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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 Steens Mountain Trip report

Big Indian Gorge – 08/17/2021

Our original plan for Tuesday had been to drive up the Steens Summit Loop Road and hike to the summit and Wildhorse Lake, one of four of Sullivan’s featured hikes (post) we were hoping to check off during the trip. With the amount of smoke in the air Monday night though we decided to wait until morning to decide if that was still the plan or if we were going to do the Big Indian Gorge hike instead. At 5am when we were heading out the door the air still smelled of smoke so Big Indian Gorge it was. We drove from the Steens Mountain Resort to Highway 205 in Frenchglen (a whopping 3.1 miles) and headed south on the highway ten miles to the southern end of the Steens Mountain Loop Road where we turned left for 18.9 miles to the South Steens Campground. This section of road passes through the South Steens Horse Management Area (HMA) and we got a chance to see some of the wild horses up close as we passed through.
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The hike up Big Indian Gorge begins at a day use area at the end of the South Steens Campground.
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One thing that we really appreciated about the trails in the area was the quality of information the BLM had posted at all the trailheads we visited. Maps, trail condition reports and photos were posted at them all.
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The Big Indian Gorge Trail began as an old road bed passing through juniper and sagebrush on the way to the mouth of the gorge.
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It was long past flower season but evidence of a large number of wildflowers was still visible.
IMG_2318There were tons of wild onions along the way.

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IMG_2344Deer on one of the hillsides.

IMG_2357Beginning to drop down to Big Indian Creek.

Just under two miles from the current trailhead we arrived at a much older trailhead and a ford of Big Indian Creek.
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This was the first of three fords (two of Big Indian Creek and one of Little Indian Creek) which I managed to make dry footed. Heather was not so lucky, which was a change from what normally happens on these types of crossings. The ford of Little Indian Creek followed just 0.2 miles later and proved to be quite a bit easier.
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While there was still quite a bit of haze in the sky there was beginning to be some signs that things were improving.
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Our goal for the day was to reach Cottonwood Camp, approximately 6.5 mile in, before turning around. Beyond Little Indian Creek the trail climbed a bit passing a collapsed cabin 0.4 miles from the second ford.
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Three quarters of a mile from the cabin ruins we arrived at the third ford (3.1 miles from the trailhead). This crossing had enough exposed rocks to also make it across dry footed.
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IMG_2391Quacking aspen along the trail.

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We continued on passing a rather large boulder a mile from the third crossing where we passed a backpacker on his way back to the trailhead. The landscape was a mix of juniper and sagebrush with some quacking aspen and cottonwoods scattered about. Most of the wildflowers here were also far past bloom but a few were hanging on. We did notice that there had been a lot of Brown’s peony plants in the area which we sadly missed blooming.
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IMG_2402One of the many Brown’s peonies along the trail.

IMG_2407Hawk atop a cottonwood

IMG_2410This counts a lupine in bloom!

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IMG_2413A lone yarrow

IMG_2414One of a couple of spring fed streams along the trail.

IMG_2416Aspens and junipers

IMG_2420Tassel-flowered Brickellbush

IMG_2429Waxwings

IMG_2622The large boulder later in the day on our way out.

Cottonwood Camp was another 2.4 miles beyond the boulder. It was a very gentle climb through increasingly open terrain to the camp. We were heading toward the Sun which was amplifying the smokey haze ahead of us. We kept thinking we were going to be heading into increasingly thick smoke but that never really materialized.
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IMG_2436One of the other spring fed crossings.

IMG_2437There were lots of crickets/grasshoppers bouncing about.

IMG_2438We could see some of the closer cliffs through the haze.

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IMG_2442We started to see a few more lupine in bloom the further in we hiked.

IMG_2444What the smoke looked like ahead.

IMG_2447Lots of butterflies too.

IMG_2450Salsify

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IMG_2458Aster or fleabane

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IMG_2472We couldn’t see very far up the gorge because of the smoke.

IMG_2474The view was better behind us.

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IMG_2489Hummingbird visiting paintbrush

IMG_2486A few aspen already turning golden.

IMG_2509Cottonwood Camp down to the right.

IMG_2510Looking up Big Indian Gorge from the trail near Cottonwood Camp.

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We took a short side trail to the large camp site and took a nice break amid the cottonwoods. It hadn’t gotten too warm yet and as we rested a nice breeze picked up which kept the temperature down and started to push the smoke out.
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IMG_2519View across the gorge when we arrived at the camp.

IMG_2523Big Indian Creek

IMG_2536A few white clouds started to appear along with the breeze.

IMG_2541The near wall above Big Indian Creek and Cottonwood Camp.

By the time we started back we could at least make out the headwall and other features further up the gorge through the haze that was left.
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The view heading out of the gorge continued to improve as we made our way back to the fords and eventually the trailhead.
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IMG_2556We missed this nest on the first pass. It was about 30 yards off the trail.

IMG_2562We also missed this Nuttall’s linanthus blooming along the trial.

IMG_2564Improving views

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IMG_2604This was a very pretty butterfly that for some reason the camera just didn’t want to focus on.

IMG_2619Clearer skies above.

20210817_111418Skipper

IMG_2623Clouds building up over Steens Mountain

IMG_2633Lorquin’s admiral

IMG_2639Ground squirrel

IMG_2646Some type of wood nymph.

IMG_2653Back to the first ford, which I again managed to cross dry footed giving me a perfect record for the day which is unheard of.

IMG_2655A comma of some sort.

IMG_2665A vast improvement over the morning.

IMG_2677Looking back toward the gorge from the old road bed.

IMG_2679What a difference a few hours can make.

Our track – My GPS had 14 miles vs 13 miles but I tend to wander, a lot.

After our hike we drove back to the Steens Mountain Resort where the views had also improved greatly over the previous afternoons. Happy Trails!
DSCN0776Our accommodations.

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Flickr: Big Indian Gorge

Categories
Central Oregon Hiking Oregon SE Oregon Trip report

Sagehen Hill, Malheur Wildlife Refuge, & Donner Und Blitzen River – 08/16/2021

Monday was mostly a travel day as we left Bend and headed for the Steens Mountain Resort where we would be staying for the next three nights. We did however manage to get a few short hikes in along the way beginning with a trail that had intrigued us since the first time we’d stopped at the Sagehen Rest Area on Highway 20 eighteen miles west of Burns. A highway rest stop seemed like a bit of an odd place for a trail but that’s part of what piqued our interest. The Sagehen Hill Nature Trial is a short (just over half a mile) interpretive loop with 11 numbered stops.
IMG_1968Trailhead sign at the south end of the rest stop. Brochures were located in the small box under the sign.

IMG_1969Map on the trailhead sign.

Smoke from fires near Lakeview, OR made for a smoke filled horizon and unlike our hike on Mt. Bachelor the previous day (post) here we could smell it in the air.
IMG_1972Red Sun through the smoke.

Despite the lack of views (on a clear day Steens Mountain would have been visible) it was a nice hike and the interpretive stops were interesting. We didn’t see any sage grouse here but we spotted some other wildlife along the route.
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IMG_1991The Harney Valley to the east.

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IMG_1998This stop was for a juniper that was blown apart by a lightning strike.

IMG_2000The rest area from the loop.

IMG_2001The last stop was to discuss the relationship between the junipers and the Idaho fescue that grows underneath.

This was a neat little trail and a nice leg stretcher. After completing the loop we drove into Burns, filled up our gas tank and then headed for our next stop at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters. This was the one place we had previously visited (post) but we hadn’t driven the entire auto tour route that time and there were some other trails in the complex that we could check out. We started with a stop at the headquarters where we once again were treated to a variety of wildlife as we toured the complex.
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DSCN0516Deer in the nearly dry Marshall Pond

DSCN0539Yellow headed blackbird

DSCN0557California quail

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IMG_2065More quail

DSCN0617The early bird

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IMG_2081Little bird on a feeder

We skipped the Overlook Trail this time due to the smoke filled horizon and started the auto tour route. Again there was plenty of wildlife to pause for along the drive and we also stopped at Benson Pond to hike the Benson Pond Trail (a short half mile out and back) where we were treated to a large number of ducks and other birds on the pond.
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DSCN0654Shrike

IMG_2099Hawk and a magpie

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DSCN0667Turkey vultures

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IMG_2143Egrets and ducks at Benson Pond

<img src="https://live.staticflickr.com/65535/51393871889_968777c132_c.jpg&quot; width="800" height="600" alt="IMG_2153">American kestral

IMG_2156Old cabin at Benson Pond

IMG_2177Another owl

DSCN0725Another turkey vulture

IMG_2189Grasshopper

DSCN0733White faced ibis

DSCN0736Great blue heron amid the ducks.

IMG_2195A couple types of egrets it appears.

DSCN0763Deer that were in the Blitzen River

DSCN0764Bounding fawn

DSCN0769Ducks and coots at Knox Pond

The auto tour route ends at the Steens Mountain Loop Road just a mile and a half from the Steens Mountain Resort. We were a bit too early to check in though so we drove past the resort another tenth of a mile to the entrance of the Page Springs Campground. We turned into the campground and parked at the day use area at its far end where two trails start. The one mile Wilderness Nature Trail and the 3.7 mile long Donner und Blitzen River Trail.
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We decided to take the Donner und Blitzen Trail since the nature trail looped back into the campground and ended near one of the campsites leaving a short road walk back to the trailhead. The Donner und Blitzen Trail entered the Steens Mountain Wilderness a short distance from the trailhead and followed the river fairly closely for the first 1.2 miles which is as far as we went on this day. It was a little smokey and it was hot and enough time had passed that we would be able to check into the resort by the time we made it back to our car. The trail was a little brushy at times but a nice surprise was finding a loop option not shown on the map but clearly marked starting 0.4 miles from the trailhead and rejoining the river trail at the 0.7 mile mark. We took this route on the way back climbing up through the cliffs above the river providing some nice views despite the haze.
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IMG_2224Bee and a butterfly

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IMG_2235A brushy section.

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IMG_2256A bee and a skipper

20210816_131717Praying mantis

IMG_2261The “other” trail on the hillside at the 0.7 mile mark.

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IMG_2275A wren?

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IMG_2280Fence crossing

IMG_2281Rejoining the Donner und Blitzen Trail at the 0.4 mile mark.

2.9 mile hike on the Donner und Blitzen trail

We got a total of 5.4 miles of hiking in between Sagehen Hill, the refuge headquarters, Benson Pond, and the Donner und Blitzen River. The abundant wildlife was the highlight of the day. We checked into the resort and got settled in our modular unit which had a full kitchen, shower, couch and most importantly A/C. We were hoping that the smoke would move out overnight or at least over the next day or two when the temperature was also set to drop to more reasonable levels. We spent the evening listening to the osprey that had a nest below the resort. Happy Trails!
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Flickr: Sagehen Hill, Malheur Wildlife Refuge, and Donner und Blitzen River

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Hiking Uncategorized

Progress Report – Oregon Wilderness Areas

In our last post we wrote about our ambitious (possibly overly so) goal of completing 500 “featured” hikes in William L. Sullivan’s guidebooks. The topic of this post is another one of our goals, visiting all 45 of Oregon’s accessible designated wilderness areas (Three Arch Rocks and Oregon Islands are off limits to all visitors). This goal should be quite a bit easier to accomplish given the much smaller number of needed hikes and the fact that the wilderness areas aren’t changing every few years. (There is legislation pending that would create the Devil’s Staircase Wilderness in the coast range between Reedsport and Eugene.)

The inspiration for this goal came from a fellow hiker and blogger over at Boots on the Trail. This smaller goal fit well into our 500 featured hikes goal too as thirty nine of the wilderness areas are destinations of at least one of the featured hikes. The remaining six: Copper-Salmon, Lower White River, Rock Creek, Cummins Creek, Bridge Creek, and Grassy Knob were still included in the books but as additional hikes in the back. Between the hike descriptions in the guidebooks and Boots on the Trail’s trip reports we’ve had plenty of information to work with.

This was an appealing goal too. Wilderness areas are dear to our hearts and home to many of our favorite places. These areas are the least affected by humans and we feel best reflect God’s work as Creator. To me they are akin to a museum showcasing His finest artistry. Just as we would in a museum we admire and enjoy the wilderness but we do our best not to affect it meaning adhering whenever possible to Leave No Trace principles.

We have made pretty good progress on this goal so far and as of 12/31/18 we had visited 38 of the 45 accessible areas (and seen the other two from the beach). We’re currently on track to have visited them all by the end of 2020.

Below is a chronological list of the wilderness areas we’ve been to (or seen) as well as any subsequent year(s) we’ve visited with some links to selected trip reports.

Opal Creek – 2009, 10, 11, 12, 14, 18

Battle Ax CreekBattle Ax Creek – 2014

Mt. Jefferson – 2010, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18

Mt. Jeffferson from Russell LakeMt. Jefferson from Russell Lake – 2016

Drift Creek – 2010

Drift CreekDrift Creek – 2010

Mt. Washington – 2011, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17

Mt. Washington and Mt. Jefferson from the Pacific Crest TrailMt. Washington from the Pacific Crest Trail – 2015

Three Sisters – 2011, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

The Three Sisters from the edge of the plateauThe Three Sisters – 2014

Three Arch Rocks – 2011, 18

Three Arch Rocks WildernessThree Arch Rocks from Cape Meares – 2018

Mark O. Hatfield – 2012, 14, 15, 16

Triple FallsTriple Falls – 2012

Mt. Hood – 2012, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

Mt. Hood from the Timberline TrailMt. Hood – 2015

Oregon Islands – 2012, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18

Bandon IslandsBandon Islands – 2018

Mill Creek – 2012

Twin PillarsTwin Pillars – 2011

Mt. Thielsen – 2012, 14

Howlock Mountain and Mt. ThielsenHowlock Mountain and Mt. Thielsen – 2014

Table Rock – 2012, 15

Table RockTable Rock – 2015

Salmon-Huckleberry – 2013, 14, 15, 17, 18

Frustration FallsFrustration Falls – 2018

Diamond Peak – 2013, 14, 18

Small waterfall on Trapper CreekTrapper Creek – 2014

Waldo Lake – 2013, 15, 18

Waldo LakeView from Fuji Mountain – 2013

Roaring River – 2013

Serene LakeSerene Lake – 2013

Badger Creek – 2014

Badger Creek WildernessBadger Creek Wilderness – 2014

Middle Santiam – 2014

Donaca LakeDonaca Lake – 2014

Bull of the Woods – 2014, 15, 18

Emerald Pool on Elk Lake CreekEmerald Pool – 2018

Soda Mountain – 2015, 17

Looking west from Boccard PointView from Boccard Point – 2015

Red Buttes – 2015

Red Buttes, Kangaroo Mountain and Rattlesnake MountainRed Buttes – 2015

Oregon Badlands – 2016

View from Flatiron RockOregon Badlands Wilderness – 2016

Kalmiopsis – 2016

Vulcan Lake below Vulcan PeakVulcan Lake – 2016

Menagerie – 2016

Rooster Rock from a viewpoint in the Menagerie WildernessRooster Rock – 2016

Eagle Cap – 2016

Glacier LakeGlacier Lake – 2016

Mountain Lakes – 2016

Mt. McLoughlin, Whiteface Peak, Pelican Butte, and Mount Harriman from Aspen ButteView from Aspen Butte – 2016

Sky Lakes – 2016

Mt. McLoughlin from Freye LakeMt. McLoughlin from Freye Lake – 2016

Lower White River – 2016

White RiverWhite River – 2016

Rock Creek – 2017

Rock CreekRock Creek – 2017

Spring Basin – 2017

Hedgehog cactusHedgehog Cactus – 2017

Bridge Creek – 2017

View to the north from the Bridge Creek WildernessBridge Creek Wilderness – 2017

Wild-Rogue – 2017

Hanging RockHanging Rock – 2017

Grassy Knob – 2017

View from Grassy KnobView from Grassy Knob – 2017

Clackamas – 2017

Big BottomBig Bottom – 2017

North Fork John Day – 2017, 18

Baldy LakeBaldy Lake – 2017

Cummins Creek – 2017

Cummins Ridge TrailCummins Ridge Trail – 2017

Rogue-Umpqua Divide – 2018

Hummingbird MeadowsHummingbird Meadows – 2018

Steens Mountain – 2018

View from the Pike Creek TrailView along the Pine Creek Trail – 2018

Strawberry Mountain – 2018

Slide LakeSlide Lake – 2018

Copper-Salmon – 2018

Barklow Mountain TrailBarklow Mountain Trail – 2018

The remaining areas and year of our planned visit looks like this:

2019 – Hells Canyon, North Fork Umatilla, Wenaha-Tucannon
2020 – Boulder Creek, Black Canyon, Monument Rock, Gearhart Mountain

If the Devil’s Staircase is added in the meantime we will do our best to work that in (it is currently on our list of hikes but not until 2023. For more information on Oregon’s wilderness areas visit Wilderness.net here.

Happy Trails!

Categories
Hiking Oregon SE Oregon Trip report

Borax Hot Springs, Big Sand Gap, and Pike Creek – SE Oregon Vacation Day 6

Day 6 of our vacation was the day we began our journey home. Of course we had some hiking to do along the way.  We had three hikes planned along the East Steens Road on the way to Burns from Fields.  We were still operating on Mountain Time so we wound up awake before dawn and were leaving Fields Station as the sun began rising.  It was the first morning where we got to see a good desert sunrise.
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Our first stop was at Borax Hot Springs which was just a five and a half mile drive away so we arrived while the spectacular sunrise show was still in full swing. After passing a warning sign on the road in we parked at a fence with a closed gate.
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Now owned by the Nature Conservancy the area was once used to collect sodium borate crusts which were dissolved to make borax. We followed an old road bed for a half a mile past a pair of large vats used in that process to Borax Lake.
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We saw a couple of jack rabbits along the way.
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Borax Lake has an arsenic level 25 times acceptable levels and is considered fatal to humans. The only creatures able to survive in the lake are the Borax Lake chub that can withstand those levels.
Borax Lake

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We continued following the road beyond the lake which now passed a series of bubbling hot springs on the right.
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The springs varied in size and colors making each one we passed interesting in its own way.
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A half mile from Borax Lake we crossed a fence to the final series of pools.
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We turned back where the road veered left at the last pools. Here Alvord Lake could be seen in the distance where numerous birds were enjoying the arsenic free water.
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We headed back the way we’d come returning to our car and heading back towards East Steens Road. As we drove along the power line road used to reach the trailhead we spotted something furry along the right side. It was a badger! It took off running but paused briefly to look back at us when I stopped to try and take a picture. It was too quick though and disappeared into the sagebrush. We knew there were badgers in the area but never expected to see one.

We got back onto East Steens Road and headed north. At some point our low tire pressure light came on which given the roads we’d been on up to that point wasn’t all that unexpected. We turned right at a sign for Frog Springs where we turned down a bumpy .2 mile road to a parking area and restrooms. This was the way to our next hike but also gave us an opportunity to look at the tires. The left rear was a little suspect but I also checked the gas cap which didn’t seem tightened all the way and can also cause that light to come on. The other possibility was the spare tire. We decided to continue on since if it was the gas cap it could take several miles for the light to go off. From there we followed an even bumpier road a tenth of a mile to the playa of the Alvord Desert.
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Our next hike began on the other side of this ancient lake bed five and a half miles away. I had set up a way point on our GPS unit for the approximate location that our guidebook suggested we park at for the hike to Big Sand Gap. I turned the unit on and we drove across the playa with Steens Mountain in our rear view mirror.
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The only trails to Big Sand Gap are wild horse trails made by the Kiger mustangs as they visit a marshy spring near the edge of the playa. The hike description we were following called for a .3 mile hike left around the spring before following the horse trails into the gap. That was easier said then done as the spring was not visible at ground level and it was only described as a slight rise to the left.
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Big Sand Gap on the other hand was much easier to locate ahead of us.
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We did our best to locate the spring but got pulled a little too far right by some pink flagging on some greasewood bushes and wound up on the wrong side of the marshy area.
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It was okay though as the wild horses had made a clear path on this side of the spring as well.
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IMG_6630Steens Mountain from a horse trail.

There was in fact a confusion of horse trail but we simply kept our eyes on Big Sand Gap and took which ever trail seemed most direct at that moment. Approximately 1.6 miles from the spring we reached the gap.
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Here we turned right and headed up a fairly steep slope toward the rim of the cliff.
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We had to go behind a rock outcrop and work our way up to a higher point where the views of the Alvord Desert below and Steens Mountain beyond were amazing.
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On our climb up we’d both noticed a horse trail on the next hillside over that at least appeared a little less steep. We decided to follow that trail back down.
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Near the bottom of this trail we cut cross country toward the opening of Big Sand Gap and started seeing lizards.
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From the gap we could see our car and decided that we would try and take a slightly more direct route back instead of skirting the spring. Extending a line from our car across the desert to Steens Mountain we were able to find an identifiable peak that we would be able to see even when we lost sight of our car.

With our bearing identified we set off but quickly got side tracked by some leopard lizards. We saw a couple and one was nice enough to pose for a while.
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In addition to the lizards we saw a few hardy desert wildflowers.
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Our heading was good and we were able to go almost directly to our car completing the hike in just under 5 miles. We drove back across the playa with our low pressure light still on and returned to East Steens Road. We turned right and continued north for 2.3 miles to Alvord Hot Springs where we picked up a $5 permit for the Pike Creek Trail and then continued north an additional 2.2 miles to a signed turnoff on the left for Pike Creek.
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The half mile road to the trailhead was really rough and we quickly wished we had parked back at the sign so when we reached a spot where we were able to park off the road we did so and hiked the final short distance following posts for the Pike Creek Trail.
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The well marked route followed a closed roadbed to the Pike Creek Campground, where a juniper was growing out of a split rock, and then across Pike Creek.
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A wooden trail sign awaited on the far side of the creek where we followed an old mining road uphill to a registration box.
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After signing in we continued uphill on the old roadbed toward Steens Mountain.
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As we hiked along we were surprised at the number and variety of butterflies along the trail.
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Pike Creek was quite a ways below the trail and mostly hidden by the green vegetation it supported.
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Just over a mile from the campground we passed into the Steens Mountain Wilderness, making this the 36th different designated wilderness area we’d visited in Oregon.
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Shortly after entering the wilderness area the trail crossed Pike Creek again and then began to climb away once more. Steens Mountain continued to grow closer ahead of us and behind us we could see the Alvord Desert and Big Sand Gap on the other side.
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We had left the old mining road behind at the crossing where a mine shaft and nearly hidden dynamite shed remain.
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The trail now climbed via a series of switchbacks up the canyon. We entertained ourselves by looking for different butterflies amid the flowers.
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Butterflies weren’t the only interesting insects that we saw during the hike.
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After a little over a mile and a half of climbing since the second crossing we arrived at our turn around spot, the first of three forks of the creek.
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The views just before the creek were a little better than at the creek itself but there were some convenient rocks to sit on under the cover of a juniper tree which provided some nice cool shade while we had a snack and watched even more butterflies.
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We returned the way we’d come under the watchful eye of a local.
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At 5.8 miles round trip this was the longest of the three hikes that day and definitely the one with the most elevation gain.

We once again checked our tires which seemed to still look the same under the eyeball test so when we reached East Steens Road we once again headed north on our way to Burns. It was just after 3pm when we arrived in Burns and we headed straight for the Les Schwab Tire Center to have them check things out. They confirmed that the left rear tire was a little low so we had them pull it off and do a more thorough check. It turned out that it wasn’t the rocks that had done us in but a small nail which I am convinced was placed in the road by the badger.

After being taken care of by the good folks at Les Schwab (free of charge) we checked into the Silver Spur Motel for the night. In the morning we had another hiked planned then we’d be off to Bend for another visit with Heather’s parents. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Borax Hot Springs, Big Sand Gap, and Pike Creek