Unexplored wonders, morels await

May 24, 2012 12:24 pm

I am chagrined to admit how few of the many natural wonders of this corner of Oregon I have visited, which became glaringly obvious last weekend.

Perhaps it’s because I return to my few favorite places again and again and forget to be adventurous. Or perhaps it’s because gas is $4.25 a gallon.

Usually when I go for a walk in the woods, I go out the front door and up the hill, never even getting in my car. If it weren’t for the summer need to swim or to go to a higher elevation to ski in winter, I might never leave Lostine for outdoor recreating.

But what wonders have I not seen except for on a map? There are streams that pour into the Imnaha I know in my mind’s eye because of the stories I write, but haven’t hiked or even dandled my feet in them.

I’ve been on the east side of the Divide between Big Sheep Creek and Imnaha so few times I can count them. The first time was the day I moved to Wallowa County, once two years ago when I went to check out the washed out portion of the Loop road near Baker County for a story, and then again on Sunday.

Mountain passes are always exciting — no matter how many times I cross them.

There’s another world on the other side, waiting to be explored. A world separated by a ridge, where streams decide which side of the hill to rush down to join the next bigger body of water.

My first trip to Indian Crossing and Blue Hole was no disappointment. However, looking for morels was. Not only have I barely been out in the nether reaches of the county, but I have never, ever been mushroom picking.

I blame a short attention span for this. I struggle with crossword puzzles and can’t follow a card game to save my life. Looking for smallish brown things that look exactly like the dirt from whence they sprang seems like a whole lot of neck aching work.

And so it was that my attention span waned a bit while searching the ground for dirt-colored mushrooms. I even tried strategies like, if they look like pinecones, scan the ground for pinecones. But that didn’t work.

All in all I found maybe three to my credit, though enjoyed a healthy portion at dinner because my traveling companion had these special morel sighting, polarized contact lens.

Luckily I had the dogs to herd and my old camera keep me entertained when I lost interested in looking for invisible fungus. Tiny wildflowers whose names I did not know captured my attention as did scenic river views. The light was good, which always helps the struggling photographer.

With the dogs crashing around there weren’t a lot of birds or wildlife to view, but on a rock high above the river, a steelhead was in view, evidence of returning adults to spawn in the upper reaches of the river.

On the drive home I paid more attention to the passing scenery, the red rock curve, the signs indicating the names of creeks I know on maps, and a solar eclipse spied through breaks in the mountains in the early evening.

Sunday night I munched on morels for the third time in a week. As I often confess, I am a slave to my palate. They are incredibly delicious. I might have to get a pair of those polarized contact lenses.


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