Central Oregon Hiking John Day Oregon Trip report

Fields Peak – 07/23/2021

Our time in John Day had come to an end and it was time to start our journey back to Salem. We were planning on visiting Heather’s parents in Bend for the night but of course we had a hike planned on the way. The hike to Fields Peak and McClellan Mountain in the Aldrich Mountains was another hike that was previously featured in William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Easter Oregon” but had been moved to the back of the book in his most recent 3rd edition. We began the hike at the McClellan Mountain Trailhead after a rough final 1.2 miles of driving (high clearance vehicles recommended). The bright spot of the drive was spotting a bobcat in the road.

While the route to Fields Peak is open to OHVs the McClellan Mountain Trail, which splits off to the east after 1.5 miles is not.

The trail/OHV track begins through a barbed wire fence and heads steeply uphill, at times, 0.7 miles to a saddle.

IMG_1110A lone interpretive sign near the beginning of the trail.



IMG_1118The saddle

Sullivan mentioned that bitterroot bloomed on the ridge to the right but it was too late in the year to see any of them but I wandered out along the ridge a short distance anyway having reached the saddle ahead of Heather.

IMG_1122Fields Peak from the saddle.

IMG_1123Heather arriving at the saddle.

We had gained a little over 700′ in the first section and now the trail would gain nearly another 600′ in the 0.8 miles to the trail junction.
IMG_1124A rare level section.


IMG_1129Scarlet gilia in the middle of the OHV track.

IMG_1131Nearing the trail junction.

IMG_1132The McClellan Mountain Trail to the right.

We ignored the McClellan Mountain Trail for now and climbed another 0.8 miles gaining 700 plus more feet to the 7362′ summit of Fields Peak. The meadows along the track were way past bloom but it was evident that earlier in the year there would have been quite the wildflower display.
IMG_1134A peak east to McClellan Mountain and the more distant Strawberry Mountain (post).


IMG_1137We saw a number of these moths sleeping on the hyssop.

IMG_1139Hyssop and sunflowers


IMG_1143Looking up Fields Peak.

IMG_1144Mountain coyote mint

IMG_1146Shadow of Fields Peak




IMG_1155A few trees near the top.

IMG_1158Final steep pitch to the summit.

IMG_1160View west, Aldrich Mountain is the high point to the near right.

It was another nice morning with relatively clear skies given the fires that were (and still are) raging in Oregon.
IMG_1162View north

IMG_1165McClellan Mountain and the Strawberry Mountain Range to the east.

IMG_1164Logan Valley to the SE.

IMG_1169The view south.

We had a nice break and then headed back down. On the way several grouse startled us when they flew out of the trees as a group of raucous Clark’s nutcracker watched from the tree tops.


20210723_075245More moths

When we reached the junction with the McClellan Mountain Trail we turned left.

Aside from being a little crowded with brush the trail was in relatively good condition with just a couple of downed trees that were easily navigated.

Over the next 2.2 miles the trail slowly lost elevation as it alternated between south and north facing hillsides via four saddles, the first of which we arrived at after 0.5 miles.
IMG_1191Hillside above the trail.

IMG_1193Sagebrush mariposa lily

IMG_1194Approaching the saddle where we would cross the the north side of the hill ahead.

IMG_1195The first saddle with Moon Mountain behind.

IMG_1197Looking back along the trail.

IMG_1199Looking back from the saddle.

IMG_1200The north side had a few more trees.

IMG_1203Looking back toward Fields Peak

IMG_1209We passed through a rocky section near the second saddle.

In another half mile we found ourselves passing through the second saddle and back on the south side of the ridge.
IMG_1212McClellan Mountain from the second saddle.

Yet another half mile of trail brought us to the third saddle. Sullivan calls this phlox saddle and there was indeed a lot of phlox present it but had been a long time since it bloomed and all of the plants were now brown and dried.
IMG_1213Approaching the third saddle.

The trail was again on the north facing side as it passed over a ridge leading out to Moon Mountain.
IMG_1215Moon Mountain

IMG_1216Fields Peak (center).

IMG_1219McClellan Mountain as we approached the fourth saddle.

As the trail descended to the fourth saddle it disappeared in the sagebrush meadow.

The good news was this fourth saddle was where the off trail route to the top of McClellan Mountain started so we simply made our way through the sagebrush to the gentlest looking slope and started up the mountain. Sullivan showed it being 1.2 miles and just under 700′ up to the 7043′ summit.
IMG_1224Looking back you can sort of make out the trail angling down the near hillside.

IMG_1225Looking up McClellan Mountain.

Earlier in the hike I had mentioned to Heather that the only real disappointment of the trip had been the lack of large wildlife (aside from the dozens of deer and lone bobcat we spotted on our drives). As we crested the first hill on our way up McClellan Mountain though we spotted a line of ungulates crossing the hillside far above us. They were far enough away that I couldn’t tell for sure if they were elk or deer but once again the zoom on our camera helped solve the mystery.
IMG_1229In the middle of the center hill to the left of the tree in the foreground is the line of what turned out to be 5 bull elk.

IMG_1226Blurry due to the elk moving and the deep zoom.

IMG_1232Four of the bulls stopped to look back at us.

IMG_1234The fifth and largest bull on top of the ridge waiting for the rest.

After watching the elk disappear over the hillside we continued on. As far as off trail hikes go this was nice and straight forward, not ever too steep, and the vegetation wasn’t too tall or thick.


IMG_1242An old fence line on the hill.

IMG_1243Fields Peak on the left, an unnamed peak in the center and Moon Mountain on the right.

IMG_1245False summit (there’s always at least one). After some debate we went to the left of the rock outcrop which worked out well.

IMG_1246Passing the rock outcrop.

IMG_1248Almost there.

IMG_1249The Greenhorn Mountains, Elkhorns, Dixie Butte and the Strawberry Mountains from left to right in the distance.

IMG_1251Looking back at Fields Peak

IMG_1250The John Day River Valley.

IMG_1253Logan Valley

IMG_1254Company at the summit.

We took another nice break at the summit before heading back the way we’d come. On the return trip we had an encounter with what we believe was our first ruffed grouse.
IMG_1262Passing back through Phlox Saddle.

IMG_1264A better look at the rocky section of trail.

IMG_1272Mountain coyote mint, one of only a couple with this coloration on the stems.

IMG_1271Butterfly and a beetle.

20210723_114437Sagebrush mariposa lily

IMG_1277Ruffed grouse

IMG_1280A final look at McClellan Mountain.

For the second day in a row our hike came in at 12.3 miles, this time with approximately 3200′ of elevation gain.

Fields Peak Track

In our five days of hiking in the area we passed a single hiker (with dogs), something that is unheard of even on weekdays on the western side of the State. We were a little concerned about ticks but we only saw two, Heather had one on her hand the first night on the Rock Creek Trail and she had a second on her tights at the end of the Canyon Mountain hike but neither had bitten her. It had been an enjoyable trip but it was time to head home. We drove to Bend and had a nice visit with Heather’s parents before leaving early the next morning for one final short hike. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Fields Peak

Central Oregon Hiking John Day Oregon

Canyon Mountain Trail – 07/22/2021

For our fourth day of vacation we had planned another of Sullivan’s featured hikes, this time the Canyon Mountain Trail in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. Sullivan suggests two possible turn around points, for a moderate 6.6 mile hike Dog Creek and a more difficult 11.8 mile hike Dean Creek. We had originally planned on the more difficult option but were having second thoughts after reading the Forest Service information for the the Canyon Mountain Trailhead which noted that the final couple of miles of road were not maintained by the Forest Service and they recommend 4×4 vehicles only during dry months of the year. Sullivan simply described the road as “very steep and bumpy at times!”. We had prepared ourselves to have to park at one of the many dirt (OHV) spurs before reaching the trailhead thus adding a few miles to our hike in which case Dog Creek might need to be our turnaround. The road was indeed steep and bumpy but our Rav4 managed to make it 2.2 miles to a saddle where the road worsened even further. We decided to park along a spur road at the saddle and walk the final 1/4 mile of road to the trailhead.
IMG_0825I had started up to the left at the saddle but it was steep with gullies and some debris so we carefully turned around and parked below.

IMG_0827Little Canyon Mountain from the saddle. A wildfire burned the area in 2015 and the trail up to Dog Creek.

IMG_0828The actual trailhead.

A short distance up the trail we entered the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness.

The Canyon Mountain Trail doesn’t climb Canyon Mountain but rather traverses the hillsides below its namesake. There were however views of said mountain as we came around the first ridge end of the hike.

This was the least hazy morning of our trip so far but we were heading toward the rising Sun so visibility still wasn’t all that great.
IMG_0840Little Pine Creek flowed down this valley below Canyon Mountain.

It looked like the wildflower display was probably pretty good earlier in the year but most of them were past now. We did see a fair number of late bloomers though.
IMG_0846Yarrow along the trail.



Approximately 1.5 miles from the trailhead we arrived at Little Pine Creek at a switchback.


A tenth of a mile beyond the switchback (and after switching back once more) we crossed Little Pine Creek but not before stopping to sample some raspberries.
IMG_0862Paintbrush and pearly everlasting


IMG_0868We don’t recall seeing a penstemon with leaves like this before.

IMG_0870Twinberry (we did NOT sample)

Sitka burnetSitka burnett (white)

IMG_0873Little Pine Creek at the crossing.

The trail then gradually climbed through the forest to a viewpoint at a ridge end in what was now a dry meadow dotted with sagebrush mariposa lilies.

IMG_0877Prince’s pine

Mountain death camasMountain death camas

IMG_0886Fringed grass of parnassus


IMG_0888John Day below.

IMG_0889Little Canyon Mountain behind the ridge we’d come around earlier.

IMG_0896The Aldrich Mountains to the west, our destination for the next day’s hike.

IMG_0897Canyon Mountain

20210722_072943One of the sagebrush mariposa lilies.

IMG_0899Dixie Butte and the Greenhorn Mountains to the NE

After wrapping around the ridge the trail reentered the forest once again and descend gradually to Dog Creek, 1.7 miles from the Little Pine Creek crossing. Berries were the highlight at Dog Creek with three different types of ripe blue/huckleberries to pick from.



20210722_080031Swamp onion




IMG_0918Flowers at Dog Creek


Since we’d manage to drive almost to the trailhead we decide to continue on to Dean Creek which was another 2.2 miles away. The distance was mostly due to having to swing out and around the rocky ridge separating the two creek drainage’s.
IMG_0930There was a lot of elk sign along this section of the trail.

IMG_0931A lot of sign.

IMG_0937Looking back toward Canyon Mountain.

IMG_0939The trail crossed over the ridge in a saddle with quite a bit of mountain coyote mint.

IMG_0941Mountain coyote mint

IMG_0944Strawberry Mountain (post) from the saddle.

IMG_0948Heading toward Dean Creek now.


IMG_0953Green Mountain on the left and Canyon Mountain on the right.

IMG_0955A smaller raptor, it wouldn’t look at us so I’m not sure what type it was.


Butterflies on western snakerootButterflies on western snakeroot. Side note we didn’t see a single snake or lizard all week which was really surprising to us.

IMG_0975We did however see quite a few grouse.

IMG_0977The trail got a little brushy nearing Dean Creek.

20210722_092454_HDRThere wasn’t much water in Dean Creek but there was enough for a small cascade.

IMG_0993Wildflowers next to a small pool.

20210722_093953Dean Creek

IMG_1008Butterfly near the pool.

We sat in a nearby campsite to soak in the views as we took a short break.
IMG_0983Canyon Mountain

IMG_0984Dixie Butte with the Greenhorns on the left and the Elkhorns (post) on the right.

After our break we returned the way we’d come, watching as always for wildlife and any flowers we’d missed on our fist pass (also ripe berries).


IMG_1018Pearly everlasting, yellow flowers, and fireweed.

IMG_1020An eagle?

IMG_1032More cones

IMG_1036Dragon fly

IMG_1038A sulphur butterfly

IMG_1040California tortoiseshell



IMG_1063Maiden fly



IMG_1085Northern flicker

IMG_1095Mountain bluebird

We put the car in low and drove back down the steep road until we made it to pavement then returned to John Day for one final night. This was probably our favorite hike of the trip because it felt the most like being in the mountains even though we were at higher elevations on Spanish Peak, in the Monument Rock Wilderness and the next day in the Aldrich Mountains. With the little extra road walk we came in at 12.3 miles and about 1850′ of elevation gain. Happy Trails!

Our Canyon Mountain Track

Flickr: Canyon Mountain Trail

Central Oregon Hiking John Day Oregon Trip report

Malheur River – 06/17/2021

After a night in John Day we headed south for a day hike on the Malheur River Trail. The trail starts at Malheur Ford Trailhead where Forest Road 1651 actually does ford the river.


The Malheur, a designated Wild and Scenic River, is fed from the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness (post). The trail is 7.6 miles long running from the ford to another trailhead at Hog Flat. For our hike we planned on hiking around 6.5 miles of the trail at which point the trail would be starting the steep climb away from the river to Hog Flat. It was a pleasantly cool morning as we set off on the trail. Despite the Forest Service indicating that the trail had not been maintained it was in good shape with just a couple of trees to step over/around.
IMG_8357Bench near the trailhead.


IMG_8363Lupine along the trail.

IMG_8378There was plenty of river access along the way.


IMG_8388Paintbrush and lupine along the trail.


IMG_8397Ponderosa pines

Mile markers were present (at least to mile 6) although we missed 3 & 5 on the way out. We managed to spot them on the way back though. There did seem to be a bit of a discrepancy regarding the first mile as there were two trees sporting “1”s.
IMG_8399First 1

IMG_8400Second 1

A little past the mile 1 markers the trail descended to Miller Creek where just a little water was present but it was enough to host a number of flowers.



IMG_8416Balsamroot, columbine, geraniums and paintbrush.

The trail did several more ups and downs sometimes rising above the river and other times dropping down to flats along it. A rocky viewpoint just before the 2 mile mark was fairly impressive.


IMG_8601Photo from the afternoon on the way back.

IMG_8603Photo from the afternoon on the way back.

IMG_8444Tree marking mile 2.

IMG_8448Typical “obstacles” that were present along the trail.


IMG_8461Cusick’s sunflower?

IMG_8463Balsamroot or mule’s ears?

IMG_8472Woodland stars


IMG_8478Mile 4


Right around mile five (which we missed the marker for) was a riverside meadow of wildflowers.


IMG_8498Salsify and geraniums

20210617_092225Sticky cinquefoil

IMG_8505Swallowtail on scarlet gilia


IMG_8514Some sort of copper butterfly

IMG_8523A checkerspot


IMG_8539Balsamroot (or mule’s ears)

20210617_093615A fleabane

20210617_093639A different type of fleabane.


20210617_094301Rosy pussytoes


After hanging out in the meadow watching the butterflies for awhile we continued on.

IMG_8550Hog Flat is up on top of the hillside.

IMG_8556Mile 6 markers.

IMG_8557Cracked egg in the trail.

IMG_8562We passed this cairn around the 6.5 mile mark.

IMG_8563We turned around here shortly after passing the cairn. It appeared the trail was beginning it’s climb and we took the cairn and downed tree as signs that it was time to turn around. We did just that and headed back keeping our eyes open for the mile 3 and 5 markers.
IMG_8579A fritillary butterfly on an iris.

IMG_8581Found 5

IMG_8593This was a particularly tricky little muddy spot to stay dry crossing.

IMG_8595And there’s “3”.

IMG_8607Immature bald eagle. We saw it on the way out in the same area but couldn’t get a photo. This time it flew right by me, and I think it was giving me the stink eye.


IMG_8614Back at the trailhead.

This was a 13.5 mile out and back with a few hundred feet of elevation gain spread over the various ups and downs along the way. There were plenty of views of the river and a nice variety of wildflowers and wildlife making this a nice river hike. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Malheur River Trail

Central Oregon Hiking John Day Oregon Trip report

Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Days 3 & 4 – Slide Lake to East Fork Canyon Creek TH

Hope springs eternal and it was with new hope that we got up on the third day of what had so far been the most grueling backpacking trip we’d undertaken. On paper it didn’t look much different than some of our other trips but the big difference maker had been the heat. It had been hot during the afternoon on some of our previous trips but this trip was different. Not only was it hot during the day but it wasn’t really cooling down at night which meant it was still warm in the morning. Day 3 was no different.

We had an early breakfast in front of a beautiful view of Slide Lake.

As we were finishing up we were joined by a doe who was cautiously grazing nearby.


As we watched the sunlight overtake more of the cliffs above the lake we noticed our route for the day cutting across the rocks below the far cliffs.

Seeing the trail produced two thoughts, first it reminded us that we were facing a nearly 1000′ climb out of the Slide Lake Basin, and secondly that the climb would be in full sunlight. We left Slide Lake shortly before 7am and hiked the quarter mile back to the junction with the Sky Line Trail where we turned left following a pointer for High Lake.

After an all to brief stint in the trees which provided some shade the trail entered rockier terrain where the Sun was already heating things up.



Some years there is a snow patch that remains over the trail into August which requires a bypass nearly straight up the hillside but with this being a low snow year there was no need for us to climb any more steeply than necessary. By 7:30am Slide Lake already looked far away.

It was also already officially hot. Luckily after a a quarter mile of switchbacks at the 1 mile mark the climb became much more gradual.

It was still hot but at least we weren’t having to work as hard as we traversed below the cliffs.

A nice variety of wildflowers splashed the hillside with color.





After following the Skyline Trail a little over a quarter of a mile we arrived at junction with the Mud Lake Trail.

The Mud Lake Basin was heavily burned which revealed both Little Mud Lake which I thought looked like Pacman and the larger Mud Lake.


At the junction the Skyline Trail turned right and steepened as it climbed past wildflowers to a ridge end above High Lake.




The 1.6 mile descent from this ridge end down to High Lake was one of the more pleasant stretches of trail on the trip. It was downhill and the ridge blocked the sunlight leaving it a little cooler than it had been on the other side. There were also plenty of wildflowers and views across the basin to the back side of the Rabbit Ears.





We had been scanning the cliffs for animals, in particular California big horn sheep, which the Forest Service Map mentioned as a possible sighting in the wilderness along with deer, elk, and pronghorn. One thing the map didn’t mention was mountain goats so we were a little surprised when we spotted what appeared to be mountain goat fur in a small pine tree.

Fifteen minutes later we spotted them way up on the hillside ahead of us.




It is always amazing to watch these animals maneuver on the rocky hillsides.

We watched them as we made our way to High Lake which we arrived at ten minutes later.





We took a nice break at the lake and replenished our water supply before continuing on. We crossed the outlet creek and soon began climbing out of the basin.




The 1.3 mile climb out of the basin gained approximately 550′ while it passed some of the best wildflower displays of our visit.







After climbing out of the basin we arrived at the High Lake Rim Trailhead.

Here I was excited to see a wilderness sign.

I have been trying to collect pictures of signs for each wilderness area we visit and there hadn’t been a sign along the East Fork Canyon Creek Trail. That sign most likely burned in the 2015 fire. From the trailhead we faced a .4 mile road walk to the Roads End Trailhead.

IMG_9539Strawberry Mountain from FR 1640.



The Roads End Trail follows a closed roadbed for 1.2 miles to the junction with the Onion Creek Trail which we had been at the day before. (post)

As far as road walks go this one provided some nice scenery that we could have appreciated even more if had been a bit cooler out.




Near the end of the old roadbed the ground became muddy due to the presence of a series of seeps.

At the unsigned junction a small cairn marked the familiar path downhill to a saddle.

We turned left for .3 miles to a signed junction where we turned right onto the Indian Creek Trail.

The day before we had come from the left having stayed the night in Wildcat Basin. By going right here would complete a loop back to the Pine Creek Trail. It was also 1.3 miles shorter than it would have been to retrace our steps through Wildcat Basin.

After a brief initial climb we gained a view of Indian Creek Butte.

The trail then descended past some more volcanic ash formations similar to the ones we’d seen near Wildcat Basin.



This was another area affected by fire and there were a number of trees down across the trail.


A little past the ash formations the trail approached a marsh filled with tall onions.



A couple of small cairns helped guide us through the marsh but on the far side we missed a sharp right turn and continued straight. We soon realized we were no longer following a trail but that wasn’t anything new during this trip and we could see the saddle we were aiming for straight ahead so we kept going for a bit. Two tenths of a mile from where we should have taken the sharp right downhill we ran into a cliff where we were unable to continue forward. The GPS showed the actual trail as being a tenth of a mile away and 150′ below us. At that point we didn’t know about the sharp right and couldn’t figure out how we got so far off course but there we were. We found a game trail and followed steeply downhill in the general direction of the real trail.

IMG_9578Our route down.

From above it didn’t look like it was going to be too difficult to go cross country but once we were down in the basin we realized it was going to be a lot harder than we’d thought.

There were some surprising displays of flowers to be found in the gullies as we crashed through the brush and over numerous downed trees.



After a lot of sweat, a little blood, and no tears (we didn’t have the moisture left to make any) we found the actual trail.

A hundred foot climb brought us up to the saddle where we rejoined our path from the first day at a signed junction.

We turned right and headed toward Indian Creek Butte on the faint Pine Creek Trail.

It was less hazy than it had been the previous two days allowing for some clearer views from the trail.
IMG_9589_stitchIndian Creek Butte, the John Day Valley, and Strawberry Mountain

It was 1.4 miles to a junction on the east side of Indian Creek Butte where we had the choice of staying to the right on the Pine Creek Trail for .9 miles then turning left on the East Fork Canyon Creek Trail for another 1.3 miles to the spring where we had eaten our dinner on the first day. The other option was to go back the way we’d come up the first day around the south side of the butte. This second option was three quarters of a mile shorter and the condition of the trail, albeit is sad, was known to us. We’d had enough surprises for one trip so we deiced to go with the known option.

Even though we had seen this area before there were some new sights to be had.


When we reached the series of rock cairns in the green trees on the SW flank of the butte we attempted to use the GPS to follow the actual route of the trail this time.

That proved to be mostly futile as the brush was just too dense and the tread too light to allow us to stay on course.

Other than the rare sighting of a cut log we had no idea where the trail was actually supposed to be.

In the end we wound up aiming for our previous track as shown on the GPS and eventually managed to pick up the actual trail at the same place we’d lost it on the first day. We made our way back to the spring and once again took a break near the lawn chairs.

This time Heather discovered a mylar pumpkin balloon which we stuffed into our garbage and packed out. We took an extended break in some shade here before setting off on what we had planned on being our last mile for the day down to Hotel De Bum Camp. As we neared the meadow near the camp though we heard the neighing of horses. A good sized group of equestrians had ridden up to the camp and were spending the night there. There really wasn’t any room for us so we decided that we’d just keep going and stop at the next good camp site.
IMG_9614A horse in the meadow at Hotel De Bum Camp

I had thought there might be a couple of spots near Miners Creek when I had checked that area out on the first day but after descending 1.4 miles from Hotel De Bum Camp a closer inspection of the area resulted in us deciding against trying to force a site there. We decided to take another break, have dinner, get more water, and look at the map to see about other potential spots.

The next camp shown on the forest service map was Grindstone Y Camp which looked to be a half mile down the trail. When we arrived in the area we spotted what appeared to be a camp where there were all kinds of supplies stashed in the nearby trees. There really didn’t seem to be a viable tent site though and with all the items about it had an off-putting vibe so we pressed on.

Nearly a half mile later we came to a fork in the trail. On the first day we had come up from the right hand side (north side of the creek) but the equestrians had clearly come up from the right hand fork. We determined that the right hand fork was the trail we should have been on to avoid the ugly bushwhack across East Brookling Creek. We took the right hand fork and promptly crossed East Fork Canyon Creek.

The trail remained on the south side of the creek for nearly a half mile before recrossing the creek. Near this crossing we spotted the biggest wasp either of us had ever seen.

A short climb up from the creek brought us to the orange flagging where we had taken the uphill fork on the first day.

That mystery was solved but the more pressing mystery was where were the decent camp sites. A half mile later (and over three and a half miles from Hotel De Bum Camp) we finally found enough clear level ground to pitch our tent.

We were somewhere in the vicinity of Bingham Camp and only a tad over four miles from the trailhead. It had been a 15.2 mile day and once again we were beat. We sat in our chairs for a couple of hours while a woodpecker dropped debris on us.

It was slightly cooler that night and the next morning but still not as cool as we’d have liked as we set off for the final 4.2 miles back to our car at 6:30am.

The Sun chased us from behind as we followed the creek downstream through the forest.


We arrived back at the rental car around 8:15am thankful that we would soon feel the cool breeze of air conditioning.

Our original plans had been to return to Bend, stay the night with Heather’s parents, and then head to the Mt. Thielsen Wilderness for a single night in hopes of visiting an off trail waterfall (Bruce knows the one), but after the brutal heat we’d hiked through for the previous four days neither of us had anything left. We scrapped those plans and decided to simply head home after the night in Bend.

This was by far the hardest backpacking trip we’ve done, so much so that we weren’t able to fully appreciate the beauty that we were seeing. We had timed the trip well for the flowers it was just unfortunate that it was during a heat wave. One thing is for sure we’ll never forget our first visit to the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Days 3 & 4

Central Oregon Hiking John Day Oregon Trip report

Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Backpack Day 2 – Wildcat Basin to Slide Lake

After a long, hot day the day before we were hoping to wake up to some crisp mountain air. Alas it was not to be as the temperature didn’t seem to have dropped all that far overnight. It was cooler than it had been but we could tell it was going to be another hot one.

After applying a little Deet to deter the mosquitoes that had been waiting for us to wake up we had breakfast in a small meadow near our campsite.

After breakfast we packed up and headed out of Wildcat Basin via the Pine Creek Trail.

One of the reasons we were hoping it would have been colder was that the Pine Creek Trail gained nearly 800′ in less than three quarters of a mile as it steeply climbed out of Wildcat Basin.

As it climbed we passed some interesting ash formations.



We had read that above these ash formations the trail would become obscured by brush for a short distance. After the previous days bushwacking around Indian Creek Butte (post) we were fearing the worst but it turned out to not be anywhere near as bad as that had been. It was a much shorter stretch and there were less obstacles to maneuver around. We hadn’t been at it long before Heather spotted the trail veering to the right into burned trees.


The trail leveled out a bit as it crossed a ridge top where we spotted the first of the yellow paintbrush that is plentiful in the area.


The trail bent around to the north as it crossed the ridge and soon Strawberry Mountain came into view.

Our plan was to take a side trip up to the summit once we made it to the saddle below the peak, but for now we were focused on the trail at hand which was passing through some nice wildflowers.





We also flushed out several deer but they escaped before I could get any photos.

A mile and a half from Wildcat Basin we arrived at a junction with the Indian Creek Trail #5001.

Here we turned right crossing a saddle and climbing for .3 miles to another junction, this time with the Onion Creek Trail #368. The view from the old roadbed here was good and we could see Indian Creek Butte as well as Strawberry Mountain.
IMG_9199Indian Creek Butte

IMG_9198Strawberry Mountain

We took a short break in some shade near the junction having already climbed nearly 1200′ on the day. From this spot we had another 450′ to gain over the next 1.4 miles just to reach the saddle below Strawberry Mountain.

A golden-mantled ground squirrel came out to check on us as we recovered.

Fortunately some of this section of trail was still shaded from the Sun and once again there was a nice display of wildflowers to help distract us.





We arrived at the saddle just after 9am. To reach our goal for the day, Slide Lake, we needed to take the right hand Strawberry Basin Trail toward Strawberry Lake.

Before we did that though we wanted to summit the 9038′ Strawberry Mountain which was to the left.

Since we would have to come back by this junction after summiting the mountain we pulled our daypacks out and stashed our backpacks in a group of nearby trees. The lighter packs felt great as we traversed across the rocky terrain below the summit.



The trail climbed gradually across the shaley rocks about a half mile before entering a stand of white bark pines.

Several grouse were present in this area.

Three quarters of a mile from the junction we arrived at the junction with the summit trail marked by rock cairns.

We took another short break in the shade of the white bark pines watching the many butterflies that were flitting about.

After catching our breath we headed up the left hand fork for the final .4 miles and 350′ to the former lookout site atop Strawberry Mountain.



Butterflies were swirling around atop the summit, never sitting still for long. The views were good but not great due to the presence of smoke from wildfires. We weren’t sure which fires the smoke was from but with a number of them burning across the northwest it wasn’t a surprise to have hazy skies. It unfortunately seems to be the new default for the summer months.
IMG_9244Looking north toward the John Day Valley

IMG_9239Looking SW toward Wildcat Basin

IMG_9238View west toward Indian Creek Butte and Canyon Mountain

IMG_9241Looking NE

IMG_9247View east

With all the haze it was tough to make out much in the distance but we were able to make out the Elkhorn Range off to the NE.

It was a little cooler at the summit where we rested once again before starting back down. As we were traversing the rocky hillside on the way back we encountered another group of hikers on their way up to the summit. They mentioned that they had stashed their packs as well after coming up the Strawberry Basin Trail. They let us know that some of the trail to Slide Lake had suffered from a near washout so there might be a little exposure along that stretch. After thanking them for the heads up we returned to the saddle and retrieved our packs.

It was just before 10:45am when we started down the Strawberry Basin Trail. There was a nice view of Strawberry Mountain as we dropped into the basin.

After approximately .4 miles of descending the trail leveled out somewhat and we passed the ruins of a cabin and a minute later Strawberry Spring.


This was followed by a series of meadows, some filled with wildflowers as well as views back to Strawberry Mountain.






We got our first look at Strawberry Lake as the trail began to bend around a ridge.

We were now heading south, continuing our descent into the Strawberry Basin. Across the valley were the rock formations known as the Rabbit Ears over Little Strawberry Lake which was hidden in the trees.

Although this side of the ridge was drier than the north side had been there were still some good displays of color.


The Strawberry Basin Trail wrapped around the basin eventually reaching the side trail to Little Strawberry Lake, two and a half miles from the saddle junction with the Onion Creek Trail.



We turned right onto the Little Strawberry Lake Trail for the .6 mile side trip (1.2mi round trip) to the lake. Heather asked about stashing our packs again but I chose poorly and we kept them on. The trail crossed Strawberry Creek and climbed about 150′ through the forest to the little lake.



That shouldn’t have been too difficult a trek but it was so hot (How hot was it?) that we truly regretted not having left our full packs back near the junction. It was also pretty hazy in the basin here so our views of the cliffs backing Little Strawberry Lake were not clear.



The water however was clear which made it really easy to watch the fish swim about.


After another short break we strapped on our packs again and returned to the Strawberry Basin Trail. It was obvious by the state of the trails and the number of other people we were seeing that this part of the wilderness is significantly busier than the eastern end.

We turned right and promptly crossed Strawberry Creek again.


We were just a bit above Strawberry Falls here and I suddenly thought we might not get to actually see the waterfall.

My fears were eased when Heather correctly pointed out that the trail switchbacked down to the base of the falls.


The base of Strawberry Falls was by far the most comfortable spot we would be in during the entire trip. We took our packs off again and allowed the mist from the falls to cool us down. Unfortunately we could not take that feeling with us and shortly after leaving that heavenly place we were once again sweating profusely.

After descending a little over half a mile form the falls we came to a fork in the trail near Strawberry Lake.

Both trails led around the lake with the right hand fork being the shorter but the left hand fork reportedly having the better views. We opted for the left hand fork and descended to the southern end of Strawberry Lake.

A series of stream crossings followed as we worked our way around to the western side of the lake.



Eventually the Rabbit Ears came into view across the lake.

It was time for yet another break once we reached the northern end of the lake but here even in the shade it was stupid hot.

Since there was no real relief from the heat we quickly decided to press on. After crossing the lakes outlet we turned left and then followed pointers for Slide Lake.

We climbed gradually for nearly a mile gaining 360′ from Strawberry Lake.

We were struggling with the gradual climb and now the Slide Basin Trail launched more steeply uphill gaining an additional 350′ over the next half mile. After cresting a ridge we arrived a split in the trail where a horse trail went left and a hiker only trail right.

Thankfully the trail leveled out quite a bit on this side of the ridge as it traversed the hillside.

The bad news was we were now out of water, tired, hot, and the trail was indeed semi-washed out in spots. We were almost too miserable to enjoy the scenery which included quite a few wildflowers of which I took almost no pictures.

We had two overriding goals. First was to stay on the trail and second was to find water. There was a spring shown our our map about three quarters of a mile from the fork but it was dry. To make matters worse we could hear and see Slide Falls in the valley below. It was taunting us with all that water.


The trail reentered the trees just after being rejoined by the horse trail.

A short distance later we came to the Slide Lake Trail.

We veered left for a quarter mile to the lake.

We claimed a campsite just across the outlet creek and Heather set about refilling our water supply while I set up the tent.

When we arrived at Wildcat Basin the night before Heather had been done, tonight it was my turn. After setting up the tent I set up my camp chair and just sat there. IMG_9354View from the chair.

It was only 3:30pm but I was done for the day. Heather would later ask if I wanted to do the 1 mile loop around the lake and I said no. That was when she knew I really was wiped out, I rarely pass up a side trip but at that point I had no desire to get up. We had covered 14 miles and climbed over 3700′ that day and that was enough.

As I was getting ready to start dinner I thought I heard voices and assumed that there were other people camped to our left along the lake. After dinner a woman from the group of hikers we’d run into on our way down from Strawberry Mountain showed up. She said that they were equally finished for the day having gone to High Lake after summiting the mountain. She said that they had gotten to High Lake at 1:30pm, took a swim and a nap, then decided to push on to Slide Lake for the night. They set up camp somewhere on the opposite side of the outlet creek and we never did see them again. The next day Heather solved the mystery of the voices I had heard when she suggested that it may have been this group coming down the trail from High Lake which was located in the same direction that I had heard the voices from.

We stayed in our chairs until a little before 7pm. Out of nowhere a host of small insects appeared which we took as are queue to turn in for the night. It was another warm night which told us we were in for more of the same the following day, we just weren’t sure we were ready for it. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Day 2

Central Oregon Hiking John Day Oregon Trip report

Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Backpack Day 1 – East Fork Canyon Creek to Wildcat Basin

After our less than stellar end to our Sunday exploring caves off of China Hat Road near Bend (post)we were facing a later than planned start for our drive to the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. Typically we’d be on the road by 5am but we had to wait until 7:30 to pick up a rental car before we could leave Bend. The folks at Enterprise were quick though and we were on our way a little before 8am.

Our entry point for our four day trip was the East Fork Canyon Creek Trailhead. From Bend we drove to Burns then north no Highway 395 just over 60 miles to County Road 65 where we turned right for 3 miles to a sign for Alder Gulch and Fawn Spring. Here we turned left onto Forest Road 6510 following the good gravel road for 1.5 miles. We then turned right onto another good gravel road, FR 812 which we followed an additional 2.8 miles to its end where we found a large group of equestrians just setting off on the trail.

The entire area along the drive and much of the East Fork Canyon Creek Trail burned in 2015 so there wasn’t much in the way of signage for the start of the trail.

It was just after 11:30 when we set off and it was already rather warm. The trail began by losing a bit of elevation before leveling off as it passed below some rocky cliffs.

The lack of tree cover due to the fire didn’t help the heat situation but we did our best to distract ourselves from the heat by listening to the creek and looking at the flowers




For the first two and a half miles the trail passed through grassy meadows a bit away from the creek as it gradually climbed up the canyon.



A little over two miles from the trailhead we spotted the equestrians setting up camp at the Yokum Corrals Camp.

Three tenths of a mile from Yokum Corrals we came to a junction with the Tamarack Trail which led uphill to the Joaquin Miller Trail.

IMG_8937Looking in the direction of the Tamarack Trail

The East Fork Canyon Creek Trail was becoming more and more overgrown in spots beyond the corrals.

The vegetation wasn’t too difficult to push through but there were some thistles to avoid and I wound up with a few ticks on my pant legs. Heather was trying out a new pair of Insect Shield tights and they seemed to do the trick as we never did spot any attached to her. (She did wind up with a few mosquito bites during the trip tough.)

Near the three mile mark we came to Brookling Creek.

I made it across the creek dry footed but Heather decided to cool off by slipping on a rock and splashing down into the water. Luckily she wasn’t hurt, just wet and after wringing out her socks a bit we continued on. Approximately 1.7 miles from Brookling Creek we came to a fork in the trail where there was some orange flagging attached to a couple of trees.

The flagging appeared to have at one time blocked off the left hand fork but it was now broken. According the Garmin and our guidebook the trail stayed on the left hand side of the creek and the right hand fork here seemed to just go down to the creek so we took the left hand fork. The trail was fine for a quarter of a mile but when we arrived at East Brookling Creek we couldn’t see where it was supposed to cross or where it continued on the far side. To make matters worse the creek was choked with debris and the far bank was rather steep so our options of where to cross were limited. We managed to find some logs that got us across the creek and then we crashed uphill through the brush.


We were able to pick up the tread again with the help of some green flagging but noticed that there was also a trail on the south side of East Fork Canyon Creek.

By that time we had already forgotten about the fork with the orange flagging and thought we had missed something near East Brookling Creek. A quarter mile beyond East Brookling Creek that trail recrossed East Fork Canyon Creek and rejoined the trail we were on. We were spotting more blooming flowers now including some light pink streambank globe mallow and dark pink monkeyflower.





About a mile from East Brookling Creek we once again found ourselves on the wrong side of a creek,this time Miners Creek. This time we were on the south side when we should have stayed on the north side. We were doing our best to bushwack up the creek to a point where the trail was supposed to make a hairpin turn across the creek. It finally dawned on me that the trail was only 30 to 50 feet above us as it ran SW for a short distance after the 180 degree turn before rounding a ridge end and continuing NE. It was a steep climb but we managed to link back up with the actual trail. I headed downhill to the hairpin turn to see if there were possible campsites for our last night near the creek and thought I saw a couple of options. As I headed back up to Heather I regretted my choice as it was nearing 3pm and it was really getting hot out.

After climbing for another 1.2 miles we arrived at Hotel De Bum Camp. A large meadow with a campsite where it almost appeared a bum had lived. Someone had left lawn chairs and freeze dried meals at the site. By the looks of them they had been there awhile.


The meadow was nice though and our plan was for this to be our campsite for our final night of the trip. From the meadow there was a view of Indian Creek Butte which was a pretty sight but we also knew our destination for the day, Wildcat Basin, was over two and a half miles on the other side of it.

From Hotel De Bum Camp the trail gained 500′ over the next mile to another meadow below Indian Creek Butte where there was supposed to be a trail junction.

A nearby spring allowed for dense green vegetation and numerous wildflowers which appeared to have overtaken the trails in the area. We did find another set of lawn chairs at a nearby campsite and decided to take a short break and have dinner as well as try and cool down before pushing on.




When it was time to move on we did our best to follow some blue flagging through the vegetation, across the spring to the right.
IMG_9022Blue flagging is attached to a small burned tree 3/4 up the left hand side of the photo.

The next obstacle was a series of bent trees hanging over the trail.

The trail then became a little easier to follow as it reentered the burned forest.

We were on the .6 mile section of the Table Mountain Trail. After the .6 miles our route was to turn right up the Table Mountain A Trail (Trail 5000) which is a mile long connector between the Table Mountain and Pine Creek Trails. We missed the faint unsigned junction at first but quickly realized our mistake (we would do the same thing on the way back three days later).

The Table Mountain A Trail was a mess at this end. Faint tread lead through tall brush with sporadic flagging or an occasional cut log as the only real indication that we were still on the right course.

That only lasted about a tenth of a mile and then the tread completely vanished.

We waited a little too long before consulting the GPS and wound up swinging too far to the SE and adding a tenth of a mile to our hike. After checking the GPS we worked our way back toward the trail (as far as we could tell it really was where the GPS said it was this time) and managed to pick it back up at some cairns amid unburnt trees.


It was after 6pm now and some clouds were helping to cool things down as we made our way around the SE side of Indian Creek Butte.


The trail was faint here too but were able to stick relatively close to it as we passed some nice wildflowers which we were too hot and tired to fully enjoy at that point.



We did however stop to watch a nice buck pass through the brush below us.


At 6:45pm we spotted a downed trail sign in the distance marking the junction with the Pine Creek Trail.


Here we turned right onto the similarly faint Pine Creek Trail.

Once again the wildflowers were nice but we were now on a mission.



Just over half a mile from the junction we came to a viewpoint with a good look at Strawberry Mountain.

The trail continued along a ridge with Indian Creek Butte and the Sun behind us and a rocky ridge top and the Moon ahead.


Wildcat Basin was on the other side of that rocky ridge. A total of 1.4 miles from the previous junction we arrived at another junction.

We stayed right keeping to the Pine Creek Trail and passed to the SE of the rocky ridge.

The trail descended past some white volcanic ash formations.


Soon the trail found some green trees below striped cliffs.

A mile from the junction we arrived at the meadows of Wildcat Basin and another trail junction.


A very short distance to the east from the junction was Wildcat Spring and a campsite where we eagerly refilled our now empty bladders and set up our tent.


It was a little after 8pm by the time we were settled and we went straight to bed hoping that the going would be a little easier on day 2 with an earlier start and better traveled trails. Despite the issues it was still nice to see all the new scenery and wildflowers. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Strawberry Mountain Wilderness Day 1

Blue Mountains - South Hiking John Day Oregon Trip report

Blue Basin, Bates, and Sumpter

After a successful first hike and nice visit with Heather’s parents on the first day of our vacation we left Bend early Sunday morning and headed for Sumpter. To reach Sumpter from Bend we’d need to drive through Prineville and take Highway 26 through the Ochoco Mountains (where the Desolation Fire was burning) and John Day to Highway 7 at Austin Junction then follow that highway 25.2 miles to the Sumpter Valley Highway.

To break up the over 200 mile drive we planned a couple of short hikes along the way starting with Blue Basin in the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

This was our third visit to the monument having previously hiked in the Painted Hills and Clarno Units.

The Sheep Rock Unit is located approximately 30 miles east of Mitchell, OR. To reach the Blue Basin Trialhead we turned north on Highway 19 towards the Thomas Condon Visitors Center. It was too early for the center to be open but we stopped along the way to take in the view of Sheep Rock.

After 5 miles on Highway 19 we turned left into the parking area for the Blue Basin Area.


It was a beautiful morning with a few clouds in the sky providing for some dramatic views right off the bat.

We chose to start our hike with the Blue Basin Overlook Trail.

The path passed alongside a field where songbirds were happily enjoying their morning.


It wasn’t long before we got our first good look at the exposed volcanic ash that gave the area its name.


In the morning light the ash appeared more green than blue. The contrast between the ash and the golden grasses on the hillsides was beautiful.

We were a bit surprised to see some yellow flowers still blooming as we wrapped around another scenic outcrop of ash.



The trees were filled with birds as the trail climbed toward the rim.



The trail climbed gradually for the most part for the first 1.2 miles and we were captivated by the formations created by the ash.

The trail then began to climb in earnest passing a bench with an encouraging sign along the way.



We were thankful that it was a cool morning as we couldn’t imagine attempting the hike on a hot summer day.

The trail became somewhat level once it reached the rim where the views were breathtaking.




A short spur trail led to a bench at the overlook which had even more impressive views.


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After attempting to comprehend what we were seeing we continued on the loop which passes through some private land on the way to more spectacular views before descending to a bench at a trail junction.



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Here we turned right on the Island of Time Trail which led into the heart of Blue Basin.

It was only .4 miles to the end of this trail but the scenery seemed endless. The various colors and textures were remarkable and numerous informative interpretive signs sat along the path.










We sat at a bench at the end of the trail soaking in the view on what was a perfectly peaceful morning.
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All of the hikes in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument had been enjoyable but this 4.2 mile hike was by far the most impressive to us.

After returning to our car we drove back to Highway 26 and continued east. The air was once again hazy due to wildfire smoke making it hard for us to see much of the Strawberry Mountains as we passed by. After 66 miles we turned left onto Highway 7 for 1.1 miles then left again on Middle Fork Lane for .4 miles to Bates State Park.


The park is located at the site of a former company lumber town. Bates Pond is all that is left from the town now. Several trails at the park gave us the opportunity to explore the area on a 2.6 mile hike starting on the Pond Trail which began on a road bed marked by a metal post.

The trail followed the road along Bates Pond where numerous ducks paddled about.





We crossed Bridge Creek on a footbridge at the far end of the pond and continued around the pond.

We startled a heron that flew ahead of us into a tree before taking off again across the pond to another tree.




When the Bates Pond Trail ended at the Bridge Creek Trail we stayed straight following Bridge Creek and ignoring side trails and the nosy residents.



Just before arriving at a gate we turned uphill to the left onto the Meadow Trail.

After a short climb the trail leveled off then came to an end at the Dixie Trail where we stayed right.

From this trail there was a view of the pond and to some buttes to the east.


Along the way we met one of the cutest ground squirrel we’d ever seen.

The Dixie Trail descended to the Bridge Creek Trail near the footbridge at the end of the pond and we simply followed the Bates Pond Trail back to our car.


It was only a quarter after twelve when we’d finished and our check-in time was 2:30 in Sumpter which was only about a half an hour away. We still had one short hike left in Sumpter which would be good for about an hour which would have leave us a little early. We solved that issue by turning the wrong way (left) when leaving Bates. We only realized our mistake after driving over 16 miles which should have brought us to the ghost town of Whitney but didn’t.

After correcting our mistake we drove back to Highway 7 and headed east for 25 miles to a sign for Sumpter where we turned left for 3 miles. We turned left into the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area.

Here a 1240-ton dredge used to scoop up river gravel and filter out gold dust sits amid tailings left in its wake. The site is also home to the Sumpter Valley Railroad which hauled timber to Bates and Prairie City. We parked near the visitors center by the dredge.

We started our visit by exploring the dredge.









Next we took the South Trail for .4 miles through ponds amid the tailings to the Powder River.




We turned left onto the .3 mile McCulley Creek Trail which was flooded near its end by some nifty beaver work.





We returned to the South Trail and finished the loop which ended at a machinery yard near the dredge.

We walked left around the dredge and picked up the North Trail which traveled along Cracker Creek.


We had been hoping to see a beaver but knew the chances of that during the day were slim so we settled for a quail.

We turned left at a Ridge Trail sign and followed this path to the Railroad Station.




From the station we crossed the parks entrance road and took the Walking Trail back to the dredge.

As it turned out our motel was right across the street from the park. We had originally planned to stay at the Granite Lodge in Granite but that establishment appeared to be for sale from what we could tell, so Heather started looking for a place in Sumpter. There were a couple of choices but we picked the Sumpter Stockade due to the themed rooms looking fun. It turned out that this motel had just changed owners and the previous owners hadn’t stayed open past Labor Day. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay there and the new owners were great!



We were given the Civil War Room.
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After dropping off our stuff we decided to try out a hand dipped corn dog stand we’d seen on the next block. That turned out to be a great decision as both the corn dogs and cheese sticks from Cajun Concessions were excellent! It was a satisfying end to another great day of hiking.

It looked like things were going to start getting interesting the next day as the system from the Gulf of Alaska was supposed to begin arriving overnight and temperatures would start dropping around 11am on Monday with the snow level dropping as low as 5000′. We went to bed knowing there was a good chance we’d be hiking in snow by the end of the following day. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Blue Basin, Bates, and Sumpter

Central Oregon Hiking John Day Oregon Trip report

Cottonwood Canyon State Park

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

Just after turning onto the entrance road we forked right on a short gravel road to a parking area near the river. The Hard Stone Trail began here.

This nearly level 1.5 mile path follows the river upstream to Big Eddy, a lazy whirlpool at a bend in the river. The park has very few trees which allows for some wide open views but it also means a real lack of shade. Considering it was already in the low 60’s as we set off on the Hard Stone Trail at 7:30 we knew we were in for a hot hike.





We spent our time enjoying the views of the canyon cliffs and scanning the sagebrush for flowers and animals including rattle snakes which are seen with some regularity along the John Day. We didn’t see any snakes but we saw a few other critters and a nice variety of flowers.



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The trail, which followed an old road bed, officially ended at Big Eddy which was where we turned back, but the road continues on.

After returning to our car we drove further into the park following signs for the Pinnacles Trail parking area. We set off following signs for the trail. After a short walk through a camping area the path led to a gate with a signboard and trail register.



A nearby walnut tree offered some cool shade.

The Pinnacles Trail follows another old road bed along the river downstream a total of 4.3 miles. IMG_0728

The cliffs along the trail were captivating. It was hard not to turn off the trail just to see how far one could get up some of the gullies and side canyons.
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A short distance from the gate the cliffs crowded the trail.

The cliffs hung over the trail and were home to countless American Cliff Swallows which sped to and from their nests as we passed underneath.





Just under a mile and half along the trail brought us to a neat old walnut tree where we spotted a colorful lazuli bunting.
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A trail near the tree provides river access and another trail led slightly uphill away from the tree. The sign named this the D & H Trail and indicated that it returned to the Pinnacles Trail further downstream. We decided we’d take it on the return trip after realizing (after way too long a time) that those were our initials, D & H.

As we continued on we passed part of an old fence where we spotted an aptly named western fence lizard.
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We spotted many of the same types of flowers we’d seen along the Hard Stone Trail and a few we hadn’t including some sweet smelling mock orange.


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The Pinnacles Trail is named after some rock outcrops across the river near the 3 mile mark.

Beyond the Pinnacles the trail bent to the left passing through an open area full of sagebrush before rounding a rocky ridge-end.


The ridge bowed away from the trail.

We had talked early about the possibility of spotting larger animals on the hillsides and imagined that most of them would be sticking the the brush filled gullies we had seen along the way. As we were scanning the cliffs below the ridge I spotted what might have been an animal or possibly another rock (I have a real knack for spotting rocks and tree trunks).

Making use of the camera’s 30x optical zoom allowed me to confirm that is was indeed an animal, in fact it was several animals.

Going from the optical to the digital zoom gave us a closer look (but grainier picture) of the first big horn sheep we’d spotted on a hike.

Sure enough they were hanging out in the shaded vegetation. Then we noticed a few more of the sheep passing below the first group. They seemed to be grazing on balsamroot leaves.


The official trail continued to a narrow area between the cliffs and river.


A use path continued on but we didn’t see any reason to continue. It was well into the 80’s and we’d seen plenty of great sights already. The sheep had disappeared when we passed back by where we’d seen them but Heather spotted something that was almost as surprising to see as they had been, a mushroom.

We forked onto the D & H Trail when we reached its eastern end.

The trail led through the sagebrush just far enough uphill that we were able to avoid what had been a fairly active area for mosquitoes before dropping back down to the Pinnacles Trail by the walnut tree.

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One final sighting of note was a pair of Bullock’s Orioles which we had not seen before.
Bullock's Oriole

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

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

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

Flickr: Cottonwood Canyon

Central Oregon Hiking John Day Oregon Trip report

Clarno Unit – John Day Fossil Beds and Spring Basin Wilderness

We officially kicked off our 2017 hiking season on 4/22 with a pair of hikes near Clarno, OR. The first was a 1.4 mile at the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. We parked at the day use picnic area 3.4 miles east of the John Day River bridge at Clarno.

Clarno Unit Trailhead

From the parking area we took the .3 mile Geologic Time Trail west toward the dramatic rock formations called The Palisades.

Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

The trail was lined with golden fiddleneck blossoms and passed several interpretive signs describing the history of the area that created the amazing features.

Fiddleneck along the trail at Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

The Geologic Time Trail ended at a junction with the .2 mile Trail of Fossils loop. Here we turned uphill to the right passing more interpretive signs. These helped identify fossils in the nearby rocks.

Interpretive sign Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Leaf fossil at Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Leaf fossils Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Interpretive sign Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

The loop descended to a second possible trailhead where another trail, the .2 mile Arch Trail, split to the right (west) near a large signboard.

The Palisades Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

This short trail led uphill to the base of a rock arch along The Palisades.

Rock Arch Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

The views along the trail were amazing both across the highway and up close to the rocks.

Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Looking south toward the Spring Basin Wilderness

Rock pillar Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Rock wall along the Palisades - Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Just before the rock arch was a sign describing a pair of fossilized logs 40 feet above the trail. For some reason neither of us could see them despite spending a few minutes searching. After visiting the rock arch, we paused again to look for the logs. This time they were easily spotted up in the wall of rocks above the sign.

Looking up at the rock arch

Petrified tree trunks in the rock walls of the Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

We returned to the Trail of Fossils loop and completed it then took the Geologic Time Trail back to the picnic area where another car was just pulling in. These were really interesting hikes and a great warm-up for our next stop, the nearby Spring Basin Wilderness.

Designated a wilderness in 2009 the 6,404 acre Spring Basin Wilderness has no official trails but similar to nearby Sutton Mountain old jeep tracks and open terrain make exploring the area fairly easy.  The wilderness is located south of Highway 218 across from the Clarno Unit.

For our visit we were planning on following the route described in the Third Edition of William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Eastern Oregon” (Hike #18). From the Clarno Unit we drove back toward Clarno 1.9 miles and turned left onto gravel Clarno Rd. After 3.2 miles we parked on the left at a pullout near a lone juniper tree. An outdated wilderness sign declaring a wilderness study area indicated that we were at the correct spot.

Wilderness signpost at the Spring Basin Wilderness

A faint but clear path led into the wilderness toward a draw on the horizon.

Spring Basin Wilderness

The views were dramatic from the start with jagged rock formation and green rolling hills.

Sun and shadows as seen from the Spring Basin Wilderness

View from the Spring Basin Wilderness

Spring Basin Wilderness

The path led us up into the draw passing a number of different types of wildflowers.





Prairie stars

Prairie stars

Balloon pod milkvetch

Balloon pod milkvetch


Another type of milkvetch





There was one flower that had not yet started to bloom that we had never seen before and we still aren’t sure what it was.

Wildflower getting ready to bloom in the Spring Basin Wilderness

After 1.3 miles the path reached a ridge top junction with an old jeep track marked by a rock cairn.

Spring Basin Wilderness

Near the junction we spotted the first of many hedgehog cactus.

Hedgehog cactus

None of the blossoms were open and we mistakenly thought we were a week or so too early to see them in full bloom. As we would discover later the blossoms would open to the Sun later in the day.

Hedgehog cactus

We turned left onto the jeep track and headed toward a knoll on the horizon.

Spring Basin Wilderness

We followed the track around the side of the knoll then turned uphill and went cross country to the summit marked by another cairn.

Spring Basin Wilderness

John Day River from the Spring Basin Wilderness

Our goal, Horse Mountain, was slightly southeast of the knoll.

Spring Basin Wilderness

To reach the summit of that mountain without having to lose and regain too much elevation Sullivan’s route called for a .9 mile cross country route due east through a juniper grove then up a draw to find the jeep track once again on the ridge line.

Spring Basin Wilderness

We surveyed the landscape and picked out the juniper grove before heading back down the knoll to the jeep track.

Juniper grove in the Spring Basin Wilderness

We followed the jeep track north a short distance to a low point then descended into a draw and headed for the grove. The initial descent was a little steeper than it had appeared from the knoll but it was not a problem and we made it to the junipers without any difficulty.

Juniper grove

Juniper grove in the Spring Basin Wilderness

From the grove we climbed up the draw we’d seen to the jeep track and turned right toward Horse Mountain.

Spring Basin Wilderness

On the ridge we found more hedgehog cactus amid other many other wildflowers.

Wildflowers in the Spring Basin Wilderness

Hedgehog cactus

We stuck to the jeep track for approximately 3/4 of a mile then veered off toward Horse Mountain when the track turned left amid more junipers.

Horse Mountain in the Spring Basin Wilderness

Our initial plan was to sidehill up to a saddle along Horse Mountain but we found it was actually easier to head directly uphill so we wound up gaining the ridge near it’s western end which was dotted with balsamroot.


Balsamroot in the Spring Basin Wilderness

We then followed the ridge up to the summit of Horse Mountain.

Horse Mountain

Along the way we passed a lone daggerpod in bloom,some lupine plants that were just beginning to show buds, and more hedgehog cactus.

Horse Mountain


Biscuitroot and hedghog cactus in the Spring Basin Wilderness

A small rock cairn marked the summit of Horse Mountain.

Horse Mountain summit in the Spring Basin Wilderness

The 360 degree view was spectacular. We sat on some rocks and examined the scenery.

View from the summit of Horse Mountain

View from the summit of Horse Mountain

View from the summit of Horse Mountain

Spring Basin Wilderness

To the far south the snowy Ochoco Mountains lined the horizon.

Lookout Mountain from Horse Mountain

It was amazingly peaceful on the summit. The only sounds were bird songs and the low hum of insects buzzing about. If the rocks had been a little softer we could have stayed for hours. As it was we eventually headed back down to the jeep track which we thought about following all the way back to the knoll. We had seen quite a few caterpillars on the ground all morning but now there seemed to be more and they were moving about.



From the ridge The Palisades of the Clarno Unit were visible to the north.

The Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds from the Spring Basin Wilderness

Raven with the Palisades of the Clarno Unit in the distance

After looking more closely at the map we decided that the jeep track swung out a little more than we were willing to do so we instead took a slightly different off trail route to the knoll.

Spring Basin Wilderness

We wound up climbing up the same draw we’d descended earlier in the day and regained the jeep track below the knoll. We then returned to the rock cairn and descended the gully back to our car ending our hike at 7.4 miles. We had been on the alert for rattlesnakes all day but had not seen nor heard any. That changed on our drive back to the highway. We spotted at least 4 rattlers sunning themselves on Clarno Road. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Clarno Unit and Spring Basin Wilderness

Central Oregon Hiking John Day Oregon Trip report

Painted Hills and Sutton Mountain

We have lived in Oregon all our lives and yet neither of us had ever been to the Painted Hills in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. We finally made it there on a weekend trip to Central Oregon. We had headed to Bend after work on Friday and planned on visiting the Painted Hills then checking out a pair of nearby wilderness study areas – Pat’s Cabin and Sutton Mountain.

The Painted Hills Unit is one of three units making up the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. It is located 10 miles NW of Mitchell, OR and contains five short hiking trails ranging from the .2 mile Painted Cove Loop to the 1.6 mile round trip Carroll Rim Trail. We began our visit at the Painted Hills Overlook Trailhead.
Painted Hills Overlook Trailhead

We had gotten our usual early morning start and had arrived a little before 7am. The Sun was just coming up over Sutton Mountain to the east and the sky was partly cloudy creating some interesting lighting.
Sun coming over Sutton Mountain from the Painted HIlls

The .3 mile Painted Hills Overlook Trail began at this trailhead and provided some great views of the Painted Hills, Carroll Rim, and Sutton Mountain.
Painted Hills Overlook Trail

Painted Hills

Painted Hills

Painted HIlls

Painted HIlls

Painted HIlls

There had been one other car at the trailhead but its occupant never left that area so it was just us on the trail with a host of birds that remained unseen but whose songs filled the air. The wildflowers on the other hand remained silent but stood out with their splashes of color.

Golden Bee Plant
Golden Bee Plant


Rough eyelash weed
Rough eyelash weed

Tolmie’s Onion
Tolmie's Onion


Uropappus lindleyi; Silverpuffs

After returning to the trailhead we walked across Bear Creek Road to the Carroll Rim Trail which climbs almost 400′ in .8 miles to a rimrock viewpoint.
Carroll Rim Trail

The Painted Hills stole the show, but there were other sights along this trail as well including our fist encounter with chukars.
Painted Hills from the Carroll Rim Trail

Painted Hills from the Carroll Rim Trail

Painted Hills from the Carroll Rim Trail

Carroll Rim







Orange globe mallow

From the Painted Hills Overlook Trailhead we drove 1.2 miles following signs to the Painted Cove Loop Trailhead. Here a .2 mile loop passes colorful claystone formations.



A short side trail forked off to the left leading to a viewpoint above the Painted Cove. While we were at the viewpoint Heather spotted a Coyote across the road.


There was also a nice bloom of John Day Pincushion on the hillside.

Next we headed to the Leaf Hill Trail traveling back the way we’d come and following signs to the trailhead.

This loop passes around a small hill containing many fossils (we didn’t spot any though).



Finally we visited the Red Hill Trail which leads to a close up view of a hill of red and yellow ash.



Near the end of the trail we spotted our first ever bitteroot flowers. They were just beginning to open but it was exciting nonetheless given we had looked for these on other hikes and failed to find any.

Our next destination for the day was a bit of a wild-card. While I was doing research for the Sutton Mountain hike I had seen references to another nearby wilderness study area calls Pat’s Cabin. i wasn’t able to find much information about it, but I did find a 2011 BLM map of the area showing a trail going up Pat’s Cabin Canyon. Internet searches turned up nothing in regards to the trail so we decided that we would check it out in person. The BLM map showed a parking area along Burnt Ranch Road just before reaching the Twickenham-Bridge Creek Cuttoff Road. We parked in a grassy area next to an old corral near a sign for the Burnt Ranch and Priest Hole Recreation Sites.


From there we crossed Burnt Ranch Road and passed through a barb wire gate on an old dirt road. After approximately a quarter mile we came to a sign marking the boundary of the wilderness study area.

Just on the other side of the sign was Bridge Creek. Bridge Creek lacked a bridge here and the flow was swifter and deeper than we were comfortable with trying to ford. Later in the year it may have been doable but on this day Pat’s Cabin would remain a mystery to us.

Our final destination for the day was on the other side of Sutton Mountain so we drove to Mitchell and turned north onto Highway 207 for 9.3 miles. We were hoping to spot two things during our Sutton Mountain hike that we had not yet seen during a hike, pronghorns and hedgehog cactus. We spotted some pronghorns in a field before we even made it to the trailhead.


That didn’t count since we weren’t on the hike yet, but it was still neat to see them.

The trailhead we were looking for was located just beyond milepost 15 behind a wire gate in a grassy meadow with lots of signs of cattle.

An old roadbed serves as the trail.

We followed the roadbed along a wire fence to a private barn. There were horses on the other side of the fence and cows on our side. We hesitated for a moment when we realized there was also a bull, but after he gave us a look he headed away toward the barn. The roadbed turned uphill to the left so we began to climb.

There were a few wildflowers and as we climbed we began seeing more, especially different colors of paintbrush.

Sagebrush false dandelion

Wild onion

Prairie star






There was also plenty of lupine but much of it had not even started to bloom.

A mile from the trailhead the roadbed curved to the right across a dry wash. On this side of the wash the lupine was further along and a few more flowers made appearances.




As we climbed the trees gave way to grassy meadows where wildflowers dotted the ground with color.

Maybe a grass widow

Old man’s whiskers


An arnica



Just over a mile after crossing the dry wash we arrived at an old corral and another barb wire fence. A roadbed continued straight from the corral but the correct route turned left and continued uphill on a fainter old roadbed on the far side of the corral and fence.


We spotted additional wildflowers as we continued to climb.

Dwarf yellow fleabane

Shooting star

The fence eventually disappeared but we just stuck to the roadbed which was easy enough to follow. The open meadows allowed for some great views including the bottom portion of Mt. Jefferson.



As we were taking in the views we spotted some pronghorns on the opposite hillside.


They were a lot further away than those we spotted in the car but at least now we could say we had seen some while hiking.

Just under a mile and a half from the old corral the roadbed came to a pass where it curved to the right and continued to the NW. Our goal, the summit of Sutton Mountain, was to our SE though so we left the roadbed here and headed uphill along the rim cliff.

We had seen our pronghorns but not a hedgehog cactus which we knew to bloom in the area in late April or early May. We had nearly given up hope as we neared the summit when Heather spotted the first one.

They seemed to only be present in a small area along the rim and then only on the SW facing slope.



We spent quite a while studying the different cacti before finally making our way to the official summit where we took a break and admired the view.


Mt. Jefferson in the distance and the Painted Hills unit below.


Lookout Mountain in the Ochocos.

Many butterflies were out as we returned the way we’d come.




We returned the way we’d come and found that the cows had moved from their earlier location and now the trailhead was crowded.

The cows had thoroughly inspected our car leaving smudges in the dust along the body and drivers side window where they had licked the vehicle.

It was a wonderful day of hiking. It had been warm but not too hot which was nice given the lack of shade on these hikes. There was a great variety of wildflowers and wildlife including several of each that were new to us, and there were birds signing almost everywhere we were. We couldn’t recall another hike with as much birdsong, much of which came from western meadowlarks. For what it’s worth Sutton Mountain made its case to for becoming an officially designated wilderness. Happy Trails!