Jim Witty / The Bulletin

On the map, the Maury Mountains appear as a roughly rectangular emerald island surrounded by high desert and agricultural land.

About 20 miles long east-to-west and seven or eight miles deep, the Maurys are dwarfed by the Ochocos to the north.

While the range may be comparatively diminutive, the mountains are not. Drake Butte is 6,266 feet above sea level, and nearby Tower Point Lookout is well over 6,000.

But what makes mountains mountains, in my opinion, are things like prime elk and predator habitat, little out-of-the-way meadows where you can conjure a bull elk bugling even if it's only a specter, and small streams that crash down off the flanks come spring.

And a mountain range wouldn't be complete without a lake or two. This section of the world may be dry, but it's not fanatical about it. There's Antelope Flat Reservoir near the southern cusp of the range, and there are several small ponds tucked in among the Maurys' mixed conifer forests.

I've always liked the look of the Maurys - there on the map so enticingly set apart from the other, more popular features of the Ochoco National Forest, and up close with pine needles crunching underfoot.

I'd been in these mountains once before. That time, a few years ago, Map Guy and I ended up in the Maurys as part of a leisurely day-long driving tour that took us to Prineville, Post, and eventually clean through the Maurys. It was early spring and the snow was still thick on some of the higher-elevation roads.

This time, I wanted to see the Maury Mountains before snow clogged them off for another winter.

From Prineville, we turned right on Highway 380 on the eastern outskirts and headed toward Post. About a mile past Post, a bridge spans the Crooked River. But the Newsome Creek Bridge was closed for repairs, so we had to forge on to the Pine Creek Bridge and Forest Road 17, our gateway to the low-key Maury Mountains.

We drove up into the hills past a bucolic ranch or two where small herdlets of mule deer browsed in the fields. Then we were up high, enjoying the forever views of the rolling juniper country to the northwest and rolling over a light dusting of fall snow on the way to Antelope Flat Reservoir.

The impoundment (follow the signs on Road 17), a popular fishing destination in summer, becomes a fine place to walk and listen this time of year. There are no motorized boats, no anglers' voices echoing across the open. Beyond the whoosh of the breeze, there is the cacophony of silence. Nothing else.

When the long day was done, we made our way back down the northern slope of the Maurys toward Highway 380, Prineville, and eventually, back home. Which is where I looked up some fun stuff about this little range of mountains.

The Maurys were named in honor of Army Col. R.F. Maury in 1864. The Northern Paiute Indians, who hunted game and gathered roots up there for centuries before, surely had another name for the place. More recently, European settlers built sawmills and mined thundereggs and agates in the Maurys.

Today, there's still an operational fire lookout (Tower Point) and plenty of side roads that snake off into the crannies and nooks of this intriguing range.

It begs to be explored more thoroughly, but there's a nip in the air these days. The camping trip just might have to wait until May.