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Central Oregon Hiking Oregon SE Oregon Trip report

Sagehen Hill, Malheur Wildlife Refuge, & Donner Und Blitzen River – 08/16/2021

Monday was mostly a travel day as we left Bend and headed for the Steens Mountain Resort where we would be staying for the next three nights. We did however manage to get a few short hikes in along the way beginning with a trail that had intrigued us since the first time we’d stopped at the Sagehen Rest Area on Highway 20 eighteen miles west of Burns. A highway rest stop seemed like a bit of an odd place for a trail but that’s part of what piqued our interest. The Sagehen Hill Nature Trial is a short (just over half a mile) interpretive loop with 11 numbered stops.
IMG_1968Trailhead sign at the south end of the rest stop. Brochures were located in the small box under the sign.

IMG_1969Map on the trailhead sign.

Smoke from fires near Lakeview, OR made for a smoke filled horizon and unlike our hike on Mt. Bachelor the previous day (post) here we could smell it in the air.
IMG_1972Red Sun through the smoke.

Despite the lack of views (on a clear day Steens Mountain would have been visible) it was a nice hike and the interpretive stops were interesting. We didn’t see any sage grouse here but we spotted some other wildlife along the route.
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IMG_1991The Harney Valley to the east.

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IMG_1998This stop was for a juniper that was blown apart by a lightning strike.

IMG_2000The rest area from the loop.

IMG_2001The last stop was to discuss the relationship between the junipers and the Idaho fescue that grows underneath.

This was a neat little trail and a nice leg stretcher. After completing the loop we drove into Burns, filled up our gas tank and then headed for our next stop at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters. This was the one place we had previously visited (post) but we hadn’t driven the entire auto tour route that time and there were some other trails in the complex that we could check out. We started with a stop at the headquarters where we once again were treated to a variety of wildlife as we toured the complex.
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DSCN0516Deer in the nearly dry Marshall Pond

DSCN0539Yellow headed blackbird

DSCN0557California quail

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IMG_2065More quail

DSCN0617The early bird

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We skipped the Overlook Trail this time due to the smoke filled horizon and started the auto tour route. Again there was plenty of wildlife to pause for along the drive and we also stopped at Benson Pond to hike the Benson Pond Trail (a short half mile out and back) where we were treated to a large number of ducks and other birds on the pond.
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DSCN0654Shrike

IMG_2099Hawk and a magpie

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DSCN0667Turkey vultures

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IMG_2143Egrets and ducks at Benson Pond

<img src="https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/51393871889_968777c132_c.jpg&quot; width="800" height="600" alt="IMG_2153">American kestral

IMG_2156Old cabin at Benson Pond

IMG_2177Another owl

DSCN0725Another turkey vulture

IMG_2189Grasshopper

DSCN0733White faced ibis

DSCN0736Great blue heron amid the ducks.

IMG_2195A couple types of egrets it appears.

DSCN0763Deer that were in the Blitzen River

DSCN0764Bounding fawn

DSCN0769Ducks and coots at Knox Pond

The auto tour route ends at the Steens Mountain Loop Road just a mile and a half from the Steens Mountain Resort. We were a bit too early to check in though so we drove past the resort another tenth of a mile to the entrance of the Page Springs Campground. We turned into the campground and parked at the day use area at its far end where two trails start. The one mile Wilderness Nature Trail and the 3.7 mile long Donner und Blitzen River Trail.
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We decided to take the Donner und Blitzen Trail since the nature trail looped back into the campground and ended near one of the campsites leaving a short road walk back to the trailhead. The Donner und Blitzen Trail entered the Steens Mountain Wilderness a short distance from the trailhead and followed the river fairly closely for the first 1.2 miles which is as far as we went on this day. It was a little smokey and it was hot and enough time had passed that we would be able to check into the resort by the time we made it back to our car. The trail was a little brushy at times but a nice surprise was finding a loop option not shown on the map but clearly marked starting 0.4 miles from the trailhead and rejoining the river trail at the 0.7 mile mark. We took this route on the way back climbing up through the cliffs above the river providing some nice views despite the haze.
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IMG_2224Bee and a butterfly

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IMG_2235A brushy section.

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IMG_2256A bee and a skipper

20210816_131717Praying mantis

IMG_2261The “other” trail on the hillside at the 0.7 mile mark.

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IMG_2275A wren?

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IMG_2280Fence crossing

IMG_2281Rejoining the Donner und Blitzen Trail at the 0.4 mile mark.

2.9 mile hike on the Donner und Blitzen trail

We got a total of 5.4 miles of hiking in between Sagehen Hill, the refuge headquarters, Benson Pond, and the Donner und Blitzen River. The abundant wildlife was the highlight of the day. We checked into the resort and got settled in our modular unit which had a full kitchen, shower, couch and most importantly A/C. We were hoping that the smoke would move out overnight or at least over the next day or two when the temperature was also set to drop to more reasonable levels. We spent the evening listening to the osprey that had a nest below the resort. Happy Trails!
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Flickr: Sagehen Hill, Malheur Wildlife Refuge, and Donner und Blitzen River

Categories
Hiking Oregon SE Oregon Trip report

Jordan Craters and Leslie Gulch – SE Oregon Vacation Day 3

After winding up in Caldwell, ID the at the end of day 2 of our vacation we had a bit of a longer drive for our two planned hikes for day 3. The drive to the turnoff for Jordan Craters would have been just over 8 miles but from Caldwell it was a little over 55 miles. Either way that still left 27 miles of gravel and dirt roads from Highway 95 to reach the craters. The first 24 of those miles were on decent gravel roads but then the route to the craters forked left onto a rough dirt road which we followed for a mile and a half to another fork. Here we were met with a sign warning recommending 4 wheel drive vehicles only.
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We decided we’d had enough of the rough roads and chose to hike the rest of the way down to the trailhead. There hadn’t been any rain in the forecast but it looked like there were some showers passing through the area.
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From the road we had a good view of the 27 square mile lava flow as well as the trailhead next to Coffee Pot Crater.
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As we made our way down the road we spotted a chukar and a rabbit.
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When we reached the trailhead we followed a path to the right of Coffee Pot Crater.
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The path led around the crater first passing a rounded cinder hill then more rugged lava rocks.
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The lava flow extended south from the crater in various patterns.
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As we made our way around we were soon able to see inside the 150 foot crater which was much larger than either of us had expected.
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Swallows and blue birds flew in and out of the crater occasionally landing on its rim.
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As we continued around we passed a smaller pit and several openings in the lava.
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After just .3 miles we arrived at a scramble trail down a red cinder slope into Coffee Pot Crater.
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The path was fairly steep with loose rock but we made our way down carefully and explored the inside of the crater.
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After wandering around inside the crater we climbed back out and headed cross country toward a visible channel in the lava.
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We followed this crack across the lava to its end near a pit where an owl startled us by suddenly appearing out of the pit and flying off further down the lava.
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Heather spotted a marmot that was not able to fly off.
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Just a bit further away was a second pit which we headed for. I got there first and started taking pictures.
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As Heather neared the owl reappeared only this time flying in my general direction. I was able to take a few pictures as it flew by to parts unknown.
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After admiring the second pit we headed back for the trail. More marmots watched us from the edge of the lava.
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We were briefly back on the rim of the crater but then left the trail again to get an up close look at a row of splatter cones that extended uphill toward the road.
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We had decided that after visiting the splatter cones we would just continue cross country uphill back to the road eliminating a little distance. In all there were seven cones varying in size and shape.
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We followed the road back to our car and returned to Highway 95 where we headed north toward our next stops for the day at Leslie Gulch.

The hike at Jordan Craters had only been 3.8 miles even with the road walk so we had plenty of energy left for additional hikes and Leslie Gulch offered numerous opportunities. For our visit we planned on hiking into at least four of the explorable gulches. We decided to start at the western most gulch and work our way back east toward the highway. The gravel road to Leslie Gulch was easily the best of the roads we would take to trailheads while in the area and the scenery along the route was spectacular making this a worthwhile visit even if you aren’t planning on hiking.
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We drove to the end of Leslie Gulch Road and parked near Slocum Campground near the boat ramp for the Owyhee Reservoir.
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The trail into Slocum Gulch is not an official trail but it was easily identifiable at first.
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Wildlife and wildflowers accentuated the views but it was the rock formations that were the stars.
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The trail grew fainter the further we went but we managed to go a little over 1.25 miles before turning around and heading for our next stop at Timber Gulch. This was another gulch with no official trail but there was a small pullout 2.35 miles from the Slocum Campground where we parked. From the pullout we followed another clear trail into Timber Gulch.
Trail into Timber Gulch

Despite the proximity to Slocum Gulch the scenery here was quite different with more “honeycomb” rocks and even some different flowers.
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The trail ended in an amphitheater of rocks with sweeping views.
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The hike up Timber Gulch was only 1.3 miles round trip but it was packed with scenery. After Timber Gulch we drove just 1.25 miles further back up Leslie Gulch Road to the signed Juniper Gulch Trail.
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This wound up being a 1.8 mile hike with a little loop in the middle when we forked right where we should have stayed straight. Some minor scrambling up some rocks got us back on course though. This trail featured rock overhangs that we passed under and was also the only trail that we encountered other hikers on the entire trip after being at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Headquarters.
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Beyond the overhangs (and once we were back on the correct path) the trail led up to a knoll with some impressive views.
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Our last stop in Leslie Gulch was at Dago Gulch, a mile from Juniper Gulch.
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Here we followed an old roadbed for a mile to private land.
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Although this gulch didn’t have quite as many impressive rock formations as the other gulches it had its share and it also had a lot of butterflies and cicadas.
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We had considered also hiking into Upper Leslie Gulch on a .3 mile trail there but it had gotten really warm and after five hikes we were ready to head back to Caldwell to get cleaned up and cool off. On the way back to the highway we spotted a burrowing owl atop some sagebrush along McBride Road. It flew up on some rocks when we stopped but I was able to get a somewhat blurry photo of the little guy before we drove on.
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It was a long day with just under six hours of hiking and almost seven and a half hours of driving but the sights had been worth it. We grabbed a fast food dinner back in Caldwell and turned in for the evening looking forward to what the next day had in store. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Jordan Craters and Leslie Gulch