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Central Oregon Hiking Oregon Trip report

Lost Corral Trail – Cottonwood Canyon State Park – 05/30/21

After a 14 mile three stop day on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend we had another 14ish mile day planned for Sunday but this time just a single stop at the J.S. Burres Trailhead at Cottonwood Canyon State Park.
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This was our second visit to the park having previously hiked the Hard Stone and Pinnacles Trails in 2017. The John Day River acts as the boundary between Sherman and Gilliam Counties and those trails are located on the north (Sherman Co.) side of the river. The J.S. Burris State Wayside is on the south side of the river which puts it in Gilliam County. This makes it one of the only hikes that I could find in Gilliam County and Gilliam County was one of the two remaining counties in Oregon in which we had yet to hike. (The other is Umatilla which has plenty of trails, we just haven’t gotten around to them yet.)

The main attraction at the wayside is the boat ramp but it also serves as the trailhead for the Lost Corral Trail.
IMG_6771Afternoon photo of the start of the trail.

It was already 68 degrees, according to the car anyway, when we arrived shortly before 7:30am which meant it was going to be a hot hike. We had planned for high temperatures and were each carrying extra water. The Lost Corral Trail follows an old roadbed for 4.3 miles to the start of the 0.9 mile Esau Loop Trail. There is also an option to tack on a 4.3 mile off trail loop that would take us up into the hills above the river. It was an ambitious plan given the expected temperatures but we set off determined to give it a go. Shortly after setting out, and stopping to watch a couple of rabbits, I asked Heather if she remembered if I locked the car. She didn’t and neither did I so I double timed it a quarter mile back to the trailhead to make sure it was locked then rejoined Heather up the trail.
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IMG_6465This section was so nice I did it twice.

We both felt the Lost Corral Trail had better views of the John Day than the other trails had offered.
IMG_6470Cottonwood Canyon State Park main area across the river.

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There were less wildflowers despite being the same time of year but that was likely due to the drought conditions that are plaguing the West this year.
IMG_6473One of the exceptions was mock orange which was blooming profusely along the trail.

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IMG_6476Dalmation toadflax and yarrow.

IMG_6481Beetle on what might be hairy golden aster

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IMG_6497A lupine

This would be a day of missed opportunities where the wildlife was concerned and it started about a mile into the hike when a pheasant waited until we had unknowingly passed him before he flew off never to be seen again. Later as we approached the second bench along the trail (near the 3 mile mark) I spotted the brown back side and tail, of what I believe was an otter, dive into the water and disappear. On our way back a family of Chukars startled us and scattered before I could turn on the camera and finally a snake (not a rattler, possibly a yellow bellied racer) slithered through the vegetation not quite allowing for a clear picture, but I digress.

Back to the hike, just after the pheasant encounter, the trail crossed a wide sandy flat where tracks revealed the presence of a number of critters.
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IMG_6516More mock orange along the trail.

20210530_082907Close up of the mock orange.

IMG_6522Butterfly on western clematis

IMG_6530This red winged blackbird cooperated for a photo op.

20210530_083630Salsify

IMG_6533Wild roses

There had been a large number of cliff swallow nests along the Pinnacles Trail but we only saw a few on this side of the river.
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There might not have been a lot of swallows but there were plenty of butterflies.
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IMG_6751We saw this viceroy on the way back to the car.

There were also a large number of birds but most could only be heard and not seen as they stuck to the thick vegetation along the river.
IMG_6545Magpie dive bombing a hawk.

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IMG_6565Coming up on the second bench.

IMG_6577The otter or whatever it was was right in this area.

We sat at the bench and rested hoping to get another glimpse of the animal but it never rematerialized. We did however spot some big fish in the water below.
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After resigning ourselves to the fact that the otter was not going to make another appearance we continued on.
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IMG_6590Cedar waxwings

IMG_6603The Pinnacles

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IMG_6617Ducks

We turned left when we reached a sign for the Esau Loop Trail.
IMG_6619Esau Loop Trail sign.

IMG_6620Looking back at The Pinnacles from the Esau Loop Trail.

This was a much rougher trail that passed through the sagebrush along the river before looping back over a low rise.
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IMG_6629Unknown flower

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IMG_6636Sagebrush mariposa lilies

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Before completing the this loop we came to a signboard at a roadbed.
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Our planned off trail loop began here. The roadbed that the Lost Corral Trail followed turned up Esau Canyon after passing a rocky ridge end. The Oregon Hikers Field Guide entry described “rounding the corner of the low cliff” then scrambling up to the ridge top to a fence line and following that up the ridge crest. Having turned left on the Esau Loop Trail we were approaching from the opposite direction but it gave us a clear view of the cliffs that we needed to get around in order to scramble up the ridge.
IMG_6640The more open looking hillside to the right of the cliffs was deceptively steep so we followed the road to the left until the the terrain appeared more hospitable.

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IMG_6643We set off from the roadbed here.

The hillside was steep so there was a lot of switch backing and pausing along the way.
IMG_6644Have these gone to seed or blossoms?

IMG_6650Possibly a hawksbeard

20210530_102726Sagebrush mariposa lily

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IMG_6658Found the fence line.

Cattle trails followed the fence line uphill which gave us something to follow although they tended to just go straight uphill.
IMG_6660I took this photo at 10:35, it looks like I’m close to the top.

This one was taken ten minutes later.
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Twenty more minutes later and the high point was in sight.
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IMG_6664These two lizards beat us to the top.

The climb gained approximately 900′ in a little over 3/4 of a mile. From the high point we could see the top of Mt. Adams beyond the John Day River Canyon.
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IMG_6682The very top of Mt. Rainier was also visible (barely)

We followed the ridge south picking up a faint jeep track and gaining better views of Mt. Adams.
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IMG_6690View SE

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The jeep track dropped to the left of the crest and after a little over a half mile it turned sharply downhill into Esau Canyon.
IMG_6698Descending into Esau Canyon on the jeep track.

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Lower on the hillside the track began to switchback passing through a fence(we had to crawl under) before arriving at a creek bed with a little running water.

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After using the steps to get over the fence we followed the road back down Esau Canyon to the Lost Corral Trail.
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IMG_6709Second climb over the fence.

IMG_6714Beetles on thistle.

IMG_6719Yarrow and lupine

IMG_6723Western meadowlark

IMG_6730The Lost Corral Trail where it passes the cliff at the ridge end.

From there we followed the Lost Corral Trail through the Lost Corral (which we had missed earlier due to turning onto the Esau Loop Trail) and returned to the trailhead.
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IMG_6769Cottonwood Canyon State Park in the afternoon.

My GPS read 14.3 miles but factoring my trip back to lock our car it was probably closer to 13.8 miles. On a cooler day that wouldn’t be so bad, even with the steep scramble up the ridge, but it was over 90 degrees by the time our hike was over and the heat had made it a tough hike. Carrying the extra water had been a good call as we were down to our hydro flasks by the end. Despite the challenge of the heat it had been an enjoyable hike with a good amount of wildlife sightings and no ticks or rattlesnakes were seen. Happy Trails!

Our route with the “highlighted” section showing the off-trail loop.

Flickr: Lost Corral Trail

Categories
Central Oregon Hiking John Day Oregon Trip report

Cottonwood Canyon State Park

We spent Memorial Day Weekend in Bend and on Saturday morning drove up to Cottonwood Canyon State Park along the John Day River. To get there from Bend we drove north on Highway 97 to Wasco then turned onto Highway 206 for 15 miles to the park entrance.

Just after turning onto the entrance road we forked right on a short gravel road to a parking area near the river. The Hard Stone Trail began here.
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This nearly level 1.5 mile path follows the river upstream to Big Eddy, a lazy whirlpool at a bend in the river. The park has very few trees which allows for some wide open views but it also means a real lack of shade. Considering it was already in the low 60’s as we set off on the Hard Stone Trail at 7:30 we knew we were in for a hot hike.
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We spent our time enjoying the views of the canyon cliffs and scanning the sagebrush for flowers and animals including rattle snakes which are seen with some regularity along the John Day. We didn’t see any snakes but we saw a few other critters and a nice variety of flowers.
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The trail, which followed an old road bed, officially ended at Big Eddy which was where we turned back, but the road continues on.

After returning to our car we drove further into the park following signs for the Pinnacles Trail parking area. We set off following signs for the trail. After a short walk through a camping area the path led to a gate with a signboard and trail register.
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A nearby walnut tree offered some cool shade.
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The Pinnacles Trail follows another old road bed along the river downstream a total of 4.3 miles. IMG_0728

The cliffs along the trail were captivating. It was hard not to turn off the trail just to see how far one could get up some of the gullies and side canyons.
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A short distance from the gate the cliffs crowded the trail.
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The cliffs hung over the trail and were home to countless American Cliff Swallows which sped to and from their nests as we passed underneath.
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Just under a mile and half along the trail brought us to a neat old walnut tree where we spotted a colorful lazuli bunting.
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A trail near the tree provides river access and another trail led slightly uphill away from the tree. The sign named this the D & H Trail and indicated that it returned to the Pinnacles Trail further downstream. We decided we’d take it on the return trip after realizing (after way too long a time) that those were our initials, D & H.

As we continued on we passed part of an old fence where we spotted an aptly named western fence lizard.
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We spotted many of the same types of flowers we’d seen along the Hard Stone Trail and a few we hadn’t including some sweet smelling mock orange.
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The Pinnacles Trail is named after some rock outcrops across the river near the 3 mile mark.
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Beyond the Pinnacles the trail bent to the left passing through an open area full of sagebrush before rounding a rocky ridge-end.
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The ridge bowed away from the trail.
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We had talked early about the possibility of spotting larger animals on the hillsides and imagined that most of them would be sticking the the brush filled gullies we had seen along the way. As we were scanning the cliffs below the ridge I spotted what might have been an animal or possibly another rock (I have a real knack for spotting rocks and tree trunks).
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Making use of the camera’s 30x optical zoom allowed me to confirm that is was indeed an animal, in fact it was several animals.
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Going from the optical to the digital zoom gave us a closer look (but grainier picture) of the first big horn sheep we’d spotted on a hike.
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Sure enough they were hanging out in the shaded vegetation. Then we noticed a few more of the sheep passing below the first group. They seemed to be grazing on balsamroot leaves.
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The official trail continued to a narrow area between the cliffs and river.
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A use path continued on but we didn’t see any reason to continue. It was well into the 80’s and we’d seen plenty of great sights already. The sheep had disappeared when we passed back by where we’d seen them but Heather spotted something that was almost as surprising to see as they had been, a mushroom.
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We forked onto the D & H Trail when we reached its eastern end.
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The trail led through the sagebrush just far enough uphill that we were able to avoid what had been a fairly active area for mosquitoes before dropping back down to the Pinnacles Trail by the walnut tree.
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One final sighting of note was a pair of Bullock’s Orioles which we had not seen before.
Bullock's Oriole

The one thing we didn’t see were any snakes which Heather was more than thankful for. I on the other hand was a little disappointed. I have no desire to be close to a rattle snake but at the same time I wouldn’t mind seeing one at a nice safe distance.

It was a great hike despite the warm temperatures but they were a good reminder of why summer may not be the best time for a visit to the park. Winter can also bring strong winds and freezing temperatures, so Spring or Fall probably are the best.

Hiking isn’t the only activity the park has to offer either. Rafting, fishing, mountain bike riding, and horseback riding opportunities exist as well. Whatever your reason for visiting it’s well worth the trip. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Cottonwood Canyon

Categories
Central Oregon Hiking John Day Oregon Trip report

Clarno Unit – John Day Fossil Beds and Spring Basin Wilderness

We officially kicked off our 2017 hiking season on 4/22 with a pair of hikes near Clarno, OR. The first was a 1.4 mile at the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. We parked at the day use picnic area 3.4 miles east of the John Day River bridge at Clarno.

Clarno Unit Trailhead

From the parking area we took the .3 mile Geologic Time Trail west toward the dramatic rock formations called The Palisades.

Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

The trail was lined with golden fiddleneck blossoms and passed several interpretive signs describing the history of the area that created the amazing features.

Fiddleneck along the trail at Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

The Geologic Time Trail ended at a junction with the .2 mile Trail of Fossils loop. Here we turned uphill to the right passing more interpretive signs. These helped identify fossils in the nearby rocks.

Interpretive sign Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Leaf fossil at Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Leaf fossils Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Interpretive sign Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

The loop descended to a second possible trailhead where another trail, the .2 mile Arch Trail, split to the right (west) near a large signboard.

The Palisades Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

This short trail led uphill to the base of a rock arch along The Palisades.

Rock Arch Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

The views along the trail were amazing both across the highway and up close to the rocks.

Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Looking south toward the Spring Basin Wilderness

Rock pillar Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Rock wall along the Palisades - Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

Just before the rock arch was a sign describing a pair of fossilized logs 40 feet above the trail. For some reason neither of us could see them despite spending a few minutes searching. After visiting the rock arch, we paused again to look for the logs. This time they were easily spotted up in the wall of rocks above the sign.

Looking up at the rock arch

Petrified tree trunks in the rock walls of the Clarno Unit - John Day Fossil Beds

We returned to the Trail of Fossils loop and completed it then took the Geologic Time Trail back to the picnic area where another car was just pulling in. These were really interesting hikes and a great warm-up for our next stop, the nearby Spring Basin Wilderness.

Designated a wilderness in 2009 the 6,404 acre Spring Basin Wilderness has no official trails but similar to nearby Sutton Mountain old jeep tracks and open terrain make exploring the area fairly easy.  The wilderness is located south of Highway 218 across from the Clarno Unit.

For our visit we were planning on following the route described in the Third Edition of William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Eastern Oregon” (Hike #18). From the Clarno Unit we drove back toward Clarno 1.9 miles and turned left onto gravel Clarno Rd. After 3.2 miles we parked on the left at a pullout near a lone juniper tree. An outdated wilderness sign declaring a wilderness study area indicated that we were at the correct spot.

Wilderness signpost at the Spring Basin Wilderness

A faint but clear path led into the wilderness toward a draw on the horizon.

Spring Basin Wilderness

The views were dramatic from the start with jagged rock formation and green rolling hills.

Sun and shadows as seen from the Spring Basin Wilderness

View from the Spring Basin Wilderness

Spring Basin Wilderness

The path led us up into the draw passing a number of different types of wildflowers.

Biscuitroot

Biscuitroot

Balsamroot

Balsamroot

Prairie stars

Prairie stars

Balloon pod milkvetch

Balloon pod milkvetch

milkvetch

Another type of milkvetch

paintbrush

Paintbrush

Phlox

Phlox

There was one flower that had not yet started to bloom that we had never seen before and we still aren’t sure what it was.

Wildflower getting ready to bloom in the Spring Basin Wilderness

After 1.3 miles the path reached a ridge top junction with an old jeep track marked by a rock cairn.

Spring Basin Wilderness

Near the junction we spotted the first of many hedgehog cactus.

Hedgehog cactus

None of the blossoms were open and we mistakenly thought we were a week or so too early to see them in full bloom. As we would discover later the blossoms would open to the Sun later in the day.

Hedgehog cactus

We turned left onto the jeep track and headed toward a knoll on the horizon.

Spring Basin Wilderness

We followed the track around the side of the knoll then turned uphill and went cross country to the summit marked by another cairn.

Spring Basin Wilderness

John Day River from the Spring Basin Wilderness

Our goal, Horse Mountain, was slightly southeast of the knoll.

Spring Basin Wilderness

To reach the summit of that mountain without having to lose and regain too much elevation Sullivan’s route called for a .9 mile cross country route due east through a juniper grove then up a draw to find the jeep track once again on the ridge line.

Spring Basin Wilderness

We surveyed the landscape and picked out the juniper grove before heading back down the knoll to the jeep track.

Juniper grove in the Spring Basin Wilderness

We followed the jeep track north a short distance to a low point then descended into a draw and headed for the grove. The initial descent was a little steeper than it had appeared from the knoll but it was not a problem and we made it to the junipers without any difficulty.

Juniper grove

Juniper grove in the Spring Basin Wilderness

From the grove we climbed up the draw we’d seen to the jeep track and turned right toward Horse Mountain.

Spring Basin Wilderness

On the ridge we found more hedgehog cactus amid other many other wildflowers.

Wildflowers in the Spring Basin Wilderness

Hedgehog cactus

We stuck to the jeep track for approximately 3/4 of a mile then veered off toward Horse Mountain when the track turned left amid more junipers.

Horse Mountain in the Spring Basin Wilderness

Our initial plan was to sidehill up to a saddle along Horse Mountain but we found it was actually easier to head directly uphill so we wound up gaining the ridge near it’s western end which was dotted with balsamroot.

Balsamroot

Balsamroot in the Spring Basin Wilderness

We then followed the ridge up to the summit of Horse Mountain.

Horse Mountain

Along the way we passed a lone daggerpod in bloom,some lupine plants that were just beginning to show buds, and more hedgehog cactus.

Horse Mountain

Lupine

Biscuitroot and hedghog cactus in the Spring Basin Wilderness

A small rock cairn marked the summit of Horse Mountain.

Horse Mountain summit in the Spring Basin Wilderness

The 360 degree view was spectacular. We sat on some rocks and examined the scenery.

View from the summit of Horse Mountain

View from the summit of Horse Mountain

View from the summit of Horse Mountain

Spring Basin Wilderness

To the far south the snowy Ochoco Mountains lined the horizon.

Lookout Mountain from Horse Mountain

It was amazingly peaceful on the summit. The only sounds were bird songs and the low hum of insects buzzing about. If the rocks had been a little softer we could have stayed for hours. As it was we eventually headed back down to the jeep track which we thought about following all the way back to the knoll. We had seen quite a few caterpillars on the ground all morning but now there seemed to be more and they were moving about.

Caterpillar

caterpiller

From the ridge The Palisades of the Clarno Unit were visible to the north.

The Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds from the Spring Basin Wilderness

Raven with the Palisades of the Clarno Unit in the distance

After looking more closely at the map we decided that the jeep track swung out a little more than we were willing to do so we instead took a slightly different off trail route to the knoll.

Spring Basin Wilderness

We wound up climbing up the same draw we’d descended earlier in the day and regained the jeep track below the knoll. We then returned to the rock cairn and descended the gully back to our car ending our hike at 7.4 miles. We had been on the alert for rattlesnakes all day but had not seen nor heard any. That changed on our drive back to the highway. We spotted at least 4 rattlers sunning themselves on Clarno Road. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Clarno Unit and Spring Basin Wilderness