town was named for Peter French, a cattle baron of the late 19th century who controlled most

 

The streetscape of Frenchglen, Oregon 

of the land in the vast valley of the Donner und Blitzen River.  He left his mark on the land with scattered ranch outposts and a spectacular round barn in the middle of nowhere.  Alas, in old West tradition, he was murdered by an outlaw.

 

Frenchglen is tiny.  There is a K-8 school that draws kids from the surrounding ranches.  Eleven of them, as counted in a photo from the Frenchglen school website, but a more recent article pegs the number at 14.  Just imagine, in our world of vast suburban sprawl, that this directOuthouse at Frenchglen Hotel State Heritage Site descendent of the one-room schoolhouse still exists!  And how different the education of these children must be.

 

Across the road, the Frenchglen Mercantile stands tidy … and empty.  As does the house next door where I believe the owner used to live.  A sign on the window of the store says you can still get gas here if you place a phone call to a nearby resident:  $40 minimum plus a $2.50 service fee; cash only, please.  I imagine this recession and high gas prices and the increasingly urban interests of our society made life difficult for the owner of this little store.

 

Just down the road is the Frenchglen Hotel, which is actually a state historic site that still offers lodging to folks passing through.  As of 2008, the price for a room was $67.  There is a colorful true story about the hotel’s manager from 1948 to 1974.  One night, after a few drinks, Kenny Pruitt decided that he needed to remove his own appendix and did some self-surgery.  It didn’t have a good outcome, as you might guess.  Read more about Pruitt and the colorful history of theFrenchglen Hotel in Frenchglen, Oregon hotel in an article by Richard Cockle at The Oregonian.

 

We drove on a couple more miles to our destination, the pleasant Page Springs Campground operated by the Bureau of Land Management.  This camp sits at the base of Steens Mountain, accessible by road in the summer but certainly not in April, when snow still blankets the nearly 10,000 foot peak.  We set up camp and crawled into our sleeping bags after I tinkered with a few night photos in camp.  

 

We awoke just after dawn, to a temperature of 22 degrees F.  You might think late April in the desert would be relatively warm, but this is high desert.  The campground is at a 4,200 foot elevation, so nights here can be cold until summer

 

Hereford cow and calf 

arrives.  From here, we spent three intense days visiting a Greater Sage Grouse lek, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and the Diamond Craters volcanic area.  I’ll describe these in detail in another post, but one more note about the settlements of the area.  The next day we visited the hamlet of Diamond, which sports two signs:  one says “Population 5,” and the other says “Congestion,” seemingly with a straight face.

 

Highway 205 centerline in the Oregon high desertHighway cut through a rock outcrop near Frenchglen

 

 

Cattle trails on range near Burns, OregonCattle trails on rangeland near Burns

 

Central Hotel BurnsThe classic Central Hotel sign in Burns has Art Deco touches

 

 

Western Juniper and stars near Malheur Refuge, OregonWestern Juniper in our campsite with a dazzling starry sky above

 

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

Click on the photographs below to see them in a larger size, with captions.

 

 

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5 Comments on “The Old West Lingers on in the Oregon Outback”

  1. Greg Gillson Says:

    Lee,

    You have some great scenic and wildlife photos on these four posts of Malheur NWR. You have really captured the “old west” flavor and stark beauty of Malheur.

    I have linked to these posts from my article on the Pacific NW Backyard Birder blog: http://nwbackyardbirder.blogspot.com/2009/06/trip-to-malheur-national-wildlife.html

    • leerentz Says:

      Thank you, Greg. Malheur is among my favorite places in the world; my only regret is that I don’t live closer to that magnificent place.


  2. [...] Beautifully, 4. Southwestern pillow cover from Chic Decor Pillows, 5. Southwestern porch from Lee Rentz Photography, 6. Cacti from Gennine’s Art [...]

  3. Ron Marshall Says:

    I lived with Kenny Pruitt and his wife ( the school “MARM”) in 1957.
    I know the floor lay-out of the hotel too. The barn was across the street from the hotel, and I remember the wooden BATH HOUSE heated by hot under ground water. Kenny drank Olympia beer by the case, and Lucky Larger when “OLY” wasn’t available.- Kenny loved his old WW2 Jeep, and his wife drove a Volkswagon car.
    The hotels phone was the old crank on the side of the box type, and you had to scream into the mouth piece while holding the seperate reciever to your ear. – I distinctly remember the pond just off the road to the front right of the hotel because I tryed swimming in it and got covered with blood sucking leaches ! – There may still be photos of a bear hunting party I participated in with Kenny and “the boys” in 1958 laying around somewhere in the hotel.– I wonder if they still use the old truck chasis and frames with HUGE wooden ‘forks’ to stack hay ? Back then, the dinning room table was just inside the front door to the left of the “parlor.” — You could walk straight through from the front door back to Kenny’s bedroom on the right off the hallway.– Mrs. Pruitt’s garage was behind the hotel.– I never knew Kenny to draw a sober breath, but he could play the guitar and sing quite good !
    I am 71 years old.
    My name is:
    Ron Marshall
    148 Islington
    Toledo, Ohio 43610+1563
    ******
    I would appreciate hearing from people in Frenchglen.


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