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.