Tag Archives: elk

Baskett Slough Wildlife Refuge – 05/03/2020

Our “hiking season” has typically coincided with the start of May. This has been a unique year and the current situation with COVID-19 meant that if we were going to stick with our normal starting date we needed to scrap our plans (at least for the first part of our season) and find hikes that are open, nearby, and allow us to recreate responsibly. For our April outing that had meant a long walk around Salem to visit various parks (post). To officially kick off our 2020 season though we opted for a more traditional hike.

Despite living nearby, it had been nearly 10 years since we had done our one and only hike at Baskett Slough Wildlife Refuge. The previous visit was our second hike in July of 2010 which is the year in which we started to get serious about hiking. To change things up from our first visit we chose to start our hike from the Smithfield Road Trailhead (we had started our 2010 from the Baskett Butte Trailhead). Please note that the Smithfield Road Trailhead is closed from October 1 – March 31 to protect wintering wildlife.
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We set off straight ahead from the trailhead and soon were passing Morgan Lake. A couple of heavy rain showers had passed over between 5 and 6:30am but there was some encouraging blue sky overhead as we passed the lake.
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There wasn’t a lot of activity on the lake this morning, just a few mallards, but there were plenty of other birds singing and flying between the trees along the lake, most of which wouldn’t sit still long enough to be photographed.
IMG_2909Mallards

IMG_2905Crow

IMG_2914Sparrow

IMG_2916Guessing some sort of warbler

IMG_2919California quail scattering

After passing Moran Lake the trail headed toward a saddle between two hills. Heather noticed something up on the hillside to our left.
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The camera confirmed it to be a pair of elk.
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She had actually pointed out an area in some grass just a bit earlier that appeared to have been used as beds but we weren’t really expecting to see elk on this hike.

The grassy path that we were on seemed to be a popular breakfast spot for the wildlife. We spotted a couple of rabbits, several quail, and many small birds.
IMG_2941Rabbit with sparrows behind.

IMG_2945Rabbit with a quail behind.

Golden-crowned sparrowsGolden-crowned sparrows

IMG_2955Most of the rabbits we see run off right away but this little guy was pretty brave.

A little before reaching the saddle (a little over 1 1/4 miles from the trailhead) the trail made a nearly 180 degree turn turning from the grassy track to a dirt path that climbed along a wooded hillside. Near the turn we started seeing a few wildflowers.
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Meadow checker-mallowMeadow checker-mallow

IMG_2961Tough-leaved iris

IMG_2969Columbine

IMG_2974Morgan Lake from the trail.

IMG_2975Heading into the woods.

We met another trail user in the woods when we spotted a rough skinned newt.
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IMG_2981Spotted towhee

I had just mentioned to Heather to be on the lookout for Tolmie’s mariposa lilies when we noticed a patch of them on the hillside.
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They were a little watered down but still pretty.
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We came to a signed junction 1.6 miles from the trailhead. A right turn here would keep us on the 3 mile Moffiti Marsh – Morgan Lake Loop while a left turn would lead us .2 miles to the start of another loop and eventually a viewpoint atop Baskett Butte. We went left and headed uphill to a meadow in a saddle.
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In the meadow were a few more types of flowers including lupine and plectritis.
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We were busy looking at the flowers and nearly missed a pair of deer passing through the meadow ahead of us.
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At the far end of the meadow the trail split. Here we turned right and entered a denser wood with lots of underbrush and a few more newts.
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IMG_3041Old tree trunk

IMG_3042Ferns

IMG_3033Woodland stars

Thin-leaf peaThin-leaf pea (and a spider behind the blossoms)

IMG_3043Fringecup

IMG_3030Given their size we believe this was proper social distancing for rough-skinned newts.

The trail left the woods after four tenths of a mile and entered another meadow.
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We spotted several additional types of wildflowers in this meadow all while being serenaded by a western meadowlark.
IMG_3053Western meadowlark

Tomcat cloverTomcat clover

IMG_3056Giant blue-eyed Mary

IMG_3057A checker-mallow surrounded by pale flax

IMG_3059Camas

A tenth of a mile later we arrived at a junction near a signboard.
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The loop continued to the left but we headed right to visit the viewpoint on Baskett Butte and to enjoy the display of wildflowers that lined this stretch of trail.
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IMG_3065Plectritis

Castilleja levisecta - Golden PaintbrushCastilleja levisecta – Golden Paintbrush which historically occurred in the grasslands and prairies of the Willamette Valley. The species had been extirpated from the valley with the last sighting in Oregon occurring in Linn County in 1938. It was reintroduced to various areas starting in 2010 including here at Baskett Slough. In the wetter areas it failed to take but the plant has managed to take hold on Baskett Butte.

There appeared to be at least a couple of different flowers from the mallow family present.
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IMG_3079Larkspur

IMG_3089Biscuitroot

IMG_3083The white patch in the foreground is coastal manroot while the red patch uphill is columbine.

IMG_3091Some of the mass of columbine.

IMG_3104Tolmie’s mariposa lilies

We took a break at the viewpoint listening to ducks and geese in the wetland below.
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Before heading back to the loop we followed a small path east (left) from the viewpoint. The path appeared to go all the way down to one of the refuge roads but it would have taken us out of the way (and left us with even more of a climb back up) so after about 450 feet we turned around. In that little distance though we spotted two more flower types that we hadn’t noticed yet.
IMG_3118Meadow death camas

IMG_3120Oregon sunshine

There was also another nice patch of columbine mixed with some cow parsnip.
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We headed down from Baskett Butte to the junction where we found a swallow sitting on the signboard.
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We turned right back onto the loop and descended for a tenth of a mile to another junction spotting yet another couple of different flowers along the way.

Hairy vetchHairy vetch

IMG_3153Purple sanicle

There was another signboard at this junction where we turned left (the right hand trail led down to the Baskett Butte Trailhead.
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We followed this path three tenths of a mile to the junction where we had started the loop and turned right passing back through the meadow where we’d seen the deer.
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IMG_3162Yarrow starting to bloom.

We didn’t see the deer this time but we did spot the red head of a house finch.
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After passing back through the meadow we came to the signed junction for the Moffiti Marsh – Morgan Lake Loop and veered left down a grassy track.
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There were a few nice flowers along here, nothing that we hadn’t seen already during the hike though. We did however spot some new widlife.
IMG_3175A pair of American goldfinches

IMG_3184Silvery blue butterfly

IMG_3194Common yellowthroat

The grass gave way to gravel as we approached Moffiti Marsh. This time of year the marsh has a pretty good amount of water and judging by the number of ducks, swallows and other birds in the area is much preferred over Morgan Lake by those with feathers. There was also a loud chorus of frogs signing along this path.
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IMG_3197Moffiti Marsh

IMG_3200Great blue heron flying over

IMG_3214Ducks on the water and swallows in the air.

IMG_3215Northern shoveler on the left.

IMG_3219A couple different types of ducks.

The gravel path ended at a gate along Smithfield Road where we turned right on another grassy track.
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It was just a little under a quarter mile back to the trailhead which gave us plenty of time to spot more flowers and wildlife.
IMG_3222Western bluebird

IMG_3229Female western bluebird gathering items for a nest.

IMG_3230Wild rose

IMG_3235Canada geese flying over.

IMG_3236Two pairs of American goldfinches.

IMG_3242Cinnamon teal

IMG_3248Bald eagle flying overhead

IMG_3250Red-winged blackbird

Our route on this day covered a similar area as that of our first visit although we started at a different trailhead and wound up being just a tad under 5 miles. That is where the similarities ended. Our photo album from 2010 consists of a total of 10 photos. There are a few deer, a dragon fly, and a couple of photos from the viewpoint atop Baskett Butte. The album for this hike ended up having 208 photos. The number of different flowers and types of wildlife that we were lucky enough to see exceeded our expectations. We were also lucky enough to escape all but a brief sprinkle of rain.

One caution for the area is that there is a decent amount of poison oak off trail which at this time of year was also looking rather nice even though we wanted nothing to do with it.
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Even though we were only doing this hike due to COVID-19 it wound up being a wonderful morning and a great start to what looks to be a really different hiking season.
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Happy (socially distanced) Trails!

Flickr: Baskett Slough

Zumwalt Prairie Preserve

For our last day of hiking on our Memorial Day weekend trip to NE Oregon we planned on visiting Zumwalt Prairie. Managed by the Nature Conservancy there are four trails open to hikers totaling approximately 9.5 miles combined. We had originally planned on doing all four but for reasons to be explained later we wound up skipping the Canyon Vista Trail this trip.

We had had a mix of weather so far during the trip with a snow shower on Friday (post) and nearly 80 degree temperatures on Saturday (post). Sunday was again up in the air as the forecast called for a 50% chance of showers and possible thunder storms after 11am. We got our typically early morning start and made the 45 minute drive from Wallowa Lake to the the preserve.

As we left Wallow Lake we were surprised to see that the Wallowas were mostly cloud free so on the way to the hikes we decided to start with the viewpoint hikes first in hopes of getting some nice looks at both the Wallowas and the Seven Devils in Idaho. Based on the trailhead locations we thought we might start with the Canyon Vista Trail but as we turned onto Duckett Road and passed Duckett Barn and the information kiosk there we noted how rough and wet the dirt road was. The map of the preserve mentioned that between the turn off for the Harsin Butte Trail and the Canyon Vista Trailhead “high clearance /4wd vehicles are recommended….This road may be impassable at times during the winter or when wet”. We decided that there was no reason to risk getting stuck, especially since there seemed to be quite a bit of fog toward the area where the trail looked to be. When we reached the spur road for the Harsin Butte Trail we turned down it and started our day there.
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Described as sort of a scramble route the Harsin Butte Trail gains just under 700′ in .8 miles to the summit viewpoint. Even before we started climbing though the views were good.
IMG_8266Looking toward the Seven Devils in Idaho

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IMG_8272Findley Buttes (You can see some of the standing water on Duckett Road on the right hand side.)

From a distance and especially while driving it’s a bit difficult to notice all the flowers but once we got onto the trail we realized there were a whole lot of different flowers present.
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IMG_8283Old man’s whiskers

IMG_8286Phlox with larkspur in the background

IMG_8279Cusick’s paintbrush

IMG_8295White-stem frasera

IMG_8290Paintbrush

IMG_8297A wild onion

IMG_8298Larkspur

IMG_8304Milk vetch

IMG_8312Chickweed

IMG_8314Woodland stars

IMG_8311An assortment of flowers

We were following a clear path and could see the continuation of the path going up the side of Harsin Butte so we were a little confused when we passed a couple of rock cairns about a quarter mile from the trailhead.
IMG_8322One of the carins and the trail going up Harsin Butte in the background.

We ignored the cairns and stayed on the clear path.
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After another quarter mile of walking we realized that this was not the trail to the butte, it was heading around the west side of the butte to what looked like a corral instead. We backtracked to the cairns and followed them to find the continuation of the correct path.
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It seemed the higher up we went the more flowers we were spotting.
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One exciting find for us were the monument plants which we don’t get to see all that often.
IMG_8329Monument plant

IMG_8332Top of the monument plant

IMG_8343Shooting star

As we were climbing we noticed that the low clouds behind us seemed to be moving our way fairly quickly. I decided to try and double time it up to the summit in an attempt to avoid being over taken by clouds before getting to see the view. Apparently 3 days of hiking had taken more of a toll on me than I had realized and I was quickly sucking wind. The 5000′ elevation probably wasn’t helping me any and I regretted my decision every time I had to stop to try and catch my breath.
IMG_8347Here comes the clouds.

One of the times that I found myself gasping for air I noticed this rockcress.
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The path led briefly into a stand of pines where game trails crisscrossed and elk sign abounded.
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A few different flowers showed up in this area.
IMG_8353Bluebells

IMG_8426Yellow bell

IMG_8410Violets

IMG_8397Ball-head waterleaf

After a brief disappointment upon realizing there was a false summit I made it up to the actual summit with its solar powered antenna.
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The cloud scare proved to be a false alarm, at least for the moment as they passed to the north of Harsin Butte between it an one of the Findley Buttes.
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There were a few clouds over the Wallowas to the southwest but also some sun shining on the northern end.
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To the southeast the Seven Devils had a similar look.
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After a nice rest (I needed it) at the summit we headed back down. The clouds over the northern end of the Seven Devils lifted a little reveling a little more of the mountains.
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By the time we were finished, with what turned into a 2.1 mile hike, our shoes were pretty well soaked from the dew on the grass but the flowers seemed to love it.
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We didn’t see any elk but we did spot a Belding’s ground squirrel who had popped up to check us out.
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We hopped back in the car and drove back to the Duckett Barn and parked at the information kiosk there.
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Those clouds we’d been watching were starting to move overhead as we set off on Patti’s Trail, a short lollipop loop which began on the opposite side of Duckett Road from the kiosk.
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There weren’t as many flowers along this trail as we had seen on Harsin Butte but there were still quite a few and some that we had not seen during the first hike.
IMG_8481Camas

IMG_8490Old man’s whiskers and white-stem frasera

We followed blue posts and pointers to a fence.
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This area was a bit rockier and had quite a bit of phlox and large head clover.
IMG_8496Lots of phlox

20190526_075112Phlox

IMG_8506Large head clover, larkspur, and wild onion

20190526_075335Large head clover

IMG_8500Wild onion

The trail descended slightly as it approached Camp Creek. Although we still had some clouds passing overhead we had a clear view of the prairie and the flowers we were passing by.
IMG_8513Duckett Barn starting to disappears as we descended.

IMG_8510Possibly hoary balsamroot

IMG_8514Hoary balsamroot?

IMG_8515Phlox

20190526_081858Diffuseflower evening-primrose

IMG_8526Camp Creek

Patti’s Trail followed along Camp Creek to a small pond where red-winged black birds were hanging out.
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Beyond the pond the trail continued following the creek passing more flowers and blackbirds along the way.
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IMG_8529Possibly a mustard

IMG_8536White-stem frasera blooming

20190526_080638Violets

20190526_081638Hairy clematis

IMG_8549Old man’s whiskers

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20190526_082540Cusick’s paintbrush

The trail veered left at a stock pond.
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We paused at the pond and Heather spotted a deer running up a nearby hillside.
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The trail continued to bend back around to the left following what was described as the swale of a dry creek but again with the recent precipitation there was water flowing creating a nice little stream.
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The trail eventually left the creek and was headed straight for Harsin Butte in the distance.
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We’d lost sight of the posts at one point and were just sticking to what appeared to be the main track and ended up veering left of the butte and coming to a small watering hole where the track petered out.
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Looking back from this higher vantage point we could see the next post we should have been aiming for so we backtracked and found another fainter track that put us back on the right course.
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The clouds were breaking up nicely as we ended this hike and the butterflies were coming out.
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After completing the loop and returning to our car we headed back toward Zumwalt-Buckhorn Road and our final hike of the day and trip on the Horned Lark Trail. While we were still on Duckett Road though we spotted a pair of elk running up the Findley Butte near the barn and stopped to get a picture.
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Shortly after turning right onto Zumwalt-Buckhorn Rd we stopped again to get a picture of a Wilson’s snipe. One had flown up from the grass while we were on Patti’s Trail but we hadn’t been able to get a picture of that one.
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When we were finally done with stopping for wildlife we parked at the Horned Lark Trailhead just over 3 miles from Duckett Road.
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This trail was described as an “easy 1.9 mile loop which sounded like a perfect way to end our trip. We began by following a clear double track through the prairie. Lupine was blooming nicely in this area and there was a view of the Wallowa Mountains beyond the Findley Buttes.
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As with Patti’s Trail the route of the Horned Lark Trail was marked by blue posts.
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The trail descended toward a pond near Pine Creek.
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Once again flowers were good supply.
IMG_8642Paintbrush and biscuitroot

IMG_8643A ragwort or groundsel (I think)

IMG_8646False sunflower?

IMG_8648Old man’s whiskers and milk vetch

20190526_094353Western stoneseed

We spotted another ground squirrel ahead in the path.
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He may have been on high alert due to the presence of a merlin nearby.
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IMG_8664I had to dip into the digital zoom to get this photo so it’s a bit blurry.

We followed the path and posts to the fenced pond but the path disappeared near a post a bit beyond the pond.
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We consulted the map that we’d printed out and it appeared to show the trail following a fenceline near Pine Creek so that’s what we did until we were able to spot another post in the distance.
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The fence was popular with the birds.
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We picked up a faint path and followed it toward the post.
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We followed the posts up a draw where the tread was often indiscernible.
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Even now we were still seeing different flowers.
IMG_8707Dwarf yellow fleabane

IMG_8711Blue dicks

Maybe it was simply due to the fact that this was our fourth staight day of hiking and it was early in our hiking season but this loop despite being only 2 miles long didn’t feel easy. The deer that we spotted bounding up and over the hill ahead of use didn’t seem to think it was too difficult though.
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IMG_8717Looking back down the draw.

Back on top we were headed ESE and could see the Seven Devils and Harsin Butte on the horizon.
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The Wallowas were still visible too behind Harsin Butte and the two Findley Buttes (from left to right).
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With the completion of the Horned Lake Trail our total milage for the three hikes came to 6.9 miles. It would have been a bit less had we not followed a couple of wrong paths. Harsin Butte was the most difficult with the 700′ elevation gain followed by the Horned Lark Trail with the easiest being Patti’s Trail. The Canyon Vista Trail which we skipped would have been about 3.6 miles round trip and possibly around 500′ of elevation gain. It was a beautiful place to visit and I guess we have a good reason to go back with one trail left undone.

As we were driving back toward Enterprise we encountered a vehicle stopped in the road. They flagged us down and let us know that they thought there was a golden eagle sitting on a rock on the hillside. Between the distance and the angle of the sun it was hard to tell but then the bird flew and it looked awfully small for a golden eagle. It landed on a telephone pole allowing us to see that it was indeed only a hawk, but it was a nice scene regardless.
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We said goodbye to the Wallowas and drove into Pendleton for the night where, after having been threatened by their possibility all weekend we finally got a thunderstorm. Luckily we had already walked back from our dinner at OMG! Burgers and Brew where we had another excellent meal. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Zumwalt Prairie

Barklow Mountain and Bullards Beach

When we changed our plans from a backpacking trip in the Diamond Peak Wilderness to a long weekend in Bandon one of the more exciting prospects was being able to check off a visit to our 38th Oregon Wilderness Area – the Copper-Salmon Wilderness. We had attempted to visit that particular wilderness in 2017 but a washed out road denied us access to the Barklow Mountain Northeast Trailhead (post)

For this trip we would be using the Barklow Mountain West Trailhead. We used the Oregonhikers.com field guide entry here to reach the trailhead. The guide mentions that the road is prone to rockfall and slides and that it is best to wait for the dry months of Summer to attempt to reach the trailhead. Based on the conditions we encountered along the roads that is not an understatement.
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Prior to reaching the vehicular obstacle course that was the Forest Service Roads we spotted a small elk herd and a number of deer along Elk River Road. It was still a bit dark for pictures but we did our best from the idling car.
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We parked at the small pullout that is the trailhead after a long drive (time wise) that included stopping a couple of times to remove small trees from the road and also at the junction with FR 390 because the 390 post was in the center of a fork and we didn’t want to be on that road but we couldn’t tell which one the post was referring to. (Hint – The left fork was FR 390 so we went right.)
IMG_2791Barklow Mountain West Trailhead

The Barklow Mountain Trail dropped slightly from a closed road bed and quickly entered the Copper-Salmon Wilderness.
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The forest along the trail was a mix of tanoak and madrone and some sections with fir and pine.
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Not unlike the roads to the trailhead there were a few obstacles to maneuver around.
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After a mile and a half of climbing, the trail arrived at a saddle junction.
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The trail to the left led to Johnson Creek Road.
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The trail to the right was the one we wanted. This trail would lead up up to the old lookout site atop Barklow Mountain.
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Approximately .3 miles beyond the junction we came to an unmarked side trail heading downhill to the right.
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This short spur trail led down to the site of a now collapsed shelter.
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Beyond the shelter the trail steepened a bit as it wound beneath Barklow Mountain.
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We passed through a patch of manzanita where we had a nice view south of nearby Copper Mountain.
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A total of .4 miles from the old shelter we arrived at an unsigned junction on a ridge. Here we turned left to visit the lookout site.
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From the lookout site we could barely make out the Pacific to the SW along with Grassy Knob (post).
IMG_2836Grassy Knob is on the horizon just to the left of the near trees.

IMG_2838Copper Mountain from the lookout site.

After a break we headed back to the car and navigated the obstacle course again. Fortunately we did not encounter any other cars until we were clear of the mess. We then drove back to Bandon, passed through town, and continued north on Highway 101 for three miles to the signed turn for Bullards Beach State Park.

We parked at the beach access parking lot which is located 1.3 miles from the highway.
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Our plan was to hike a clockwise loop along the Coquille River, the north jetty, and the beach. From the parking lot we headed inland on a paved path signed for the campground.
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We followed this path until we had crossed the entrance to the Bullards Beach Horse Camping Area.
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Just beyond that entrance (.4 miles from the beach parking area) we turned right off the paved path and crossed the paved park entrance road onto a dirt road which led us down to the Coquille River.
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There was no actual trail along the river so we spent most of the next 2 miles walking along the sandy river bank. We were forced inland a couple of times in order to cross water on logs.
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There was a lot of activity on the river between boats and birds.
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As we neared the north jetty across from Bandon’s Old Downtown we turned inland at a sandy gap which led to a gravel road.
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We followed this road for .4 miles staying left at a fork on a grassy track.
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The road bed ended at the Coquille River Lighthouse. An Army Corps of Engineers ship was busily going back and forth near the mouth of the river.
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Once past the lighthouse we continued out along the north jetty for .2 miles.
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It was a much better day visibility wise than the previous one had been and from the jetty we got a decent look at some of the Bandon Islands on the other side of the river.
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The view north was much less rocky.
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After partaking of the view we headed back, hopping off the jetty and onto Bullards Beach.
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After 1.5 miles along the beach we turned inland and climbed over the foredune to the beach access parking area.
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After a shower and change of clothes we found ourselves wandering through the old downtown again. When it was time for dinner we decided to go back to Foley’s Irish Pub. After another good meal there and desert from Pastries and Pizzas we turned in for the night. We had agreed that Bandon had quickly become one of our favorite coastal towns and were already looking forward to our next visit. Happy Trails!

Flirck: Barklow Mountain and Bullards Beach

Baldy Lake

At the beginning of our vacation the forecast had called for Tuesday to be the coldest and wettest day of the week and then Wednesday and Thursday were expected to be a bit warmer with decreasing chances of precipitation and by Thursday afternoon partly sunny skies. By Tuesday that had all changed and a second weather system was following up the first. Wednesday morning was expected to be a little warmer than Tuesdayย  meaning less chance of snow on our drive to the trailhead but as the second system moved in that day more precipitation was expected and now there was a chance of isolated thunderstorms.

The good news in that forecast was we had no issues getting to the Baldy Creek Trailhead in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. The Baldy Creek Trail set off from a small campground and promptly crossed the North Fork John Day River on a log footbridge.
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We then entered the North Fork John Day Wilderness.
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The 121,099 acre wilderness is made up of four separate areas with this being the third we’d visited during our vacation but the first in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. The other two, Olive Lake and the North Fork John Day River, were in the Umatilla National Forest.

The trail passed through a nice, albeit wet, forest for just over a mile before reaching the first of several crossings of Baldy Creek.
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After crossing Baldy Creek the trail almost immediately crossed Bull Creek before entering a small section of forest recovering from a fire.
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We had enough of a view from the area of the fire to get an idea of where the snow line was. We knew going in that we would be hitting snow at some point on the hike since Baldy Lake sat at an elevation just over 7000′ plus the forecast called for 2-4 inches of snow during the day.
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Not long after crossing Bull Creek we recrossed Baldy Creek on a footbridge where we noticed a small amount of snow between the logs.
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As we made our way uphill along the creek the amount of snow on the ground slowly increased.
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In the next three miles the trail crossed Baldy Creek four more times. There were footbridges at all of the crossings but several of them were in such a state that it was easier to find a different way across the water.
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Beyond the final bridge the trail veered away from Baldy Creek and began climbing a bit more. As we climbed we found more and more snow on the trail and the trees.
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At the 5 mile mark we passed a trail sign at a junction.
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We were loving the winter scenery, it was such a welcome sight after a summer full of wildfires. On top of the snow on the ground and in the trees it had started snowing a bit. I mentioned that the only thing that could make it better would be to see a deer or even better an elk in the snow. Not five minutes later I looked up the trail and saw an elk cow staring back at me.
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She disappeared into the trees but then a second cow and two calves stepped onto the trail.
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The trail was now winding around a hillside with several small streams which seemed to be attracting the wildlife. The elk had been at one of these streams and not too much further at another stream was a varied thrush and some grouse.
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Our hike the day before along the North Fork John Day River had felt like fall but now we were in a winter wonderland.
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We crossed a greatly diminished Baldy Creek then came to a junction with a trail coming from Silver Creek Road.
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Baldy Lake was approximately a quarter mile from the junction.
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It was just a bit foggy when we arrived at the lake making it impossible to see the cliffs beyond the lake including Mt. Ireland.
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We found a log and brushed off the snow so we could take a seat and enjoy the lake. The wind was really blowing along the ridge above the lake but it was calm along the water and not particularly cold.
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We hadn’t been sitting there long when the clouds started to lift revealing the lookout tower atop the 8321′ Mt. Ireland.
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Our original plans had called for us to hike up to the lookout on Mt. Ireland at some point during the week but given the conditions we had decided to save that hike for another trip, so for now getting to see it from the lake would have to suffice.

We finally started to get chilly just sitting there so we tore ourselves away from the lake and headed back. It was snowing pretty hard as we made our way back down and we could see the difference along the trail.
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We eventually left the snow behind which ironically made me colder. My feet and hands had stayed relatively dry in the snow but now they were starting to get wet. My hands, without gloves (I’m a slow learner), froze when a brief round of hail passed over. We picked up our pace eager to get to a heated car.

As we passed by the old fire area a little blue sky was visible.
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By the time we’d reached the trailhead there was quite a bit more blue allowing us to bask in a little warm sunshine.
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It had been a 14 mile hike that took us a few months into the future when winter snows will be here to stay. Getting to see the elk had been a big bonus to what was a great hike and fun adventure. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Baldy Lake

Mount Margaret Backcountry – South Coldwater Trailhead to Obscurity Lake

The only backpacking trip that we had planned for this year which required a permit was an overnight stay in the Mount Margaret Backcountry near Mt. St. Helens. The area is part of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, displaying the effects of the 1980 eruption. The lateral blast from the eruption shattered trees toppling thousands of acres of forest.

Camping is limited to designated sites at eight backcountry camps where the maximum group size for camping is four. Pets and pack stock are prohibited in the Mount Margaret Backcountry and fires are not allowed. We made our reservation for Obscurity Camp on March 19th, the day the permits became available.

One drawback of a permit system is not having any idea what the weather is going to be like on the days you reserve. We were looking at the chance of showers and maybe even a thunderstorm as we were hiking out, but we liked our odds and we had spent a whole $6.00 on the permit so we decided to give it a go. It was a wet drive to the South Coldwater Trailhead which is located along the Spirit Lake Highway (SR 504).
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Starting at Norway Pass would have made it a shorter hike but where is the fun in that? It also would have been a longer drive. Our plan was a lollipop route using the South Coldwater Trail 230A, Coldwater Trail 230, Boundary Trail 1, and Lakes Trail 211. We had been on some of the trails in 2013 during a May hike around Coldwater Lake, but that hike had been early enough in the season that there had been very little vegetation and almost no flowers. It was evident from the flowers at the trailhead that we’d be seeing different sights this time around.
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We were under the clouds as we set off on the trail which passed through a short section of woods before emerging into wildflower filled meadows.
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Although the clouds limited the view we were able to see back down to the South Coldwater Creek Valley where we spotted several elk.
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The trail then crossed over the ridge we were climbing providing views of Coldwater Lake.
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The wildflowers were thick along the trail, but we were starting to enter the cloud bank and quickly losing our visibility.
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The trail continued to climb along the ridge passing a couple of pieces of old machinery that is left over from the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.
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We were now in the midst (or mist) of the clouds. At least it wasn’t raining and despite the low visibility there were still plenty of flowers along the trail to see and there were a couple of snowshoe hares out having breakfast.
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The hares weren’t the only ones enjoying some snacks. A variety of ripe berries offered us a nice selection of treats.
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After 3.2 miles we arrived at Tractor Junction. Named for another piece of nearby equipment, this junction marks the end of the South Coldwater Trail at it’s intersection with the Coldwater Trail.
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We turned right at the junction and headed toward the Boundary Trail which was just over 2 miles away. After .2 miles we passed Ridge Camp, one of the designated camps in the area.
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The wildflowers were once again impressive along this trail, but the visibility was even worse. We focused on finding as many different flowers as we could.
Tiger lilies
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Lupine, paintbrush and yellow wildflowers
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Large patch of paintbrush
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Arnica
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Bugbane
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Corydalis
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Columbine
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Scouler’s bluebell
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An aster or fleabane
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Pussypaws
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Mock orange
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Bistort
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Another type of aster or fleabane
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Violets
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Orange agoseris
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Spirea
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Cat’s ear lily
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Avalanche lily
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We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the junction with the Boundary Trail overlooking St. Helens Lake. We had suddenly found a little blue sky and some better visibility.
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Coldwater Peak was to our left and seemed to be acting as a cloud break.
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While we were watching the clouds swirl around the back side of Coldwater Peak we noticed a mountain goat on the cliffs below the summit.
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We took a nice long break at the junction watching the mountain goat and the ever changing clouds. When we finally set off again we passed by Coldwater Peak in sunlight.
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We had some great views of St. Helens Lake below us as we passed the spur trail to Coldwater Peak after .4 miles.
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The trail the continued around the lake with views opening up to Spirit Lake below St. Helens Lake.
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For the next 3 plus miles the clouds came and went as the drifted over the ridge down toward Spirit Lake.
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There was more snow along this section of trail and we started seeing more flowers that bloom soon after snow melt.
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Cinquefoil
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Cusick’s speedwell
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White heather
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Avalanche lilies
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Cat’s ear lily
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We crossed our first snowfield near The Dome, which was mostly hidden by the clouds.
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It was a bit of a shame that we couldn’t see more of the surrounding area because the peaks and cliffs we could see where really neat.
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The view downhill was a little better and we got a decent look at the outlet of St. Helens Lake, a log jam on Spirit Lake, and some elk in the valley.
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We had skipped the .6 mile trail up to the summit of Coldwater Peak not wanting to make that climb with our full packs on a day when the visibility wasn’t great, but when we reached the shorter spur trail to the summit of Mt. Margaret we decided to head up. Unlike Coldwater Peak we had not been up this trail before so even if we didn’t have a view we couldn’t pass it up. The view from Mt. Margaret turned out to not be too bad. We could see Spirit Lake fairly well and the Boundary Trail below the peak. Other nearby peaks occasionally emerged from the clouds.
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We could see some spots where mountain goats had been on a nearby ledge but no goats, just a swallowtail butterfly.
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We took a nice long break and had some lunch on Mt. Margaret. As we were preparing to start hiking again we could hear people coming up the Boundary Trail, lots of people. Heather counted nearly 30 folks emerging from the trees below. We made it back to the junction with the Boundary Trail just as the first of these other hikers were arriving. The majority of them turned out to be members of the Mazamas, a nonprofit Mountaineering Education Organization based in Portland, Oregon.

After passing through the Mazamas we crossed another nice snowfield and reached a junction with the Whittier Ridge Trail.
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The Whittier Ridge Trail was not on our to-do list on this hike. The trail is narrow and in places along exposed cliffs where the rocks had to be blasted to create a trail at all. Recent reports from members of the Oregon Hikers forum reported some snow still along the trail as well and with little visibility it wasn’t even tempting. We continued on the Boundary Trail getting our first view of some the lakes in the Mt. Margaret Backcountry.
Boot and Obscurity Lakes
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We had been gradually descending since Mt. Margaret and the visibility was getting better the lower we got.
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Along the way we spotted another mountain goat not far above the trail.
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As we got closer it crossed the trail and disappeared over the hillside leaving us with just it’s smell. (And boy did it smell)

We had been working our way around Spirit Lake and were now just to the NE of it. Mt. St. Helens lay directly behind the lake but only the lowest portions were visible. What we could see was Windy Ridge on the Mountain’s flank.
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Two miles from the Whittier Ridge Trail we arrived at the junction with the Lakes Trail at Bear Pass.
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The Lakes Trail descended from Bear Pass toward Grizzly Lake.
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A trail crew from the Washington Trails Association was busy brushing out the trail and restoring the tread along this section. They were doing some impressive work and we thanked them as we passed by.

Between Grizzly Lake and our final destination at Obscurity Lake were more wildflowers including a few we hadn’t seen yet that day.
Partridge foot and paintbrush
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Penstemon and candyflower
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Pink monkeyflower
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Blue-bells of Scotland
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Fireweed
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Bleeding heart
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As we approached Obscurity Lake a waterfall was visible along the outlet creek of the lake.
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We finally arrived at Obscurity Lake after almost 16 miles of hiking.
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We thought the hard part was over but then we went in search of the designated camp site. We found one tent pad already occupied and began looking for a second one. When I had made the reservation on the Recreation.gov website there had been 2 available permits for up to 4 people. There were several areas where tents had obviously been placed in the past but we couldn’t find any other tent pad or post marking another designated site. The hikers from the other tent said they had not been able to find a second one either so we picked what seemed like the most likely spot where there was no vegetation to trample and set up the tent.
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We hoped that we had picked the right spot and figured if we hadn’t and a ranger came along we’d just ask them where the other designated site was and move there if we had chosen poorly. Oddly enough a third tent had appeared when we awoke the next morning. I don’t know if they were possibly with the Forest Service, but if they weren’t someone was not where they should have been.

Regardless of the confusion over the camp sites the day had been pretty spectacular. The showers had never materialized and between the wildflowers, wildlife, and scattered views we did get we’d been totally entertained. The clouds just made us more eager to come back again someday in the future so we could see what we missed this time around. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157668318616563

Fort-To-Sea Trail – Fort Clatsop

We have officially started our 2016 hikes. As we have done for the past several years we headed to the Oregon Coast for our first hike of the year. Our goal this time was to hike the Fort-To-Sea Trail following a route initially blazed by Lewis and Clark in 1805 from Fort Clatsop to the ocean. Fort Clatsop was built near what is now the Lewis and Clark River and the Fort-To-Sea Trail was used by the expedition to gather salt by boiling saltwater. The area is now part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park complete with a replica of the original fort.

We decided to start our hike at the Sunset Beach Recreation Site near the ocean north of Gearhart, OR. From there we would take the trail to Fort Clatsop and back. Things got off to a rocky start at the trailhead when we found the restrooms devoid of toilet paper and discovered that I had not yet switched our toiletry supplies from my backpack to my daypack. After a quick trip back to Gearhart for supplies we were back at the trailhead and ready to begin.
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Before heading to Fort Clatsop we headed toward the ocean on the Fort-To-Sea Trail. There used to be a viewing deck overlooking the ocean 1/3 of a mile from the parking area but it has been removed leaving a sandy circle on the grassy dune.
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The Sun was still rising behind us creating some nice colors on the western horizon.
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After returning to the trailhead we headed inland toward Fort Clatsop which was 6.2 miles away. The first portion of the trail passed through storm damaged trees skirting several bodies of water. Ducks paddled about on the water as it reflected the colors of the sunrise.
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The path then led up and over a small sandy hill and down to an arched bridge over Neacoxie Lake.
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To the SE of the lake was the Astoria Country Club’s golf course, a popular morning stop for elk. We hadn’t seen any elk during our hikes in 2015, but on the far side of the course on a small hill were three.
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We watched them for a bit from the bridge as they made their way along the hillside.
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Beyond the bridge the trail passed through a mile and a half of pastures. The fenced route was well marked as the trail led to East Neacoxie Lake.
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Smaller than Neacoxie Lake, East Neacoxie Lake was full of wildlife. A pair of Bald Eagles watched over the many ducks and small birds enjoying the lake.
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The trail crossed this lake on a floating bridge.
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As we were making our way across something swam out from under the bank near the far end of the bridge. Our minds immediately went to otter or beaver, neither of which we have spotted yet during a hike. Instead it turned out to be a nutria, a large rat-like semiaquatic rodent considered an invasive species by the ODFW.
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The trail then led past a pioneer church and cemetery to an underpass of Highway 101.
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After passing under the highway and skirting another field we crossed the Skipanon River before heading into a forest.
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At the 4.7 mile mark we reached the Clatsop Ridge Overlook which was a nice ocean viewpoint with a picnic table and several benches.
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From the viewpoint the trail followed old roads down to the Fort Clatsop Visitor Center.
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We passed through the center and continued 100 yards to the replica fort.
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We were surprised at just how small a structure the fort was especially considering it was home to 33 people for 106 days. We spent some time poking around the fort and checking out the other nearby displays.
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A 200 yard path led from the fort down to the site of the expedition’s canoe landing.
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We could have turned back here and retraced our steps, but the park has several other trails which allow for various loop options. From the canoe landing we followed the Netul Trail south along the river. Part of the year a shuttle bus stop along this trail allows hikers to ride back to the fort or back to Sunset Beach. We were heading for the South Slough Trail though which we could take back to the Fort-To-Sea Trail. This trail loop around a slough filled with ducks and a couple of red-tailed hawks.
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The South Slough Trail was the only trail marked as difficult on the park maps. It headed steeply uphill from the Netul Trail but the climb didn’t last long. The trail wound around the slough to a signed junction with the only real viewpoint of the trail.
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From this junction we could take the Lower South Slough Trail downhill to the Fort-To-Sea Trail about a half mile from the Visitor Center, or the Upper South Slough Trail which would meet the Fort-To-Sea Trail closer to a mile from the center. We took the upper option and made our way back to the Fort-To-Sea Trail and then took a second detour. Earlier that day just after entering the forest there was a signed trail forking left from the Fort-To-Sea Trail. It was named the Kwis Kwis Trail and it wasn’t shown in our guidebook or on any of the park maps we’d seen. The park maps did show a trail by that name but that trail showed as a wide arc leading from the Fort-To-Sea Trail near the junction with the Upper South Slough Trail and rejoining the Fort-To-Sea Trail about a third of a mile from the Visitor Center. Given the name and the fact that the signage for the mystery trail matched those of the park we theorized that it was a newer trail. We had also spotted sections of trail from the Fort-To-Sea Trail on the way up to the overlook which we suspected to be part of this trail.

From the Upper South Slough Trail junction we headed east on the Fort-To-Sea Trail to the signed Kwis Kwis Trail junction.
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This trail also followed an old roadbed. After winding downhill for a little more than .3 miles we spotted a sign for the Kwis Extension.
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We turned up this path which ran roughly parallel to the Fort-To-Sea Trail at a lower elevation. This was indeed the path we had seen earlier. A nice long boardwalk traversed a large marshy area before rejoining the Fort-To-Sea Trail in the forest near the Skipanon River.
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From there we retraced our steps along the Fort-To-Sea Trail to the Sunset Beach Trailhead. Later we learned the Kwis Kwis Trail Extension was completed in 2014. The scenery and wildlife along the trails were both quite varied, and the history surrounding the area made it a very interesting hike. The various loops and trail distances make this a great option for hikers of any age. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157662826694040

Midnight & Yoran Lakes – Diamond Peak Wilderness

Our final October hike brought us to the Diamond Peak Wilderness for our second ever visit. This 52,611 acre wilderness is home to numerous lakes and 8,744′ Diamond Peak. Our plan for this visit was to start at the Trapper Creek Trailhead and take the Yoran Lake Trail to Yoran Lake then head cross-country to the Pacific Crest Trail returning on a loop past Midnight Lake. It was a rainy drive for most of the morning but we arrived at the West Odell lake Access off Highway 58 under clouds that were beginning to break up. Parking for the trail is located across from the Shelter Cove Resort next to some railroad tracks.
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The actual trail started on the far side of the tacks and quickly entered the wilderness.
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Just a short while after entering the wilderness the trail split. The left fork led to Diamond View Lake and the right to the Yoran Lake Trail.
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We took the right hand fork which briefly followed Trapper Creek passing a small waterfall just before crossing the creek on a footbridge.
Small waterfall on Trapper Creek

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The trail split again at the Yoran Lake Trail which headed uphill to the left while the path on the right led to Pengra Pass and the PCT. We began the steady climb up to Yoran Lake as a little fog rolled through the forest.
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Yoran and Midnight Lakes were only two of several lakes we were going to be visiting on the hike as well as a number of smaller ponds. We came to the first small lake after 3 miles on the Yoran Lake Trail.
Unnamed Lake along the Yoran Lake Trail

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In another mile we arrived at Karen Lake.
Karen Lake

On a clearer day we would have had a great view of Diamond Peak but we had to settle for some briefs peeks of the peak.
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Just to the NW of Karen Lake we found Yoran Lake at the end of the Yoran Lake Trail. Diamond Peak was again hidden by the clouds, but we had a little better view of Mt. Yoran.
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Yoran Lake

We made our way around the lake to the northern end where there was a pair of small islands.
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We left the lake shore when we passed the second island, crossing a pretty little inlet creek, and headed true north toward the PCT.
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At first we were following a faint path but we lost the tread as we passed by a pair of small ponds.
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A couple of quick checks of the GPS showed we were on course to arrive at Liles Lake which lies next to the PCT. Our guidebook said to go around the left side of the lake but we arrived closer to the right side. We picked up a trail going around the lake and decided to just follow it around that side.
Lils Lake

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It looked like the right side might be difficult to go around earlier in the year when the water level would have been higher but we had no problem following the path and hooking up with the PCT on the north side of the lake. We turned right and started downhill passing some small ponds and passing through some interesting forest.
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The next lake we came to was Hidden Lake.
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We passed several more pretty little ponds between Hidden Lake and the next named lake which was Arrowhead Lake. It was pretty clear why this forest is full of mosquitoes most of July and August with ponds and lakes seemingly everywhere.
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We almost passed by Arrowhead Lake waiting for a clear path to it, but when we didn’t find one we made our own. We were glad we did because this lake had some of the prettiest water we had seen that day.
Arrowhead Lake

Continuing down the PCT from Arrowhead Lake we passed a rock that Heather dubbed Gorilla Rock due to it’s interesting shape. She thought it looked like a gorillas head and arm.
Gorrilla Rock - named by Heather

Shortly after passing the rock we spotted movement through the trees further down the trail. I thought we’d seen another person or dog coming up the trail and then we saw a second flash of color which we could tell was an elk. A total of four elk cows had crossed the trail and passed in virtual silence through the forest and over a small ridge. I was snapping pictures every time one appeared through the trees but I never got more than the back half of one.
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The final named lake we visited was Midnight Lake.
Midnight Lake

We stopped at one final unnamed lake/pond before arriving at Pengra Pass.
Small lake/pond along the PCT in the Diamond Peak Wilderness

We left the PCT at Pengra Pass and followed an old road right .4 miles where a trail split off from the right hand shoulder.
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It was only another .6 miles back to the Yoran Lake Trail and .7 more back to our car. On our way home we made a pit stop at Salt Creek Falls, the previous hike we’d taken in the Diamond Peak Wilderness. https://wanderingyuncks.wordpress.com/2013/07/07/salt-creek-falls/
Salt Creek Falls

All the lakes were very nice and we are hoping to do some backpacking in the area sometime. Diamond Peak is a non-technical climb and there are trails all the way around the mountain making for numerous possible destinations. More ideas for future trips ๐Ÿ™‚ Happy Trails!

flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157648430549439/
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10205280662043261.1073741917.1448521051&type=1

June Lake

One of the things that makes for a good hike is variety. We have often commented on how much variety can be packed into just several miles of hiking. The terrain, vegetation, wildlife and views can vary drastically in a relatively short distance. That was the case on our most recent hike in the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

We had toyed with the idea of making this an overnight trip but the uncertainty of suitable water sources gave us pause so we amended our plans to make a day hike out of it. We stuck with our original plan to start at the June Lake trail head and headed up to the Loowit Trail from there. Originally we planed on turning right on the Loowit and heading over to the Plains of Abraham to find a camp spot and then explore further on down to Loowit Falls, but that would be too far for a day hike so instead we decided to go left and check out Dryer Creek Meadows.

It was a cloudy morning as we set off on the June Lake Trail. From the trail head it was a mere 1.3 miles to June Lake on a nice wide trail that gently climbed through a forest with plenty of ripe berries to snack on.
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We were surrounded by fog when we arrived at June Lake which made it difficult to get a good view of the 40′ waterfall that falls on the far shore of the lake.
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While exploring the small lakes shore we spotted a couple of frogs in the muddy water.
Frogs at June Lake

The best view of the falls came from a side trail at the north end of the lake shortly after a switchback. The reflection of the falls created the illusion of water both falling and rising to the surface of the lake.
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About a quarter mile from the side trail we arrived at the junction with the Loowit Trail which circles the entire mountain on a 29.5 mile loop. We turned right and quickly emerged from the forest and began crossing the first of three lava flows that make up the “Worm Flows”. Unlike some of the other lava fields we have hiked over there was no visible trail in many places, just a series of posts and rock cairns to aim for.
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It meant a lot of rock hopping and scouting for the best looking route to the next marker. While we were working on making our way over the lava the clouds began to give way and we were treated to a clear view of Mt. St. Helens.
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Mt. St. Helens

After crossing the Worm Flows the trail began descending into Swift Creeks canyon where we would find Chocolate Falls. On our way down a colorful western tanager posed for some pictures.
Western Tanager
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Before reaching swift creek we passed through a small pocket of vegetation.
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We were happy to find water flowing over Chocolate Falls as Swift Creek often dries up overnight and doesn’t begin flowing again until after 11AM on some days.
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We took a snack break at the falls and while we were relaxing we were joined by what I think was the same western tanager who decided it was time for a bath.
Western Tanager
Western Tanager

We continued on the Loowit Trail from Swift Creek and began a steep climb that passed through forest and meadows. We also were treated to a great view of Mt. Adams and a descent view of Mt. Hood looming above the clouds.
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Mt. Adams
Mt. Hood
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Meadow filled with nuttall’s linanthus
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Mt. Adams from one of the meadows
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Passing through a meadow
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Mt. Hood from the meadow
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Mountain heather and a blue copper butterfly
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Two miles from Chocolate Falls we crossed the Ptarmigan Trail which climbs up Monitor Ridge to the Rim of Mt. St. Helens.
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We have a date with that trail later this year.

We crossed the trail and shortly came to the edge of another lava flow. A doe was making her way up toward Monitor Ridge showing off her superior rock hopping skills.
Doe
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This crossing was .9 miles of post to post travel.
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From this section we had a great view of Mt. St. Helens, Monitor Ridge, and the Green Knob.
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After navigating the lava flow we were once again in a forest. This one was drier and the trees more sparse than the previous sections we’d passed through. Cicadas chirped loudly from the pine trees and scattered flowers dotted the sandy landscape.
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The trail then began alternating between trees and meadows.
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As we came around a corner I noticed something peering out of a tree further up along the trail.
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A bull elk emerged and gave us a quick look before heading downhill deeper into the trees.
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Elk

We turned around at the dry Dryers Creek and retraced our steps back toward Chocolate Falls.
Mt. St. Helens from the dry bed of Dryers Creek
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Mt. Adams had been hidden by clouds while Mt. Hood had nearly fully emerged from them.
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There was evidence of the increased afternoon snow melt when we arrived back at Chocolate Falls.
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Chocolate Falls
We took our shoes and socks off and soaked our feet for a bit in the creek before setting off from the falls. When we did get going we left the Loowit Trail and turned right along Swift Creek on the Swift Ski Trail.
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Chocolate Falls and Mt. St. Helens

It was an easy trail to follow and we quickly descended .5 miles to the Pika Ski Trail which we took and headed back toward June Lake.
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The Pika Trail was easy to follow for the first few tenths of a mile plus it was lined with ripe blueberries, huckleberries, and a few strawberries.
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The easy trail didn’t last long though as we still had to cross part of the Worm Flows to return to June Lake. The crossing here was the most difficult of the day as there was no sign of any trail at all and the few orange poles ended halfway across the lava flow.
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Luckily from the final pole June Lake was visible on the other side of the flow.
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We headed for the lake and eventually made it down to the sandy bed of a dry creek which we climbed out of and returned to the June Lake Trail. The lake was clear now so we stopped to get some unobstructed photos of the waterfall and lake before beginning the final leg of our hike.
June Lake

We took our time on the final 1.3 miles partly due to being tired from all the rock hopping and partly because we were picking berries as we went. The hike had totaled 13.4 miles and in that distance we’d passed two waterfalls, a lake, several creeks (dry and flowing), through several sections of forest, multiple meadows, and over four different lava flows. We’d seen an elk, a deer, chipmunks, golden-mantled squirrels, frogs, and various birds. We sampled at least 6 different kinds of berries, saw a variety of wildflowers, and had views of three cascade volcanoes. It had been worth the effort. Happy Trails!

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Iron Mountain and the Meadows of Cone Peak

July means wildflowers in the Old Cascades, the eroded peaks that are now the western foothills of the Cascade Mountains. We were headed over to Bend, OR for the 4th of July weekend so we seized the opportunity to check out a couple of the hikes on the way over and back. On the way over to Bend we decided to revisit Iron Mountain, a hike we had done in 2010 during the final week of July. We missed the wildflower peak that year by a couple of weeks so we hoped we would be hitting the area at a better time this visit.

On our previous visit we did the loop clockwise by starting at the trailhead located on road 15 and heading up Iron Mountain first then through the meadows on Cone Peak. This time around we parked at Tombstone Pass and headed counter-clockwise in order to hopefully have the meadows to ourselves before the trail got crowded.
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We took a short detour on the Tombstone Nature Trail that circled around a meadow with flowers and a view of Iron Mountain.
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After finishing the nature trail we crossed Highway 20 and started climbing up the Cone Peak Trail. We started seeing flowers almost immediately. It seemed every open area had an assortment of different flowers.
Lupine, Columbine & Thimbleberry
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Wild Rose
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Columbine
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Larkspur
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Penstemon & Blue Gilia
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Cat’s Ear Lily
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Woolly Sunflower
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Flower variety
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Columbia Windflower
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Wallflower
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Paintbrush & Larkspur
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More variety packs
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We’d already lost count of the number of different flower types we’d seen by the time we got to the main meadow 1.2 miles from the highway crossing. In the meadow we found even more types of flowers as well as views of Cone Peak and Iron Mountain.
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Cone Peak
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Cone Flower
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Giant Blue-eyed Mary
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Iron Mountain
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Scarlet Gilia
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We’d been hearing some elk off and on while we were in the meadow and as we were exploring a rocky outcrop Dominique noticed some brown spots in a meadow up on Iron Mountain. There were 7 elk moving through the brush grazing on the vegetation as they went.
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We left the meadow and reentered the forest as we wound our way around Iron Mountain to the junction with the Iron Mountain Lookout Trail. There were still flowers everywhere and now we were starting to get views of the snowy Cascade Mountains.
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Mt. Hood
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Mt. Jefferson
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The Three Sisters
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At the site of the former lookout is a railed observation deck and bench which allowed for a relaxing rest as we took in the 360 degree view which spanned from Mt. Adams to Diamond Peak.
Mt. Adams & Mt. Hood
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Mt. Jefferson beyond Cone Peak and the top of Three Fingered Jack behind Crescent Mountain
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Mt. Washington
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The Three Sisters, Mt. Bachelor & The Husband
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Diamond Peak
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The view was so good even a hummingbird took a break from the penstemon to take it in.
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We headed back down to the trail junction and continued on our loop passing more flowers, recrossing Highway 20, and returning to Tombstone Pass on the Old Santiam Wagon Road.
Beargrass
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Bunchberry & Queens Cup
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The flowers had certainly been better than on our previous visit and it looked like they would be pristine for another week or two. It was a great way to start a holiday weekend. Happy Trails!

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Coldwater Lake & The Hummocks

We ended our “Creek Week” vacation by changing things up a bit and heading to the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument hoping to see some snowy mountains. Our creek theme wasn’t totally abandoned though. Our destination was Coldwater Lake which was formed during the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption when Coldwater Creek was blocked by debris from the mountain. The creek still flows into and out of the lake on it’s way to the North Fork Toutle River.

The slide that created Coldwater Lake also created the Hummocks which are piles of rock, ash, and other debris that was washed down and deposited along the Toutle River. A 2.5 mile trail loops through these mounds and that was where we decided to start our hike. Our plan was to hit that popular trail first before it got crowded then walk back along the shoulder of Highway 504 for a quarter mile to the entrance to Coldwater Lake and once there either do an 8.8mi out and back to a footbridge over Coldwater Creek or continue over the bridge on a longer loop up and around the lake. We decided to wait until we got closer to the bridge before choosing which option we would take.

It was quite foggy when we arrived at the trailhead for the Hummocks loop making it pretty clear that we wouldn’t be seeing Mt. St. Helens for awhile at least.
The Hummocks trailhead

The scenery along the trail deserved our attention anyway with many ponds and streams nestled between the various mounds.
Ducklings on one of the ponds
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As we were making our way through the strange landscape we spotted some elk on one of the Hummocks a short distance away.
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They didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned with us. There were also numerous ducks, geese, and other birds enjoying the ponds and marshes along the trail.
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The trail also passes a nice viewpoint above the North Fork Toutle River where Mt. St. Helens would be visible on a clear day. We settled for the river and another group of elk grazing on the far bank.
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Shortly after leaving the viewpoint we were passing through a wooded area when I noticed an elk around 30′ away standing in the trees. Before I could get the camera up it disappeared but that had been the closest we’d come to an elk yet.

The clouds were beginning to clear up when we made it back to the parking lot and set off along the highway toward the Coldwater Lake entrance. We passed over Coldwater Creek on it’s way from the lake down into the Toutle Valley and then crossed the road and headed down to the lake.
Coldwater Creek

The view across the lake was spectacular from the trailhead. Minnie Peak lay ahead with a dusting of snow and a misty covering of clouds.
Coldwater Lake
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A little island was a popular spot for geese and ducks. I am sure they were there for the views.
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As we traveled along the north shore of the lake the views both ahead and behind kept getting better. The clouds were lifting revealing more and more snow covered peaks.
Coldwater Lake
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A few flowers were ahead of schedule giving us a taste of what will be coming in the next few weeks.
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Scouler's Cordaylis

I had my eyes on Minnie Peak waiting for the last cloud to finally let go. It was a stubborn one though and just wouldn’t quite disappear.

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The trail crosses several small streams before reaching what was a very nice waterfall on this day. Rock Gully Falls, as it’s called in Sullivan’s book, was swollen with melt water making it a damp crossing since there is no bridge.
Rock Gully Falls
The crossing
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We spotted several more elk above us on the hillside as we rounded a small peninsula shortly after passing the falls. It was amazing watching them quickly traverse the steep hillside.
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Can you spot them here?
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The next marker along the trail was a fan of rocks that had been part of a slide into the lake.
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Near the end of Coldwater Lake we came to a shallow pool of water that was, at least at one time, home to a beaver. We didn’t see one but we did see plenty of ducks and geese here.
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Evidence of Beaver work
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The cloud had finally left Minnie Peak revealing the craggy mountain top by the time we reached the trail junction just above the bridge over Coldwater Creek.
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Coldwater Creek came raging down the valley putting on an impressive show.
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We had decided to do the full loop as it appeared that snow would not be an issue and loops are generally more fun than retracing your steps so we crossed the bridge and began to climb the ridge on the south side of Coldwater Lake. The views behind us as we climbed just kept getting better.
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The rock fan
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It was a stiff climb but the views eased the pain some. As the trail began to become more gradual, we could see the Coldwater Visitor Center far off in the distance on the opposite hillside.
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Down in the little valley Heather spotted more elk moving in the trees.
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Just a short while later she spotted another elk heading our way. It stopped in a little bowl below us to check us out.
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Nique correctly identified it as a young bull as it began to come toward us again.
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He then veered slightly away from us and crossed the trail a ways ahead and disappeared behind a small rise. I kept looking up the hillside to see if I could see where he was heading.
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Just moments after taking the above picture he popped his head up over the rise and looked right down at us. As I fumbled with the camera he jumped down onto the trail no more than 10 yards in front of us and sped off back the way he had come originally. By the time I got a picture he was quite a ways down the into the bowl.
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That had gotten my heart racing as I wasn’t sure if he had decided to turn aggressive. I had been expecting him to run away from us not at us. After the excitement we continued on to tractor junction where a trail leads up to Coldwater Peak. The junction is named for the piece of logging equipment that was laid to rest there by the eruption.
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We had finally found a little snow in this area but not much was left.
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After curving around the trail came to a great open viewpoint.
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We could see Rock Gully Falls and the North Coldwater Lake trail really well.
Rock Gully Falls

We had heard a lot of croaking on the Hummocks trail but hadn’t seen any frogs or toads there or along the lake, but now at almost 3500′ Nique spotted one.
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Coldwater Peak became visible as we made our way back toward the west end of the lake. It was interesting to see this side of it after having hiked up it last year.
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Just as the trail began to descend we came to more logging equipment that didn’t survive the eruption.
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From here we could also see the Hummocks parking lot and our car.
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We still had a ways to go.

Our last elk sighting was a big one. As we were coming down, the largest herd we’d seen was scrambling to stay ahead of us and dropping down over the hillside.
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What a sight ๐Ÿ™‚
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We made it down to the South Trailhead and began our road walk back to our car. Mt. St. Helens finally decided to make an appearance at this point.
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When we got back to the car I dropped off my pack and jogged down the Hummocks Trail to the first good viewpoint to get my volcano pictures.
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Now that’s the way to end a hike – Happy Trails indeed! ๐Ÿ™‚

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