Tag Archives: Cottonwood Canyon State Park

The Hikes of 2017 – A Look Back

Once again it’s time for our year end review post. Each year has a bit of a different feel to it, but this year was especially so. This was by far the most challenging year we’ve faced in terms of being able to visit the trails we’d planned on. A heavy winter snow pack lingered delaying access to many areas. Then an unusually bad fire season closed much of the Mt. Jefferson and Three Sisters Wilderness areas as well as parts of the Columbia Gorge. Snow returned in mid-September causing more changes to our plans. In the end plans for 39 of our originally scheduled 63 days of hiking were pushed out to future years as well as 2 additional short hikes that were part of multi stop days. Plans for another 12 of those days were shifted around on the schedule which meant that only 10 of our originally planned days occurred as we had envisioned them in January. We had also planned on spending 18 nights backpacking but wound up with a measly 3 nights in the tent. Despite all the issues we actually managed to end the year having hiked on 64 days and covered 751.6 miles.

Here is a look at where we wound up. The blue hiker symbols denote trailheads and the two yellow houses are the approximate location of our two backpacking campsites.
2017 Trailheads

Due to the issues with access to so many locations the mix of hikes this year was very different. An example of this is the average high point of our hikes:

                     2013-2016                2017
Jan.-Apr.    1444′                        1776′
May             2718′                        2355′
June            4900′                        3690′
July             5553′                        6530′
August       6419′                        3048′
Sept.           6400′                        4175′
Oct.             4886′                        3484′
Nov.-Dec.   2042′                        750′

Another example is our mileage distribution:

                     2013-2016                2017
Jan.-Apr.    9.19%                       9.74%
May             13.57%                     14.14%
June            13.75%                      13.50%
July             13.75%                      19.15%
August       19.33%                      6.07%
Sept.           14.13%                      23.28%
Oct.             12.17%                      10.36%
Nov.-Dec.   4.11%                        3.75%

As you can see August was way off the norm with many of those miles coming in September this year. Several wildfires were burning by then and we also changed some plans due to work and family commitments. Finally we chose to stick close to home the weekend of the solar eclipse .

On many occasions we visited multiple trailheads in a single day. We had been slowly increasing the frequency of doing so but this year 25 of our 64 days included more than one stop. In fact we stopped at a total of 106 trailheads this last year.

None of that made it a bad year, it just felt very different. The 64 hiking days was the most we’ve managed in a single year and the 751.6 miles was second only to 2016s 792.8 We managed to make decent headway on our quest to visit all of Oregon’s 45 visit-able wilderness areas by checking 8 more off the list. Rock Creek (post), Spring Basin (post), Wild Rogue (post), Grassy Knob (post), Bridge Creek (post), Clackamas (post), North Fork John Day (post), and Cummins Creek (post).

This year we made use of guidebooks by four different authors as well as a few websites. Most of our destinations can be found in William L. Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Oregon guidebooks (information) but we also made use of Scott Cook’s “Bend, Overall“, Matt Reeder’s “101 Hikes in the Majestic Mount Jefferson Region“, and Bubba Suess’s “Hiking in Northern California“.

A special thanks goes out to Bubba Suess and his Hike Mt. Shasta website for his suggestions and input on our visit to the Mt. Shasta area in July. On that trip we visited four of California’s wilderness areas: Russian (post), Castle Crags (post), Trinity Alps (post), and Mt. Shasta (post). Our visit the the Trinity Alps brought us to the most southerly point while hiking to date. We also reached our highest elevation on that trip when we hiked to the top of Mt. Eddy (post) and saw our first rattle snake along the PCT (post).

We also set a new mark for the western most point reached on a hike when we visited Cape Blanco in May (post).

One way that this year was no different than previous years was that we once again saw and experienced many things for the first time during our hikes. It’s not surprising that we saw new things given that 57 out of our 64 days were comprised of entirely new sections of trail and none of the other 7 were exact repeats. In fact only about 17.2 miles retraced steps from previous hikes which works out to less than 2.5% of our total mileage for the year.

Some new flowers for us included:
Butter and eggsButter and eggs – Yontocket

Possibly tomcat cloverTomcat clover – Rough and Ready Botanical Wayside

dalmatian toadflax along the John Day RiverDalmation toadflax – Cottonwood Canyon State Park

Heart-leafed milkweedHeart-leafed milkweed – Applegate Lake

California groundconeCalifornia groundcones – Jacksonville

GeraniumGeranium – Lost Creek Lake

GeraniumGeranium – Round Mountain

rockfringe willowherbRockfringe willowherb – Mt. Eddy

Leopard lilyLeopard Lily – Trinity Alps Wilderness

There were a few new critters too:
Bullock's OrioleBullock’s Oriole – Cottonwood Canyon State Park

Big Horn SheepBig horn sheep – Cottonwood Canyon State Park

Sheep mothSheep moth – Grasshopper Meadow

Pigeon guillemotPigeon guillemot – Yaquina Bay

EgretEgret – Cape Disappointment State Park

CaterpillarCaterpillar – Cape Disappointment State Park

As is often the case we started and ended our hikes at the coast.
Berry Creek flowing toward the PacificBaker Beach in January

Exposed rocks on Ona BeachOna Beach in December

In between we visited some pretty amazing places. Here are just a few of the highlights:
Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil BedsPalisades – Clarno Unit, John Day Fossil Beds, April

Hedgehog cactusHedgehog Cactus – Spring Basin Wilderness, April

Fern CanyonFern Canyon – Prairie Creek State Park, May

Tall Trees GroveTall Trees Grove – Redwoods National Park, May

Crack in the GroundCrack in the Ground, Christmas Valley, May

Wildflowers on Lower Table RockWildflowers on Lower Table Rock, Medford, June

View to the north from the Bridge Creek WildernessNorth Point – Bridge Creek Wilderness, June

Upper Linton FallsUpper Linton Falls – Three Sisters Wilderness, July

Deadfall Lakes from Mt. EddyView from the Summit of Mt. Eddy, July

Caribou LakeCaribou Lake – Trinity Alps Wilderness, July

Vista Ridge TrailFireweed along the Vista Ridge Trail – Mt. Hood Wilderness, August

Grey back whale seen from Yaquina HeadWhale – Yaquina Head, August

Mt. Adams from Horseshoe MeadowHorseshoe Meadow – Mt. Adams Wilderness, September

Bull elk at Clatsop SpitBull elk – Clatsop Spit, September

View from the Blue Basin Overlook TrailBlue Basin – John Day Fossil Beds, September

Mt. Ireland from Baldy LakeBaldy Lake – North Fork John Day Wilderness, September

Dead Mountain TrailDead Mountain Trail – Willamette National Forest – October

Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood and Mirror LakeMt. Hood from Tom Dick and Harry Mountain – Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, October

Cummins Ridge TrailCummins Creek Wilderness, November

It is only a small sample of the amazing diversity that we are blessed with here in the Pacific Northwest. We are looking forward to discovering more new places next year, hopefully with less disruptions to our plans (including not tossing my camera into any rivers). Happy Trails!

Cottonwood Canyon State Park

We spent Memorial Day Weekend in Bend and on Saturday morning drove up to Cottonwood Canyon State Park along the John Day River. To get there from Bend we drove north on Highway 97 to Wasco then turned onto Highway 206 for 15 miles to the park entrance.

Just after turning onto the entrance road we forked right on a short gravel road to a parking area near the river. The Hard Stone Trail began here.
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This nearly level 1.5 mile path follows the river upstream to Big Eddy, a lazy whirlpool at a bend in the river. The park has very few trees which allows for some wide open views but it also means a real lack of shade. Considering it was already in the low 60’s as we set off on the Hard Stone Trail at 7:30 we knew we were in for a hot hike.
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We spent our time enjoying the views of the canyon cliffs and scanning the sagebrush for flowers and animals including rattle snakes which are seen with some regularity along the John Day. We didn’t see any snakes but we saw a few other critters and a nice variety of flowers.
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The trail, which followed an old road bed, officially ended at Big Eddy which was where we turned back, but the road continues on.

After returning to our car we drove further into the park following signs for the Pinnacles Trail parking area. We set off following signs for the trail. After a short walk through a camping area the path led to a gate with a signboard and trail register.
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A nearby walnut tree offered some cool shade.
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The Pinnacles Trail follows another old road bed along the river downstream a total of 4.3 miles. IMG_0728

The cliffs along the trail were captivating. It was hard not to turn off the trail just to see how far one could get up some of the gullies and side canyons.
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A short distance from the gate the cliffs crowded the trail.
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The cliffs hung over the trail and were home to countless American Cliff Swallows which sped to and from their nests as we passed underneath.
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Just under a mile and half along the trail brought us to a neat old walnut tree where we spotted a colorful lazuli bunting.
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A trail near the tree provides river access and another trail led slightly uphill away from the tree. The sign named this the D & H Trail and indicated that it returned to the Pinnacles Trail further downstream. We decided we’d take it on the return trip after realizing (after way too long a time) that those were our initials, D & H.

As we continued on we passed part of an old fence where we spotted an aptly named western fence lizard.
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We spotted many of the same types of flowers we’d seen along the Hard Stone Trail and a few we hadn’t including some sweet smelling mock orange.
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The Pinnacles Trail is named after some rock outcrops across the river near the 3 mile mark.
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Beyond the Pinnacles the trail bent to the left passing through an open area full of sagebrush before rounding a rocky ridge-end.
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The ridge bowed away from the trail.
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We had talked early about the possibility of spotting larger animals on the hillsides and imagined that most of them would be sticking the the brush filled gullies we had seen along the way. As we were scanning the cliffs below the ridge I spotted what might have been an animal or possibly another rock (I have a real knack for spotting rocks and tree trunks).
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Making use of the camera’s 30x optical zoom allowed me to confirm that is was indeed an animal, in fact it was several animals.
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Going from the optical to the digital zoom gave us a closer look (but grainier picture) of the first big horn sheep we’d spotted on a hike.
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Sure enough they were hanging out in the shaded vegetation. Then we noticed a few more of the sheep passing below the first group. They seemed to be grazing on balsamroot leaves.
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The official trail continued to a narrow area between the cliffs and river.
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A use path continued on but we didn’t see any reason to continue. It was well into the 80’s and we’d seen plenty of great sights already. The sheep had disappeared when we passed back by where we’d seen them but Heather spotted something that was almost as surprising to see as they had been, a mushroom.
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We forked onto the D & H Trail when we reached its eastern end.
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The trail led through the sagebrush just far enough uphill that we were able to avoid what had been a fairly active area for mosquitoes before dropping back down to the Pinnacles Trail by the walnut tree.
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One final sighting of note was a pair of Bullock’s Orioles which we had not seen before.
Bullock's Oriole

The one thing we didn’t see were any snakes which Heather was more than thankful for. I on the other hand was a little disappointed. I have no desire to be close to a rattle snake but at the same time I wouldn’t mind seeing one at a nice safe distance.

It was a great hike despite the warm temperatures but they were a good reminder of why summer may not be the best time for a visit to the park. Winter can also bring strong winds and freezing temperatures, so Spring or Fall probably are the best.

Hiking isn’t the only activity the park has to offer either. Rafting, fishing, mountain bike riding, and horseback riding opportunities exist as well. Whatever your reason for visiting it’s well worth the trip. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Cottonwood Canyon