West Side of Steens Mountain

December 25-26, 2013.

Page Springs Nature Trail Loop, Blitzen River Trail

Photos from the entire trip are on Google+

map1It was that time of year again. No, not Christmastime. I mean time to escape to the vast, cold desert of Eastern Oregon for an end of the year car camping extravaganza. After a late Christmas breakfast with Aaron’s family, we left town with the intention of staying gone til New Year’s Day.

We drove straight through to the first developed campground on the west side of Steens Mountain: Page Springs. It was after dark, so we did our best to scout out a riverside site with little tree cover, close to the bathroom. Once settled in, we fired up the camp stove and ate the first of many delicious meals: Christmas Eve leftovers. We heated up day-old ham and turkey with a side of green beans and a fresh green salad. One benefit of consistently cold temperatures is near perfect refrigeration and freezing conditions for fresh produce and meat. I planned to eat well this trip.

The evening was cold and quiet, save for the bright-eyed raccoon that lurked around our picnic table. Well after the sun set, the coyotes began singing Christmas carols, and lulled us to sleep.

The next morning, we woke up and explored the campground in the daylight. It was a beautifully laid out space, with several convenient and clean bathrooms, sites designed for tents and RVs, and choices of shady or non-shady sites. After a nice breakfast and some camp chores, we walked the trails that began in the camp.

[pe2-image src=”http://lh5.ggpht.com/-nEqmQcaRyD0/UsTlY8yJyFI/AAAAAAAAU-I/g8fNTVuVQio/s144-c-o/DSCN1586.JPG” href=”https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/109516212630889763066/albums/5966772097720632625/5964144023341484114?pid=5964144023341484114&oid=109516212630889763066″ caption=”Panoramic view from the “Nature Trail” at Page Springs Campground” type=”image” alt=”DSCN1586.JPG” pe2_single_image_size=”s600″ ]

The first trail began at a sign reading “Nature Trail” near campsite #25. This 1.4 mile walk took us up to the rimrock, where we had a nice aerial view of the campground. We enjoyed the sun along the edge of the rim, explored some small caves in the rock, and followed the trail down into a shady canyon, where we lost the trail a couple of times, but ended up back at the parking lot anyways.

Next we headed through the fence to the Blitzen River trail. The Sullivan book described this as being a 0.7 mile one-way trail. The sign at the trailhead said the trail extended 4 miles along the river, warning that the trail may be brushy. So, we planned to go as far as we could go, then turn around. The air felt warm in the sun, and this trail was much more open than the nature trail. We walked across an icy bog, through tall cattails and a variety of mangled, brushy plants with seeds that clung to your clothes. We didn’t get too far down the trail before meeting an impenetrable mass of vegetation that would require some serious trail clearing to get through. To make matters worse, the ground surface ranged from icy to dry, with much of the ground either mucky or masquerading as solid and walkable. We made this our turnaround point, which likely meshes with Sullivan’s description in the book.

[pe2-image src=”http://lh6.ggpht.com/-fCG7j1dFoGY/UsTmH-HSdfI/AAAAAAAAVzM/IuruLGsP-Ro/s144-c-o/DSCN1602.JPG” href=”https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/109516212630889763066/albums/5966772097720632625/5964144831152420338?pid=5964144831152420338&oid=109516212630889763066″ caption=”Cattails in the sun” type=”image” alt=”DSCN1602.JPG” ]

On the way back we investigated clumps of downy feathers left from a successful hunt and a perfect foot slide and butt smear preserved in the hardening mud on the trail. We could see the belt loops, stitching, and pocket outline where he hit the ground. It was the most fun sighting of the day.

That was until I saw the heron perched in a tree.

[pe2-image src=”http://lh3.ggpht.com/-0Vf1ugqM8Mw/UsTmXnbYhFI/AAAAAAAAVzY/LnbFbDMI0o0/s144-c-o/DSCN1609.JPG” href=”https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/109516212630889763066/albums/5966772097720632625/5964145099940594770?pid=5964145099940594770&oid=109516212630889763066″ caption=”Great blue heron, sitting in a tree.” type=”image” alt=”DSCN1609.JPG” ]

After a late lunch, we left the campground and drove on. I’d found a hike description on Less Traveled Northwest for Home Creek Canyon, a “very challenging cross-country hike into a dramatic and scenic canyon.” Sounded sweet. It was between Page Springs and the Pueblo Mountains, our destination for the evening.

We enjoyed the dramatic and scenic drive to the canyon, but the canyon itself didn’t particularly grab me and I’d describe it as moderately challenging. Maybe it was the poor light or the fact I’d been in one too many canyons before, but I felt a bit cheated on this one. We walked along the river, then did some boulder-hopping until it was getting close to our turn-around time, then headed back.

We’d hoped to catch the restaurant in Fields before they closed so we could enjoy one of their world famous milkshakes, but it turned out it was closed for the holiday. The good news was that meant we’d be able to set up camp before dark and watch the sun set. Not a bad consolation prize.

In preparation for a big hike the next day, we ate fajitas until we just couldn’t eat any more.

Continue reading about our eastern Oregon adventure here:

Pueblo Mountain
Borax Hot Springs
The Alvord Desert
Pike Creek Canyon
Mickey Hot Springs and Mann Lake
Diamond Craters

Leave a Reply