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Hiking Oregon Trip report Wallowas

Bear Creek and Wallowa Homeland – 07/14/2022

Our first night in the small town of Wallowa had been great. Our room at the Mingo Motel was extremely comfortable and we’d gotten ice cream sundaes from the Little Bear Drive-In. We were also conveniently located less than 10 miles from the Bear Creek Trailhead which was our destination for Thursday’s planned hike. This meant we could get an even earlier start in order to avoid as much heat as possible. A quick check of the forecast the night before had shown that it was again going to be in the 90’s in Wallowa and it also showed that there was another slight chance for thunderstorms Friday morning when we were hoping to do our final hike of the trip at the Wallowa Homeland. As we set off from the Bear Creek Trailhead a little after 5:30am we left open the option of doing that last hike when we got back to Wallowa if we felt up to it.
IMG_7757The Bear Creek Trail at the trailhead.

This was a fairly straight forward hike following the Bear Creek Trail 4.6 miles to a junction with the Goat Creek Trail then continuing another three quarters of a mile to the Bear Creek Guard Station. The relatively level trail crosses Bear Creek a quarter mile from the trailhead.
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IMG_7765

IMG_7767Footbridge over Bear Creek.

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IMG_7771

IMG_7773

IMG_7776Milk-vetch

IMG_7786Mountain lady-slippers

IMG_7791Bug on a thimbleberry leaf.

IMG_7802There were a couple of ups and downs where the trail got above Bear Creek.

IMG_7820Baker Gulch

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IMG_7839

IMG_7844Cliffs on the opposite side of Bear Creek.

IMG_7847Trail sign marking the junction with the Goat Creek Trail. By this time we had crossed into the Eagle Cap Wilderness but there hadn’t been any signs
indicating that.

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20220714_080409Prairie smoke a.k.a. old mans whiskers

IMG_7857A fleabane

IMG_7858The Bear Creek Trail crossing Goat Creek.

IMG_7859Footbridge over Goat Creek.

IMG_7861Goat Creek

IMG_7866The unmarked but obvious spur trail to the (locked) Bear Creek Guard Station on the right.

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We took a brief break at the Guard Station and headed back. On the way back we spotted a new to us (at least we think) flower.
Moneses uniflora - one-flowered monesesMoneses uniflora – one-flowered moneses

Moneses uniflora - one-flowered moneses

We also spotted several bugs and insects.
IMG_7886Hairstreak

20220714_094414Crab spider

20220714_094512Moth

IMG_7920Swallowtail on a bog orchid

IMG_7909Lorquin’s admiral

IMG_7923A fritillary butterfly with some sort of spider on the underside of a leaf below to the right.

The 10.8 mile hike here only gained 900′ of elevation, by far the least amount of any of our hikes during the trip. The lack of elevation gain combined with the cool morning temperatures allowed us to move at a quicker pace completing the hike under 5 hours and 15 minutes.

On our way back we had decided that we would indeed do the Wallowa Homeland hike today too instead of risking having to skip it if thunderstorms did develop in the morning. As convenient as our motel had been for the Bear Creek hike it was even more so for the Wallowa Homeland which started just a couple of blocks from the Mingo Motel at the Nez Perce Visitor Center.
IMG_7925First time we’ve started a hike from a motel room.

IMG_8142Passing the Visitor Center on 2nd Street.

From the Visitor Center we turned north on Storie Street and followed it nearly 3 blocks to a dirt path that crossed rail road tracks then crossed the Wallowa River on a bridge with interpretive signs.
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The trail here is on land purchased in 1997 & 2000 but that is also the former site of the Nez Perce’s Winter camp. In one of the more shameful events in U.S. History the Army ordered the Wallowa Band of Nez Perce to leave their home and relocate. This led to a 6 month saga that saw the Nez Perce attempt to flee to safety in Canada with the Army in pursuit for over 1100 miles. Ultimately they were capture or dispersed and their homeland lost. We were visiting a week before the 30th annual Tamkaliks Celebration.
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IMG_7940Dance arbor

After crossing the bridge we turned left on a gravel road heading toward the basalt cliffs of Tick Hill (an unsettling name but we did not actually see any ticks during this hike).
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We followed the road as it bent to the right below the cliffs for half a mile where a trail pointer sent us climbing uphill via a series of switchbacks.
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IMG_7947Marmot

IMG_7951Approaching the pointer uphill.

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While it was still before noon it was heating up fast and the exposed hillside allowed the Sun to beat down on us. We distracted ourselves by looking at the different wildflowers that were still blooming amid the tall grasses.
IMG_7955Scarlet gilia

IMG_7959Dustymaidens

20220714_120500Skullcap

IMG_7967Heading up Tick Hill

IMG_7968Yarrow

IMG_7971Lupine

IMG_7973Mock orange and wild rose

IMG_7975Dragon fly

20220714_120956Moth mullien

IMG_7981Blanket flower

IMG_7982Checker-mallow and vetch

IMG_7985The Wallowas from the trail.

IMG_7988Sagebrush mariposa lily

After a steep half mile climb the trail leveled out a bit. We turned left at a post and descended slightly to a viewpoint next to a scraggly juniper tree.
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IMG_7994A buckwheat

IMG_7995The Wallowa River and dance arbor from the viewpoint.

IMG_7996The Wallowa Mountians

We returned to the trail which continued to be level for 400 more feet before heading uphill again for a third of a mile to a junction with a spur trail to a gazebo.
IMG_7997Heading back to the post from the viewpoint.

IMG_8000About a quarter mile from the post we crossed this road leading to some radio towers.

IMG_8005Elkhorn clarkia

IMG_8006The gazebo ahead.

IMG_8007Shade!

IMG_8008Plaque near the gazebo.

IMG_8011View from the gazebo.

IMG_8019From left to right: Point Joseph, Hurricane Point, Ruby Peak, and Sawtooth Peak.

We cooled off in the shade of the gazebo before continuing on.
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From the gazebo the trail descended slowly recrossing the road after 0.2 miles and passing by the radio towers.
IMG_8022At the junction with the spur trail to the gazebo. We came up from the left and continued on to the right.

IMG_8024Recrossing the road.

IMG_8025Western meadowlark

IMG_8029Heading toward the radio tower.

IMG_8034A fleabane

IMG_8039There were several plaques along this stretch.

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IMG_8056Various wildflowers

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20220714_130530Cinquefoil

20220714_130533Lots of blanket flower.

20220714_130545Sticky geranium

A little over three quarters of a mile from the gazebo the trail turned steeply downhill descending via another series of switchbacks.
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IMG_8090Grand collomia

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IMG_8108Scarlet gilia

IMG_8109The last line is great advice.

At the bottom of the switchbacks we turned left on a road bed following the Wallowa River.
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IMG_8116Swallowtail

IMG_8117Dragon fly

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20220714_134116Bachelor buttons

IMG_8127Swallowtail on hyssop.

IMG_8128Wallowa River

IMG_8134Goldenrod

We followed this road half a mile to the gravel road we’d been on earlier.
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We retraced our steps back to the Mingo Motel completing a 4.5 mile lollipop hike with 600′ of elevation gain.

It was now a little after 2pm so after cleaning up and cooling down we headed back to the Little Bear Drive In for burgers, tots, and milkshakes. It was a good ending to what was overall an excellent trip (abdominal pain aside). With all our planned hikes completed we got a really early start on our drive back to Salem on Friday and made it home before Noon giving us plenty of time to unpack and relax. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Bear Creek & Wallowa Homeland

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Hiking Oregon Trip report Wallowas

Minam River via Rock Springs – 07/13/2022

No Summer trip to Eastern Oregon is complete without at least one thunder storm and ours came early Wednesday morning. When we awoke at 4am in La Grande one was passing overhead nearby. I pulled up the weather forecast for the hike we had planned that day and much like the forecast had been for Mt. Ireland on Saturday there was a slight chance of a thunder storm. We packed up and headed for the Rock Springs Trailhead which was between La Grande where we had been staying and Wallowa where we had reservations for the next two nights. We were following the storm as it passed over the Wallowas but it stayed ahead of us and things looked pretty good when we parked along the shoulder of FR 62 where the Rock Springs Trail headed downhill toward the confluence of the Minam and Little Minam Rivers.
IMG_7426We parked about 200′ north of the actual trailhead per a suggestion by Sullivan in his guidebook.

IMG_7431The Rock Springs Trail at FR 62.

The trail loses approximately 2500′ in the first 3.5 miles, sometimes steeply, passing viewpoints at the 0.7 and 2.0 mile marks. There were views along other stretches of trail though as the trail alternated between open wildflower filled hillsides and forest. It was the least maintained trail that we were on all week with quite a bit of grass and brush encroaching on the trail. It was also the only trail on which we encountered multiple ticks, about a half dozen, during the trip. (The only other tick we saw all week was one on my pants at Mt. Ireland on the first day (post).
IMG_7432The trail passed a large rock field just below FR 62 and then entered the Eagle Cap Wilderness.

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IMG_7442Lupine

20220713_063707Coralroot

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IMG_7453The edge of the storm clouds.

IMG_7463Scarlet gilia along the trail.

IMG_7466Oregon sunshine and tapertip onion

IMG_7469Nettle-leaf giant hyssop

20220713_065127View from the trail before the first “viewpoint”.

20220713_065338Oregon checker-mallow

IMG_7480Assorted wildflowers

IMG_7481Blue sky following the storm clouds.

20220713_065503Scabland penstemon

IMG_7487Penstemon near the first “viewpoint”.

IMG_7492Yarrow

20220713_065701Douglas dustymaiden

IMG_7495Looking back from the viewpoint.

IMG_7498Buckwheat

IMG_7500The Point Prominence Lookout atop the high point to the left.

20220713_065912Ballhead sandwort

IMG_7507Heather coming down from the viewpoint.

IMG_7509Blowdown over the trail.

20220713_070820Nookta rose

20220713_070933Wood rose

IMG_7516View to the SE deeper into the Wallowas.

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IMG_7525Mountain parnassian?

IMG_7530Back in the trees.

IMG_7531Some pale columbine. At first we thought it might be yellow columbine but it definitely had a red tint.

IMG_7533Thimbleberry crowding the trail. The storm had left a lot of water on the vegetation which in turn wound up on our legs and shoes.

IMG_7539Heading down into the valley.

IMG_7546Elkhorn clarkia

IMG_7561Approaching the second viewpoint.

IMG_7566Backbone Ridge which separates the Minam and Little Minam Rivers. We had crossed over that ridge further south on Tuesday when we took the Horse Ranch Trail from Moss Springs to the Minam River (post).

IMG_7569Grand collomia

IMG_7572Prairie smoke

IMG_7584Mock orange along the trail.

IMG_7585Twin flower and foam flower

IMG_7597Sign marking the junction of the Rock Springs and Little Minam Trails.

IMG_7600Possibly a wasp of some sort near the junction.

We turned left at the junction and descended another tenth of a mile where we spotted the first of several structures that used to be part of a lodge.
IMG_7601The first cabin ruin.

IMG_7602Almost looks okay from this angle.

IMG_7603Not so good from this angle.

IMG_7605The lodge was at the edge of this meadow.

IMG_7606The lodge

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IMG_7610The fireplace seems to have held up well.

IMG_7615This cabin didn’t hold up.

Beyond the lodge several faint trails led off into the meadow.
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The map in Sullivan’s book appeared to show the main trail turning left after passing the lodge with a spur continuing straight to the Little Minam River and a drinking hole for horses.
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We had intended on taking the left hand fork but we wound up at the watering hole instead.
IMG_7622Wildflowers near the watering hole.

IMG_7623The Little Minam River. We couldn’t quite see the confluence of the two rivers from here despite being very close.

We headed north using our GPS units in an attempt to locate the actual trail which should take us to a dangerous ford three quarters of a mile from the old lodge. After a bit of searching we picked up the faint trail.
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IMG_7630The dangerous ford.

According to Sullivan, horses are able to cross later in the Summer but hikers should follow the Little Minam Trail south to the Horse Ranch Trail and cross the Minam on the footbridge that we had crossed on near Red’s Horse Ranch.

We sat on the rocks along the Minam for a bit before heading back.
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On the way back it was a little easier to follow the faint trail which led us to some campsites above the old lodge.
IMG_7639Here we tried looking for horse hoof prints to stick to the trail.

IMG_7644Butterfly on yarrow.

IMG_7646We think this was the trail.

IMG_7651The campsites where we picked up the Rock Springs Trail again.

We made the 2500′ climb back up, watching for things we missed (and ticks) as we went.
IMG_7654Lorquin’s admiral

IMG_7657Looking across the gully we could see the trail cut climbing up the far hillside.

IMG_7658Pincushion plant

IMG_7670Resting moth

IMG_7673A plane taking off from Minam Lodge.

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IMG_7688A popular thistle.

IMG_7703A skipper of some sort.

20220713_115425We both missed this yellow columbine on the way down.

IMG_7731View from the upper viewpoint on the way back up.

IMG_7747A final view from the Rock Springs Trail.

IMG_7748The cloud cover that moved in turned out to be a blessing as it kept the temperature reasonable as we made the long climb back up.

Our hike here came in just a tad over 9 miles to go with the 2500′ of elevation gain.

The ticks had been a bit of a distraction but the views had been good and there were a lot of wildflowers along the way. At the end of the day it was our least favorite hike of the trip but there was still plenty to enjoy. From the trailhead we drove to Wallow and checked into the Mingo Motel which turned out to be a surprisingly nice room. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Minam River via Rock Springs