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High Cascades Hiking Mt. Washington Area Oregon Trip report

Sand Mountain – 6/23/2019

For our second trip this year we had planned on heading to the North Fork Umatilla Wilderness and then to the John Day area for a couple of days but the week before our trip our 16 year old cat Buddy wasn’t doing well. After a couple of visits to the vets (and having nearly a pound of fluid removed from his lungs) he was placed on several medications. He’s doing much better now (he is currently on my lap helping me write this entry) but we didn’t want to leave him so soon so we decided to stay home and do a series of day hikes instead.
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Not only was this a fairly last minute change of plans but the forecast for the week was all over the place concerning chances of precipitation and the amount of clouds vs sun. We decided on a handful of potential hikes then checked the forecast for each one trying to come up with an optimal schedule. The process led us to choosing Sand Mountain for our second hike (Vista Ridge and Owl Point (post) being the first).

Sand Mountain is located near Santiam Pass in the Cascade Mountain and is a geologic study area. The U.S. Forest Service and the Sand Mountain Society seasonally staff the Sand Mountain Lookout in part to keep off highway vehicles from damaging the fragile area. Off trail travel off any kind is banned in the study area, but as we were shown by one of the Rangers in the lookout all the signs and barriers in the world can’t stop some morons from doing whatever it is they want to do as there were several tracks visible in the volcanic soil where OHVs or snow moblies had torn things up but I digress.

We chose to follow William L. Sullivan’s suggestion in his “100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades” guidebook (hike #129 in the 4th edition) by parking at the intersection of FR 810 and Big Lake Road.
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To get here turn south off of Highway 20 toward the Hoodoo Ski Area and follow Big Lake Road for 3.1 miles. FR 810 is open to vehicles which allows one to park 2.9 miles closer to Sand Mountain, but why drive on a rough 15mph dirt road if you don’t have to? Additionally FR 810 follows the route of the Santiam Wagon Road which connected the Willamette Valley to Central Oregon and was used from 1865 to 1939. The 400 mile long route is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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It was a pleasant walk with a few scattered flowers along the way.
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IMG_9968Beargrass plumes amid the trees

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At the two and a half mile mark we came to a somewhat confusing junction.
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There were snow mobile signs here, one of which had a pointer for Sand Mountain.
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We turned left here following the pointer.
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After about a third of a mile we realized that we were on the wrong side of Sand Mountain so we pulled up the map and compared it with GPS to confirm our suspicions of being on the wrong track. We were indeed so we turned around, but not before getting a decent view of the Sand Mountain Lookout which appeared to be in a bit of a cloud.
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We turned left after getting back to the junction and continued on the Santiam Wagon Road another .4 miles to a sign for the Sand Mountain Special Interest Area. This would be the starting point for the shorter hike option.
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Here we turned left again passing a gate and several notices regarding the prohibited activities in the area.
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The road bed passed by a dark bed of ash as it began climbing up Sand Mountain.
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We were seeing a bit of blue sky overhead as we climbed around and up the west side of the cinder cone but the only cloud free mountain we could make out was Iron Mountain (post).
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IMG_0011Iron Mountain

After a mile and a half we arrived at the old trailhead, now a large parking area for the Forest Service and volunteers who staff the lookout.
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We headed up the trail which again had several notices stating foot traffic only and reminders to stay on the marked trail.
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From this trail we could see Hoodoo, Hayrick Butte, and Black Butte (post)along with the blue waters of Big Lake.
IMG_0029From left to right – Hoodoo, flat topped Hayrick Butte, and Black Butte (behind Cache Mountain).

There was just a bit of snow left over on the trail and a few western pasque flowers were starting to bloom and a western toad was out and about.
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We arrived at the base of the lookout tower after climbing for about a third of a mile.
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A Forest Service Ranger came out to greet us and give us an informative lesson on Sand Mountain and the surrounding geologic area. Sand Mountain is the largest in a series of 23 cinder cones formed along a N-S fissure which also includes 42 distinctive vents and over three quarters of a cubic mile of lava. She informed us that the snow melt from Sand Mountain seeps through the cinder and ash into a large aquifer where after approximately 2 years it makes its way into Clear Lake via the Great Springs and then down the McKenzie River. (post)

We were also informed that Sand Mountain is home to pygmy short-horned lizards but the ranger wasn’t sure that we would see any given the cloudy conditions and chilly breeze. She let us know that we could follow a path down to a viewpoint on the rim of the northern crater and that we were also allowed to hike around the rim if we wanted but she did mention that the climb up the northern end was somewhat steep. We thanked her for the information and headed down to the viewpoint.
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20190623_085411Dwarf lupine at the viewpoint.

The clouds appeared to be breaking up to the west over the Old Cascades.
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The same didn’t appear to be true to the SE though where the snowy Cascade Mountains were still squarely behind the clouds.
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We opted to go around the rim in a counter-clockwise rotation. That way we would be hiking directly toward the Cascades as we looped around in hopes that they might yet clear up.
IMG_0057Starting the loop from the viewpoint.

There really wasn’t any visible tread to speak of on the side of the rim below the lookout and we briefly wondered if we had done something wrong. We stepped as lightly as possible and avoided the patches of vegetation along the way.
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We eventually made it to what appeared to be an old road bed where the path became a bit clearer.
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The hike around the crater was very interesting. A surprising amount of wildflowers were blooming in the rocks and the views down into the crater were impressive.
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As we rounded the crater there was a nice view across to the lookout.
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About this time the Old Cascades had finally shaken off their cloud cover allowing us to identify some additional features.
IMG_0089The Three Pyramids with Scar Mountain (post) to the far right.

IMG_0090Crescent Mountain (post)

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As we continued toward the Cascades things began looking up that way as well.
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We paused when we were directly across the crater from the lookout to watch the Three Sisters become nearly cloud free.
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IMG_0120Belknap Crater (post), the Three Sisters, and the Husband.

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I pushed on heading steeply uphill now hoping to get a view of Mt. Washington as well. As I was climbing I thought I saw another toad, but it turned out to be on of the pygmy short-horned lizards the ranger had told us about.
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IMG_0143Mt. Washington joining the show.

Another short but steep section of climbing brought me up to an even better view which now also included Big Lake and to a second lizard.
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I waited with the lizard for Heather who had stopped at the first lizard.
IMG_0152Can you see Heather’s hat?

We hung out with our new lizard friend while we watched the mountains uncover further.
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IMG_0171The Husband

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IMG_0182Scott Mountain (post) and a snowy Maiden Peak (post) in the distance.

The only one that wasn’t playing nice was Three Fingered Jack to the NE.
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Near the viewpoint area below the lookout we spotted our third lizard.
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Interestingly they all seemed to have slightly different coloration but each blended very well with their surroundings.

From the viewpoint we could now also see part of Mt. Jefferson, but like Three Fingered Jack it was still partly obscured by clouds.
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IMG_0190Maxwell Butte (post) in front of Mt. Jefferson.

We headed back down Sand Mountain hoping that as we did so the other peaks might come out.
IMG_0197Looking toward Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack at a quarter to ten.

IMG_0215Looking toward Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack at a quarter after ten.

IMG_0224Looking toward Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack at a 10:23am.

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As we wound our way down we ended up heading directly toward Mt. Washington and the Three Sisters. Each of the Three Sisters seemed to be working on small lenticular clouds.
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We returned the Santiam Wagon Road and headed back. On the return trip we spotted a few butterflies, a golden-mantled ground squirrel and some orange agoseris which we had somehow missed on our way in.
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I also briefly detoured to check out a beargrass patch along some of the official OHV trails.
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With our .6 mile detour up the snowmobile track we wound up with an 11.3 mile hike, another 5.8 of which could have been removed by driving up FR 810.

We took the long way back to Salem opting to follow Highway 20 over Tombstone Pass to stop at the Rooster Rock Trailhead.
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This was less of a hike and more of a quest for a picture of a Menagerie Wilderness sign. We had hiked to Rooster Rock in 2016 (post) from a different trailhead but there had been no wilderness sign on that route. The shorter but steeper Rooster Rock Trail enters the Menagerie Wilderness less than a quarter mile from the trailhead and before the trail starts its climb so I hopped out of the car and hustled up the trail to see if there was a sign along this path.
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There was part of a sign at least at the wilderness boundary which was better than nothing.
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I did do a quick search in the immediate vicinity hoping to locate the other half but was unable to. Satisfied with the outcome I returned to Heather and the car and we headed home to Buddy (and Hazel our other kitty). Happy Trails!

Flickr: Sand Mountainm

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Hiking Middle Santiam Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

House Rock

We never know what kind of weather to expect in November when we are penciling out our hiking schedule so we typically play it fairly safe by picking a hike on the coast or along a lower elevation river or creek.   This year we selected House Rock along the Old Santiam Wagon Road which was established in 1865 as a main route from the Willamette Valley to Central and Eastern Oregon for many years.  As it turned out the weather was not a concern and it was a beautiful day for a hike.

The wagon road originally extended from Lebanon, OR all the way to Ontario, OR on the Oregon – Idaho border.  For our hike we started at a trailhead just east of the former Mountain House Restaurant (a long time rest stop along the route) on Highway 20 between milepost 52 & 53.  From the small parking area a footbridge led across the South Santiam River to former road.
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After crossing the river we turned left onto the wide path covered in a carpet of leaves and made our way through the mossy woods toward House Rock.
Old Santiam Wagon Road

Recent rains had left the creeks and runoff streams flowing nicely which added to the scenic beauty.
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At the two-mile mark we arrived at the start of the House Rock loop.
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We turned toward the river where another footbridge joined from the House Rock Campground.
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After checking out the bridge we made our way to House Rock.  There really wasn’t a good way to get a picture that adequately showed the size of House Rock and the opening beneath it.  A small stream flowed through the wide cavern where there was enough room for several people.
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From beneath House Rock

House Rock

We left House Rock and continued on the loop heading toward House Rock Falls.  A tree had recently fallen creating a bit of an obstacle but we were able to make our way over it.

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I emailed the Sweet Home Ranger District when we were home just in case they weren’t already aware of it.

A sign pointed the way to the falls along a .2 mile side trail.
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House Rock Falls was just as difficult to get a good picture of.  Boulders and logs partly obscured the view from the trail and the wet rocks made scrambling down to the base an adventure.  Even then the curve of the river combined with the rocks made it impossible to get a clear view without wading out into the river.  It was just cold enough that I didn’t feel like trying that so I settled for the obstructed view and called it good.
House Rock Falls

We headed back to the loop and then continued up to the wagon road where we turned left once again.  Our goal was a viewpoint near the 5 mile marker. After another 1.1 miles we met FS Rd 2044 where we followed signs to the continuation of the wagon road.  In the next couple of miles the trail briefly left the old road and passed through an ever-changing forest where there was a seemingly endless variety of mushrooms on display.
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Mushrooms along the Old Santiam Wagon Road

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We arrived at the 5 mile marker and took a short trail on the right to  the viewpoint.

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It was a nice place to take a short break and have a snack.  The view wasn’t anything spectacular but Jump Off Joe Mountain was across the a valley while Iron Mountain, which we had hiked on July 4th, rose up in the distance.

Jump Off Joe Mountain
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Iron Mountain
Iron Mountain from the 5 mile viewpoint along the Old Santiam Wagon Road

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We returned the way we had come following the wagon road back past the House Rock loop and ultimately to our waiting vehicle. It had been a wonderful November day for a hike.  Happy Trails!

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Hiking Middle Santiam Old Cascades Oregon Trip report

Iron Mountain and the Meadows of Cone Peak

July means wildflowers in the Old Cascades, the eroded peaks that are now the western foothills of the Cascade Mountains. We were headed over to Bend, OR for the 4th of July weekend so we seized the opportunity to check out a couple of the hikes on the way over and back. On the way over to Bend we decided to revisit Iron Mountain, a hike we had done in 2010 during the final week of July. We missed the wildflower peak that year by a couple of weeks so we hoped we would be hitting the area at a better time this visit.

On our previous visit we did the loop clockwise by starting at the trailhead located on road 15 and heading up Iron Mountain first then through the meadows on Cone Peak. This time around we parked at Tombstone Pass and headed counter-clockwise in order to hopefully have the meadows to ourselves before the trail got crowded.
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We took a short detour on the Tombstone Nature Trail that circled around a meadow with flowers and a view of Iron Mountain.
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After finishing the nature trail we crossed Highway 20 and started climbing up the Cone Peak Trail. We started seeing flowers almost immediately. It seemed every open area had an assortment of different flowers.
Lupine, Columbine & Thimbleberry
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Wild Rose
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Columbine
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Larkspur
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Penstemon & Blue Gilia
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Cat’s Ear Lily
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Woolly Sunflower
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Flower variety
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Columbia Windflower
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Wallflower
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Paintbrush & Larkspur
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More variety packs
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We’d already lost count of the number of different flower types we’d seen by the time we got to the main meadow 1.2 miles from the highway crossing. In the meadow we found even more types of flowers as well as views of Cone Peak and Iron Mountain.
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Cone Peak
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Cone Flower
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Giant Blue-eyed Mary
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Iron Mountain
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Scarlet Gilia
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We’d been hearing some elk off and on while we were in the meadow and as we were exploring a rocky outcrop Dominique noticed some brown spots in a meadow up on Iron Mountain. There were 7 elk moving through the brush grazing on the vegetation as they went.
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We left the meadow and reentered the forest as we wound our way around Iron Mountain to the junction with the Iron Mountain Lookout Trail. There were still flowers everywhere and now we were starting to get views of the snowy Cascade Mountains.
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Mt. Hood
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Mt. Jefferson
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The Three Sisters
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At the site of the former lookout is a railed observation deck and bench which allowed for a relaxing rest as we took in the 360 degree view which spanned from Mt. Adams to Diamond Peak.
Mt. Adams & Mt. Hood
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Mt. Jefferson beyond Cone Peak and the top of Three Fingered Jack behind Crescent Mountain
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Mt. Washington
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The Three Sisters, Mt. Bachelor & The Husband
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Diamond Peak
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The view was so good even a hummingbird took a break from the penstemon to take it in.
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We headed back down to the trail junction and continued on our loop passing more flowers, recrossing Highway 20, and returning to Tombstone Pass on the Old Santiam Wagon Road.
Beargrass
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Bunchberry & Queens Cup
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The flowers had certainly been better than on our previous visit and it looked like they would be pristine for another week or two. It was a great way to start a holiday weekend. Happy Trails!

flickr:https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157645515763015/
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