July 19, 2023
12 mi. | 2690′ ele. gain | 6 hr.
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.
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.
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.
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.