Category Archives: Trip report

Horsepasture Mountain

After our last two hikes coming from Matt Reeder’s 101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region we went back to work on our goal of completing all of the featured hikes in William L. Sullivan’s 100 Hikes guidebooks. We are just over 75% through his 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades 4th edition and had our eyes set on checking off one more with a visit to the former lookout site atop Horsepasture Mountain.

The hike up Horsepasture Mountain provided a bit of a logistical challenge for a couple of reasons. First is our self imposed guideline of trying not to spend more time in the car than we do on the trail and the 1.4 mile length of the Horsepasture Mountain Trail meant we’d need to come up with some additional trail time. The second issue was the continued closure of a section of Forest Road 1993 which adds nearly 45 minutes to the drive to the Horsepasture Trailhead. Prior to the closure the drive to that trailhead would still have been over two and a half hours but with the detour Google put the time at three hours and fifteen minutes. We also have a rule against driving over three hours to any trailheads for day hikes so I began looking for alternatives. A little online research led me to a solution, the Saddle Trail which is part of the O’Leary Trail Complex.

The trail begins at the East Fork Upper Trailhead which brought the drive time from Salem under two and half hours. We parked at a small pullout on the right side of FR 1993 across from the signed Saddle Trail.
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There was a caution sign on the post regarding a burn area but that was referencing portions of the O’Leary Trail Complex burned in 2017 which did not include either the Saddle Trail or the Horsepasture Mountain Trail. We were facing a nearly 1700′ climb over the next two miles to a junction at Horsepasture Saddle. Luckily the trail was well graded and in good shape as it switchbacked up through a green forest.
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Wildflowers in the forest included a few washington lilies, penstemon, northern phlox and tiger lilies along with the typical group of white flowers.
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As far as markers went on this trail it did cross closed Forest Road 590 after .4 miles and passed a single rocky viewpoint near the 1.75 mile mark.
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Near its end the Saddle Trail passed through a small meadow with a few remaining wildflowers.
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The trail ended at a signed three way junction with the Olallie Trail.
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Here we turned right passing through thimbleberry bushes for a little over 100 yards to a four-way junction.
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We turned onto the Horsepasture Mountain Trail which climbed gradually at first.
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Flowers here included lupine, lousewort, wallflower, valerian, and fleabane.
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After nearly three quarters of a mile of gradual climbing the trail steepened as it climbed through meadows with beargrass. It wasn’t quite the beargrass display we had been hoping for but there were some nice blooms along the way.
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Other flowers in these meadows included coneflower, owls clover, and cat’s ear lilies.
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After 1.2 miles the Horsepasture Mountain Trail began to climb the mountain’s south side through a drier wildflower meadow.
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The Three Sisters and Mt. Bachelor were visible to the east as was snowy Diamond Peak to the south.
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IMG_8323Three Sisters and Mt. Bachelor

IMG_8326Diamond Peak

There was a nice variety of wildflowers on display.
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A large cairn and remains of the old lookout marked the summit.
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The view from the summit included Cascade peaks from Mt. Hood to the barely visible tip of Mt. Thielsen.
IMG_8337Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, and Mt. Washington.

IMG_8381The Three Sisters (with the top of Broken Top over South Sister’s southern shoulder) and Mt. Bachelor.

IMG_8345Diamond Peak(Mt. Thielsen is out there too)

IMG_8385Cowhorn Mountain on the left and the tip of Mt. Thielsen to the right.

We took a nice long break at the summit enjoying the views and the flowers. Birds and insects were our only company.
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The only negative was seeing the fire scars left in the Three Sisters Wilderness from the awful 2017 fire season. We returned the way we’d come passing two other sets of hikers making their way up the Horsepasture Mountain Trail. We also ran into a family of grouse. A single chick flew across the trail then mama landed in the trail.
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Her display of feathers and her posturing let us know that she had other chicks in the area so we stopped and waited until two more flew across the trail.
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She then flew up into a tree to let us pass. The remainder of the hike was uneventful as we descended the Saddle Trail back to the trailhead. The seven mile hike and extended stay on the summit kept us within our driving to hiking time ratio but more importantly the hike had been really nice. Good views and wildflowers combined with solitude made for another great day in the Willamette National Forest. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Horsepasture Mountain

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Browder Ridge Trail to Heart Lake

It has become a tradition to spend the first half of our 4th of July hiking. This year we revisited the rocky viewpoint on Browder Ridge which we had previously hiked to via the Gate Creek Trail on 9/18/2012 (post). This time around we decided to start at the Browder Ridge Trailhead based on Matt Reeder’s hike description in his 101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region guidebook.

The Browder Ridge Trail set off from paved Forest Road 15 near a small parking area.
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The trail climbed gently through a forest for the first half mile before steepening as it entered a series of large meadows.
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These lower meadows were filled with ferns and a smattering of wildflowers.
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IMG_7759Cone flower and columbine

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After two sets of switchbacks the trail began to traverse SE along the hillside below the ridge top. The wildflower display really picked up along this traverse. Purple larkspur, red paintbrush, blue gilia, and white cat’s ear lilies joined several varieties of yellow wildflowers to paint the hillside with color.
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The Three Sisters could be seen at times as the trail alternated between forest and meadows.
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The flower combinations always seemed to be a little different in each of the meadows. At the 3 mile mark the trail entered a short stretch of burned forest along the ridge top.
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Just beyond the four mile mark there was a short side trail to a rocky viewpoint.
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Beyond the viewpoint the trail climbed gradually for three tenths of a mile to its end at an unsigned junction with the Gate Creek and Heart Lake Trails.
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Here we turned left regaining the ridge crest in the forest where we encountered the first downed trees of the hike and a huge cascade toad.
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The Heart Lake Trail then dropped over the ridge to the NE passing beneath some basalt cliffs through another wildflower meadow.
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The trail climbed through the meadow to a forested saddle a mile from the trail junction.
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The saddle is the official end of the Heart Lake Trail. Here we faced a choice, we could turn left on the unofficial continuation of the Heart Lake Trail and climb up the rocky ridge crest to a summit viewpoint or we could attempt to visit Heart Lake. Heart Lake was a little under three quarter miles to the north and 750′ below the saddle. In the guidebook Reeder used the terms “not for the faint of heart” and “hell on the knees” to describe the trip down to the lake on the abandoned portion of trail. Heather had been dealing with a calf strain and it had been acting up on the hike so she decided against the side trip but I was feeling adventurous. She would head up to the summit and wait for me there so we set a time that she should expect me to meet up with her. I gave myself an hour and a half figuring that we typically hike at a 2 – 2.5 mile per hour pace and the round trip to Heart Lake should have only been about 1.5 miles.

I set off downhill from the saddle on a well defined trail.
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In the first quarter of a mile the trail dropped into a basin losing 150′ at a not too steep grade. Being on the north facing side of the ridge at an elevation of 5400′ meant that there was still a decent amount of snow in this area though.
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I quickly lost the tread so I turned to the Forest Service Map loaded on the GPS unit in an attempt to re-find the trail. Unfortunately this was one of those instances where the location of the trail on the map is inaccurate. Reeder had included a GPS track on the topographic map in the guidebook but I’d left that with Heather so I didn’t immediately realize that the Forest Service map was wrong. The Forest Service map showed the trail passing through a meadow (where I found some marsh marigolds and shooting stars).
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At the far end of the meadow I spotted a couple of old fire rings amid the trees which made me think that maybe I was on the right track but less than 20 yards from the meadow I came to a line of impassable cliffs. Using the GPS I wandered to the right then back to the left several times looking for where the trail might possibly be. According to the GPS I had crossed and recrossed the trail multiple times but there was no way anyone was getting down that cliff. I was just about to give up when I suddenly remembered to use my brain. I thought I remembered that the track in the guidebook spent most of the time to the left of a creek and when I zoomed out a bit on the GPS I could see a creek to my left. I decided to bushwack over toward the head of the creek to see if I might be able to find something there. I could also see that the trail on the Forest Service map crossed the creek further downstream so if nothing else I might be able to follow the creek down to that point. As I neared the creek the forest opened up and I was able to spot what appeared to be a blaze on a tree on the opposite side.
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I crossed the creek on a log and sidehilled my way down past the blaze where I once again spotted trail.
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Once I had re-found the trail it was easy enough to follow. The tread was faint but visible with little blowdown and there were some remains of pink flagging to assist me.
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I disturbed a family of grouse as I descended.
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It was quite a descent too! This was one steep trail which mostly just headed straight down a ridge-line for about a quarter mile before beginning to level out as it neared a large meadow to the south of Heart Lake.
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Elephant head flowers bloomed in the marshy meadow along with some other wildflowers.
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The area was damp but I was able to find enough dry spots to make my way down to Heart Lake.
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The old trail shown on the map had passed around the lake on its west side to a campsite on the northern end. I found a brushy path that I was able to follow through more marshy meadows and a tangle of trees to that campsite.
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Due to all the wandering around I had done in the basin looking for the trail it had taken me nearly 40 minutes to reach the campsite which was 1.2 miles from the saddle. I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take me to climb back up so I didn’t stay at the campsite long before heading back. The climb back up was brutal but it only took me a half an our to reach the saddle but I still had a .3 mile climb up the ridge before I reached Heather.
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I managed to make it with a little under 15 minutes to spare. The meadow at the summit didn’t have quite the impressive flower display as the lower meadows had had but the view was nice even though it was a bit hazy.
IMG_8033Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack

IMG_8070Mt. Jefferson

IMG_8030Mt. Washington, the Three Sisters, and Mt. Bachelor

IMG_8040Diamond Peak to the south

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IMG_8044Owls clover

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IMG_8047Orange agoseris

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After catching my breath we headed back returning the way we’d come. On the way back several flowers were now open making the view a little different.
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The pollinators were also now busy doing their things.
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We only encountered 8 other people, all on our way back to the car, which was surprising to us given how great the wildflowers were. We both preferred this approach to the shorter Gate Creek Trail, but to be fair it was a different time of year. Either way the views at the top are great and for those wanting some extra adventure there’s the option to visit Heart Lake. All in all another great hike in the Pacific Northwest. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Browder Ridge Trail and Heart Lake

Elk Lake Creek – Bull of the Woods Wilderness

While we continue to work on completing all of the featured hikes in William L. Sullivan’s guidebooks we occasionally take a break from that pursuit and take a hike recommended from another source. Our recent hike along the Elk Lake Creek Trail was one such outing.

Using Matt Reeder’s “101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region” we drove to the northern end of the Elk Lake Creek Trail.
Elk Lake Creek Trailhead

After a short forested section the trail traversed a burnt hillside above Elk Lake Creek.
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Washington Lilies above the Elk Lake Creek Trail

Washington lilies

Elk Lake Creek

As the gap between the creek and trail narrowed we passed a pair of small waterfalls leading into green pools. A small amount of bushwhacking was required to get the best views.
Elk Lake Creek

Elk Lake Creek

The burned section ended just before entering the Bull of the Woods Wilderness near Pine Cone Creek at the 1.1 mile mark.
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Elk Lake Creek Trail entering the Bull of the Woods Wilderness

Pine Cone Creek

Beyond Pine Cone Creek the trail entered a fir forest with rhododendron and ripening huckleberries.
Elk Lake Creek Trail

Just before the two mile mark we arrived at a crossing of Knob Rock Creek.
Sign for Knob Rock Creek

Knob Rock Creek

Knob Rock Creek

Just around a ridge end from Knob Rock Creek was Welcome Creek which had a couple of nice little waterfalls.
Welcome Creek

Waterfall on Welcome Creek

Waterfall on Welcome Creek

A short climb from Welcome Creek brought us to a junction with the Welcome Lakes Trail.
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Welcome Lakes Trail sign

That trail climbs 2000′ in three miles through mostly burned forest to Welcome Lakes, a trip for another time. We stayed straight on the Elk Lake Creek Trail (Trail 559).
Elk Lake Creek Trail

From the junction the trail descended for two tenths of a mile to a ford of Elk Lake Creek. We had originally planned to do this hike last June but the high snow pack had left creek running high well into June making the fords of Elk Lake Creek dangerous. With a much lower snow pack this year the ford was only knee deep and not swift.
Elk Lake Creek ford

Elk Lake Creek

Elk Lake Creek ford

On the far side of the creek I nearly stepped on a rough skinned newt. He high tailed it off the trail and tried to disguise himself as a piece of bark.
Rough skinned newt

Rough skinned newt

For the next three quarters of a mile the trail passed through old-growth forest just a bit away from the creek but it was always within earshot and often eye sight.
Elk Lake Creek Trail

Elk Lake Creek

Just over 3.25 miles from the trailhead the trail arrived at a viewpoint above an emerald pool.
Elk Lake Creek

Emerald Pool

Emerald Pool on Elk Lake Creek

Emerald Pool

We spent a good deal of time marveling at the colors here on the creek before continuing on. Beyond the emerald pool a small section of trail had been claimed by a stream.
Elk Lake Creek Trail

We reached the second knee deep ford of Elk Lake Creek 0.4 miles from the pool.
Elk Lake Creek

On the far side, the trail became a bit brushy as it continued near the creek skirting a hillside of rocks.
Elk Lake Creek Trail

Hillside above the Elk Lake Creek Trail

As soon as we were past the rock fields the trail reentered the forest.
Elk Lake Creek Trail

We faced another ford near the 5 mile mark, this time of Battle Creek.
Battle Creek

Battle Creek

Just two tenths of a mile later we had reached our original goal – the junction with the Mother Lode Trail (Trail 558).
Elk Lake Creek Trail junction with the Mother Lode Trail

Mother Lode Trail

The Elk Lake Creek Trail continued from the junction and would have eventually brought us to Elk Lake after nearly another 4 miles but continuing from the junction meant climbing up a ridge. Instead of turning back here though we decided to hike a short distance up the Mother Lode Trail to visit Mother Lode Creek. This looked to involve much less climbing so off we went to yet another ford of Battle Creek.
Battle Creek

We soon entered forest burned in the 2010 View Lake Fire Complex and after a half mile on this trail came to a junction with the now abandoned Geronimo Trail.
Mother Lode Trail junction with the abandoned Geronimo Trail

What appeared to be a homemade sign marked that trail and its tread was still visible heading uphill into the burn.
Old Geronimo Trail

Mother Lode Creek was just a short distance away and we hiked down to it before turning back.
Sign for Mother Lode Creek

Mother Lode Creek

We returned the way we’d come stopping again at the emerald pool which was now in the sunlight. We watched fish swimming in the clear water for a bit before continuing on.
Emerald pool

Emerald Pool on Elk Lake Creek

Fish

The hike was a little over 11.5 miles with approximately 1500′ of total elevation gain and 5 fords (I forded Mother Lode Creek to get a picture of its sign). One of the things we really enjoyed about the hike was that there were several “attractions” along the way with the small waterfalls, the emerald pool, and the old-growth forest in general. There were a few mosquitoes around but one spraying of DEET seemed to keep most of them at bay. This makes for a great early summer hike as long as the water levels make the fords possible. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elk Lake Creek

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_7335Tiger lily

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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

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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

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

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.
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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.
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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.

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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