This experience came out of the “Big 2015 Intermountain Trip” on June 3rd and June 4th. Images from this period can be seen BELOW
Fields Oregon: Population 120 which includes the surrounding ranch and farm lands, elevation 4,236 ft, is in the high desert sage country in southeast Oregon. ‘Downtown’ Fields consists of a Post Office, General Store/Restaurant/Gas Station, and a half dozen residences. This place was my target destination on leaving Frenchglen and the Malheur NWR. As there were no accommodations in Frenchglen and backtracking to Burns was not a good option. A photographer I’d met on this day and who knew the area well said that Fields had rooms, so I put my head down and launched myself in that direction.
The drive down to Fields is full of wide open spaces with working ranches in the Catlaw Valley where I’ve seen antelope and bighorn sheep right on the road in years past, but on this day it was groups of cattle staring me down in the middle of the road that made me stop. At the south end of the Catlaw Valley the road bends east and climbs over the southern flanks of Steens Mountain at Long Hollow Pass. In about an hour and a half after leaving Frenchglen I found myself in downtown Fields. The general store that *IS* the downtown sits a couple of hundred feet off the highway and there was a group a guys waving me down from where they sat in a circle in the early evening cool, enjoying a bubbly adult beverage (or two or three). I saw no signage for lodging and thought that there might be something just down the road and around the corner, so I pulled away to explore, but there was nothing but a couple more houses and a sign saying “Next Gas 112 miles” leaving me with some confusion and a turn around to get back to the scene at the store. On pulling in I said “THIS must be the place” and the banter that I got in reply let me know that I would like this group.
Now at the store I learned that the four rooms available were all booked, but looking over the Samurai the leading character in the play asked “Why would YOU need a room?” and I was a bit embarrassed that he was so forthright and so right. I found the sanctuary and comfort of a room allowed me to keep up with the image processing requirements following a good day of shooting images. Obviously on this day this was not an option, but Jake showed me where I could pull in next to the store and let me fill up with gas. After getting fueled up Jake was looking over my fat tired bike and I told him about how it evolved into an electric bicycle, he said if I would let his friends there ride my bike, he would buy my gas. Jake, a Desert Storm vet, had lost a leg in a motorcycle accident and could not be persuaded to try the bike himself, but he took joy in watching his buddies have fun. I tried to slip him the gas money but he would have none of it. Later that evening while I was setting up camp, Jake’s dad Tom arrived from a supply run for the store which he procured in Burns some 112 miles away. Jake introduced me to his dad and he enjoyed the idea of the bike as much as the rest of the guys there did, but he had ‘stuff to do.’ Tom, on recognizing the tipsy state that most of the crew there was in, sent them all home even after they volunteered to help unload the van. There were a dozen cases of liquor involved, so I can imagine his concern was the possibility of breakage. While Jake and his best bud were there to help, I asked if they wanted any help from an old guy. Tom was quick to say yes so I pitched in.
Later that evening, while slung into my hammock, I learned that Yellow-Breasted Chats are as noisy as mockingbirds at night, but I managed a few hours sleep in spite of this new knowledge.The next morning about 5:30am I awoke early to the dawn chorus of dozens of bird species. While walking the grounds evaluating the birdlife I found another traveler had opted to take his rest until morning when he could get gas and be on his way. He had driven to Central Point Oregon (where I am as I write this) to buy himself a retirement present of a boat and he was heading back to the St. Paul area with his prize. We chatted for a while as it was 6am and the station would not open until 8am. His Sprint phone had no service and he asked if he could call his wife to let her know he was OK (of course I agreed). While we visited I got to know a little about life in Minnesota. the land of Lake Wobegone. A bit later another fellow traveler drove up from Denio Nevada (the next town south) to have breakfast, but that too would be 8am before it would open. This newest member of our party hailed from Auburn California in the gold country, but was in Denio for the upcoming rodeo where he hoped meet all the rural folk who would come from the outback for such an event. He liked what he’d seen in Denio and was considering retirement there. Just before opening time at 8am several more travelers showed up for fuel and food. There was a gal birder (USFS biologist) from Bishop California, and a couple of nature photographers. Both groups were headed up the eastern side of Steens Mountain (I’m told I missed out by not checking it out there).
After breakfast we all went our way, but Tom and Jake did not make a showing before I left so I was not able to give my thanks and my adios to them. I plan on sending something in the mail after I get home. The entire episode put me is a great frame of mind. Was it the people? or was it the place? Does it even matter?