Author Archives: Jess B

Valley of Fire State Park

April 1, 2018.

Photo album

We rolled into Valley of Fire State Park around 9 am. Immediately we were sitting in line, waiting to pay the entry fee to get into the park. To be fair, it was Easter weekend, which is apparently one of the most popular weekends in the park. Our first objective was grabbing a campsite and dropping our stuff so we could go out hiking for the day without wondering where we’d spend the night.

We drove through Arch Rock Campground and secured a site. Then we drove up White Domes Road to check out several short hikes. A quick stop at the Visitor’s Center was less helpful than I’d imagined. There was no map to buy (they were out!) and the ranger seemed pretty uninterested in making hike recommendations. I took a bunch of pictures of the posted hiking map and we went on our way.

Mouse’s Tank

First stop: Mouse’s Tank. There was a raging party going on across the street at a picnic area, with tons of people, radio blaring, kids yelling… We were glad to hit the trail and disappear around a corner back into quiet.

The hike was lovely, following a gentle wash. There were pictographs on the vertical rock walls along the trail. At the end, we reached Mouse’s Tank, a pool of water that allegedly kept a Paiute nicknamed “Mouse” alive while he was hiding from the law. There wasn’t a great viewpoint of the tank itself. We even scrambled up the rock above it to see if we could get a better look. Nope.

This short walk was a good way to get acclimated to the desert weather and get up close to the red rock walls.

Rainbow Vista

Next up: Rainbow Vista. This was another short hike that led to a canyon overlook. There were lots of pretty cacti and rocks, but what I most enjoyed was seeing the chuckwallas!

I’d been itching to see a chuckwalla in the wild ever since our trip to Death Valley several years ago. Aaron spotted the first one. It was sunning itself on a rock. Then, he found another one on the same rock formation. And another. They had staked out this rock as a cozy chuckwalla condo. There was even a sentry sitting at the very top! We watched these cool creatures for a while before continuing along the route.

The rock here was all different colors: red, yellow, white. At the end, there was a pretty viewpoint. And if we’d had the time maybe we would have scrambled down into the canyon to explore. But there was one other trail head on my agenda.

White Domes Loop and beyond

By the time we made it to the White Domes trail head it was about lunchtime. It was pushing 90 degrees and I was feeling pretty low energy. We made up a lunch and found some shade to sit and eat. There were people milling around everywhere. But I had a plan.

The White Domes Loop, a popular, mile-long hike, connected to a trail that the ranger recommended: Prospect Trail. We walked the east side of the loop, past an old movie set and into a slot canyon. Then we kept our eyes peeled for a sign. When we found it, we were delighted at what it said: 5.5 miles to main road, not maintained or marked. PERFECT.

We wandered down a wash, through another mini-slot and then into the open. The trail on the map looked like it followed the canyon, so we tried to stay roughly on route. But it was so tempting to explore.

So we did.

It was very hot, and shade was at a premium, so we didn’t make it too far back there. But we had enough time to do some hiking in the wash, up on the slickrock and into some nooks and crannies. We saw one other couple hiding out in the shade, but that’s pretty much it. The views were incredible. There were so many rock colors; colors I’d never seen before. No people, no noise, just the rocks and lizards and big blue skies.

On our way back we saw some flagging and decided to follow it to the White Domes Loop. This route was far more tedious than the route we had chosen but we stuck with it anyways. Once on the trail we walked quickly from one shady spot to the next, admiring the various types and colors of rock along the way. It sure was a stunning location and no wonder this trail was so popular.

Camp disappointment

On our way back to camp we stopped back in the visitor’s center, which had run out of cold drinks (of course) so we just wandered around in the A/C until our body temperatures dropped back to normal. Before calling it a night we made two more stops: Petrified Log and Elephant Rock. Neither were that spectacular, or maybe that was the heat stroke talking. We passed by a mother who was encouraging her two sons to climb on Elephant Rock so she could take a picture. And to my utter amazement, one of the boys pointed to the sign that said “please do not climb on rock” and said he wasn’t comfortable doing that. BRAVO, KID!

Back at camp, we got ourselves all set up and prepared to cook dinner. In the meantime, a band of kids kept running back and forth through our campsite to climb on the rocks behind us. And their parents were doing the same. For the rest of the night we got to listen to one of the obnoxious dads howling like a wolf, followed by the chorus of kids howling back from all over the camping area. Father of the year. It would have been an absolutely beautiful place to camp if not for that one group of inconsiderate people. The rest of the camp was pretty quiet.

I was determined not to camp in a developed site anytime soon after that experience. There’s always one person who ruins it for everyone else…

 

Entering Nevada: mining and aliens

March 30-31, 2018.

Photo album

I was itching to get on a road trip. When the day finally came, I felt like a racehorse at the gate. We packed up the car and started driving towards Nevada. That stretch of highway between Bend and Burns is usually pretty monochromatic and boring. But today there was a surprise. Bald eagles, maybe thirty or more, just hanging out in a field near the road. They were perched on the irrigation equipment, soaring around, sitting in the grass. It was really strange. Then, a herd of pronghorn. The wildlife sightings kept me engaged as we headed out of town.

Day one was strictly driving. We got to Winemucca around dinner time and found a city park where we could assemble some dinner food and stretch our legs. One last burst of driving took us to Mill Creek Campground, where I’d planned on staying the night. But a sign at the gate said the campground was closed due to wildfire damage. Someone was camped in an RV near the gate. So we decided to drive further back on the gravel road to find our own space. There we camped under a full moon and lots of stars.

Day two was mostly driving, but we took a few planned and un-planned stops to break up the drive. First up…

Stokes Castle

The tiny town of Austin, Nevada lies on the “Loneliest Highway” and bills itself as a worthy stop with “plenty to see and do.” I had my doubts, but I did want to get out and see what Stokes Castle was all about.

We drove up a short gravel road to the top of the hill and there it stood: a stone structure standing three stories high. It was just a shell of a building, the interior was empty and the balconies had been torn down years ago. A chain link fence protected the structure from vandals (it was obviously put up too late.) It did sit on a pretty little perch and it felt good to be standing outside in the sun, but we didn’t linger very long. Just the remnants of some wealthy miner’s project that his family only used for a couple months before moving out of town.

From there we went into Austin and drove through slowly to see what might be worth checking out. There were some nice bathrooms for visitors, but otherwise it felt like a ghost town. Some old storefronts remained. No businesses appeared to be open. We read the interpretive signs near the bathrooms and headed out to the next destination. I’m not sure why Austin is marketing itself when there is absolutely nothing happening there.

Tonopah Mining Park

We stopped in Tonopah for gas and searched for a park where we could relax and eat some lunch. I noticed signs for Tonopah Mining Park on our way into town, and a quick Google search got us there.

We sat at the lone picnic table and munched on some food while some other visitors handed us their walking map as they were heading out. Surveying the map it looked like there would be a lot to see here, so we went inside the museum. Inside there were bits and pieces of Nevada’s fascinating mining history. We saw old pieces of equipment, black and white photos and lots of samples of minerals and rocks.

That was cool but we were dying to get outside. This was a hiking trip, after all. For a $5 entry fee per person, we got to explore the park grounds on our own, using the map as our guide. We gladly paid our fee and stepped out into the warm Nevada air. We explored several of trails, which led us past the preserved mine-related structures. We saw huge cracks in the ground from where miners hand-drilled out the precious ore. HAND-DRILLED. Huge cracks. Unbelievable. There were structures used to help move the rock out of the ground to the surface. An old bank safe. Tunnels. Houses for workers. It was a fun place to wander around. All the dangerous stuff was fenced off, so all you had to do was stay on the trail. Plenty of interpretive signs explained what the various features were used for. It was a very unique and worthy stop!

The remainder of the drive would take us along the Extraterrestrial Highway, also known as the most overblown destination in Nevada after Austin. It is located near Area 51, apparently, so it’s earned a bit of a reputation. A few businesses have capitalized on this but neither (IMHO) are really worth visiting. We found this out the hard way, and grumpily piled back into the car for more driving.

Camping

I was excited to get to camp, that is, until we arrived at my planned camping location. It was full. No, there was one spot left but it was wedged in between two RV’s on the shore of a very windy lake. This would not do. We got back into the car and hit the road. I furiously scrambled to find a backup destination.

We pulled off the main highway on a back road that looked like it was headed for the wilderness. It was, but just a few miles up the road it appeared to be washed out. We looked over the edge of the wash and decided it looked like a pretty sweet place to camp. After shuttling all our stuff down and setting up camp I discovered a dirt path that circumvented the wash and re-connected to a perfectly drive-able road on the other side. Whoops. Oh well, it made for a pleasant place to take an evening walk.

The next morning, we celebrated Easter by eating some colored, hard-boiled eggs and packing up to drive to Valley of Fire State Park…

Kentucky Falls

September 30, 2015.

6 mi. | 800′ ele. gain | 3:15 hr.

The drive to the trailhead for this hike was probably the most adventurous part…

To find this remote series of waterfalls, it was necessary to negotiate a network of poorly marked (or unmarked) logging roads. It was an exercise in following directions precisely! I was by myself, had no cell service and was miles from any civilization, so you can imagine my relief when I pulled into the parking area. Sigh, I made it.

The Kentucky Falls trail was a thin ribbon of brown dirt enclosed by a lush, coastal forest. There was greenery everywhere: trees climbing towards the sky, lichen dangling from every available branch, mosses and ferns blanketing the ground and shrubs squeezing through the soil in search of sunlight. It was a magical, fairyland forest.

Quiet, too. Not surprisingly, there were no other cars out here today. I was truly alone in the woods. A feeling I enjoy but don’t get to experience too often.

The river was absolutely beautiful. Moss-covered boulders lay strewn throughout the water. Newts, slugs, snails and bugs crawled about the forest. This was a place full of life and color.

In just under an hour of walking, I arrived at the epic viewpoint with two lovely waterfalls pouring down steep, rocky cliffs. I wasn’t alone here; there was a massive colony of millipede-looking bugs on nearly every surface they could cover.

At first I just saw a few. Okay, no big deal. But then, hundreds. Thousands. Squirming, writhing, being bugs. It is so bizarre to me how a few of a thing can be cool and interesting but thousands of the same thing is horrifying and disgusting. Besides bunnies, maybe. Thousands of bunnies in a big bunny pile? Probably still cute.

I stood there for a while, angling for all the perspectives I could get of the two waterfalls, while avoiding the throbbing masses of millipedes.

But I didn’t just come here for an hour of hiking. I decided to press on a bit further. I continued on the North Fork trail past the waterfalls and into an even lusher, richer world. The path felt a bit more rugged and closed in here. In places, huge fallen tree stumps were covered in moss, creating tall green walls on the side of the trail. I pushed through curtains of dangling lichen as if I was entering a mystical temple.

And then, mushrooms. So many mushrooms! The diversity in this short stretch of trail was astonishing. Oh, Oregon coast range, you never disappoint.

But the final gem had yet to be discovered. I walked a bit further and caught a glimpse of the river through the thick trees. I continued until I found an easy way to get down to the river. And there I found paradise.

The flowing water had carved bowls, pools, potholes and cliffs into the bedrock beneath the river. It was unreal. I wandered around, walking from rock to rock, observing all the shapes and patterns carved into the rock. The gentle flow of the water created a lovely background of white noise. No one else was around. I felt like I’d stumbled into a private sanctuary. True bliss. I scouted out a resting spot and there I sat, taking it all in, savoring this time and place, alone in the river.

Nature is powerful. This was a particularly moving place for me. I was tempted to never share pictures, never write about it, never draw attention to it. But alas, here I am. Years later I still distinctly remember being here. There is something to be said about the feeling of discovering your own special place. Nothing in the book or Internet write-up mentioned the magic of this spot. Perhaps that was a good thing.

My only hope is that people who come here leave with the same sense of wonder and joy that I did. That they refrain from carving their names into trees, stacking rocks, leaving trash, building fires or any other thing that people seemingly like to do. Just let it be, so someone else can be captivated by its un-scarred beauty.

Hiking while female

“Where’s your husband?”

I was taken aback. I don’t remember the year, or the exact hike I was doing, or many of the details of this encounter. But I do remember being asked this question by a total stranger while out hiking by myself. Maybe she thought it was an innocuous question. But I felt angry.

“I’m not married. I’m hiking alone.”

She reacted to my answer with as much shock as I reacted to her question. Alone! A young girl like you. Gasp!

I’ve had countless interactions like this since that day. Some are more obvious than others. Most are pretty subtle. But the message is the same: it’s not safe or appropriate for YOU to be out here by yourself. Your delicate, innocent, unskilled, incompetent, lady-self.

Undermining me, subtly

Do you know the look? The look that says:

  • I don’t think you can keep up with me.
  • You don’t belong out here.
  • Do you even know what you’re getting into?

I get this look often. I only really see it when I’m out by myself. And I think I notice it less and less, mostly because I try to quickly hike past people when I’m out on my own, itching to get back into my solo groove instead of stopping and engaging with judgmental people. Sometimes the look progresses to a conversation, but it usually does not. It is very easy to establish that I know my shit once a conversation is started.

Whenever I walk away from such an encounter, my brain starts racing a mile a minute. Would they have treated me this way if I was a man? If I was older? If I looked tougher? If I had dressed differently? If I had a rifle slung across my back? Just what was it about me that made me look like I shouldn’t be here?

I know now that the way people treat others is more a reflection of how they feel about themselves than it is about the other person. But I’m still curious…just why people feel that a woman traveling alone in the woods is such an inconceivable notion?

Going it alone

That was it: alone. Solo hiking was the problem, not being female. Or was it? I very much doubt that solo male hikers get interrogated about why they’re hiking alone. Or lectured about how dangerous it is. I remember chatting with a lady at a bar in Eastern Oregon about the solo trip I was on, and how I was planning on camping that evening nearby. “Well that’s just stupid. What about the wolves? Do you have a gun? How will you protect yourself? You can’t camp alone.” She was furious with me. I bet if I had been linking arms with a cowboy on the next barstool that conversation would never had happened. If only I’d had a protector.

Wolves. In Eastern Oregon. Okay, lady…

There are certainly reasonable fears to ponder before venturing out alone. A twisted ankle 10 miles away from civilization can be much trickier to manage by yourself. But living in crippling fear of predators that don’t exist in an area and even if they did, aren’t interested in hunting you, are no reason to re-think your solo trip. But talking about irrational fears is a whole other topic for a different day!

Woman, or human?

When I started hiking back in 2005, I had a few friends who indulged me in my pursuit of outdoor adventures. But mostly I headed off by myself. I wasn’t making a statement or breaking barriers or being bold. I literally had no one to go with. If I didn’t hike alone, I wouldn’t hike at all. Out of necessity, I became pretty confident getting out hiking and camping by myself.

With the help of the Internet and local hiking organizations I eventually made my way onto some group hikes and learned from more experienced mentors. They were predominantly male, but a few women showed up now and again. Mostly, though, I preferred hiking alone. I could walk at my own pace, see what I wanted to see, set my own agenda. It was liberating and enjoyable. I liked the feeling of self-sufficiency. I felt like I learned new things with every trip. Group hikes could be fun but I found myself much less engaged in hiking when I was out with a group.

Flash forward to today. The Internet is millions of times bigger than it was before and, it would seem, there’s a website for everything. There are lots of women writing about hiking and sharing their experiences online. And yet, the articles about women and hiking feel very trite and superficial. I connect with almost none of them. I don’t need to read about how to manage my period while hiking (spoiler: it’s really not that difficult). Or about how to protect myself (carry pepper spray! always hike with a dog! stay SUPER close to home… bla… bla… bla). Quite honestly, I don’t know why hiking tips for women need to be any different than hiking tips for men. I feel like a human on the trail, until someone creates some awkward interaction with me that reminds me of my female-ness.

It’s not brave

On the other hand, there are stories, sagas, of women who are called out for being brave and exceptional. For going outside and doing things they love to do. This is not bravery. This is simply choosing to exist as you want to be despite the world that doesn’t understand you. I would hope that this is what everyone strives to do (whether or not they achieve it). I have no interest in being called brave. Walking outside is one of the simplest and most natural things a person could do. A person of any age, gender, size, color, background, ability, anything.

Hiking while female is normal. Safe. Enjoyable. Exciting. Calming. Physical. Natural.

It’s not brave.

But hearing that narrative over and over does something to your psyche. It can create some serious self-limiting inner monologue. “Should I be out here? Am I capable of what I think I am?”

Moving forward

None of this has stopped me from hiking. But that subsurface self-doubt has held me back in more technical pursuits, like climbing and mountaineering. I have almost always been the follower and not the leader. This year it changes.

In my travels I have met many competent, adventurous and strong women who are motivated to get out there and do their thing. I have missed many opportunities to go with them. Learn from them. Take the lead. Achieve my potential. While I am proud of the few chances I have taken I know that I’ve got more in me. A lot more.

This year I’m feeling way more confident in my abilities for a number of reasons. One: I am choosing to surround myself with other outdoor women. Two: I am taking classes to refresh my technical skills. And three: I am training hard, not only physically but mentally. As it turns out, those mental barriers are harder to break than the physical ones and the mental barriers are way more paralyzing.

So, what’s your experience of hiking while female? I do not claim to have the only female narrative. I know it’s different for each of us. But I haven’t quite heard my perspective told yet. It’s taken me a long time to put this out there. I hope that if anything these musings will cause you to take a moment and reflect on your own outdoor pursuits, acknowledge the real and perceived barriers  in your way and allow you to make peace with the choices you make when you do what you love.

Feather Falls

March 9, 2018.

Feather Falls Loop | 8 mi | 1870′ ele. gain | 3:15 hr.

I found Feather Falls in a Northern California hiking book. I had to drive to Sacramento for a weekend event, so I decided to tack on an extra day and do some hiking. The book rated Feather Falls as a “3” difficult level but “10” for scenery. Sounded like a plan to me. The description noted, however, that the trail was once a loop but now an out-and-back route due to some trail damage. The out-and-back would be 9 miles, but since it was pretty flat and easy going I figured I could tackle it in under 4 hours.

I camped for the night at the trail head camping area, a free, walk-in tent site in the forest. It was very convenient to roll out of my tent in the morning and walk right up to the trail. I had forgotten to pack any hiking pants so I put on my sweats, hugged my thermos of tea and started up the trail. There was no indication of any closure up ahead so I was excited to be able to do a loop hike.

The path was wide, well-worn and well-graded. There was a disappointing number of plastic water bottles tossed on the side of the trail. I can’t believe people are still actually buying those things.

I sipped my tea as I wandered up the trail, enjoying all the unusual plants of the northern California forest. Everything looked similar to Oregon’s flora but just different enough to make me feel like I was on a movie set. There were fir-like trees, madrone-like shrubberies and ferns that were just a little off.  The occasional mushroom, flower, or newt splashed color on the otherwise brown and drab landscape.

About a half hour up the trail I reached a pretty waterfall on Frey Creek. The water tumbled down beautiful granite slabs, with lush green moss growing on either side.

Not 15 minutes later I approached a viewpoint of Bald Rock Dome, a mini-Half-Dome right across the valley. This striking granite rock face apparently has some “old-school” climbing routes on it, but today was not about climbing for me. I admired it, wiped the drool from my mouth and continued on.

Signs along the trail kept me both entertained and informed. One warned of poison oak, which apparently grew everywhere (but I didn’t see any).

I reached a new-ish looking trail sign that pointed towards the falls and headed in that direction. The trail looked like it was paved long ago but was now pretty eroded and worn away. Shooting star grew along the trail. More views opened up. The anticipation was building.

Suddenly I could hear the water’s roar. I sped up, following the eroded trail to a wooden viewing platform with a front-row seat at the falls. Feather Falls, according to the signs, was the 6th largest waterfall in the contiguous U.S. and the 4th highest in California. It has a bit of an identity crisis, as the trailhead sign marks it at 640′ tall and the Internet calls it 410′ tall. Besides, a quick search of “tallest waterfalls in California” shows that it doesn’t even rank in the top ten. Despite the number, it was an impressive waterfall. I enjoyed a good 20 minutes here, looking at the panoramic views and appreciating the solitude.

I returned to the “falls” sign and headed towards the other half of the loop. Again, there was no indication that the trail was impassable so I went that way knowing that I might have to backtrack if I encountered a sketchy section.

The sun finally peeked through the clouds. The warmth felt good on my skin. I negotiated a few washed out sections of trail but otherwise the other side of the loop was totally passable. It did have a different character: it was steeper, narrower and more rugged. I’m sure most visitors simply did the out-and-back. But doing the loop at least shaved off a mile, so I was back to the car in just over three hours. Plenty of time to make it to Sacramento and take a nap before I had to be presentable.

Feather Falls lived up to its expectations, well, except for the height. The trail was lovely. The waterfall was mesmerizing. And the early morning solitude was well-worth the early wake up.

March-ing at Crack in the Ground

March 4, 2018.

People are funny.

I put a Crack-in-the-Ground adventure on the Cascades Mountaineers Meetup group and got very few bites. I couldn’t tell if it was the timing, the driving distance, the fact that it wasn’t a mountain, or ??? that no one was interested in committing to this outing.

In fact, the day before the trip I was down to just two participants, one being my husband. The other sent me an email and asked whether I was going to go with just the couple of us. “Heck yes!” I said. “I’d go if it was just me!” So, the three of us went.

We drove out the night before to camp nearby. Luckily we had a Subaru to get us up the long gravel roads that were covered in snow. We cleared out a couple of spaces large enough for our tents and settled in for a cold but pleasant night.

The next morning, after a nice breakfast, we packed up and headed for the trail head. All the information I’ve ever found about this place indicated that there’s about a mile to explore before heading back, but I knew from my previous trip here that this was not the case. We had a good day ahead of us.

In the age of the Internet, there’s little left to the imagination. You can download GPS tracks, look at satellite imagery, read precise route directions, place yourself inside a 360 degree view and basically know everything you need to know before setting out. To me, this removes much of the joy of exploration. Sure, it’s nice to be able to do some research and plan ahead. But it’s also nice to be able to discover things as if you were the first person there. So I’m going to give you, the reader, that privilege here. Instead of writing a play-by-play, I’ll end with just a few teaser photos and some observations.

The last time I’d visited this place is was much warmer. I underestimated how cold it would be, and how wet my feet would get. I was glad that I brought my headlamp. And running my GPS app was fun for marking points of interest but not necessary for navigation. If you can’t stay oriented with a giant crack in the ground, my friend, perhaps hiking is not the hobby for you.

So go forth and explore. One last tip: give yourself more than an hour to visit this iconic Central Oregon landmark.

Bessie Butte

February 20, 2018.

1.5 mi.| 500′ ele. gain | 1 hr.

It’s like Pilot Butte, but a longer drive.

That’s pretty much all you need to know about Bessie Butte. The elevation profile is pretty similar. The views are similar. The trail tread is pretty similar. There are two key differences: you won’t see many other people there and the summit is wild. No pavers, no mountain finder, no rock wall. Just a bunch of dust, scrub and fire-charred rocks.

But, it was something different.

For the Hike366 project I really wanted to show as few repeats as possible. I could have just hiked the River Trail, or clambered up Pilot Butte, or done any number of short, easy, in-town trails over and over again. But that didn’t feel right to me. So I sought out other locations to shake things up and at the same time broaden my local knowledge.

Of course I turned to my pal Sarah, a long-time local, to share some of her wisdom with me. And the two of us met up today to hike up Pilot Butte’s cousin, Bessie.

It was a really lousy day. The sky was saturated with clouds. It felt really gloomy and oppressive. What made the hike worth it was hanging out with Sarah and enjoying a slightly different perspective from this particular location.

Will I rush back out to hike this butte any time soon? Probably not. But having experienced it once I feel at least educated enough to be able to talk about it and recommend it to others, or not!

Tumalo Creek exploratory hike

February 19, 2018.

It was, as the kids would say, cold AF today. But, it was a hike day and I had to get out there. My map study led me to a section of Shevlin Park that I had yet to explore. It appeared that there was a trail along the creek, although I didn’t know how far it went or what my options would be from there. The best way to find out was to take a walk.

I bundled up and drove across town. My tires crunched over last night’s snow coating the parking area. I cinched up my hoodie nice and tight. Did I mention it was cold?

There was a signpost indicating a “Tumalo Creek Trail,” and there were even human footprints on it. I walked the trail as it paralleled the creek, with red foliage brightening up the white and gray terrain around me. Soon I came to a gravel parking area and some kind of dam or water control system on the creek. The trail continued on, and so did I.

The air was cold, but it was quiet. This stretch of trail was a bit off the radar for most of Bend, it would seem. And for good reason. The public right-of-way abruptly dead-ended after about a mile and a half, so I turned back.

Brrr…I thought. No problem. On the walk back I examined the creek and all the cool ice sculptures that had formed on its edges. There was a benefit to enduring this cold air. These ephemeral artworks were only visible to those who braved the elements. I felt lucky to be there.

In the end, it was only a 5K, but a nice one and I achieved my goal for the day, which was simply to get out and take a hike. Sometimes that’s all that I need to do.

Tumalo Canal hike

February 18, 2018.

Winter. It’s amazing. The air is cold. Snow flutters to the ground. The ground sparkles. Ice crystals decorate the edges of streams and lakes. But all these seasonal changes make it harder to access the high country. That forces me to be a bit more creative about finding places to walk. I’m not a good creature of habit; I like exploring new places. So when a friend mentioned the Tumalo Canal trail system, I said “huh?” And like that, I knew I had some Googling to do.

The Tumalo Canal Historic Area is a stretch of land managed by the Prineville BLM. The trails are open to walkers and/or horses but not bikes like the neighboring Maston area. A new place that’s close to home, with no mountain bikers and easy access in the winter? It sounded like something I needed to check out.

I grabbed a map at the trailhead and headed off in to the snow. I was socked in with gray clouds. The area was classic high desert: juniper, sage and grasses. Impossibly bright splashes of green came from lichen clinging to tree branches. I trudged along in the gloom, snow pelting down from overhead. I passed one couple on their way back out.

A patch of blue. The sky! It showed itself for a moment before covering back up again. I continued walking, trying to link up the numbered posts on the trail with the numbers on the map. I reached the old canal and confirmed my position, then kept walking. Some of the trail junctions were confusing. There were old roads and trails that weren’t well-marked, located right next to the ones that were. I got slightly discombobulated, then made my last turn for the stretch back home.

Finally, the clouds began to part. The sun came out for good. Warm rays of light brought joy to my face. Ah, what a lovely feeling. I noticed all the colors and textures now. How the furrowed juniper bark swirled up from the ground towards the tips of each branch. How the yellow grasses caught the light just so. How the snowflakes rested on each micro-ledge of the rock cliffs. I walked slowly and intentionally, seeing so much more than I had before.

There were no epic vistas, no challenging climbs, no major sights to see. But this simple little trail system brought me something that none of the dramatic Cascades Highway trails would: an opportunity to stretch my legs in the winter, and the space to stop and look at all the little treasures that nature had to offer.

Dry Canyon, Redmond

February 6, 2018.

7 mi | minimal ele. gain | 2:30 hr.

I noticed a funny thing on Google Maps the other day. I turned the terrain layer on and scrolled through Bend and Redmond, looking for new features to explore. And there, cutting right through Redmond, was a canyon. In that canyon, it was mostly blank. BLANK. In the center of Redmond. I dug around a bit, until I found out a name: Dry Canyon. And it was filled with parks. A trail ran through the length of it. I had to check it out in person.

On the city’s website, Dry Canyon is dubbed the “crown jewel” of the city parks. How had I never heard of it before? At 3.7 miles one way I could easily do this as an out-and-back hike in an afternoon. I packed my backpack.

I arrived at the southern terminus of the trail in the early afternoon. Patchy clouds filtered the sun overhead. Although it was chilly, the sun that broke through felt warm.

Blacktop cut through the dry grass and juniper trees filling the shallow canyon. I hopped on the trail among other walkers, cyclists and joggers. As soon as I saw a side path cut out into the dirt I took it. It looked like walkers and mountain bikers made several unofficial trails in the desert landscape. The tread was gentler on my joints and it was prettier in the brush, anyways.

But my off-trail exploration was short-lived. Soon I was funneled into an underpass that was decorated with murals. Then I found myself in the middle of a city park, with sports fields, parking lots and people everywhere. Then I walked onto a disc golf course. And then…

The Maple Avenue Bridge.

I’d seen pictures of this bridge in magazines. There are climbing holds, permanent bolts and quickdraws placed on the underside of the bridge so that people can climb on the structure. Pretty cool! But alas, with no rope, rock shoes or climbing partner, I had to just crank my head back and gawk at the scene today.

As I continued walking north, I found some wilder places to ramble. Dirt paths led every which way through the broad canyon. At some point I distinctly remember a smell. An odor that sliced through the air. Having a bad sense of smell, is rare that I pick up such a scent. But this was so pungent, it had to be…

Ah yes, a wastewater treatment facility. Right at the end of this lovely trail. What an unfortunate coincidence.

I had hoped to linger here and have a snack but given this new information, I hightailed it back the way I came. Once I was out of range of the sickening aroma I found a park bench and dug into my treat bag.

On my way back I admired the diversity within this canyon. In places, basalt columns rose vertically from the dry brush. Occasionally the steep walls were broken by wide stairways leading into the neighborhoods. Some areas looked wild, pockmarked with Ponderosa pine and juniper. Sagebrush filled large swaths of the canyon. Birds and squirrels filled the air with chirps and chatter. Lots of people were out recreating in a number of ways. This was truly a land of many uses.

I watched the clouds and light change as the early afternoon marched towards evening. Days are so short in February.

After experiencing the Dry Canyon in its entirety, I can say now that this is the crown jewel of the Redmond City Parks!