Category Archives: Oregon

Exploring the Channeled Scablands

November 22-25, 2018.

Photo album

Thanksgiving weekend, 2018. I asked my husband Aaron to pick a destination for our outdoor holiday adventures. He said “how about Eastern Washington? We’ve never been there.”

Eastern Washington. A land with no mountains, no points of interest that immediately captured my attention. I did some research and saw a lot of the same: lakes, rivers, rolling hills. It was a landscape formed by the Missoula Floods between 15,000 and 13,000 years ago. Glacial Lake Missoula, held in place by a 2,000 foot tall ice dam, periodically broke through the dam and sent cataclysmic floods across the Pacific Northwest. The coulees, channels, rock islands and giant current ripples in modern Eastern Washington were formed as the floodwaters scoured the earth. So this year we’d take a tour through some of this unique and fascinating geology.

Gingko-Petrified Forest

Our first stop took us to one of many Washington State Parks we’d visit on this trip. We began at the interpretive center, which was closed for the day. But just outside the front doors lay several examples of petrified wood. Down a set of stairs we found a display of basalt pillars covered in petroglyphs. The pillars had been moved from their original location and put behind a fence to protect them from vandalism. More on that later.

From there we drove up the road to the Trees of Stone Interpretive Trail. The landscape had suffered from what looked like a recent burn. We walked under a thick, gloomy fog across a nearly barren landscape. Every few yards we’d spy a chunk of petrified wood. How would we know? They were all cached inside thick metal cages. Yes, we’d entered a rock zoo.

It was depressing and I couldn’t wait to get back to the car.

To learn more about this park and to find out when the visitor’s center is open, check out their website.

Lenore Lake Caves

In advance of this trip I saw lots of cool photos coming from this area so I arrived at the trailhead eager to explore. A clear path led uphill towards a series of “caves” in the basalt cliffs. The caves were more like overhangs, carved out by water and subsequent erosive forces. As we hiked we picked up trash near the trail. And in the first cave, we were instantly disappointed. Graffiti. Everywhere.

Well, I thought, maybe if we walked a bit further, the other caves wouldn’t be so marked up. I was wrong. We walked from cave to cave, seeing loads of signs of obnoxious visitors. None of the trails were marked so herd paths led all over the place. The caves were all marked up. There were cans and bottles and debris strewn about the rocks. We got over this place real quick.

In an effort to get away from the human impact, we searched for a way to return on a loop, off-trail. Luckily, Aaron spotted a little ramp that led down the seemingly impenetrable cliff and we circled back towards a path near the water. Along the way we found lots of interesting things: animal bones, cool plants, cracked soil. It was scenic and beautiful and mostly unscarred by humans.

At the trailhead I unloaded the trash from the side pockets in my backpack; there was a garbage can right at the trailhead. I noticed that the bulk of the garbage came from single-use beverage containers: soda and beer cans, glass beer bottles, plastic water bottles. How complicated is it to pack a re-usable water bottle and bring it back with you? I wonder about the future of our natural spaces if people can’t even be bothered to carry an empty drink container a half a mile back to their car.

Soap Lake

As we headed towards our next park I eyeballed the map. In my research I had noticed a “Unique Natural Features” symbol near the town of Soap Lake. I’m a list person, I love checking things off of lists. And visiting all the the Unique Natural Features list in my Delorme Road Atlases is something I’ve been working on since moving west.

And so we pulled in to the not-quite-thriving town of Soap Lake. The mineral-rich lake had been known since before pioneer time to have “healing waters.” Thus, it became a destination for tourists to come and seek a cure for their ailments. We walked through a city park on the water’s edge and dipped our hands in the water. Felt like water.

Today the town had more boarded-up buildings than operable ones. On one corner downtown a small Ukrainian food market seemed to be doing quite well. We stopped in for some snacks and continued on our way.

Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park

I had been really excited to see Dry Falls and it  did not disappoint. Even on this dreary, cold and gray day, the vista from the Dry Falls Visitor Center was absolutely stunning. From the edge of the parking lot we looked into a chasm that rivaled the views at the Grand Canyon (minus the people and stench of pee).

The sign indicated that during the floods, Dry Falls would have had torrents of water rushing over its 3.5 mile wide edge. Niagara Falls, by comparison, is only a fifth of the width of Dry Falls.

There wasn’t much hiking to be done from the top, so we drove through the main park entrance to a trailhead 400 feet below.

As we strolled among the grasses and rocks in the basin I looked all around me in a state of awe. It was difficult to comprehend the size of the space I was in. I felt small. We climbed on top of rock piles, took lots of pictures and then checked the time. It was Thanksgiving, and it was time to find a place to camp so we could eat some turkey.

Steamboat Rock State Park

We rolled into Steamboat Rock State Park just before sunset, giving us enough daylight to find a nice campsite to call home for the evening. There were hundreds of campsites in three separate campgrounds; only a few areas were open during the winter and I could count on one hand how many people were actually camping. Only one other tent was pitched nearby.

As soon as we set up our tent and got a fire started, it started to rain. I worked quickly to warm up our Thanksgiving meal and get everything ready to eat. As the rain picked up we made up our plates and shuttled into the tent to eat our dinner out of the cold rain.

In the morning, we had some hiking to do. Steamboat Rock, a flat-topped butte rising up out of Banks Lake. The lake lies within the Grand Coulee, one of the most impressive features left behind by the Missoula Floods. We packed up for a cold and possibly rainy day and set off from a marked trailhead below the rock.

The trail passed through a surprisingly colorful sandy hillside. The sagebrush and other hardy plant life had taken on hues of gold, orange, brown and red for the winter. At the base of Steamboat Rock, we hiked up a jumble of talus that led to the rock’s broad summit plateau. From there, social trails led every which way. Nothing looked terribly official up there. So, we went left.

For the next hour or so, we walked where our curiosity led us. We hiked to overlooks above the slate-blue lake. We explored erratic boulders, left behind an ice age ago. We looked for wildlife but mostly found poop and tracks. There were lots of poop around the boulder piles. The animals up there apparently liked to hang out in the same places I liked to go. After circling around much of the rock formation we headed back down.

Grand Coulee Dam

Just before lunchtime, we rolled into the parking lot at Grand Coulee Dam. Grand is an understatement. Here we found another impossibly big structure, this time one constructed by man. We watched streams of water trickle over the edge of the 550′ tall concrete dam, then walked through the Visitor’s Center to learn more about the construction, history and impact of the dam.

I remained interested in the educational nature of the center until my hunger got to me. Back at the car we assembled some lunch: a turkey leftovers wrap for me and a meat and greens salad for Aaron. We had a long drive ahead.

Palouse Falls

We were tight on time yet again. These short November days were really hard to manage. The dark skies were sprinkling down rain. As we turned down the road to the falls we were greeted with a flashing highway sign that foreboded: “Danger. Four recent deaths.” I had read about one of them while I was planning this trip. Our goal today was to stay on the marked trails, get some views, and hurry back to the car to find a campsite.

The falls and the canyon below the falls were gorgeous. I was blown away by the dramatic cliffs, colors and churning water. I could see why it lured so many people in.

But the rain and cold was getting pretty grating. We walked a short path along a railing and then returned to the car. Finding a campsite that evening was not as easy as I thought, since the campground I planned on staying at was closed. Another 40 minutes of driving brought us to Potholes State Park well after sunset.

Potholes State Park

I happily gobbled down a piece of pumpkin pie for breakfast as we burned a pile of firewood to warm up. It froze last night; we awoke to a landscape covered in ice crystals. With earplugs it would have been an idyllic morning. But the constant whine of motorboats and frequent, piercing shotgun blasts reminded us that most people don’t come here to just quietly be in nature.

We took a short hike before heading to our destination for the day. The signboard at the park indicated a trailhead, with dots leading off the sign in the direction of an indeterminately long trail. We walked a short loop in no time at all, strolling through a lovely wetland near a bright blue inlet stream. We could see snow-capped mountains far in the distance.

Hanford Reach National Monument

We arrived at Hanford Reach on a perfectly clear, bluebird morning ready for a full day of hiking. I’d read about the White Bluffs, a stretch of cliffs above the Yakima River, which offered pretty trails and wildlife viewing opportunities.

This monument is unique in that it preserves an area around World War II nuclear reactors. The land in this area has been undeveloped since the 1940’s, when the nuclear program was active there. As a result, this “involuntary park” remained a sanctuary for wildlife and was designated a National Monument by Bill Clinton in 2000.

The Subaru stood alone in a small, empty parking lot as we began hiking up the hillside.

I breathed deeply, the crisp and dry air filling my lungs. It felt good to get out on a real hike. Today was the first day since catching a cold three weeks ago that I felt like a whole person again. Down below we heard whining coyotes. Over our head we saw vee-formations of geese. And all along the trails we saw animal tracks. It was a wild place.

The trail climbed up to the top of the bluffs through familiar high desert brush. But then it revealed its other side: long, undulating sand dunes that disappeared into the distance. It was beautiful. I took my socks and shoes off to explore the cushy sand.

The first set of dunes became engulfed in brush for awhile, then it re-emerged into open sand. As I was adjusting my footwear a man popped up from the sage. We chatted for awhile. He’d lived in the area and had lots of great stories and hiking recommendations for us. As he was leaving he said “Well this is the end of the line for me. It’s just a lot of sand up ahead.”

Just sand.

That’s what I was excited about. We bid adieu and I gleefully strode barefoot out on the sand. We eyed the highpoint of the dunes for our lunch spot. And as we were up there I started thinking. Could we get to the river? The bluffs were sheer, but it appeared that there were a few ramps cutting through the cliffs. Yes, we’d give it a try.

We dropped in elevation and Aaron scouted a route down to the flatlands below. With not too much trouble we made our way to the water’s edge. The earth was mushy and unstable here. There wasn’t much of a beach to hang out on. We re-traced our path towards the dunes in fear of getting cliffed out. The rest of the walk was an easy ramble.

Hat Rock State Park

That night we stayed in Kennewick. The following day was just a drive day. But I threw in a couple of bonus stops outside the Channeled Scablands to enjoy some lesser visited parts of Oregon.

Located on the Columbia River, Hat Rock State Park preserves a basalt plug that was allegedly used by Lewis and Clark as a navigational landmark. The rock was set behind a chain link fence, which was quite disappointing, but we managed an interesting hike on and off the trails. We hiked out to a beautiful viewpoint of the river and then walked cross-country to the top of Steamboat Rock, another highpoint in the park.

John Day Fossil Beds: Clarno

Lastly we took a quick detour to the quietest of the John Day Fossil Beds units in Clarno. This place is on the way to nowhere, so you really have to make a point of coming here. But it has one of my favorite trails in the state: The Trail of Fossils.

We first assembled a lunch of all the scraps left in the cooler before hiking all three trails in the unit. Our route began on the Geologic Time Trail, where trail markers told the story of the rock and fossils here as if we were literally walking back in time. Next we hiked among the fossil-laden boulders, searching for leaves and sticks encapsulated in stone. Finally we trudged uphill to a viewpoint beneath the Clarno Arch. It’s a very scenic park that would no doubt see more visitors if it was in a different location. I’m glad it’s not, though. We only saw a handful of people and it was a lovely way to finish our Thanksgiving adventures.

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.

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!

Shevlin Park Loop

February 4, 2018.

4.7 mi. | 300′ ele. gain | 1:45 hr.

I always find it amusing when facts are debatable. The Shevlin Park loop, probably one of the most popular hikes in the park, is listed on various websites as 6 miles, 4.6 miles, 4.9 miles, etc… The most consistent sources clock it in at 4.7 so I’m going with that.

Today I partnered up with a friend who was going through some relationship troubles and needed some fresh air and kid-free time. I was happy to facilitate this.

The air was cool and brisk, as any day in February, and we heartily took to the trail. We walked quickly as we talked. There was so much to say and so much to hear. Occasionally we pulled off the side of the trail to let a runner pass. Trail running is so popular around here. I think it’s Bend’s favorite pastime.

As we reached the mid-point of the loop we paused on the bridge. The water tumbled beneath us. It was a nice place to stop and take it all in.

Nature is chaos. Life is chaos. It seemed appropriate then, to put the two together. I was sorry that my friend’s marriage was collapsing. I struggled to hear her pain. But together, in the forest, among birds and trees and clouds, we shared a moment. I was grateful that she felt comfortable enough to talk.

We walked on, shifting gears to lighter topics. There were more people on this side, mostly hikers. Everyone smiled and said hello as they passed. It was a jovial crowd. Anyone who’s out on a walk in the winter is pretty dedicated to being out there and having a good time. How nice is it to live in a community that values preserving and enjoying natural spaces.

As always, Shevlin Park brought the goods. I only wished that our hike could have been a little longer.

A stroll on the Deschutes River Trail

February 2, 2018.

I needed a hike today for my Hike366 project so I texted my friend Sarah to see if she was available. We decided to meet at a coffee shop downtown and then walk the Deschutes River Trail until we ran out of time.

It’s easy to take a hike in Bend. The Deschutes River Trail, which covers 20 miles from end to end, runs straight through the middle of town. It’s a convenient place to take a stroll whether you’ve got 5 minutes or 5 hours. Today we had just under 2 hours, since we parked downtown and didn’t want to get a ticket.

It was a chilly, moody day. Bend is well-known for “300 days of sunshine.” Well, today was not one of those days.

Nonetheless, we sipped our coffee, caught up on life and walked on the trail through downtown, Drake Park and the Old Mill.

We stopped across from the surf wave to watch people in their wetsuits try and catch the wave. Then we turned our attention to the large numbers of waterfowl enjoying the natural side of the river.

We ended up waiting longer than we’d anticipated as a huge caravan of ducks slowly plodded across the path. They were adorable to watch.

Heading south, the pavement eventually turned to dirt and it finally felt like we were on a hike. From here the Deschutes River Trail gets a bit wilder. But we wouldn’t have much more time to explore. The clock was ticking.

I love living in Bend. It’s so easy to find a trail and start walking. But the face of Bend is rapidly changing and I wonder how things will look ten years from now. I hope that we are able to preserve access to wild spaces and contain development as much as possible.

Otter Bench

January 10, 2018.

9.3 mi. | 1060′ ele. gain | 3:30 hr. | All the trails at Otter Bench

It can be difficult to find new and interesting things to do in the winter when all you want to do is go for a hike. The snow makes access to high places difficult and sometimes dangerous. Bare ground is at a minimum. After much snooping around I came across a trail description for Otter Bench, just a stone’s throw from Bend. I checked the forecast, packed a bag and headed out.

It felt weird, pulling up to a trailhead in basically a neighborhood development. But there it was. The hardest part of the whole day was just figuring out exactly where to go from the parking lot, since there were trails and user paths going every which way.

My goal was to hike all the trails today in order to get the most out of my visit. I began on the Lone Pine Trail, which led steeply down to the river bottom from the parking area. The trail just kind of petered out, so I admired the river and the golden winter foliage before trekking back up.

Back at the parking lot I took the Horny Hollow Trail (which was open this time of year) to the junction with the Pink trail, another spur down to the river. This was a beautiful trail with great views of the Crooked River Canyon. I imagined this place would be insufferably hot in the summertime and was grateful for the cold, wet winter weather I had this morning.

After a quick jaunt down the Pink Trail I returned to the main pathway and continued north. The Opal Canyon Loop formed a lollipop shape as it looped up along the river and then cut inland to return. The riverside walk was lovely. Before turning back I stopped to eat my lunch. I had a great viewpoint overlooking the deep canyon. Far below, the Crooked River rushed by. No one else was out here today.

The hike back was across the broad, flat, high desert plateau. It was less scenic and interesting than the hike in, so I moved a bit more quickly. Occasionally I’d stop to photograph the interesting forms made by dormant winter plants. Their twisted stalks, geometric seed heads and striking colors made me curious.

One more trail to go: the Otter Bench trail. It was just as boring and mundane as the one before. I don’t think I’d go back here in the spring or summer, when access is restricted to this trail. Besides the heat, there just wouldn’t be much to look at.

Grateful for three and a half hours of solitude!