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Flora and Fauna of the Alvord Desert

When I was in the sixth grade, I fell in love with horned lizards (the so-called horned “toads” ) after viewing a movie at the nature center in Death Valley. Shortly after that, my father found a horned lizard and gave it to me; I was awestruck that such a wish had been wonderfully fulfilled. The memory is deeply ingrained in me today at age 67. I have long been fascinated by the horned lizard’s dinosaur like appearance.. Its head resembles a miniature triceratops. The fossil record dates this creature back to the mid Miocene, about 15 million years ago. Southwest Indian tribes portray it as a symbol of strength and sang healing song’s that referred to its behaviors. As you can see from the petroglyph picture from the Hart Mountain area, it was recognized and honored in the rock inscription.
Jackrabbits are not really rabbits, but hares. Hares are the larger cousins of rabbits. They look awkward and silly with their large ears and feet. Yet they can move at speeds up to 40 miles an hour. Their powerful hind feet can propel them up to ten feet “in a single bound.” I love this backlit shot of the jackrabbit hiding from me in the sagebrush and Indian paintbrush. Some scientists believe that the blood vessels in the ears help radiate heat while the jackrabbit is resting, those cooling its body temperature.
Golden gilia, Indian paintbrush, and purple lupine are three flowers that carpet the Alvord in the spring when the rains have been good. Golden gilia thrives in the alkali soil found here. Indian paintbrush blooms throughout the sagebrush country. Their color is not actually the flower, but the bract/leaf that attract hummingbirds to assist pollination. It is high in the mineral selenium, and was used medicinally by American Indians, as well as for paintbrushes as the name suggests. Alvord paintbrush have a marvelous unique redness to them.
Finally, it is impossible to overlook the lupine, whose purple spreads across the damper grasslands where the Steens begin to rise from the desert. They are in the legume family, and add important nitrogen to the soil. They contain poisonous alkaloids and are deadly to sheep and livestock.

The Alvord Desert, Borax Lake, and Mickey Hot Springs

The playa that forms the Alvord desert stretches out beneath Steens Mt, a marvelous fault block mountain that rises to more than ninety six hundred feet. This playa runs nine miles north/south along the Steens and stretches six miles east. Tens of thousands of years ago, a lake almost two hundred feet deep covered the playa. Now, it is intermittently covered with water depending on the season. Land sailors, car racers, bicyclists enjoy the area when it is dry.

Borax Lake, at the southern end of the Alvord, near Fields, is fed by hot springs which contain a high concentration of borate. When the hot springs evaporate, a high concentration of alkali is left behind. Between 1892 and 1902, about 400 tons of borax were boiled down and crystalized annually. Mule teams transported this processed borax to the railhead at Winnemucca, NV, a distance of 120 miles. Borax Lake is now owned by The Nature Conservancy, and offers excellent birding.
Just north of the Alvord, Mickey Hot springs bubbles away, both as hot pools and as mud pots. Some springs have dried up, leaving interesting alkali patterns in the crust. Springtime blooms carpet the area. Golden gilia is particularly beautiful, as are the Indian paintbrush that grow up through the sage.

He will never abandon us

Oswald Chambers writes in “My Utmost for His Highest” that God will never leave us, “not for any reason, not my sin, my selfishness, stubbornness, nor waywardness. Have I really let God say to me that He will never leave me? If I have not truly heard this assurance of God, then let me listen again.”
What a promise! Even when we are busy, distracted, fantasizing, lost, wrapped up in ourselves, God is always there, calling us back to the right path where He ever waits for us. Even though the road we often take meanders, twists, and gets confused, He continually shows us the straight path to Him.

Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge

Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge is located on a massive fault block ridge that ascends abruptly nearly three quarters of a mile above the Warner Valley, north of Lakeview. This remote area of of Oregon contains rugged cliffs, steep slopes, and broad sage brush and grasslands steppes. A special treat is a hot springs that is lovely to soak in. The views extend forever, and in the late spring, wildflowers of all colors dot the terrain. Memories of Indian presence are found in petroglyphs and obsidian shards.

This diverse landscape is filled with over 300 species of wildlife, primarily birds (239 species) and mammals (42 species). Although we only saw saw pronghorn antelope and mule deer, big horn sheep hang out in the steep canyons. Birds of note that we saw included sage grouse and a short eared owl.

Healing and new beginnings

The past is filled at best with minor regrets or frustrations, and at worst, with outright bitterness or anger. Christ does heal brokenness and gives us a new beginning, a foundation to start again and finish well. 2 Corinthians 5:17
“Anyone who belongs to Jesus Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

Tilda Norberg, in her book Ashes Transformed, writes, “Even when God intervenes mightily, such as melting a tumor
or pouring miraculous spiritual comfort on breathtaking pain, healing is still a process, one that continues as long as you are alive to God’s presence. You can expect an awareness of God’s presence to break into your life many times. God continually invites you to yet another step toward wholeness.”

Who cares for the birds and the wildflowers?

At this time of year, as I watch the fields and meadows awaken from winter, I once again must look at my own life and all the insignificant worries I have. Life happens under God’s direction, whether I am ready to accept His will or not. Spring, year after year after year confirms Matthew 6:26. Seeing this western bluebird in the mountain meadows near La Grande set me back firmly into that Scripture passage. All I have to do is remember it and practice it throughout all the seasons of my life.

Receiving and sharing God’s love

“Our journey toward abundant living is like walking a spiritual labyrinth repeatedly, from an ever deepening space. We walk toward the center to be transformed by God’s love; then we walk outward to transform our small space in the world by reflecting God’s love. There is no intention to trick us or get us lost in the journey. But there is mystery. Always mystery. And awe. And amazing grace.” Marilyn Brown Oden

The Magic Kingdoms of Succor Creek and Leslie Gulch

Succor Creek and Leslie Gulch, located in the far SE corner of Oregon, blend much of the “look” found at better known Zion and Bryce Canyons. The formations, particularly in Leslie Gulch, are whimsical, reminding one of Disneyland’s iconic castle. The geology is largely volcanic tuffs, ash that has been cemented together in the heat of an eruption. There is a state park campground at Succor Creek. Leslie Gulch offers primitive off road camping along the gravel road that leads to excellent fishing at the Owyhee Reservoir. In the spring, the grass is green and filled with colorful wildflowers–a visual delight complemented by the melodic voices of meadowlarks, chukar, and an occasional canyon wren.

With its cathedral like walls and spires, Leslie Gulch is a great place to focus on God’s majesty–they simply ARE, nothing more, nothing less. As Oswald Chambers writes in his May 18 commentary in “My Utmost for His Highest,”

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin”— they simply are! Think of the sea, the air, the sun, the stars, and the moon— all of these simply are as well— yet what a ministry and service they render on our behalf! So often we impair God’s designed influence, which He desires to exhibit through us, because of our own conscious efforts to be consistent and useful. Jesus said there is only one way to develop and grow spiritually, and that is through focusing and concentrating on God.”

Show me the right path

I love the profoundly honest plea of the psalmist in Psalm 25. I commend your reading it. From despair to hope, from past to future, he speaks of his deep need for the totality of God in his life. He knows how vulnerable he is to the vagaries of his own and, of society’s, nature. He realizes that without the constancy of God’s love, guidance, companionship and forgiveness, he is lost.


How wonderful that we all have mothers. More than a mere biological fact, each of needs the nurturing model our mothers have provided. Even though their love sometimes frustrated us when it was not given or received in the way we wanted or expected, that love is fundamental to who we are. Only our mothers know our full history; they were with us from the beginning. My mother could recall so many stories of my growing up. Often it seemed that I had to listen to those stories longer than I wanted to. Yet when she died in 2002, I realized that now I was an historical orphan; familial recollection/reflection was gone from this earthly life, and now was held by God alone.