Categories
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.
IMG_9127

After 5 miles on Highway 19 we turned left into the parking area for the Blue Basin Area.
IMG_9131

IMG_9135

It was a beautiful morning with a few clouds in the sky providing for some dramatic views right off the bat.
IMG_9133

We chose to start our hike with the Blue Basin Overlook Trail.
IMG_9137

The path passed alongside a field where songbirds were happily enjoying their morning.
IMG_9138

IMG_9142

It wasn’t long before we got our first good look at the exposed volcanic ash that gave the area its name.
IMG_9144

IMG_9147

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.
IMG_9156

We were a bit surprised to see some yellow flowers still blooming as we wrapped around another scenic outcrop of ash.
IMG_9171

IMG_9169

IMG_9176

The trees were filled with birds as the trail climbed toward the rim.
IMG_9182

IMG_9183

IMG_9185

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.
IMG_9195

The trail then began to climb in earnest passing a bench with an encouraging sign along the way.
IMG_9205

IMG_9206

IMG_9208

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.
IMG_9217

IMG_9214

IMG_9216

IMG_9218

A short spur trail led to a bench at the overlook which had even more impressive views.
IMG_9219

IMG_9223

2017-09-17 08.08.13_stitch

IMG_9230

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.
IMG_9237

IMG_9239

IMG_9248

2017-09-17 08.32.12_stitch

2017-09-17 08.39.30_stitch

IMG_9276

Here we turned right on the Island of Time Trail which led into the heart of Blue Basin.
IMG_9288

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.
IMG_9286

IMG_9291

IMG_9292

IMG_9293

IMG_9295

IMG_9302

IMG_9306

IMG_9310

IMG_9322

IMG_9342

We sat at a bench at the end of the trail soaking in the view on what was a perfectly peaceful morning.
2017-09-17 09.15.02

2017-09-17 09.15.43_stitch1

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.
IMG_9420

IMG_9364

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.
IMG_9366

The trail followed the road along Bates Pond where numerous ducks paddled about.
IMG_9368

IMG_9371

IMG_9373

IMG_9374

IMG_9376

We crossed Bridge Creek on a footbridge at the far end of the pond and continued around the pond.
IMG_9378

We startled a heron that flew ahead of us into a tree before taking off again across the pond to another tree.
IMG_9379

IMG_9383

IMG_9386

IMG_9389

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.
IMG_9393

IMG_9400

IMG_9396

Just before arriving at a gate we turned uphill to the left onto the Meadow Trail.
IMG_9402

After a short climb the trail leveled off then came to an end at the Dixie Trail where we stayed right.
IMG_9405

From this trail there was a view of the pond and to some buttes to the east.
IMG_9406

IMG_9409

Along the way we met one of the cutest ground squirrel we’d ever seen.
IMG_9416

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.
IMG_9417

IMG_9419

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.
IMG_9429

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.
IMG_9430

We started our visit by exploring the dredge.
IMG_9443

IMG_9435

IMG_9440

IMG_9444

IMG_9445

IMG_9447

IMG_9450

IMG_9453

IMG_9453

Next we took the South Trail for .4 miles through ponds amid the tailings to the Powder River.
IMG_9433

IMG_9457

IMG_9461

IMG_9470

We turned left onto the .3 mile McCulley Creek Trail which was flooded near its end by some nifty beaver work.
IMG_9472

IMG_9482

IMG_9473

IMG_9475

IMG_9481

We returned to the South Trail and finished the loop which ended at a machinery yard near the dredge.
IMG_9436

We walked left around the dredge and picked up the North Trail which traveled along Cracker Creek.
IMG_9483

IMG_9488

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.
IMG_9485

We turned left at a Ridge Trail sign and followed this path to the Railroad Station.
IMG_9491

IMG_9493

IMG_9494

IMG_9495

From the station we crossed the parks entrance road and took the Walking Trail back to the dredge.
IMG_9501

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!
IMG_9508

IMG_9506

IMG_9507

We were given the Civil War Room.
2017-09-17 15.40.20

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

Categories
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

Fiddleneck
Fiddleneck

Rough eyelash weed
Rough eyelash weed

Tolmie’s Onion
Tolmie's Onion

Arnica
Arnica

Silverpuff
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
IMG_4382

Chukar
Chukar

Caterpillar
IMG_4372

IMG_4384

Fiddleneck

IMG_4387

IMG_4374

Orange globe mallow
IMG_4390

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.
IMG_4391

IMG_4397

IMG_4427

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.
IMG_4417

IMG_4410

There was also a nice bloom of John Day Pincushion on the hillside.
IMG_4421

Next we headed to the Leaf Hill Trail traveling back the way we’d come and following signs to the trailhead.
IMG_4430

This loop passes around a small hill containing many fossils (we didn’t spot any though).
IMG_4439

IMG_4441

IMG_4445

Finally we visited the Red Hill Trail which leads to a close up view of a hill of red and yellow ash.
IMG_4449

IMG_4469

IMG_4459

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.
IMG_4460

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.
IMG_4474

IMG_4483

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.
IMG_4480

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.
IMG_4482

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.
IMG_4487

IMG_4490

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.
IMG_4497

An old roadbed serves as the trail.
IMG_4508

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.
IMG_4523

There were a few wildflowers and as we climbed we began seeing more, especially different colors of paintbrush.
Larkspur
IMG_4526

Sagebrush false dandelion
IMG_4528

Wild onion
IMG_4533

Prairie star
IMG_4534

Paintbrush
IMG_4535

IMG_4537

IMG_4540

IMG_4557

IMG_4562

There was also plenty of lupine but much of it had not even started to bloom.
IMG_4560

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.
IMG_4571

Stoneseed
IMG_4576

Wallflower
IMG_4577

Milk-vetch
IMG_4573

As we climbed the trees gave way to grassy meadows where wildflowers dotted the ground with color.
IMG_4584

Maybe a grass widow
IMG_4613

Old man’s whiskers
IMG_4607

Paintbrush
IMG_4617

An arnica
IMG_4623

Larkspur
IMG_4626

Lupine
IMG_4606

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.
IMG_4630

IMG_4639

We spotted additional wildflowers as we continued to climb.
Phlox
IMG_4645

Dwarf yellow fleabane
IMG_4664

Shooting star
IMG_4680

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.
IMG_4667

IMG_4668

IMG_4641

As we were taking in the views we spotted some pronghorns on the opposite hillside.
IMG_4647

IMG_4648

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.
IMG_4690

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.
IMG_4699

They seemed to only be present in a small area along the rim and then only on the SW facing slope.
IMG_4698

IMG_4703

IMG_4707

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.
IMG_4722

IMG_4723

Mt. Jefferson in the distance and the Painted Hills unit below.
IMG_4694

IMG_4697

Lookout Mountain in the Ochocos.
IMG_4689

Many butterflies were out as we returned the way we’d come.
IMG_4732

IMG_4743

IMG_4749

IMG_4751

We returned the way we’d come and found that the cows had moved from their earlier location and now the trailhead was crowded.
IMG_4755

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!

Flickr:https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157667625239612