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Central Oregon Hiking Ochoco Mountains Oregon Throwback Thursday Trip report

Throwback Thursday – Twin Pillars

The subject of the this weeks Throwback Thursday is our first hike in the Ochoco Mountains. On 7/31/2012 we planned on visiting the Twin Pillars in the Mill Creek Wilderness. There were two fires in the Mill Creek Wilderness in 2017, the Belknap and Desolation Fires but it doesn’t look like either burned over the route we took on this visit.

We started at the Twin Pillars South Trailhead located near Wildcat Campground. The trailhead can be reached by driving Highway 26 9.2 miles east of Prineville and turning left on Mill Creek Road for 10.6 miles to the entrance of Wildcat Campground. We parked at a large gravel parking area 200 yards after turning into the campground area.Twin Pillars Trailhead

We followed a short path into the campground opting not to ford Mill Creek at a horse crossing. After walking to the far end of the campground we came to a gate and the start of the Twin Pillars Trail.Twin Pillars Trailhead

The trail almost immediately entered the Mill Creek Wilderness.Mill Creek Wilderness sign

The trail followed Mill Creek through a forest with ponderosa pines and a few remaining wildflowers.Mill Creek Wilderness

Mill Creek

Lewis Mock Orange

Twin Pillars Trail

The official trail fords the creek 7 times in the first 2 miles but often cattle trails existed on both sides of the creek making many of the fords unnecessary. Low summer water levels allowed us to stay dry on the crossings we did do.Twin Pillars Trail

Beyond the 7th ford the trail entered scars of a wildfire that swept through the wilderness in 2000.Mill Creek along the Twin Pillars Trail

Twin Pillars Trail

Here we ran into some of the cattle responsible for the unofficial paths.Cows along Mill Creek

We played a frustrating game of follow the leader with them as they would move up the trail ahead of us leaving “land mines” along the way. Eventually they would stop and move off the trail but as we approached they would once again hop on the trail in front of us and repeat the game. We lost them somewhere around the 2.9 mile mark where the Belknap Trail joined from the east. Just beyond this junction we crossed Mill Creek for the final time as the trail veered away from Mill Creek and headed uphill toward the now visible Twin Pillars.Twin Pillars

Twin Pillars

Due to the majority of trees having been lost to the fire in 2000 this section of trail was very exposed to the sun and therefore quite warm.Twin Pillars Trail

The trail crossed Brogan Creek as it continued to climb uphill.Unnamed creek along the Twin Pillars Trail

There were more cows off in the brush along this section but they stayed off the trail. We also spotted a pair of norther flickers and a Lewis’s woodpecker.Northern flickers

Lewis's Woodpecker

The trail continued to get closer to the Twin Pillars and began to wind around the rock formation.Twin Pillars

Twin Pillars

We were looking for a side trail to the base of the pillars which we expected to find around 2.5 miles from the Belknap Trail junction. We didn’t notice anything as we continued around the pillars and we soon found ourselves behind the rocks where the trail veered away from them toward the Twin Pillars North Trailhead on Forest Road 27. That trailhead offers a shorter hike to Twin Pillars (5.2 miles RT) but a worse drive.Twin Pillars

The view from this spot included Mt. Bachelor and the South Sister as well as the rhyolite ash Steins Pillar (post).View from Twin Pillars

Mt. Bachelor

Mt. Bachelor

South Sister

South Sister

View from the Twin Pillars Trail

Steins Pillar

Steins Pillar

We decided to bushwack to the base of the rocks as best we could and then worked our way around to the south a bit.Twin Pillars

We couldn’t tell whether we were on a path or not but we followed whatever it was as best we could down away from the pillars toward the trail. As luck would have it we popped out onto the trail right by a snag that had a burnt trail sign attached to it.Burtn sign for the spur trail to Twin Pillars

It seems we had stumbled onto the side trail after all. We returned the way we’d come even playing another round of follow the cattle. We’re planning on redoing this hike at some point in late Spring or early Summer in hopes of catching more flowers and avoiding some of the heat. Until then the cows will just have to play their games with other hikers. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Twin Pillars

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Central Oregon Hiking Ochoco Mountains Oregon Trip report

Steins Pillar

In our last post I said we had completed our final planned hike with less than 1000ft or elevation gain for the year. I chose the word “planned” because I knew I needed to leave open the possibility of an unplanned hike. It only took a week for that to prove wise. We had a hike free weekend but wound up with the opportunity to go on a hike in Central Oregon with my parents and assist them with trying out their new Garmin GPS unit. We had planned on meeting them last weekend after our hike in Detroit, but a deer had different ideas and they were unable to make it.

This was our first chance to take a hike together and we decided on hiking to Steins Pillar in the Ochoco National Forest east of Prineville Oregon. This was a new trail to all of us, but we had seen the pillar last year when we hiked to the Twin Pillars in the Mill Creek Wilderness. The trail clocks in at 4 miles round trip with just under 700ft of elevation gain. The trail head is near a small meadow surrounding a little spring. A number of bright yellow flowers as well as large solomonseal and wild strawberries were present. While we were getting ready to begin the hike I spotted a fritillary which was the first of that type of flower we’ve encountered.

We were all pleasantly surprised by the diversity that the trail had to offer. The forest seemed to shift constantly from firs to ponderosa pine to juniper and back. The collection of wildflowers was even more diverse with white death camas, yellow balsamroot and arnica, purple larkspur and phlox, and various shades of paintbrush.
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A number of others were present as well including desert parsley, giant-head clover, penstemon, and naked broomrape (an unfortunate name for a cute little flower). In addition a large number of lupine leaves promised a good show within a couple of weeks.

A nice opening offered a view toward the the Three Sisters but on this day low clouds ensured that the Cascade peaks were mostly hidden. It mattered little though as the wildflower show more than made up for the missed view. After 1.8 miles the trail finally offers the first glimpse of its goal -Steins Pillar.
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From the viewpoint the trail descends for 0.2 miles to the base of the pillar. The pillar is made of rhyolite ash that has been compacted. The area at the base makes for a nice lunch spot with views across Mill Creek to the Twin Pillars. Much of the elevation gain is due to the climb back up to the viewpoint up several sets of stairs.

As usual most of the wildlife we spotted was from the car on the way to and from the trail head. We saw several deer from the road but the trail offered a Northern Pacific Treefrog and a few Golden Mantled Squirrels. In all this was a very nice hike and a great time of year for it. Until the next time, Happy Trials.

Pictures on flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157633538803950/
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