I was driving down a gravel road for miles and miles, dust dense like a thick fog, making it impossible to see in front of me, heading to Plush, Oregon
A weekend away from Wi-Fi and phone service, not by choice, but a nice change. As the gravel turns into pavement, I descend into the nearest town near Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge.
Plush, Oregon, is an hour’s drive from the Refuge with seven secluded lakes in the Warner Valley and beckons to be kayaked.
Except for campsites, lodgings are limited, three to be exact.
The manufactured Airbnb, a rectangle tin with a view of Hart Mountain, was the best option to rent, with three bedrooms and a porch. Miles of meadows to watch the sunset and the birds; their loud shrill the only sound. Inside, cans of bug spray line the medicine cabinet, the hard-core kind, Deet. That should have been the first clue about this mosquito-infested town.
Plush is a one-block town with a last population count of 67 souls.
Trump flags fly from front yards and the Hart Mountain Store. It’s the only store in town with the clever tagline, “we are a small quiet drinking town with a cattle problem.” It’s also the only watering hole, gas station, and restaurant, with mostly empty shelves of canned goods and a few won’t-last-another-day lemons in the cooler. But they have 10 Barrel IPA six-packs and a few other microbrews, to my elation. Chipped paint on the grey exterior and a tin roof extends out, giving shelter and shade to the store’s front.
My Patagonia puffy-wearing friends have arrived in town and joined me on the store’s patio. Sitting in the mismatched chairs around the Formica tables popular in bygone eras, we drink beer and talk politics. I watch the tall ranchers with plaid shirts, big shiny buckles, and cowboy hats walk in and out of the store. They know we are not locals but say “howdy” nonetheless.
Six miles down the road are the Warner Wetlands. We know we are close due to abundant birds careening across the roadway.
The wetlands are a bird lover’s dream; American Bitterns, Black-Necked Stilts, and white-faced Ibis, to name a few.
Seventeen miles later we reach the Refuge. The Refuge has short and long hikes with unobstructed views and wildlife, including over 3400 Pronghorn (antelope) wandering the plains. First, we scan the sagebrush, searching for spots of white, a telltale sign of antelopes. Next, I scour the rocks for Petroglyphs created by the Kidütökadö band of the Northern Paiute more than 10,000 years ago. My friend Kathy keeps her distance after seeing the Rattle Snake warning sign, but I keep searching and find some petroglyphs not mentioned on the maps.
After our hike, I plan to relax in the stone-enclosed Hart Mountain Hot Springs near the Refuge’s top.
A little step ladder leads you down to the cracked rocks with bubbles gurgling up the surface. It’s deep for sitting and could easily fit six people. No worries about sharing; there is no one around.
The following day were jonesing for a social media fix; the elementary school has the only accessible Wi-Fi in town. So we huddle by the playground, trying to get a strong signal while swatting mosquitoes the size of nickels.
Before heading out of Plush, we wait to fill up our gas; the gas attendant/cashier/cook says, “I’ll be right with you hon,” before she darts into the backroom kitchen, her spatula in hand.
Five farmers in their oversized Wranglers held up by suspenders and John Deer hats sit around the dark bar. Dollar bills hang from the rafters as they wait for their breakfast of chicken fried steak, hash-browns, eggs, and an English muffin, the day’s special.
Plush has yet to be a known tourist destination.
It’s a small sleepy town with wilderness, underutilized outdoor sports, and one store that kept drawing us back. As we leave, my friend Kathy says, “you feel like you are back in time; all the open spaces, the center of the town revolves around that one store.” I agree and am already planning my next trip back.
Photography © Tara Haney 2023