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.
The hike up Big Indian Gorge begins at a day use area at the end of the South Steens Campground.
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.
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.
It was long past flower season but evidence of a large number of wildflowers was still visible.
There were tons of wild onions along the way.
Deer on one of the hillsides.
Beginning 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.
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.
While there was still quite a bit of haze in the sky there was beginning to be some signs that things were improving.
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.
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.
Quacking aspen along the trail.
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.
One of the many Brown’s peonies along the trail.
Hawk atop a cottonwood
This counts a lupine in bloom!
A lone yarrow
One of a couple of spring fed streams along the trail.
Aspens and junipers
The 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.
One of the other spring fed crossings.
There were lots of crickets/grasshoppers bouncing about.
We could see some of the closer cliffs through the haze.
We started to see a few more lupine in bloom the further in we hiked.
What the smoke looked like ahead.
Lots of butterflies too.
Aster or fleabane
We couldn’t see very far up the gorge because of the smoke.
The view was better behind us.
Hummingbird visiting paintbrush
A few aspen already turning golden.
Cottonwood Camp down to the right.
Looking up Big Indian Gorge from the trail near Cottonwood Camp.
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.
View across the gorge when we arrived at the camp.
Big Indian Creek
A few white clouds started to appear along with the breeze.
The 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.
The view heading out of the gorge continued to improve as we made our way back to the fords and eventually the trailhead.
We missed this nest on the first pass. It was about 30 yards off the trail.
We also missed this Nuttall’s linanthus blooming along the trial.
This was a very pretty butterfly that for some reason the camera just didn’t want to focus on.
Clearer skies above.
Clouds building up over Steens Mountain
Some type of wood nymph.
Back to the first ford, which I again managed to cross dry footed giving me a perfect record for the day which is unheard of.
A comma of some sort.
A vast improvement over the morning.
Looking back toward the gorge from the old road bed.
What a difference a few hours can make.
After our hike we drove back to the Steens Mountain Resort where the views had also improved greatly over the previous afternoons. Happy Trails!
Flickr: Big Indian Gorge