Greg and I spent the holiday weekend in Central Oregon. On Sunday we hiked Sutton Mountain which lies at the heart of the BLM’s Sutton Mountain Wilderness Study Area. There was a proposal to make this a designated wilderness, but that seems to have gone nowhere. The most recent article I could find about it (from April 2016) said “Legislation introduced by Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley last year would establish a wilderness on Sutton Mountain and around the Painted Hills. It would preserve canyons, meadows and wildlife while creating one large recreation-rich destination.” But there doesn’t seem to be any more recent news than that.
View from summit
The “trailhead” is just a grassy pasture by the side of the road:
Curious cows watched us:
At the TH there were a whole bunch of prairie dogs, which were HIGHLY entertaining to watch. They’d disappear down one hole only to appear out of another. It seemed like there were quite a few of them, but I’m sure that’s just because they kept moving in and out of their tunnels so much.
Hiked around a gate:
The we followed an old grassy road as it steadily climbed upwards. This whole hike is a road hike, but because the road is so old and long disused it doesn’t really feel like a road hike for most of the time.
Parts of the road were pretty chewed up from being trampled by cows:
The road makes a switchback and keeps climbing. Starting to get some views of the surrounding landscape:
We saw plenty of wildflowers, which was great (here’s a list of all the flowers we saw):
We also saw hundreds of dead juniper trees laying around. I know that juniper has become a problem in central and eastern Oregon, spreading rapidly partly because of fire suppression. So I assume that all these dead juniper were deliberately chopped down or poisoned or something.
Dead juniper and the tip of Mt. Hood:
Almost there! The hump on the left is the summit. The road doesn’t go up there, but it’s easy to go cross-country the last little bit:
Starting to get full views of Mt. Hood before we’re even to the top:
The road traversing the slope just below the summit:
Then just a bit of uphill cross-country to get to the summit, which is a wide grassy area with a few hardy juniper:
We had really great views from the summit:
Delighted to discover the hedgehog cactus in bloom:
We could see part of the Painted Hills below:
We hung out on the summit for awhile, enjoying a gentle breeze and the total lack of people (we didn’t see one person the entire hike). By the time we were hiking down, the heat had really soared. It was somewhere in the 90s. No shade on this hike, so it felt pretty brutal.
We stopped in Mitchell afterward to get some cold drinks at the grocery store. While in town we discovered a place called Tiger Town Brewing Company. They just got their permits to start brewing beer, and their under-construction building is almost finished. In the meantime, they have a food truck on site with outdoor seating. Fabulous! A welcome addition to Mitchell in my opinion. Best of luck to them!
Despite the withering heat this was a great hike. Our timing seems to have been spot on for the wildflowers and we lucked into a clear day with expansive views. Another nice thing about being there this time of year is that the grass is still somewhat green. Give it about a month and I’m sure everything will be brown out there.