Photos from the last few weeks in Oregon, including my road trip up the Oregon coast.
Well, my time in Oregon is rapidly coming to an end. Nearly overcome at the thought of having to leave, I’ve distracted myself by filling my leisure days with activity, attempting to do all, see all, that Central Oregon has to offer. That means hiking the entirety of Smith Rock, swimming in the Metolius, driving (in vain) the washboard road to Alder Springs, sipping each café’s coffee, drinking each brewery’s beer, and eating at all the good spots in and around town. Last weekend, my friend Kate and I spent the Solstice accomplishing a trip-long goal of mine, traipsing throughout the Cascades, from Lucky Lake to Blow Lake and several spots in between.
All this also means I have been neglecting this blog/website. Not to worry. That will change soon.
Hello again. It’s been a long time. I suppose I should tell you about the Steens.
I knew from the start that the trip was going to be different. How did I know? It wasn’t because we were going to be gone for four days. It wasn’t because we were going south of Burns, to an area closer to Nevada than it is to Bend. And it wasn’t because Jefferson let me borrow the white Explorer, one of the younger ONDA cars available. I knew it would be different because Sami and I would be backpacking. For four days, all of our supplies and food would be limited to what we could carry on our backs. We were going to South Steens Campground, but not to camp. From there, we would hike seven miles to Ankle Creek, and base ourselves there for the duration. Having never taken such a trip previously, I was initially hesitant at the assignment. What to pack? How much of this? How little of that? More than anything, I could see myself running out of food, and so I read Backpacker magazine and a few different websites to glean whatever insight I could. Any insight I gained I quickly lost, as my raids of groceries in both Sisters and Bend culminated in all sorts of bars, salamis, and dried fruit products that, most days back in Reno, might have lasted me a day at most.
Oh well. I decided to go anyway. Our adventure in Steens Wilderness commenced after a four-hour drive from Bend. We camped that night at South Steens Campground, arriving just as the sun disappeared from the western sky. In the morning, we discovered that potable water was available nearby – not at our camp site, curiously, but at the equestrian camp site. After driving a short distance south of camp, we took the first designated route on the left and drove until deep, muddy puddles prevented us from going any further. After parking the car behind a tree, we pressed on, continuing the clearly visible – although sporadically muddy – trail on foot. There was a visitor logbook placed right before Big Indian Creek, and its record showed that the last folks to visit the area (and sign the book) were there in mid-May. One visitor, hailing from Miliwaukee, WI, was especially taken with Steens: “If there is a God, Steens is the proof,” he/she wrote.
With this lofty appraisal in mind, we set off, easily fording Big Indian Creek, which was cold, fast, and about shin-deep. Save for a particularly grassy portion, the trail was easy to follow for the majority of our seven-mile slog. Most sections showed no signs of recent use, and no sign of vehicle/livestock trespass. Springs with water were a common sight. We did note some smashed glass along the trail, along with some coiled barbed wire and an obsolete (remember, this IS wilderness!) Wilderness Study Area sign lying together in a heap. Flora proliferated at all points along the trail, and red-tailed hawks were seen soaring as horny toads scurried below. Near camp we found two more coils of barbed wire in the vicinity of old wooden fence posts.
These were quickly forgotten when we took in the stream. Our campsite had the clearest, purest, coldest stream running by. It would become our best friend for the remainder of the trip, offering a cool shower after our many hot days, and crystal-clear water perfect for drinking (after a quick run through the filter). Due to the lush riparian vegetation and the clarity of this northern part of Ankle Creek, it was hard to believe that this area of Steens used to be regularly grazed. It has recovered quite nicely!
Our main goal this trip was to inspect known livestock inholdings and their access points to ensure that cattle were not grazing in designated wilderness. Fortunately, no cattle (nor humans) were witnessed for the duration of our trip. Our other goal was to monitor the overall condition of Ankle Creek and its southern fork, looking for beaver dams, riparian vegetation, and water clarity. From our creekside camp until about two miles south, Ankle Creek looked pristine, with clear water and several beaver dams of varying size complementing patches of green grasses and woody vegetation. Some murkiness set in near the point where Ankle Creek splits and forms a southern stretch. This divergence point is also where we were able to follow a track shown on our map as a potential travel route for cattle drives. Overgrown and sometimes hard to follow, it was evident that this track had not been traveled for some time. Decaying remnants of old fencing followed this route, which began to run parallel to a private parcel. Continuing on, we discovered an aspen forest which, in addition to shade, gave us our first historical discovery of the trip: An aspen featuring a weathered inscription from a Basque shepherd. Pictures coming soon!
A few miles later, while heading upstream, we stumbled upon the ruins of an old hunter’s cabin. The roof had collapsed, but the cabin was otherwise sturdily built, looking very impressive in its remote location. There were a few mason jars inside, but nothing cool like an old can of Mountain Dew/a Winchester/buried treasure. There were other decaying cabins in the area, but this one wasn’t even on the map!
Attention BLM cartographers: Two of the Jeep trails said to exist east of Ankle Creek should be expunged from updated maps. While attempting to follow these routes, we often had to rely on our GPS, as there was absolutely no sign of any real route. A Jeep trail with some visibility can be found south east of Ankle Creek’s split, and it allegedly leads to a spot vaguely notated as “Ruins”. Let me spoil the surprise and say, “Worst ruins ever.”
Maybe we didn’t look hard enough. After a long cross-country hike, during which a former vehicle trail would appear intermittently, we came across three clear, glass bottles lying atop a tree stump. A few yards further, we came to the supposed site of our Ruins. Thanks to the cabin we had discovered the day before, our minds were running rampant with delusions of grandeur. Would we find a crumbling stone statue? Another old cabin? A ranger’s log from the 1920s? Unfortunately, our material prizes were a 2x4 and the top of a can of soda pop (circa 1965). Fortunately, the big reward was right in front of us: an amazing view of Steens, the sagebrush valley to the west, and the alkali flats to the east.
Backpacking out, we were starving to the point of craving McDonalds. Still, it was hard to say goodbye to the Steens. And that stream in particular. What a stream.
Well, it's been a busy few weeks in and around Bend, Oregon. I've been out monitoring in Pine Creek, helping with restoration work on the Crooked River's South Fork, and making excursions to Cascadian delights like Whychus Creek. Great fun. I've got a few things to say about each, but now is not the time. It is the time, however, to get ready for a backpacking trip in Steens Mountain (southeastern Oregon). By all weather reports, it's going to be a hot one. Thankfully, the roasting temps of the last few days have scorched me to the point where I'm tanned and ready for more of that classic summer heat.
Here's where we're going:
Spent the last few days in the Sutton Mountain WSA, near the John Day River. Summer has arrived in Central Oregon! And not without a fair bit of humidity. Despite the sometimes torturous slogs up high hillsides under a cruel sun, ONDA’s new intern, Sami, and I successfully explored a rarely visited section of the WSA near Black Canyon. Although we were near several roads, there were no established trails in sight, making this trip – on an Ed Abbey scale – somewhere near “barely challenging”.
Who is John Day, you might be asking. The popular story describes him as a 19th century trapper en route to Western Oregon who, in a stroke of poor luck, got lost, and was robbed of all earthly belongings (including his clothes) by a band of northern Paiutes. He and a companion (who suffered the same fate) were later found, stark naked, by a band of travelers near the mouth of the river. As tales of his discovery spread, the river, along with the surrounding region, assumed Mr. Day’s name.
We were up with the sun and out before the dew could dry. We scrambled up old riverbeds, searched for petroglyphs on high-elevation rock walls, and eagerly awaited being able to jump into the John Day River after finding the Jeep. When we weren’t tripping over rocks or praying for a strong, cool breeze, we were taking note of the region’s geology and keeping an eye out for signs of grazing, abandoned property, or damaged BLM signage. Fortunately, this part of the WSA was in great shape. Still, we logged a few stray lengths of barbed wire, indicative of the area’s past as grazing land.
Burned to a crisp, we found the rushing John Day River as gloriously cool and refreshing as rivers get. It’s also the third longest free-flowing river in the United States. Folks were rafting and fishing at several different put-in points. Quite the popular river.
From there, we made several monitoring stops at Stovepipe Springs and the aptly-named Rocky Road. No need to turn on the 4WD, however, as we hiked most of it. At trail’s end, we made the curious discovery of some steel pipe hanging off a tree limb. Next to it? A long knifeblade. Not sure what to make of all that, we made tracks.
On Sunday, we rattled on into the Painted Hills National Monument, replete with colorful rock formations and even a few fossils. See the pics below. It was a productive weekend, full of sun, sweat, and scenery. But all good things must come to an end. With temperatures soaring and Prineville’s Tastee Treat calling my name, we packed up camp and headed back to town.
Last week, I took a trip west of the Cascades to visit some family. After swinging south from Salem and visiting Ninkasi in Eugene, Norm and I embarked on Highway 126 for the trip home. Five minutes in, we knew we had made the right choice. From the trip out on 20 to our return through McKenzie country, the Willamette National Forest was stunning. Pulled over many times to take in the views and splash in the streams. One spot, however, transfixed me more than most: Sahalie Falls.
I would've passed the turn-off were it not for a bear dashing across the road before me. Slowing down to watch the big furry oaf race up the hillside, I noticed a weathered Forest Service sign and followed it down. After a short trek through the pines, this is what I saw:
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