Otter Bench Trail System

We are going to take a break from our Throwback Thursday posts now that we are hiking regularly again. Have no fear though Throwback Thursday hikes will return in the Fall.

The day after our visit to the Clarno area we headed to Crooked River Ranch and the BLM managed Otter Bench Trail System.

Otter Bench Trailhead

Three trails begin at the trailhead at the end of Horny Hollow Dr. The .9 mile Lone Pine Trail, the 1.5 mile Horny Hollow Trail, and the 1.7 mile Otter Bench Trail.

Otter Bench Trail

The Otter Bench and Horny Hollow Trail form a loop but from February 1 – August 31 the Horny Hollow Trail is closed. The Lone Pine Trail heads in the opposite direction eventually dropping down to the river. Our plan was to take the Otter Bench Trail a junction at it’s end where we would take the short Pink Trail down to the river then the Opal Loop Trail further out along the bench.

As we set off through the sagebrush and junipers the sun was rising over the rim of the gorge.

Otter Bench

Sunrise over the Crooked River Gorge

There weren’t many flowers along the first portion of the trail, but as we continued on more and more flowers started popping up amid the sagebrush.

BiscuitrootBiscuitroot

LarkspurLarkspur

western stoneseedWestern stoneseed

BalsamrootBalsamroot

PhloxPhlox

At the end of the Otter Bench Trail we came to the 4 way intersection with the Horny Hollow, Pink, and Opal Loop Trails.

Junction along the Otter Bench Trail system

We turned onto the Pink Trail which offered dramatic views on its way down into the Crooked River Gorge.

Crooked River Gorge from the Pink Trail

Crooked River Gorge

Balsamroot along the Pink Trail

Crooked River Gorge

Crooked River Gorge

A short section of trail passed through some pinkish rock, possibly the inspiration for the trails name.

Pink Trail

The trail ended on the bank of the Crooked River which was swollen with spring runoff.

Crooked River

Crooked River

We climbed back up to the junction and turned right onto the Opal Loop Trail. For the first .5 mile this trail passed through a narrow section of the bench before arriving at the start of the trails namesake loop.

Opal Canyon Loop

Paintbrush along the Opal Loop Trail

Wildflowers were plentiful below the columnar basalt cliffs along the trail.

Wildflowers below columnar basalt

Prairie stars

Prairie stars

Fiddleneck

Fiddleneck

Threadleaf phacelia

Threadleaf phacelia

The bench had widened again where the Opal Loop began.

Opal Loop Trail

We went counter-clockwise arriving at a viewpoint above the gorge at the far end of the loop.

Crooked River Gorge

Crooked River Gorge

Beyond the viewpoint the trail veered away from the river for the remainder of the loop.

Opal Loop Trail

We headed back to the Otter Bench Trail and followed it back to the trailhead. We were planning on meeting our son and my parents at Bogeys Burgers in Redmond for lunch a little after 11am but it was only 9:50 as we arrived back at the car. Realizing we were a good hour early we decided to check out the Lone Pine Trail.

We set off on a use path heading directly for the gorge from the parking area intending to pick up the Lone Pine Trail when we intersected it.

Crooked River Gorge

We misjudged the distance though and passed over the actual trail without noticing it. The path we were on was very clear though and it brought us to a rim above the river. Not realizing we had already passed the Lone Pine Trail we were still looking for it when we noticed a path to our left heading down toward the river. We headed down this path thinking it might be the trail. It was pretty steep as it headed down toward a rock pillar.

Rock pillar

The path continued to the left of the rock pillar. Here there were steps in the rocks and old wooden stairs. This made us think that we might be on the right trail after all.

Steps leading away from the Crooked River

On the far side of the river were some caves and cool rock formations.

Cave across the Crooked River

Crooked River Gorge

Near the river the trail became faint. A barely visible path to the right led through the grass between the river and canyon wall.

Crooked River Gorge

The trail eventually ran out in thick brush.

Crooked River Gorge

We hadn’t seen any pine trees and were now back to thinking this wasn’t the Lone Pine Trail after all. It had taken us almost 30 minutes to get to the thicket though so we had killed enough time and headed back the way we’d come. This time as we followed the same use path back to the parking lot we spotted the Lone Pine Trail. We figured that just left us an excuse to come back again someday, for now it was time for some food. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Otter Bench

Clarno Unit – John Day Fossil Beds and Spring Basin Wilderness

We officially kicked off our 2017 hiking season on 4/22 with a pair of hikes near Clarno, OR. The first was a 1.4 mile at the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. We parked at the day use picnic area 3.4 miles east of the John Day River bridge at Clarno.

Clarno Unit Trailhead

From the parking area we took the .3 mile Geologic Time Trail west toward the dramatic rock formations called The Palisades.

Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

The trail was lined with golden fiddleneck blossoms and passed several interpretive signs describing the history of the area that created the amazing features.

Fiddleneck along the trail at Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

The Geologic Time Trail ended at a junction with the .2 mile Trail of Fossils loop. Here we turned uphill to the right passing more interpretive signs. These helped identify fossils in the nearby rocks.

Interpretive sign Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Leaf fossil at Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Leaf fossils Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Interpretive sign Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

The loop descended to a second possible trailhead where another trail, the .2 mile Arch Trail, split to the right (west) near a large signboard.

The Palisades Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

This short trail led uphill to the base of a rock arch along The Palisades.

Rock Arch Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

The views along the trail were amazing both across the highway and up close to the rocks.

Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Looking south toward the Spring Basin Wilderness

Rock pillar Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Rock wall along the Palisades - Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Just before the rock arch was a sign describing a pair of fossilized logs 40 feet above the trail. For some reason neither of us could see them despite spending a few minutes searching. After visiting the rock arch, we paused again to look for the logs. This time they were easily spotted up in the wall of rocks above the sign.

Looking up at the rock arch

Petrified tree trunks in the rock walls of the Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

We returned to the Trail of Fossils loop and completed it then took the Geologic Time Trail back to the picnic area where another car was just pulling in. These were really interesting hikes and a great warm-up for our next stop, the nearby Spring Basin Wilderness.

Designated a wilderness in 2009 the 6,404 acre Spring Basin Wilderness has no official trails but similar to nearby Sutton Mountain old jeep tracks and open terrain make exploring the area fairly easy.  The wilderness is located south of Highway 218 across from the Clarno Unit.

For our visit we were planning on following the route described in the Third Edition of William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Eastern Oregon” (Hike #18). From the Clarno Unit we drove back toward Clarno 1.9 miles and turned left onto gravel Clarno Rd. After 3.2 miles we parked on the left at a pullout near a lone juniper tree. An outdated wilderness sign declaring a wilderness study area indicated that we were at the correct spot.

Wilderness signpost at the Spring Basin Wilderness

A faint but clear path led into the wilderness toward a draw on the horizon.

Spring Basin Wilderness

The views were dramatic from the start with jagged rock formation and green rolling hills.

Sun and shadows as seen from the Spring Basin Wilderness

View from the Spring Basin Wilderness

Spring Basin Wilderness

The path led us up into the draw passing a number of different types of wildflowers.

Biscuitroot

Biscuitroot

Balsamroot

Balsamroot

Prairie stars

Prairie stars

Balloon pod milkvetch

Balloon pod milkvetch

milkvetch

Another type of milkvetch

paintbrush

Paintbrush

Phlox

Phlox

There was one flower that had not yet started to bloom that we had never seen before and we still aren’t sure what it was.

Wildflower getting ready to bloom in the Spring Basin Wilderness

After 1.3 miles the path reached a ridge top junction with an old jeep track marked by a rock cairn.

Spring Basin Wilderness

Near the junction we spotted the first of many hedgehog cactus.

Hedgehog cactus

None of the blossoms were open and we mistakenly thought we were a week or so too early to see them in full bloom. As we would discover later the blossoms would open to the Sun later in the day.

Hedgehog cactus

We turned left onto the jeep track and headed toward a knoll on the horizon.

Spring Basin Wilderness

We followed the track around the side of the knoll then turned uphill and went cross country to the summit marked by another cairn.

Spring Basin Wilderness

John Day River from the Spring Basin Wilderness

Our goal, Horse Mountain, was slightly southeast of the knoll.

Spring Basin Wilderness

To reach the summit of that mountain without having to lose and regain too much elevation Sullivan’s route called for a .9 mile cross country route due east through a juniper grove then up a draw to find the jeep track once again on the ridge line.

Spring Basin Wilderness

We surveyed the landscape and picked out the juniper grove before heading back down the knoll to the jeep track.

Juniper grove in the Spring Basin Wilderness

We followed the jeep track north a short distance to a low point then descended into a draw and headed for the grove. The initial descent was a little steeper than it had appeared from the knoll but it was not a problem and we made it to the junipers without any difficulty.

Juniper grove

Juniper grove in the Spring Basin Wilderness

From the grove we climbed up the draw we’d seen to the jeep track and turned right toward Horse Mountain.

Spring Basin Wilderness

On the ridge we found more hedgehog cactus amid other many other wildflowers.

Wildflowers in the Spring Basin Wilderness

Hedgehog cactus

We stuck to the jeep track for approximately 3/4 of a mile then veered off toward Horse Mountain when the track turned left amid more junipers.

Horse Mountain in the Spring Basin Wilderness

Our initial plan was to sidehill up to a saddle along Horse Mountain but we found it was actually easier to head directly uphill so we wound up gaining the ridge near it’s western end which was dotted with balsamroot.

Balsamroot

Balsamroot in the Spring Basin Wilderness

We then followed the ridge up to the summit of Horse Mountain.

Horse Mountain

Along the way we passed a lone daggerpod in bloom,some lupine plants that were just beginning to show buds, and more hedgehog cactus.

Horse Mountain

Lupine

Biscuitroot and hedghog cactus in the Spring Basin Wilderness

A small rock cairn marked the summit of Horse Mountain.

Horse Mountain summit in the Spring Basin Wilderness

The 360 degree view was spectacular. We sat on some rocks and examined the scenery.

View from the summit of Horse Mountain

View from the summit of Horse Mountain

View from the summit of Horse Mountain

Spring Basin Wilderness

To the far south the snowy Ochoco Mountains lined the horizon.

Lookout Mountain from Horse Mountain

It was amazingly peaceful on the summit. The only sounds were bird songs and the low hum of insects buzzing about. If the rocks had been a little softer we could have stayed for hours. As it was we eventually headed back down to the jeep track which we thought about following all the way back to the knoll. We had seen quite a few caterpillars on the ground all morning but now there seemed to be more and they were moving about.

Caterpillar

caterpiller

From the ridge The Palisades of the Clarno Unit were visible to the north.

The Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds from the Spring Basin Wilderness

Raven with the Palisades of the Clarno Unit in the distance

After looking more closely at the map we decided that the jeep track swung out a little more than we were willing to do so we instead took a slightly different off trail route to the knoll.

Spring Basin Wilderness

We wound up climbing up the same draw we’d descended earlier in the day and regained the jeep track below the knoll. We then returned to the rock cairn and descended the gully back to our car ending our hike at 7.4 miles. We had been on the alert for rattlesnakes all day but had not seen nor heard any. That changed on our drive back to the highway. We spotted at least 4 rattlers sunning themselves on Clarno Road. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Clarno Unit and Spring Basin Wilderness

Throwback Thursday – Patjens Lakes

On 8/2/2012, a day after our mosquito filled visit to Miller & Maidu Lakes, we were heading home. I had injured my right knee running down the trail to Miller Lake in an attempt to thwart the mosquitoes and it was feeling a little off, but I wanted to give a hike a try on the way over Santiam Pass.

We decided to try Patjens Lakes due to it being relatively short, right around 6 miles, with only 400′ of cumulative elevation gain. The trailhead is located on the NW side of Big Lake off of Forest Road 2690 which is also the entrance road to the Hoodoo Ski Area.
Patjens Lake Trailhead

We stayed right at a fork near the trailhead planning on doing a counter-clockwise loop. A 2011 wildfire had burnt much of the forest along the loop but signs of life were already returning.
Patjens Lake Trail

Goldenrod, penstemon and aster

Pearly everlasting

Patjens Lake Trail

Mt. Washington and Big Lake were visible along the first portion of the trail.
Mt. Washington

The trail looped around a small butte passing a series of meadows and view to the NW of the Sand Mountain Lookout.
Meadow along the Patjens Lake Trail

Lupine

Sand Mountain Lookout

Shortly after passing a horse trail joining on the right the we entered the Mt. Washington Wilderness and began the only real significant climb of the hike.
Wt. Washington Wilderness sign

The trail climbed to a saddle between the butte and a small hill. At the saddle the Three Sisters were visible to the south.
Forest along the Patjens Lake Trail
Small hill from the saddle.

Patjens Lake Trail

The Three Sisters

As the trail descended from the saddle it entered forest that had been spared by the fire.
Patjens Lake Trail

We passed through a series of meadows full of ferns and scarlet gilia.
Patjens Lake Trail

Tall cascade lilies rose above the ferns.
Cascade Lilies

Cascade lilies

Cascade Lily

As we were passing through one of these meadows we encountered a foul reek. There was obviously some sort of rotting carcass out in the brush but we couldn’t see anything. We were a little concerned that it might have been a mountain lion kill or that a bear might be feeding on it so when we heard a ruckus off to our right we were on high alert. The noise turned out to be a pair of turkey vultures who had apparently located the dead animal.
Turkey Vulture

Turkey vulture

We left well enough alone and continued on our way paying extra attention for any large predators that might have been attracted by the smell. Around a mile from the saddle we came to a small body of water on the right side of the trail.
Patjens Lake #1

The first Patjens Lake was approximately .7 miles from the pond on our left.
A Patjens Lake

The trail then passed a large meadow reentering the burn area before reaching the second Patjens Lake.
Meadow along the Patjens Lake Trail

Patjens Lake #2

The third lake was just beyond the second and it looked like they were probably connected for a brief times during high water. We left the trail and began to loop around the third lake in a clockwise direction.
A Patjens Lake

A number of ducks could be seen in the reeds.
Ducks on a Patjens Lake

From the north end of the lake there was a nice view of Mt. Washington rising over the forest to the south.
Mt. Washington from a Patjens Lake

We took a break here watching the ducks and admiring the mountain then continued around the lake back to the trail. A mile and a half from the last lake we came to a junction near Big Lake where we turned left following the lake shore back toward the trailhead. Flat Hayrick Butte and round Hoodoo Butte rose above the blue waters of Big Lake.
Hoodoo and Hayrick Buttes from Big Lake

Hoodoo Butte
Hoodoo Ski Area

Looking back over our shoulders provided big views of Mt. Washington.
Mt. Washington and Big Lake

A mile from the junction at Big Lake we were back at the trailhead. Despite a little discomfort going downhill my knee had held up which was encouraging. The hike had been a good choice for it and it had been a really nice hike even with the burned forest. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Patjens Lakes

Throwback Thursday – Miller and Maidu Lakes

This week’s throwback hike is an example of us being slow learners in our early hiking days. From 2011 to 2013 we took the first full week of August as vacation and headed over to Central Oregon for some hiking. We took that week because it that was the one week when we could be sure Dominique would not have any sports commitments. One of the drawbacks to taking the first week of August off, as we’d learned in 2011 at both Benson and Horse Lake, was the presence of mosquitoes in many areas.   So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that on 8/1/2012 when we picked Miller and Maidu Lakes for our hike that we would wind up losing another round to the little bloodsuckers.

They apparently knew we were coming as they were waiting eagerly for us when we arrived at the Miller Lake Trailhead near Chemult, OR.  We parked at the day-use area near the Digit Point Campground and set off along the large lake on the Miller Lake Trail.
Miller Lake Trailhead

Miller Lake

We were covered in Deet and wearing extra layers of clothes including gloves but nothing would keep the mosquitoes from their feast. The trail passed along the SW side of Miller Lake crossing Tipsoo Creek near the trailhead and Evening Creek at the .9 mile mark. Wildflowers including columbine and lupine bloomed along the trail while gray jays ate breakfast and a merganser floated on the water.
Tipsoo Creek

Lupine and columbine

Miller Lake

Gray jays

Merganser on Miller Lake

Sign for Evening Creek

Evening Creek

On the far side of Evening Creek was the Maidu Lake Trail which would lead us uphill for 2 miles to the Pacific Crest Trail.
Trail sign along the Maidu Lake Trail

We turned left onto the Maidu Lake Trail and soon entered the Mt. Thielsen Wilderness.
Mt. Thielsen Wilderness sign

The trail climbed approximately 550′ to the Cascade Crest where it crossed the Pacific Crest Trail and continued another three quarters of a mile to green Maidu Lake.
Maidu Lake

At the lake the trail split with the Maidu Lake Loop leaving to the left while the North Umpqua Trail was to the right.
Trail signs at Maidu Lake

We went left passing along the west side of Maidu Lake for a half mile before rejoining the North Umpqua Trail on the north end. The mosquito situation was better up on the crest and we decided to visit one more lake before heading back. We followed the North Umpqua Trail along the forested ridge for .7 miles to a viewpoint. To the NW the Diamond Peak rose between to lesser peaks. Sawtooth Mountain rose to the left and the spire of Cowhorn Mountain rose to the right of the larger snow covered peak.
Sawtooth Mountain, Diamond Peak and Cowhorn Mountain

Sawtooth Mountain, Diamond Peak, and Cowhorn Mountain

A half mile beyond the viewpoint we came to Lucille Lake which we hiked around on a .7 mile path.
Lake Lucile

Ducks on Lake Lucile

We returned to Maidu Lake and this time stuck to the North Umpqua Trail on the east side of the lake. The view was better on that end of the lake with Tipsoo Peak rising above the forest.
Tipsoo Peak from Maidu Lake

We made one side trip on the way back hiking north along the PCT for just under 3/4 of a mile to a viewpoint above Miller Lake’s glacial valley.
Miller Lake from the PCT

The mosquito situation had not gotten any better in this section and we hurried down from the PCT to the point of jogging. That turned out to be a poor choice. After running a 5k the prior Saturday, hiking 11.5 miles on Sunday, 5.8 on Monday, 12.4 on Tuesday the 10+ we’d done this day was just too much for my right leg. Something popped as I was running downhill and although it wasn’t too painful I knew something was wrong. For the next month my right knee/leg would stiffen up shortly after any running and it wasn’t too excited about going downhill for the better part of the next year. Although it didn’t stop us from hiking it did sideline my running after suffering through the Sunriver Half Marathon in September.

A little research revealed that driving can put additional strain on your IT Band which is what we believe I had irritated and I had done almost all the driving to and from the trailheads that week. We’ve since instituted a one-way driving rule where I get us to the trailheads and Heather drives us home.

One other rule that came as a result of this vacation was no more lake hikes in the middle of mosquito season. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Miller & Maidu Lake

Throwback Thursday – Horse Lake

We are throwing back once again to our August 2011 vacation in Central Oregon.  On 8/4/11, the day after our mosquito infested attempted hike at Benson Lake, we were headed back out to another lake. We had originally planned on visiting the Green Lakes but after reading the snow report and our experience on the previous day we turned our attention to Horse Lake instead.  Although the elevation for the Horse Lake hike was only slightly lower than that of the Benson Lake Trail it’s location on the east side of the Cascade Crest meant less snow.

The trailhead is located across the Cascade Lakes Highway from the Elk Lake Resort just under 33 miles from Bend. On the drive that morning from Bend we spotted a number of deer in a meadow along the highway near Sparks Lake. Broken Top rose behind the trees completing an amazing scene.
Deer in a meadow below Broken Top

Deer in a meadow below Broken Top

Mule Deer

On the south side of the highway Mt. Bachelor loomed over the meadows around Sparks Lake where the heads of canada geese popped up out of the grasses.
Mt. Bachelor

Canada Geese

After enjoying the impromptu wildlife show we continued to the trailhead where we set off on the Horse Lake Trail.
Horse Lake Trail sign

Horse Lake Trail

The trail passed through a nice forest gaining 300′ in just under a mile and a half to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail then lost 350′ over the next 2 miles to another trail junction near Horse Lake. We were not able to take many pictures along this first portion of the hike. Although there was much less snow along this trail there were just as many mosquitoes. Their high pitched whinny buzz was an ever present annoyance, and after Heather’s experience of having one fly into her eye neither of us wanted them anywhere near our heads. We hurried along and came upon a pair of Forest Service employees doing some trail maintenance decked out in mosquito netting. We paused for just a second and they asked us how we were able to deal with the bugs to which we answered that we were covered in Deet and moving as quickly as possible.
Snow on the Horse Lake Trail

Horse Lake Trail

At the junction near Horse Lake the lake was not readily visible. We turned right watching for the lake on our left following a boot path to the water after we spotted it.
Horse Lake

Thankfully the mosquitoes were not nearly as bad at the lake and we were able to take our time and enjoy it. Mt. Bachelor was visible from the NW side of the lake.
Mt. Bachelor from Horse Lake

We followed a fisherman’s path around the lake which brought us to a rocky peninsula with a view of the South Sister as well.
Horse Lake

We spent some time on the peninsula eating lunch and watching fish swim by.
Me. Bachelor form the Horse Lake peninsula

Island in Horse Lake

Horse Lake

Trout in Horse Lake

After lunch we finished going around the lake turning left on a good trail past some nice meadows.
Horse Creek

Meadow near Horse Lake

We quickly came to another trail junction and turned right following a sign for Dumbbell Lake. About a quarter mile later we came to yet another junction. This time we did not follow the pointer for Dumbbell Lake which was to our right but instead stayed straight following a pointer fro Sunset Lake. A short distance from this junction an unmarked path to the left led to little Colt Lake.
Colt Lake

We had found the mosquitoes again so we stopped at Colt Lake just long enough to get a picture then hurried on. Sunset Lake was off the trail to our right and once again we were not able to stop for long.
Sunset Lake

Beyond Sunset Lake the trail passed several (mosquito producing) ponds before joining the Pacific Crest Trail.
Unnamed snowmelt lake

We turned left on the PCT for just over a mile to a trail junction where we followed a point for the Elk Lake Trailhead. Just before the junction the PCT entered a burn area where the mosquitoes once again relented. We were able to enjoy the mountain views as we passed through the burn which took up the majority of the final mile of trail back to the trailhead.
Mt. Bachelor

Trail sign for the Elk Lake Trailhead

South Sister and Broken Top

Mt. Bachelor

Middle and South Sister

We made two stops on the way back to my parents house. The first was along the Cascade Lakes Highway near Devils Lake to look at its spectacularly green water
Devil's Lake

The second was at REI to by Heather a mosquito head net. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Horse Lake