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Hiking Oregon Salem/Albany Trip report Willamette Valley

Baskett Slough Wildlife Refuge – 05/03/2020

Our “hiking season” has typically coincided with the start of May. This has been a unique year and the current situation with COVID-19 meant that if we were going to stick with our normal starting date we needed to scrap our plans (at least for the first part of our season) and find hikes that are open, nearby, and allow us to recreate responsibly. For our April outing that had meant a long walk around Salem to visit various parks (post). To officially kick off our 2020 season though we opted for a more traditional hike.

Despite living nearby, it had been nearly 10 years since we had done our one and only hike at Baskett Slough Wildlife Refuge. The previous visit was our second hike in July of 2010 which is the year in which we started to get serious about hiking. To change things up from our first visit we chose to start our hike from the Smithfield Road Trailhead (we had started our 2010 from the Baskett Butte Trailhead). Please note that the Smithfield Road Trailhead is closed from October 1 – March 31 to protect wintering wildlife.
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We set off straight ahead from the trailhead and soon were passing Morgan Lake. A couple of heavy rain showers had passed over between 5 and 6:30am but there was some encouraging blue sky overhead as we passed the lake.
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There wasn’t a lot of activity on the lake this morning, just a few mallards, but there were plenty of other birds singing and flying between the trees along the lake, most of which wouldn’t sit still long enough to be photographed.
IMG_2909Mallards

IMG_2905Crow

IMG_2914Sparrow

IMG_2916Guessing some sort of warbler

IMG_2919California quail scattering

After passing Moran Lake the trail headed toward a saddle between two hills. Heather noticed something up on the hillside to our left.
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The camera confirmed it to be a pair of elk.
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She had actually pointed out an area in some grass just a bit earlier that appeared to have been used as beds but we weren’t really expecting to see elk on this hike.

The grassy path that we were on seemed to be a popular breakfast spot for the wildlife. We spotted a couple of rabbits, several quail, and many small birds.
IMG_2941Rabbit with sparrows behind.

IMG_2945Rabbit with a quail behind.

Golden-crowned sparrowsGolden-crowned sparrows

IMG_2955Most of the rabbits we see run off right away but this little guy was pretty brave.

A little before reaching the saddle (a little over 1 1/4 miles from the trailhead) the trail made a nearly 180 degree turn turning from the grassy track to a dirt path that climbed along a wooded hillside. Near the turn we started seeing a few wildflowers.
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Meadow checker-mallowMeadow checker-mallow

IMG_2961Tough-leaved iris

IMG_2969Columbine

IMG_2974Morgan Lake from the trail.

IMG_2975Heading into the woods.

We met another trail user in the woods when we spotted a rough skinned newt.
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IMG_2981Spotted towhee

I had just mentioned to Heather to be on the lookout for Tolmie’s mariposa lilies when we noticed a patch of them on the hillside.
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They were a little watered down but still pretty.
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We came to a signed junction 1.6 miles from the trailhead. A right turn here would keep us on the 3 mile Moffiti Marsh – Morgan Lake Loop while a left turn would lead us .2 miles to the start of another loop and eventually a viewpoint atop Baskett Butte. We went left and headed uphill to a meadow in a saddle.
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In the meadow were a few more types of flowers including lupine and plectritis.
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We were busy looking at the flowers and nearly missed a pair of deer passing through the meadow ahead of us.
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At the far end of the meadow the trail split. Here we turned right and entered a denser wood with lots of underbrush and a few more newts.
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IMG_3041Old tree trunk

IMG_3042Ferns

IMG_3033Woodland stars

Thin-leaf peaThin-leaf pea (and a spider behind the blossoms)

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IMG_3030Given their size we believe this was proper social distancing for rough-skinned newts.

The trail left the woods after four tenths of a mile and entered another meadow.
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We spotted several additional types of wildflowers in this meadow all while being serenaded by a western meadowlark.
IMG_3053Western meadowlark

Tomcat cloverTomcat clover

IMG_3056Giant blue-eyed Mary

IMG_3057A checker-mallow surrounded by pale flax

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A tenth of a mile later we arrived at a junction near a signboard.
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The loop continued to the left but we headed right to visit the viewpoint on Baskett Butte and to enjoy the display of wildflowers that lined this stretch of trail.
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IMG_3065Plectritis

Castilleja levisecta - Golden PaintbrushCastilleja levisecta – Golden Paintbrush which historically occurred in the grasslands and prairies of the Willamette Valley. The species had been extirpated from the valley with the last sighting in Oregon occurring in Linn County in 1938. It was reintroduced to various areas starting in 2010 including here at Baskett Slough. In the wetter areas it failed to take but the plant has managed to take hold on Baskett Butte.

There appeared to be at least a couple of different flowers from the mallow family present.
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IMG_3079Larkspur

IMG_3089Biscuitroot

IMG_3083The white patch in the foreground is coastal manroot while the red patch uphill is columbine.

IMG_3091Some of the mass of columbine.

IMG_3104Tolmie’s mariposa lilies

We took a break at the viewpoint listening to ducks and geese in the wetland below.
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Before heading back to the loop we followed a small path east (left) from the viewpoint. The path appeared to go all the way down to one of the refuge roads but it would have taken us out of the way (and left us with even more of a climb back up) so after about 450 feet we turned around. In that little distance though we spotted two more flower types that we hadn’t noticed yet.
IMG_3118Meadow death camas

IMG_3120Oregon sunshine

There was also another nice patch of columbine mixed with some cow parsnip.
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We headed down from Baskett Butte to the junction where we found a swallow sitting on the signboard.
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We turned right back onto the loop and descended for a tenth of a mile to another junction spotting yet another couple of different flowers along the way.

Hairy vetchHairy vetch

IMG_3153Purple sanicle

There was another signboard at this junction where we turned left (the right hand trail led down to the Baskett Butte Trailhead.
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We followed this path three tenths of a mile to the junction where we had started the loop and turned right passing back through the meadow where we’d seen the deer.
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IMG_3162Yarrow starting to bloom.

We didn’t see the deer this time but we did spot the red head of a house finch.
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After passing back through the meadow we came to the signed junction for the Moffiti Marsh – Morgan Lake Loop and veered left down a grassy track.
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There were a few nice flowers along here, nothing that we hadn’t seen already during the hike though. We did however spot some new widlife.
IMG_3175A pair of American goldfinches

IMG_3184Silvery blue butterfly

IMG_3194Common yellowthroat

The grass gave way to gravel as we approached Moffiti Marsh. This time of year the marsh has a pretty good amount of water and judging by the number of ducks, swallows and other birds in the area is much preferred over Morgan Lake by those with feathers. There was also a loud chorus of frogs signing along this path.
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IMG_3197Moffiti Marsh

IMG_3200Great blue heron flying over

IMG_3214Ducks on the water and swallows in the air.

IMG_3215Northern shoveler on the left.

IMG_3219A couple different types of ducks.

The gravel path ended at a gate along Smithfield Road where we turned right on another grassy track.
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It was just a little under a quarter mile back to the trailhead which gave us plenty of time to spot more flowers and wildlife.
IMG_3222Western bluebird

IMG_3229Female western bluebird gathering items for a nest.

IMG_3230Wild rose

IMG_3235Canada geese flying over.

IMG_3236Two pairs of American goldfinches.

IMG_3242Cinnamon teal

IMG_3248Bald eagle flying overhead

IMG_3250Red-winged blackbird

Our route on this day covered a similar area as that of our first visit although we started at a different trailhead and wound up being just a tad under 5 miles. That is where the similarities ended. Our photo album from 2010 consists of a total of 10 photos. There are a few deer, a dragon fly, and a couple of photos from the viewpoint atop Baskett Butte. The album for this hike ended up having 208 photos. The number of different flowers and types of wildlife that we were lucky enough to see exceeded our expectations. We were also lucky enough to escape all but a brief sprinkle of rain.

One caution for the area is that there is a decent amount of poison oak off trail which at this time of year was also looking rather nice even though we wanted nothing to do with it.
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Even though we were only doing this hike due to COVID-19 it wound up being a wonderful morning and a great start to what looks to be a really different hiking season.
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Happy (socially distanced) Trails!

Flickr: Baskett Slough

Categories
Blue Mountains - North Hiking Oregon Trip report

Lower Wenaha River

After dealing with snow the day before at Freezeout Saddle (post) we called an audible and decided not to try hiking at Hat Point. That trailhead is a little higher in elevation along Hells Canyon than we had been during the Freezeout Saddle Hike. We turned instead to the Wenaha River Trail starting from Troy, OR. This trail provided us with the opportunity to make our first visit into the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness. We planned on visiting this wilderness later on this year but knowing our plans are always subject to change we jumped on the chance for a warmer, drier hike that visited another of Oregon’s wilderness areas.

The drive to Troy from Wallowa Lake was an eventful one. The wildlife was out in force. We kept our eyes on the numerous deer that we spotted along Highway 3 between Enterprise and the turnoff to Flora. At one point several elk ran across the highway ahead of us from one field to another. There were two deer in the second field that upon seeing the elk running away from the road toward them decided they should run too, only they ran toward the road (and us). The lead deer realized its mistake and turned around chasing after the elk leaving the second deer looking confused before also turning around. A short while later we were slowed by a turkey in the road. Its escape plan appeared to be to try and outrun our car. If you’ve seen a turkey try and sprint its a pretty funny sight. Eventually it remembered its wings and flew to the side of the road.

Thirty five miles from Enterprise we turned left at a sign for Flora, a ghost town that peaked in the early 1900’s. Beyond Flora the road was paved for the first 4 miles but then turned to mostly dirt with some gravel. For about 7 miles this road wound steeply down to the Grande Ronde River and Troy. Numerous hairpin turns with steep dropoffs made for a bit of a tense drive down but we arrived at the Troy Trailhead in one piece.
Troy Trailhead

Not only were we at a much lower elevation (under 2000′) but the forecast was for just a 30% chance of showers on this day so we were optimistic that we’d have a little better weather experience. The sky seemed to back that up as we looked back over Troy and the Grande Ronde River.
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This lower portion of the 31.3 mile long Wenaha River Trail passes through the 2015 Grizzly Fire scar.
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Some of the trees survived the fire.
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We had seen a trip report from the end of April over on Oregonhikers.org which indicated that the trail was in pretty good shape, but might be a bit brushy in spots. The author had also spotted big horn sheep during the hike so we were going to be keeping on the lookout for those.

In April it looked like there had been a nice display of balsamroot along the trail but most of that was now done but we were pleased to still find some flowers in bloom.
IMG_7762Vetch

IMG_7768Spreading dogbane

IMG_7776Wild rose with a beetle

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IMG_7787Houndstongue

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IMG_7792Catchfly

IMG_7795sticky purple geranium

The trail itself began above the Wenaha River but soon dropped down to river level passing through a flat. This pattern would repeat itself over the course of the hike. The sections along the flats ranged from open grass to overgrown brush. We appeared to be the first to be going through the brush since the leaves were heavy with water which quickly soaked the lower halves of our bodies.
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As we made our way along the trail we discovered additional flower types.
IMG_7812Oregon sunshine

IMG_7818Monkey flower

WatercressWatercress?

IMG_7822Fiddleneck

IMG_7827Rough eyelashweed

IMG_7829Blanket flower with two sleeping bees

After a mile we arrived at a gate which we at first mistook for the boundary with the Umatilla National Forest.
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While we were on the lookout for big horn sheep it was colorful birds that we kept seeing (and hearing).
IMG_7848Yellow breasted chat

IMG_7865Lazuli bunting

The contrast in the hillsides on the opposite sides of the river was interesting. The north side consisted of smooth rounded terrain while the south side was much more rugged.
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While we were admiring the ruggedness of the opposite hillside we spotted some promising brown dots (they are in the picture above). With a little help from the zoom on the camera and our monocular we were able to confirm they were some of the big horn sheep we’d been looking for.
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Just a bit further down the trail we spotted another group. These were engaged in some rowdy play around a burnt ponderosa trunk.
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We watched them for quite a while before continuing on. The north side of the river became a bit more rugged and the rockier terrain provided more diverse flowers.
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IMG_7919Penstemon

IMG_7921Clarkia

IMG_7932Phlox

IMG_7945More spreading dogbane

IMG_7949Buckwheat

IMG_7952Scabland penstemon

IMG_7953Cinquefoil?

While the trail was up on the hillside we had nice views of the Wenaha below.
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A little over two and a half miles in we passed a second fence which was the actual forest boundary.
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Just beyond the boundary was a viewpoint across from Dry Gulch.
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From the viewpoint the trail made a couple switchbacks down to another brushy flat.
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Although it wasn’t thick there was a few pockets of poison ivy along the trail so we kept a watchful eye when the vegetation was close to the trail. It was along these flat sections where we spotted most of the birds.
IMG_7970Woodpecker with a snack.

IMG_7978Northern flicker

IMG_8003Black headed grosebeak

We also spotted a few big horn sheep on our side of the river.
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After climbing up a bit again we found a nice combination of false sunflower and balsamroot blooming along a ridge end along with a few other flowers.
IMG_7985Blue dicks with a beetle

IMG_8010Lupine

IMG_8012Salsify

IMG_8021False sunflowers

IMG_8024Balsamroot

IMG_8013Clarkia with beetles

IMG_8028View from the ridge end.

We repeated the dip and climb a couple more times before arriving at a neat rock overhang a bit before the 6 mile mark (at least according to our GPS). Along the way spotted more birds, a deer, and what appeared to be a rattlesnake that had met its demise along the trail.
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IMG_8040Another bunting

IMG_8045Wallflower

IMG_8052Another chat

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20190525_095959Geranium

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Beyond the overhang we could see Crooked Creek Canyon ahead to the right where it joined the Wenaha to the left.
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From the overhang it was a little over a mile to Crooked Creek. The stretch began with another nice selection of flowers.
IMG_8077Skullcap

IMG_8081Stream globemallow

IMG_8083Thimbleberry

IMG_8084Threadleaf phacelia

The the wildlife kicked back in and not in the most welcome way for Heather. I had stopped to try and get a picture of a garter snake that had just moved off the trail.
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I heard Heather say snake a couple of time and I was thinking “Yeah I know I’m trying to get a picture of it” only she was talking about a second garter snake that was slithering into the grass on the other side of the trail. Then she notice the third one coiled a couple of inches from her left foot. She is not a huge fan of snakes but has gotten quite a bit more comfortable around them, but three in one spot was getting close to too much. The third snake slithered away when I approached and we continued on.

More welcome wildlife came in the form of a family of geese, a pair of Lewis’s woodpeckers, and butterflies.
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At the 6.3 mile mark we passed a rock cairn with a “6” on top. We weren’t sure but thought that it might have been marking the boundary of the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness.
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Whether or not that was the official boundary somewhere near the cairn we did enter the wilderness crossing one more off of our list to visit.
IMG_8134Officially inside the wilderness

We followed the trail to the site of the former footbridge over Crooked Creek which was lost in the Grizzly Fire.
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We spent some time pondering what the crossing would be like for backpackers wanting to continue on the Wenaha Trail. The water level looked like fording would be possible but we couldn’t see how one would get up to the trail on the far side. The best we could figure is that you would need to ford closer to the mouth of Crooked Creek and not at the old bridge site but we didn’t investigate further.

We turned around and headed back the way we’d come. The day was warming up nicely as blue sky began to emerge overhead. We ran into several groups of backpackers heading in and they all asked about Crooked Creek. We told them that we thought fording would be possible but they’d need to find a spot to get back up to the trail. One of them mentioned what we had suspected, that there was a way up a little further downstream.
IMG_8165Blue sky

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On the way back we kept our eyes open for anything we might have missed the first time by.
IMG_8177Wren

IMG_8190Spider and blue dicks

IMG_8194Old man’s whiskers

IMG_8220Wild onion

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Near the spot where we had seen the first group of big horn sheep across the river Heather spotted a small group on our side along the river bank.
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By the time we made it back to the trailhead the sky was mostly blue and temperatures were in the upper 70’s. It was a far cry from the snow shower the day before.
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20190525_134957The bees woke up at some point.

For some reason I had started craving pizza near the end of our hike so when we got cell signal I did a quick search of restaurants in Joseph and decided a calzone from Embers Brewhouse which really hit the spot and provided breakfast for the next day as well. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Lower Wenaha River

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