Crack in the Ground and Fort Rock

May 2, 1028

On the last day of our trip we FINALLY woke up to clear, blue sunny skies. There was a little pond behind our hotel. We ate breakfast on a dock there and enjoyed the view of Winter Ridge beyond:
Morning below Winter Ridge

One of the hotel’s cabins looks out on the pond. Charming!

The Lodge at Summer Lake

Winter Ridge:

Winter Ridge

We ate breakfast, packed up, and headed north to check out Crack in the Ground. As we drove north from Christmas Valley jackrabbits kept darting across the road. We arrived at the unsigned trailhead and set off down the trail:

Crack in the Ground

This place is just as the name describes and you can actually see it on Google Earth. Here is how the BLM describes it on their website:

Crack-in-the-Ground is an ancient volcanic fissure over 2 miles long and up to 70 feet deep. Normally, fissures like this one are filled with soil and rock by the processes of erosion and sedimentation. However, because it is located in such an arid region, very little filling has occurred and Crack-in-the-Ground exists today nearly as it did shortly after its formation thousands of years ago. An established 2 mile trail along the fissure’s bottom offers a unique hike, where the temperature can be as much as twenty degrees cooler than at the surface.

After a short hike from the car to the crack we took a look from above before setting off into the bowels:

Crack in the Ground

Crack in the Ground

As soon as we stepped in here, the temperature was immediately cooler:

Crack in the Ground

We walked about 0.2mi along the bottom of the crack. It kind of felt like being in a Utah slot canyon:

Crack in the Ground

Crack in the Ground

Crack in the Ground

Crack in the Ground

There was some cool-looking rock formations down there:

Crack in the Ground

Crack in the Ground

We saw a lingering patch of snow:

Crack in the Ground

We emerged from the crack out into the sunshine, then followed a trail above the crack for a short distance:

Crack in the Ground

Crack in the Ground

We saw several mountain bluebirds:

Mountain bluebird

Crack in the Ground

We picked up an old road and followed it back to the original crack entrance:

Crack in the Ground

Back at the car we continued north to Green Mountain. We could see the fire lookout as we approached:

Green Mountain Lookout

We parked in the small unoccupied Green Mountain Campground. This actually looks like a nice spot to stay!

Green Mountain Campground

Green Mountain Campground

Green Mountain Campground

Then we took the short trail up to the lookout:

Green Mountain

The first lookout here was built in 1963. Here is Ron Kemnow’s photo from 2006:

It was replaced by this lookout in 2010. This thing looks like it belongs in some kind of secure government facility:

Green Mountain Lookout

Green Mountain

The lookout isn’t staffed yet for the season so we couldn’t go up. But we still had great views from the ground. It was so awesome to have views finally! It’s been such a cloudy trip. Paulina Peak (snowy one at center) and Hogback Butte:

Green Mountain

The major peaks from left to right: Odell Butte, Diamond Peak (very snowy), Maiden Peak, and The Twins. The one in the foreground is Cougar Peak:

Green Mountain

Table Rock and Hager Mountain:

Green Mountain

Winter Ridge, which we saw a lot of the previous day:

Green Mountain

Then we headed back down:

Green Mountain

Our last stop of the day was Fort Rock State Natural Area:

Fort Rock State Natural Area

Fort Rock is a volcanic landmark called a tuff ring. Here’s more from Wikipedia:

Fort Rock was created when basalt magma rose to the surface and encountered the wet muds of a lake bottom. Powered by a jet of steam, molten basalt was blown into the air, creating a fountain of hot lava particles and frothy ash. The pieces and blobs of hot lava and ash rained down around the vent and formed a saucer-shaped ring of lapilli tuff and volcanic ash sitting like an island in the lake waters.

Of course that ancient lake is long gone and there is now just a vast expanse of flat land known as Fort Rock Valley.

Fort Rock State Natural Area

There’s a trail that goes around the inside of Fort Rock and we hiked it:

Fort Rock State Natural Area

Fort Rock State Natural Area

Fort Rock State Natural Area

Fort Rock State Natural Area

Fort Rock State Natural Area

We took a side trail up to the rim where we could see out over the desert. In one of those rock formation Fort Rock Cave is located.

Fort Rock State Natural Area

Sagebrush sandals, ranging from 9,000 to 13,000 years old, other prehistoric artifacts, have been discovered at Fort Rock Cave. The property is owned by Oregon State Parks, but you can only go there by guided tour.

Looking down into the middle of Fort Rock from our perch:

Fort Rock State Natural Area

Heading back down:

Fort Rock State Natural Area

On our way out of the area we tried to visit the Fort Rock Valley Historical Homestead Museum, but it doesn’t open until late May. So we looked at the historical buildings from outside the fence:

Fort Rock Museum

Fort Rock Museum

Fort Rock Museum

Fort Rock Museum

Fort Rock Museum

And that was our five-day sisters road trip! We had fun and got to see a lot of interesting things that we haven’t seen before. The weather was less than ideal. We’ve been doing this spring trips for about eight years now and this is the first time we’ve had to bail on tent camping and get a hotel. At least we ended the trip on a sunny day!

Summer Lake and Paisley Caves

May 1, 2018

We woke to cloudy chilly weather this morning so we bundled up in our down jackets for the morning excursion.

The headquarters for the Summer Lake Wildlife Area were right across the highway from our hotel and it’s the start of the eight mile driving loop. (Here is a nice article that talks about birding at Summer Lake.)

Summer Lake Wildlife Area

Driving through the refuge

Winter Ridge loomed above us to the west:

Winter Ridge

Deb spotted a great horned owl in this tree:

Owl in a tree

Just a short ways into our loop drive we parked at the Windbreak Campground for a hike:

Windbreak Campground

There’s a gated road that goes along Windbreak Dike and that’s what we started walking down:

Windbreak Dike

Summer Lake Wildlife Area

There were a whole bunch of birds:

Summer Lake Wildlife Area

Summer Lake Wildlife Area

Summer Lake Wildlife Area

Two Canada Geese flew out of the vegetation next to the road, acting agitated. We discovered that they had babies there! The little guys were only a day or two old and were super adorable.

Summer Lake Wildlife Area

Summer Lake Wildlife Area

The parents were hanging out nearby, agitated by our presence, so after a few quick photos we hiked on. We turned around and saw that the babies had joined their parents in the water (you can see this in the video). Pretty cute!

Marsh Wren:

Summer Lake Wildlife Area

Winter Ridge was now thoroughly shrouded in clouds:

Summer Lake Wildlife Area

Those are pelicans in the distance:

Summer Lake Wildlife Area

We saw few scattered trees:

Summer Lake Wildlife Area

We hiked out two miles then turned around. By the time we got back to the car we were starting to see some blue sky!

Windbreak Campground

We continued on our driving loop. This is Link Canal:

Link Canal

We drove past this building labeled the Schoolhouse Lake Wildlife Viewing Station so we got out to see what was what:

Summer Lake Wildlife Area

Inside there were window panels you could remove to see out to the lake. Here’s Deb recording the bird sounds:

Summer Lake Wildlife Area

More blue sky…this is more like it!

Summer Lake Wildlife Area

Summer Lake Wildlife Area

After Summer Lake we drove south to the town of Paisley. On the way we stopped at the Harris Schoolhouse, which is right along the highway. It was built in 1890 and operated until 1919. It was briefly used again for three years starting in 1926, but then closed for good, so it’s amazing that it still stands. You can see burned trees in the background from a 2002 wildfire that came a little too close for comfort:

Harris Schoolhouse

Crazy, but we think we saw a marmot on the front porch:

Marmot?

We looked around the tiny town of Paisley a bit:

Paisley

Then we visited the ranger station. We had thought about trying to drive up Road 29, which winds up the face of Winter Ridge, but they told told us that the road would be too muddy. We were told that the road up to Hager Mountain would also be too muddy. But they said we should be fine if we drove out Road 33, so we did. We drove as far as the Chewaucan Crossing Trailhead where a very sturdy footbridge crosses the Chewaucan River.

Chewaucan River

Chewaucan River

There’s a really pretty little campground here, which is in the trees on the left:

Chewaucan River

Too cold for camping here at this time, but I would totally come back here in summer:

Chewaucan Crossing Campground

We had seen something on the map called Paisley Caves and we had asked about it at the ranger station. They told us how to get there so we drove out there. 14,000 years ago these caves in Five Mile Point were  home to humans. One of the caves contained archaeological evidence of the oldest definitely-dated human presence in North America. This was kind of crazy to me. The oldest known human habitation in North America was right here in Oregon and I had never heard of this place before today! The Oregon Encyclopedia has a good summary if you want to read more.

Paisley Caves

Paisley Caves

Paisley Caves

Paisley Caves

Paisley Caves

Paisley Caves

Paisley Caves

Paisley Caves

According to information at the ranger station, the area around Five Mile Point used to be Lake Chewaucan. It’s dry desert now, but 14,000 years ago it was a source of water and teemed with life.

Paisley Caves

We saw several lizards:

Paisley Caves

Paisley Caves

We also saw an agitated pigeon that was hanging around. It was weird to see a pigeon out here in the desert. Turns out it had a nest in one of the caves we were in:

Paisley Caves

After the caves we visited Summer Lake Hot Springs. This place has camping and also cabins, if you ever want to stay here:

Summer Lake Hot Springs

There is a big indoor soaking pool:

Summer Lake Hot Springs

But we chose to soak outside:

Summer Lake Hot Springs

After making dinner at the hotel we waited for darkness then we drove due east from the little town of Summer Lake on Thousand Springs Lane until we were away from the few lights of that little hamlet. It was about 9:45 and we knew the moon was coming up soon so we enjoyed the stars while we could before the bright moon made them less visible. Soon we started to see a glow on the western horizon and then the moon popped up. Neato! In the video you can see a short moonrise timelapse that I tried.

Moonrise

Video:

Collier State Park and Klamath Marsh

April 30, 2018

This morning we packed up, checked out of our cabin, and headed over to Collier Memorial State Park to check out the outdoor logging museum there. Some background from Oregon State Parks:

The logging museum began in 1947 when the Collier brothers donated a collection of antique logging equipment. Their intent was to show the evolution of logging equipment from the use of oxen and axes to trucks and chain saws. Also spotlighted is the role the railroad played in the timber industry. The museum is recognized as having one of the largest collections in the country. The outdoor exhibits are open year-round, daylight to dusk.

On this chilly Monday morning there was hardly anyone around and we pretty much had the place to ourselves as we explored the outdoor exhibits.

Collier State Park Logging Museum

Collier State Park Logging Museum

Collier State Park Logging Museum

Collier State Park Logging Museum

Collier State Park Logging Museum

Collier State Park Logging Museum

Collier State Park Logging Museum

Collier State Park Logging Museum

Collier State Park Logging Museum

Can you see the goose on top?

Collier State Park Logging Museum

This is a cross-section of the Clatsop Fir. This 700-year-old tree was located on Crown Zellerbach land outside Seaside, Oregon. When it was toppled by the 1962 Columbus Day Storm, it was 200 feet tall and the diameter at the base was more than 15 feet! This cross section came from a part of the tree 38 feet above the ground.

Clatsop Fir

Clatsop Fir

Clatsop Fir

The very lovely Spring Creek flows through the park:

Collier State Park Logging Museum

Spring Creek

The gift shop wasn’t scheduled to open for the season until May 1 (the next day) but the lady who was getting things set up let us look around:

Collier State Park Logging Museum

After we left Collier we started heading east on Silver Lake Road. At one point Deb looked in the rearview mirror, and lo and behold we could see mountains! We hadn’t seen any on this trip so far with the bad weather, so we immediately pulled over. The mountain at right is Mt Scott, which towers over Crater Lake:

Mountains

The mountain at left is Mt. Thielsen:

Mountains

We drove on, crossing the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge doesn’t have any trails so we headed for Road 690 along the eastern shore of Wocus Bay to see what we could see. A very old sign and map at the junction of Silver Lake and Road 690 indicated a picnic area down 690 so we aimed for that. That raod was rough. High clearance is definitely recommended. We reached the picnic area after about 4.5 miles. There’s not much there. Just a parking area and one picnic table. No signage.

Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

There was nothing to see from the picnic area except trees:

Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

So we went down the hill where we had better views:

Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

Mt. Thielsen again:

Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

We hung out there for awhile and Deb spotted quite a few birds. After that we continue south on the bumpy road to pick up Road 43 and loop back to the highway.

Earlier while driving the main highway we had spotted an injured turkey vulture a few feet off the road, so we went back to see if it was still there. It was. Deb called the refuge headquarters but even though it was just mid-afternoon no one answered. So then she searched for any nearby wildlife rescue organizations (thank goodness we had a signal). She found the Badger Run Wildlife Rehab based out of Klamath Falls and called them. It turns out that they knew about this bird and had previously been out here looking for it, but couldn’t locate it. Deb was prepared to give them GPS coordinates, but they asked if we felt comfortable catching the bird ourselves. We decided to give it a try and see if we could.

Of course the vulture tried to get away when we approached it. It’s wing was injured so it couldn’t fly, but it kind of flapped and ran away from us and hid in some thick brush. You can see it in the video. To get to the bird, Deb waded into the water and managed to extract him from the brush, wrapping him in a blanket she’d had in the car.

Injured turkey vulture

Injured turkey vulture

We called Badger Run back and said we had the bird. Then we coordinated with a volunteer who agreed to meet us halfway to pick up the vulture. So we backtracked 30 minutes to Chiloquin to meet her there. We handed off the bird and turned back around to head towards Summer Lake. (The volunteer later called and left a message. Sadly the bird’s wing was too injured to fix and they had to euthanize him.)

The weather was really not cooperating and the temperatures were forecast to get quite cold at night. It wasn’t good camping weather, so we paid for a room at The Lodge at Summer Lake.

The Lodge at Summer Lake

Since our room didn’t have a kitchenette we made dinner on a picnic table outside:

Cooking dinner

From the lodge we could see Winter Ridge stretching away to the south:

Winter Ridge

I walked across the road to the refuge headquarters and could see Diablo Rim to the east:

Diablo Rim

Video:

OC&E Woods Line State Trail

April 29, 2018

This morning I went for a short walk around the Crater Lake Resort where our cabin is. The sun was trying to come out and I hoped that we would have a less rainy day than yesterday.

Crater Lake Resort

Fort Creek runs through the property and it was very pleasant on this chilly morning.

Crater Lake Resort

They’ve built a little covered bridge over it:

Crater Lake Resort

After breakfast we headed out. On our way south on Highway 62 we saw these turkey vultures up in a tree. When they spread their wings like this it’s known as the horaltic pose and they usually do it in the morning to increase their body temperature after the cold night.

Turkey Vultures

Today we would be hiking several sections of the 100-mile-long OC&E Woods Line State Trail. It follows the right-of-way of the old Oregon, California, & Eastern logging railroad and stretches from Klamath Falls east to Bly; the Woods line extension stretches north to Sycan Marsh. This brochure shows a map. Here is an excerpt from a July 20, 1992 article in the Oregonian with a bit of background:

 The rail line, one of the last operating lumber railroads in the nation, was donated by the Weyerhaeuser Co. to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department under a “rail bank” agreement. Rail banking is a relatively new way to preserve rail corridors for future transportation use. Because the OC&E line was no longer economically feasible for hauling timber, Weyerhaeuser was faced with a dilemma. Abandonment of the line and removal of $2 million worth of steel rails would allow title of the land to be claimed by adjacent land owners, unless it continued to be operated as a transportation corridor. Under the rail banking agreement, title to the right of way was transferred to state parks on July 9. The agreement allows Weyerhaeuser the option of reclaiming the title in the future, possibly in 50 or 100 years, to use the right of way as a transportation corridor again.

We drove to the Switchbacks Trailhead and even though it was a Sunday we were the only car here.

OC&E Woods Line State Trail

There’s an old railcar here and a nearby sign notes that when the rails were being removed in 1992 the brakes locked up on this car so the easiest solution was to leave it here:

Old railcar

From the trailhead we could see down onto the Devil’s Garden and beyond to snowy Swan Lake Point (there was once a fire lookout up there, but it’s gone and replaced with some communication towers):

Devil's Garden

Swan Lake Point

Along this section of the OC&E line, the trail has several switchbacks. As explained at the trailhead:

The remarkable east and west switchbacks of the OC&E Railway were a matter of economy. The complicated requirement of “double switching” by disconnecting and backing up portions of the train save the railroad owners the substantial expense of blasting through Bly Mountain. Engineers designed a tunnel 1,300 feet long, but the construction crews of Bruce and Nettleton, grading and laying the track in 1922-23 from Hildebrand to Sprague River, never go the go-ahead to blast the tunnel. A trace of its projected eastern portal remains. The switchbacks were a dangerous place for train crews. Uncoupling, throwing switches, backing, re-coupling, and coping with derailments tested the teamwork of the men. Sometimes they worked in the dark, or in ice and snow.

We set off down the trail under cloudy skies:

Trail

Trail

Trail

Our goal for a turnaround point was some trailside ponds 2.25 miles down the trail, and right as we got there it started to hail.

Hail

As is usually the case with spring hail storms, this one was intense but brief. Five minutes later it moved on and we could see blue sky to the west.

Blue sky

Blue sky

A red-winged blackbird, one of the few birds whose call I can identify:

Red winged blackbird

Old cabin or shed across the pond:

Old cabin

We retraced our steps back up the trail, then headed off-trail to explore Devils Garden, an area of lava rock that stands out in the satellite view of this area. Oregon Geographic Names doesn’t have any information about who named this and when, just that “the surrounding lava has given the place its name.” I imagine this place is hot and unpleasant in summer.

Devil's Garden

Devil's Garden

Devil's Garden

Devil's Garden

We climbed up some rocks to get a view of the area. Last night’s snowfall on Swan Lake Point had started melting.

Devil's Garden

Devil's Garden

Devil's Garden

After sitting and enjoying the sunshine we headed back:

Devil's Garden

We spotted these sand lilies blooming low to the ground:

Devil's Garden

We also spotted some ballhead waterleaf:

Ballhead waterleaf

We passed this really big ponderosa pine. I love these trees:

Big Tree

After we got back to the car and had a snack we drove east to Beatty and parked where the trail crosses Godwa Springs Road:

OC&E Woods Line State Trail

This section is straight as an arrow:

OC&E Woods Line State Trail

It passes through some marshy areas where there is a lot of bird activity. We were lucky enough to see this sandhill crane:

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

We could see Yainax Butte and through the binoculars we could spot the fire lookout up there:

Yainax Butte

We could see this storm approaching from the west (fortunately the edge of this storm just grazed us and we only got a few drops):

Storm

The lazy Sprague River:

Sprague River

Cloud reflection

We crossed the river several times on this hike:

Sprague River

Trestle

Trestle

Old farm buildings:

Old barn

Turkey vulture:

Turkey vulture

We detoured from the trail to stop at the historic Brown Cemetery and looked around. I didn’t get a photo, but we saw some antelope on the hill nearby:

Brown Cemetery

Brown Cemetery

Brown Cemetery

Back on the trail we passed an old abandoned homestead:

Abandoned home

We crossed the Sprague River on one more trestle:

Trestle

Sprague River

Then we headed back to the car and drove back to our cabin. We had wild weather today with sunshine, rain, and hail, but fortunately the storms passed quickly and we never got drenched. Depending on whose GPS you believe, we did a total of 10.5 or 11 miles today, which is the most miles I’ve done in one day since last summer! Pretty easy miles, though, on this relatively flat railroad grade. I’d love to come back and explore more of this trail someday, especially the section further north that crosses the Merritt Creek Trestle:

Video:

Shoalwater Bay

Saturday, April 28

Every spring my sister, Deb, and I take a spring camping trip somewhere. We only had five days this time so stuck relatively close to home to minimize the drive time. We settled on splitting our time between the Klamath Falls and Summer Lake areas.

Unfortunately the weather was not on our side. After eight days of beautiful sunny weather across Oregon, the forecast turned cold and cloudy right as we started this trip. In fact, as we drove east along Highway 58 we had snow:

Snow

With temperatures expected to get down to freezing at night, we had already figured that we wouldn’t be camping the first night or two, but the snowy highway kind of clinched it for us. So we drove to the Crater Lake Resort and got a cabin there.

Crater Lake Resort

Crater Lake Resort

After settling in we went for a counter-clockwise drive around the lake, heading down the western shore, through periodic rain. We pulled in at Eagle Ridge Park. A road goes along Shoalwater Bay and we stopped at pullout to admire the birds. I didn’t get great photos, but check out the video for bird footage and LOTS of bird songs.

Shoalwater Bay

It was very cloudy and I know there were mountains we weren’t seeing.

Shoalwater Bay

Shoalwater Bay

Shoalwater Bay

There is an extensive trail network here, geared towards mountain bikes, but open to hikers. And we saw a new trail (Old Eagle) that is being constructed between the road and the shore of the bay and starts at the newly-constructed Shoalwater Bay Trailhead (photo below). (Here is an article from June 2017 about Spence Mountain trail network.) An exploration for another day!

Shoalwater Bay

We decided to continue driving the gravel road that follows the eastern shore of the bay. We took a quick look at the campground, which is pretty sparse and primitve. About six sites, not all of which have picnic tables, and a toilet. That’s it. The road deteriorates significantly past the campground and I would not recommend driving out there without high clearance. We stopped at a roadside campsite where an abandoned campfire had been left to burn. Yes, it was a wet day, but come on! Put out your fires!

Campfire

The good thing about stopping to put out the fire was that we saw a deer further up the shore:

Deer

We continued driving out to the end of the point, where the road makes a loop. We saw two trucks and a campsite there, but otherwise it was just a lot of trees and we didn’t see a viewpoint. It wasn’t until I got home that I learned there WAS something to see here. This article mentions a path and the remains of an old tavern:

The road ends at a parking lot at the tip of the peninsula, but a trail leads off the end of Eagle Point and down the slope to the shore of Upper Klamath Lake. Part-way down this path, off to the right and almost buried in thickets of chokecherries, lie the remains of other times, the memories of other people who once made this same walk. For here are strewn the wreckage and the rubble of the early 20th century’s Eagle Ridge Tavern: shattered windows and melted glass, cracking concrete and broken bed springs.

Wish I had known about that! There is certainly not a parking lot out there, although I wish we had gotten out of the car to look for the path. Here is a 1911 photo of the old tavern:

From the page where I found that photo:

The Winema steamboat made runs from Klamath Falls to Eagle Ridge and on to Odessa and Rocky Point. Travel by auto to Eagle Ridge was not practical in those days. The tavern was destroyed by fire in 1932. Some of the building’s foundation stones can still be seen, but are hard to find in the brush that has taken over the site.

We drove on to Klamath Falls, then up the eastern shore of the lake back to our cabin where we made dinner. It was nice to have a kitchenette to cook our dinner. And considering how cold and damp it was outside, it was nice to be sleeping inside and not in a tent!

Video:

Coyote Wall Loop

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Note: Watch for ticks and poison oak if you hike here.

Greg and I headed out to Coyote Wall to do a loop hike there. We hit the trail at 9:15 under chilly overcast skies. If you hike here, please note that dogs must be on-leash:

Coyote Wall Hike

We saw this group at the beginning of the hike and later on as well. The dog was never on a leash:

Coyote Wall Hike

We trekked down old Highway 14:

Coyote Wall Hike

The desert parsley was going gangbusters. We saw lots of it.

Coyote Wall Hike

Coyote Wall Hike

At 0.4mi we passed the trail where we would come out later:

Coyote Wall Hike

Further along at 0.7mi we picked up our trail and started climbing up.

Coyote Wall Hike

Coyote Wall Hike

Coyote Wall Hike

Columbia Desert Parsley:

Coyote Wall Hike

Despite the clouds we managed to get a view of Mt. Hood:

Coyote Wall Hike

The river was glassy calm:

Coyote Wall Hike

There was popcorn flower EVERYWHERE:

Coyote Wall Hike

Coyote Wall Hike

Coyote Wall Hike

Avalanche Lilies:

Coyote Wall Hike

Yellow bells:

Coyote Wall Hike

Coyote Wall Hike

First balsamroot sighting of the season!

Coyote Wall Hike

The sun started to break through a bit as we hiked down:

Coyote Wall Hike

By this time we were encountering huge numbers of people. And we were witnessing plenty of bad hiker behavior: picked wildflowers left on the trail, off-leash dogs, dog poop bags left behind, and adults, kids, and dogs wandering through the meadows, trampling the wildflowers. It was discouraging, and we were glad to get back to the trailhead. Still, despite all that, it was a great hike. Here are all the wildflowers Greg noted seeing on this loop. 6 miles, 1100′ elevation gain.

Coyote Wall Track

First Catherine Creek Visit of 2018

March 17, 2018

Note: Watch for ticks and poison oak if you hike here.

Greg and I made our first Catherine Creek trek of the year today. It didn’t rain, but it was partly cloudy and pretty windy! I didn’t take a ton of photos, but I have a video at the end of this post.

Catherine Creek Hike

We started off behind these two women who walked right past the “dogs must be on leash” sign with their dog off-leash. We saw them later in the hike and the dog was still off-leash.

Catherine Creek Hike

Things are starting to green up!

Catherine Creek Hike

Catherine Creek Hike

Once we got up on top with the big sloping meadow we were pummeled by the wind:

Catherine Creek Hike

Catherine Creek Hike

We started getting a little bit more blue sky:

Catherine Creek Hike

It was a relief when we picked up the old road and started descending. We were out of the open and now protected from the relentless wind:

Catherine Creek Hike

We crossed Catherine Creek then picked up another old road going up past the old corral:

Catherine Creek Hike

We looped around over the top near the arch where we were back in the wind:

Catherine Creek Hike

We dropped down to the road and walked back to the car. Great loop today! Could have done without the wind, but that’s the Gorge for you. 5 miles, 1400′ elevation gain.

CatCreek

Tracy Hill

Saturday, March 11, 2018

What a gorgeous day! Greg was out of town so I did a solo hike at Tracy Hill, which is in the Catherine Creek area in the Columbia River Gorge. My start point was just a short distance east down the road from the main Catherine Creek trailhead.

The trail starts out on an old jeep track. On this crystal clear day I started getting views of Mt. Hood right away:

Tracy Hill Hike

There were still a few grass widows around:

Tracy Hill Hike

I also saw plenty of gold stars:

Tracy Hill Hike

I love the ponderosa pines here:

Tracy Hill Hike

Tracy Hill Hike

At 0.8 mile there is a junction where I went straight. The jeep track from the left would bring me back here at the end of the hike. I continued hiking uphill, then the track turned into a trail and emerged into a huge sloping meadow:

Tracy Hill Hike

As I got higher, the views got better. The snowy bump at center is Lookout Mountain:

Tracy Hill Hike

And Mt. Hood was glorious!

Tracy Hill Hike

1.9 miles into the hike I reached the top of the meadow where someone has made a makeshift bench. It’s a great spot to stop and enjoy the views, which is exactly what I did.

Tracy Hill Hike

Tracy Hill Hike

I loved the gnarled branches on this old oak tree:

Tracy Hill Hike

I spotted a lizard in this hole. See him?

Tracy Hill Hike

How about now?

Tracy Hill Hike

The trail passes through an oak forest:

Tracy Hill Hike

And emerges into another meadow with yet another view of Mt. Hood:

Tracy Hill Hike

I passed an old cattle pond that is fed by a spring:

Tracy Hill Hike

I wanted to get further up the hill and pick up another old jeep track so I left the trail and cut up through the meadow, although it turns out if I had stayed on the trail a bit further I would have intersected a path that headed uphill. I found said path as I got higher:

Tracy Hill Hike

The trail connected with another old jeep track:

Tracy Hill Hike

Which entered a very pleasant forest:

Tracy Hill Hike

At the three-mile mark I came to a more developed-looking road:

Tracy Hill Hike

This spot was also the site of some logging:

Tracy Hill Hike

I made this my turnaround point. Back out in the open meadows I put down my sit pad on the trail and sat down to enjoy the view for awhile:

Tracy Hill Hike

Tracy Hill Hike

I had a good view of the Columbia Hills to the east. Great place to see balsamroot in about six weeks!

Tracy Hill Hike

After soaking up the sunshine for awhile I continued on. The trail descended down into the canyon of Catherine Creek:

Tracy Hill Hike

Tracy Hill Hike

A peek at the Columbia River as the trail descends:

Tracy Hill Hike

I picked up another jeep track:

Tracy Hill Hike

Which connected me back to the original trail where I returned to my car. It was a 6.5 mile loop with 1,700′ elevation gain. Great hike!

Here is my track:

TracyHillTrack

And here is the video:

Fish Lake Commissary Cabin

Fish Lake Remount Depot

Every winter Deb and I do a two-night sisters outing to a fire lookout. We’ve been to Clear Lake Butte twice and Fivemile Butte twice. Unfortunately I could not get reservations this year so we opted instead for the Fish Lake Commissary Cabin. There is actually a bit of cool history with this place. Fish Lake lies right along the old Santiam Wagon Road. In 1867 a roadhouse was developed there, complete with barns, corrals, a blacksmith shop, and a store. When the Forest Service was established in 1905 Fish Lake was used as a ranger outpost. In 1921 Fish Lake became the fire dispatching headquarters for what was then the Santiam National Forest, and a dispatcher’s cabin was built. Phone lines were put up throughout the forest to connect Fish Lake to fire lookouts, guard stations, and district offices. More buildings were constructed, including the Commissary Cabin, which was used for tool storage and later converted to a residence. The Forest Service no longer needs Fish Lake for its operations, but many of the old buildings still stand and an organization called Friends of of Fish Lake help look after the place.

Commissary Cabin in 1924

Fish Lake Map

Although Fish Lake is located right on Highway 126, winter access is from Highway 20 to the north. So on March 4 we parked at the Lava Lake Sno-Park, geared up, and headed out. There are NO SIGNS telling you which way to go. What you have to do is walk out of the sno-park back to the highway which you will cross. A bit to the left (east) of the sno-park entrance is the road that you will be snowshoeing down. When we were there a blue diamond on a pole was the only marker. The route of the road you need to follow is pretty wide and obvious:

Snowshoeing

We continued following the trail/road through the forest:

Snowshoeing

Then we met up with the Santiam Wagon Road at a well-marked junction and turned left:

Santiam Wagon Road

According to a 2013 newsletter “Work in the Commissary cabin revealed significant bat and rodent residue creating a human health hazard, the structure was removed from the cabin rental program until the damage can be dealt with.” When I visited in 2016 the work was mostly complete:

Fish Lake Historic Site
Commissary Cabin in July 2016

Fish Lake Historic Site
Commissary Cabin interior in July 2016 before the counter and range had been installed

We’re here! (While we appreciated the outside protective walls around the front door, the sheets of plywood were incredibly ugly. I hope they can find a more aesthetic solution that fits the character of the cabin.)

Fish Lake Commissary Cabin

Lots of icicles hanging from the roof:

Icicles

There is a table and two chairs:

Fish Lake Commissary Cabin

A gas cooking stove and a propane heater (not a woodstove; more about that in a moment):

Fish Lake Commissary Cabin

A sink (no running water and you can’t use the drain) with counter space, and a couch:

Fish Lake Commissary Cabin

At the back of the cabin is a small room with a twin bed:

Fish Lake Commissary Cabin

The front windows look out onto trees. The kitchen window looks down onto the blacksmith shop, oil house, and shed:

Barns and buildings

The dispatcher’s cabin is right next door (left) to the commissary cabin (right):

Dispatcher's and Commissary Cabins

After we settled in we went for a walk to explore the area. Fish Lake dries up and becomes a meadow come summertime. In winter it is a wide expanse of white:

Fish Lake

Fish Lake

Fish Lake

Critter tracks!

Tracks in the snow

What a gorgeous afternoon!

Beautiful day

The bunkhouse:

Fish Lake Bunkhouse

Dispatcher’s cabin:

Dispatcher's cabin

The Hall House is the other cabin you can rent here. It was built in 1924 and named for Forest Supervisor C.C. Hall. Notice the unusual vertical log construction:

Hall House

Hall House has an awesome porch:

Hall House

See the old phone line insulator up there?

Phone line insulator

We cooked up dinner on the stovetop, which worked great. Veggies over rice with roasted red pepper sauce. YUM.

Dinnner!

I had heard about snow ice cream, where you take a bowl of powdery snow and mix it with sweetened condensed milk and vanilla. We gave it a try, but our snow was icy. Still, it tasted pretty good!

Snow ice cream

I tried a night shot of the cabin exterior, but it was too cloudy for stars and it was snowing:

Commissary Cabin

We woke up Monday morning to the slightest dusting of fresh snow:

Snow dusting

Snow dusting

After a leisurely morning we snowshoed the 1.3 miles back to Lava Lake Sno-Park:

Snowshoeing in the forest

Snowshoeing in the forest

We saw a number of little critter tracks in the fresh snow:

Tracks in the snow

From the sno-park we snowshoed up Road 2067. Some inconsiderate driver had actually tried to drive up the snow-covered road and made quite a mess for all the snowmobilers, skiiers, and snowshoers to deal with:

Chewed-up road

What a gorgeous day it was turning out to be!

Up the road

After half a mile we arrived at a junction with a signpost that contained no signs:

Junction

Fortunately I had printed the trail map from the Willamette National Forest website so we knew where we were going. We turned right:

Lava Flats Loop

We arrived at another junction, this time with signage!

Signage

We turned left and traveled about 0.3mi down a spur trail that ended at Lava Lake:

Lava Lake

Deb at Lava Lake

The sunshine felt GOOD:

Blue skies

At first they were kind of obscured by clouds, but then Maxwell Butte and Three Fingered Jack came into view:

Maxwell Butte and Three Fingered Jack

Maxwell Butte and Three Fingered Jack

We sat there in the sunshine for awhile enjoying the peace and quiet and the warm sun. Then we headed back to the main loop. We found that no one had traveled this 0.9mi section in a little while and it was untracked:

Untracked

We definitely got a workout breaking trail as we circled back to the sno-park! This Lava Flats Loop was 2.3 miles total (not including the trek from the cabin and back). We were curious to see where the trail came out at the sno-park because we hadn’t seen any signs of it when we started. Turns out this tree covered in broken arrows is the place to start:

Bad signs

We headed back to our cabin, checking out Fish Lake on the way:

Fish Lake

From a spot near our cabin we noticed that the very top of North Sister was visible through the trees:

North Sister

We spent the afternoon relaxing and trying to warm the place up. While we waited for that to happen we had to bundle up:

Bundled up

One of the downsides of staying in a cabin in the forest (versus a lookout on a mountaintop) is that it’s kind of dark inside even on a brilliant sunny day:

Window view

As evening set in we turned on the battery-powered twinkle lights that we had brought and settled in:

Cozy cabin

Deb made dinner that night. With only icy snow outside we “skipped the middle man” and ate the rest of the condensed milk right out of the can. Delicious!

Condensed milk

The skies were clear so we went outside to check out the stars. I had forgotten to bring my wide angle lens so I had to make do with my regular lens:

Starry night

Stars over the cabin

Tuesday morning was sunny and beautiful (and only 16 degrees Fahrenheit at 6:45!) and the sun sparkled off the snow:

Morning icicles

Sparkling snow

The heat had fortunately stayed on through the night so we slept warmly. But once we were out of our down sleeping bags it was a bit chilly. Time for tea!

Morning at the cabin

Before heading home we wanted to take advantage of the clear weather and get a better look at the mountains. We stopped at a viewpoint along Highway 20 on the way to Sisters and saw Mt. Washington:

Mt. Washington

And two of the Three Sisters:

Mountain view

We stopped for a bite to eat in Sisters, then drove a bit further east for an even better viewpoint of the mountains. The Three Sisters:

Three Sisters

Mt. Washington:

Mt. Washington

Black Butte and Mt. Jefferson:

Black Butte and Mt. Jefferson

So that’s our trip! We had a great time at this cool little cabin. This is a great place to rent for families since the trek in is short and relatively flat. I would stay here again, although next winter we are going to try again for a lookout.

Commissary Cabin

Things to know if you go:

  • The Forest Service website says it is 3/4 mile from the Lava Lake Sno-Park to the cabin. My GPS said 1.3 miles.
  • The cabin has a couch, a twin bed, a table with two chairs, a gas range with stovetop and oven, and a sink (no running water and a sign said not to pour anything down the drain). An outhouse is in the trees behind the cabin.
  • The source of heat for the cabin is not a wood stove, but a propane one. It does a mediocre job of heating the place up and I’m sure most of our heat was hanging out underneath the high ceilings. Bring warm sleeping bags and plenty of warm clothes. We also had trouble with it going out and one thing that sometimes helped with this was to turn the thermostat up to 80. There is also a button at the base of the unit that you have to press and hold when re-lighting the pilot light and we found that if we held it in for a full two minutes that worked better than holding it in for the recommended one minute.
  • Although there is a picnic table and fire ring outside (it’s right behind the neighboring dispatcher’s cabin) they weren’t usable when we were there because they were buried in snow. Also, it was cold.
  • There are lights in the cabin but they are powered by batteries charged by a solar panel. During the short cloudy days of winter when sunshine is in short supply, the battery can go dead quickly so bring some lights of your own.
  • There is no water so you’ll need to melt and filter (or boil) snow. Gray water cannot be poured down the sink (according to the sign in the cabin) so you’ll need to pour it in the toilet.
  • Our Verizon phones had zero signal of any kind at the cabin (although we had full signals at Lava Lake Sno-Park). Good excuse to unplug from the world!

Video:

Newport Weekend

Greg and I spent President’s Day Weekend in the Newport area. We drove down Saturday and stopped in Depoe Bay for lunch. The weather was pretty cold, wet, and stormy.

Depoe Bay

After lunch we went out to that spit of land you can see the in the previous picture. The waves splashed against the rocks and the air was filled with water:

Depoe Bay

We drove south and stopped at Rocky Creek State Scenic Viewpoint. The weather was really deteriorating by this point:

Stormy Day

Even though we had plenty of daylight left, the weather made us want to be inside so we headed to Beverly Beach State Park and checked in to our yurt:

Yurt

Yurt

Yurt

We spent the rest of the afternoon inside, reading and being warm and dry. We were very close to the beach and I went out there for sunset but lasted about 30 seconds in the cold wind before beating a hasty retreat back to the yurt to make a nice hot dinner on the campstove:

Beverly Beach Sunset

Sunday morning the weather was a little less awful. After a leisurely morning we took a walk around the campground. It’s a huge campground, but most of it was closed off for the season.

Fungus

We drove into Newport and had lunch at Mo’s. It started hailing after lunch so we didn’t really want to be outside. We headed over to the Hatfield Marine Science Center where they have an octopus as well as tidepool replicas you can see.

Octopus

Tidepools

The wind was not letting up and it was pretty miserable outside. So we went to a coffee shop and hung out for awhile, drinking warm tea and reading. Afterward we went down to Nye Beach to find a geocache and got a view of the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, which we would be visiting the following day:

Yaquina Head

One last glimpse of the stormy windy weather at Nye Beach before heading to Rogue for dinner:

Nye Beach

Nye Beach

Monday’s weather was much better weather with less wind and more sun. We headed to Yaquina Head where a 93-foot-tall lighthouse from 1873 still stands:

Yaquina Head Lighthouse

Yaquina Head Lighthouse

Yaquina Head Lighthouse

We went down to the stairway to Cobble Beach, seen here from above:

Cobble Beach

Our timing was good and we were able to see the tidepools:

Cobble Beach

Yaquina Head Lighthouse

The other cool part about this beach are all these polished stones. When the waves wash over these rocks it makes the COOLEST sound. The beach was protected from the wind so we sat there enjoying the warm sunshine and the sound of the stones:

Cobble Beach

Cobble Beach

After that we climbed Salal Hill, which has a pretty great view. But the wind was picking up so we didn’t linger up there:

Yaquina Head Lighthouse

View

Salal Hill

We stopped at Cape Foulweather:

Cape Foulweather

Then we had lunch in Depot Bay at the Sea Hag. The weather was a lot sunnier than it had been two days earlier. We stood and enjoyed the waves for awhile before heading home:

Depoe Bay

Depoe Bay

Video: