Herd of over 12 mule deer are huddled together tightly with tall, dormant vegetation surrounding them. All of the deer are looking directly at you.

Malheur & Me: A Truly Magical Place

Written by Joan Amero/ Photos by Joan Amero

My first visit to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was in 1986.  I went out early one morning to do some exploring on my own and I saw a kit fox, an animal I had never encountered before.   It was then and there that I knew I was in a magical place.  Thus began my love of and for the Refuge.

Over the years, I have continued to visit the refuge at least twice a year.  Moving to Central Oregon from the Willamette Valley four years ago has made the trip even easier.  

Malheur provides me with a sense of peace and wonder.  It heightens my senses.  I become more observant.  I stop and listen more carefully.  I watch for small movements.  I rejoice in the different textures and colors around me.  I gaze in amazement at the variations of light during one single day.  I gaze at the magnificent clouds above the wide-open spaces. I have favorite places that I visit every time; they feel like old friends I am dropping in on to see how they are doing.  

Malheur has helped me become a better photographer.  I am able to look at places from a different perspective.  I notice small things as well as the larger landscape.  From the smallest birds flitting about in the trees to the hawks gracefully soaring in the skies above, there is movement everywhere.  I’m always delighted to watch a coyote jump to the top of hay bales to survey the hunting grounds.  By being quiet and still, mule deer will stop and watch me with curiosity.  

In a field of farm equipment and stacks of bailed hay, a lone coyote surveys stands on a short stack of bailed hay and looks over the field.

I am always respectful of all inhabitants of the refuge; I never want to frighten or startle an animal or bird.  I tread lightly and quietly.   In return, I have been witness to so many wonderful scenes.  I am grateful to have the opportunity to visit their home.

This year COVID curtailed my travels.  I stayed home from mid-February until the week after Labor Day when I ventured over to Malheur from Sisters.  It was wonderful to be back in this beautiful place that brings me so much joy.  I felt like I could breathe more easily.  For the first time in a while, I felt relaxed.  I am partial to visiting during the haying season so that I can watch Northern Harriers and coyotes hunting the fields.  On every visit I see something new. 

I have visited many wildlife refuges all over the United States over the years. While all of them have something interesting about them, Malheur is one of a handful of places that draws me back again and again.  

I believe that it is imperative to support the places that we love.  We have to work together to protect these special lands.  We can never take places like Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for granted.  It is a privilege to wander this beautiful land that we must never take for granted.