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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.
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IMG_6353Wildflowers in the wash

IMG_6357Smooth stemmed blazing star

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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.

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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

Categories
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