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Hiking Silver Star Mountain SW Washington Trip report Washington

Starway Trail to Silver Star Mountain

The late snow melt in in SW Washington had prompted us to push a planned hike to Silver Star Mountain at the end of June to next year but when we found ourselves in need of a substitute for another hike we took the opportunity to pull it back into this year. This would be our fourth visit to Silver Star Mountain having previously taken Ed’s Trail in 2013 (post), the Bluff Mountain Trail in 2015 (post), and the Grouse Vista Trail in 2019 (post). Those hikes had taken place on July 1st, June 27th, and June 24th respectively so this was a later visit for us, but we knew that the late snow melt had delayed the wildflower display so we still expected to get to experience that.

Our inspiration for this visit came from Matt Reeder’s “Off the Beaten Trail” (2nd edition) which was printed in 2019. Reeder calls the hike to Silver Star Mountain via the Starway Trail as “by far the most difficult….”. He also mentions that the last two miles of driving on FR 41 to reach the trailhead are “potholed and rocky” while the Forest Service states “Trailhead is best accessed by high clearance vehicles due to rough road conditions.” The Washington Trail Association also mentions that “…most of the roads accessing the trailhead have been severely degraded…” This last description was probably the most accurate description of what we encountered for the final 3 miles on FR 41. The road didn’t have pot holes, it had craters. Our Outback scrapped the ground twice emerging from said craters and I can’t imagine how a low clearance vehicle could make it given the current condition of the road. In fact there was a sign at the Sunset Falls Campground with slash going through a low clearance vehicle. We parked at a pullout near a gate at the FR 41/FR 4107 junction. Reeder mentions that you can drive 4107 approximately a half mile to the start of the actual Starway Trail at Copper Creek but if the gate gets closed your stuck. Looking at the gate we weren’t sure if it even still closed but we were more than done with driving at that point.
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We headed down this one lane road approximately a half mile to a small parking area near a bridge over Copper Creek.
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It was an overcast morning which was a welcome sight for this hike. Reeder had recommended not attempting this hike on warmer days due to the steepness of the climbs. The forecast for Silver Star was for a high in the low 60’s with partly sunny skies. We hopped that by the time we reached Silver Star we’d be greeted by those partly sunny skies, but the low 60’s temperatures were what we were really after. Beyond Copper Creek the trail followed an old road bed as it gradually climbed for a little over a quarter of a mile to a fork.
IMG_8154Overgrown roadbed that is now the Starway Trail.

IMG_8156The fork with the Starway Trail to the right.

The trail began to steepen here but didn’t really pick up steam until reaching a couple of switchbacks 0.4 miles from the fork.
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IMG_8160Scouler’s bluebells

IMG_8157Beardstongue

IMG_8164Paintbrush

IMG_8166Taken from the first switchback this gives a little reference for how steep the trail was.

The switchbacks only lasted a tenth of a mile and then the trail shot almost directly uphill. The grade varied between steep and really steep for three quarters of a mile where it finally leveled out for a bit on a bench along the ridge we had been following.
IMG_8168Pictures never do justice to just how steep trails are.

IMG_8180Almost to the bench.

IMG_8183Level trail!

A section of trail on the bench passed through a carpet of foam flower. We’d never seen so much of that flower in one area.
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IMG_8192Inside out flower

For about a half mile the trail avoided any overly steep climbing and then it once again headed uphill in earnest.
IMG_8195The trail starting to steepen again.

Every website I checked agreed with Reeder that the Starway Trail didn’t see a lot of use. They all mention the steepness of the trail and that the trail was faint and could be difficult to follow. After having hiked the trail we can confirm the steepness but it appears that someone or some agency has put a good deal of work into improving the trail. We had no trouble following the tread and there were a couple of places where a series of short switchbacks appear to have replaced sections that went straight uphill.
IMG_8197The first set of what appeared to be fairly recently built switchbacks.

At the top of the switchbacks the trail emerged in a small meadow where it once again leveled out.
IMG_8199Approaching the little meadow.

IMG_8203A little bit of blue overhead through the fog.

IMG_8208Tiger lily

IMG_8209Paintbrush

IMG_8210Wood rose

IMG_8211Thimbleberry

I had gotten to this level section first and looked for a place to sit down and wait for Heather but the meadow was too wet so I found a log in the trees at the far end and had a seat.
IMG_8212Into the trees to look for a log.

For a little over a half mile the trail climbed gradually alternating between forest and small meadows before arriving at its high point just below the wildflower covered Point 3977. Along the way we emerged from the clouds and got our first glimpses of Silver Star Mountain and Mt. St. Helens.
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IMG_8220Silver Star Mountain

IMG_8224Bunchberry

IMG_8229Our first view of Mt. St. Helens

IMG_8230Zoomed in on Mt. St. Helens.

IMG_8232Arriving below Point 3977.

IMG_8239Point 3977

IMG_8241Pollinator on catchfly

IMG_8242The pink vetch was very bright.

IMG_8243Silver Star Mountain from the trail below Point 3977.

IMG_8244Rose

IMG_8246Wildflowers on Point 3977.

IMG_8249Bluebells of Scotland

IMG_8252Sub alpine mariposa lily

IMG_8257Checkerspot on Oregon sunshine

IMG_8261Lots of purple larkspur amid the other flowers.

IMG_8265A few columbine were hiding in the mix.

IMG_8266Violet

We surprised a fellow hiker as he rounded Point 3977 from the other side. He said he hadn’t expected to run into anyone on the Starway Trail. He’d started at the Ed’s Trail Trailhead and was doing a big loop using the Starway Trail and then road walking FR 41 & 4109 back to his car. He climbed up Point 3977 and we continued on planning to do that same thing on our way back. On the far side (south) of the point the Starway Trail suddenly dropped heading steeply downhill through a meadow.
IMG_8268Starting down.

IMG_8272Looking back up.

For nearly the next three quarters of a mile the trail alternated between steep descents and more gradual downhills losing a little more than 500′ in the process. Then the trail shot back uphill gaining over 300′ in the next 0.3 miles before arriving at a junction with the Bluff Mountain Trail.
IMG_8273Stars on the trees marked the Starway Trail at times.

IMG_8274Pinesap emerging from the ground.

IMG_8276A cairn at the end of this brief level section marked the start of another steep descent. By this time we’d lost enough elevation to be back in the clouds.

IMG_8279Part of the elevation loss was to drop below some interesting rock outcrops.

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IMG_8282Fully back in the fog.

IMG_8284Time to climb again.

IMG_8285Big root balls.

IMG_8287Trail sign near the Bluff Mountain Trail junction.

IMG_8288Final pitch to the Bluff Mountain Trail.

IMG_8291On the Bluff Mountain Trail at the junction.

We turned right on the Bluff Mountain Trail which steadily climbed for nearly three quarters of a mile to a fork.
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IMG_8302Lots of nice wildflowers along the Bluff Mountain Trail.

IMG_8310Another checkerspot

IMG_8313Paintbrush

IMG_8315Penstemon

IMG_8320We just couldn’t quite shake the fog.

IMG_8331First sighting of Mt. Rainier.

IMG_8333Mt. St. Helens to the left with Mt. Rainier to the right.

IMG_8334Coiled lousewort

IMG_8336Lupine

IMG_8339Getting closer to Silver Star.

IMG_8341Crab spider on fleabane

IMG_8354Spirea along the trail.

IMG_8357Bistort and mountain goldenbanner

IMG_8358First Mt. Adams sighting.

IMG_8364A crescent on bistort.

IMG_8369Penstemon

IMG_8377Wallflower with beetle.

IMG_8378Passing below Silver Star Mountain.

IMG_8379Mt. Hood

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IMG_8388Rock arch below Silver Star’s summit.

At the fork we turned uphill to the left leaving the Bluff Mountain Trail.
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This short connector trail climbed 0.1 miles to an old roadbed.
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20220723_110718Fading avalanche lily.

IMG_8391The old roadbed.

We turned left and followed the roadbed 0.2 miles to a saddle.
IMG_8392The summit to the left with Mt. Adams in the distance.

IMG_8393Mt. Hood to the right at the saddle.

We headed for the summit to start and met a couple with a cute puppy named Hazel, the same name as our cat that we’d lost a year ago nearly to the day (post). The puppy even shared similar colored fur to our Hazel’s.

The view from the summit was a good one on this day. The clouds were low enough that we could see all five of the Cascade volcanoes: St. Helens, Rainier, Adams, Hood and Jefferson.
IMG_8399Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Adams.

IMG_8410Goat Rocks (between Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams)

IMG_8400Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson

IMG_8402Mt. Jefferson. If you enlarge and look closely you can also make out Three Fingered Jack and the North Sister to the far right.

20220723_111756Swallowtail

IMG_8417Sturgeon Rock

IMG_8418Wildflowers at the summit.

IMG_8429Bug at the summit.

After a nice break at the summit we dropped back down to the saddle then climbed to the southern high point just to say we did.
IMG_8438Point 3977 is the the island surrounded by clouds.

There was a lot of butterfly action here.
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After tagging the southern point we headed back the way we’d come.
IMG_8451The only beargrass bloom we saw all day.

As we were passing below Silver Star we kept our eyes out for our favorite trail animals, pikas. We’d heard a few from the summit and we were rewarded with spotting one of the little rock rabbits in a talus slope.
IMG_8463The talus slope.

IMG_8456Pikas are not easy to spot.

IMG_8462On alert.

As always we kept our eyes out for other things we’d missed on the first pass.
20220723_120051Orange agoseris

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IMG_8483Ladybug

IMG_8488Making the steep climb back up to Point 3977.

We did wind up making the short climb to the top of Point 3977 even though the clouds had risen enough to effectively block most of the views.
IMG_8491Looking toward Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier.

IMG_8495Looking toward Silver Star.

The views weren’t great but the wildflowers were.
IMG_8496Possibly a Native American vision quest pit.

IMG_8498Bluebells of Scotland with at least three visible insects.

IMG_8501Some bright paintbrush.

20220723_130806Larkspur

IMG_8510A brief appearance by Silver Star’s summit.

After a short break on Point 3977 we began the relentless descent to Copper Creek. The long steep descent was not a friend to the knees but we managed to make it down in one piece. Just before reaching the bridge we passed just the second hiker on the Starway Trail for the day.
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IMG_8520Sorry knees.

IMG_8526Mock orange

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IMG_8530A little blue sky in the afternoon.

We walked back up FR 4107 to our car and began the tedious drive back down FR 41 and made our way safely home.
IMG_8534Salmonberries along FR 4107. I may have eaten a few as well as some red huckleberries along the lower portion of the Starway Trail.

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Both of those berry types are too sour for Heather who prefers thimbleberries but alas those were only beginning to show signs of ripening.

IMG_8539Looking back at the hillside the Starway Trail climbs from FR 4107.

In my research I’ve seen several different distances listed for this hike. In Reeder’s book he lists the hike to Silver Star as 10.2 miles. Our GPS units recorded 11 miles though. Some of that may be due to going to both ends of Silver Star and some additional distance may be due to the newer switchbacks (assuming they really are new). Regardless of the actual distance I think everyone agrees that the total elevation gain is right around 4200′.

I’m not sure we could have asked for a better day to do this hike on. We got some big views and lots of wildflowers while the temperature remained mild thanks to the low clouds and we saw our first pika of the year. I don’t know that either one of us would ever want to try that drive again but the hike itself was worth the effort. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Starway Trail to Silver Star

Categories
Bend/Redmond Central Oregon Hiking Oregon Trip report

Whychus Canyon Preserve, Alder Springs, & Huntington Wagon Road – 05/29/21

For Memorial Day weekend this year we headed to Bend to visit Heather’s family and of course do some hiking. Having finally reached our goal of completing all 100 featured hikes in William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Central Oregon Cascades” 4th edition last year (post) we kicked off this trip with a stop at a the Whychus Canyon Preserve, which was a new featured hike in his 5th edition.

The 930 acre preserve is owned and managed by the Deschutes Land Trust who have established over 7 miles of hiker only (dogs on leash) trails open to the public. The focus here is conservation so respecting the rules and Leaving No Trace is imperative (as it always should be) in order to keep the access open. We arrived at the trailhead a little after 7am on Saturday morning to find the parking area empty.
IMG_5809Kiosk and bench at the trailhead.

A map at the kiosk shows that there are a number of loops possible here and we decided to deviate slightly from the route described by Sullivan.
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From the kiosk we followed a pointer for the Rim & Creek Trails onto a dirt path.
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The trail led slightly downhill, through a red gate and after just 0.2 miles arrived a “T” shaped junction with the Rim Trail where Sullivan has you turn right. We opted for a slightly longer loop and turned left instead.
IMG_5815Tent caterpillars (and the red gate)

As we followed the Rim Trail west along the canyon we began to get some good mountain views.
IMG_5827Mt. Washington and Black Butte (post)

IMG_5837Broken Top, The Three Sisters, Black Crater (post), Little Belknap & Belknap Crater (post), and Mt. Washington.

After 0.4 miles the trail made a 180 degree turn dropping further into the canyon.
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IMG_5843Whychus Creek was hidden by trees for the most part.

While there weren’t a lot of wildflowers a number of different types were present.
IMG_5847Balsamroot

IMG_5850Lupine

IMG_5855Paintbrush

IMG_5870A Penstemon

IMG_5874Western stoneseed

IMG_5875Sedum leibergii -Leiberg’s Stonecrop

IMG_5848Spreading stickseed

IMG_5853Western wallflower

In addition to the various flowers we spotted some varied wildlife as well.
IMG_5844Magpie playing hard to get.

IMG_5864Spotted towhee

IMG_5895Black-headed grossbeak

IMG_5885Ochre ringlet

IMG_5898Pair of bucks in Whychus Creek

This is a good time to mention how much I appreciate the zoom on my Canon XS740HS. While I often look at other peoples photos and wish mine were as crisp/clear the compact size and low price (compared to even low end DSLR cameras) of the little point and shoot has worked well enough. Those two bucks are a good example as we spotted them from here.
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Approximately 0.6 miles from the big turn we arrived at a signed junction. Uphill led back to the trailhead (where we would have come down following Sullivan’s directions) while the Creek Trail headed downhill to the left.
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We turned downhill and switchbacked downhill for 0.2 miles to Whychus Creek.
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We followed along the creek on this trail for 1.5 miles, ignoring a steep trail to the right at the 0.8 mile mark. The sounds of the creek combined with the songs of birds made for a relaxing stroll through the canyon.
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20210529_081300Chokecherry

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IMG_5941Star-flower false solomonseal

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IMG_5950Trail junction at the 0.8 mile mark.

20210529_082320Spider on a wallflower.

IMG_5953Lewis flax

20210529_084000 Heuchera cylindrica -roundleaf allumroot

At the 1.5 mile mark the trail turned uphill away from the creek and made a turn back toward the trailhead.
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The trail climbed for 0.4 miles before leveling out near a rock outcrop where a side trail to the right led to a viewpoint.
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IMG_5969Oregon sunshine

IMG_5976Buckwheat and penstemon

IMG_5982Sign post for the viewpoint.

IMG_5983Heading for the rock outcrop/viewpoint.

IMG_5990Middle and North Sister with Whychus Creek below.

Two tenths of a mile beyond the viewpoint we passed the upper end of the cutoff trail coming up from the Creek Trail.
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We were now on the Meadow Trail which we followed for 1.5 miles (ignoring a signed trail to the left at the 0.5 mile mark). We were still spotting different flowers and wildlife on this stretch.
IMG_5998A monkeyflower

20210529_092023Sand lilies

IMG_6004Trail sign in the distance for spur trail to the Santiam Wagon Road.

IMG_6008Death camas

IMG_6011Sagebrush false dandelions

IMG_6021Pinion jay

IMG_6034Mountain bluebird pair

IMG_6041Mourning dove

IMG_6047unidentified little songbird.

IMG_6051Lizard

IMG_6058Second type of lizard

IMG_6060Showy townsendia

Just before reaching the trailhead the trail joined the Santiam Wagon Road at an interpretive sign.

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This wasn’t the first time we’d been on this historic 400 mile route between the Willamette Valley and Eastern Oregon (House Rock, Iron Mountain, Fish Lake, Sand Mountain , ) but it did mark the eastern most portion we’d been on.

We turned right on the Wagon Road for a few steps and were back at the trailhead where there was now a second car. We were surprised there weren’t more considering how nice a hike it had been. We logged just a little over 5 miles on our GPS and were now ready to head to our second stop of the day at the Alder Springs Trailhead.

Whychus Canyon Track

This was another chance to visit Whychus Creek but unlike Whychus Canyon we had done the hike at Alder Springs before (post). That hike had been almost 10 years prior having taken place on 8/3/2011. Two things stand out about that first visit. Most notably we only did the Alder Springs hike because our Plan A, Benson Lake/Scott Mountain Loop, was still under too much snow (also the mosquitos were horrendous). It has been quite some time since there has been that much snow that late in the year, yes climate change is real. Secondly it was a really nice hike but August probably wasn’t the best month for it. It’s been on my list of hikes to revisit at a different (better) time of the year. The road to the trailhead is seasonally closed (typically 12/1-3/31) so April or May seemed the best time to catch wildflowers and cooler temperatures.

Another difference between Whychus Canyon and Alder Springs is the access road. While the former is almost entirely paved with a short stretch of good gravel the latter is not far removed from a 4×4 jeep track. Rocks, washouts, and dried mud holes await for most of the final 4.7 miles to the rather larger parking area which we were surprised to find nearly full at 10:15am. At first we couldn’t figure out why there were so many cars SUVs and trucks here while it was just us and one other car at the preserve then it hit us, you can camp here. That realization came from overhearing a large group saying something about having to make two trips down and “the beer”.
IMG_6066Looking back up the dirt access road to the North Sister, Mt. Washington and Black Butte
IMG_6067The trailhead signboard.

This time we didn’t take the side trip down the 0.4 mile Old Bridge Trail but otherwise it was the same route as we had taken nearly 10 years before. The big difference was the number of wildflowers in bloom and the number of people we encountered, mostly on the way back to the car. The scenery was stunning and the ford at the 1.5 mile mark refreshing.
IMG_6070Buckwheat

20210529_103018Rough eyelashweed

IMG_6094Yarrow

IMG_6103Fiddleneck

20210529_104231Largeflower hawksbeard

IMG_6111Purple cushion fleabane

IMG_6114Oregon sunshine

20210529_104625Blue mountain prairie clover

20210529_104747Lewis flax

IMG_6122Lupine

IMG_6123Bearded hawksbeard

IMG_6134Haven’t id this one yet.

IMG_6118The Three Sisters, Belknap Crater and Mt. Washington with some dancing clouds.

IMG_6126Whychus Creek Canyon

IMG_6136Love the different rock formations in the canyon.

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IMG_6143Catchfly

IMG_6149Balsamroot

IMG_6160Paintbrush

IMG_6161Pretty sure this side creek was dry on our previous visit.

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IMG_6171Whychus Creek at the ford.

We’ll get into a little more of the history of Whychus Creek when we cover our Memorial Day hike but we noted that the water level seemed about the same as it had on our previous crossing and that the water was surprisingly warm given the source of the creek is the glaciers and snowfields of Broken Top and the Three Sisters. After a bit of thinking it dawned on us that higher up near Sisters water is diverted to irrigation ditches and other uses.

IMG_6176Alder Springs

IMG_6181Columbine

20210529_113821A clarkia, possibly Lassen

20210529_113835Threadleaf phacelia

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IMG_6217Unknown

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20210529_121450Creek dogwood and a beetle covered in pollen

20210529_125533Grand Colloma

20210529_124730Deadly nightshade

IMG_6305Rose with crab spider

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Veatch’s blazingstar

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IMG_6254

IMG_6255Dragon fly

We took a break at the end of the trail along the Deschutes River before hiking back just as we had done on the previous visit.
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IMG_6300Confluence of the Deschutes (left) and Whychus Creek (right).

Butterflies and birds were out in force on the hike back.
IMG_6311Bald eagle

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IMG_6359Cedar hairstreak

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IMG_6369Turkey vulture

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IMG_6389Mountain chickadee

The hike here came in at 6.4 miles and 650′ of elevation gain giving us a little over 11.5 miles and 1120′ of climbing so far on the day.

Track for Alder Springs

We had one more quick stop planned for the day. Our first hike had been on Deschutes Land Trust land and the second in the Crooked River National Grassland managed by the Ochoco National Forest and our final stop at the Huntington Wagon Road was on BLM land. The hike here was of particular interest to me as the trailhead is only 2 miles from where I lived from 2nd grade until leaving home for college and yet I had no idea it was there. The BLM has created a 1.2 mile long interpretive trail along a section of a route that was built to haul supplies from The Dalles to build Fort Klamath.
IMG_6395Trailhead on McGrath Road.

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There is a lot to see along the trail as far as scenery goes. It’s mostly sagebrush and juniper with some lava formations mixed in. The history is what makes this hike interesting, and the dozens of lizards scurrying about.
IMG_6400A 300+ year old juniper named an Oregon Heritage Tree

IMG_6404Sagebrush, juniper and lava – my childhood 🙂

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IMG_6408Tree blaze

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IMG_6414Buckwheat

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IMG_6423Ruts along the wagon road.

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IMG_6427Skipper on Showy townsendia.

IMG_6433Post marking the relic fence line and turnaround point.

IMG_6434An old fence post and barbed wire.

IMG_6436Junipers are some interesting trees, they come in all shapes and sizes.

Track for the Huntington Wagon Road

In total we hiked 14 miles with 1150′ of elevation gain. We got to see two sections of Whychus Creek and Canyon as well as parts of two historic Wagon Roads. We ended the day by enjoying some homemade lasagna at Heather’s parents place. Not a bad way to start a holiday weekend. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Whychus Canyon Preserve, Alder Springs, and Huntington Wagon Road