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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Hart Mountain‏

May 13th, 2011 · 1 Comment

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The highlight so far of my trip happened only because I didn’t ask the right question.

A few days before I left home I made one last attempt to find lodging near the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge in northern Nevada. So I emailed the address that I had for the refuge manager, shown as being Jeff Mackay. I wrote:

I am coming back to your wonderful reserve soon. Last time I was there no accommodations were close by. Anything now?

A couple of days before I got to Ruby Lake on Sunday this message arrived:

I’m new here on the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge and am just learning the area. The only accommodations I am aware of are at the new Hart Mountain Cabin and Camp in Plush. The website is and the phone number is 541-947-3322.

While studying maps, I had noticed that Hart Mountain in southern Oregon was right on my route, but I hadn’t thought about the possibility of staying nearby. But the message from Jeff was serendipity, and I booked the Hart Mountain Cabin for Monday night. I liked the cabin so much and found so much to see in the area that I extended my stay for a second night.

Between Ruby Lake and Hart Mountain I explored Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge at the northern edge of Nevada. Finding some beautiful chips of obsidian used for paving some of the gravel roads in that refuge surprised me, and I took a few pieces. I do know that you aren’t supposed to take anything except photographs, but I figure they aren’t too picky about gravel.

Usually black, obsidian is glass created naturally from volcanic outflows. Our Stone Age ancestors valued it, because they could fracture it to make sharp blades and arrowheads.

Basin, Range, and Sagebrush in Sheldon NWR

Basin, Range, and Sagebrush in Sheldon NWR

Click on the picture above to enlarge

A few miles beyond Sheldon I entered the state of Oregon and came within 15 miles of the northeast corner of California, where I lived more than half of my life. But instead I proceeded to the town of Plush that Jeff had written me about.

Nobody I talked to knew why Plush got its name. In my vocabulary Plush means lavish or extravagant. It is anything but, and only “63 to 70″ people live there, according to a clerk at Hart Mountain Store, the only one in the town.

The Hart Mountain Cabin where I stayed is half a mile southwest of town on a ranch where Chris Jones and Barbara live. Meeting and getting to know Chris has been the most pleasant encounter of my journey.

When I called to make a reservation, I mentioned that I am an amateur photographer and a professional writer. Chris responded that he is a professional photographer and an amateur writer. He worked in New York City as a corporate photographer for years. You can see some of his current work online.

When Chris and I met, we talked for hours about both photography and writing as well as Web design, another interest that we share. The cabin turned out to be equally charming.

I was lucky to get the only room within miles of Hart Mountain. The nearest accommodation is in the town of Frenchglen, 57 miles away on the other side of Hart Mountain.

Chris calls the cabin “barebones.” But it is just about everything that I look for in a vacation get-away.

It has all the modern conveniences I need and is yet rustic. The cabin is three years old, yet looks brand new. This tasteful pine wood cabin has windows on all four sides with mountain views on all sides and a view of Hart Lake at front. It’s far enough from the main house that it’s completely private.

My Vacation Retreat

My Vacation Retreat

Click on the picture above to enlarge

This is unsettled territory. It is bush country, and the few trees are small Western Juniper. More precisely this is sagebrush country.

To me sagebrush is a prime symbol of the West that I love. But to Pronghorn it is even more. It’s their diet.

No other large animal can tolerate eating much sagebrush. That’s because they are the only one that evolved along with that plant. Other large herbivores are more recent arrivals from Asia. That makes Pronghorn another truly Western icon.

Pronghorn are the reason for Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge. But the name “antelope” is a misnomer that in this case even our federal government perpetuates. No species of antelope are native to the Americas.

But the name “Hart Mountain” fits. The refuge is the tableland at the top of the mountain of that name. I reached it early Tuesday morning by driving 32 miles up a steep dirt road. There I indeed found Pronghorn.

This Fleet Pronghorn Runs from Me

This Fleet Pronghorn Runs from Me

Click on the picture above to enlarge

Pronghorn can run faster than 45 miles per hour. They are the fastest land animal in North America.

While like me, Pronghorn can’t jump. But they are a lot faster.


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Posted in: Photography

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Amy // Dec 26, 2015 at 9:31 pm

    I lived in one if the two stone houses at the Hart Mountain refuge headquarters when I was a kid. My dad was the refuge manager in the late 70s. It’s nice to know that people are still appreciating that area.