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Hiking Oregon SE Oregon Steens Mountain Trip report

Little Blitzen River – 08/19/2021

After three nights at the Steens Mountain Resort it was time to move on. Our plan for Thursday was to make two stops for hikes along the Little Blitzen River then continue driving south to Fields Station where we’d spend the night before hiking the Pueblo Mountains on Friday then making the long drive back to Salem. We started our morning at the Little Blitzen Trailhead located along the Steens Mountain Loop Road at South Steens Campground.
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The trail begins on the far side of the road and similar to the Big Indian Gorge Trail begins in a landscape of juniper and sagebrush.
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It was a much clearer morning than it had been when we hiked Big Indian Gorge on Tuesday.
IMG_3044Big and Little Indian Gorges from the Little Blitzen Trail.

IMG_3046Heading for the Little Blitzen Gorge.

IMG_3049So many dried out wild onions.

The trail descended to the lone ford of the Little Blitzen River at the 1.4 mile mark which we crossed easily on rocks.
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On the far side of the river was a sign for several trails. The Nye and Wet Blanket Trail led up out of the gorge further up the Little Blitzen Trail while the Fred Riddle Trail was barely visible along the grassy hillside leading off toward Cold Springs Road and the Riddle Ranch.
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We followed the Little Blitzen Trail through a grassy meadow and into a much narrower gorge than Big Indian Gorge.
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It was nice to not have any haze limiting our view of the rocky walls.
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Speaking of rocks there were quite a few larger boulders along this trail.
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There were also boulders present in the river which created some nice cascades.
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Our plan had been to turn around at 4-mile camp, approximately 4.5 miles from the trailhead or 3 miles beyond the ford. We took our time admiring the scenery along the way.
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IMG_3173Looking back the way we’d come.

IMG_3174The view ahead.

IMG_3178A stand of quacking aspen.

IMG_3179Something to avoid.

IMG_3181A geranium blossom.

IMG_3190Passing through some willows.

IMG_3192Hyssop

IMG_3193Vegetation along a spring fed creek.

IMG_3195Monkshood

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We hadn’t paid enough attention to Sullivan’s hike description so we didn’t realize when we passed the remains of an old corral that was Four Mile Camp.
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In our defense there were no obvious camp sites in this area, just a grassy area inside the corral remains. We had passed an obvious campsite about a mile earlier, too soon to be Four Mile Camp. We continued a half mile beyond the corral remains before deciding we had missed the camp and then we read the hike description again where Sullivan mentioned the corral.
IMG_3208The view ahead where we turned around.

IMG_3214A robin

IMG_3224Heading back

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IMG_3228The Little Blitzen River near Four Mile Camp

IMG_3234More of the old corral.

IMG_3235Gentians under a willow.

IMG_3249Paintbrush

IMG_3252Another little cascade along the river.

IMG_3256A nice pool.

IMG_3268There were a number of tiny grey birds in here, at least two in this photo.

IMG_3274A bigger bird, but not by a lot.

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IMG_3278A wood nymph

IMG_3309This was a huge boulder along the trail. At least two small junipers were growing out of it.

Having overshot Four Mile Camp our hike came in just under 10 miles round trip with about 900′ of elevation gain.

Little Blitzen Track

From the trailhead we drove back along Steens Mountain Loop Road a quarter mile and turned right on a narrow gravel road (signed from the other direction for the Riddle Brothers Ranch). We did this hike second because a gate 1.3 miles up the road doesn’t open until 9am.
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From the gate Ben Riddle’s restored cabin and his original stone house were visible on the hillside across the Little Blitzen River.
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IMG_3463The stone house is too low to even stand up in but it was enough to stake a claim to the land.

The road continues 1.3 more miles beyond the gate to the Riddle Brothers Ranch. Now a National Historic District the ranch was established in the early 1900s by brother Walter, Fredrick and Ben Riddle. We were met by the volunteer caretaker who gave us a tour and history of the ranch before we set off on the 1.5 mile Levi Brinkley Trail which follows the Little Blitzen River from the parking lot to its confluence with the Donner und Blitzen River (post).
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IMG_3339Upstairs

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IMG_3354The barn

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IMG_3361Inside the Bunkhouse

After touring the ranch we walked back across the Little Blitzen River to the other side of the parking lot where the Levi Brinkley Trail began.
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IMG_3369Levi was one of 9 Prinveille Hotshot firefighters who perished on Storm King Mountain in Colorado fighting the South Canyon Fire. This hit home for me having gone to school with one of the 9, Bonnie Holtby.

The trail set off along the river passing an old willow corral after a quarter mile.
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IMG_3374Thistle in a field once used for hay production by the Riddles.

IMG_3375Could be a green-tailed towhee

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Beyond the corral the trail made a series of ups and downs passing through several flat areas the Riddles once irrigated for hay.
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IMG_3390Lots of butterflies in the grassy areas.

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IMG_3417Nearing the confluence.

IMG_3420The confluence of the Donner und Blitzen River (left) and Little Blitzen River (right).

IMG_3433A skipper at the confluence.

We returned the way we’d come, keeping an eye out for snakes but the only reptile we spotted was a western fence lizard.
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IMG_3450A ringlet

IMG_3456The mouth of Big Indian Gorge from the Levi Brinkley Trail.

After completing the three mile hike here we drove back to Highway 205 and headed south (left) to Fields where we checked into our accommodations for the night at Fields Station then ordered bacon cheeseburgers and milkshakes from the cafe. Heather got a chocolate, marshmallow, butterscotch combination and I froze at the wide variety of flavors and just got a butterscotch (it was good though).
IMG_3469Old wagon at Fields Station.

In the morning we’d be heading just a little further south into the Pueblo Mountains and then home. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Little Blitzen River

Categories
Hiking Oregon SE Oregon Trip report

Pillars of Rome and Chalk Basin – SE Oregon Vacation Day 5

On day 5 we said goodbye to Jordan Valley and headed west on Highway 95 to Rome where we made a brief detour to visit the Pillars of Rome. The sun was still rising when we arrived so our lighting wasn’t great for photos but the interesting rock formation here were a taste of what we’d be seeing later during our hike at Chalk Basin.
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After visiting the pillars we returned to the highway and followed our guidebooks directions to Chalk Basin. The description of the drive calls for a high clearance vehicle and I would add you need all wheel drive at a minimum. The final 16.6 miles of the drive were by far the worst we’ve driven. A theme was developing on this trip and we once again parked before the recommended starting point. This time we parked .9 miles from where the guidebook suggested at an old tire that had been converted to a water trough.
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There are no trails at Chalk Basin but after walking the .9 miles we turned right at an x junction onto an even worse old roadbed and headed down into Chalk Basin.
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There were some tire tracks present, I can only assume they were from OHVs, as we followed the road for 1.2 miles to a fork. Along the way we passed some tufted evening primroses and an orange globe mallow.
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Across the basin we had a view of some mini painted hills.
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We veered right at the fork and in a tenth of a mile came to a crossing of a dry wash.
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We turned right here and headed down the wash.
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We followed this wash for .7 miles to a drop off at a dry waterfall. It was an interesting hike through the wash which it turned out was not entirely dry.
IMG_6341Side blotched lizard

IMG_6353Wildflowers in the wash

IMG_6357Smooth stemmed blazing star

IMG_6361Monkeyflower

IMG_6364End of the water in the wash

IMG_6373Above the dry waterfall

Following our guidebook we backtracked 100 feet and climbed out of the wash up the gentlest slope to the south.
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When we crested the hill we could see the canyon we had been in winding its way toward the Owyhee River Canyon.
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We continued south heading for another large dry wash, this one running north/south.
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We headed for that wash passing a group of smooth, rounded protrusions.
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As we were dropping into this wash the one and only snake we would see on our whole trip passed between us heading uphill. It was a decently sized garter snake, not one of the areas many rattlesnakes. Heather never even saw it and it disappeared into the sagebrush. Soon after a small side blotched lizard raced into a different bush, then a much larger lizard raced out of that same area and up onto some rocks.
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We were supposed to follow this wash for another .7 miles, staying left at forks, to the head of the wash. We passed some interesting rock formations along the way but somewhere along the line we took one left fork too many.
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We didn’t realize it at first as we had been trying to only take the most obvious left hand forks. When we reached the end of the wash we headed cross country toward the lowest point we could see which happened to be a little to the south of a large rock fin.
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If we had been in the correct spot we would have crested a ridge at the edge of a rim just to the NE of a feature known as the Yellow Knoll. Instead when we reached the top of the ridge the Yellow Knoll was still quite a ways to the south.
IMG_6419Yellow Knoll with the Yellow Dome to its left.

IMG_6428Yellow Knoll

IMG_6426Yellow Dome

We followed the ridge up and down a little under half a mile to the Yellow Knoll. The views form the ridge were great as we made our way over.
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We eventually made it over to the Yellow Knoll and hiked to a viewpoint atop it.
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After checking out the view from Yellow Knoll we headed for Yellow Dome and climbed to its top.
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The view from Yellow Dome was even more impressive as the Owyhee River flowed past rows of chalk pillars.
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After admiring that view we headed back past Yellow Knoll and followed the canyon rim for half a mile before striking off cross country following a dry stream bed in a westerly direction.
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This dry stream ran past the water trough that we’d parked at so all we had to do was keep that on our left and it would lead us back to our waiting car.
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Dry stream bed (indentation) on the left with Steens Mountain in the distance.

Following the stream bed worked perfectly and we were soon back on the horrible road after a spectacular 6.9 mile hike at Chalk Basin. After surviving the road we took Highway 78 north to East Steens Road where we turned left toward Fields. The road is paved for the first 10.9 then turns to gravel for the next 42.3 miles before turning pack to pavement. The views of Steens Mountain and the Alvord Desert along this drive were amazing and we did stop once when we spotted a pair of sandhill cranes in a field.
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When we arrived at Fields Station we checked on the availability of a room. Fortunately there was one available for the night so we checked in. The room was actually a large front room with a bed, table, chairs, refrigerator/freezer and a coffee maker, a bathroom, and another bedroom in the back. After getting settled we went over to the store/cafe and ordered bacon cheeseburgers and a couple of their famous milkshakes before the cafe closed at 4pm. I had a 3C – Coffee, Chocolate, and Caramel and Heather had a combination of Raspberry and Chocolate. They lived up to the hype. We had a full day of hiking ahead of us before we started our journey home so we turned in early (a little extra early now that we were back on Pacific Standard Time instead of Mountain Time). Happy Trails!

Flickr: Pillars of Rome and Chalk Basin