After three nights at the Steens Mountain Resort it was time to move on. Our plan for Thursday was to make two stops for hikes along the Little Blitzen River then continue driving south to Fields Station where we’d spend the night before hiking the Pueblo Mountains on Friday then making the long drive back to Salem. We started our morning at the Little Blitzen Trailhead located along the Steens Mountain Loop Road at South Steens Campground.
The trail begins on the far side of the road and similar to the Big Indian Gorge Trail begins in a landscape of juniper and sagebrush.
It was a much clearer morning than it had been when we hiked Big Indian Gorge on Tuesday.
Big and Little Indian Gorges from the Little Blitzen Trail.
Heading for the Little Blitzen Gorge.
So many dried out wild onions.
The trail descended to the lone ford of the Little Blitzen River at the 1.4 mile mark which we crossed easily on rocks.
On the far side of the river was a sign for several trails. The Nye and Wet Blanket Trail led up out of the gorge further up the Little Blitzen Trail while the Fred Riddle Trail was barely visible along the grassy hillside leading off toward Cold Springs Road and the Riddle Ranch.
We followed the Little Blitzen Trail through a grassy meadow and into a much narrower gorge than Big Indian Gorge.
It was nice to not have any haze limiting our view of the rocky walls.
Speaking of rocks there were quite a few larger boulders along this trail.
There were also boulders present in the river which created some nice cascades.
Our plan had been to turn around at 4-mile camp, approximately 4.5 miles from the trailhead or 3 miles beyond the ford. We took our time admiring the scenery along the way.
Looking back the way we’d come.
The view ahead.
A stand of quacking aspen.
Something to avoid.
A geranium blossom.
Passing through some willows.
Vegetation along a spring fed creek.
We hadn’t paid enough attention to Sullivan’s hike description so we didn’t realize when we passed the remains of an old corral that was Four Mile Camp.
In our defense there were no obvious camp sites in this area, just a grassy area inside the corral remains. We had passed an obvious campsite about a mile earlier, too soon to be Four Mile Camp. We continued a half mile beyond the corral remains before deciding we had missed the camp and then we read the hike description again where Sullivan mentioned the corral.
The view ahead where we turned around.
The Little Blitzen River near Four Mile Camp
More of the old corral.
Gentians under a willow.
Another little cascade along the river.
A nice pool.
There were a number of tiny grey birds in here, at least two in this photo.
A bigger bird, but not by a lot.
A wood nymph
This was a huge boulder along the trail. At least two small junipers were growing out of it.
Having overshot Four Mile Camp our hike came in just under 10 miles round trip with about 900′ of elevation gain.
From the trailhead we drove back along Steens Mountain Loop Road a quarter mile and turned right on a narrow gravel road (signed from the other direction for the Riddle Brothers Ranch). We did this hike second because a gate 1.3 miles up the road doesn’t open until 9am.
From the gate Ben Riddle’s restored cabin and his original stone house were visible on the hillside across the Little Blitzen River.
The stone house is too low to even stand up in but it was enough to stake a claim to the land.
The road continues 1.3 more miles beyond the gate to the Riddle Brothers Ranch. Now a National Historic District the ranch was established in the early 1900s by brother Walter, Fredrick and Ben Riddle. We were met by the volunteer caretaker who gave us a tour and history of the ranch before we set off on the 1.5 mile Levi Brinkley Trail which follows the Little Blitzen River from the parking lot to its confluence with the Donner und Blitzen River (post).
Inside the Bunkhouse
After touring the ranch we walked back across the Little Blitzen River to the other side of the parking lot where the Levi Brinkley Trail began.
Levi was one of 9 Prinveille Hotshot firefighters who perished on Storm King Mountain in Colorado fighting the South Canyon Fire. This hit home for me having gone to school with one of the 9, Bonnie Holtby.
The trail set off along the river passing an old willow corral after a quarter mile.
Thistle in a field once used for hay production by the Riddles.
Could be a green-tailed towhee
Beyond the corral the trail made a series of ups and downs passing through several flat areas the Riddles once irrigated for hay.
Lots of butterflies in the grassy areas.
Nearing the confluence.
The confluence of the Donner und Blitzen River (left) and Little Blitzen River (right).
A skipper at the confluence.
We returned the way we’d come, keeping an eye out for snakes but the only reptile we spotted was a western fence lizard.
The mouth of Big Indian Gorge from the Levi Brinkley Trail.
After completing the three mile hike here we drove back to Highway 205 and headed south (left) to Fields where we checked into our accommodations for the night at Fields Station then ordered bacon cheeseburgers and milkshakes from the cafe. Heather got a chocolate, marshmallow, butterscotch combination and I froze at the wide variety of flavors and just got a butterscotch (it was good though).
Old wagon at Fields Station.
In the morning we’d be heading just a little further south into the Pueblo Mountains and then home. Happy Trails!
Flickr: Little Blitzen River