The Zumwalt Prairie Auto Tour takes all day, especially during the spring when fields of green, patches of wildflowers, and duets of song birds divert your attention.
As you tool north along Zumwalt/Buckhorn Road, calendar-like scenes of the craggy, snow-covered Eagle Cap Mountains loom behind you.
Deer may cross the road. Elk may graze in the distance. A coyote may lope along a hillside.
The drive remains an interesting one during the summer, fall and winter, although the vivid colors give way to more somber shades.
Rules prohibit motor vehicles, bicycles, horses and dogs from entering the preserve itself.
People, however, may enter on foot at three access points:
Biscuit Vista Trail, Harsin Butte Scramble and Horned Lark Trail.
Several years ago, I hiked the Biscuit Vista Trail and the Harsin Butte Scramble on three occasions with Sadie the Dalmatian (once in January), before I knew the rules prohibited dogs. Also, I didn't know then about the Horned Lark Trail.
Anyway, Sadie and I spent many hours traipsing through the preserve, with bunches of deer in the distance and bunches of wildflowers (and snow) at our feet.
By the way, I don't recall Sadie chasing squirrels or deer, but my memory may be selective.
I do recall two young bull elk crossing our path 20 yards away and freezing Sadie with an angry glance (along with my scream) and an old garbage dump.
We also climbed to the top of Harsin Butte three times, and each time the views in all directions, including to the Eagle Cap Mountains and the Seven Devils range in Idaho, nearly knocked me over.
Elk had trampled deep trails among the trees on the north side of the butte, and Sadie found a tall, thick antler with seven points. I saw butterflies and horned larks.
On our recent auto tour, since I couldn't enter the preserve with Nora, we drove slowly through lounging cattle and scampering squirrels. The cows ignored us with bored expressions, and some lay so close that I could have touched them with an outstretched hand.
Although we skipped the roughest section of the road to Imnaha, we enjoyed the tour, enhanced by the drive over the mountains, along the Wallowa River and from Enterprise to the preserve.
Darlene, Nora and I left home after breakfast at 7:44 a.m. We stopped for more coffee at the Blue Banana in Lostine.
On Zumwalt/Buckhorn Road, with mounts Joseph, Bonneville and Howard looming in the rearview mirror, I stopped several times to aim the camera at the mountains, hawks, swallows, blackbirds and a coyote.
As I snapped photos, Nora raced along the road after the teasing ground squirrels that dropped quickly into burrows.
Eventually we dined in Enterprise and reached home at 8:22 p.m.
We agreed: A pleasant way to spend the day.
Contact Don Davis at
email@example.com. More of Don's photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com
If You Go
Take Highway 82 from Elgin to Enterprise. Continue toward Joseph for three miles. Turn left onto Crow Creek Road for five miles and turn right on Zumwalt/Buckhorn Road. Drive 13 miles to the junction of Zumwalt/Buckhorn and Duckett roads.
Biscuit Vista Trail
Turn right from Zumwalt Road onto the narrow Duckett Road. Drive past an old barn on your right for 3.1 miles to a junction. Veer left and continue 1.8 miles, looking for an old metal gate. Cross the fence, follow a faint road and swing to the northwest for a canyon view.
Harsin Butte Scramble
Turn right from Zumwalt Road onto the narrow Duckett Road, past the barn, for 3.1 miles. Turn right at the junction for a quarter-mile to a signed pullout. Scramble up Harsin Butte for spectacular views.
Horned Lark Trail
Stay on Zumwalt/Buckhorn Road for 3.1 miles past Duckett Road. Look for a preserve and trailhead sign on the left (west) side of the road. Cross the fence and hike down the trail for a view of Pine Creek and the Findley Buttes.
For the Auto Tour
Follow the directions to the trailheads above. You may turn right on Duckett Road. Drive past the old barn, keep left at the next junction. This becomes a rough Camp Creek Road and continues beyond the junction to the Little Sheep Creek Highway near Imnaha. The road may not be suitable for passenger cars.
For more information, Google Zumwalt Prairie Oregon or visit website conserveonline.org/workspaces/ZumwaltPrairieWorkspace/.
In 2000, The Nature Conservancy purchased 27,000 acres of the Zumwalt Prairie, the largest Oregon acquisition in the organization's history. In 2006, it added 6,065 acres, making the 51-square-mile preserve Oregon's largest private nature sanctuary.