South Beach and Depoe Bay

On the way to our annual family reunion near Gleneden Beach we made several stops to check out short trails in the Newport and Depoe Bay areas. For our first stop we parked next to the Hatfield Marine Science Center and took the paved Yaquina Bay Estuary Trail from the east end of the parking lot.
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We were hoping to see some wildlife along the half mile trail and we weren’t disappointed. Just from the parking lot there were many birds visible.
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There was also a snake sunning itself at the beginning of the path.
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We followed the path along the estuary to its other end near the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
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The final stretch of trail was across a boardwalk.
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We were impressed by the number of herons and egrets in the bay.
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In addition to the the herons, egrets, and numerous seagulls there were many other birds in the area, most of which didn’t want to stop for pictures.
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After returning to our car we drove to Highway 101 and headed south to the signed entrance of South Beach State Park. Here we parked at the Day Use Area and hiked past the restrooms over the foredune to the ocean.
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We turned right and headed north along the beach toward the south jetty about a mile away.
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From the jetty we could see a pair of lighthouses, the Yaquina Bay and Yaquina Head Lighthouses. They had been the stops on our way to the reunion in 2017 (post).
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We turned inland at the jetty continuing for just over a quarter of a mile to the South Jetty parking area.
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IMG_9758Part of the Oregon Coast Trail

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An osprey was busy eating its catch on a nearby tower.
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From the South Jetty parking area we took the paved South Beach Jetty Trail back to the South Beach State Park Day Use Area for a two and a quarter mile loop.
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Our next stop was the Mike Miller Trail which is located on the east side of Highway 101 along SE 50th Street which was just two tenths of a mile north of the South Beach State Park entrance. We parked along the shoulder of 50th St. near the start of the trail.
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They were out of trail guides at the trailhead so we weren’t able to follow along with the numbered stops along the 1-mile loop but we did get to see some nice coastal old-growth trees along the way. We followed signs for the Mike Miller Trail which crossed a marshy pond twice on footbridges.
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IMG_9786One of several benches along the trail.

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From the Mike Miller Trail we returned to Highway 101 and drove north through Newport toward Depot Bay. We turned inland on Schoolhouse Street just south of Depoe Bay at a Shell Station. We immediately forked left and drove downhill toward the bay following City Park signs. After parking we headed into the park where we followed signs for the South Depoe Bay Creek Nature Trail.
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The forested path followed South Depoe Bay Creek for a quarter of a mile to a footbridge where a .3 mile loop began.
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We crossed the creek and stayed left on the main trail at junctions. The trail passed a huge, hollow old stump with two trees growing off of it.
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A second nearby stump was covered in green foliage.
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The trail recrossed the still creek and passed a rather large picnic table before completing the loop.
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A short distance prior to the start of the loop we had passed a fork where the right hand path led uphill.
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On our way back we turned uphill on that trail and climbed through the trees to Indian Trail Avenue.
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We followed this road down to the Shell Station along Highway 101 passing a little whale statue/slide.
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We then followed the highway north into Depoe Bay.
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We could have crossed the highway and visited the Whale Watching Center or browsed the local shops, but we didn’t want to be late for the reunion so we simply turned right onto Bay St. after crossing over the highway bridge following it around the bay to the Coast Guard boathouse.
IMG_9816Whale Watching Center

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We continued along the bay until we reached a wide footbridge across South Depoe Bay Creek back to the city park.
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This wound up being a 1.7 mile round trip bringing our total mileage for day to a grand total of 6 miles. It was a nice variety of trails and a good way to work up an appetite before the reunion. Happy Trails!

Flickr: South Beach and Depot Bay Trails

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Head of the Metolius

As an epilogue to our Strawberry Mountain Wilderness backpacking trip (Day 1, Day 2, Days 3 &4) we visited the head of the Metolius River on our way home after spending a night in Bend.

Our original plan had been an overnight trip in the Mt. Thielsen Wilderness but neither of us were left with the energy to tackle such an outing, but the quarter mile paved path the the headwaters of the Metolius sounded doable.

We arrived at the trailhead along Forest Road 14 just after 8am and started down the short paved path.
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It was a gloriously crisp 55 degrees which felt much cooler than it had at any time during our backpacking trip. Golden-mantled ground squirrels scurried about as we made our way to the viewing area.
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The Metolius emerges from the springs as a fully formed river flowing north toward the Cove Palisades State Park (post).
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IMG_9668Mt. Jefferson rising above the Metolius River

It may have only been a half mile hike but it was just what we’d needed before we headed home. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Head of the Metolius

Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Days 3 & 4 – Slide Lake to East Fork Canyon Creek TH

Hope springs eternal and it was with new hope that we got up on the third day of what had so far been the most grueling backpacking trip we’d undertaken. On paper it didn’t look much different than some of our other trips but the big difference maker had been the heat. It had been hot during the afternoon on some of our previous trips but this trip was different. Not only was it hot during the day but it wasn’t really cooling down at night which meant it was still warm in the morning. Day 3 was no different.

We had an early breakfast in front of a beautiful view of Slide Lake.
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As we were finishing up we were joined by a doe who was cautiously grazing nearby.
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As we watched the sunlight overtake more of the cliffs above the lake we noticed our route for the day cutting across the rocks below the far cliffs.
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Seeing the trail produced two thoughts, first it reminded us that we were facing a nearly 1000′ climb out of the Slide Lake Basin, and secondly that the climb would be in full sunlight. We left Slide Lake shortly before 7am and hiked the quarter mile back to the junction with the Sky Line Trail where we turned left following a pointer for High Lake.
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After an all to brief stint in the trees which provided some shade the trail entered rockier terrain where the Sun was already heating things up.
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Some years there is a snow patch that remains over the trail into August which requires a bypass nearly straight up the hillside but with this being a low snow year there was no need for us to climb any more steeply than necessary. By 7:30am Slide Lake already looked far away.
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It was also already officially hot. Luckily after a a quarter mile of switchbacks at the 1 mile mark the climb became much more gradual.
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It was still hot but at least we weren’t having to work as hard as we traversed below the cliffs.
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A nice variety of wildflowers splashed the hillside with color.
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After following the Skyline Trail a little over a quarter of a mile we arrived at junction with the Mud Lake Trail.
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The Mud Lake Basin was heavily burned which revealed both Little Mud Lake which I thought looked like Pacman and the larger Mud Lake.
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At the junction the Skyline Trail turned right and steepened as it climbed past wildflowers to a ridge end above High Lake.
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The 1.6 mile descent from this ridge end down to High Lake was one of the more pleasant stretches of trail on the trip. It was downhill and the ridge blocked the sunlight leaving it a little cooler than it had been on the other side. There were also plenty of wildflowers and views across the basin to the back side of the Rabbit Ears.
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We had been scanning the cliffs for animals, in particular California big horn sheep, which the Forest Service Map mentioned as a possible sighting in the wilderness along with deer, elk, and pronghorn. One thing the map didn’t mention was mountain goats so we were a little surprised when we spotted what appeared to be mountain goat fur in a small pine tree.
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Fifteen minutes later we spotted them way up on the hillside ahead of us.
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It is always amazing to watch these animals maneuver on the rocky hillsides.
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We watched them as we made our way to High Lake which we arrived at ten minutes later.
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We took a nice break at the lake and replenished our water supply before continuing on. We crossed the outlet creek and soon began climbing out of the basin.
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The 1.3 mile climb out of the basin gained approximately 550′ while it passed some of the best wildflower displays of our visit.
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After climbing out of the basin we arrived at the High Lake Rim Trailhead.
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Here I was excited to see a wilderness sign.
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I have been trying to collect pictures of signs for each wilderness area we visit and there hadn’t been a sign along the East Fork Canyon Creek Trail. That sign most likely burned in the 2015 fire. From the trailhead we faced a .4 mile road walk to the Roads End Trailhead.
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IMG_9539Strawberry Mountain from FR 1640.

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The Roads End Trail follows a closed roadbed for 1.2 miles to the junction with the Onion Creek Trail which we had been at the day before. (post)
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As far as road walks go this one provided some nice scenery that we could have appreciated even more if had been a bit cooler out.
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Near the end of the old roadbed the ground became muddy due to the presence of a series of seeps.
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At the unsigned junction a small cairn marked the familiar path downhill to a saddle.
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We turned left for .3 miles to a signed junction where we turned right onto the Indian Creek Trail.
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The day before we had come from the left having stayed the night in Wildcat Basin. By going right here would complete a loop back to the Pine Creek Trail. It was also 1.3 miles shorter than it would have been to retrace our steps through Wildcat Basin.

After a brief initial climb we gained a view of Indian Creek Butte.
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The trail then descended past some more volcanic ash formations similar to the ones we’d seen near Wildcat Basin.
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This was another area affected by fire and there were a number of trees down across the trail.
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A little past the ash formations the trail approached a marsh filled with tall onions.
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A couple of small cairns helped guide us through the marsh but on the far side we missed a sharp right turn and continued straight. We soon realized we were no longer following a trail but that wasn’t anything new during this trip and we could see the saddle we were aiming for straight ahead so we kept going for a bit. Two tenths of a mile from where we should have taken the sharp right downhill we ran into a cliff where we were unable to continue forward. The GPS showed the actual trail as being a tenth of a mile away and 150′ below us. At that point we didn’t know about the sharp right and couldn’t figure out how we got so far off course but there we were. We found a game trail and followed steeply downhill in the general direction of the real trail.
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IMG_9578Our route down.

From above it didn’t look like it was going to be too difficult to go cross country but once we were down in the basin we realized it was going to be a lot harder than we’d thought.
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There were some surprising displays of flowers to be found in the gullies as we crashed through the brush and over numerous downed trees.
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After a lot of sweat, a little blood, and no tears (we didn’t have the moisture left to make any) we found the actual trail.
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A hundred foot climb brought us up to the saddle where we rejoined our path from the first day at a signed junction.
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We turned right and headed toward Indian Creek Butte on the faint Pine Creek Trail.
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It was less hazy than it had been the previous two days allowing for some clearer views from the trail.
IMG_9589_stitchIndian Creek Butte, the John Day Valley, and Strawberry Mountain

It was 1.4 miles to a junction on the east side of Indian Creek Butte where we had the choice of staying to the right on the Pine Creek Trail for .9 miles then turning left on the East Fork Canyon Creek Trail for another 1.3 miles to the spring where we had eaten our dinner on the first day. The other option was to go back the way we’d come up the first day around the south side of the butte. This second option was three quarters of a mile shorter and the condition of the trail, albeit is sad, was known to us. We’d had enough surprises for one trip so we deiced to go with the known option.

Even though we had seen this area before there were some new sights to be had.
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When we reached the series of rock cairns in the green trees on the SW flank of the butte we attempted to use the GPS to follow the actual route of the trail this time.
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That proved to be mostly futile as the brush was just too dense and the tread too light to allow us to stay on course.
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Other than the rare sighting of a cut log we had no idea where the trail was actually supposed to be.
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In the end we wound up aiming for our previous track as shown on the GPS and eventually managed to pick up the actual trail at the same place we’d lost it on the first day. We made our way back to the spring and once again took a break near the lawn chairs.
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This time Heather discovered a mylar pumpkin balloon which we stuffed into our garbage and packed out. We took an extended break in some shade here before setting off on what we had planned on being our last mile for the day down to Hotel De Bum Camp. As we neared the meadow near the camp though we heard the neighing of horses. A good sized group of equestrians had ridden up to the camp and were spending the night there. There really wasn’t any room for us so we decided that we’d just keep going and stop at the next good camp site.
IMG_9614A horse in the meadow at Hotel De Bum Camp

I had thought there might be a couple of spots near Miners Creek when I had checked that area out on the first day but after descending 1.4 miles from Hotel De Bum Camp a closer inspection of the area resulted in us deciding against trying to force a site there. We decided to take another break, have dinner, get more water, and look at the map to see about other potential spots.

The next camp shown on the forest service map was Grindstone Y Camp which looked to be a half mile down the trail. When we arrived in the area we spotted what appeared to be a camp where there were all kinds of supplies stashed in the nearby trees. There really didn’t seem to be a viable tent site though and with all the items about it had an off-putting vibe so we pressed on.

Nearly a half mile later we came to a fork in the trail. On the first day we had come up from the right hand side (north side of the creek) but the equestrians had clearly come up from the right hand fork. We determined that the right hand fork was the trail we should have been on to avoid the ugly bushwhack across East Brookling Creek. We took the right hand fork and promptly crossed East Fork Canyon Creek.
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The trail remained on the south side of the creek for nearly a half mile before recrossing the creek. Near this crossing we spotted the biggest wasp either of us had ever seen.
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A short climb up from the creek brought us to the orange flagging where we had taken the uphill fork on the first day.
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That mystery was solved but the more pressing mystery was where were the decent camp sites. A half mile later (and over three and a half miles from Hotel De Bum Camp) we finally found enough clear level ground to pitch our tent.
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We were somewhere in the vicinity of Bingham Camp and only a tad over four miles from the trailhead. It had been a 15.2 mile day and once again we were beat. We sat in our chairs for a couple of hours while a woodpecker dropped debris on us.
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It was slightly cooler that night and the next morning but still not as cool as we’d have liked as we set off for the final 4.2 miles back to our car at 6:30am.
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The Sun chased us from behind as we followed the creek downstream through the forest.
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We arrived back at the rental car around 8:15am thankful that we would soon feel the cool breeze of air conditioning.
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Our original plans had been to return to Bend, stay the night with Heather’s parents, and then head to the Mt. Thielsen Wilderness for a single night in hopes of visiting an off trail waterfall (Bruce knows the one), but after the brutal heat we’d hiked through for the previous four days neither of us had anything left. We scrapped those plans and decided to simply head home after the night in Bend.

This was by far the hardest backpacking trip we’ve done, so much so that we weren’t able to fully appreciate the beauty that we were seeing. We had timed the trip well for the flowers it was just unfortunate that it was during a heat wave. One thing is for sure we’ll never forget our first visit to the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Days 3 & 4

Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Backpack Day 2 – Wildcat Basin to Slide Lake

After a long, hot day the day before we were hoping to wake up to some crisp mountain air. Alas it was not to be as the temperature didn’t seem to have dropped all that far overnight. It was cooler than it had been but we could tell it was going to be another hot one.

After applying a little Deet to deter the mosquitoes that had been waiting for us to wake up we had breakfast in a small meadow near our campsite.
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After breakfast we packed up and headed out of Wildcat Basin via the Pine Creek Trail.
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One of the reasons we were hoping it would have been colder was that the Pine Creek Trail gained nearly 800′ in less than three quarters of a mile as it steeply climbed out of Wildcat Basin.
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As it climbed we passed some interesting ash formations.
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We had read that above these ash formations the trail would become obscured by brush for a short distance. After the previous days bushwacking around Indian Creek Butte (post) we were fearing the worst but it turned out to not be anywhere near as bad as that had been. It was a much shorter stretch and there were less obstacles to maneuver around. We hadn’t been at it long before Heather spotted the trail veering to the right into burned trees.
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The trail leveled out a bit as it crossed a ridge top where we spotted the first of the yellow paintbrush that is plentiful in the area.
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The trail bent around to the north as it crossed the ridge and soon Strawberry Mountain came into view.
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Our plan was to take a side trip up to the summit once we made it to the saddle below the peak, but for now we were focused on the trail at hand which was passing through some nice wildflowers.
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We also flushed out several deer but they escaped before I could get any photos.

A mile and a half from Wildcat Basin we arrived at a junction with the Indian Creek Trail #5001.
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Here we turned right crossing a saddle and climbing for .3 miles to another junction, this time with the Onion Creek Trail #368. The view from the old roadbed here was good and we could see Indian Creek Butte as well as Strawberry Mountain.
IMG_9199Indian Creek Butte

IMG_9198Strawberry Mountain

We took a short break in some shade near the junction having already climbed nearly 1200′ on the day. From this spot we had another 450′ to gain over the next 1.4 miles just to reach the saddle below Strawberry Mountain.

A golden-mantled ground squirrel came out to check on us as we recovered.
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Fortunately some of this section of trail was still shaded from the Sun and once again there was a nice display of wildflowers to help distract us.
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We arrived at the saddle just after 9am. To reach our goal for the day, Slide Lake, we needed to take the right hand Strawberry Basin Trail toward Strawberry Lake.
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Before we did that though we wanted to summit the 9038′ Strawberry Mountain which was to the left.
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Since we would have to come back by this junction after summiting the mountain we pulled our daypacks out and stashed our backpacks in a group of nearby trees. The lighter packs felt great as we traversed across the rocky terrain below the summit.
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The trail climbed gradually across the shaley rocks about a half mile before entering a stand of white bark pines.
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Several grouse were present in this area.
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Three quarters of a mile from the junction we arrived at the junction with the summit trail marked by rock cairns.
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We took another short break in the shade of the white bark pines watching the many butterflies that were flitting about.
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After catching our breath we headed up the left hand fork for the final .4 miles and 350′ to the former lookout site atop Strawberry Mountain.
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Butterflies were swirling around atop the summit, never sitting still for long. The views were good but not great due to the presence of smoke from wildfires. We weren’t sure which fires the smoke was from but with a number of them burning across the northwest it wasn’t a surprise to have hazy skies. It unfortunately seems to be the new default for the summer months.
IMG_9244Looking north toward the John Day Valley

IMG_9239Looking SW toward Wildcat Basin

IMG_9238View west toward Indian Creek Butte and Canyon Mountain

IMG_9241Looking NE

IMG_9247View east

With all the haze it was tough to make out much in the distance but we were able to make out the Elkhorn Range off to the NE.
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It was a little cooler at the summit where we rested once again before starting back down. As we were traversing the rocky hillside on the way back we encountered another group of hikers on their way up to the summit. They mentioned that they had stashed their packs as well after coming up the Strawberry Basin Trail. They let us know that some of the trail to Slide Lake had suffered from a near washout so there might be a little exposure along that stretch. After thanking them for the heads up we returned to the saddle and retrieved our packs.

It was just before 10:45am when we started down the Strawberry Basin Trail. There was a nice view of Strawberry Mountain as we dropped into the basin.
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After approximately .4 miles of descending the trail leveled out somewhat and we passed the ruins of a cabin and a minute later Strawberry Spring.
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This was followed by a series of meadows, some filled with wildflowers as well as views back to Strawberry Mountain.
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We got our first look at Strawberry Lake as the trail began to bend around a ridge.
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We were now heading south, continuing our descent into the Strawberry Basin. Across the valley were the rock formations known as the Rabbit Ears over Little Strawberry Lake which was hidden in the trees.
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Although this side of the ridge was drier than the north side had been there were still some good displays of color.
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The Strawberry Basin Trail wrapped around the basin eventually reaching the side trail to Little Strawberry Lake, two and a half miles from the saddle junction with the Onion Creek Trail.
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We turned right onto the Little Strawberry Lake Trail for the .6 mile side trip (1.2mi round trip) to the lake. Heather asked about stashing our packs again but I chose poorly and we kept them on. The trail crossed Strawberry Creek and climbed about 150′ through the forest to the little lake.
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That shouldn’t have been too difficult a trek but it was so hot (How hot was it?) that we truly regretted not having left our full packs back near the junction. It was also pretty hazy in the basin here so our views of the cliffs backing Little Strawberry Lake were not clear.
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The water however was clear which made it really easy to watch the fish swim about.
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After another short break we strapped on our packs again and returned to the Strawberry Basin Trail. It was obvious by the state of the trails and the number of other people we were seeing that this part of the wilderness is significantly busier than the eastern end.

We turned right and promptly crossed Strawberry Creek again.
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We were just a bit above Strawberry Falls here and I suddenly thought we might not get to actually see the waterfall.
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My fears were eased when Heather correctly pointed out that the trail switchbacked down to the base of the falls.
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The base of Strawberry Falls was by far the most comfortable spot we would be in during the entire trip. We took our packs off again and allowed the mist from the falls to cool us down. Unfortunately we could not take that feeling with us and shortly after leaving that heavenly place we were once again sweating profusely.

After descending a little over half a mile form the falls we came to a fork in the trail near Strawberry Lake.
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Both trails led around the lake with the right hand fork being the shorter but the left hand fork reportedly having the better views. We opted for the left hand fork and descended to the southern end of Strawberry Lake.
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A series of stream crossings followed as we worked our way around to the western side of the lake.
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Eventually the Rabbit Ears came into view across the lake.
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It was time for yet another break once we reached the northern end of the lake but here even in the shade it was stupid hot.
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Since there was no real relief from the heat we quickly decided to press on. After crossing the lakes outlet we turned left and then followed pointers for Slide Lake.
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We climbed gradually for nearly a mile gaining 360′ from Strawberry Lake.
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We were struggling with the gradual climb and now the Slide Basin Trail launched more steeply uphill gaining an additional 350′ over the next half mile. After cresting a ridge we arrived a split in the trail where a horse trail went left and a hiker only trail right.
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Thankfully the trail leveled out quite a bit on this side of the ridge as it traversed the hillside.
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The bad news was we were now out of water, tired, hot, and the trail was indeed semi-washed out in spots. We were almost too miserable to enjoy the scenery which included quite a few wildflowers of which I took almost no pictures.
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We had two overriding goals. First was to stay on the trail and second was to find water. There was a spring shown our our map about three quarters of a mile from the fork but it was dry. To make matters worse we could hear and see Slide Falls in the valley below. It was taunting us with all that water.
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The trail reentered the trees just after being rejoined by the horse trail.
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A short distance later we came to the Slide Lake Trail.
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We veered left for a quarter mile to the lake.
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We claimed a campsite just across the outlet creek and Heather set about refilling our water supply while I set up the tent.
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When we arrived at Wildcat Basin the night before Heather had been done, tonight it was my turn. After setting up the tent I set up my camp chair and just sat there. IMG_9354View from the chair.

It was only 3:30pm but I was done for the day. Heather would later ask if I wanted to do the 1 mile loop around the lake and I said no. That was when she knew I really was wiped out, I rarely pass up a side trip but at that point I had no desire to get up. We had covered 14 miles and climbed over 3700′ that day and that was enough.

As I was getting ready to start dinner I thought I heard voices and assumed that there were other people camped to our left along the lake. After dinner a woman from the group of hikers we’d run into on our way down from Strawberry Mountain showed up. She said that they were equally finished for the day having gone to High Lake after summiting the mountain. She said that they had gotten to High Lake at 1:30pm, took a swim and a nap, then decided to push on to Slide Lake for the night. They set up camp somewhere on the opposite side of the outlet creek and we never did see them again. The next day Heather solved the mystery of the voices I had heard when she suggested that it may have been this group coming down the trail from High Lake which was located in the same direction that I had heard the voices from.

We stayed in our chairs until a little before 7pm. Out of nowhere a host of small insects appeared which we took as are queue to turn in for the night. It was another warm night which told us we were in for more of the same the following day, we just weren’t sure we were ready for it. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Day 2

Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Backpack Day 1 – East Fork Canyon Creek to Wildcat Basin

After our less than stellar end to our Sunday exploring caves off of China Hat Road near Bend (post)we were facing a later than planned start for our drive to the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. Typically we’d be on the road by 5am but we had to wait until 7:30 to pick up a rental car before we could leave Bend. The folks at Enterprise were quick though and we were on our way a little before 8am.

Our entry point for our four day trip was the East Fork Canyon Creek Trailhead. From Bend we drove to Burns then north no Highway 395 just over 60 miles to County Road 65 where we turned right for 3 miles to a sign for Alder Gulch and Fawn Spring. Here we turned left onto Forest Road 6510 following the good gravel road for 1.5 miles. We then turned right onto another good gravel road, FR 812 which we followed an additional 2.8 miles to its end where we found a large group of equestrians just setting off on the trail.

The entire area along the drive and much of the East Fork Canyon Creek Trail burned in 2015 so there wasn’t much in the way of signage for the start of the trail.
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It was just after 11:30 when we set off and it was already rather warm. The trail began by losing a bit of elevation before leveling off as it passed below some rocky cliffs.
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The lack of tree cover due to the fire didn’t help the heat situation but we did our best to distract ourselves from the heat by listening to the creek and looking at the flowers
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For the first two and a half miles the trail passed through grassy meadows a bit away from the creek as it gradually climbed up the canyon.
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A little over two miles from the trailhead we spotted the equestrians setting up camp at the Yokum Corrals Camp.
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Three tenths of a mile from Yokum Corrals we came to a junction with the Tamarack Trail which led uphill to the Joaquin Miller Trail.
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IMG_8937Looking in the direction of the Tamarack Trail

The East Fork Canyon Creek Trail was becoming more and more overgrown in spots beyond the corrals.
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The vegetation wasn’t too difficult to push through but there were some thistles to avoid and I wound up with a few ticks on my pant legs. Heather was trying out a new pair of Insect Shield tights and they seemed to do the trick as we never did spot any attached to her. (She did wind up with a few mosquito bites during the trip tough.)
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Near the three mile mark we came to Brookling Creek.
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I made it across the creek dry footed but Heather decided to cool off by slipping on a rock and splashing down into the water. Luckily she wasn’t hurt, just wet and after wringing out her socks a bit we continued on. Approximately 1.7 miles from Brookling Creek we came to a fork in the trail where there was some orange flagging attached to a couple of trees.
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The flagging appeared to have at one time blocked off the left hand fork but it was now broken. According the Garmin and our guidebook the trail stayed on the left hand side of the creek and the right hand fork here seemed to just go down to the creek so we took the left hand fork. The trail was fine for a quarter of a mile but when we arrived at East Brookling Creek we couldn’t see where it was supposed to cross or where it continued on the far side. To make matters worse the creek was choked with debris and the far bank was rather steep so our options of where to cross were limited. We managed to find some logs that got us across the creek and then we crashed uphill through the brush.
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We were able to pick up the tread again with the help of some green flagging but noticed that there was also a trail on the south side of East Fork Canyon Creek.
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By that time we had already forgotten about the fork with the orange flagging and thought we had missed something near East Brookling Creek. A quarter mile beyond East Brookling Creek that trail recrossed East Fork Canyon Creek and rejoined the trail we were on. We were spotting more blooming flowers now including some light pink streambank globe mallow and dark pink monkeyflower.
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About a mile from East Brookling Creek we once again found ourselves on the wrong side of a creek,this time Miners Creek. This time we were on the south side when we should have stayed on the north side. We were doing our best to bushwack up the creek to a point where the trail was supposed to make a hairpin turn across the creek. It finally dawned on me that the trail was only 30 to 50 feet above us as it ran SW for a short distance after the 180 degree turn before rounding a ridge end and continuing NE. It was a steep climb but we managed to link back up with the actual trail. I headed downhill to the hairpin turn to see if there were possible campsites for our last night near the creek and thought I saw a couple of options. As I headed back up to Heather I regretted my choice as it was nearing 3pm and it was really getting hot out.

After climbing for another 1.2 miles we arrived at Hotel De Bum Camp. A large meadow with a campsite where it almost appeared a bum had lived. Someone had left lawn chairs and freeze dried meals at the site. By the looks of them they had been there awhile.
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The meadow was nice though and our plan was for this to be our campsite for our final night of the trip. From the meadow there was a view of Indian Creek Butte which was a pretty sight but we also knew our destination for the day, Wildcat Basin, was over two and a half miles on the other side of it.
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From Hotel De Bum Camp the trail gained 500′ over the next mile to another meadow below Indian Creek Butte where there was supposed to be a trail junction.
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A nearby spring allowed for dense green vegetation and numerous wildflowers which appeared to have overtaken the trails in the area. We did find another set of lawn chairs at a nearby campsite and decided to take a short break and have dinner as well as try and cool down before pushing on.
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When it was time to move on we did our best to follow some blue flagging through the vegetation, across the spring to the right.
IMG_9022Blue flagging is attached to a small burned tree 3/4 up the left hand side of the photo.

The next obstacle was a series of bent trees hanging over the trail.
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The trail then became a little easier to follow as it reentered the burned forest.
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We were on the .6 mile section of the Table Mountain Trail. After the .6 miles our route was to turn right up the Table Mountain A Trail (Trail 5000) which is a mile long connector between the Table Mountain and Pine Creek Trails. We missed the faint unsigned junction at first but quickly realized our mistake (we would do the same thing on the way back three days later).
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The Table Mountain A Trail was a mess at this end. Faint tread lead through tall brush with sporadic flagging or an occasional cut log as the only real indication that we were still on the right course.
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That only lasted about a tenth of a mile and then the tread completely vanished.
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We waited a little too long before consulting the GPS and wound up swinging too far to the SE and adding a tenth of a mile to our hike. After checking the GPS we worked our way back toward the trail (as far as we could tell it really was where the GPS said it was this time) and managed to pick it back up at some cairns amid unburnt trees.
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It was after 6pm now and some clouds were helping to cool things down as we made our way around the SE side of Indian Creek Butte.
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The trail was faint here too but were able to stick relatively close to it as we passed some nice wildflowers which we were too hot and tired to fully enjoy at that point.
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We did however stop to watch a nice buck pass through the brush below us.
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At 6:45pm we spotted a downed trail sign in the distance marking the junction with the Pine Creek Trail.
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Here we turned right onto the similarly faint Pine Creek Trail.
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Once again the wildflowers were nice but we were now on a mission.
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Just over half a mile from the junction we came to a viewpoint with a good look at Strawberry Mountain.
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The trail continued along a ridge with Indian Creek Butte and the Sun behind us and a rocky ridge top and the Moon ahead.
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Wildcat Basin was on the other side of that rocky ridge. A total of 1.4 miles from the previous junction we arrived at another junction.
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We stayed right keeping to the Pine Creek Trail and passed to the SE of the rocky ridge.
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The trail descended past some white volcanic ash formations.
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Soon the trail found some green trees below striped cliffs.
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A mile from the junction we arrived at the meadows of Wildcat Basin and another trail junction.
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A very short distance to the east from the junction was Wildcat Spring and a campsite where we eagerly refilled our now empty bladders and set up our tent.
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It was a little after 8pm by the time we were settled and we went straight to bed hoping that the going would be a little easier on day 2 with an earlier start and better traveled trails. Despite the issues it was still nice to see all the new scenery and wildflowers. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Day 1

Boyd, Arnold, Hidden Forest, and Pictograph Caves (sort of)

Our hike along French Creek Ridge (post) officially kicked off our July vacation it was the following day that we left home and headed for Central Oregon. We were ultimately heading to the Strawberry Mountains but we stopped in Bend to visit Heather’s parents and also to check out a few of the caves off China Hat Road. (Whenever visiting caves please be aware of White-Nose Syndrome and help protect bats.)

Our first stop was Boyd Cave.
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A short dirt path from the day use area led to the railed entrance of the lava tube.
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There was a rockfall warning at the entrance dated 5/26/18.
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We proceeded with caution down into the cave.
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The cave was spacious with varying terrain on the cave floor.
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The cave extends for about half a mile to the left from the entrance and a very short distance to the right.
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We explored as quickly as the terrain allowed given the warning at the entrance and then headed for our next stop at Arnold Ice Cave. To reach the parking area from Boyd Cave we continued east on China Hat Rd. an additional 3.1 miles and turned right onto FR 300 for half a mile to a parking area at a signboard.
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The entrance to Arnold Ice Cave is located just beyond and to the left of the parking area.
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A path led down to the entrance where a semi-steep scramble past the remains of a staircase led down to the cave floor.
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In the early half of the 1900’s ice from the cave was harvested for use by locals but that ended with the advent of refrigeration and since then at least a half-mile of the cave has become inaccessible as the ice has reclaimed that portion. It was too warm for any ice in the accessible part of the cave during our visit but there were some interestingly colored rocks along the ceiling.
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The cave extended just far enough to lose the light of the entrance before forcing us to turn around and climb back out.
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A more interesting cave (at least nowadays) was our next goal. Hidden Forest Cave is approximately a quarter mile from Arnold Ice Cave. To reach the cave we followed a dirt track south from Arnold Ice Cave.
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This path quickly passed to the left of a pit where we kept straight on what became a narrower footpath after crossing another old roadbed. Soon we passed a second pit on our right.
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We kept close to the rim of this pit on the left then shortly after passing the second pit we crossed a second sandy roadbed and arrived alonside a third pit.
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The entrance to Hidden Forest Cave lay at the NE end of the pit but the way down into the pit lay at the opposite end. We walked along the rim past a really colorful tree trunk and met a few of the locals.
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We followed a path down into the pit where we found a few wildflowers blooming.
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At the far end of the pit was the entrance to the cave.
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The cave was a fairly short scramble to a small opening.
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Climbing out of this opening brought us to the floor of the second pit we had passed.
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After exploring this “hidden forest” we returned through the passage and headed back to our car.
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Our final stop for the day was along the closed Wind Cave entrance road. The small parking area is located along FR 200 which was just over a half-mile back along China Hat Road from FR 300 (2.5 miles east of the Boyd Cave entrance road). A stop sign on the north side of China Hat Road marks the correct road.
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Wind Cave is closed year round to the public for bats but we hoped to visit Pictograph Cave which according to our guidebook and everything we could find online was only closed from October 15th – May 1st. In order to reach Pictograph Cave we followed the closed road for half a mile to the Wind Cave Parking area. Along the road we spotted some really bright Indian Paintbrush amid the sagebrush.
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We also found the Bat Cave but there was no sign of Batman.
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There was also a nice view of the snowy Cascades across the sagebrush of the high desert.
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We arrived at the gated Wind Cave where our guidebook directed us to “..continue NE on the sandy double track road..”.
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This is where our day began to get really interesting. The correct sandy double track was blocked by the log where the Wind Cave closure sign was attached as well as several boulders. A second sandy double track led directly north from Wind Cave past the covered entrance to its skylight.
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We hadn’t seen the correct track and hadn’t paid enough attention to the N versus NE direction this track was heading in and we just kept walking. We were supposed to follow the double track for approximately .7 miles to a gate with a railroad tie. After passing through the gate we were supposed to veer left and quickly pass through another barbwired fence before passing between two signed caves. The guidebook also said that if we crested a rise and could see the Cascade Mountains we’d gone too far. That last part had us really confused because we had been able to see the mountains the whole time as we followed the track we’d chosen. There was another set of footprints in the sand though so we followed them as the track became fainter. The scenery was nice and we spotted several birds including a few hawks and Heather noticed a pygmy short horned lizard.
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After about fifteen minutes we’d completely lost the track and footprints and realized we’d done something wrong. I should have set up a waypoint on our GPS marking the cave location but hadn’t so using it was no real help. Luckily Heather had signal just long enough to pull it up on Google Maps on her phone. We used her phone to navigate towards the caves location but it wasn’t ideal. First off it was a lot harder to see exactly where we were in relation to the cave location using the phone vs the Garmin and secondly locations on Google Maps are not always correct (sometimes they are way off). We had already gone a little over half a mile and we wandered for another .9 miles in a wide arc in the direction shown on the phone before seeing what looked like it might be a cave near a barb wired fence.
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It didn’t seem to match the description in the book but it was near the point shown on Google so we headed over to check it out.
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It turned out to be a very shallow overhang.
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At some point Heather’s phone ran out of power so we were once again left with only the Garmin which was still no help in this case. The immediate area we were in had several promising looking features and we wandered to the NE a bit checking possibilities. I finally spotted what appeared to be two sets of short sign posts amid the sagebrush way off in the distance. We headed over to check them out since the book had mentioned such signs. As we approached the nearest pair we spotted a large pit.
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That was the SW opening with no way down. Just across from it was the NE pit which is the explore-able one only the restrictive sign indicated that the cave was now closed year round to protect bat habitat.
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We stopped at the pits edge honoring the closure sign and were not able to pick out the pictographs near the right hand tunnel. At the time we weren’t entirely certain that these were indeed Pictograph Cave due to year round closure and not having followed the directions to get there.
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We were hot and dusty and had hiked two and a half miles on what was supposed to be a 2.4 mile hike. At least from the cave we were able follow the guidebook directions backwards. We followed a dirt track SSE for .4 miles where we arrived at a railroad tie gate. Before passing through the fence we followed another track east now not being able to remember if after passing through the gate the guidebook had said veer left or right (we had left the book in the car opting to rely on pictures taken with the now dead cell phone). After a short distance we decided that we were on a wild goose chase and the pits we had seen must have been Pictograph Cave. We hiked back to the gate and passed through continuing on the sandy track. We soon ran into a family who asked us if this was the way to Pictograph Cave. We said we thought so explaining that we’d taken a wrong turn and come in form another direction, but there were two signed pits along the track. We continued on eventually arriving back at the Wind Cave turnaround where we discovered how we’d missed the correct sandy track.

We walked back along the road to our car and began to head back toward Bend. We had been hoping to go to the High Desert Museum after the hikes. Despite having spent a lot more time hiking to Pictograph Cave we still would have had 4 plus hours to spend there but two things happened on the drive back, a fire broke out near Bessie Butte along China Hat Road and our battery warning light came on. The fire was far enough off the road that it wasn’t closed yet as we passed by the first firetrucks on scene. Luckily the fire was controlled quickly and didn’t become a major incident.

The battery light was more of an issue. It was Sunday so many places weren’t open and all our user manual said was to stop driving immediately and call a dealer. That wasn’t an option on a forest service road with a fire nearby so we drove into Bend and stopped at the Toyota dealer but they didn’t have any mechanics on duty and couldn’t help. Next we tried a Valvoline Instant Oil but their battery tester was dead. From there we stopped at Baxter Auto where the store clerk was able to test the battery which was low, but that wasn’t necessarily the problem. It could be any number of things related to the electrical system but without a mechanic to check we couldn’t be sure. We then drove to a second Valvoline where, even though it was a long shot, we replaced the battery in hopes that it might work. It didn’t which meant it was likely the alternator. Our vacation plans were suddenly in flux.

We decided to rent a car Monday morning and go ahead with our planned backpacking trip and then we would try and get the car fixed at the end of the week when we returned. Thankfully Heather’s parents offered to take the car in Monday morning for us though and have any necessary repairs done while we were away.

With the plan set we reserved a rental to be picked up at 7:30 from Enterprise and then we realized that we hadn’t remembered our water filter. It was getting close to closing time for the few stores that were still open on a Sunday evening and Heather ran out to Big 5 in hopes of picking up a spare filter. They didn’t have any in stock so she wound up with Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets. We hadn’t used the tablets before so this was going to be interesting. It was starting out to be quite the memorable vacation. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Boyd, Arnold, Hidden Forest, and Pictograph Caves

French Creek Ridge

After visiting the Bull of the Woods Wilderness on our previous hike we paid a visit to the neighboring Opal Creek Wilderness. Our choice of trail was the French Creek Ridge Trail staring at the west trailhead. We had been to this trailhead before when we headed east from the trailhead to Phantom Bridge in 2011. (post) The road to the trailhead was in worse shape than we’d remembered including a short section of narrow road along a steep drop off with some trenching and potholes. It was only a couple hundred feet but it didn’t look like it would take much for that section of FR 2207 to become impassible.

Road 2207 was worse for the ware but that wasn’t the case at the trailhead where the sign board was in better shape than the one that had been present in 2011.
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French Creek Ridge Trailhead

We headed down the trail following an old roadbed into the Opal Creek Wilderness.
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The lightly used trail suffers a bit from a lack of maintenance but there were some signs that the first bit of trail had seen some recent brush removal.
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The trail passes the Marten Buttes on the north side of the ridge beneath some impressive basalt cliffs. Along this stretch were some open views across the Opal Creek Wilderness.
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When the trail was crossing over talus slopes it passed through a mixed forest with a few remaining wildflowers.
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After a mile and a half we crossed over a saddle to the south side of the ridge. Looking back to the west we could see one of the Marten Buttes.
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Views from this side of the ridge also included several Cascade peaks.
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IMG_8644Mt. Jefferson

IMG_8635Mt. Washington, Broken Top and the Three Sisters with Coffin Mountain in the foreground.

The brushing out of the trail only covered a bit of the trail at the beginning and now it was a bit more overgrown when it wasn’t passing through the rockier sections.
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Luckily much of the trail did pass through rocky sections as it bounced from the south to north side of the ridge then back to the south again.
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After approximately 2.75 miles we arrived at a signed junction with the Beachie Trail.
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We took the left fork and followed the Beachie Trail steeply downhill for a little over a quarter mile before climbing an additional quarter mile back to the ridge top. This section was extremely overgrown but well marked by pink flagging.
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We then followed the trail uphill along the ridge for another .7 miles. The official trail bypasses the summit of Mount Beachie but not by much and a short bushwack led us to the small flat summit.
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Smoke from wildfires made for a hazy view but with the naked eye peaks from Mt. Adams south to Diamond Peak were visible except for Mt. Hood which was hidden behind Battle Ax Mountain in the Bull of the Woods Wilderness (post)
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We sat at the summit for a bit before heading back. On the return trip the butterflies were out and so was a friendly wren who posed for a bit before disappearing into the forest.
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The round trip was approximately 8 miles with just under 2000′ of cumulative elevation gain. Most of the flowers were past so an early July visit would likely be better timing for those. There were a few mosquitoes present making stopping in the trees a bad idea but they were less of a bother along the open rocky slopes. A nice trail and one that you’re likely to have all to yourself. Happy Trails!

Flickr: French Creek Ridge

Exploring the Pacific NW one step at a time.