Greg suggested we do the Iron Mountain loop hike today. It’s a very long drive from our home in Portland, so we got up at 4am, left at 5:10, and arrived at the Tombstone Pass Trailhead at 7:40. Despite the forecast (“Sunny, with a high near 64″… no mention of clouds) it was very cloudy:
We hit the trail at 8am. There were signs of recent trail maintenance:
The trail crosses Highway 20 and then switchbacks up through a forest with some pretty big trees. We emerged into one flower meadow and then a bit further came the big showy flower meadow. Awesome!
Iron Mountain, where the trail will take us in a few hours:
And still more wildflowers…
The trail leaves the meadow and heads over to Iron Mountain, circling around the north side over to the west side of that peak:
On the west side of Iron Mountain we picked up the spur trail to the summit and started climbing. Views started becoming abundant:
We could see the trailhead at the end of Road 35, which is an alternate place to start this hike:
Then we arrived at the summit! The last time I was up here was 2007 when the old fire lookout was still here:
Shortly after that visit the Forest Service removed it. Then they put in this nice viewing platform:
There were still a surprising number of clouds considering that the forecast didn’t call for any clouds. Fortunately we could still see some mountains. Mt. Jefferson:
Mt. Jefferson, Cone Peak, Echo Mountain, and South Peak:
The Three Sisters:
A wider shot that includes Mt. Washington and the Three Sisters:
They’ve installed a map and mountain locater in the center of the viewing deck (although people were leaning on it like they were at a bar, so it was mostly unusable):
We hung out for awhile at the summit enjoying the views, but it was far from peaceful up there. There were quite a few people and most of them were pretty loud. There was one large group celebrating a birthday with champagne and they were basically having a party up there. We eventually decided we’d had enough of the din and started heading back down:
After we got back to the car we headed to nearby Echo Basin to do that short hike. The trail starts out by climbing steeply up an old logging road. Then it leaves the new growth from that logged area and enters the trees that surround the edge of Echo Basin. There was evidence of recent trail work here:
Yellow cedars grow here, which is pretty far south for this tree:
The trail splits to make a loop through the meadow. We crossed a stream and after climbing up through the trees the trail emerged into the meadows of Echo Basin:
We stopped on one of the boardwalks in the meadow, beneath which a little creek gurgled. Very pleasant And we spotted this little frog hanging out!
The trail heads back into the trees, but not before passing through some horrifically muddy areas. I ended up with mud above my ankle. We finished the loop then headed back to the car.
Kam Wah Chung was a was a Chinese-owned mercantile and apothecary store run by Lung On and Ing Hay from 1988 to 1948. When Ing Hay died the place was closed up and everything left where it was. Years later when it was opened back up, everything was mostly as it had been left and now visitors can take a tour of the place and learn about the history of the Chinese in Oregon. You can read more about the story of Kam Wah Chung on the Oregon Encyclopedia site.
Our next stop was Cedar Grove Botanical Area. It is 26 acres and contains the only isolated stand of Alaska yellow cedar east of the Cascades in the United States. The cedars are left over from the Pleistocene era when the climate was cooler and wetter. A 2006 wildfire burned right up to the edge of the grove but firefighters managed to create a back burn to keep the fire from burning the cedars here.
We saw some wildflowers:
Passed through a gate:
And a homemade sign:
We got a peek at the John Day Valley:
The trail crosses Buck Creek twice before heading back:
You get a good look at the various parts of Fields Peak to the east:
Then we headed to Big Summit Prairie. It is all private land except some spots around the edges. In the southeast corner you can see the North Fork Crooked River:
Down Road 42 a bit we passed this huge patch of wildflowers and we had to get out to gawk:
We stopped for dinner in Madras then continued heading home via Highway 26. Unfortunately we didn’t make it very far. Traffic came to a standstill and when I got on the Waze app I learned there was a grass fire where the highway crossed the Deschutes River. Traffic was stopped in both directions. Someone up ahead posted this on Waze:
We waited awhile to see if traffic would start moving, but it didn’t, so we turned around, headed back to Madras, then headed north to go home via The Dalles, which is a longer route. I noticed on Waze about 15 minutes after we turned around the traffic started moving on 26. It’s always a gamble what to do in those situations! We got home late and went straight to bed.
Greg and I spent Memorial Day Weekend in eastern Oregon. After hail and lightning on Friday followed by cold cloudy weather on Saturday, we finally had sunny weather on Sunday, and what a freakin’ gorgeous day it was!
Our destination for the day was the Monument Rock Wilderness. As the crow flies it was pretty close to where we were staying at Unity Lake State Park, but as the car drives it was not. We debated on our route. We could drive west on 26 to Prairie City then drive south to get to the trailhead via Road 13 then 1370. That seemed circuitous so we considered a shortcut from Unity via Road 6005, then to 2652, which connects up with 1370 to the trailhead. But we were worried that 6005 (which appears on topo maps but not the big Forest Service map) would be too rough. So we decided to go east from Unity on 26, head west on Road 16, then north on 13 to 1370. Not sure if this saved us any time over the Prairie city route, as it took us two hours of driving time from campground to trailhead. The last few miles of 1370 are pretty rough. High clearance and good tires are recommended. (That being said, some geocachers in a Kia made it up to the lookout after we left, we later learned!
A few miles before the trailhead we got a view of Table Rock and it’s lookout from Road 1370.
This area was scorched by the 2016 Rail Fire which burned 41,000 acres and cost $34.9 million to put out. (It was human-caused, by the way.) We were surrounded by blackened trees as we bumped along, finally reaching the Table Rock South Trailhead.
On the left: the way we came up. On the right: the road keeps going up to the lookout.
It’s always nice when you get views right from the trailhead. Those snowy peaks are in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness
We set off down the trail, which follows the path of an old road. This wilderness was designated in 1984, so it’s been at least 34 years since this was an active road, maybe longer:
We saw a few wildflowers:
And some scorched trees:
But the fire didn’t burn everything along this trail, and in fact we saw a good number of intact trees and vegetation:
At one point I looked back and could see the lookout on Table Rock:
There are some neat-looking rock formations in this wilderness:
We passed a sign for the Amelia Trail, but according to the topo map that trail doesn’t intersect here. I wonder if the map is wrong or if this sign is leftover from an old trail alignment:
We came across a few patches of snow on the trail in a shady spot, but that was the only snow we encountered on the trail itself. Considering our high elevation, we were surprised by the lack of snow. In his Atlas of Oregon Wilderness Sullivan says “The John Day Valley funnels winter storms and summer thundershowers eastward to the mountain ridges here. As a result the area receives 40 inches annual precipitation, twice as much as the surrounding lowlands. Expect snow to block trails over 6000 feet from November to late June. Summer brings hot days and chilly nights.” Well, it was only late May and nearly all the snow was gone, which goes to show what a low snowpack this area had.
We reached this signless signpost where you can go right towards Monument Rock or left towards Bullrun Rock. We went left:
Now we were on another old track as we headed over to Bullrun Rock:
At this old fence we left the trail and started scrambling. The trail continues another four miles or so down to the Amelia Trailhead on the north side of the wilderness:
We made it to the top!
The views up here were AWESOME! 360-degree views stretching for many miles. It was amazing.
Looking north to the Eklhorns:
Northeast to the distant Wallowas:
Looking southeast (obviously that area is outside of the wilderness boundary):
Table Rock Lookout to the northwest:
Looking south to Monument Rock:
A panorama from Monument Rock to Table Rock:
The tiny town of Unity, NNE of us:
We saw some elk down near the trail we had hiked to get up here:
We were pleasantly surprised to see thousands of ladybugs up there:
We were NOT pleasantly surprised by the ticks, though. As I described on this thread, ticks seemed to be appearing out of thin air. There was almost no vegetation up there and we were the highest things around (in other words, there were no trees or bushes on a slope above us). We never saw ticks on what few little shrubs grew in that rocky place, but they appeared as if from nowhere on our clothing and our packs. One even appeared on Greg’s hat, which had been on his head the whole time. We saw several dozen of them in this way, yet never saw them on ourselves prior to climbing up there or after we climbed back down. It was pretty horrifying. We would have loved to linger up there a little longer, but with a new tick appearing at least once a minute, we decided to head back down. We didn’t head over to Monument Rock. The views wouldn’t be any better over there than they had been up on Bullrun, and we had to go cross-country on some snow to get up there.
Looking back at Bullrun Rock (aka Tick Rock) from the trail:
I got some nice trail shots on the way back now that the sun was at my back:
The hike ended up being 4.5 miles with about 600 feet of elevation gain. Not at all difficult, even with the scramble up the rock. Before driving back we drove to the end of the road to visit the lookout. It was built in 1937 and is staffed in the summer:
The Rail Fire came up here. They had to wrap the lookout and the outhouse to save them (I wrote about it on my lookout blog at the time), which you can see in these photos:
The news reported that the outhouse burned down, but it was actually this old garage and the old not-in-use outhouse, pictured here in 2008 and 2013:
Geocaching user deulist
The garage foundation now:
We had a great view looking out over the territory we’d just covered today. That’s Bullrun Rock on the left and Monument Rock at far right:
This might be the coolest shot I’ve ever gotten of our Subraru.
Here’s that same shot (without the car) in 1935
It was CRAZY windy up there, or we would have stayed longer enjoying the views. That might be the most exposed lookout site I’ve ever visited.
Great day with beautiful views and no people! It was fun exploring a new area and I hope we can go back someday and see more.
We drove through Prairie City on our way back and passed the beautiful old Riverside Schoolhouse that has been converted to a B&B. Would love to stay here next time we visit!
There was a friendly horse right next to the place:
The wild weather was gone today and left cold overcast weather in its place. After breakfast we stopped in Unity to get a signal and check the weather. While we were there we stopped at the Unity Ranger Station to see the fire lookout there:
We stopped at the Sumpter Valley Interpretive Trail. “The trail overlooks the historic Dixie switchbacks that were used and abandoned by the Sumpter Valley Railway. The switchbacks were built to maintain acceptable grades into the John Day Valley. At 5,277 feet, it was the highest point on the original Sumpter Valley Railway mainline.” We headed down the short interpretive trail, where it appears a fire burned in the not-too-distant past:
There are some tracks here, along with signs explaining the history of the railroad:
Continuing west on Highway 26 we stopped at a viewpoint near Prairie City. We should have been able to see Strawberry Mountain and Canyon Mountain, but they were hidden in the clouds:
There is a firefinder in a locked metal box by the side of the road south of Prairie City so we stopped to check it out:
The view from this spot was cloudy today:
Getting to the trailhead involves driving up, up, up a fairly decent road above Canyon City to the Canyon Mountain Trailhead. No signs here except this one warning about hazards:
This was no surprise as we knew that this area was burned in the 2015 Canyon Creek Fire. In fact we were fully expecting to encounter some blowdown on the trail. I had called the ranger station the week before asking if they knew what conditions were like. The recreation manager told me that his summer trails crew wasn’t being deployed until the day after Memorial Day, so he had no intel. We hoped for the best and set off down the trail.
For a short time we could turn around and see Little Canyon Mountain through the burned trees:
A road goes up there and we were treated to the incredibly obnoxious sound of about a dozen ATVs climbing up the road from below and the continuing up to that summit. I was glad when we rounded a corner and left that noise behind.
We came around a bend in the trail and found that Canyon Mountain’s summit was hiding in the clouds:
Despite this trail’s name, it doesn’t go to the summit of that mountain. It just curves along the north flank before continuing in a generally easterly direction. Despite not getting to a summit, we were already seeing views thanks to the lack of trees. Here’s a peek at the John Day Valley below:
This forest was burned pretty badly. It was an intense fire, started by lightning on August 12, 2015. It burned more than 40 house, about 100 other buildings, and thousands of trees over 110,000 acres. In some places the fire reached temperatures of 2,000 degrees:
Despite the burned trees, the vegetation was coming back:
We were pleasantly surprised by the numerous wildflowers we saw:
The arnica was especially awesome:
Although I’d been told that no trail crew had been through here yet this season, there were several cut trees that looked pretty recent. Maybe a local?
As we got closer to Little Pine Creek we saw more alive trees on the slopes:
At 1.6 miles the trail crossed the creek:
I sat and ate a snack and waited about 25 minutes for Greg to catch up. He was busy with the wildflowers, though, and it was too cold to keep waiting, so I kept going:
This was the first significant obstacle:
At 2.1 miles the trail emerges into a meadow where there are great views to the west, north, and east:
We could see the trail we’d hike in on:
And there’s the town of John Day:
This meadow also had a nice big patch of shooting stars:
Still waiting for Greg, I took the trail a bit further as it switchbacked up through the meadow. At the top of the meadow I could see that the trail was about to re-enter the forest, so I went off-trail a very short distance to this pile of rocks:
The views from there were pretty similar to what I’d seen in the lower part of the meadow. It should be noted that I was now at about 6,400′ and had not seen one patch of snow so far:
Looking back towards the trail over there by the trees:
I turned around here and headed back, finally catching Greg, who lingered for awhile with the shooting stars. I got back to the car at 5:20 and Greg got back at 5:45. The hike was about five miles with 1100′ elevation gain. Canyon Mountain Trail #218 stretches for 37 miles though the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness to the Skyline Trailhead on Road 101. In his book Sullivan mentions that the trail is faint on that end, and his book was written before the fire so who knows what condition the trail is in. We were pleasantly surprised to not encounter ONE SINGLE TREE across the 2.5 mile stretch we explored.
We headed down to John Day and decided to have dinner at 1188 Brewing:
We got back to Unity Lake at the tail end of sunset:
I LOVE camping and sleeping in a tent, but on this trip we were happy for four walls and a roof. We had all manner of weather (except heat) including A LOT of wind, so we were glad we weren’t in a tent. These cabins go for $56 a night, for which you get two tables, four chairs, a bunk bed, a futon, and a porch overlooking the lake (which we weren’t able to enjoy due to the high winds). There’s also a picnic table and fire ring outside. Ours was the Bass Cabin:
Our neighbors had the Trout Cabin (that one allows pets):
Greg and I had a four-day weekend for Memorial Day and spent it in eastern Oregon. Thursday night we drove as far as Prineville and stayed in a hotel, then continued east Friday morning. We were staying at Unity Lake State Park, but we first went south, taking Highway 20 towards Burns, then turning north into the forest at the little “town” of Riley. Then we drove 30 miles up to Dry Mountain.
The tower is 70′ feet tall. Both it and the ground cabin were built in 1932. It’s located in a section of the Ochoco National Forest that is actually detached from the rest of the ONF. Because it’s closer to the Malheur National Forest, it falls under that forest’s administration. Here is what the site looked like back in the day:
There were wildflowers blooming up there, which was great:
We saw this strange circle of white rocks. Maybe this was a rudimentary helipad at one point? Right now there are some trees pretty close to the circle so I’m not sure a helicopter could safely land:
I climbed up a pile of big boulders to get some views. Looking south:
Looking west back towards the lookout:
I could hear bald eagles and then I saw them. I bet they have a nest somewhere up here:
Greg was totally absorbed in the wildflowers:
I was surprised to find the outhouse still intact:
The stairs were not blocked off so I went up a few flights:
Looking east to Bald Butte, our next destination:
I only went about halfway up, not sure how stable the stairs were:
The back window of the cabin was broken and I could see inside. The place was in pretty bad shape:
After lingering for a long time on Dry Mountain we headed over to Bald Butte. A short spur road heads up to the lookout from Road 41. The road is just dirt and I wouldn’t want to drive it in wet conditions.
A fallen tree stopped us about half a mile up, so we parked and walked.
Little did we know that this was the first of A LOT of arnica we would see this weekend:
The lookout hasn’t been used in awhile and is in bad shape:
Pieces of the lookout were scattered on the slop below:
The Forest Service has put a fence around the base to keep people from going up, but they just cut ahole in teh fence:
We saw this strange pit. Old outhouse site? Seems strange that they didn’t fill it in.
We stopped at the Pine Springs Overlook where interpretive signs describe the 75,000 acre Pine Springs Fire, ignited by lightning on August 6, 1990.
From there it was a beautiful drive north on Road 47, and then we turned off to head up Sugarloaf Mountain. There’s a gate about 0.6 miles down from the lookout and right as we arrived we were hit by quite a hailstorm. The hail was HUGE and it sounded like rocks hitting the car. It passed
Then we got out and started walking:
This is the last we’d see of the sun for awhile:
Nice spot for a picnic:
The weather was deteriorating fast so we headed back to the car. We had wanted to visit the West Myrtle lookout as well, and it was only a mile off Road 37. So close! But we started driving the spur road and found it to be in rough shape. I would have kept going if it had been dry, but with the pouring rain the road was too wet and treacherous, so we headed to Unity Lake State Park where we had booked a cabin for the next three nights. The wind was raging when we got there and it howled all night long.