4 County Pt., Sunset Rest Area, Saddle Mt., & Soapstone Lake

For the most part the weather had been cooperating with us this year but that wasn’t the case on our most recent outing. Admittedly I had not rechecked the forecast the night before but just a couple of days earlier the predication was for mostly sunny skies and a high in the mid to upper 70s. It had been cloudy all week in Salem so when those clouds broke up in the afternoon the day before our hikes I took that as a sign that the earlier forecast was still correct. It was a little cloudier than expected as we left Salem the morning of our hikes and as we headed west on Highway 26 from Beaverton we started to notice a little moisture on the windshield.

Our first stop for the day was at a small pullout on the north side of Highway 26 between mile posts 34 and 35. The Four County Point Trail begins here at a trail sign.
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The trail quickly came to a fork and a post with no signage.
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Left is the way to Four Corner Point so we took that fork and hike through a green forest (such a contrast after a week in Central and SE Oregon. The trail was between the highway on the left and North Fork Wolf Creek on the right.
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Between the highway being that close and a nearby public shooting range (which was busy even before 7am) this wasn’t exactly a tranquil hike but it ended at an interesting location, the meeting point of four counties: Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook, and Washington.
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Although the sign indicates that the trail length is a mile it’s closer to .8 miles to the plaque making it a nice warm up or leg stretcher. The noise and a visible clear cut did detract from the enjoyment.

Our next stop was just an additional six miles west of the pullout at the Sunset Rest Area.
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Here the Steam Donkey Trail offered two possible loop options.
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Both options are short so we did both the Springboard Loop and the Dooley Spur Loop which basically form a figure eight. The trail crossed South Fork Rock Creek on a footbridge before reaching the start of the Springboard Loop.
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We opted to do the loop counter clockwise so we headed right through another lush green forest.
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With the Springboard Loop only being .3 miles long we quickly arrived at a four way junction with the Dooley Spur Loop.
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We turned right again for this .5 mile loop.
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This was another nice leg stretcher and was much quieter than the Four County Point Trail and with options for .3 or .8 mile loops would be a good hike for youngsters.

Our third stop of the day was for the only trail we had previously hiked, Saddle Mountain (post). Although it had been cloudy at our first two stops it hadn’t been raining and there had been one or two glimpses of blue sky so we were hopeful as we turned off Highway 26 near milepost 10 following the Saddle Mountain sign. The further along the 7 mile paved entrance road we went the wetter things got. When we arrived at the trailhead parking area there was a steady drizzle falling.
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We set off uphill hoping that perhaps by the time we got to the summit the conditions would improve. At the .2 mile mark we turned right on the signed Humbug Mountain View Point spur trail.
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We didn’t expect a view given the conditions, but we’d been out to the viewpoint on our first visit plus we figured a little extra time spent down below gave that much more time for the weather to improve. There were indeed no views at the end of the .2 mile spur trail but we did see a few nice flowers along the way.
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IMG_7333Paintbrush

IMG_7335Tiger lily

IMG_7336Penstemon

IMG_7343Twin flower

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We returned to the Saddle Mountain Trail and continued up into the drizzle and fog.
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Our first visit had been on June 1st, 2013 which had been a few weeks too early for many of the flowers. It had also been a cloudy day so we were hoping that this time we would not only hit the flowers closer to peak but also have better views. The views were by far worse, but the flowers were so much better. Unfortunately the foggy, wet conditions limited sight and the ability to fully capture the beauty of the wildflower show along the 2.5 mile climb to the summit but here are a few of the highlights.
IMG_7348Checkermallow

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IMG_7394Larkspur

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IMG_7403Monkeyflower

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IMG_7420Plectritis

IMG_7436Old man’s whiskers

IMG_7442Columbine

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IMG_7456Wallflower

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Having done the two other hikes we had gotten a little later start here than we normally would have so there were several people already at the summit when we arrived. A good breeze was bring moisture right up the hillside from the NW making it extra damp on top.
IMG_7460Summit view

We didn’t stay long and were soon heading back down the steep, slick trail.
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After our SE Oregon vacation, where we more often than not encountered no other hikers on the trails, the number of people trudging up Saddle Mountain on our way down was mind boggling. The place was a zoo despite the less than ideal weather. We had toyed with the idea of making this our last hike of the day instead of second to last and boy were we glad we hadn’t. We made our way back to the trailhead as quickly as possible given the slick conditions and seemingly stopping ever two minutes to let another uphill group go by.

We drove back to Highway 26 and turned west once more heading for our final stop of the day. Six tenths of a mile from the Saddle Mountain turnoff we took a left leaving Highway 26 in favor of Highway 53. We followed this highway 4.7 miles to a sign for the Soapstone Lake Trail where we turned left onto a gravel road for .4 miles to the trailhead. The weather here was markedly better here than it had been at Saddle Mountain.
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The Soapstone Lake Trail starts along the path of an old roadbed.
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Ripe salmonberries (and a few huckleberries) lined the trail.
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Near a meadow at the .6 mile mark the trail left the old road bed.
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On the far side of the meadow the trail crossed Soapstone Creek on a footbridge.
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The trail then climbed a ridge for .3 miles to the start of a loop around the lake.
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The trail to the left went downhill while the right hand fork went uphill. We decided to go left in order to end the loop on a downhill instead of a climb. The trail quickly crossed Soapstone Creek again and made its way around the east side of the lake.
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At then south end of the lake the trail crossed a swampy area on a boardwalk where we spotted several rough skinned newts in the water.
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The loop continued around the west side of the lake, but here the trail climbed above and a little away from the water.
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After passing a large camp site the trail descended to the start of the .8 mile loop and we returned the way we’d come. This had been another nice, short hike (2.8 miles total) that would be good for kids. The four hikes combined had only come to 10.4 miles with Saddle Mountain accounting for half of that total (and nearly all the elevation gain for the day). All in all it had turned out to be a pretty good day despite the disappointing weather on Saddle Mountain. C’est la vie as they say. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Four County Point, Sunset Rest Area, Saddle Mt. & Soapstone Lake

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Cove Palisades State Park – SE Oregon Vacation Day 8

After spending the night in Bend it was finally time to head home. We had one final hike planned before we drove back to Salem though. For the final hike of our vacation we headed north of Bend to the Cove Palisades State Park.

The park is home to the man made Lake Billy Chinook which fills a canyon behind the Round Butte Dam. Three rivers converge here, the Crooked, Metolius, and the Deschutes. We didn’t do it on purpose but by hiking here we wound up starting and ending our vacation with hikes near the Deschutes.

We started our hike from the Lower Deschutes Day Use Area which according to a signboard didn’t open until 7am. I hadn’t been able to find that information on the park website so we had arrived just before 6am. Luckily the gate was open and the automated permit booth was operating. There was also a second sign stating that parking was prohibited between the hours of 10pm and 5am so we went ahead and parked in the large, empty lot.
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We were going to hike the Tam-A-Lau Trail which actually officially starts at a trailhead near the campground but a half mile connector trail started at the eastern end of the day use area.
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The connector trail crossed over the day use entrance road then a short while later it crossed the main road through the park before arriving at the trailhead.
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From this trailhead the Tam-A-Lau Trail climbed just over a mile to the rim of the canyon and the start of a loop atop the plateau.
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As we climbed the views got better, both of the Deschutes arm of Lake Billy Chinook and of Mt. Jefferson which appeared above the far side of the canyon.
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The trail also passed some nice rock formations revealing the various layers of the canyon.
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Near the top of the rim Mt. Jefferson was entirely visible and several other Cascade peaks could be seen.
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IMG_7164The Three Sisters

At the start of the loop we took the left hand fork which followed the rim of the canyon north.
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As we continued north more mountains emerged to the SW.
IMG_7201Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top, The Three Sisters, and Three Fingered Jack.

The only major Cascade missing was Mt. Washington which was hidden behind Black Butte and Green Ridge.
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After 1.25 miles of the loop we reached the tip of the plateau which looked out to “The Island”. Despite it’s name The Island isn’t surrounded by water but it is a separated portion of the plateau.
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To the right of The Island the Crooked River arm flows in to merge with the Deschutes. From the tip of the plateau the trail followed the rim above the Crooked River arm for another 1.1 miles before turning inland across the plateau to complete the loop. From this section we had a good view of the bridge over the Crooked River arm.
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Shortly after turning inland we spotted a group of deer on the far side of a fence.
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IMG_7259(the camera deciding the fence was more interesting than the deer)

It was 1.3 miles across the plateau where we headed back down to the campground and then on to the day use area where the number of cars had double to two including ours. (A third arrived while we were loading up.) The relatively short hike was a good way to end the vacation and put a cap on 8 days of hiking. We’re not done with SE Oregon yet and we’re looking forward to our next visit. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Cove Palisades State Park

Myrtle Creek – SE Oregon Vacation Day 7

With our SE Oregon vacation winding down we started our 7th day in Burns, OR. As I mentioned in a previous post our guidebooks didn’t show a lot of hiking options in the immediate area but Sullivan’s 3rd edition Easter Oregon hiking guide did have the Myrtle Creek Trail listed in the additional hikes. The trailhead was a 32 mile drive north of Burns in the Malheur National Forest near the edge of the high desert. The paved roads allowed for a roughly 35 minute drive along Highway 395 to Forest Road 31 1.1 miles north of the Idlewild Campground. The short road to the trailhead was approximately 13.1 miles up FR 31 on the left.
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A quick check on the trail status on the Forest Service website showed that the trail was open but receives light use and had not been maintained. It didn’t say how long it had been since the last trail maintenance but being that it passed through a ponderosa forest we weren’t too concerned because those types of forests typically don’t have much underbrush and suffer less blowdown than forests with other types of conifers.

At the trailhead Myrtle Creek lazily meandered through a meadow.
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A barbed wire fence separated the creek and the trail as we set off but near the end of the meadow the fence also ended.
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Here the trail made the first of several climbs away from the creek as it passed above some exposed rocks.
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There were quite a few flowers along this first stretch of trail which was just a sample of what was to follow.
IMG_7121Old man’s whiskers and a chocolate lily

IMG_7122Penstemon

IMG_7107Death camas

IMG_7101A clover

IMG_7105Lupine

IMG_7112Arnica

IMG_7099Large-flower triteleia

As we neared the mile and a half mark the trail descended back down to the creek to a crossing. There was a footbridge there but it looked as though it came out of a Dr. Seuss book.
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It would have been easy enough to splash across the creek but sometimes you just want to keep your feet dry so we accepted the challenge of the twisted bridge and made our way across it. More flowers awaited on the far side.
IMG_6942Oregon sunshine

IMG_6943Sticky geranium

IMG_6948Woodland star

IMG_6951Columbine

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A quarter mile after crossing Myrtle Creek we came to a sign for Crane Creek which was nearly dry (it was dry when we returned later in the day).
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There were some nice scarlet gilia flowers in this area.
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After another quarter mile we passed a sign for the West Myrtle Creek Trail which must be invisible because we couldn’t see any trace of it.
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A short distance later we crossed West Myrtle Creek.
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More flowers appeared along the creek including some yellow paint.
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A little over a mile from West Myrtle Creek the trail climbed uphill via a couple of switchbacks not shown on the map. A doe and small fawn ran off into the forest as we approached a green grassy area amid the ponderosa. Around the same area we saw a squirrel and a noisy woodpecker.
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A short while later we noticed a sign on a tree in the middle of grassy area. Upon closer inspection it was a sign for Arden Glade.
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Beyond Arden Glade the trail returned to the meadows along the creek and continued to alternate between the meadows and the trees. Climbing up and down at least a bit each time. The further we went the fainter the trail got especially in the meadows where we often lost it completely only to rediscover it when it reentered the trees.
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Just beyond the six mile mark we passed a post and what appeared to be a trail descending on the far side of the creek. We believe that was the FL Spring Trail.
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The miles had been marked by small plaques on trees through mile six.
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We had set a turn around time of no later than 9am for the hike. The trail was 8 miles one way and ended at private land. We had been averaging about 25 minutes a mile when we passed mile 6 and it was just after 8:15 at that point so we decided to try and reach the marker for mile 7 (assuming there was one). Just under a mile from the FL Spring Trail junction we lost the trail once again in a meadow only this time we coudn’t find a continuation of the trail amid the downed logs.
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A glance at the time showed that it had been about half an hour since we’d passed mile 6 so we figured that we most likely had passed the 7 mile mark and either missed the markers or perhaps there weren’t any. After a short break and quick snack, we decided to head back. It was about ten till 9 anyway. It had been a chilly morning but it was warming up quickly on our way back and the rising temperatures brought out the butterflies.
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When we were finished our GPS had us at 14.2 miles so we may well have made the 7 mile mark after all. Although the trail was faint in places it was a nice hike with a lot of solitude. It was a little strange to be hiking in a true forest again after a week in the sagebrush and junipers though.

We drove back to Burns then returned to Bend for another visit with Heather’s parents where we had some excellent pizza at Olde Town Pizza. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Myrtle Creek

Borax Hot Springs, Big Sand Gap, and Pike Creek – SE Oregon Vacation Day 6

Day 6 of our vacation was the day we began our journey home. Of course we had some hiking to do along the way.  We had three hikes planned along the East Steens Road on the way to Burns from Fields.  We were still operating on Mountain Time so we wound up awake before dawn and were leaving Fields Station as the sun began rising.  It was the first morning where we got to see a good desert sunrise.
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Our first stop was at Borax Hot Springs which was just a five and a half mile drive away so we arrived while the spectacular sunrise show was still in full swing. After passing a warning sign on the road in we parked at a fence with a closed gate.
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Now owned by the Nature Conservancy the area was once used to collect sodium borate crusts which were dissolved to make borax. We followed an old road bed for a half a mile past a pair of large vats used in that process to Borax Lake.
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We saw a couple of jack rabbits along the way.
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Borax Lake has an arsenic level 25 times acceptable levels and is considered fatal to humans. The only creatures able to survive in the lake are the Borax Lake chub that can withstand those levels.
Borax Lake

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We continued following the road beyond the lake which now passed a series of bubbling hot springs on the right.
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The springs varied in size and colors making each one we passed interesting in its own way.
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A half mile from Borax Lake we crossed a fence to the final series of pools.
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We turned back where the road veered left at the last pools. Here Alvord Lake could be seen in the distance where numerous birds were enjoying the arsenic free water.
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We headed back the way we’d come returning to our car and heading back towards East Steens Road. As we drove along the power line road used to reach the trailhead we spotted something furry along the right side. It was a badger! It took off running but paused briefly to look back at us when I stopped to try and take a picture. It was too quick though and disappeared into the sagebrush. We knew there were badgers in the area but never expected to see one.

We got back onto East Steens Road and headed north. At some point our low tire pressure light came on which given the roads we’d been on up to that point wasn’t all that unexpected. We turned right at a sign for Frog Springs where we turned down a bumpy .2 mile road to a parking area and restrooms. This was the way to our next hike but also gave us an opportunity to look at the tires. The left rear was a little suspect but I also checked the gas cap which didn’t seem tightened all the way and can also cause that light to come on. The other possibility was the spare tire. We decided to continue on since if it was the gas cap it could take several miles for the light to go off. From there we followed an even bumpier road a tenth of a mile to the playa of the Alvord Desert.
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Our next hike began on the other side of this ancient lake bed five and a half miles away. I had set up a way point on our GPS unit for the approximate location that our guidebook suggested we park at for the hike to Big Sand Gap. I turned the unit on and we drove across the playa with Steens Mountain in our rear view mirror.
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The only trails to Big Sand Gap are wild horse trails made by the Kiger mustangs as they visit a marshy spring near the edge of the playa. The hike description we were following called for a .3 mile hike left around the spring before following the horse trails into the gap. That was easier said then done as the spring was not visible at ground level and it was only described as a slight rise to the left.
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Big Sand Gap on the other hand was much easier to locate ahead of us.
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We did our best to locate the spring but got pulled a little too far right by some pink flagging on some greasewood bushes and wound up on the wrong side of the marshy area.
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It was okay though as the wild horses had made a clear path on this side of the spring as well.
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IMG_6630Steens Mountain from a horse trail.

There was in fact a confusion of horse trail but we simply kept our eyes on Big Sand Gap and took which ever trail seemed most direct at that moment. Approximately 1.6 miles from the spring we reached the gap.
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Here we turned right and headed up a fairly steep slope toward the rim of the cliff.
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We had to go behind a rock outcrop and work our way up to a higher point where the views of the Alvord Desert below and Steens Mountain beyond were amazing.
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On our climb up we’d both noticed a horse trail on the next hillside over that at least appeared a little less steep. We decided to follow that trail back down.
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Near the bottom of this trail we cut cross country toward the opening of Big Sand Gap and started seeing lizards.
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From the gap we could see our car and decided that we would try and take a slightly more direct route back instead of skirting the spring. Extending a line from our car across the desert to Steens Mountain we were able to find an identifiable peak that we would be able to see even when we lost sight of our car.

With our bearing identified we set off but quickly got side tracked by some leopard lizards. We saw a couple and one was nice enough to pose for a while.
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In addition to the lizards we saw a few hardy desert wildflowers.
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Our heading was good and we were able to go almost directly to our car completing the hike in just under 5 miles. We drove back across the playa with our low pressure light still on and returned to East Steens Road. We turned right and continued north for 2.3 miles to Alvord Hot Springs where we picked up a $5 permit for the Pike Creek Trail and then continued north an additional 2.2 miles to a signed turnoff on the left for Pike Creek.
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The half mile road to the trailhead was really rough and we quickly wished we had parked back at the sign so when we reached a spot where we were able to park off the road we did so and hiked the final short distance following posts for the Pike Creek Trail.
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The well marked route followed a closed roadbed to the Pike Creek Campground, where a juniper was growing out of a split rock, and then across Pike Creek.
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A wooden trail sign awaited on the far side of the creek where we followed an old mining road uphill to a registration box.
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After signing in we continued uphill on the old roadbed toward Steens Mountain.
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As we hiked along we were surprised at the number and variety of butterflies along the trail.
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Pike Creek was quite a ways below the trail and mostly hidden by the green vegetation it supported.
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Just over a mile from the campground we passed into the Steens Mountain Wilderness, making this the 36th different designated wilderness area we’d visited in Oregon.
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Shortly after entering the wilderness area the trail crossed Pike Creek again and then began to climb away once more. Steens Mountain continued to grow closer ahead of us and behind us we could see the Alvord Desert and Big Sand Gap on the other side.
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We had left the old mining road behind at the crossing where a mine shaft and nearly hidden dynamite shed remain.
IMG_6798Mine shaft

IMG_6784Hidden dynamite shed

The trail now climbed via a series of switchbacks up the canyon. We entertained ourselves by looking for different butterflies amid the flowers.
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Butterflies weren’t the only interesting insects that we saw during the hike.
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After a little over a mile and a half of climbing since the second crossing we arrived at our turn around spot, the first of three forks of the creek.
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The views just before the creek were a little better than at the creek itself but there were some convenient rocks to sit on under the cover of a juniper tree which provided some nice cool shade while we had a snack and watched even more butterflies.
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We returned the way we’d come under the watchful eye of a local.
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At 5.8 miles round trip this was the longest of the three hikes that day and definitely the one with the most elevation gain.

We once again checked our tires which seemed to still look the same under the eyeball test so when we reached East Steens Road we once again headed north on our way to Burns. It was just after 3pm when we arrived in Burns and we headed straight for the Les Schwab Tire Center to have them check things out. They confirmed that the left rear tire was a little low so we had them pull it off and do a more thorough check. It turned out that it wasn’t the rocks that had done us in but a small nail which I am convinced was placed in the road by the badger.

After being taken care of by the good folks at Les Schwab (free of charge) we checked into the Silver Spur Motel for the night. In the morning we had another hiked planned then we’d be off to Bend for another visit with Heather’s parents. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Borax Hot Springs, Big Sand Gap, and Pike Creek

Pillars of Rome and Chalk Basin – SE Oregon Vacation Day 5

On day 5 we said goodbye to Jordan Valley and headed west on Highway 95 to Rome where we made a brief detour to visit the Pillars of Rome. The sun was still rising when we arrived so our lighting wasn’t great for photos but the interesting rock formation here were a taste of what we’d be seeing later during our hike at Chalk Basin.
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After visiting the pillars we returned to the highway and followed our guidebooks directions to Chalk Basin. The description of the drive calls for a high clearance vehicle and I would add you need all wheel drive at a minimum. The final 16.6 miles of the drive were by far the worst we’ve driven. A theme was developing on this trip and we once again parked before the recommended starting point. This time we parked .9 miles from where the guidebook suggested at an old tire that had been converted to a water trough.
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There are no trails at Chalk Basin but after walking the .9 miles we turned right at an x junction onto an even worse old roadbed and headed down into Chalk Basin.
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There were some tire tracks present, I can only assume they were from OHVs, as we followed the road for 1.2 miles to a fork. Along the way we passed some tufted evening primroses and an orange globe mallow.
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Across the basin we had a view of some mini painted hills.
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We veered right at the fork and in a tenth of a mile came to a crossing of a dry wash.
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We turned right here and headed down the wash.
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We followed this wash for .7 miles to a drop off at a dry waterfall. It was an interesting hike through the wash which it turned out was not entirely dry.
IMG_6341Side blotched lizard

IMG_6353Wildflowers in the wash

IMG_6357Smooth stemmed blazing star

IMG_6361Monkeyflower

IMG_6364End of the water in the wash

IMG_6373Above the dry waterfall

Following our guidebook we backtracked 100 feet and climbed out of the wash up the gentlest slope to the south.
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When we crested the hill we could see the canyon we had been in winding its way toward the Owyhee River Canyon.
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We continued south heading for another large dry wash, this one running north/south.
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We headed for that wash passing a group of smooth, rounded protrusions.
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As we were dropping into this wash the one and only snake we would see on our whole trip passed between us heading uphill. It was a decently sized garter snake, not one of the areas many rattlesnakes. Heather never even saw it and it disappeared into the sagebrush. Soon after a small side blotched lizard raced into a different bush, then a much larger lizard raced out of that same area and up onto some rocks.
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We were supposed to follow this wash for another .7 miles, staying left at forks, to the head of the wash. We passed some interesting rock formations along the way but somewhere along the line we took one left fork too many.
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We didn’t realize it at first as we had been trying to only take the most obvious left hand forks. When we reached the end of the wash we headed cross country toward the lowest point we could see which happened to be a little to the south of a large rock fin.
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If we had been in the correct spot we would have crested a ridge at the edge of a rim just to the NE of a feature known as the Yellow Knoll. Instead when we reached the top of the ridge the Yellow Knoll was still quite a ways to the south.
IMG_6419Yellow Knoll with the Yellow Dome to its left.

IMG_6428Yellow Knoll

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We followed the ridge up and down a little under half a mile to the Yellow Knoll. The views form the ridge were great as we made our way over.
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We eventually made it over to the Yellow Knoll and hiked to a viewpoint atop it.
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After checking out the view from Yellow Knoll we headed for Yellow Dome and climbed to its top.
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The view from Yellow Dome was even more impressive as the Owyhee River flowed past rows of chalk pillars.
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After admiring that view we headed back past Yellow Knoll and followed the canyon rim for half a mile before striking off cross country following a dry stream bed in a westerly direction.
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This dry stream ran past the water trough that we’d parked at so all we had to do was keep that on our left and it would lead us back to our waiting car.
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Dry stream bed (indentation) on the left with Steens Mountain in the distance.

Following the stream bed worked perfectly and we were soon back on the horrible road after a spectacular 6.9 mile hike at Chalk Basin. After surviving the road we took Highway 78 north to East Steens Road where we turned left toward Fields. The road is paved for the first 10.9 then turns to gravel for the next 42.3 miles before turning pack to pavement. The views of Steens Mountain and the Alvord Desert along this drive were amazing and we did stop once when we spotted a pair of sandhill cranes in a field.
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When we arrived at Fields Station we checked on the availability of a room. Fortunately there was one available for the night so we checked in. The room was actually a large front room with a bed, table, chairs, refrigerator/freezer and a coffee maker, a bathroom, and another bedroom in the back. After getting settled we went over to the store/cafe and ordered bacon cheeseburgers and a couple of their famous milkshakes before the cafe closed at 4pm. I had a 3C – Coffee, Chocolate, and Caramel and Heather had a combination of Raspberry and Chocolate. They lived up to the hype. We had a full day of hiking ahead of us before we started our journey home so we turned in early (a little extra early now that we were back on Pacific Standard Time instead of Mountain Time). Happy Trails!

Flickr: Pillars of Rome and Chalk Basin

Jump Creek Falls and Three Forks – SE Oregon Vacation Day 4

Day four of our vacation was to be our first hike in Idaho followed by a visit to Three Forks on the Owyhee River south of Jordan Valley. When we wound up in Caldwell, ID on day 2 we had decided to stay the night there on day 3 as well since the hike at Jump Creek Falls was relatively close and then we could go back to our original plan of staying in Jordan Valley after hiking at Three Forks. This caused our driving time for day 3 to be nearly seven and a half hours but shaved off some of the driving time for day 4. We had also decided that after one night in Jordan Valley we would try staying at Fields Station the following night. This was going to be a bit of a leap of faith because we couldn’t reach anyone at Fields Station but Heather left a Facebook message so we didn’t know if there would be a room available, but that was a problem for another day.

We took advantage of the free breakfast at the motel then headed for Jump Creek for a quick .7 mile round trip to visit Jump Creek Falls. From researching the hike it was apparent that this is a popular area for people to hang out and play in the water so an early visit on a weekday seemed like a good way to possibly avoid the crowds. It worked as we were the only car at the trailhead when we arrived.
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The trail follows the brush lined creek (watch for poison ivy) into Jump Creek Canyon crossing the creek on stepping stones.
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Evidence of the areas popularity was everywhere (people stink sometimes) reinforcing our thoughts about an early morning mid-week visit. The short trail ended at the waterfall.
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After admiring the falls we returned to the car and headed for Jordan Valley where we planned on stopping for gas and inquiring about a room for the night. It was a good thing we asked about the room while we were filling up (the gas station is also the motel office) since road construction was starting up on Highway 78 and the rooms were filling up. After getting a room reserved we followed signs from Jordan Valley to Three Forks for a total of thirty four and a half miles to the rim of the Owyhee Canyon next to a corral.
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The first 22 miles had been good gravel but the final 14+ was a rutted mess with occasional cows. We once again opted for a road walk instead of more bad roads and parked by the corral.
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It was just under a mile and a half down the road which we were glad we didn’t try and drive, but a couple of brave souls had taken their campers down to the river.
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This was another “no official” trail hike and the only signboard was for boaters.
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William Sullivan describes two options in his “100 Hikes/Travel Guide for Eastern Oregon”. One being an out and back and the other a bushwacking loop requiring two fords of the Owyhee River. (Both options require fording the North Fork Owyhee.)

The first thing we did was head for the boat ramp which is where the second ford would be if we tried the loop option. We wanted to check on the viability of that ford before we wound up there later and found it was too difficult to cross. It was a good thing that we did as the water level was high enough that it would have most likely required a swim which we could do, but we didn’t have any waterproof bags to keep our gear dry during such a swim.
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With our plan now set we headed back along the access road to the North Fork Owyhee. From the map in our guidebook it looked like the correct place to ford the river was near its confluence with the Owyhee River.
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It was certainly shallow enough at that spot with the water only calf deep so we headed across. The far shore proved to be thick with vegetation including some nasty nettles that we attempted to fight our way through only to find another small channel of water that effectively thwarted any attempt to continue. We made our way back to the spot where we had forded and crossed back to the road. Heather explored a little further up the road and found a few campsites along the North Fork as well as another possible spot to ford.
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The ford here was slightly deeper but we were able to reach the far shore between two trees and climb the low bank here to a small grassy area and then uphill to a cattle trail in the sagebrush.
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We followed cattle trails past butterflies and dragonflys to the Owyhee River where we picked up an ancient wagon route.
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The old wagon route was occasionally obvious due to the presence of rock embankments. A confusion of faint cattle trails followed the route and we spent most of the time wondering which “trail” was the one we should be on.
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We passed through a canyon with tall cliffs on both sides.
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The Owyhee wound through the canyon often reflecting the rocky cliffs above.
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The canyon widened after a while and we took a short break to have a snack. While we were eating I looked up and noticed a doe on the far bank munching on a bush.
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We passed several types of wildflowers as we hiked along.
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As we neared the two mile mark from the North Fork we spotted a waterfall on the far shore.
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It was actually a series of falls coming from warm springs on the far side and above the largest waterfall was 96 degree pool. The hot springs are on private land which the owners allow hikers to visit at least for now. The guidebook description mentioned fording the river where rocks pinch the trail. We were looking for a faint roadbed on the far shore which we could theoretically follow up to the warm pool. We ran into trouble when we followed the trail all the way to a rock pillar where the trail became flooded.
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We had taken the description too literally and hadn’t paid enough attention to the map. If we had looked closer at the map while reading the description we would have realized that the correct ford was about a tenth of a mile before the point we had reached. There was an easy ford where we were though so we headed across thinking we were in the correct spot and that we would find the old road on the other side.
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We wound up wandering around in thick brush searching for the road in vain. When we finally started to get somewhere we were blocked by a good sized body of water and wound up having to make our way back to where we had forded. Our next incorrect move was to get back into the river and head upstream along the bank to the waterfalls thinking that we might be able to climb up from there. You cannot, but we did get a good close up view of several of the falls and saw some nice stream orchids as well.
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Defeated we recrossed the river and prepared to head back. We could see the old road bed traversing the hillside across the way but were still confused about how to reach it. Then Heather reread the description once more and compared it to the map and realized our mistake. We had spent about 50 minutes trying to reach the road and now we knew why we hadn’t been able to. We decided to give it one more try and forded the river again, this time in the correct spot. It was a little trickier ford but once we were on the other side it was an easy cross country walk up to the old roadbed.
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A short scramble down brought us to the pool.
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After a short soak we headed back.
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It was a pretty uneventful return compared to our hike to the hot springs. We did spot a couple of flowers that we’d missed the first time by though, including a nice mariposa lily.
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The climb up the road in the heat of the day was pretty much awful but it still beat trying to drive down and back up it. The hike wound up being 9.5 miles instead of the 7 to 8 we were expecting but that was due mostly to our wandering around looking for the old road bed. We drove back to Jordan Valley and checked into the Basque Station Motel which turned out to be rather pleasant. It’s short on amenities but the room was clean and comfy as well as surprisingly quiet. We regretted having not stuck to our original plan of staying there instead of in Caldwell. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Jump Creek Falls and Three Forks

Jordan Craters and Leslie Gulch – SE Oregon Vacation Day 3

After winding up in Caldwell, ID the at the end of day 2 of our vacation we had a bit of a longer drive for our two planned hikes for day 3. The drive to the turnoff for Jordan Craters would have been just over 8 miles but from Caldwell it was a little over 55 miles. Either way that still left 27 miles of gravel and dirt roads from Highway 95 to reach the craters. The first 24 of those miles were on decent gravel roads but then the route to the craters forked left onto a rough dirt road which we followed for a mile and a half to another fork. Here we were met with a sign warning recommending 4 wheel drive vehicles only.
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We decided we’d had enough of the rough roads and chose to hike the rest of the way down to the trailhead. There hadn’t been any rain in the forecast but it looked like there were some showers passing through the area.
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From the road we had a good view of the 27 square mile lava flow as well as the trailhead next to Coffee Pot Crater.
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As we made our way down the road we spotted a chukar and a rabbit.
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When we reached the trailhead we followed a path to the right of Coffee Pot Crater.
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The path led around the crater first passing a rounded cinder hill then more rugged lava rocks.
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The lava flow extended south from the crater in various patterns.
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As we made our way around we were soon able to see inside the 150 foot crater which was much larger than either of us had expected.
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Swallows and blue birds flew in and out of the crater occasionally landing on its rim.
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As we continued around we passed a smaller pit and several openings in the lava.
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After just .3 miles we arrived at a scramble trail down a red cinder slope into Coffee Pot Crater.
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The path was fairly steep with loose rock but we made our way down carefully and explored the inside of the crater.
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After wandering around inside the crater we climbed back out and headed cross country toward a visible channel in the lava.
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We followed this crack across the lava to its end near a pit where an owl startled us by suddenly appearing out of the pit and flying off further down the lava.
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Heather spotted a marmot that was not able to fly off.
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Just a bit further away was a second pit which we headed for. I got there first and started taking pictures.
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As Heather neared the owl reappeared only this time flying in my general direction. I was able to take a few pictures as it flew by to parts unknown.
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After admiring the second pit we headed back for the trail. More marmots watched us from the edge of the lava.
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We were briefly back on the rim of the crater but then left the trail again to get an up close look at a row of splatter cones that extended uphill toward the road.
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We had decided that after visiting the splatter cones we would just continue cross country uphill back to the road eliminating a little distance. In all there were seven cones varying in size and shape.
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We followed the road back to our car and returned to Highway 95 where we headed north toward our next stops for the day at Leslie Gulch.

The hike at Jordan Craters had only been 3.8 miles even with the road walk so we had plenty of energy left for additional hikes and Leslie Gulch offered numerous opportunities. For our visit we planned on hiking into at least four of the explorable gulches. We decided to start at the western most gulch and work our way back east toward the highway. The gravel road to Leslie Gulch was easily the best of the roads we would take to trailheads while in the area and the scenery along the route was spectacular making this a worthwhile visit even if you aren’t planning on hiking.
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We drove to the end of Leslie Gulch Road and parked near Slocum Campground near the boat ramp for the Owyhee Reservoir.
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The trail into Slocum Gulch is not an official trail but it was easily identifiable at first.
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Wildlife and wildflowers accentuated the views but it was the rock formations that were the stars.
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The trail grew fainter the further we went but we managed to go a little over 1.25 miles before turning around and heading for our next stop at Timber Gulch. This was another gulch with no official trail but there was a small pullout 2.35 miles from the Slocum Campground where we parked. From the pullout we followed another clear trail into Timber Gulch.
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Despite the proximity to Slocum Gulch the scenery here was quite different with more “honeycomb” rocks and even some different flowers.
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The trail ended in an amphitheater of rocks with sweeping views.
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The hike up Timber Gulch was only 1.3 miles round trip but it was packed with scenery. After Timber Gulch we drove just 1.25 miles further back up Leslie Gulch Road to the signed Juniper Gulch Trail.
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This wound up being a 1.8 mile hike with a little loop in the middle when we forked right where we should have stayed straight. Some minor scrambling up some rocks got us back on course though. This trail featured rock overhangs that we passed under and was also the only trail that we encountered other hikers on the entire trip after being at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Headquarters.
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Beyond the overhangs (and once we were back on the correct path) the trail led up to a knoll with some impressive views.
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Our last stop in Leslie Gulch was at Dago Gulch, a mile from Juniper Gulch.
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Here we followed an old roadbed for a mile to private land.
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Although this gulch didn’t have quite as many impressive rock formations as the other gulches it had its share and it also had a lot of butterflies and cicadas.
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We had considered also hiking into Upper Leslie Gulch on a .3 mile trail there but it had gotten really warm and after five hikes we were ready to head back to Caldwell to get cleaned up and cool off. On the way back to the highway we spotted a burrowing owl atop some sagebrush along McBride Road. It flew up on some rocks when we stopped but I was able to get a somewhat blurry photo of the little guy before we drove on.
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It was a long day with just under six hours of hiking and almost seven and a half hours of driving but the sights had been worth it. We grabbed a fast food dinner back in Caldwell and turned in for the evening looking forward to what the next day had in store. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Jordan Craters and Leslie Gulch