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!





Opal Creek Oregon – Explore Ancient Forests

9 03 2014
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Here I am at the entrance to Jawbone Flats. A few hardy souls make this their year-round home.

We recently spent a weekend at the cabins at Opal Creek Oregon! Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center and its Jawbone Flats Cabins sit inside the Opal Creek Wilderness, the largest old-growth wilderness in Oregon.

It’s about a two hour drive from Portland. The village houses the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center, plus cabins in which visitors may lodge. All around lies the incredible ancient wilderness with its myriad trails, crystal pure creeks, and countless examples of edible plants such as mushrooms.

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The village is a museum of early 20th Century mining equipment. The irony that is Opal Creek Wilderness is that an extractive industry saved the old growth forest, while rampaging logging was going all around it. It was privately owned mining operation and never logged. Later, a political movement launched a campaign to preserve the area and in 1996 Congress established the Opal Creek Wilderness. The village is “off the grid,” meaning all electricity is locally produced by a small hydroelectric generator harnessing the creek’s power.

To get to Jawbone Flats, you must hike two miles from a parking area. You need to bring in everything you need to eat. Kinda. There is a twice daily shuttle that can bring up your stuff from the parking area. It’s a really pretty hike by Opal Creek. Along the way you pass by some dilapidated mining equipment.

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We reached Jawbone Flats and found our cabin. It’s really nice! You can probably house 10 people in the cabin. Very comfy, and the rear of the cabin has a deck overlooking the creek. Then we settled into our rooms.

Next, we headed out onto some trails! Opal Creek Wilderness is truly a jewel! The old growth evergreens are unmatched, and the creek is so pristine.

ImageIt’s such a beautiful area. I highly recommend it. If you go in the summer, the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center has a menu of classes and trips to choose from, each guided by highly knowledgeable staff intimately familiar with the area.

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After our hike, we headed back to the cabin for happy hour, a wok cooking session, and playing board games! Lots of time spent chop chopping ingredients for the wok, and then delicious productions coming off the stove!

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After dinner, it’s board game time! If you want a quiet getaway not far from Portland, and want to witness a forest ecosystem unchanged since ancient times, Opal Creek is worth a visit.





Oregon’s Gold Rush Region! Sumpter, Oregon and Granite, Oregon

6 09 2013

Route MapMy interest on this trip was focused on the areas around the North Fork John Day River Wilderness Area. I’d be driving Oregon’s Route 7, Route 73, Route 20 and Route 52. Today, I’d pass through Prairie City – on state highway 26, on my way to Sumpter, Oregon. This is 100% marked as scenic on the maps!

I’d be camping at Anthony Lake, though I didn’t know it when I began. I will tell you the drive along Oregon’s Highway 26, the Journey Thru Time Oregon Scenic Byway, is serene and calming. It wends its way through ranches and farms and small towns like Mitchell and Dayville, with less than 250 population. Absolutely nobody is in a rush here.

A few dozen miles east lies Prairie City. They’re making an effort to refresh main street here, and it looks pretty. I fill the tank with gas, and here they still clean your windshield! Then Oregon Route 7 intersects, and I’m on my way up to the Elkhorn Mountains, climbing all the way.

This is GOLD RUSH territory! In 1883 Sumpter was founded. By 1897 a railway reached the area, and the population grew to 2,000 as gold mines and claims proliferated. There were 12 miles of underground tunnels. Even today, I saw staked out gold mining claims!

Fort SumpterThese days Sumpter is preserved as a tourist attraction of Gold Rush history. Much of it has been restored to look as it was. I even saw a fort. I wondered if that fort was supposed to look like the Civil War Fort Sumpter? To me, it looked like it was right out of the 1960s TV series “F-Troop.”

Two of Sumpter’s main attractions are the Sumpter Valley Railway and Sumpter Valley Dredge. The railway, opening in 1890, was built to haul lumber 22 miles to Baker City. Within two years it was hauling passengers and freight. Today, it is a 6-mile narrow gauge tourist ride.

The Sumpter Valley Dredge is a monument to capitalism and 19th century technology. These 4-stories-tall dredges floated in ponds, and as they dug, the ponds moved with them. They consisted of conveyor belt of buckets to dig earth and carry inside for processing, the internal processing machinery, and another conveyor out back to dump out the waste. There were three of them in the valley. Ironically even though they only employed three workers each, they ended their machine-lives $100,000 in debt. Sumpter Dredge

Climbing out of Sumpter, the road switchbacks ever higher. I drive along a high altitude creek lined with mining claims, and with piles of rocks which could only have been left by days-gone-by gold prospectors.

Then I reach Granite, elevation 4,695. Granite’s population is 38. It looks bigger than that. It’s got a “Welcome to Granite” sign over the road. It’s got a fuel depot and a hotel. Still, it has a look and feel of a genuine frontier town. Founded in the 1880’s, granite boasted a population of 86 gold miners by 1940, but in WWII, the government ordered gold mining shut down to make miners dig for “esseFire Crew Signntial war effort” materials. Granite collapsed, and never recovered.

Past Granite, I made up my mind that I would camp at Anthony Lake, some 40 miles distant. I’d be cruising the Elkhorn Oregon Scenic Byway. On my way to that byway I ran across something unsettling – a Forest Fire Camp. During this trip there was a giant fire threatening Yosemite National Park, so forest fires were in the news.

Yet I didn’t know that the Forest Service established camps supporting hundreds of firefighters even before a fire started. Wow. That is serious.

Fire Crew StationThe camp I saw was several acres, high in the mountains, in a big meadow. And as big as it was it was clear that there was room for probably a thousand men up there.

 

Fire Crew2That made me much more aware of the gravity of the situation.

Beyond the Fire Camp, I ran into something I came out here for. It is the trailhead for the backpacking trail on the North Fork of the John Day River. I had heard about this many years before and now I was here. Too bad I am injured now, and can’t do it. But I will be back.

NF John Day SignIt’s very very pretty up here, and there are just not a lot of people to bother you. That is the beauty!

I decide to push east and camp at Anthony Lake. I have been there to ski in the winter, but never seen it without snow. I just have to check it out. On the way I reach a high point in the Elkhorn Moountains, about 7,250ft.Elkhorns 7250

The view goes on forever. It seems a high plateau goes on from here and one could backpack quite a ways.

Then I descend down into the Anthony Lakes area.

The lake is much smaller than I remembered, as I had cross country skied around it two times in the past.

Anthony Lake PanoramaI had imagined it would have campsites on it. But nope. The campground is to one side, and it has day use areas on the other. There are walk-in sites to another side.

I also paid a visit to Anthony Lakes Ski Area.Anthony Lakes Sign

 

Without snow, it looks so different. I quickly realized I could actually drive around the lodge and onto some of the lower slopes I had skied!

This was pure devilish fun! Well, with that bucket list item checked off, I returned to the campground and made my meal. I grilled a pork chop, made mashed potatoes, had an awesome campfire, and salad. Then, off to sleep.

I had hoped to see a million stars – but that was not to be. The smoke from the Yosemite fire partially obscured a picture perfect view. Next time I guess!

 

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