Categories
Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 5 & Crawfish Lake

The rain showers that had begun the previous afternoon continued into the morning as we prepared for our last day in the Elkhorns. Fortunately they were infrequent and only one quick shower provided any significant amount of precipitation.
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By the time that shower rolled through we had pretty much packed everything up and had it all under the cover of trees. After eating breakfast we started up the Dutch Flat Trail to Dutch Flat Saddle. The presence of the clouds passing overhead gave things a different look that morning and had pushed some of the smoke out.
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The showers had been coming from the west so we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of blue sky we found in that direction.
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Instead of turning right at the saddle and following the Elkhorn Crest Trail back to the trailhead we went straight over the ridge onto the Crawfish Basin Trail.
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This was a longer route back, just over 6 miles vs. 3.25 miles, but it would allow us to visit the Hoffer Lakes as well as Anthony and Lilypad Lake and only repeat a half mile of trail from our first day.

After a series of switchbacks down the Crawfish Basin Trail leveled off along the hillside above Crawfish Meadow.
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It also passed below the rocky spires of Angell Peak, Lees Peak, and The Lakes Lookout.
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As we made our way around the hillside Crawfish Lake came into view down in Crawfish Basin.
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The lake is one of the featured hikes in William L. Sullivan’s “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Easter Oregon” guidebook which put it on our list of to do hikes if we are ever going to finish all of his featured hikes. There are no trails between the lake and the Crawfish Basin Trail so we were planning on stopping at the Crawfish Lake Trail later in the day on our way from the Elkhorn Crest Trailhead to Sumpter. For now we continued along the Crawfish Basin Trail which wrapped around The Lakes Lookout before joining an old road bed after two and a half miles.
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Just prior to joining the road we startled a group of elk in the trees below the trail. They were never in view long enough for a picture but we were excited to add them to the deer and mountain goats we’d already seen during the trip.

A tenth of a mile along the old roadbed we came to a fork where a trail to the right led up nearly 800′ to The Lakes Observation Point.
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Rock Creek Butte had been enough climbing for us on this trip so we ignored the side trail and continued on the roadbed toward the Anthony Lakes Ski Area passing views of Anthony Lake along the way.
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IMG_0878Ski lift on the hillside ahead.

Near the ski area we turned downhill on a steep double track instead of continuing around a much longer hairpin curve in the road.
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We then turned right on the road which seemed to see plenty of use.
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In a quarter mile we came to the start of the Hoffer Lakes Trail on the right.
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We followed this trail for half a mile through meadows to the first Hoffer Lake.
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Following the path around the first lake to SE led us across a series of footbridges to the second Hoffer Lake.
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Only a narrow strip of meadow separates the lakes.
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After visiting the second lake we returned to the Hoffer Lakes Trail and followed pointers for Anthony Lake.
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This section of the trail was wide and full of roots. It was also surprisingly steep in places as it followed Parker Creek downhill.
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After half a mile the Hoffer Lake Trail ended at another old road bed near walk-in camp sites.
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We followed a path straight ahead for about 50 yards to get a look at Anthony Lake.
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After making use of one of the picnic tables we followed the roadbed to the right around the lake for .3 miles to a boat ramp where the view across Anthony Lake included Gunsight Mountain.
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At the boat ramp we turned right onto the Black Lake Trail.
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Just 500 feet along this trail was the aptly named Lilypad Lake.
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The trail made a short climb beyond Lilypad Lake before dropping us back onto the Elkhorn Crest Trail a half mile from both the boat ramp at Anthony Lake and the Elkhorn Crest Trailhead where our car awaited us.
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Although we weren’t done with our hiking for the day we were glad to be done with our full backpacks. We took our day packs out and prepared them for the Crawfish Lake Trail then drove 4.5 miles west of the Anthony Lakes Ski Area to the Upper Crawfish Lake Trailhead just off of Forest Road 73.
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The Crawfish Lake Trail began by diving steeply downhill to a creek crossing.
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It then leveled out a bit and descended much more gradually past a variety of scenery.
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There were signs of recent trail maintenance along the way, some more successful than others.
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Shortly before arriving at Crawfish Lake the trail entered the North Fork John Day Wilderness.
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Just 1.4 miles from the trailhead we arrived at the lake.
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We walked along the NW shore for .3 miles to a campsite with a view across the lake to The Lakes Lookout.
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We took a break at the campsite, which was also the location of the continuation of the trail as it left the lake and headed downhill 1.3 miles to the Crawfish Creek Trailhead.

After a brief rest we returned the way we’d come and headed into Sumpter along Forest Road 73. It wasn’t noon yet but the sky was starting to fill up with some ominous looking clouds.

We were planning on staying in Sumpter for two nights. We had unfinished business from our previous visit in September 2017 when snow kept us from hiking up to the lookout atop Mt. Ireland (post). After checking into the Sumpter Stockade we walked through town to the Golden Nugget Cafe.

On the way back to our room we heard the first of the thunder. A quick check of the weather forecast showed that the area was under a red flag warning for thunderstorms through much of Friday with the chance of them occurring into Friday night. Since the top of a mountain is one of the last places you want to be during a thunder storm we decided to scrap our planned hike up Mt. Ireland and return home a day early.

In the end it was probably for the best as we were both dealing with some foot issues after having hiked for six straight days and over 76 miles. Heather was also anxious to meet her new nephew so Mt. Ireland would have to wait for another trip. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Elkhorn Crest Trail Day 5 & Crawfish Lake

Categories
Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Phillips Reservoir and Granite Creek

We had originally planned a different set of hikes for the Thursday of our vacation week but after getting a look at Mt. Ireland from Baldy Lake the previous day we had decided to save that hike for another time. The plan had been to hike Granite Creek in the morning and Mt. Ireland in the afternoon.

With Mt. Ireland out and freezing temperatures overnight we were a little concerned about trying to get to Granite Creek in the morning due to having to pass over the 5860′ Blue Springs Summit between Sumpter and Granite. We turned to our trusty guidebook, William L. Sullivan’s 3rd edition of “100 Hikes/Travel Guide Eastern Oregon” for a solution.

Hike number 142 – Phillips Reservoir was the answer we came up with. We’d passed the reservoir on Monday when we drove to Baker City for groceries. Located less than 10 miles east of Sumpter a hike there in the morning would give the roads time to warm up before attempting the drive to Granite Creek.

When we walked out to our car a little before 7am Thursday morning we felt even better about our decision. For the first time in a long time it was necessary to scrape the ice off our windshield.

We decided to start our hike from the Union Creek Campground.

As we drove east along Highway 7 we had to pull over to get a picture of the snow covered Elkhorn Mountians.
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We turned off Highway 7 at a Union Creek Campground sign and after paying the $6 day use fee we parked at the picnic area and headed for the Shoreline Trail.
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Sullivan’s abbreviated entry for this hike was one of the least enthusiastic descriptions that we’d seen in any of his guidebooks so we were pleasantly surprised by the scene at the reservoir.
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We headed west on the Shoreline Trail which extended 1.7 mile east from the picnic area and 4 miles to the west. The trail passed along the reservoir through open pine woods.
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Within the first mile we’d already spotted a number of different birds.
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We continued along the shoreline arriving at a dry Bridge Creek after 1.4 miles.
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Here the trail passed through a meadow with views of the Elkhorns to the north.
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We spotted even more wildlife over the next mile before reaching the Social Security Point Trailhead.
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It was 8:30am when we arrived at the Social Security Point Trailhead so we decided to continue another mile to the Mowich Loop Picnic Area before turning around.
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The trail passed through more open forest before reaching the wide open flat where Smith Creek empties into the reservoir.
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Even more birds could be seen in the grassy flat and in the distance was a group of white birds that we later realized where pelicans.
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Before exiting the trees we passed a carcass that had drawn a large crowd of ravens and magpies who were none to happy with our presence.
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After leaving the trees the trail wound up skirting a meadow and leading us up to Highway 7 a quarter mile from the Mowich Loop Picnic Area.
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We decided to call it good there instead of walking along the highway and turned around. More wildlife sightings occurred on the return trip including an osprey with a freshly snagged fish.
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The fog had lifted off the reservoir by the time we’d gotten back to the car and the weather was beautiful.
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It was 9:30am when we completed our 6.3 mile hike. We felt comfortable with it now being warm enough to make the drive over the pass to Granite Creek so we headed back to Sumpter then made the familiar drive to Granite.

To reach the Granite Creek Trailhead from Granite we turned left on Red Boy Road (Road 24) for 1.4 miles then forked right on Granite Creek Road for 4.3 miles to the signed trailhead.
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From the trailhead a gated mining road headed downhill to the left (our return route) while the Granite Creek Trail headed slightly uphill to the right after passing through an open fence.
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For a little over a mile the trail traversed the hillside above Granite Creek through open pine woods.
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The trail then descended to a crossing of Indian Creek before entering the North Fork John Day Wilderness.
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The trail was still above the creek but not quite as far above.
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We had remarked on the variety of trees we were seeing in the forest here which included western larch trees. We spotted one that was already changing into its fall color.
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The forest around the trail shifted from open pine to a denser fir forest before crossing Granite Creek on a wide footbridge at the 2 mile mark.
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The trail once again climbed away from the creek before dropping back down to a log footbridge over Lake Creek.
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Near the 3 mile mark we passed a small wooden box housing Snowshoe Spring.
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Two tenths of a mile later we passed the Lake Creek Trail coming downhill on the left.
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A second crossing of Granite Creek followed .2 miles later.
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Shortly after crossing the creek we arrived at the end of the Granite Creek Trail at the North Fork John Day River Trail.
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This was the same trail we’d started out on for our Tuesday hike.

We continued on this trail just far enough to cross the river on a footbridge.
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We returned the way we’d come but after 2 miles at a fork we headed downhill to the right where we joined the mining road.
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This road passed through mining tailings left over from dredges and hydraulic mining.
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There are still active claims along the road so we stayed on it for the 1.3 miles back to the trailhead.

The total distance for this hike was 6.8 miles putting the two hikes combined at 13.1 miles. The weather had been about as good as we could have asked for and we’d stayed reasonably dry other than our shoes due to the wet vegetation. It was a relaxing end to our week hiking in the Blue Mountains.

On our way back to the Sumpter Stockade we noticed that the corn dog cart (Cajun Concessions) was open even though it was Thursday. After dropping off our hiking gear in our room we walked up the street and each got a hand dipped corn dog and cheese stick. It was now a perfect ending to our stay in Sumpter. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Phillips Reservoir & Granite Creek

Categories
Blue Mountains - South Hiking Oregon Trip report

Olive Lake

With the forecast calling for the possibility of snow at higher elevations from Monday through Friday of our vacation we were keeping a close eye on forecasts to help choose when to do each of the hikes we’d planned on. The really cold air wasn’t due to hit until about 11am Monday morning so we decided to do our planned loop past Olive Lake first knowing that the high point of the loop was at an elevation over 7400′ in the Greenhorn Mountains. We hoped that by starting early we could stay ahead of any snow that might fall so with that in mind we got an early start and arrived at the Lost Creek Trailhead just before 7am.

The trailhead is located 11.5 miles west of Granite along Road 10. Along the way to the trailhead the road passes the historic Fremont Powerhouse.
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Our plan for the hike was to start on the Lost Creek Trail then take the Saddle Camp Trail to Olive Lake then continue up to Saddle Camp and take the Blue Mountain Trail SE to the Lost Creek Trail and take that back down to the trailhead. We set off on the trail and in .2 miles came to the remains of a redwood pipeline that supplied water from Olive Lake and Lost Creek to the Fremont Powerhouse.
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We got distracted by the pipeline and missed the right turn onto the Saddle Camp Trail. We’d gone almost a quarter mile past the junction when we caught our mistake. Shortly after passing a North Fork John Day Wilderness sign we realized we’d missed it since our map showed the junction prior to the wilderness boundary.
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This was our first time in this particular wilderness checking one more Oregon Wilderness off our “need to visit” list.

We turned around and headed back the way we’d come. The Saddle Camp Trail was marked with a sign that was much easier to spot from this direction.
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We followed this trail through the forest for a mile and a half to another junction.
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Here we turned right and headed downhill for .2 miles to the Olive Lake Campground.
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It is possible to drive to the campground and there is a 1.9 mile trail around the lake which we decided not to take on this day due to the presence of low clouds and wanting to get up and down as early as possible. We did however visit the lake shore.
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After checking out Olive Lake we returned to the junction and continued uphill on the Saddle Camp Trail. After .7 miles we crossed Lake Creek near Upper Reservoir, a large marshy meadow.
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In the next 2 miles the trail passed along the meadow before climbing 600′ to Saddle Camp and a junction with the Blue Mountain Trail.
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A light rain had fallen off and on and now at the saddle we were in the clouds so it was damp. Luckily we had our rain gear on and stayed relatively dry as we traversed along Saddle Ridge. It was a bit of a shame about the clouds because the open ridge would have provided some excellent views along the way.
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It was close to 10:30am when we spotted a cairn apparently marking the high point of the ridge. A few small snowflakes greeted us as we approached.
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The wind had kicked up as well and it was getting cold fast as we passed the cairn.
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As we began to descend to a junction at Dupratt Springs Pass the snow began to accumulate.
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We had to hunt around just a bit to find the Lost Creek Trail sign at the pass but Heather located it and we headed downhill past a large cairn.
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I don’t have a pair of waterproof boots/shoes and this was one of the rare times that I wish I had some and will probably be picking up a pair in the not too distant future. Both my feet and hands (due to taking pictures and not wearing my thicker waterproof gloves) were painfully cold as we entered the first of several meadows on our return route.
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We wound up losing the trail somewhere near the end of the meadow and had to do a little bit of back and forth using the GPS to locate the tread again which we did in another small meadow where we crossed Lost Creek.
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The trail wound up following an old roadbed before reaching the Lost Creek Trail junction at another saddle 2.3 miles from Dupratt Springs Pass.
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We’d dropped out of the snow and the air had warmed up enough that we were warming up some as we descended from the pass. It was just under three miles back to the trailhead from the junction. The trail passed through five meadows and crossed Lost Creek again before arriving back at the Saddle Camp Trail junction where we had turned that morning.
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We passed a couple of bow hunting camps near the meadows but didn’t see any hikers on the trails. We did spot one doe near one of the meadows but she bolted before my cold hands could retrieve the camera.

Overall it was a nice hike that would have been a lot better without the clouds (and frozen extremities). We returned to Sumpter wondering if the 5800′ pass on the road between Granite and Sumpter would wind up being an issue at any point during the week. After changing and warming up we drove into Baker City and picked up some food and supplies from Safeway. We were all set for the week, now we just needed the weather to cooperate. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Olive Lake

Categories
Blue Mountains - South Hiking John Day Oregon Trip report

Blue Basin, Bates, and Sumpter

After a successful first hike and nice visit with Heather’s parents on the first day of our vacation we left Bend early Sunday morning and headed for Sumpter. To reach Sumpter from Bend we’d need to drive through Prineville and take Highway 26 through the Ochoco Mountains (where the Desolation Fire was burning) and John Day to Highway 7 at Austin Junction then follow that highway 25.2 miles to the Sumpter Valley Highway.

To break up the over 200 mile drive we planned a couple of short hikes along the way starting with Blue Basin in the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

This was our third visit to the monument having previously hiked in the Painted Hills and Clarno Units.

The Sheep Rock Unit is located approximately 30 miles east of Mitchell, OR. To reach the Blue Basin Trialhead we turned north on Highway 19 towards the Thomas Condon Visitors Center. It was too early for the center to be open but we stopped along the way to take in the view of Sheep Rock.
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After 5 miles on Highway 19 we turned left into the parking area for the Blue Basin Area.
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It was a beautiful morning with a few clouds in the sky providing for some dramatic views right off the bat.
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We chose to start our hike with the Blue Basin Overlook Trail.
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The path passed alongside a field where songbirds were happily enjoying their morning.
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It wasn’t long before we got our first good look at the exposed volcanic ash that gave the area its name.
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In the morning light the ash appeared more green than blue. The contrast between the ash and the golden grasses on the hillsides was beautiful.
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We were a bit surprised to see some yellow flowers still blooming as we wrapped around another scenic outcrop of ash.
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The trees were filled with birds as the trail climbed toward the rim.
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The trail climbed gradually for the most part for the first 1.2 miles and we were captivated by the formations created by the ash.
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The trail then began to climb in earnest passing a bench with an encouraging sign along the way.
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We were thankful that it was a cool morning as we couldn’t imagine attempting the hike on a hot summer day.

The trail became somewhat level once it reached the rim where the views were breathtaking.
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A short spur trail led to a bench at the overlook which had even more impressive views.
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After attempting to comprehend what we were seeing we continued on the loop which passes through some private land on the way to more spectacular views before descending to a bench at a trail junction.
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Here we turned right on the Island of Time Trail which led into the heart of Blue Basin.
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It was only .4 miles to the end of this trail but the scenery seemed endless. The various colors and textures were remarkable and numerous informative interpretive signs sat along the path.
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We sat at a bench at the end of the trail soaking in the view on what was a perfectly peaceful morning.
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All of the hikes in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument had been enjoyable but this 4.2 mile hike was by far the most impressive to us.

After returning to our car we drove back to Highway 26 and continued east. The air was once again hazy due to wildfire smoke making it hard for us to see much of the Strawberry Mountains as we passed by. After 66 miles we turned left onto Highway 7 for 1.1 miles then left again on Middle Fork Lane for .4 miles to Bates State Park.
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The park is located at the site of a former company lumber town. Bates Pond is all that is left from the town now. Several trails at the park gave us the opportunity to explore the area on a 2.6 mile hike starting on the Pond Trail which began on a road bed marked by a metal post.
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The trail followed the road along Bates Pond where numerous ducks paddled about.
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We crossed Bridge Creek on a footbridge at the far end of the pond and continued around the pond.
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We startled a heron that flew ahead of us into a tree before taking off again across the pond to another tree.
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When the Bates Pond Trail ended at the Bridge Creek Trail we stayed straight following Bridge Creek and ignoring side trails and the nosy residents.
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Just before arriving at a gate we turned uphill to the left onto the Meadow Trail.
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After a short climb the trail leveled off then came to an end at the Dixie Trail where we stayed right.
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From this trail there was a view of the pond and to some buttes to the east.
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Along the way we met one of the cutest ground squirrel we’d ever seen.
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The Dixie Trail descended to the Bridge Creek Trail near the footbridge at the end of the pond and we simply followed the Bates Pond Trail back to our car.
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It was only a quarter after twelve when we’d finished and our check-in time was 2:30 in Sumpter which was only about a half an hour away. We still had one short hike left in Sumpter which would be good for about an hour which would have leave us a little early. We solved that issue by turning the wrong way (left) when leaving Bates. We only realized our mistake after driving over 16 miles which should have brought us to the ghost town of Whitney but didn’t.

After correcting our mistake we drove back to Highway 7 and headed east for 25 miles to a sign for Sumpter where we turned left for 3 miles. We turned left into the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area.
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Here a 1240-ton dredge used to scoop up river gravel and filter out gold dust sits amid tailings left in its wake. The site is also home to the Sumpter Valley Railroad which hauled timber to Bates and Prairie City. We parked near the visitors center by the dredge.
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We started our visit by exploring the dredge.
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Next we took the South Trail for .4 miles through ponds amid the tailings to the Powder River.
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We turned left onto the .3 mile McCulley Creek Trail which was flooded near its end by some nifty beaver work.
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We returned to the South Trail and finished the loop which ended at a machinery yard near the dredge.
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We walked left around the dredge and picked up the North Trail which traveled along Cracker Creek.
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We had been hoping to see a beaver but knew the chances of that during the day were slim so we settled for a quail.
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We turned left at a Ridge Trail sign and followed this path to the Railroad Station.
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From the station we crossed the parks entrance road and took the Walking Trail back to the dredge.
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As it turned out our motel was right across the street from the park. We had originally planned to stay at the Granite Lodge in Granite but that establishment appeared to be for sale from what we could tell, so Heather started looking for a place in Sumpter. There were a couple of choices but we picked the Sumpter Stockade due to the themed rooms looking fun. It turned out that this motel had just changed owners and the previous owners hadn’t stayed open past Labor Day. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay there and the new owners were great!
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We were given the Civil War Room.
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After dropping off our stuff we decided to try out a hand dipped corn dog stand we’d seen on the next block. That turned out to be a great decision as both the corn dogs and cheese sticks from Cajun Concessions were excellent! It was a satisfying end to another great day of hiking.

It looked like things were going to start getting interesting the next day as the system from the Gulf of Alaska was supposed to begin arriving overnight and temperatures would start dropping around 11am on Monday with the snow level dropping as low as 5000′. We went to bed knowing there was a good chance we’d be hiking in snow by the end of the following day. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Blue Basin, Bates, and Sumpter