Category Archives: Wildflowers

Mt. Ajo

January 24, 2024.

9.3 mi. | 2750′ ele. gain | 5:30 hr.

Photo album

I woke up before sunrise to drive to the Mt. Ajo trailhead in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It was cool and overcast, which is great weather for southern Arizona hiking! As soon as I geared up and hit the trail, I found myself in a cactus paradise. Since it had rained a ton lately, I kept my eyes peeled for wildflowers. Within the first mile, I found two ocotillo plants in bloom. Their bright red flowers exploded from the gangly, green branches twisting into the sky.

Still feeling sick, I plodded uphill slowly, taking many short breaks. I committed at the start of the hike to take a longer sit-down break on the hour every hour, no matter how I was feeling, plus any additional stops I wanted. This strategy allowed ample recovery time so that I could keep hiking all day. I was the tortoise, not the hare.

I could hear water running in the canyons; an unusual sound. The trail crossed a few seasonal creeks as it climbed to its end. An unofficial route continues up to the summit of Mt. Ajo. For much of its length, the trail was well marked and brushed out, a rarity for summit scrambles! But I think Mt. Ajo is a relatively common destination and it’s located in a National Monument.

Every aspect of the route offered something new to look at and lots of reasons to stop and catch my breath. The low clouds kept the summit shrouded in mystery for most of the hike. I huffed and puffed up the steep gully leading to the final traverse, taking a few steps at a time before resting. This cold was really kicking my ass.

On the long, high traverse, I spied a few flowers: a mustard and a few paintbrush. The rocky ridge went in and out of view as the clouds shifted. When surveillance aircraft were not flying nearby, it was spectacularly quiet. Here, just a few miles from the US-Mexico border, you’re constantly reminded of how dangerous migrants are. There is lots of official signage telling you to report any suspicious activity. When I overhear conversations among tourists in the area, there’s a lot of fear, anxiety and blame. It’s unsettling, to say the least. I feel heartened when driving through local towns where there are resources for migrants and yard signs reminding folks of the basic humanity that all of us share. Hearing helicopters and sonic booms while hiking in the mountains reminds me that the U.S. sure does have a lot of money to spend, but not necessarily on the things that will reduce fear and help people thrive.

As all these thoughts swirl in my head, I reach the summit, completely immersed in water vapor. I was glad that I made myself stop for a snack break just a half mile before. It was not a pretty spot since there were antennas and equipment everywhere. I tagged the top and immediately started my descent.

Once I went down enough to get out of the coldest, wettest air, I sat down and pulled out my thermos of ramen. At that moment I was really glad I took a real lunch on my hike. So satisfying and energizing!

The rest of the day, I walked in peace. I relished every shrub, rock, trickle of water, cactus, fleeting cloud and flash of feathers. I was glad I dragged myself out of bed to be in nature, despite how bad I felt. As always, and especially as I get wiser, I give myself the option of turning around at any point. The summit is a nice treat, but it’s not a requirement. I know that every minute I spend outside is valuable no matter what I “accomplish” while I’m out there. It took me many years to come to this realization, but I think this attitude will help me continue to seek joy and solace outdoors no matter what my physical state happens to be.

As I returned to the trail and began the loop down, I ran into one other hiker. It was an older woman, wearing a big sun hat, with an InReach mini on her pack and a huge smile on her face. We shared a few lines of conversation and went on our respective ways. Her stoke filled me right up and I rode that wave of happiness all the way down to the parking lot. Damn right I’m going to be that older person one day.

Monkeyflowers at Diamond Craters

September 17-18, 2023.

Look, a crater!

Photo album

On our way to Steens Mountain, we made a last minute decision to pull off for the night at Diamond Craters Outstanding Natural Area. Most folks will never make it here once in their lifetime; this would be my third visit. It is remote, there are no services and it gets no press. But it truly is outstanding, and this visit it was unusually so.

Nesom’s monkeyflower

As we drove past one of the first volcanic features, I had an “Aaron, stop the van!” moment. What at first looked like autumn red leaves on the ground turned out to be a superbloom of Nesom’s monkeyflowers: showy, bright, fuchsia blooms peppered throughout the cinder. It was a magnificent sight. I jumped out of the vehicle to get a closer look. While I was out there, I also noticed some delicate buckwheat flowers and the characteristic late summer bloomers: smoothstem blazing star.

Yes, we’d stay here.

Another surprise on our evening walk

Further up the road, we found a nice pullout with a hilltop view of the surrounding hills and craters. According to the BLM website, this designated area has the entire suite of basalt volcano features, such as spatter cones, lava tubes and maars. If you are curious enough to Google those things, you might want to schedule a trip to Diamond Craters to see them in person!

That evening, Aaron and I took a short stroll along a the road. We found thousands more flowers in bloom, and then…a flurry of activity. Hummingbird moths were busily zipping from flower to flower, feeding on the sugary nectar inside. I’d never seen so many of them at once! The pastel colors spreading across the dusky sky provided a beautiful backdrop for the scene unfolding in front of us. Sometimes the most memorable moments are unplanned.

Can you see the hummingbird moth?

Take a hike

The following morning, Aaron got to work and I took off on a hike. We were within a few miles of Malheur maar, a volcanic crater with a spring-fed pond inside. I made that my destination.

It would be another oppressively hot day, so I started walking right after breakfast. Along the road I saw some interesting flowers in bloom, which I later learned are introduced weeds. Nonetheless, I enjoyed looking at the delicate, translucent petals tucked between sharp points projecting from the stems. Apparently, some local butterflies appreciated the plants too.

So pokey.

I veered off the road at Twin Craters, following a use path along the east side of one of the twins, then bushwhacking around the northern perimeter to the other one. The whole time, I was very cognizant of the possibility of running into a rattlesnake like I’d done just a few days before. No snakes today.

On the other side of the craters, I stumbled across many other cool lava features, including deep cracks in the ground and what I like to call sourdough loaves. I think these are more properly called “tumuli,” but they look so much like the cracked tops of freshly baked loaves of bread that I can’t resist renaming them.

I wandered through the features, poking around anywhere that looked interesting, until I eventually made it to a lava balcony above Malheur maar. This location was incredible because here, out in this hot and dry expanse, I heard a cacophony of water-loving birds. I saw a ring of luscious green grass. I felt like I was transported into a new and unexpected landscape. The maar is quite small, but it creates its own riparian ecosystem surrounded by sagebrush and craggy volcanic rock.

Malheur maar

It was a scene that asked to be painted. So, I sat there to paint. As I did so, the morning clouds began to part and make way for the blazing sun. The hike back was much hotter and sunnier than before. The bright light now glinted off of the many bottles and cans carelessly thrown from vehicles years, even decades, before. I collected them as I walked.

Another feature distracted me from my beeline to the van: an old wooden structure. I veered off the road to investigate, and even as I walked all around it, I couldn’t figure out what it was. It couldn’t be an entrance to a mine, out here? It was just lava for miles. And it couldn’t have been a bridge, because why? Perhaps a little encampment? Again, why here? The mysterious wood remnants brought me, however, to another magnificent patch of monkeyflower. I lingered for a few more moments to bask in their beauty before the sweaty hike back.

This brief stop reminded me of several things about travel. One: just because you’ve been somewhere once doesn’t mean you’ve checked that place off your list for good. You can have many different experiences in the same place, especially if you visit during a different season, with a different person, in different weather or with a different attitude. Two: it’s important to leave flexibility in your travel agenda. I had no plans to stop here. About twenty minutes from the road intersection, I just happened to notice it while scrolling around on my map and said “hey let’s stop at Diamond Craters tonight.” Three: the unexpected little things often bring more delight than the big, much anticipated ones. Seeing the purple wildflowers carpeting the desert in September shocked and amazed me. Then, when we saw all the moths flying around, I felt like I’d found myself in paradise.

I love the childlike sense of wonder that I often feel when we’re on the road. That’s one reason I think we’ll keep doing it beyond our initial timeline. We’re already about five months in, but it seems like we’re just getting started…

Elkhorn Crest Traverse

August 8-11, 2023.

Some okay views from here

Photo album

The Elkhorn Crest Trail had been on my to-do list for many years. I had an opportunity to spend 4 days on the trail while in Northeast Oregon, so I researched the route, made a list, packed my backpack and hit the trail.

Day 1: Orientation

5.4 mi | 1130′ ele. gain | 2:30 hr.

Moody clouds

Upon seeing the weather forecast, I took my packraft and paddle out of my backpack. Highs only in the 70’s and mostly cloudy? That didn’t feel like it was worth the weight of a boat. I had mountains to climb, anyways, and I already hate backpacking. That decision would make the next few days slightly easier.

Hate backpacking? That can’t be right? Sure looks dreamy on Instagram. However, my body has never adapted to carrying an overnight pack, ever. No matter what shape I’m in, how much backpacking I do (which, arguably is never that much), what pack I have, how much weight is in it, etc. I just feel awful. It’s not just the “I’m working really hard” kind of awful, it’s the blisters and tweaks and aches and rubbing of pack against skin over and over and over that makes me ask, couldn’t I have just done this as a dayhike?

Sure, there are some humans who can cruise the Elkhorn Crest in a day, but that was never my intention. I wanted to move at a pace at which I could really experience and enjoy it. Besides, there were side objectives I wanted to see. Mt. Ruth, Rock Creek Butte and Elkhorn Peak were all on my agenda in addition to the trail.

I set off from the parking lot at Anthony Lakes Ski Area after a long, slow breakfast and packing session. The morning was overcast and chilly, so I was in no rush to get out the door. The start of the trail wasn’t terribly remarkable. There were lots of tiny huckleberry bushes and just past prime wildflowers. The forest opened up near Angell Pass to provide a preview of the views I’d enjoy for the remainder of the hike. I then made my way down to Dutch Flat Lake, a pretty little lake with some giant campsites that indicated it got heavy use. After eating my lunch there, I decided to scout out a campsite away from the lake shore just in case a group decided to show up and be obnoxious.

Hammock camping

I was right about a group showing up but I was not right about how far away from the lake I’d have to go to not hear them literally yelling for 8 straight hours after setting up their camp. I put my headphones in and laid in my hammock, alternating between napping and crossword puzzles until dinner time. Wanting to enjoy nature, the whole reason I came here, I briefly took my headphones out to try and identify the various lovely bird songs filling the air. But they soon got drowned out by more yelling, so the headphones went back in.

Day 2: Finding a rhythm

9.8 mi. | 1765′ ele. gain | 5:20 hr.

Morning sun

Bright rays of sunshine brought me out of my quiet slumber. Ah, the sun! It was a beautiful sight to see after yesterday’s thick gray cloak. I had coffee and pop tarts and watched the clouds flitter across the sky. I got packed up to leave, and just about when I took my first steps, the group starting roaring awake. It was just in time.

The clouds eventually overtook the sun, which meant the air was cool and refreshing for hiking. I made my way up the trail to the base of Mt. Ruth’s northwest ridge. There, I switched to a tiny day pack and picked my way past granite boulders and twisted whitebark pine to the summit. The top of the mountain provided a comfy place to sit and enjoy the view for a bit. I munched on a bag of salty-sweet popcorn from Bend Popcorn Company; this was an excellent trail snack!

I returned to my pack, continued along the Elkhorn Crest trail to a very confusing trail junction, then found the path to Summit Lake. A mile of ups and downs led me to a picturesque lake surrounded in part by dramatic cliffs. I found a nice, well-established camp spot with trees for my hammock near the lake and settled in. I could hear a small family nearby but they mostly kept to themselves. This camp was a stark difference from the previous night. I didn’t mind having these folks as neighbors!

I read a bunch of my book and did a little painting at the lake. Dinner was a delicious dehydrated chili with crumbly cornbread topping. I do miss having access to a dehydrator, as I used to make all my backpacking meals from scratch. This one tasted pretty good, although it was expensive and it wreaked havoc on my digestive system later.

Summit Lake

Briefly, I caught a glimpse of a mama and baby goat racing through my neighbor’s camp. But in a flash, they were gone. I was promised goats on this hike, and so far it was pretty disappointing for wildlife sightings.

Day 3: The longest, hottest day

14.8 mi | 2640′ ele. gain | 8 hr.

Little pink buckwheat

In preparation for this trip, I used various mapping apps to calculate my daily mileage and elevation gain. Although there are many write-ups on the internet for the Elkhorn Crest Trail, none of them did exactly what I was planning to do. Today’s estimated mileage was 9.5, with a summit of Rock Creek Butte towards the end of the day. Anything under ten feels pretty doable with an overnight pack for me, so I wasn’t terribly concerned about getting an early start or getting psyched for a big day.

However, my calculations were wildly wrong. I figured out after I was done with the hike where I had gone wrong with my math, but that didn’t matter in the moment. The weather was much sunnier, which made for prettier views but hotter hiking conditions. The heat sapped my energy and I stopped for multiple breaks in just the first few miles. At some point, I saw a large cairn just off the trail, and it was not indicated on my map as a junction or point of interest. I had to see what it was though.

A phone to God? I immediately remembered seeing pictures of this thing while researching trip reports. I would love to know the whole story.

Sure.

I looked ahead on my map and chose a spot that I thought would make a reasonable lunch destination. I just needed to keep moving until then. As I rounded my final turn towards the spot, I saw a pair of eyes staring back at me. A cow. And her whole posse. I’m familiar with cows, as I frequently end up biking or hiking where they’re grazing. Generally they just get annoyed enough as you get close to them that they walk away. But this band of cows wanted to stand their ground. I managed to herd them away from my precious lunch stop for about 20 minutes, but then they were stubbornly piled on top of the trail headed my way. No amount of yelling, waving my poles around, walking towards them would get them to move. So I had to walk a big semi-circle off trail to get back on course on the other side.

Also not helping: foot pain and afternoon heat. I had no idea why my foot was hurting so badly, but nothing I did seemed to make it better. I did manage to figure out how to make it worse, though.

As I complained loudly about my ungrateful foot, I passed under peak after peak after peak. And at each one, I asked myself, “is this it?” The trail felt interminably long. How far have I gone, anyways? It had to be over nine miles at this point. And this is when I realized I’d messed up my planning. I sat with my map, using the distance calculating tool in CalTopo to help me re-orient for the remainder of the day’s route. I was so annoyed about this error. Had I known I was in for a nearly 15-mile day, I would have mentally prepared for that.

But, there was nothing to do but trudge ahead so that’s what I did. When I finally arrived at the base of Rock Creek Butte, I almost blew right by it, thinking it was just another blip on the ridge. I left my backpack under a large tree right above the trail and slowly hiked uphill. I was so tired that I used the step-counting method to help keep my pace. 1-2-3…15. Rest. 1-2-3…15. Rest. I repeated that on the steepest parts, then increased the number of steps to 20, 30, 40 as the grade mellowed out.

At least there were flowers along the way

At last, I collapsed near a huge cairn at the top and paged through some of the thousands of entries in the summit register. Apparently, this is a very popular place! I felt lucky to have it all to myself at this moment.

But, my day wasn’t done. I had to keep walking to the junction with Twin Lakes trail and then hike the horribly long and flat switchbacks to the lake. These were the most insanely gradual switchbacks I’d ever seen, and the last thing I needed to end a frustrating day. As soon as I found a campsite that had a couple good hammock trees, I called it good. I immediately dunked my feet in the lake and started chilling a beer.

At dinnertime, I got my stove set up to boil water, then I received my first visitors.

Mountain goats. A dozen of them. They barged right into my camp, so I cautiously backed away to give them space. They were not at all frightened or impressed by me, so they kept pushing towards me. I backed up, they came forward. Over and over again. I knew there was one other party camped at the other end of the lake, so I decided to hustle over there and find safety in number as the goats were clearly not afraid of me. When I arrived, I met two kids who were standing around a campfire (don’t even get me started). We stayed together until the goats moved past the lake. I thanked them for letting me barge into their space and retreated to my camp.

Goat…friends?

The goats visited me again that evening, but I was comfortably bundled up in my hammock and was too tired to be bullied out. I yelled and waved at them and waited until they left to fully relax into my book. Then I reminded myself that I wanted to see goats…

Day 4: The long walk home

10.5 mi | 1410′ ele. gain | 5 hr.

Lupine

I awoke early, with the sun, and slowly began preparations for breakfast. The goats wouldn’t have it, however. This time, twice as many animals appeared and completely overran my camp. I desperately tried to give them adequate space as I hurriedly shoved food in my face and packed up what I could. Being completely acclimated to people, they did not give me any space and practically ran over all my supplies. I aggressively shooed them away so I could load up my bag and get out of there. The whole encounter felt so ridiculous.

No zoom needed

But the baby goats were so cute.

I put my head down and marched up the horrible switchbacks. At the saddle, I stashed my backpack and headed up towards my last summit: Elkhorn Peak. Although it is the namesake peak of the range, it’s not the highest (that’s Rock Creek Butte). However, I found this scramble entirely more interesting and fun than Rock Creek Butte. At the top, there was no summit register. But I did find an odd, makeshift beacon-looking thing. I just never know what I’m going to find at or along the way to all these highpoints. One of many reasons why I love chasing after them!

Back at my pack, I knew I only had a few more miles to hike before reaching the other end; the end of the trail, not of my hike. I still had many miles of road walking to do to get to a place where Aaron could pick me up in the van. Tales of the shittiness of this road have traveled far and wide.

I barreled though this last part as fast as I could, slightly annoyed that I couldn’t enjoy it. The Elkhorn Crest Trail, famously one of the best high routes in Oregon, according to hikers on the internet, and here I was just trying to get it over with. But I reminded myself that there is no “best” and “top ten lists” are meaningless.

A hike is an entire experience. It’s the trail, sure. But it’s also the weather, the conditions, the wildlife, the solitude, the companionship, the frame of mind, the physical state of your body, and so many other things. And just the idea that I was supposed to enjoy this trail more than other spectacular trails I’ve been on felt a bit silly. I’m very fortunate to have spent time in so many incredible spaces across the state of Oregon. As nice as this was, it wasn’t quite the standout that I expected. And perhaps the expectation set me up for feeling this way.

On the way to the trailhead, I encountered two groups of mountain bikers and two pairs of backpackers. These were essentially the only people I saw on trail in fours days. It was wild that they all came in a sudden blast. I knew a shuttle ran on Friday mornings, dropping people off at this end. I assumed that was the result.

Elkhorn Crest, traversed!

I took a break at the trailhead, airing out my feet completely. Meanwhile, I sent Aaron a check in on my Garmin InReach to let him know my progress, then began the questionably long road walk past the bad sections of road. I estimated up to a 6-mile road walk, so I screwed my head on for that. Based on previous flubs, I checked my estimate multiple times before embarking on this last leg!

To my great surprise, a beautiful wildflower display greeted me along either side of the road. They were the best flowers I’d seen on the entire trip! What a treat. I had not looked forward to the drudgery of a road walk, but it was actually one of my favorite sections. What was that about expectations?

Roadside bouquet

About 5 miles down the road, I stopped near a rushing creek. The road surface had been consistently good for at least a half a mile, so I felt confident that Aaron could drive the van there. I sent one final check in, dunked my feet in the ice cold water and laid down with a book. A couple hours later, my chariot arrived, loaded with fresh wood-fired pizza from Anthony Lakes!

In sum, I turned a 28-mile trail into a four day, 40-mile adventure with three highpoints, three lakeside camps and some mountain goat encounters I’ll never forget. The wildflowers didn’t wow me, but so many other things did. I am just glad to have these opportunities to spend multiple days alone on the trail as we travel full time in the van. And I can’t complain about a warm pizza upon pickup.

Steens Mountain wildflower hunt

July 24 – July 31, 2023.

How many different wildflowers can you see?

Photo album

One of my must-see destinations for my cross-Oregon wildflower hunting trip was the Steens Mountain. Located in Southeast Oregon, the Steens is a unique fault-block mountain rising up from the expansive desert. It’s shaped like a wedge, gradually ascending from the west to a highpoint of nearly 10,000 feet. Then it drops abruptly in a series of craggy cliffs about 5,000 vertical feet to the Alvord desert. In most years, visitors can drive a loop road up from Frenchglen to the summit of the mountain and back, passing by multiple scenic viewpoints overlooking glacially carved canyons. And at the right time of year, you can marvel in an explosion of wildflowers, many of which grow nowhere else but there.

It was that time of year.

Unfortunately, a landslide and subsequent road work closed a portion of the loop road. We had to make a choice about which way to go. For me, it was a no-brainer; we drove the north side of the loop, which was open to the summit and several miles down the other side. That gave us the most opportunities for exploring, camping, hiking and hanging out.

Page Springs campground

Our trip began at the base of the mountain, elevation 4200″. We’d camped at Page Springs before, but only in the fall/winter. It’s a different experience in the summer. The heat of the late July sun was absolutely brutal. The only respite we had was the cold Blitzen River running along the edge of our campsite. At every chance we got, we plunged into the refreshing water.

Western clematis seed heads along the river trail

I attempted to take a hike along the river trail that emerges from the campground, but I ran into two problems: voracious mosquitoes and a trail long abandoned by the BLM. It’s too bad, because it has the potential to be a lovely place to walk. I’d hiked it back in 2013 and I even described it as brushy back then. Despite the challenges, I made it about a mile up before turning around. On the way I found some pretty flowers and even saw teasel (invasive but whatever) in bloom for the first time.

Iconic viewpoints

One nice thing about Steens Mountain is that it is an experience right from the car. You don’t even have to go on any massive hikes to have an enjoyable experience. Of course, if you are able to and want to go hiking I strongly recommend it!

Aaron and I pulled off at every signboard and marked viewpoint along the north loop road. We learned about history, geography, weather and more as we putt-putted along the drive. It became refreshingly cool as we ascended the road. I had to put some layers on as temperatures dipped into the mid-fifties at time. It was a far cry from the 90-degree weather we had down below.

Fields of yellow as seen from the loop road

With each gain in elevation, we got to see new and different wildflowers. Aaron’s favorite is the elk thistle. This unusual plant grows up to 6 1/2 feet tall, has long leaves covered in spines and produces bright purple flowers. It is one of the more aggro plants I’ve seen in the world.

Elk thistle

My favorite is quite the opposite. It’s a subspecies of cushion buckwheat that is made of a low-growing mat of leaves, from which long stems protrude. Each stem is topped by a pink pom-pom looking thing that is a cluster of tiny flowers. Many of the plants lie prostrate, like they are resting. Others stand tall and look like they were invented by Jim Henson (the Muppet guy). They are cute and precious and I just want to stop and touch every one.

Cushion buckwheat ala Steens Mountain

We saw both of these flowers growing right by the road and at our feet at the highest elevation pullouts. Other high mountain finds included silky phacelia, balloon-pod milk vetch, orange sneezeweed and the tiniest little lupine.

At the tops of each U-shaped valley, we tried to imagine a time where they were filled completely with ice. Over time, glaciers carved the incredible landscapes we see today. It fascinating to learn the geologic history of such a special place.

View from the Steens summit trailhead

Freedom to roam

In my opinion, the best way to experience the Steens is on a cross-country adventure. And with such a wide-open landscape, this is easy to do. I did a few hikes on my own while Aaron worked. I plotted routes that led down into the canyons, across vast meadows, along stunning creeks and up to the rocky ridges. Despite the elevation, the days still got pretty hot so I tried to stay near water whenever possible.

I was impressed both by the number of different types of wildflowers as well as the overall volume of flowers. In places, the ground looked as if it was painted yellow or purple or a collage of colors, simply due to the density and number of plants in bloom at once. Any creeks or wet patches were easily identified because of the deep green adjacent to whatever was flowering there. In the span of a couple minutes, I could walk from a boggy swamp to a dusty, dry desert. And back again!

These pretty yellow paintbrush were everywhere.

It was on one of these excursions that I ran into my most unusual hiking find yet. Below the summit, on some random, rolling ridgeline lay what appeared to be a death mask. I didn’t have the heart to touch it or get too close but I took some photos and video of this object. People seem to think it was someone’s art project. I thought it was utterly creepy without any explanation next to it. Although I hike alone a ton, I’ve never felt as weirded out as I did at that moment. I hurried out of there to get back towards the road, which is when I discovered a little cliff. It took just a couple of rock climbing moves to get up over it, which made that find feel even more out of place. Whoever left that mask there really wanted to get to that spot.

Go ahead, you explain it.

What I wanted to see was bighorn, but no luck. That’s the thing with wandering around outdoors. You never can be quite sure what you’ll find.

Wildhorse Lake

Our friends Kevin and Casey joined us up in the Steens for the last few days of our visit. We took them to all the scenic pullouts as well as a couple of short hikes, including this one. If you’ve been up to the top of Steens Mountain, you’ve likely done this one too. It’s only 1.2 miles to walk to the lake, but it’s nearly 1000 vertical feet downhill. That’s a lot of climbing up to get back out to your car.

So close, so far away.

I was not going to waste the opportunity to get our packrafts in the lake, so I took my 60L pack and loaded both rafts, paddles, picnic supplies, art supplies as well as the usual ten essentials to make for a fun day. It was worth the effort. Once we found a nice spot on the lakeshore, we settled in for the afternoon. Aaron swam, Kevin read, Casey painted and I dreamed up a plan for rafting. A strong wind blew across the lake, which was not ideal for our flatwater boats. But I decided we’d hike to the opposite side of the lake, put in and let the wind blow us back to our beach. And that’s what we did. For an added bonus, the hanging meadows we saw from our put-in spot were astonishingly beautiful.

We had to stop many times on the hike up to catch our breath, which meant lots of time for wildflower watching! There were many varieties of paintbrush, buckwheat and penstemon. We also saw bog orchid, desert parsley, field chickweed, asters, thistle and a variety of GDYC‘s.

Nature’s bounty

Steens summit

I visited the summit twice on this trip, once alone and once with Kevin. By far, the best native plant on this walk is the balloon-pod milkvetch. I’m usually not a big fan of the plants in the vetch family, but this one is a stand out. I’m not even sure what the flowers look like, but the seed pod it creates is so bizarre. Picture a hollow kidney bean that’s translucent yellow-green in color with mottled red spots. Now picture thousands of them covering the ground in clusters, dangling from vetchy leaves. When new, the pods are plump and squishy. When they dry out they become hard, detach from the plant and shatter as the wind blows them into surrounding rocks. This spreads the seeds and thus spreads the plant. What a weird, alien life form!

Balloon-pod milkvetch

But this is not all there is to see on the Steens Mountain summit. Buckwheat grow in great profusion. Some form rather large mats with flowers embedded between the leaves, sprawling out like tentacles along the ground or spiking tall above the plant. Clumps of yellow composites, some with ray flowers and some without. In stark contrast, beautiful purple penstemon blooms nearby. All with the surreal backdrop of the vast Oregon desert.

Steens Mountain is one of Oregon’s treasures. Whether you visit for an hour, a day or a week; whether you hike, bike or drive; whether you know your wildflowers and geology or not, you will have a novel and beautiful experience there. Anyone who’s spent any time living in Oregon should make it a point to journey there. For tips on planning a trip, check out ONDA’s Steens Mountain region guide. Or, post your questions in the comments. I’ve visited several times in different seasons and I’ll likely go back and visit again!

Dixie Butte

July 19, 2023

12 mi. | 2690′ ele. gain | 6 hr.

Dixie Butte lookout tower

Photo album

Dixie Butte is home to one of the few remaining active fire lookouts in the state of Oregon. It’s also known for its summer wildflower displays. Despite there being a road to the top, I decided to walk up the road and make it a day hike.

I left early in the morning, knowing it was going to be another hot day. I appreciated all the shade that the trees alongside the road provided. It didn’t take long to get most of the way up the road. There weren’t many wildflower distractions until I was about a mile and a half from the summit. Once I reached the blooming meadows, I could barely take a step without stopping to squat and take another photo. The flowers were gorgeous. Some of my old favorites colored the hillside along with new friends.

One particular flower caught my eye: the beautiful pink, trumpet-shaped blooms of slendertube skyrocket. I’d first spotted this wildflower last year in the Wallowas, at the end of a long day. I was delirious with dehydration and fatigue. Yet, it stopped me in my tracks. It was one of the prettiest, most delicate plant I’d seen in the alpine. I was delighted to see it again.

Slendertube skyrocket

As I got closer to the lookout tower, I heard a dog barking. Lovely, I thought. Being allergic to dogs, I’m used to people yelling “(s)he’s friendly!” My two least favorite words. Friendly dogs get all up in your business, licking you, rubbing their noses in inappropriate places and generally being a nuisance. So I dreaded the all-too-familiar conversation where I’d have to explain that I’m allergic and to get your damn dog away from me.

But before that, I had to walk a loop around the lookout. I wanted to spend more time with my flowers before getting into it with the dog owner.

As the road crested up to a high shoulder and then curved back towards the lookout, I passed through a blanket of subtly colored flowers. Alpine knotweed, green-flowering paintbrush, coiled lousewort. Most of what I could see was a field bursting with greenery.

Green flowers

I paused at a rock outcrop to enjoy the view and to look for wildflowers that preferred that exposed, rocky habitat. Here were lanceleaf stonecrop, bush penstemon and wild buckwheat. Plus long, blue ridges as far as the eye could see.

Eventually I had to approach the lookout. As I did, the dog charged towards me as predicted and I stopped short, pretending to look around and catch my breath. The person working as the lookout stepped outside and asked if I had enough water, to which I responded yes. She invited me closer and that’s when I told her about the dog. She immediately called her dog in, which I appreciated, and we had a nice long chat.

On the way down, I made a lollipop loop by walking along the adjacent ridge top. I wanted to do some painting while also giving the lookout some privacy. So, I found an equally awesome rock outcrop bursting with wildflowers and sat there for an hour.

The ridge naturally drew me back downhill to the road, but not before leading me through gorgeous meadows dotted with white mariposa lily, sage and abundant colorful wildflowers. The sun had really kicked in by this point and I was grateful that it was all downhill from there.

White mariposa lily

Although the return hike took me back the exact same road I hiked up, I saw so many flowers that I didn’t notice in the morning. My eyes had been primed for the native wildflowers of this area, and now they were seemingly everywhere. Their accompanying pollinators, notably butterflies, also dominated the previously hum-drum landscape. It was a joyous romp downhill.

Since the sun was basically overhead, I lost my long stretches of shade and took any opportunity to stop and rest in a shade patch I could. By the time I got back to the van, I was nearly out of water. I spent a good chunk of the afternoon resting in my hammock in a cluster of trees.

Diamond Lake bike trail

July 9, 2023.

11.2 mi. | 550′ ele. gain |2.5 hr.

Photo album

On a warm, sunny summer day, Aaron and I took our bikes out on a lovely paved bike trail around Diamond Lake. While clicking and zooming around my favorite mapping app, I found the Dellenback Trail, which encircles Diamond Lake in the course of about 12 miles. This was perfect for a casual outing. Most of my memories of this area involve fighting crowds; this goes for winter and summer! It’s a popular destination for a number of reasons, and therefore it’s rarely on my shortlist for places to visit.

Since most folks head to Diamond Lake in the summer for pizza, ice cream and water sports, I thought maybe the trail would be a little less crazy. And I was right. We chose to start the loop at the South Shore picnic area and rode clockwise. This was strategic, since that would mean we’d finish our route at the ice cream shop!

We started pedaling as the day was heating up. Soon, we reached a wooden bridge crossing Silent Creek. We hopped off our bike to admire the pretty water and wildflowers. But in that short pause, the mosquitoes found us. Back on the bikes, we rode just fast enough to prevent them from biting.

The trail is generally fairly flat, but it does gain a few hundred feet over the loop. Therefore, we had to ride up and down some hills as we circumnavigated the lake. As we rode, we made sure to take many different kinds of breaks: wildflower, view, breath, and snack, to name a few. The purpose of the ride was to spend Sunday afternoon together, not to break any speed records. So we traveled at the pace of Sunday. At the north side of the lake we pulled out our picnic lunch and relaxed in the shade of a large Ponderosa pine. From there, we watched the numerous folks on watercraft traverse the lake.

The east side of the lake was a little less scenic since much of the trail crossed through one of the biggest campgrounds I’ve ever seen. It was packed with RV’s, trailers and massive tents. Enormous trash cans overflowed with garbage. As in, people walked up to a full garbage can and decided to pile their trash on the ground next to it instead of find another can or bring it home. I could not believe that even those huge containers were not enough for the amount of trash produced by campers. What do people bring camping?! We fill a couple tiny bags each week. It was disturbing.

But I knew we had ice cream ahead, so I put my head down and kept pedaling. We couldn’t have arrived soon enough. We were both feeling pretty hot by the time we rolled up at the ice cream window at South Shore Pizza. Aaron found us a shady picnic table while I ordered us a couple of cones. It was cold, refreshing and delicious. We were among only a handful of people there. After that, it was only another half mile or so to the parking area.

All in all, we saw maybe a dozen people riding all day. The route was well-marked, well-graded and accessible to beginner riders. With plenty of options for starting and ending, as well as services on the south and east sides of the lake, I can recommend this bike ride for just about anyone. You can even rent bikes at the lake if you’re traveling without bikes. Glad we made this stop during our travels.

Mt. Ashland to Wagner Butte

July 5, 2023.

15.2 mi | 4012′ ele. gain | 8 hr.

Pointing to Mt. Ashland

Photo album

I wanted to do a big hike along the Siskiyou Crest while we were in the area. It appeared that I could hike from the Mt. Ashland parking lot up the east side of Mt. Ashland, down the west side, follow NF-20 to the Split Rock trail all the way to Wagner Butte and back. I didn’t calculate the miles because I knew it would be longer than I wanted it to be, but that I’d go anyway. So, on this warm July morning I gave it a go.

Mt. Ashland

The trail up Mt. Ashland gets right to the point. It is short and steep and breathtaking (in the literal and figurative sense). I took many breaks to look for wildflowers and observe the absurdity of being on a ski hill off season. All the lifts and machinery and such. At the top, I found a building in the shape of a giant soccer ball and a bunch of other structures. I found the summit marker, took a short break and then began down the road on the other side.

While I saw a ton of wildflowers on the hike up, I didn’t find much that was new or unusual. After reading so much online on the special flora that exists on Mt. Ashland, I was a little disappointed. But I would make a complete change of attitude on my road walk off the mountain. Almost immediately, I noticed something only familiar from the images I studied online the night before: Henderson’s horkelia! I audibly squealed, then dropped into my wildflower squat and took a bunch of photos. I touched its fuzzy leaves and searched for a “good” looking flower. They all seemed a little roughed up or withered. I wasn’t sure if that was just their look or if they were going out of season.

The rest of the road down was a cornucopia of flowers, shrubs, rocks and birds. Something to look at around every corner. While I generally try and avoid road walks, this one was rather pleasant.

Split Rock Trail

From the base of the Mt. Ashland service road, I needed to make my way to the Split Rock Trail. This required a bit more road walking, although I short-cutted one big switchback by tromping straight up a hill in the forest. Near the trailhead, I encountered my first snow patch of the day and made a mental note for later. It wasn’t hot yet, but I knew it was coming.

I loved hiking the Split Rock Trail. It traversed on or adjacent to a beautiful ridgeline, with the occasional steep up or down segment. I walked through meadows, rocky outcrops, shady forests and sagebrush desert. As the environment changed, so did the flora. Wildflowers were profuse and diverse along the trail. And the butterflies! So many butterflies flitted and swirled around me, hardly stopping for a second before heading to their next destination.

View from Split Rock trail

Along the way, I took short detours to the summits of McDonald Peak and Split Rock. The last item on my agenda was Wagner Butte. On my map, a trail went to “Wagner Butte Lookout” but not the butte itself. I decided I’d hit both of those. At the time I had no idea that the lookout was anything more than a nice viewpoint. But I figured if a trail went there, then it must be worth checking out.

Wagner Butte and Lookout

Weighing my options, I decided to cruise the trail to the lookout first, then walk the ridge back to the true summit and then return to the trail. By this point, it had gotten very hot and I appreciated every moment I got to spend in the shade.

Near the end of the trail, I found myself scrambling up huge granite boulders towards what appeared to be a handrail. At the top, it all made sense. It’s an old lookout site! A very faded sign shared the site’s history, and what a fabulous viewpoint it was. An old ammo canister contained a sign-in book, and it was filled with names from people visiting just this year. I’m glad I didn’t go on a weekend! I was the only one on top at that moment. With not a shade tree in sight, the direct sun completely zapped my energy. I sat down for a few minutes, but quickly got back up. I still had to bushwhack to the summit and hike many miles back to the van. At this point, I was 10 miles into my dayhike.

Lots of stonecrop. Stonecrop loves sunny outcrops.

On the map, it looked straightforward. How many times have I made that mistake…

I walked back down the trail to a point where I could easily gain a saddle on the north ridge of Wagner Butte. Then, I pushed through forest debris. First it was chinkapin, then snowbrush, then manzanita. The trifecta. Plus, there were tons of downed trees, piles of huge boulders and tangles of thick vegetation. When I finally made it to the summit area, there were three major pinnacles, of which any one could be the true summit. In order to make sure I got the right one, I made my way to the top of each one, then retreated to the pile that offered the best lunch rest stop. I was really hungry and very hot by this time.

I sat down and ate my lunch in a state of delirium. Out of nowhere, a bright green caterpillar appeared on my leg. Or was it a delusion? Nope, I’ve got video to prove it.

The return

Re-fueled and ready to get out of the sun, I began thrashing through shrubs again to get back to the trail. At least it’s easier to push through manzanita on the way down than it is on the way up.

Back on trail, I moved at a comfortable pace and made sure to pause at every shade stop after a sunny stretch. My body felt so hot. I sipped on my water regularly and calculated how long it would take me to get back to the snow patch. Back on Wagner Lookout, I’d messaged Aaron a pickup location that would save me a few miles of hot, exposed road walk to get back to the van. So, I also had that to look forward to.

All my shade stops turned into flower and bug-watching stops, too. I sat in one meadow, mesmerized by the bees buzzing around a particularly stunning monument plant. It was better than any Netflix documentary I’d ever seen. A good reminder that stopping can be good for a number of reasons, but one is certainly that I see so much more cool stuff when I sit in place for a while.

Monument plant and bee

The highlight of the hike back was reaching the snow patch. I threw off my pack, turned around and laid down flat on the snow. How refreshing! I stuffed my pants pockets full of snow, put a snowball under my hat and filled my water bladder with snow: I had plans for that later. With fresh energy, I finished my hike back to the van.

Cool down

Aaron had the AC running in the van, which felt so luxurious. I stripped off my sweaty clothes, filled a mug with snow and poured cold tea over the top. Iced tea in the AC! It was a fabulous way to finish off a hot summer hike.

Compared to the dozens of people I’d seen on the PCT section we hiked the day before, this place was completely deserted. I saw one person near the Wagner Butte Lookout and one person near the Split Rock trailhead as I was finishing up. For the rest of the day I got to hike in quiet solitude. Those big-name trails attract people like bugs to a nightlight, but the less well-known trails are no less worthy of a visit. If you like to hike alone, skip the things you’ve heard of and venture onto a neighboring trail. You’ll get all the wildflowers and views and natural beauty without the crowds and noise.

How to plan a wildflower hike

The famed balsamroot bloom on Dog Mountain

Got wildflowers? I’ve spent the bulk of the last three months chasing wildflower blooms across Oregon, and I’d like to share some things I’ve learned about how to plan a wildflower hike.

Timing is everything

Flowers are in bloom for a specific time period each year. Some kind of wildflower is generally blooming somewhere between early spring and early fall. But if you’re looking to see a specific type of wildflower then you’ve really got to get the timing right. So, if I want to see the lupine blooming on the rim of Crater Lake, I’ve got to go in the middle of summer. Or if I want to catch the western pasqueflower before it goes to seed, I’ve got to hit some mountain slopes just as the snow is melting.

Frosty western paqueflower

For most people, just seeing any splashes of color along the trail is just fine. And the good news is, there’s no “best time” to see a wildflower bloom if you’re not particular about what you see. There are always the early bloomers, mid-season bloomers and late bloomers. Some wildflowers are only open for a few days and others will go on and on. Consider the climate where you’re looking to visit and that will give you a good sense of when to see the best flowers. For example, spring is best in the desert since it gets very hot and dry during the summer. But summer is ideal in the mountains because the ground will still be snow-covered in spring. Or, search on the internet or on social media to see where people are going and what they’re seeing on the trail.

Here’s a tip for social media research: join a local wildflower group or follow the land management agency for the area you intend to visit. There, you’ll see what’s blooming and where and you might learn about upcoming guided flower walks or nature presentations to fuel your wildflower stoke.

Diversify your habitats

If you’re looking to see a wide variety of flowers, choose a trail or route that travels through different types of habitats. So for example, if your trail follows a stream, crosses a meadow, climbs up along some exposed rocks then travels to the base of a mountain, you’re going to see different things blooming in each of those specific areas.

Notice that some plants prefer full shade, some like dappled sun filtered through the trees, others grow in the blasting sun. Notice that east facing slopes often display different plants than west facing slopes. The more you hike, the more you’ll recognize the factors that determine which flowers grow where. You’ll learn about what to expect when you head outside and you’ll be more likely to find it when you know what you’re looking for.

Roadside corn lily bloom

Elevation matters

Similarly, if your trail includes a significant amount of elevation gain, you’ll see a greater variety of wildflowers. When I’m huffing and puffing up a trail that climbs up a mountain, I think of it as traveling back in time. Since snow melt begins at lower elevations and gradually makes it up the mountain, you’ll see later season blooms at the base of the trail and earlier season blooms closer to the recent snow melt! That’s how you can continue to see early bloomers like trillium well into July; you just need to go up high to find them.

Trillium in July at 6500′

Stop and smell the roses (duh)

When you’re out on a wildflower hike, give yourself enough time to stop and see what you are after! This should go without saying, but if you really want to see a lot of flowers, you’re going to need to spend some time moving slowly, investigating spots that look interesting, crouching down to find the little guys and taking lots of pictures.

Notice how when you stop to have a snack or take a bathroom break that you suddenly begin to see more flowers. Take a seat every now and again, and look around. Things will appear to you that you would have overlooked while in motion.

You might even build time in to flip through a guidebook or scroll through a plant identification app to learn about what you’re seeing in the field. There are many quality and free apps available to download to your phone so you don’t have to carry a book on your hike. My favorite for Oregon is simply called Oregon Wildflower Search and I’ve found similar apps for several states. Just search for “state name” + “wildflower search” in the app store. Steer clear of the ones where you take a picture and ask the app to ID it; they are notoriously inaccurate…at least for now!

Leave no trace

Finally, remember to leave no trace. That means staying on trail in popular areas instead of trampling wildflower meadows to get a sweet pic. Look at, but don’t pick, flowers. Instead, take photos, sketch or paint them! Plan ahead and prepare for the conditions the day of your hike by carrying appropriate gear, wearing appropriate clothing and researching your route. For more information on Leave No Trace, check out the series I wrote on my Hike366 blog.

Questions? Leave a comment below. Happy trails!

Zumwalt Prairie

June 25, 2023.

Wide open spaces.

Photo album

Zumwalt Prairie had been on my to-visit list since watching an Oregon Field Guide episode about it many years ago. But, it’s a very long ways from anywhere and there aren’t any mountains on it. So, it fell pretty far down in my priorities. But this year’s project, to see as many different wildflowers across Oregon as possible, brought Zumwalt to my attention. The Zumwalt Prairie Preserve, managed by the Nature Conservancy, is designated a National Natural Landmark. It is known for its spectacular plant diversity, outstanding elk habitat and intactness as an ecosystem. We had seen several elk as we drove through several days earlier and were excited to spend more time on the ground to discover what else called this place home.

Horned Lark Trail

1.9 mi | 290′ ele. gain | 1:20 hr.

Old man’s whiskers. No, really.

HIking on the preserve is limited to official trails only, so we began our tour on the Horned Lark Trail. The cool morning air made for a pleasant walk. Dewdrops hanging on all the tall plants and grasses dripped down our legs as we walked. We wore shorts and sandals in anticipation of this!

Immediately, we were taken by all the birds we heard and saw. We pulled out our phones to use the “Sound ID” feature on Merlin. Western meadowlark. Savannah sparrow. Red-winged blackbird. Song sparrow. Wilson’s snipe. Just to name a few. The trail descended through dense grassland and mostly spent wildflowers to a pond teeming with life. Birds squawked, sang, chirped, chipped, called and warbled all around us. Waterfowl paddled around the water’s surface. Blackbirds balanced on the tops of reeds. Raptors soared overhead. And then, the insects. To me, insects represent a gaping black hole in my knowledge. I can distinguish a small handful of critters, but mostly when I get a good look at a bug I think, “wow, I’ve never seen THAT before?!”

We used the zoom feature on our phones like binoculars, trying to get closer views of all the things hurtling through the air. It was like a zoo but better; all of the animals were free.

I was neither surprised nor disappointed that most of the wildflower bloom was over. Instead, I was thrilled by the millions of funny looking seed heads filling the fields. Call them old man’s whiskers or prairie smoke, one of the funkiest little wildflowers dominated the landscape during our visit. Each individual tuft of fluffy seed hairs was a unique spectacle. I wanted to photograph each one. But alas! We had other places to go. As we hiked back out of the depression in the field, we noted some white mariposa lilies, yarrow and Mexican bedstraw.

Patti’s Trail

2.6 mi. | 160′ ele. gain | 1:15 hr

Aaron in the wild.

We continued up the road towards the main visitor information station, which also serves as the trailhead for Patti’s Trail. In the parking lot, Aaron opened up the hood to check the oil and noticed that a rodent family had built a nest in the engine. The industrious critters used not only the local grasses but also our van insulation. Hooray. Another mouse problem.

On that annoying note, we took off on another little walk. The beginning was underwhelming compared to the previous trail, but after climbing over the first fence, things got more interesting. First of all, in order to climb the fences, we used these built-in stepladders that made the job much easier. Once on the other side, we were greeted by colorful buckwheat flowers, purple asters and something we hadn’t seen yet. Clematis seed heads. These frizzy creatures resemble the prairie smoke we’d seen innumerable times before, but the strands of fuzz are a little longer, less dense and they tend to hang down from the stem. I had to stop and examine them for a while to be sure I’d found something new.

The temperature rose as we ambled along the trail. It eventually ran along a little creek and some riparian shrubbery. We poked at white-stem frasera, paintbrush, cinquefoil , lupine and stonecrop. Birds kept swooping and buzzing overhead. It was quiet and peaceful.

By the time we returned to the car, it was hot and we were hungry, so we decided to eat lunch at the van, then go into town for a lazy afternoon. If I were to visit the Zumwalt again, I’d go in late spring to catch more of the wildflower show. And I’d also want to visit in the dead of winter with cross country skis! One visit to a place is never enough.

Buckhorn Lookout to Eureka Point

June 23-24, 2023.

10.4 mi | 2225′ ele. gain | 6:45 hr.

Snake River views

Photo album

Far, far up in the northeast corner of Oregon lies an old, boarded up fire lookout called Buckhorn Lookout. It’s only about an hour’s drive from Joseph, but the little mountain town of Joseph is many miles away from most places. Based on the write up in Matt Reeder’s Extraordinary Oregon, I decided to put this on the list of places to visit while wildflower touring around Oregon.

We arrived just before sunset and took in the incredible light show in the sky from the lookout viewpoint. The van looked particularly majestic in this colorful skyscape. The lookout itself is perched atop a remarkable canyon rivaling the Grand Canyon. But here we were, in Oregon, enjoying a quiet and peaceful vista worthy enough to be in a National Park.

Eureka Point hike

In the morning, I pointed my GPS towards Eureka Point. I began my walk from Eureka Lookout, following rough dirt roads, to the official trailhead for this hike. I think this is actually the better place to begin the hike, especially during wildflower season. I walked past so many vibrant patches of flowers, including buckwheat, mule’s ears, larkspur and geranium. It was a very scenic road walk that was about to get even more scenic.

Hills of various wildflowers

The route follows an old road, so the tread is wide and generally pretty gradual as it descends into the Imnaha Canyon. Bees and butterflies buzzed and flitted among the plethora of perky blooms. A cool breeze blew up from the canyon below; I knew it wouldn’t last, so I enjoyed it while I could. Along the road, I passed through shady clumps of trees, wide open meadows, rock gardens. It became notably drier and dustier the further I went. It amazes me how hiking a trail with significant elevation gain is like time travel; what’s in peak bloom at the top is long gone at the bottom, and vice versa. I traveled through spring to early summer to late summer all in the course of a few hours.

The last third of the hike was extremely hot, brown and desperate looking. I debated whether it was worth going to the end point noted in the book or whether my time would be better spent prancing through the wildflower meadows back towards the lookout. But I was so close, and I thrive on hitting known targets, so I carried on.

Despite the book describing an actual route to this slightly-off-trail viewpoint, I made my own way out there (mostly because I’d forgotten this narrative existed). I climbed over a barbed wire fence, poked around at a few overlooks, then almost get poked back: prickly pear cactus! It was of course, too late to see them in flower, but I was still excited to find a new-to-me patch of cactus in Oregon!

Prickly pear cactus

It was very windy up there. I found the most reasonable spot to sit, eat lunch and paint. I couldn’t imagine ever being back in that area again, so I really wanted to savor my time there. Painting has given me a good reason to sit and enjoy a space. To really see a space. And to notice just how much I don’t see when I’m in motion. I still can’t believe how much time I’ve wasted trying to move as quickly as I could through a landscape. And just how much I’ve missed.

On my way back, I stumbled into the route Matt described, which was a totally normal and reasonable way to go. Of course. The walk back was hot, hot, hot. The sun’s position in the sky meant far fewer opportunities for shade, so I stopped at every chance I got. One really nice shady spot was already occupied by a really angry robin, who screeched at me incessantly until I got up and moved. I hoped that I’d brought enough water (I did).

Just another meadow.

On the way back, I watched the clouds drift across the sky. I noticed the palette of colors sprayed across each hillside. I marveled at the history carved into distant canyon walls. The landscape had so many stories to tell, if only one took the time to stop and listen.

We’d spend another couple nights at the viewpoint, since it was such a special place. Worth a visit for anyone who calls Oregon home for a day, a year, a lifetime.