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Three Middle School students, eight Upper School students, and four faculty/staff members just returned from a fantastic weekend of biking and environmental service.
We left Portland at 9:30 on Saturday morning and arrived at Trout Lake-Guler County Campground at about 11:45. We ate a quick snack, pumped up bike tires and practiced our hand signals, and set out through the beautiful countryside. Mt. Adams and the sun both smiled down upon us as we rode across the flat back roads between Trout Lake and Glenwood, WA.
We started in Trout Lake, took Sunnyside Road for several miles, and eventually turned right on Warner Road. We encountered minimal traffic. We then turned right on Little Mountain Road instead of Hwy 141, which again helped us to avoid lots of cars. After a few miles on Little Mountain Road, we encountered the White Salmon River and a perfect spot to stop for our picnic lunch. Students ate, visited, and lay in the grass along the banks of the river. Some enjoyed throwing big rocks in the water to see who could make the biggest splash.
We then hopped back on our bikes and finished the rest of the leg back to Trout Lake, and decided to ride into the area behind the little “town” to see what else we might find. Eventually, we encountered seasonal Trout Lake itself, and took photos of Mt. Adams reflected into the water. A few raindrops finally began to fall at this point, so we headed back to our campground after our 20 mile bike ride.
Just as we began to pull our rain flies onto our tents, the big, sporadic drops turned into a pelting and sustained downfall. We donned raingear and hopped back on our bikes for the half-mile ride to Trout Lake’s Station Café and their world-famous huckleberry milkshakes. Thunder and lightning began to rumble outside, but thankfully we were inside, nice and warm. We decided to get on the bus and drive to Cheese Cave for some exploration—the best outdoor activity possible in heavy rains.
That night we cooked a mac-n-cheese dinner, played cards and Bananagrams, and sang to guitar music thanks to Andrew and Graham, and went to bed to the soothing rain.
The next morning, we headed out to the Conboy Lake Wildlife Refuge. Dan and Lisa showed us how to use GPS devices, and we spent a few hours combing the area for a rare type of vetch, marking any unusual findings on our observation sheet and using the GPS device to mark the location. No one found any vetch, which will help the refuge make the case that climate change is making it hard for pollinators to perpetuate the various plant species, including the vetch, which means it may become endangered or extinct.
We returned to school Sunday evening feeling refreshed and tired--a perfect combination.
The Nez Perce knew the Grande Ronde River as Welleweah, or "The River that Flows into the Far Beyond." The Catlin Outdoor Program took a long weekend to explore the remote canyon that this beautiful river has carved in the far northeastern corner of the state. Draining the Blue Mountains and the nearby Wallowas, the Grande Ronde sees few people over the 212 miles that it travels before spilling into the Snake River at Hell's Canyon.
This trip was a true adventure, as none of the participants, not even the leaders had been on the river before. As we headed East toward Minam, the sunshine intensified and landscape changed dramatically from what we were used to. While the views from the bus were beautiful, they couldn't compare to the steep canyons, clear creeks, sandy beaches, and rocky ridge tops that we would explore during our river trip. We saw kingfisher, golden eagles, elk, and tons of deer along the way. A pair of bear hunters were the only other people that we saw over our three days in the canyon.
Aside from the natural wonders, there were many other memories made over the weekend. Puppies and baby goats at the Elgin Boot and Saddle shop, sharing riddles and jokes around the fire ring, the stinging of brambles against bare legs during an epic bushwhack, waiting for a new form of transportation from our take out at the Powwatka Bridge when our bus broke down......and Easter dinner at Denny's!
Please enjoy some photos from this adventure. And, thank you to everyone in Eastern Oregon that helped us to get home on Sunday when things decided not to go as planned. It all worked out in the end. More photos to come.
We left Catlin early Saturday—7:45—and took the ferry at Cathlamat across the Columbia because of a landslide on Hwy 4 in Washington. We arrived at Skamokawa at about 10:30, got suited up, and drove to our put-in. Four students went in tandem boats, and three when in solos. We paddled about 5 miles downriver, stopping for lunch on a windy beach a little over half-way.
Mark and Katie, our guides, were fantastic. They wove in stories of ancient tsunamis that impacted the local ecosystem, talked about Native American traditions of the area, and explained the white settlement process. They also helped students identify several birds and insects and make sense of the tidal patterns.
One student kayaked for the first time in his life, and several had only tried it once or twice. All got the hang of it fairly quickly. Katie towed one student through a tricky section where it was a bit exposed and windy, but otherwise students were self-sufficient and adequately challenged and successful.
We finished kayaking around 3:00, cleaned up, and drove out to Cape Disappointment. We set up our tents and then headed to the beach. After a few hours building incredible drift wood forts on Waikiki Beach, we went back to our campsite and cooked burritos for dinner. We were in bed by 10:15.
Breakfast consisted of peanut butter, banana, nutella, and honey sandwiches, along with hot chocolate. We packed up the bus and drove to the trailhead to the park’s lighthouse. The two mile hike proved to be plenty in the rain and wind, and we then went to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. After lunch beside an “urban” lake park in Ilwaco, we headed over the Astoria Bridge and home along Hwy 26.
Students agreed that this was the perfect introduction to kayaking, and many are already looking forward to convincing their families and friends to try it out!
Winter Comes Back to Mt. Hood
The winter finally came back to Oregon and blanketed Elk Meadows in two feet of fresh snow. A group of adventurous upper school students prepared themselves with snowshoes, warm sleeping bags, and winter camping gear and set off onto the flanks of Mt. Hood. We had beautiful clear skies, which made for impressive sunsets, stargazing (including a shooting star that shot all the way behind the mountain), and incredible views of the east side of the mountain. The group met its first challenge arriving at the crossing of Newton Creek. A couple of wood saws, some engineering genius, and an hour or so later, and our group had a sturdy bridge across the icy waters. It is hard work living in the snow for the weekend, but the group worked beautifully together, and created an impressive winter camp, complete with snow-benches, an ice-block windbreak, a snow-table, and snow-stairs. Deciding to test the insulating power of the snow, the whole group dug a big snow trench and slept through the night in the tarp-covered shelter. Sunday we hiked up towards Elk Mountain and took part in some phenomenal sledding. Please enjoy a few photos from this winter adventure.
Our 2011 course catalog will be available in early March.
Class offerings range from arts and music, to sports, modern languages, writing, SAT prep, outdoor education, service and more.
The dates for most 2011 summer classes are July 5 – August 5 and serve preschool through high school students.
» For information, e-mail or call Len Carr, Summer Programs director, firstname.lastname@example.org, 503-297-1894 ext. 406
PLACE — Planning & Leadership Across City Environments
June 20 – Juy 15
Grades 10 – 12 and recent high school graduates
PLACE is a unique program, run by Catlin Gabel School in partnership with the greater Portland community, that focuses on how we relate to our urban environment through smart planning and effective leadership.
Outdoor Program Summer Trips
Rafting, hiking, camping, climbing, backpacking, biking and exploring. A great way to meet other kids and challenge yourself in NEW ways
Catlin Gabel offers a number of outdoor adventures.
Elana Gold '93 Memorial Environmental Restoration Project
June 17 – 22
Grades 9 – 12
Established in 1993 to carry out land restoration projects in the Barlow Ranger District on Mt. Hood National Forest.
It could have been the middle of May, as a group of adventurous 6th graders set out to enjoy a sunny day of snowshoeing on Mt. Hood this past Saturday. Even though it was the first time snowshoeing for almost the whole group, we covered nearly five miles over the course of the day while still finding the time to explore a frozen lake, have multiple snowball battles, a snowball throwing contests, and build a bearded snowman. We learned about the ancient hemlock trees, old man's beard, and the winter landscape of the Cascade Mountains. Sitting on the back of the bus, we wrapped up a grand adventure with hot chocolate, homemade cookies, and rice crispie treats. Please enjoy some photos from this great day.
The sun was setting in dramatic fashion over the Oregon desert, and the clouds that had been hung up on the Cascades to the West had dislodged themselves and were threatening rain. Half of our group had rappelled into the collapsed lava tube while the rest stood at the edge looking down. None of us at the bottom had yet started exploring the pitch black cave that was our only way out of the sink hole. We were in the middle of one of many of the adventures of a truly great weekend. Impressive snow during the bus ride over the pass, pulled pork tacos next to a wood stove, and an abandoned, yet sunny Smith Rock State Park provided plenty of other memorable experiences. Everyone in the group pushed themselves in many ways, and hopefully returned to Portland a little more adventurous. Please enjoy some photos from our trip.
Adventures on the Coast with the Outdoor Program
A group of eight middle schoolers joined the outdoor program for a weekend of exploration along the northern Oregon coast. The weather was crisp, clear, and sunny, and the group was able to experience the beach in dramatic fashion. After rolling past the clear cuts and rolling hills of the Coast Range, the group stopped to explore the beautiful Hug Point. Limited by the high tide, and wanting more room to run, we boarded the bus again and headed to the "secret beach" in Oswald West State Park. Accompanied by a group of nearby surfers, we built sand volcanoes, played touch football, and explored tide pools and waterfalls. Tired and chilly, we continued south down the coast and established ourselves in our yurts at Nehalem Bay State Park. We cooked burritos, made a fire, and played some ridiculous games before going to sleep in the comfortable yurts. A team of raccoons came by while we were inside our yurts playing cards, and stole all of our muffins that we had left outside. The heat went out in the girls' yurt, so they bundled up to stay warm through the night. After some cards and a big breakfast, the group headed down to the wide, open beaches of the state park, where we played soccer, jumped off of dunes, and collected shells before getting back on the bus to head back home. The sun joined us for most of the weekend, for which we were grateful! Please enjoy the photos from this beautiful weekend. Until the next adventure!
We just returned from a fantastic late-fall caving trip to the Trout Lake, Washington, area. Though temps dropped into the 30s, we didn't care because we were deep below the surface of the earth...where it's always cold!
Students arrived on campus at 10:00 and played a fierce game of Birdie on a Perch to get the energy flowing. We drove east on Highway 26 and stopped at Eagle Creek to see spawning salmon and eat lunch. It was a perfect place to stop thanks to the hundreds of fish swimming around and a nearby picnic shelter. We headed to Hood River, crossed the Columbia, and then turned north until we arrived at Trout Lake, Washington.
We first explored Cheese Cave. Students were amazed to hear stories of the little cabin sitting on top one of the caves entrances, and to realize that the cave was actually used at one point for storing cheese. After a safety briefing, students donned headlamps and helmets and descended into the cave. We walked a few hundred feet in the direction of the stairwell leading toward the house, and then tracked back to the main entrance and went down a smaller passageway leading to a crawlspace after a few hundred feet. Some students crouched down and went all the way to the end, and a few watched from a little ways away.
We then boarded the bus and drove 10 minutes to Ice Caves. We played a team-building game using a rope and a carabiner, and then descended into the cave. Students were amazed at the ice formations made by water dripping form the ceiling. Some slipped through the tiny crevice to make the loop in the first section of the cave, while others waited and then continued on with the group for the second and third caves. Students then had a snowball fight, and we drove to the Guler-Trout Lake County Campground.
After dinner of mac ‘n’ cheese, canned salmon, peas, and roasted red pepper soup, we sang songs around the campfire and made s’mores. Students went to bed around 10:00.
The next morning, we ate breakfast, played a quick game of Pirate Tag, and headed toward Beacon Rock for a hike. The wind whipped and rain pelted, however, so we decided to do a hike on the Oregon side with a little less exposure. We did the 2 ½ mile hike (out and back) to dramatic Wacella Falls, at the end of a mossy and cliff-filled gorge. After a quick game of “I Spy with my Eagle Eye” and sandwiches, we headed back to school. What a fantastic weekend!
Several 6th graders climbed outdoors on real rock for the first time this weekend, and they are hooked! We met in the Catlin Gabel theater lot Saturday morning, played a quick game of pirate tag to help students get to know each other, loaded up the bus, and set out for Horsethief Butte near Lyle, Washington.
After donning harnesses, helmets, and shoes, students learned to tie figure 8 knots and began climbing. One student after another made it to the top of the thirty-foot climb, and others challenged themselves with harder climbs and made it part-way up. Adults belayed in the beginning, and after getting the hang of climbing some students gave belaying a hand. We also set up a belayed rappel station, and many students tried it out for the first time!
We left the climbing area around 5:30 and drove east to Maryhill State Park. We set up tents, ate a big burrito dinner, made s’mores around the campfire, and played card games. Everyone went to bed by 10:00. It rained hard all night, but we slept soundly to the rhythm of the rain and stayed dry for the most part.
The group awoke to blue sky peeking between the windmills lining the cliffs above the Columbia River, and packed quickly on Sunday morning. We ate a breakfast of Spam, muffins, bagels and cream cheese, and bananas. We then went to check out the Maryhill Stonehenge replica, and then drove back across the Columbia to Oregon to do the four-mile hike to Elowah Falls and Upper McCord Creek Falls. Students stood in the mist of the falls after hiking through lush green ferns and Northwest forest. We stopped for a picnic lunch at Ainsworth State Park, and returned to campus mid-afternoon, tired but feeling so refreshed!
Catlin Gabel has recently installed a challenge course where students will have the opportunity to test themselves on a variety of high and low elements. The course is nestled in the woods below the Lower School Art Barn.
Safety issues have been thoroughly vetted and were our top priority in designing and building the course. Professional arborists assure us that the trees used to anchor the course are not at risk of damage.
The course is designed for students ages 10 and over. Use of the course is strictly limited to times when a trained facilitator is on site. Almost two dozen faculty-staff members have taken the extensive professional training sessions required to become facilitators. (See photo.) When a facilitator is not supervising the course, the ropes and cables are secured and inaccessible to passersby.
Every challenge course has its own personality. Catlin Gabel’s facility was constructed with an emphasis on group cooperation and overcoming obstacles. Under the guidance of trained facilitators, groups of students will tackle various challenges that require skill and ingenuity to resolve. The course contains four high elements and seven low elements. Some of the elements can be tailored for use by different age groups. Parent and alumni groups can arrange for challenge course events by e-mailing outdoor education teacher Erin Goodling ’99 at email@example.com.
“We expect that sports teams, global education groups, departments, and classes will use the challenge course to help set the stage for their work together,” said Peter Green, outdoor education director.
We are very grateful to Andy and Becky Michaels, Oregon Mountain Community, Reed and Tina Wilson, and an anonymous donor for this exciting addition to our program. The challenge course fits right in with Catlin Gabel’s hands-on experiential approach to learning.
This year’s 6th Grade Farm Trip opened a whole new world for several students, and welcomed veteran outdoor participants back to the field. Several sixth graders experienced their first night sleeping in a tent, first visit to a farm, and first time making s’mores! Veterans helped newcomers learn to set up tents, cook on a camp stove, and predict an impending rainstorm. And not one student let the rain dampen his or her spirits!
We began our adventure on a sunny Friday morning. All nineteen middle school students and four upper school student chaperones loaded their gear onto the bus and we drove thirty-five minutes west to Duyck's Peachy Pig Farm. We rolled past cornfields, pumpkin patches, and rambling farm houses, and chickens and a llama greeted us as we pull into the Peachy Pig Farm parking area.
The first items on our agenda included taking an exploratory walk around the eighty acre farm and eating lunch at the top of the hazelnut orchard. We passed apple trees, pear trees, eggplant bushes, and pepper plants en route to our picnic spot. After lunch, students ran relay races in the orchard and learned how to identify poison oak.
Next, we went back down near the farmhouse and set up tents and played some team building challenge games. Who knew that guiding a carabiner along a rope in the shape of a spiderweb could be so difficult?! Students practiced listening to each other, trading off leadership roles, and maintaining patience in order to solve the challenge.
The rest of our evening included farm chores such as collecting nuts and raking leaves, picking produce for our pasta dinner, and cooking an incredible meal from scratch. Almost everyone agreed that the eggplant, pepper, squash, and tomato sauce we'd worked together to cook tasted ten times better than anything store-bought. We capped off the evening with songs and s'mores around the campfire, and tucked each other into bed just before the rain arrived.
In the morning, we awoke and celebrated one students' birthday with fresh berry pancakes and whip cream. Several students tried Spam for their first times, and liked it! We carved pumpkins, cuddled with baby farm, packed up our tents, thanked Gary and Sally--our farm hosts, and made our way back to school--muddy but happy!
McKenzie River Backpacking And Rafting
A group of nine students and two adult leaders went on an incredible adventure during what may be the last weekend of summer 2010.
We met at 8 a.m. at the school parking lot and loaded our gear into an activity bus and a trailer. We drove through Springfield, stopping for a quick tutorial on high-level frisbee skills. The frisbee only ended up on the roof of the building twice!
We continued up the McKenzie river, pushing the stereo to the max, up to the Paradise put-in, where we stashed Sunday's lunch and got a feel for the terrain.
After some trailhead-finding hijinks, we parked the bus and packed our bags. The rest of the trip was downstream, in a good way. The McKenzie River trail stretched out before us as we made our way through the lush forest. Nobody could believe how clear the water was. We stopped for some competitive stick-racing and snacks, and finally made our way to a riverside campsite, where we enjoyed a fine culinary creation.
Sunday morning was a traditional Spam breakfast, and we high-tailed it back down to Paradise. Funny thing, though, the well-stashed lunch had vanished. So we went on. Maybe we were a little hungry. After a safety and paddling talk we hopped into the rafts and headed downstream. The McKenzie did not disappoint. Plenty of whitewater mixed with some downtime and sunshine was just what the doctor ordered.
At lunch, we all threw together bits and pieces of what we had remaining from the backpacking portion of the trip. An orange. An apple. A handfull of dried pomegranate. Some trail mix. A little bread. Before we knew it, we were staring at an veritable FEAST!!! One of the most satisfying meals in the history of the outdoor program.
After our time of sustainance, we piled back into the rafts and floated down to the bus. Below is a slideshow of our experience.
Caveat Emptor:One of the students accidentally erased all of the pictures on the primary camera. He did this when he fell overboard. When I say "fell," I mean "was pushed." But his life jacket worked!
WE DID IT (all of us!)
This climb of Mt. St. Helens was open to graduating 8th graders. The students and their parents came to a pre-trip meeting to discuss the trip, training and equipment—from the beginning, everyone seemed engaged.
For training, the students joined some upper schoolers on a training hike up Dog Mountain in the Columbia Gorge—students were slowed down by conversation, but it was a good opportunity to talk about appropriate clothing and fitness for the climb.
On June 17 we met at Catlin at 10am, packed the bus, and drove up to the trailhead on St. Helens, stopping in Woodland for an adventure in Safeway (team game to find high-quality trash bags). The weather was great and we hiked 1.5 miles to a snowy slope to do “snow school” (kicking steps, self arrest, glissading).
We woke early the morning of June 11 for our summit attempt, hiking over compacted snow before proceeding to treeline.
The climb alternated between open snow slopes and the rocky, gravely ridgeline. The group moved quickly through intermittent clouds and sun. The wind began to pick up at about 6,000 feet and we ascended into a veritable whiteout. We dropped packs about 1000 feet below the summit, and celebrated reaching the top by eating “Summit Tarts.” Visibility at the summit was about 30 feet, which was somewhat disappointing, but everybody was in a great mood.
We had the most incredible glissade ever!!! We were back to our packs and down the slope in an hour! Everybody was giddy with enjoyment.
We left camp at 7:30 pm, reached the summit around 12:30 pm and returned to camp around 3pm. We were back on campus at 6:30. ~SPEED RECORD~!!!
SENIORS CLIMB STORIED/LEGENDARY/FABLED MT HOOD (almost)
After they'd readujsted to post-graduation time, a group of eight seniors, accompanied by some of the finest leaders that money can buy, went up for a couple of days on "la montana."
What this trip was about:
--Bonding as a group of newly-graduated students.
--Learning about snow dynamics and snow stability.
--A lodge to ourselves
--A little bit of maybe sneaking into the kitchen for Rice Krispy Treats.
Unfortunately, this trip was also about forty mile per hour winds and sub-freezing temperatures. That can kind of slow you down when you're trying to walk up a mountain.
Once again we planned a climb for June (rather than May) as a way to take advantage of the longer days and better weather. Our group left Portland on Monday June 14th at 11:30 am and drove up toe Timberline Lodge where we got geared up for snow school. We began the school about 1:15 and ran until a bit after 5:30 pm. We began with a short course on snow stability testing and moved on to digging pits, a discussion on various methods of snow travel, self arrest, and then ropework. The weather was quite nice and we had incredible views of the mountain.
We drove down to the Mazamas Lodge and were able to park right in front, making loading and unloading a breeze. The lodge personnel were very kind and we were the only guests present. We reviewed the forecasts and looked at the telemetry from 6000’ and 7000’. Indications were that it was to be cold and breezy in the morning. Very breezy.
We woke up to even breezier forecasts and telemetry.
From the beginning, our pace was slow. The wind was strong and increased as we gained elevation. Combined with sub-freezing temperatures, the atmospheric conditions were pretty difficult. We had a long break about 500 vertical feet below the top of the Palmer, where we had a good look at the rising clouds. Conditions were deteriorating fairly quickly as wind gusts were sometimes making us unstable on our feet! We pushed onto the top of the Palmer where we were able to find respite from the wind behind the snowcut.
The leaders decided to give students an opportunity to turn around.
6 of us went up, 6 went down.
The go-downs called our amazing limosuine driver on the cell phone and went back to Mazama lodge and had a nap.
The 6 remaining climbers proceeded up through the wind. We went as high as 500 feet below the hogsback, the sunlight chasing us as we rose. The weather, boots banging shins, and the lack of psych on the potential for a summit finally go to everybody and we took a long break, listening to music and watching the clouds roll by before we decided to come down.
The descent went well (glissading galore!) after some icy moments up high. We were back at the bus in time for the afternoon snowstorm.
By Chris Potts
From the Spring 2010 Caller
The argument that “baseball is a game of little things” is, to me, unassailable, as is the philosophy that high school sports should be used as vehicles to teach students lessons that can carry them through the rest of their lives. Holding these truths in tandem, you quickly realize that the avenue to reach these larger lessons is to build a cohesive team, a community of ballplayers. Unfortunately, there’s no handbook for this, there’s no one way to do it. Just like baseball, it’s putting all of the little things together in the right way.
When I interviewed for this job, I was told, “Baseball at Catlin Gabel is on life support.” But when I first met the team, I realized that they were a great group of young players who needed somebody to give them some discipline, some foundation.
We’re not a winning program. In my five years at Catlin Gabel, we’ve lost many more games than we’ve won. It’s not even close. I would argue, however, that we’re an extremely successful program. Each year, this group of students comes together. We’ve grown in numbers every year. Our baseball team is an inclusive and incredible, albeit unique, community.
What follows isn’t that elusive handbook for team-building. It’s a look at a few of the little things that we’ve done together.
Each year I choose a theme around which to build our team mentality. The theme for our first year was “Building Something We Can Be Proud Of.”
During my second year, the theme was “Playing the Game with Class.”
The theme of my third year was “Learning to be Competitive.”
During my fourth year, our theme was “Working as a Team.”
This year’s theme is “Respect for the Game.”
Chris Potts is an outdoor education teacher at Catlin Gabel and is in his fifth year as the head baseball coach.
Eleven Middle School students made the trip away from rainy Portland to spend a day in the sun of Horsethief Butte. their goal: to climb as many routes as possible. The kids scampered routes both easy and difficult on the 30 foot basalt walls of the formation. Students were belayed by experienced climbers and leaders.
We also took a look at some Indian pictographs on the rocks. Horsethief Butte is very near the loation of the formerr Celilo Falls where tribes from the Northwest spent time fishing.
What a wonderful weekend! A stellar group, sunny skies, and scenic destination made for a trip full of laughter and smiles. We drove out past the Dalles to the Deschutes State Park where we loaded up our panniers and bike trailer and took off on the trail. The first few minutes were a little steep but we eventually made it to flatter ground. We rode to our campsite where we unloaded our gear, had lunch, and relaxed before heading off down the trail. We discovered two old rail cars and an old homestead. Relaxing in the grass at the homestead, we imagining the lives of the people who lived there, played games and laughed heartily.
We rode back to our campsite, the wind in our face. Sometimes it was so strong it stopped us in our tracks! We persevered, inspired by some Goldfish waiting at camp, and finally made it back to camp, where we set up tents and made dinner. As it got dark and we waited for hot cocoa heat up, we created a giant slide down a small hill in the tall grass. Shrieks of amusement echoed across the canyon.
The next morning we woke up to sunny skies and calm breezes. After breakfast we hiked to the top of the canyon, a mango in tow to celebrate Tango With The Mango Day. It was tough to get to the top, but we were rewarded by incredible views wildflowers, yummy treats. We returned to camp where we ceremoneously had a last tango with the mango and had an unusual lunch on our upside-down table before packing up and riding back to the bus, tired but happy.
Our caravan of minivans was greeted with a beautiful rosy sunrise early Tuesday morning as we headed out of town en route to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. Student’s handled the long hours in the car well, entertaining themselves and training their eyes to look at the tiny details that make desolate Eastern Oregon fascinating. We arrived at the Field Station, our home away from home for the next few days, and settled into the dorms before exploring the surrounding areas. Around us we could see the snowy Steen’s Mountains, high buttes and low plains, and Malheur Lake. The sun set to a chorus of coyote howls. After dinner we played several wild games of hide and seek and cops and robbers under the brilliant stars before going to bed for an early start the next morning.
We woke early the next morning (some would consider this still nighttime) to meet the naturalist who would teach us about the birds of the area. Some of us had an easier time getting up than others, but luckily nobody was left behind. The naturalist took us along a dirt road way up on a butte in hopes of finding a sage grouse lek (a gathering where males strut to impress females). Each van had a radio so our naturalist could tell everyone about the places we were seeing, and the birds we would hopefully see. After several miles he stopped us and as we peered out the window in the pale dawn light, the puffy white chests and radiating tail feathers of sage grouse appeared. We had found the lek! We listened to the clucking noises they made and watched as the birds strutted around. Our naturalist was so knowledgeable about the area and the birds and we were lucky to have him with us.
As we drove back to the Field Station we kept our eyes open for other animals. We saw some smaller birds and deer, but we were really hoping to see wild horses. We knew that of all the places we would visit, this was the only one we might have a chance to see them. As we got closer & closer to the main road our hopes of seeing the horses dropped. Suddenly, a voice over the radio announced that the first van had spotted wild horses! They were beautiful. A herd of pronghorn stood next to them, providing scale to the huge horses. The pronghorn raced off, but the horses stayed, and we got to watch them for some time as the stallion gathered his herd and studied us.