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Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Monument Rock and Little Malheur River – 07/21/2021

We were finally down to our last Oregon Wilderness area to visit, the Monument Rock Wilderness (post). The 20,210 acre wilderness is located in the southern Blue Mountains a little over an hour east of John Day. We’d spent the night in John Day and woke to find that it had rained overnight but we hadn’t heard any thunder so we were optimistic that no new lighting caused fires would be springing up. We had two hikes in the wilderness planned for the day with the first being a hike to the wilderness’s namesake, Monument Rock.

Our starting point for the hike to Monument Rock was the Table Rock Trailhead. The final 3.8 miles to this trailhead require slow driving and a high clearance vehicle.
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IMG_0553The trailhead is at this hairpin curve below Table Rock. The road continues another 0.8 miles to the staffed Table Rock Lookout but reportedly worsens which is hard to imagine is possible.

The trail quickly crossed the wilderness boundary on an old roadbed completing our goal of hiking in all of Oregon’s 46 wilderness areas open to human visitors.
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IMG_0556First time seeing a wilderness sign quite like this.

There was quite a bit of smoke in the sky this morning even though we still weren’t really smelling it.
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IMG_0562A red Sun behind the smoke, presumably mostly from the 400,000 plus acre Bootleg Fire east of Klamath Falls in south central Oregon.

We followed the old road bed through sagebrush and occasional stand of trees for a total of 1.7 miles to a post. There was a nice amount of red paintbrush blooming amid the sage and lots of interesting rock formations along the way.
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IMG_0563Clark’s nutcracker

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IMG_0572Monument Rock in the distance.

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IMG_0578Paintbrush in the sagebrush.

IMG_0583Ground squirrel

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IMG_0586There was a fair amount of this green paintbrush too.

IMG_0589We believe this post (not the 1.7 mile post) marked a side trail to Rock Spring but we didn’t see any tread in the area to know for sure.

IMG_0593Bullrun Rock dead ahead.

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IMG_0595Table Rock in the distance.

IMG_0596The Table Rock Lookout.

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IMG_0604Two kinds of paint.

IMG_0601Bullrun Rock below the Sun.

IMG_0602Monument Rock again.

IMG_0607Old man’s whiskers

IMG_0611A checkermallow

IMG_0614We passed this sign for the Amelia Trail along the way but again didn’t see any trace of tread for it.

IMG_0618Grazing cattle near the post.

IMG_0624The post with Monument Rock in the background.

We made a sharp left turn following an old jeep track uphill toward Bullrun Rock.
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In a little under a half mile we were at the base of the rock near a fence.
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IMG_0633I believe that is Ironside Mountain.

We then scramble up the side of Bullrun Rock to the 7873′ summit.
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IMG_0637The jeep track and Monument Rock.

IMG_0641Table Rock

IMG_0642Looking down into the Monument Rock Wilderness

After enjoying the view we climbed down and returned to the post which we then continued past through an old fence and onward toward Monument Rock.
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IMG_0651Woodpecker

IMG_0654Mountain bluebird

The old road bed wasn’t much more than a cattle trail now but we followed it for approximately 0.2 miles to what was shown on our GPS units as a sharp turn to the right. Sullivan indicated that there was a small cairn in this area marking the start of the route to Monument Rock. We didn’t notice any cairns but comparing the map on our GPS to the one in his guidebook led us to believe this was the correct spot so we followed an elk/cow path to the left but it was leading us too much to the east so we struck off cross country toward the flank of Monument Rock.
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IMG_0656Looking back toward Bullrun Rock.

The initial climb up was a little steeper than we’d expected which led us to believe we may have not been quite where Sullivan would have had us go up, but we managed to make it up to a broad ridge where we then headed uphill through sagebrush.
IMG_0658Table Rock from where we gained the ridge.

IMG_0660Heading up.

Soon the large rock cairn atop Monument Rock was visible (the cairn was likely constructed by Basque shepherds or possibly gold miners long ago).
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We made our way over to the andesite outcrop and climbed up to the cairn and took a break.
20210721_085946Me making my way up to the cairn.

IMG_0668Bullrun Rock from the cairn.

IMG_0669Table Rock from the cairn.

IMG_0673The Monument Rock Wilderness.

The haze had cleared up somewhat by this point giving us blue sky at least overhead as we began our hike back.
IMG_0675The cairn on Monument Rock from below.

We decided to try a slightly different route back down hoping that we could follow the ridge further down and pick up what was showing on our GPS units as a trail below following South Bullrun Creek. Sullivan’s map showed the first part of the trail from the turn where we’d left the road bed extending 0.3 miles to a spring but the Garmins showed the trail then continuing south. Our thought was that if a trail had at one time been down there it was likely built on a less steep grade than the side we’d scrambled up.
IMG_0680Heading downhill.

20210721_092712Heather spotted this sheep moth.

When we came to what appeared to be an old jeep track or path of some sort we turned right (north) and followed it down a short but still steep hill.
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IMG_0683The path leading downhill.

The trail that was shown on the GPS dropped over 150′ from where we were, presumably down to the spring, but that was about 120′ more than we needed to lose so when the hillside leveled out a bit we made a hard right turn and made our way back to the track we’d taken earlier. We arrived below the point where we’d scrambled up and then headed back to the old road bed. Once we rediscovered the road we followed it back past the post and to the trailhead.
20210721_095222Table Rock in the distance with Bullrun Rock on the right.

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IMG_0728Robin

IMG_0731Quite a bit of a difference from the morning.

The hike here came in at an even 7 miles with just under 900′ of elevation gain.

Our track for Monument Rock

We had a little left in our legs after the Monument Rock hike so after navigating the rough 3.8 miles back to the Elk Flat Springs Campground we continued another 3/4 of a mile on Forest Road 1370 to the North Little Malheur Trailhead. The Little Malheur River had been one of Sullivan’s featured hikes in previous editions of his Eastern Oregon book but repeated fires and lack of maintenance have relegated it to a back of the book entry. We had decided to check it out to see what the trail condition was and to hopefully make it to the Little Malheur River which was approximately 2.2 miles from the trailhead.
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We were encouraged to find signs at the trailhead showing that the Blues Crew had done some work on the trail.
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We were less excited that a cow crew was currently present.
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In true cow fashion instead of just letting us pass by above them on the trail they ran uphill onto the trail and the for the next couple of miles we occasionally caught up to them and they would run off along the trail again kicking up dust and leaving cow pie mines along the path but I digress. Getting back to the hike, the trail was faint but flagging and a few rock cairns assisted in keeping it found (along with the cows).
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IMG_0741Yarrow and an orange agoseris.

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IMG_0745Wilderness sign marking the boundary of the Monument Rock Wilderness.

IMG_0747Table Rock from the trail.

IMG_0749Elk Flat Creek.

IMG_0752An orange flag to the right ahead.

IMG_0759The trail following Elk Flat Creek.

IMG_0760A few areas of green trees remained.

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We were entertained by a large number of hawks in the area.
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IMG_0770Unnamed stream shortly before reaching the Little Malheur River.

IMG_0774Monkshood along the stream.

IMG_0775It appeared that quite a few trees survived along the Little Malheur.

IMG_0777The trail crossing the Little Malheur River. We were especially excited to see a lot of nice pink monkeyflower along the banks.

We reached the river which wasn’t much more than a creek here, but it was a pretty setting. Wildflowers and green vegetation hosted a number of butterflies.
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IMG_0792Pearly everlasting

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After a nice relaxing break along the river we returned the way we’d come. In theory the trail extends another 5 miles to the south trailhead crossing the river 7 times along the way but we had gone far enough for today. It was nice not to be following the cattle on the way back.
IMG_0800Ground squirrel

IMG_0806Either a big ground squirrel or a small marmot.

IMG_0813Another hawk.

IMG_0824Fluffy clouds forming over the Monument Rock Wilderness.

Our hike here, which included just a bit of wandering, came in at 4.8 miles giving us 11.8 for the day.

Our track for the Little Malheur River

It had been a good ending to our quest to visit all of Oregon’s designated wilderness areas and we celebrated with an early dinner at 1188 Brewing in John day before turning in early so that we could get up in the morning and head into the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Monument Rock and Little Malheur River