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Hiking Idaho Oregon Trip report

Jump Creek Falls and Three Forks – SE Oregon Vacation Day 4

Day four of our vacation was to be our first hike in Idaho followed by a visit to Three Forks on the Owyhee River south of Jordan Valley. When we wound up in Caldwell, ID on day 2 we had decided to stay the night there on day 3 as well since the hike at Jump Creek Falls was relatively close and then we could go back to our original plan of staying in Jordan Valley after hiking at Three Forks. This caused our driving time for day 3 to be nearly seven and a half hours but shaved off some of the driving time for day 4. We had also decided that after one night in Jordan Valley we would try staying at Fields Station the following night. This was going to be a bit of a leap of faith because we couldn’t reach anyone at Fields Station but Heather left a Facebook message so we didn’t know if there would be a room available, but that was a problem for another day.

We took advantage of the free breakfast at the motel then headed for Jump Creek for a quick .7 mile round trip to visit Jump Creek Falls. From researching the hike it was apparent that this is a popular area for people to hang out and play in the water so an early visit on a weekday seemed like a good way to possibly avoid the crowds. It worked as we were the only car at the trailhead when we arrived.
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The trail follows the brush lined creek (watch for poison ivy) into Jump Creek Canyon crossing the creek on stepping stones.
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Evidence of the areas popularity was everywhere (people stink sometimes) reinforcing our thoughts about an early morning mid-week visit. The short trail ended at the waterfall.
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After admiring the falls we returned to the car and headed for Jordan Valley where we planned on stopping for gas and inquiring about a room for the night. It was a good thing we asked about the room while we were filling up (the gas station is also the motel office) since road construction was starting up on Highway 78 and the rooms were filling up. After getting a room reserved we followed signs from Jordan Valley to Three Forks for a total of thirty four and a half miles to the rim of the Owyhee Canyon next to a corral.
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The first 22 miles had been good gravel but the final 14+ was a rutted mess with occasional cows. We once again opted for a road walk instead of more bad roads and parked by the corral.
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It was just under a mile and a half down the road which we were glad we didn’t try and drive, but a couple of brave souls had taken their campers down to the river.
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This was another “no official” trail hike and the only signboard was for boaters.
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William Sullivan describes two options in his “100 Hikes/Travel Guide for Eastern Oregon”. One being an out and back and the other a bushwacking loop requiring two fords of the Owyhee River. (Both options require fording the North Fork Owyhee.)

The first thing we did was head for the boat ramp which is where the second ford would be if we tried the loop option. We wanted to check on the viability of that ford before we wound up there later and found it was too difficult to cross. It was a good thing that we did as the water level was high enough that it would have most likely required a swim which we could do, but we didn’t have any waterproof bags to keep our gear dry during such a swim.
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With our plan now set we headed back along the access road to the North Fork Owyhee. From the map in our guidebook it looked like the correct place to ford the river was near its confluence with the Owyhee River.
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It was certainly shallow enough at that spot with the water only calf deep so we headed across. The far shore proved to be thick with vegetation including some nasty nettles that we attempted to fight our way through only to find another small channel of water that effectively thwarted any attempt to continue. We made our way back to the spot where we had forded and crossed back to the road. Heather explored a little further up the road and found a few campsites along the North Fork as well as another possible spot to ford.
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The ford here was slightly deeper but we were able to reach the far shore between two trees and climb the low bank here to a small grassy area and then uphill to a cattle trail in the sagebrush.
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We followed cattle trails past butterflies and dragonflys to the Owyhee River where we picked up an ancient wagon route.
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The old wagon route was occasionally obvious due to the presence of rock embankments. A confusion of faint cattle trails followed the route and we spent most of the time wondering which “trail” was the one we should be on.
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We passed through a canyon with tall cliffs on both sides.
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The Owyhee wound through the canyon often reflecting the rocky cliffs above.
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The canyon widened after a while and we took a short break to have a snack. While we were eating I looked up and noticed a doe on the far bank munching on a bush.
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We passed several types of wildflowers as we hiked along.
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As we neared the two mile mark from the North Fork we spotted a waterfall on the far shore.
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It was actually a series of falls coming from warm springs on the far side and above the largest waterfall was 96 degree pool. The hot springs are on private land which the owners allow hikers to visit at least for now. The guidebook description mentioned fording the river where rocks pinch the trail. We were looking for a faint roadbed on the far shore which we could theoretically follow up to the warm pool. We ran into trouble when we followed the trail all the way to a rock pillar where the trail became flooded.
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We had taken the description too literally and hadn’t paid enough attention to the map. If we had looked closer at the map while reading the description we would have realized that the correct ford was about a tenth of a mile before the point we had reached. There was an easy ford where we were though so we headed across thinking we were in the correct spot and that we would find the old road on the other side.
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We wound up wandering around in thick brush searching for the road in vain. When we finally started to get somewhere we were blocked by a good sized body of water and wound up having to make our way back to where we had forded. Our next incorrect move was to get back into the river and head upstream along the bank to the waterfalls thinking that we might be able to climb up from there. You cannot, but we did get a good close up view of several of the falls and saw some nice stream orchids as well.
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Defeated we recrossed the river and prepared to head back. We could see the old road bed traversing the hillside across the way but were still confused about how to reach it. Then Heather reread the description once more and compared it to the map and realized our mistake. We had spent about 50 minutes trying to reach the road and now we knew why we hadn’t been able to. We decided to give it one more try and forded the river again, this time in the correct spot. It was a little trickier ford but once we were on the other side it was an easy cross country walk up to the old roadbed.
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A short scramble down brought us to the pool.
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After a short soak we headed back.
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It was a pretty uneventful return compared to our hike to the hot springs. We did spot a couple of flowers that we’d missed the first time by though, including a nice mariposa lily.
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The climb up the road in the heat of the day was pretty much awful but it still beat trying to drive down and back up it. The hike wound up being 9.5 miles instead of the 7 to 8 we were expecting but that was due mostly to our wandering around looking for the old road bed. We drove back to Jordan Valley and checked into the Basque Station Motel which turned out to be rather pleasant. It’s short on amenities but the room was clean and comfy as well as surprisingly quiet. We regretted having not stuck to our original plan of staying there instead of in Caldwell. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Jump Creek Falls and Three Forks

Categories
Hiking Oregon SE Oregon Trip report

Malheur Wildlife Refuge, Diamond Craters, and the Peter French Round Barn – SE Oregon Vacation Day 2

Day 2 of our SE Oregon vacation was set to be more of a driving day as we headed from Bend to our next destination which we had originally intended to be Jordan Valley. Instead we ended the day in Caldwell, Idaho but we’ll get to that later.

When I was planning this trip I was looking for a hike between Bend and Jordan Valley to do along the way. We had done the Oregon Badlands twice (post post) and Pine Mountain (post) previously. These were the only hikes that were listed in our “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Eastern Oregon” guidebook but the travel guide for Burns pointed us toward the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Having reopened after the occupation we were eager to visit the refuge and show our support for our Public Lands.

We left Bend bright and early and drove east on Highway 20 to Burns then followed signs to the refuge. We were quickly rewarded when we spotted a prong horn with two little ones in tow.
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We suspended some of our usual rules for this trip such as taking some photos from the car of wildlife and having our driving time exceed our hiking time several of the days, but when you’re that far from home you have to be flexible. We did plan on doing a little hiking on our visit to the refuge though so we parked at the Overlook Trail just beyond the turnoff for the park headquarters.
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The headquarters lay a half mile below the overlook which looked out over Malheur Lake in the distance.
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We followed the trail down to the headquarters.
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It was a beautiful morning and the headquarters was full of birds, ground squirrels and even a rabbit.
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We stopped in the visitors center where a helpful volunteer gave us several brochures and told us about the 43 mile auto-tour as well as mentioning the Diamond Craters Outstanding Natural Area and the Peter French Round Barn State Heritage Site. These last two sites aren’t part of the refuge but they were along the route we’d be taking to Jordan Valley so she recommended we stop and check them out. After getting this helpful information we walked over to the Museum.
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The small building held a wealth of information as well as displays of the birds, bats and many of the insects that can be seen at the refuge. We spent quite a while there before moving on to the short Marsh Trail.
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We stopped in the photo blind and even though there weren’t many birds on the water we did see a pair of horned grebes.
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After completing the short loop we visited the gift shop. While we were inside I happened to look out the window and noticed something in the grass. I thought it was a cat but the fur didn’t look right, then it turned it’s head and I realized it was a great horned owl.
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By the time I got Heather it had disappeared. From the gift shop we returned to the Overlook Trail and climbed back to our car. Before we reached the Overlook Trail though we spotted a Lewis’s Woodpecker sitting on a post.
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When we got back to where we had parked we noticed that we could see Steens Mountain off to the SE. This was our first time viewing the 50 mile long fault block mountain.
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Based on the information given to us in the visitors center we decided to do part of the 42 mile auto tour. There are 19 “stops” along the route. We picked up the route from the Overlook Trail (which is stop 1) and started down the gravel road. Sign posts marked the suggested stops that corresponded with the brochure given to us at the headquarters.
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We followed the route for 15.8 miles passing stops 2-8. The wildlife were the stars of the drive though as we spotted various birds and several deer including three bucks near the crossing of the Blitzen River.
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After stop 8 (Buena Vista Ponds) we turned right toward stop 9 which is the Buena Vista Overlook. Here there was an option to hike up to the overlook on a .3 mile trail.
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We chose this option and headed uphill through the sagebrush where we spotted a northern flicker and a bullock’s oriole.
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From the parking area on top we followed a gravel path to the overlook.
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We had forgotten to bring our binoculars up with us so we had to settle for listening to the birds below in the ponds.
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Once again Steens Mountain was visible on the horizon.
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We hiked down the road to make a 1.1 mile loop out of the hike and then left the auto tour which would have had us back track to where we turned off and continue south to Frenchglen. Instead we drove west to Highway 205 and turned left for 1.9 miles to Diamond Lane. Here we turned left crossing the auto tour route at stop 10 (Diamond Lane) and continued east for a total of 10 miles to a sign for the Diamond Craters Auto Tour Stops 5-11.
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Prior to speaking with the volunteer at the refuge we had not planned on stopping here and had little information other than the small brochure she’d given us. We parked at a signboard where the one map had been vandalized.
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We decided to give hiking a try and followed a path toward Crater 5 aka Big Bomb Crater.
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The trail petered out near the bowl so we backtracked to where we’d parked and decided to hike up the road a bit to the next crater which was ahead on our right. We passed a few small desert flowers along the way before reaching a view of the crater known as the Keyhole Explosion Crater.
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The road had split before we had arrived at this crater and ahead it continued to climb uphill.
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Not knowing what lay ahead we opted to avoid the climb in the heat of the day and headed back to the split where we took the left hand fork to another crater, the Lava Point Crater.
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A marmot was admiring this crater when we arrived.
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We ended our hike here and returned to our car. A short 1.7 mile jaunt had given us a sample of what the Diamond Craters Outstanding Natural Area had to offer. We hope to go back some day with better information and visit more of the area.

After leaving the area we continued NE on what had started as Diamond Lane then become Lava Beds Road and was now Diamond Craters Road. Just over six and a half miles from where we’d parked we turned right at a sign for the Peter French Round Barn State Heritage Area.
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We skipped the visitors center here and headed straight for the round barn.
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Information signs told the story of this unique structure and of Peter French who had amassed quite an empire before being shot.
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While there are no trails at this park we did walk around and through the barn.
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It was another interesting and worthwhile stop. From the Round Barn we continued on to Highway 78 where we turned right following it to Highway 95 where we turned left toward Jordan Valley. As we got closer to Jordan Valley we began to talk ourselves into possibly staying in Marsing, ID instead thinking that it was a larger city and might have amenities that we wouldn’t have in Jordan Valley such as cell coverage. By the time we passed the loan motel in Jordan Valley we had pretty much made up our minds to continue on to Marsing thinking that it was only 20 miles to the north. That was a miscalculation as it was actually close to 50 miles further and when we did finally get cell reception we found that there were no real options in Marsing for places to stay. We had to continue on for another 15 miles to Caldwell, ID where we wound up staying in a hotel just off I84 which we had been on the day before when we’d driven from Salem to the Deschutes Recreation Area.

It had turned into a long day of driving with three short hikes and a couple of stops mixed in. We decided to stay in Caldwell for two nights and then go back to our original plan of staying in Jordan Valley. Things were really shaping up for this to be one adventurous vacation. Happy Trails!

Flickr: SE Oregon Road Trip Day 2