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Central Oregon's Amazing Warner Lakes

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November 8, 2010

Central Oregon's Amazing Warner Lakes

Art Bernstein, MA (Gold Hill, OR). Writer and naturalist. "Warner Lakes and the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge."

The Warner Lakes are set in the south-central Oregon basin and range country, in which the land is pulling apart, not pushing together. The result is a series of long, narrow, north-south trending desert mountain ranges. The Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge is located on just such a range. On the west side, the range consists of an immense escarpment (cliff). There is another similar range on the opposite side of the valley, which is called "Warner Valley." The far mountains are called the "North Warner Mountains" and the mountains in the Antelope Refuge are called the "Warner Mountains."

Lined up along the base of the cliff is a string of lakes, ranging in size from a puddle to over 100 acres. There are seven main lakes and, in spring after a couple of wet years in a row, as many as 100 of them. However, after several dry years in a row, the lakes are drying up. Formerly, when they dried up, they became muddy or dusty. Now they are overgrown with grass, indicating that they have been dry for a while.

Only Hart Lake, the biggest, has not dried up, although the level is down considerably.

The refuge is home to pronghorn antelope, mule deer and much bird life. The lakes are home to pelicans, gulls and many varieties of duck and goose. There is a fantastic road from Lakeview and Plush, Oregon, though the desert, around the lakes, up the cliff and into the refuge.