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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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IMG_0060Penstemon and snowbrush

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

Categories
Bend/Redmond Central Oregon Hiking Oregon Trip report

Boyd, Arnold, Hidden Forest, and Pictograph Caves (sort of)

Our hike along French Creek Ridge (post) officially kicked off our July vacation it was the following day that we left home and headed for Central Oregon. We were ultimately heading to the Strawberry Mountains but we stopped in Bend to visit Heather’s parents and also to check out a few of the caves off China Hat Road. (Whenever visiting caves please be aware of White-Nose Syndrome and help protect bats.)

Our first stop was Boyd Cave.
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A short dirt path from the day use area led to the railed entrance of the lava tube.
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There was a rockfall warning at the entrance dated 5/26/18.
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We proceeded with caution down into the cave.
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The cave was spacious with varying terrain on the cave floor.
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The cave extends for about half a mile to the left from the entrance and a very short distance to the right.
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We explored as quickly as the terrain allowed given the warning at the entrance and then headed for our next stop at Arnold Ice Cave. To reach the parking area from Boyd Cave we continued east on China Hat Rd. an additional 3.1 miles and turned right onto FR 300 for half a mile to a parking area at a signboard.
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The entrance to Arnold Ice Cave is located just beyond and to the left of the parking area.
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A path led down to the entrance where a semi-steep scramble past the remains of a staircase led down to the cave floor.
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In the early half of the 1900’s ice from the cave was harvested for use by locals but that ended with the advent of refrigeration and since then at least a half-mile of the cave has become inaccessible as the ice has reclaimed that portion. It was too warm for any ice in the accessible part of the cave during our visit but there were some interestingly colored rocks along the ceiling.
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The cave extended just far enough to lose the light of the entrance before forcing us to turn around and climb back out.
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A more interesting cave (at least nowadays) was our next goal. Hidden Forest Cave is approximately a quarter mile from Arnold Ice Cave. To reach the cave we followed a dirt track south from Arnold Ice Cave.
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This path quickly passed to the left of a pit where we kept straight on what became a narrower footpath after crossing another old roadbed. Soon we passed a second pit on our right.
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We kept close to the rim of this pit on the left then shortly after passing the second pit we crossed a second sandy roadbed and arrived alonside a third pit.
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The entrance to Hidden Forest Cave lay at the NE end of the pit but the way down into the pit lay at the opposite end. We walked along the rim past a really colorful tree trunk and met a few of the locals.
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We followed a path down into the pit where we found a few wildflowers blooming.
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At the far end of the pit was the entrance to the cave.
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The cave was a fairly short scramble to a small opening.
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Climbing out of this opening brought us to the floor of the second pit we had passed.
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After exploring this “hidden forest” we returned through the passage and headed back to our car.
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Our final stop for the day was along the closed Wind Cave entrance road. The small parking area is located along FR 200 which was just over a half-mile back along China Hat Road from FR 300 (2.5 miles east of the Boyd Cave entrance road). A stop sign on the north side of China Hat Road marks the correct road.
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Wind Cave is closed year round to the public for bats but we hoped to visit Pictograph Cave which according to our guidebook and everything we could find online was only closed from October 15th – May 1st. In order to reach Pictograph Cave we followed the closed road for half a mile to the Wind Cave Parking area. Along the road we spotted some really bright Indian Paintbrush amid the sagebrush.
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We also found the Bat Cave but there was no sign of Batman.
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There was also a nice view of the snowy Cascades across the sagebrush of the high desert.
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We arrived at the gated Wind Cave where our guidebook directed us to “..continue NE on the sandy double track road..”.
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This is where our day began to get really interesting. The correct sandy double track was blocked by the log where the Wind Cave closure sign was attached as well as several boulders. A second sandy double track led directly north from Wind Cave past the covered entrance to its skylight.
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We hadn’t seen the correct track and hadn’t paid enough attention to the N versus NE direction this track was heading in and we just kept walking. We were supposed to follow the double track for approximately .7 miles to a gate with a railroad tie. After passing through the gate we were supposed to veer left and quickly pass through another barbwired fence before passing between two signed caves. The guidebook also said that if we crested a rise and could see the Cascade Mountains we’d gone too far. That last part had us really confused because we had been able to see the mountains the whole time as we followed the track we’d chosen. There was another set of footprints in the sand though so we followed them as the track became fainter. The scenery was nice and we spotted several birds including a few hawks and Heather noticed a pygmy short horned lizard.
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After about fifteen minutes we’d completely lost the track and footprints and realized we’d done something wrong. I should have set up a waypoint on our GPS marking the cave location but hadn’t so using it was no real help. Luckily Heather had signal just long enough to pull it up on Google Maps on her phone. We used her phone to navigate towards the caves location but it wasn’t ideal. First off it was a lot harder to see exactly where we were in relation to the cave location using the phone vs the Garmin and secondly locations on Google Maps are not always correct (sometimes they are way off). We had already gone a little over half a mile and we wandered for another .9 miles in a wide arc in the direction shown on the phone before seeing what looked like it might be a cave near a barb wired fence.
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It didn’t seem to match the description in the book but it was near the point shown on Google so we headed over to check it out.
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It turned out to be a very shallow overhang.
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At some point Heather’s phone ran out of power so we were once again left with only the Garmin which was still no help in this case. The immediate area we were in had several promising looking features and we wandered to the NE a bit checking possibilities. I finally spotted what appeared to be two sets of short sign posts amid the sagebrush way off in the distance. We headed over to check them out since the book had mentioned such signs. As we approached the nearest pair we spotted a large pit.
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That was the SW opening with no way down. Just across from it was the NE pit which is the explore-able one only the restrictive sign indicated that the cave was now closed year round to protect bat habitat.
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We stopped at the pits edge honoring the closure sign and were not able to pick out the pictographs near the right hand tunnel. At the time we weren’t entirely certain that these were indeed Pictograph Cave due to year round closure and not having followed the directions to get there.
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We were hot and dusty and had hiked two and a half miles on what was supposed to be a 2.4 mile hike. At least from the cave we were able follow the guidebook directions backwards. We followed a dirt track SSE for .4 miles where we arrived at a railroad tie gate. Before passing through the fence we followed another track east now not being able to remember if after passing through the gate the guidebook had said veer left or right (we had left the book in the car opting to rely on pictures taken with the now dead cell phone). After a short distance we decided that we were on a wild goose chase and the pits we had seen must have been Pictograph Cave. We hiked back to the gate and passed through continuing on the sandy track. We soon ran into a family who asked us if this was the way to Pictograph Cave. We said we thought so explaining that we’d taken a wrong turn and come in form another direction, but there were two signed pits along the track. We continued on eventually arriving back at the Wind Cave turnaround where we discovered how we’d missed the correct sandy track.

We walked back along the road to our car and began to head back toward Bend. We had been hoping to go to the High Desert Museum after the hikes. Despite having spent a lot more time hiking to Pictograph Cave we still would have had 4 plus hours to spend there but two things happened on the drive back, a fire broke out near Bessie Butte along China Hat Road and our battery warning light came on. The fire was far enough off the road that it wasn’t closed yet as we passed by the first firetrucks on scene. Luckily the fire was controlled quickly and didn’t become a major incident.

The battery light was more of an issue. It was Sunday so many places weren’t open and all our user manual said was to stop driving immediately and call a dealer. That wasn’t an option on a forest service road with a fire nearby so we drove into Bend and stopped at the Toyota dealer but they didn’t have any mechanics on duty and couldn’t help. Next we tried a Valvoline Instant Oil but their battery tester was dead. From there we stopped at Baxter Auto where the store clerk was able to test the battery which was low, but that wasn’t necessarily the problem. It could be any number of things related to the electrical system but without a mechanic to check we couldn’t be sure. We then drove to a second Valvoline where, even though it was a long shot, we replaced the battery in hopes that it might work. It didn’t which meant it was likely the alternator. Our vacation plans were suddenly in flux.

We decided to rent a car Monday morning and go ahead with our planned backpacking trip and then we would try and get the car fixed at the end of the week when we returned. Thankfully Heather’s parents offered to take the car in Monday morning for us though and have any necessary repairs done while we were away.

With the plan set we reserved a rental to be picked up at 7:30 from Enterprise and then we realized that we hadn’t remembered our water filter. It was getting close to closing time for the few stores that were still open on a Sunday evening and Heather ran out to Big 5 in hopes of picking up a spare filter. They didn’t have any in stock so she wound up with Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets. We hadn’t used the tablets before so this was going to be interesting. It was starting out to be quite the memorable vacation. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Boyd, Arnold, Hidden Forest, and Pictograph Caves