Saturday, May 27, 2017

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.

1 comment :

  1. I've been to the South Dakota Badlands but had no idea Oregon had one too! I don't think I'd want to hike here in the dead of summer.