Hiking the Lower Deschutes Canyon, Oregon in Spring

30 05 2017

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The winter of 2016-17 brought record rainfall to many parts of the Pacific Northwest, including Portland and Seattle, which saw all-time records for the October – April periods. It was great for skiers. Great for replenishing reservoirs. But it. Just. Kept. On. Raining. Sometimes, the only way to escape Portland’s gloom is to head east, past the Cascades. There, the clouds part and it’s likely a sunny hike can be had!

There are many good springtime hikes in the eastern Columbia Gorge. Wildflowers start coming out in March and peak sometime in late April. One nice choice are the trails along the Lower Deschutes River Canyon. There are three main trails leading from the mouth of the river. One is an old railroad bed converted to a bike trail. Another follows the riverside, snaking along. And a third is in between these two. It is possible to go many many miles upstream following the old railroad bed.

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To get there, take I-84 east from Portland, past The Dalles, to Deschutes River State Park. Park at the area in the southern part of the park.

Laura and I decided to do this hike as it’s a rolling terrain hike and doesn’t involve lots of elevation gain. A loop is possible by taking the river trail about 3 miles to where it climbs and connects with the railroad bed trail.

We had wonderful weather. It was warm in the sun. A train on the opposite side slowly made its way, stopping for a time.

The river was flowing swiftly, emptying Central Oregon of all the excess water from the spring rains.

We saw the occasional balsam root flowers starting to emerge, plus some others I couldn’t identify.

Total hike mileage was 6.5 miles, a good conditioning hike.

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Laura photographs some emerging flowers

The Deschutes River cuts through some of Oregon’s interesting Geologic features. So the trail offers some natural interest. Along the way one can view layers of basalt and ash laid down over millenia. In some spots natural lava bridges formed.

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Weather plus the river have carved some interesting shapes into the rocks here. For wildlife, we saw mostly ospreys and buzzards. Supposedly there are deer and rattlesnakes in the area as well. It’s popular with anglers for the trout and salmon. And backpacking is possible along this trail, too.

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For me, spring and fall are the best times to hike this canyon. Obviously it offers sun when Portland is cloudy. But in the midst of summer, this canyon has three things I don’t like: Intense heat, little shade and often punishing wind. In the summer, it just bakes here. And that heat, which makes air rise, means something has to displace it. And that is air from the Columbia River and the Pacific. In the summer, by afternoon, it can be like a convection vortex here. I have even seen a kite torn from its string! Rafters cannot make progress against this force – often being forced to spend the night and start off in the morning.

So for me, it’s all about the seasons, and this hike is just GREAT in spring!





The Cabin at Lake Billy Chinook – Cove Palisades State Park

18 11 2010

Since I’ve lived in Oregon, I’ve heard about Lake Billy Chinook. I only knew it was some kind of big lake in the canyon of the Deschutes River or something. I also heard lots of motorboats and houseboats plied its waters.

So, it wasn’t all that high on my list of places to visit. If it was full of jet skis I didn’t want to be there. However, I got an invitation to share a cabin post season – and that piqued my interest.

Seems sometime in October the marina and campgrounds close, and therefore the power boats dwindle. Yet, being in Central Oregon, this lake is bound to have some decent weather – it might be a spot to escape the rain on the west side of the Cascades.

Everyone was really stressed out at work the week before we went. Office network upgrades, e-mail server blowups and mid term grading dominated agendas. So it was GOOD to get away to such a quiet spot.

We reserved a cabin at Cove Palisades State Park managed by Oregon State Parks for two nights in early November. The cabins turn out to be very nice! And they have a nice view, and though a bit close quarters, they are suitable nonetheless. Each has a kitchen (no stove) and outside propane grill with burner.

Who's gonna do the dishes tonght?

April, Warren, Jessie and myself quickly settled in and enjoyed the first night’s meal. Mine was soul stuffed with crab (Trader Joe’s) accompanied by green beans/hollandaise, with a baked potato. Then we rallied for a game of “Therapy!” That’s a fun way to learn about each other!

We also went outside to see the 100% clear sky and fabulous stars. We were able to get decent reception on our iPhones, and made use of the star chart software. Plus I brought two powerful binoculars. So we could check out Jupiter and the crab nebula! Way cool.

Suiting up!

Saturday we had omelets and then took off in the kayaks. I didn’t know that Lake Billy Chinook is formed by three rivers – the Metolius, Deschutes, and Crooked Rivers. Each can be followed to its confluence with the lake. Today we paddled out to the Metolius arm, because we knew there was an island where we could have lunch.

The lake is indeed inside deep canyons.

The walls are vertical in places. All along you can see the colonnades formed by cooling basalt during the epic Oregon basalt floods. We were the ONLY boats on the lake pretty much all day. We only saw two other boats.

Skullduggery kayak detailing

Fauna consisted of seagulls, cormorants, king fishers, terns, feral goats, ospreys, bald eagles, falcons, deer and pigeons. We knew other wildlife abounded, though.

We returned to the cabin about 4:00. I showered and then set about preparing the evening’s dinner – a burrito bar. Tortillas, onion, beans, sour cream, guacamole, tomato, salsa, olives, bell peppers and more graced the table. But during dinner prep and following, everyone seemed to collapse. It couldn’t be today’s paddle – we didn’t paddle very hard, or far. The likely culprit was work. Work had exhausted everyone – and their bodies were letting them know it was time to recharge!

Glassy reflections everywhere on Sunday

Only Jessie and April were cognizant enough to play the night’s game, Scattegories. Warren fell asleep on the couch and I tried and failed to follow the game!

Sunday we awoke refreshed and whipped up a feast of pancakes topped with nuts and raspberries, with bacon on the side.

Chefs at work!

Then off to explore the Crooked River arm of the lake. Along the way we were privileged to witness two very healthy coyotes padding along the rocks on one side of the canyon!

I’d definitely recommend the cabins – especially in the off season!