Doin’ the Dunes and More

Bruneau Dunes State Park

We were told by some new friends, Dewayne and Pam, that we shouldn’t miss the Bruneau Dunes and Canyons… always willing to do as we’re told, we headed off that way the next morning.

From the brochure: “Bruneau Dunes park boasts the tallest single-structured sand dune in North America with a peak rising 470 feet above the surrounding desert floor.” It was impressive, seemingly arising out of nowhere. There is even a small lake on one side, allowing for more interesting photos.

You can rent or buy “Sand Boards” at the visitor center, and while we decided to pass on that adventure, we saw a few kids having fun with it.

The wind was blowing the sand somewhat dramatically off the top of the dune. It seemed like some of the folks walking had to fight the wind and sand at the same time.

Bruneau Canyon

From the Dunes you can drive along a long lonely road, seemingly headed nowhere. (The highlight of the road was spotting our first Horned Larks, and lots of them, among flowered plants bordering the edge.) Then the road dips down a bit, and you end at the viewpoint for the very deep canyon. Impossible to catch the depth of the canyon in a photo, but that didn’t stop me from trying.

The panoramic shots make everything seem to bend in the middle, but this canyon really did twist pretty much like this picture.

World Center for Birds of Prey

A ways south of Boise, Idaho, is this fabulous Birds of Prey Preserve, headquarters for the Peregrine Fund. Years ago, the Peregrine Falcon was almost extinct, and this group worked hard to preserve this magnificent bird. They have succeeded beautifully, and the Center is now helping protect all the world’s of Birds of Prey.

An interesting factoid: Most folks when asked what is the world’s fastest animal, will say the Cheetah. They ARE fast, with some claiming they can hit 80 miles per hour. But Peregrine Falcons have been clocked diving at 200 miles per hour!

They have some magnificent birds on display, where you can get a pretty good look at them. They also have 3 shows per day, where they will demonstrate the birds flying (in a closed room.) We were able to see three birds up close and personal!

This Eagle Owl was a very impressive sight, flying right over our heads.

When it returned to the handler, I’m sure she was glad for the protection of the glove!

This little Taita Falcon was adorable!

Some of the birds were more cute than scary:

The following are some of their captive birds, all of whom have been rescued from something that makes them unable to fend for themselves in the wild.

This last one is a Harpy Eagle… it is just a stuffed bird, but so funny looking I had to include it!

Speaking of funny looking birds, I shamelessly stole this great picture of some Burrowing Owls from their website. I encourage you to check out their great program by clicking here.

Sumpter, Oregon

Sumpter was founded in 1862 by gold prospectors. The town blossomed to a population of around 4,000 by the early 1900’s. The town was already in decline, however, when a fire destroyed most of the downtown in 1917. Sumpter never staggered back…

Many original buildings are scattered around – some restored, some updated, some falling apart. The large brick building below was reconstructed in the 1920’s from bricks salvaged from other burned brick structures. It was used as city hall until the 1970’s.

A small collection of mining machinery is on the edge of town. It is amazing to see what they created with some huge heavy presses, lathes, drills and other machines.

Here is an interesting 1924 Fordson tractor, with a double spool cable winch in front. There were some interesting stories about how it helped pull down walls of the fire weakened buildings, and more, but I don’t remember them all now, so you don’t have to read them. You’re welcome.

All that survived of the Bank of Sumpter is this vault. They have strengthened it up somewhat, and now store some phony gold bars inside.

Sumpter Gold Dredge

Again, I’m going to just copy the descriptions of the dredges from the Park’s info, because they talk about them more eloquently than I can…

Three dredges were built in Sumpter Valley in 1912, 1915 and 1935 respectively. Each had the same basic design: a long row of front buckets that dug through the ground and steadily dumped soil, rocks and other material into the heart of the dredge. Once inside, the earth would pass through a series of sorting mechanisms that strained out the tiny flakes of gold. The leftover dirt and rocks—called tailings — were dumped behind the dredge. Piles of tailings still litter the valley landscape today.

The dredge below was the one created in 1935. The others have been dismantled. This one is great fun, because you are able to walk inside and look at the machinery.

These huge machines were essentially barges – they would float on the river, cut into the bank, and create enough space for them to crawl forward in the new side channel they’d just made. Even if the tailings closed off the river they left behind, the pond they were in would just follow them along!

The buckets are huge, the machinery inside to keep the whole monster operating is unimaginable. You can think of this as sort of a gigantic chainsaw: the teeth/buckets run out the bottom center of the dredge, scoop up the rocks and dirt, and carry them back up top to the sorting area inside, cutting up the ground just like a huge chainsaw. A person could sit comfortably in one of the buckets. Well, maybe more apprehensively than comfortably, but that’s just to give you an idea of the size.

Hagerman Fossil Beds, Hagerman, Idaho

Many interesting fossils of plants are on display at Hagerman, but everyone seems to want to see big scary animals. The leaves are prettier! I’m just going to show some with interesting teeth!

One of the strangest creatures we saw at Hagerman was this alien. This weird guy could lift his head right off his body!

John Day Lock and Dam

All along our route through Oregon, we have seen references to John Day. He has had two towns named for him – John Day, and Dayville. His name graces a river, and also this huge dam on the Columbia River. Supposedly he was about 40 when he arrived in Oregon from his home state of Virginia. He is described as big, strong, clever, and very good with his rifle. An amazing Mountain Man! The tales of his adventures sound a bit exaggerated, but none so much as the tales of his death. There are four legally recorded deaths for poor John… over a several year period. After each recorded death, he was found working somewhere else. Weird. And it is admitted that he probably never even visited the areas of Oregon that are named for him.

Back to the Dam… This dam, on the Columbia river, has fish ladders on each side, and the highest lift lock in the U.S. at 110 feet. That’s like lifting (or lowering) a ship eleven stories!

We were eating breakfast, when we noticed a huge freighter chugging upstream. We finished our breakfast, jumped on the bikes, and rode toward the dam. The ship was pretty much in the lock when we got there, but we could watch the massive gate slowly drop from between the two pillars that guide it. In a little while, when water filled the lock, we could see the ship again, and watched it head on upstream.

In contrast to this huge powerful dam, there are people fishing along the river’s edge with what appears an ancient technique. Many platforms (most looking pretty precarious) are used to support fish nets. I talked with one fisherman – he said he leaves the net in the river 24 hours/day, except when he is checking it or cleaning it. He checks it every 4 or 5 hours. (I hope he sleeps sometimes) The large circular rings supporting the nets are themselves supported by long poles reaching out over the water.

The morning we rode to the dam was pretty clear and nice… but by that afternoon, smoke wafted in so dramatically that you could hardly see across the river! We were hoping that our next destination, Portland, would have clearer skies!

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