And, now that you’re all jazzed on what there is to see, let’s talk about how to do so safely and comfortably.
Choose Your Paths and Roads Carefully
Each time I visit the high desert, I like to preview areas to explore at different times of the year, assessing which roads to drive, hikes to take, and wetlands to investigate. Wet or dusty roads and trails that are seasonally difficult or impassable to your rig might just be traversable now. Although you certainly do have to be aware of snow and ice, which will remove many of the higher elevation roads from consideration, in lower areas it can be a great time to explore some unknown-to-you areas of the sagebrush sea. You can also hike many of the areas that might be too warm in high summer, or get into a previously muddy area that is now frozen. Be careful though, as it gets warmer in the day and later in the season, watch out for the potential of mud.
It’s rather cold for camping. Depending upon seasonal and Covid-19 related closures, there are good lodging opportunities available at the Malheur Field Station, French Glen Hotel, Diamond Hotel, Crane Hot Springs, and several motels in Hines and Burns. Or if you are game to camp, it’s awfully nice to do so near one of the many hot springs out there—nothing like a soak in hot water on a snowy day!
Be (Better) Prepared
Before you head out, I’ll leave you with some final notes of prudence and caution: it’s colder and more unforgiving than you think out there!
Oregon’s high desert always warrants careful preparation, but since the consequences are more severe, or at least much more unpleasant, in winter, you want to be even more prepared:
- Pack lots of excellent cold weather clothing and some seriously warm and waterproof boots.
- Pack more food and water than you think you might ever need. (Chocolate and cookies need no excuses to eat in winter!)
- Be sure that your vehicle has a great battery (and maybe a back-up starter too), full fluid levels (bring extra), fresh wipers, spare headlight bulbs, proper snow/all-season tires, chains (yes, you still need to carry a set of chains even if you have snow tires, a four-wheel drive, and high clearance!)
- Carry a shovel, ice scraper, an air compressor or pump for adjusting tire pressure, a couple of bags of sand (kept dry until needed!), sleeping bags, flashlights, a tarp and a kneeling pad (to change tires or put on those chains).
- Fill up the gas tank frequently too—safer for you, and this practice supports small local stations.
And don’t forget your field guides and binoculars!