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Hiking Oregon SE Oregon Steens Mountain Trip report

Little Blitzen River – 08/19/2021

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.
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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.
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It was a much clearer morning than it had been when we hiked Big Indian Gorge on Tuesday.
IMG_3044Big and Little Indian Gorges from the Little Blitzen Trail.

IMG_3046Heading for the Little Blitzen Gorge.

IMG_3049So 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.
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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.
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We followed the Little Blitzen Trail through a grassy meadow and into a much narrower gorge than Big Indian Gorge.
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It was nice to not have any haze limiting our view of the rocky walls.
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Speaking of rocks there were quite a few larger boulders along this trail.
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There were also boulders present in the river which created some nice cascades.
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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.
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IMG_3173Looking back the way we’d come.

IMG_3174The view ahead.

IMG_3178A stand of quacking aspen.

IMG_3179Something to avoid.

IMG_3181A geranium blossom.

IMG_3190Passing through some willows.

IMG_3192Hyssop

IMG_3193Vegetation along a spring fed creek.

IMG_3195Monkshood

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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.
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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.
IMG_3208The view ahead where we turned around.

IMG_3214A robin

IMG_3224Heading back

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IMG_3228The Little Blitzen River near Four Mile Camp

IMG_3234More of the old corral.

IMG_3235Gentians under a willow.

IMG_3249Paintbrush

IMG_3252Another little cascade along the river.

IMG_3256A nice pool.

IMG_3268There were a number of tiny grey birds in here, at least two in this photo.

IMG_3274A bigger bird, but not by a lot.

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IMG_3278A wood nymph

IMG_3309This 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.

Little Blitzen Track

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.
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From the gate Ben Riddle’s restored cabin and his original stone house were visible on the hillside across the Little Blitzen River.
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IMG_3463The 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).
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IMG_3339Upstairs

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IMG_3354The barn

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IMG_3361Inside 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.
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IMG_3369Levi 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.
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IMG_3374Thistle in a field once used for hay production by the Riddles.

IMG_3375Could be a green-tailed towhee

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Beyond the corral the trail made a series of ups and downs passing through several flat areas the Riddles once irrigated for hay.
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IMG_3390Lots of butterflies in the grassy areas.

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IMG_3417Nearing the confluence.

IMG_3420The confluence of the Donner und Blitzen River (left) and Little Blitzen River (right).

IMG_3433A 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.
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IMG_3450A ringlet

IMG_3456The 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).
IMG_3469Old 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

Categories
Hiking Oregon SE Oregon Steens Mountain Trip report

Steens Mountain Summit – 08/18/2021

On Tuesday a change in the weather had pushed much of the smoke away from Steens Mountain which is what we had hopped would happen in anticipation for our drive up the Steens Mountain Loop Road on Wednesday. The shift in weather also brought cooler temperatures which had made the previous days hike at Big Indian Gorge one of the more comfortable (temperature wise) of the year thus far. We once again got an early start hoping to reach the first of four planned stops around 6am and immediately realized that it was a lot cooler than it had been Monday or Tuesday. In fact the car was showing 39 degrees when we set off. Since the Steens Mountain Resort where we were staying was located along the Steens Mountain Loop Road we simply left the resort and turned right driving past the entrance to the Page Springs Campground and gradually climbing up the fault block Steens Mountain. By the time we arrived at the left turn for our first stop the Kiger Gorge Viewpoint 19.1 miles beyond the Page Springs Campground the temperature was down to 30 degrees. Luckily we try and come prepared so we had jackets, Buffs, and gloves although in hindsight we could have been a little more prepared. There was a decent breeze which made it feel a lot colder than 30 degrees.
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The Kiger Gorge is one of 5 glacier carved valleys on Steens Mountain and is the largest and most scenic. We were fortunate to arrive just before some clouds moved in.
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IMG_2689Still some smoke to the east as shown by the red Sun.

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IMG_2699Here come the clouds.

With the clouds moving in we hustled back to the car and continued on the loop road another 2.7 miles to a four-way junction where we turned left at a pointer for the East Rim Viewpoint where the clouds had not yet reached.
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IMG_2717Between the Sun and haze it was hard to see much of the ragged eastern side of Steens Mountain or the Alvord Desert (post) below.

IMG_2713Frozen thistle

IMG_2718The Alvord Desert through the haze.

IMG_2716A look back at the parking area.

After checking out this view we returned to the 4-way junction and turned left at a pointer for Wildhorse Lake following this road for almost two miles to a parking area below the 9741′ summit of Steens Mountain. A gated road led uphill the final half mile to some towers on the summit.
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IMG_2731Wildhorse Lake below the summit.

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IMG_2734The rocks here provided a little protection from the freezing wind.

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IMG_2743Big Indian Gorge (post) from the summit.

IMG_2747Heather getting a closer look at Wildhorse Lake.

IMG_2752Not much snow left up here.

After checking out the summit we walked back down past the gate and turned left at a post on a trail heading downhill to a registration box.
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The trail split here with the left hand fork heading downhill for a mile to Wildhorse Lake. The tread was a little dicey near the top but soon became better as it switchbacked down to a small bench before steepening quite a bit along a small stream.
IMG_2772Typical tread near the top.

IMG_2776Buckwheat

IMG_2782The bench.

IMG_2786The small stream.

IMG_2788A wren.

IMG_2791Wildhorse Lake from near the end of the bench.

IMG_2792We were a little disappointed to see just how late we were for most all of the wildflowers. I don’t know how much the drought this year affected the timing or if it blooms that much earlier in SE Oregon but the remains of what looked to have been an excellent display were all we were left with.

IMG_2793A few stone steps began the steep descent along the stream.

IMG_2796A few of these little yellow flowers were still in bloom.

IMG_2799This was a mass of pink monkeyflower a few weeks ago.

IMG_2801A look up at the summit.

IMG_2803The trail descending less steeply to the lake.

IMG_2815A lone lupine blooming near the lake.

IMG_2821A pair of paintbrush and the remainder of some aster or fleabane.

IMG_2822A ground squirrel near the lake.

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We rested for a bit by the lake where there was thankfully not much of a breeze and then explored along the shore.
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DSCN0790The only pink monkeyflower blossom we spotted.

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IMG_2853Ranger buttons

IMG_2854Mountain coyote mint

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IMG_2831Cascade grass-of-parnassus

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IMG_2868Gentians

IMG_2870Wildhorse Creek

IMG_2873Looking down along Wildhorse Creek.

20210818_084407Wildhorse Lake and Steens Summit.

After checking out the lake we started back up the trail as a few more clouds began to move in.
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IMG_2927Rockfringe willowherb

IMG_2933Raptors soaring above Steens Mountain.

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When we had both reached the registration box we took the other trail fork downhill. Sullivan shows this unofficial trail leading to a pass above Little Wildhorse Lake after in a mile but mentions having to use your hands in an update on his website Oregonhiking.com but that “adventurous hikers should have no trouble”.

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IMG_2959Big Indian Gorge

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IMG_2965The summit from the unofficial trail.

IMG_2966The trail on the ridge.

IMG_2967Looking ahead at the ridge the rocky outcrop looked a bit intimidating.

IMG_2968The view out over Big Indian Gorge.

IMG_2970Wildhorse Lake

After a small saddle the trail came to the final rock fin along the ridge and I followed some clear tread along the left side of the outcrop.
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In hindsight the correct route was probably up onto the top of the ridge and the right hand side was a very steep loose rocky slope because the path I was following just ended at a small slide.
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IMG_2975I turned back here, I’m not that adventurous.

I retraced my steps and met Heather at the small saddle. She was not liking this little trail and at that point neither was I. Between the cold, incoming clouds, and steady breeze we decided we’d seen enough and retreated back to the trailhead.
IMG_2990Darker clouds over the summit from the trailhead.

IMG_2991A little better view of the Alvord Desert.

<img src="https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/51394274589_2328a93b39_c.jpg&quot; width="800" height="600" alt="IMG_2994">Here comes the cloud.

IMG_2995The view as we prepared to drive off.

Our hike here came to a little over 6 miles with approximately 1400′ of elevation gain.

Track for Steens Summit

We drove back the way we’d come instead of completing the loop. Two reasons, the final downhill stretch to South Steens Campground was reportedly rough and recommended for 4×4 high clearance vehicles (In fact the folks at the resort recommended going counter-clockwise and driving up from that side if we were going to drive the loop) and we had a low tire pressure light on. It had come on when we’d driven over a cattle guard that morning which we were hoping was simply due to the cold temperatures but we didn’t want to try driving a rougher road in case. Going back the way we’d come would also gave us an opportunity to stop at the viewpoints again if the conditions looked better. The East Rim Viewpoint was in the middle of the clouds though so we drove on by but did detour to the Kiger Gorge Viewpoint again.
IMG_2996We did stop along the way to take a couple of photos.

IMG_2997Our planned hike for the next day was up this gorge.

The view was a little better and a little warmer at Kiger Gorge.
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We made one final stop on the way back to the resort by pulling into Fish Lake (5.7 miles from the turn for the Kiger Gorge Viewpoint). There is no hike here but we wanted to see the lake.
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The tire pressure light was still on when we got back to the resort so after showering we made the hour plus drive north into Burns to visit Les Schwab. Ironically we had had to stop in this same Les Schwab the last time we were in the Steens area due to a low tire pressure light in our Rav 4. That turned out to be a nail stuck in the tire but this time it was simply a low reading in the right rear tire. They made sure there was nothing stuck in it and that it wasn’t leaking and they had us back on our way in no time. We really appreciate the service we get from every Les Schwab we visit. It was a nice evening at the resort and the clouds made for a dramatic setting Sun.
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DSCN0804The historic Frenchglen Hotel zoomed in on from the resort.

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This was our final night here and we’d be leaving early the next morning to hike along the Little Blitzen River before driving on to Fields (and getting milkshakes). Happy Trail!

Flickr: Steens Summit

Categories
Hiking Oregon SE Oregon Steens Mountain Trip report

Big Indian Gorge – 08/17/2021

Our original plan for Tuesday had been to drive up the Steens Summit Loop Road and hike to the summit and Wildhorse Lake, one of four of Sullivan’s featured hikes (post) we were hoping to check off during the trip. With the amount of smoke in the air Monday night though we decided to wait until morning to decide if that was still the plan or if we were going to do the Big Indian Gorge hike instead. At 5am when we were heading out the door the air still smelled of smoke so Big Indian Gorge it was. We drove from the Steens Mountain Resort to Highway 205 in Frenchglen (a whopping 3.1 miles) and headed south on the highway ten miles to the southern end of the Steens Mountain Loop Road where we turned left for 18.9 miles to the South Steens Campground. This section of road passes through the South Steens Horse Management Area (HMA) and we got a chance to see some of the wild horses up close as we passed through.
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The hike up Big Indian Gorge begins at a day use area at the end of the South Steens Campground.
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One thing that we really appreciated about the trails in the area was the quality of information the BLM had posted at all the trailheads we visited. Maps, trail condition reports and photos were posted at them all.
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The Big Indian Gorge Trail began as an old road bed passing through juniper and sagebrush on the way to the mouth of the gorge.
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It was long past flower season but evidence of a large number of wildflowers was still visible.
IMG_2318There were tons of wild onions along the way.

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IMG_2344Deer on one of the hillsides.

IMG_2357Beginning to drop down to Big Indian Creek.

Just under two miles from the current trailhead we arrived at a much older trailhead and a ford of Big Indian Creek.
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This was the first of three fords (two of Big Indian Creek and one of Little Indian Creek) which I managed to make dry footed. Heather was not so lucky, which was a change from what normally happens on these types of crossings. The ford of Little Indian Creek followed just 0.2 miles later and proved to be quite a bit easier.
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While there was still quite a bit of haze in the sky there was beginning to be some signs that things were improving.
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Our goal for the day was to reach Cottonwood Camp, approximately 6.5 mile in, before turning around. Beyond Little Indian Creek the trail climbed a bit passing a collapsed cabin 0.4 miles from the second ford.
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Three quarters of a mile from the cabin ruins we arrived at the third ford (3.1 miles from the trailhead). This crossing had enough exposed rocks to also make it across dry footed.
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IMG_2391Quacking aspen along the trail.

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We continued on passing a rather large boulder a mile from the third crossing where we passed a backpacker on his way back to the trailhead. The landscape was a mix of juniper and sagebrush with some quacking aspen and cottonwoods scattered about. Most of the wildflowers here were also far past bloom but a few were hanging on. We did notice that there had been a lot of Brown’s peony plants in the area which we sadly missed blooming.
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IMG_2402One of the many Brown’s peonies along the trail.

IMG_2407Hawk atop a cottonwood

IMG_2410This counts a lupine in bloom!

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IMG_2413A lone yarrow

IMG_2414One of a couple of spring fed streams along the trail.

IMG_2416Aspens and junipers

IMG_2420Tassel-flowered Brickellbush

IMG_2429Waxwings

IMG_2622The large boulder later in the day on our way out.

Cottonwood Camp was another 2.4 miles beyond the boulder. It was a very gentle climb through increasingly open terrain to the camp. We were heading toward the Sun which was amplifying the smokey haze ahead of us. We kept thinking we were going to be heading into increasingly thick smoke but that never really materialized.
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IMG_2436One of the other spring fed crossings.

IMG_2437There were lots of crickets/grasshoppers bouncing about.

IMG_2438We could see some of the closer cliffs through the haze.

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IMG_2442We started to see a few more lupine in bloom the further in we hiked.

IMG_2444What the smoke looked like ahead.

IMG_2447Lots of butterflies too.

IMG_2450Salsify

IMG_2454Paintbrush

IMG_2458Aster or fleabane

IMG_2459Geranium

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IMG_2472We couldn’t see very far up the gorge because of the smoke.

IMG_2474The view was better behind us.

IMG_2484Coneflower

IMG_2489Hummingbird visiting paintbrush

IMG_2486A few aspen already turning golden.

IMG_2509Cottonwood Camp down to the right.

IMG_2510Looking up Big Indian Gorge from the trail near Cottonwood Camp.

IMG_2514Genitian

IMG_2518Raptor

We took a short side trail to the large camp site and took a nice break amid the cottonwoods. It hadn’t gotten too warm yet and as we rested a nice breeze picked up which kept the temperature down and started to push the smoke out.
IMG_2521Cottonwood Camp

IMG_2519View across the gorge when we arrived at the camp.

IMG_2523Big Indian Creek

IMG_2536A few white clouds started to appear along with the breeze.

IMG_2541The near wall above Big Indian Creek and Cottonwood Camp.

By the time we started back we could at least make out the headwall and other features further up the gorge through the haze that was left.
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The view heading out of the gorge continued to improve as we made our way back to the fords and eventually the trailhead.
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IMG_2556We missed this nest on the first pass. It was about 30 yards off the trail.

IMG_2562We also missed this Nuttall’s linanthus blooming along the trial.

IMG_2564Improving views

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IMG_2604This was a very pretty butterfly that for some reason the camera just didn’t want to focus on.

IMG_2619Clearer skies above.

20210817_111418Skipper

IMG_2623Clouds building up over Steens Mountain

IMG_2633Lorquin’s admiral

IMG_2639Ground squirrel

IMG_2646Some type of wood nymph.

IMG_2653Back to the first ford, which I again managed to cross dry footed giving me a perfect record for the day which is unheard of.

IMG_2655A comma of some sort.

IMG_2665A vast improvement over the morning.

IMG_2677Looking back toward the gorge from the old road bed.

IMG_2679What a difference a few hours can make.

Our track – My GPS had 14 miles vs 13 miles but I tend to wander, a lot.

After our hike we drove back to the Steens Mountain Resort where the views had also improved greatly over the previous afternoons. Happy Trails!
DSCN0776Our accommodations.

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Flickr: Big Indian Gorge