Alturas, California, is about three streets wide and a half-dozen blocks long. As we approached on Saturday afternoon, a cattle sale was Sandhill Cranes just concluding at the stock barn at the edge of town. Our motel was filled to capacity Saturday night, possibly by cowboys, although the local Cowboy Poetry Festival doesn't take place till later this Spring.
Sunday was cold and windy, a huge change from the sunny skies and shirt-sleeve temperatures of Alameda. We made one valiant effort to see wildlife at the Refuge just north of town, and in fact spotted two sandhill cranes and in a marshy pond found a canvasback duck among the mallards, but it was just too windy to stay outdoors in any comfort.
So we did what we normally do in that situation -- we looked for lunch! We had already sampled the Wagon Wheel and Black Bear diners, Sheltered patches of snow the Chinese restaurant was closed, but we were surprised to find Nipa's which advertises California and Thai cuisine. Outdoors near the entrance Jimmy, a middle-aged Alturan, had just finished feeding a half-dozen large parrots housed in an eight-foot-tall cage. They surveyed us with some interest as we opened the door.
We had just finished ordering lunch (Thai on the left-hand page, California on the right; California is burgers and steaks) when we noticed activity at the parrot cage. A giant red and green parrot had worked its way through a crack in the door and had managed to unhook the latch. We were impressed and told our waitress we thought it was an ingenious bird. Welcome to Oregon
Horrified, she sped outdoors, corralling Jimmy who shed his sheepskin vest, wrapped it around the parrot (who by this time was experimenting with removal of a tarpaulin cover) , popped the bird inside, and produced a padlock, which he snapped shut on the latch.
We noticed that the parrot was carefully watching the locking operation. Escape, we believe, is inevitable.
We had been promised snow that night and sure enough this morning the truck wore a white blanket. By the time we left town the snow had vanished, the sky was brilliant blue, and the hills were as green as high desert ever gets. We had considered exploring The Devil's Garden, a Escarpment natural area filled with lava where feral horses and some of the largest herds of mule deer can often be seen, but the directions were only minimal, the local Fish and Game office could not give us any information on road conditions, it was snowing again and we opted for prudence.
Good Old Highway 395 was beautiful enough for us. Conifers sheltered patches of melting snow, pastures were occupied by cows and llamas. A herd of pronghorn antelope bounded across our road -- which was empty of other vehicles most of the way. The second largest escarpment in North America lay along our right, giving us dramatic views and probably sheltering all kinds of interesting wildlife. Lake Malheur
As we headed northeast, through some of the loveliest high desert scenery we can remember, we began to notice that the weather was becoming unstable. The remainder of this day has been alternating sun, snow, rain, hail, wind. Naturally, we reached our motel, in Burns, and unpacked the truck at the height of a hailstorm, but a half hour later the temperature was 30 degrees higher and the sky was blue. As we write this, it's snowing again.
Nevertheless, Burns has just concluded its annual Migratory Bird Festival. This country is known for raptors and migratory waterfowl as well as larger mammalian wildlife. Depending on the weather, we may know more in a day or so.