Monday, May 29, 2017

Trail of the Molten Land

It's counter-intuitive, really. Oregon was created by volcanoes and in our figurative back yard, sprout some of the more majestic volcanic cones on this planet. As a volcanic byproduct, the same figurative back yard is littered with extensive lava fields consisting of acres and acres of jagged black rock tractoring inhospitable paths through the the forests. You'd just have to figure that the immense lava flows sallied forth from the bowels of the tall snow-covered volcanoes but surprisingly enough, that is not the case. Despite the imposing size and grandeur of our tallest peaks, it's small and insignificant cinder cones that create the massive lava beds dotting our state.

Don't all good things start with a bang?
On the east side of the Cascades, the Newberry National Volcanic Monument was created to protect and preserve some of the lava-based wonders in the Bend area. One of these lava marvels is Lava Butte, a small but perfectly symmetrical cone that burped forth an expansive lava flow. Because of its proximity to busy Highway 97, the Lava Butte area is rather civilized, what with paved trails and parking lots, plus a very modern visitor center with electricity and everything. While the Trail of the Molten Land sports a totally awesome name, this was not your usual Richard Hike, but it did make for a welcome diversion on a 4 hour drive home from the Oregon Badlands.

Lane on the Trail of Molten Land lane
Leaving the Whispering Pines parking area (everything must have a cool name here apparently, it must be like a rule), Lane and I set out on a paved trail skirting the Lava Butte lava flow. Black rock on one side, whispering trees on the other; I couldn't help but wonder what the whispering was about: "Those two hikers stink!", but hey, it'd been a couple of days since either one of us had taken a shower.

It was all Lava Butte's fault
It didn't take long to leave the gossiping conifers behind and enter a world of black rock. Jagged, sharp black rock everywhere: without the paved trail, it'd be nigh impossible to hike cross-country across the surrounding lava fields. When we parked the car, Lava Butte had appeared rather small but up close, it was just the opposite. It would have been work to walk to the top but fortunately (or not so fortunately, depending on one's hiking mood and ambition) our trail was headed away from the butte. 

A veritable Mighty Mississippi River of lava
Gradually climbing upward, the path dead-ended at a viewpoint of the lava flow that emanated from little Lava Butte. The view was jaw-dropping. A wide river of solidified lava, a veritable mighty Mississippi River of black rock, filled up a wide valley lying between us and the snowy Cascades. The Three Sisters were the closest peaks, their whiteness enhanced by the black rock surrounding us. To the south, was Diamond Peak and further yet in the distance was the slender pyramid of Mount Thielsen. To the north was massive Mount Jefferson. Way cool, and Lane and I enjoyed an unhurried view soak on a bench, because we normally don't hike where there are benches.

A trail that can make you seasick
This loop hike was just over a mile long so there really isn't much more to report. The parking lot was beginning to fill as we finished the hike off, and various conversations were taking place in various languages underneath the gossip-mongering Whispering Pines, who probably listened in on every conversation taking place beneath the nosy tree branches.

"Nessie" patrols the lava beds
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Reynolds Pond to Black Lava Trail

In summer, when Roseburg gets quite warm, my friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors all grouse about the oppressive heat. I'm not so quick to get on the Waah Express, though, as I grew up in southern California and Baja California. There, it'd be 90 degrees before 8AM and we'd play soccer in the baking heat during recess and lunch break. "Yeah, but it's a dry heat!" say my grumbling acquaintances as they daintily sip their iced drink of choice. Well, sad to say, after this last weekend in the Oregon Badlands, I looked in the mirror and saw an bona fide Oregonian blinking myopically (put on your glasses, Richard) back at me. Somewhere, somehow, I became an Oregonian, so get ready to listen to me whine about the heat.

What passes for a meadow in these parts
The temperature topped out at around 90 degrees which is not excessively hot, but there was something about the heat that sapped the will to walk for both Lane and myself. We had planned an ambitious 11'ish mile hike on the Black Crater Trail, but when Lane suddenly stopped and said "You know, I've been thinking about this...", I turned around and began walking back the way we came without even listening to another word. It was kind of like that eloquent non-verbal communication that married couples engage in; perhaps Lane and I have been hiking together too long.

The basic plan was to hike a longish loop consisting of the Black Lava, Tumulus, and Basalt Trails. However, if we plan to keep doing this kind of thing, we really should bring a map next time. We had studied a trailhead map a day and 4 beers ago,  and so relying on our incredible memories,  Lane and I crossed a gate next to a nameless canal and proceeded to hike on a gravel road next to the aqueduct. Well, turned out we were on the wrong side of the canal and unbeknownst to us, we had actually hiked out of Oregon Badlands Wilderness. I guess our incredible memories were just edible. The trail scenery still consisted of juniper trees and sagebrush, though. Lots and lots of juniper trees and sagebrush.

So yeah, the scenery was remarkably similar to the prior day's hike to Flatiron Rock. Having said that though, there was one item that was totally at odds with the harsh desert environs: a canal flowing with cool water next to the trail. Initially, the canal was slow flowing with graceful curves, the glassy surface reflecting the blue sky above. But there were places where elevation was lost in tumbling cascades, imparting a seemingly alpine vibe to the hike. However, we were still surrounded by desert so the alpenicity only extended to only about 5 feet on either side of the canal. I doubt alpenicity is even a word but it does seem like it has possibliness to it. At any rate, it was all desert surrounding the canal.

The Central Oregon Canal just got a little bit bigger
About a mile into the hike, a much larger canal came in from the right and we found ourselves walking in between the two canals. Looking like a prominent river, the larger aqueduct was big enough to have its own bland name: Central Oregon Canal. After a short walk alongside the COC, a gravel road spanned both canals and we crossed over to the other side of the nameless canal, putting us officially on the Black Lava Trail.

A juniper puts its foot down

We didn't see any black lava and by this time, the heat was hot (well, duh) and our will to finish off this 11 miler faded in indirect proportion to the amount of time we spent in the open sunlight. Given the lack of trees overhead, we spent virtually all of our time in the sun so before long, Lane had his let's-go-back epiphany and I had my excuse to turn around. It was somewhat ironic that we were so sunbaked and parched within sight of the snowbound Three Sisters on the western skyline.

From personal experience, they bite!
On the way back, we stopped for a couple of extended shade soaks, both of us harboring an irrational fixation on the notion of hurling ourselves into the canal for a cooling soak. At our glampsite next to Reynold's Pond, it took us all of a nanosecond to open an ice-cold citrus beer.  All life should be as good as that ice-cold beer. The rest of the day was spent watching lizards scurry to and fro and listening to the coyotes howl as the day ended. We went to bed having learned things about ourselves today: namely, we are from Douglas County and we love and adore shade.

We almost went swimming
So, our little visit to the Oregon Badlands Wilderness was somewhat underwhelming but interesting, nonetheless. I think there is a portion of the wilderness that consists of true badlands features sucha as canyons, arroyos, and lava-based features. Looking at the map, there are a number of trails criss-crossing the the wilderness and I'm not ready to give up on the Oregon Badlands yet. I'll be back for further exploration, just not in the middle of summer.

The Hot Lane
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Reynolds Pond

Reynold's Pond is where Lane and I glamped on our visit to the Oregon Badlands Wilderness. "And what is glamping? you might ask. Or you might not ask, but I'm going to tell you anyway. Per Wikipedia, "Glamping is a portmanteau of glamour and camping and describes a style of camping with amenities..." The way I figure it, glamping is better defined as any kind of camping where you can use "portmanteau" in a sentence describing the camping thereof. Of course, many of my friends and my one wife would not even describe camping at Reynold's Pond as glamping, due to a perceived lack of amenities. From their point of view, it's like the phrase "Oregon Badlands" counteracts and neutralizes "glamour". I suppose it depends on perspective, really, because Lane and I found Reynold's Pond a much more cushier place than our usual campsites. 

Children love to wade in the water

While there were no restrooms, established campsites, electricity, or tap water; there were some rather luxurious aspects not normally associated with a Richard and Lane camping trip. For instance, there was my Jeep, loaded to the gills with such frivolous items like air mattresses, pillows, cold beer, electronic reader books, and clean clothing. Plus, on the second evening, we drove into Bend and ate Mexican food at a restaurant. If that's not glamping, I have no idea what is. 

This nameless canal feeds the pond
Reynold's Pond has the distinction of being the only place in the Oregon Badlands where trailhead camping is not discouraged. The pond also has the distinction of being the only water existing in the extremely arid and sere Oregon Badlands. The small body of water is fed by a nameless Central Oregon Canal branch canal and was enjoyed by kayakers, birders, fishermen, swimmers, children, dogs, and at least two hikers. And just to work up an appetite, Lane and I did a pre-dinner 0.6 mile hike around the picturesque body of water.

Afternoon sun
Because of the lack of water in the area, the pond supports a vibrantly twittering population of birds. In the cattail reeds surrounding the pond, dozens of red-winged blackbirds flirted and wooed each other in the stalks. We did see some larger birds like hawks and one bald eagle, sitting high atop the willow trees surrounding the pond. The willow trees also gave us a welcome respite from looking at the ever ubiquitous juniper trees. A large garter snake lay across the trail, the harmless serpent having both Lane and I jumping back in surprise, but at least nobody screamed like a girl or yelled out "Yowzah!" 

Curious lizards came to visit our glampsite
The sun was sinking in the late afternoon and the willow trees were burnished gold against the blue sky. It didn't take long to complete the loop around the pond so it was back to our campsite to cook and eat dinner. As we attended to our meals, bluebelly lizards came by to socialize, comically doing pushups on the rocks surrounding the fire pit. Obviously, the skittering reptiles are pretty inured to the presence of incredibly handsome hikers such as I. Surprisingly, the lizards were spotted in the higher reaches of a juniper tree shading our tents. 

Nothing quite like a desert sunset
Sunset was truly spectacular on each of the two nights we stayed there. There is just something about a desert sunset. In the evening, small rodents ran up and down our tents, making sure we were awake. And lest we sleep in, in the morning a choir of coyotes sang from the Howlin' Wolf songbook. Those are the kind of amenities that made this campout a true glamping experience, and you can put that in your portmanteau.

...and the coyotes begin to sing
For more pictures of this glampground, please visit the Flickr album.

Flatiron Rock

"Badlands!", I surely do like the sound of that! I'd never been to the Oregon Badlands, so it was high time to go visit one of Oregon's newer wilderness areas. The Oregon Badlands Wilderness was created in 2009 to preserve and protect igneous rock formations, dry river canyons, desert wildflowers, and Native American pictographs. Now while all those things may be present in the Wilderness, Lane and I mostly noticed juniper trees and sagebrush. Lots and lots of juniper trees and sagebrush.

Ancient juniper tree
The Oregon Badlands were formed from an indistinct shield volcano, which is another way of saying this volcano is like Sister Sue of song: short and stout, didn't grow up but did grow out. Basically, the lava oozed from beneath the earth and coagulated around the volcano's vent like pus around a chickenpox blister. As one hikes on the trails, or at least on the two trails we hiked on, you really are not aware that you are actually hiking on top of a volcano. The terrain is flat and dusty and is generally devoid of volcanic features like lava flows, cones, or vents. Occasional lava formations do show themselves every now and then, but mostly the scenery is limited to juniper trees and sagebrush. Lots and lots of juniper trees and sagebrush.

Lots and lots of juniper trees and sagebrush
At the Flatiron Rock Trailhead, we were immediately presented with two trails to choose from. The Flatiron Trail is pretty much a straight shot to Flatiron Rock while the Ancient Juniper Trail takes a more circuitous route, wandering around through juniper trees and sagebrush. Lots and lots of juniper trees and sagebrush.

Holey juniper tree, Batman!
On our west side of the Cascades, old-growth Douglas firs are easy to distinguish because of their immense size. The old-growth junipers are not as obvious, as they only grow as tall as a pre-pubescent Douglas fir. However, the trees are quite ancient despite their lack of stature, most are around 1,000 years old or better. Their trunks and limbs are twisted and wizened, displaying the inherent wisdom, character, and arthritis that comes with living a long life in the desert. The orange-red trunks of the ancient juniper trees reminded me of bristlecone pines, likewise noted for their amazing longevity. The ability to live nearly forever in harsh conditions must have something to do with twisted orange-red limbs and trunks, which bodes well for President Trump.

Purple legume flower thingy
Despite the aridity of the desert, life (other than juniper trees and sagebrush) was bursting at the seams. Pale wallflower vied with larkspur and dwarf monkeyflower for most prolific flower-of-day awards. Other less common flowers of note were threadleaf phacelia and dense mats of some purple legume flower thingy with fuzzy leaves which I was unable to identify.

Ants discourage a sit-down rest stop
Bluebelly lizards were a common sight as they skittered into the sagebrush. Birds of all kinds squawked, cawed, twittered, or sang; depending on the specie. One particular bird rivaled the blue sky in color and was easy to see as it flittered to and fro in the juniper and sagebrush. I'm no birder but it may have been a lazuli bunting.

Lane hikes through lots and lots
of juniper trees and sagebrush
After a mile and a half or so, the Ancient Juniper Trail rejoined with the Flatiron Trail, which continued north to Flatiron Rock. The terrain was flat so the hiking was relatively easy. The trail could have gone straight were it not for the fact it had to weave around all the juniper trees.

Trail atop Flatiron Rock
A lava wall about 10 feet high or so was the first indicator we were nearing Flatiron Rock. You'd figure a small peak would be easily spotted in the flat desert but Flatiron Rock was not very tall, rising only 20 to 30 feet above the desert floor. But since it was the tallest thing in all the juniper trees and sagebrush, it did provide some pretty impressive views.

All the juniper you could ever want to look at
Stretching out from Flatiron Rock was a flat sea of juniper trees and sagebrush. A chain of Cascade peaks ran north from distant Mount Thielsen to a ghostly Mount Hood. A large brown mountain to the east was the Powell Buttes and we could see Smith Rocks just beyond the Powell Buttes. Pretty cool but wait: there's more!

Kissing rocks
The natural rock fort on top of Flatiron rock really appealed to my inner child and I so wanted to play cops and robbers on the rock. A trail ran through a dusty moat flanked with turrets, spires, and ramparts on both sides. The moat was actually a loop on top of the unassuming rock and Lane and I climbed a few walls just for fun, although Lane was puzzled when I pointed my finger mock-pistol at him and said "Bang, you're dead!" Two kissing rocks formed a rock arch and much photography abounded. Also abounding was a lengthy view-soak in the shade of a juniper tree because in the late afternoon, it was getting to be quite warm.

It was getting quite warm, hot even!
The heat made the return leg a hot and dusty trudge, as we pretty much melted like a Jolly Ranchers on a hot sidewalk. Periodically we stopped to avail ourselves of some shade, those juniper trees making themselves useful in that regard. We didn't complain (too much) though, as we both knew that in summer, the temperature surely must get nearly as warm as the sun's core.

Dwarf monkeyflower was a common sight
A signboard at the trailhead said trailhead camping was discouraged everywhere except at Reynold's Pond, located on the north side of the wilderness. After the hike, we hopped in the car and drove over there because the word "pond" implied water, which would definitely be an improvement over miles and miles of juniper trees and sagebrush. Lots and lots of juniper trees and sagebrush.

On top of Flatiron Rock
For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Dellenback Dunes

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area is not one single area, but actually a patchwork collection of many sand-filled areas. Of all the dune areas set aside for hikers, John Dellenback Dunes is the largest of them all. I don't have any actual square acreage data to throw out, but based on my non-empirical impression, the Dellenback Dunes are huge. Recently, the Friends of the Umpqua were going to play, frolic, and generally caper about in Oregon's largest sandbox, so Daweson and I got up early to join the club on what promised to be a sunny day at the coast.

Perfect weather for hiking!
So much for the forecasted sunny day! It was overcast at the trailhead and would remain so for the entire day, but no complaining will be tolerated, for the temperature was cool and perfect for hiking. Even though there was cloud cover overhead, enough UV rays leaked through to cause mild sunburns on some of my more sun-challenged friends.

Uphill in sand, so much fun!
After a short walk from the trailhead on a sandy track through a coastal forest, we headed uphill in soft sand to attain the crest of the "Great Dune". Once atop the dune, the sand was firm and hard-packed (just like me!), making the hiking easy and enjoyable. Sand stretched out in all directions and wind had adorned the sands with patterned artwork.

Beaach lupine
The large dune we were walking on pointed like an abrasive dagger aiming into the sandy heart of Dellenback Dunes, the dune terminating at a prominent tree island that keeps observant  hikers oriented in all the featureless sand. Just before the tree island, we dropped off the tall dune and  set off across a sandy plain, heading south toward Tenmile Creek.

Ponds dotted the dunescape
As of today (May 30th) the Forest Service still has a flood damage alert posted for the Oregon Dunes area. Apparently the ample rain this year has raised havoc with campgrounds, trails, and roads (we ran into some of the flood damage on our Tahkenitch Dunes hike earlier this year). Dellenback Dunes was apparently spared from the watery rampage but there were still a number of leftover ponds collecting in the dune dimples, like so many oases. It seemed like there were more ponds than usual and the usual ponds were fuller than they'd normally be. Of course, our two youngest hikers (Daweson, age 14; and Emma, age 6) just had to sink in the quicksand that typically forms at the edge of the ponds.

Tenmile Creek looks more like a river
Tenmile Creek was wide and deep and looked more like a river as it cut through the dunes. We bushwhacked along the snaking creek/river, eventually trading open sand for thin forest and beach grass. Since I was the only hiker clad in shorts, I quickly became more aware than most that the tips of beachgrass blades are sharp and pointy. When Tenmile Creek made a pronounced turn to the south, the vegetation became too thick to bushwhack comfortably through. In the interest of scratch-free hiking, we bid adieu to the creek and took a more direct route to the beach.
A marsh just begs to be waded across

Despite the forested aspect of our route, we were basically navigating across a series of marshes so  it figures there'd be at least one large marsh in the way. The water was probably knee deep or better and Daweson and I were just about ready to gleefully splash our way across. However, our allergic-to-wet-feet comrades found it fairly easy to walk along the edge to get around the marsh and sadly, our boots remained as sere as a desert as we followed the dry-footers.

It's a bird, a plane,'s Super Daweson
Just beyond the marsh was the delta area of Tenmile Creek. The creek obviously changes course with great regularity, frequently shifting its track through the sand, as evidenced by a stagnant bay that formed where the large creek had been particularly indecisive about its route to the sea. Daweson demonstrated his long-jumping prowess by leaping across a tributary creek.


Speaking of showing off skills, Daweson further entertained the crowd by performing some flips, sticking the landing each time. I'd claim that I taught him that but the difference between my flips and his, is that my flips are not done on purpose. Rachel averred that she too, had tumbling skills and began a "graceful" run into an awkward leap in the air that culminated with an emphatic thud in the sand, much to the amusement of all onlookers. She might have jumped as high as six inches but without a ruler, it was hard to tell.

We're so sorry, Mother Kildeer
After a short visit to the tidal flats (it was low tide) and beach, we turned around and headed back. As we skirted a marsh, a kildeer was shrieking in the brackish water, dragging an injured wing behind her. The wing was not really injured, though: kildeer engage in deception in order to protect their young when nesting. Kildeer eggs are speckled and very hard to see, and lie unprotected on the open ground. We did find the nest but not before a hiking boot had disturbed it. It was really quite sad to listen to her anguish as we hiked past, all we can do is say "we are so very sorry, please forgive us for our trespass."

This sums up the hike on the return leg
On the return leg, the two youngsters shed their shoes and slid, rolled, somersaulted, and leaped in the sandy dunes. Progress was slow but it was entertaining. All that energy expended resulted in sleeping passengers on the drive home but at least nobody asked me "Are we there yet?"

Gaoying is dwarfed by the sandy expamse
Because of all the rainfall, it's been prognosticated to be a bad year for ticks. Well, to be more concise, it is going to be a great year for ticks, and not so great a year for hikers. Continuing a recent trend, John kept plucking them off his pant legs on the hike and on the way home, he dispatched no less than eight of the bloodsucking parasites. One tick burrowed into Daweson's shoulder and judging by the excited Chinese emanating from the back seat, Gaoying also found a few crawling on her and Emma. Also continuing a recent trend, not one tick was found on your merry blogster. Not sure why that is, but I'm going to keep eating those habanero chiles. 

For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.