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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Klickitat Wildlife Area, Lower Deschutes River, and Cottonwood Canyon State Park

I am forced to be a little more creative this year with my camping plans due to snow still sticking around in the higher elevations, so I decided to check out the Klickitat Wildlife area outside of Goldendale WA. If you like wide open spaces where you can see for miles, grassy fields, oak trees, and wildflowers, this place delivers.

The Klickitat Wildlife Area.

I often like to do rides on the way to or from a camping destination, and for years I have known about the trail along the Lower Deschutes River, and although I've hiked a short portion of it, I wanted to do the whole 22 miles on horseback.

The Deschutes River Recreation area allows horses on the Old Railbed trail only between March 1st and June 30th every year, and you have to have a reservation. It was somewhat confusing getting the reservation, I was directed to call a number which was the wrong number, then told to call the park directly, they then told me to call the number I had already called. Long story short, to bypass all of this, the actual number is 1 800 551 6949. I paid my $8.00 and after that I got a series of emails with instructions, a confirmation letter, then a pre-registration email, and finally the actual paper to print out and take to the park with me.
When I got there I followed the rules and checked in with the park host who was a nice enough fellow but he obviously didn't give a rip whether I checked in or not. The parking area for trailers is small, only enough room for two rigs, there is a manure bin to clean up after yourself, and there are bathrooms nearby.

The horse trailer parking lot at the Deschutes River Recreation Area.

The Old Railbed Trail starts right at the parking area.

I started off on the trail and rode the entire 22 miles, mostly in solitude, only seeing a couple of cyclists the entire day. I was lucky enough to stop and observe a couple of bald eagles fishing in the river.
Approximately halfway there is a hitching post, and there are also a few bathrooms along the way. I believe they used to have water troughs set up for horses, since they don't want anyone riding down to the river, but although I did see a couple of them here and there, they were empty and falling apart.
At one point a train went by on the tracks on the opposite side of the river, so not particularly close to us, but my horse had never seen one before and got her panties in a twist about it for a little while.
Eventually I came across the old Harris Ranch and a little further past that, a railroad water tower built in 1909. Although the trail does continue on, this is where horses are supposed to stop, it was a long enough ride at this point anyway, so I headed back.

Looking back to the north along the Old Railbed Trail.

On the Old Railbed Trail beside the Deschutes River.

A bald eagle with his catch of the day.

An abandoned boxcar on the Old Railbed Trail.

A train across the river.

At the Harris Ranch a house still stands ...barely.

At the Harris Ranch.

I then drove over to Washington to The Klickitat Wildlife area which has dispersed camping only. As you drive up Grayback Rd. there are four designated camping areas along the way and then the road ends and it becomes more of a 4x4 track from there. This is nice because mostly no one drives in there unless they are wanting to camp, and so it was very quiet, and I did not see or hear a single other soul the entire time I was there. I chose the third campsite because it was tucked far back off the main road, but the fourth spot is probably the best one, with a fantastic view of Mt. Adams. You have to have a Discover Pass there but otherwise it is free, however there are no amenities whatsoever. My spot actually had a pond next to it with water still in it, surprisingly, since all the small seasonal creeks had dried up already. The ground was so dry it took me three times as long to get my portable fence posts into the hard cracked earth.

My camping spot at the Klickitat Wildlife Area.

On my first day there I decided to ride uphill from camp to Grayback Mt. which turned out to be a good idea as it was the only day I got good views of both Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood. The weather forecast had changed rather drastically between the time I left home and actually got to my destination! From sunny and nice, to cloudy with possible rain.

The Klickitat Wildlife area. Views for days.

Views of Mt. Adams in the Klickitat Wildlife Area.

Lots of wildflowers as I rode up towards Grayback Mountain.

Almost to the top of Grayback Mountain.

On top of Grayback Mountain.

On my way back down Grayback Mt. I soon learned there are rattlesnakes in the area. I was surprised to see this guy since it wasn't very warm out, but he notified me of his presence with plenty of warning.  (anyone afraid of snakes can skip past this next photo)

After reaching the bottom of the mountain I rode farther off to the east, exploring the many miles of little used forest roads and stumbling across a couple of off the grid residences in the process. I then started heading in the direction of my trailer, came out right at it... but on the wrong side of a fence....another hour later I managed to find my way through.

The following day I rode down Grayback Rd. crossing over Glenwood Hwy and into another section of land along North Breaks Rd. which also has camping areas for the first half of a mile. I rode up above the canyon looking down on the Klickitat River for as long as I could, but eventually there were private property fences that blocked my way. As I was heading back, it started to rain, so I found a large accommodating Ponderosa and waited it out....and waited, and waited... and finally realized it wasn't going to stop, so I made my way back to camp getting pretty soaked in the process.

There were a lot of these bushes, in either white, blue, or shades of purple. If anyone knows what they are, feel free to send me a note!

Looking down on the Klickitat River.

Sitting under a Ponderosa waiting in vain for the rain to stop.

On the last day I was ready to head back to Oregon, hoping to find some slightly better weather at my next stop. Cottonwood Canyon State Park which sits along the John Day River opened in 2013, and has a campground, several trails to hike or bike on, and The Lost Corral Trail which is open to horseback riding.
The park is located between Wasco and Condon OR and although there is no horse camp there, it is a nice detour of about 16 miles east of Hwy 97 if you happen to be passing by. Horse trailer parking is actually past the sign for the park, over the bridge, in the JS Burres day use area. This lot is very large and was very full when I was there, but I saw no one on the trail, the vehicles all belonged to boaters.

A very busy parking lot on this particular day.

Cottonwood Canyon State Park.

The Lost Corral Trail is 8.6 miles round trip along the river and I had a sneaking suspicion that once I reached the end there might be.... a corral....and there was, although not an especially exciting one, just a bunch of panels to contain cows. There is a little loop at the end you can continue on, to take in a bit more scenery. I started out on the loop but only made it a few feet before two large snakes slithered out of my way. They had very dark bodies unlike the rattlesnakes I am accustomed to seeing, but sure enough they had rattles, so I backed my horse out of there. It was very overgrown and hard for me to see them ahead of time, and these two apparently were not feeling threatened, and did not feel the need to warn me, so I went the other way instead, where there was more visibility. I saw one more rattler on a short side trail, who did buzz at me, and then I headed back.

On The Lost Corral Trail.

The John Day River along the Lost Corral Trail.

On the Lost Corral Trail.

The loop trail once you reach the corral area.

The corral is tucked up against the rocks.

On the Esau Loop Trail.

What a fun trip! Now I have to figure out where to go next...melt, snow, melt!


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Bruneau Dunes State Park, City of Rocks and Wilson Creek, Idaho

First trip of the year! I decided to head over to Idaho for a week, and all three of the different areas I went were better than expected. Of course I could have been anywhere and been happy after the long winter we were exposed to this year.

City of Rocks National Reserve.

First was Bruneau Dunes State Park which was a nice stop over on my way to City of Rocks. It is a long drive and I lost an hour due to the time difference, so I did not arrive until 5:00 pm, had a quick snack, and hopped on my horse to explore. The camp was deserted when I got there and I never did see anyone the rest of the evening. The equestrian camp is the first turn off as you enter, and very separate from the rest of the park which is quite large and spread out.

The horse camp at Bruneau Dunes State Park.

There are 19 spots, the website says 15, but I counted them! None of the sites are extremely large, really just room for one rig and they do not have corrals in the spots. There are a set of four wooden communal corrals and then a separate fifth one next to them. There is a bathroom, picnic tables and fire rings, several water spigots and garbage cans, a shelter also with picnic tables, and a very small manure bin. Apparently there are showers and flush toilets somewhere in the park but you would have to drive to find them. If you live in Idaho you get a cheaper rate, for out of state people like myself it was $23.02 per night.

The communal corrals at Bruneau Dunes State Park.

There is a map of the trails on their website and also one on the outside wall of the bathroom. There are a lot of hiking trails and two horse trail loops, a shorter version or a longer version, 7 or 9 miles. I was going to do both but ran out of time, and I was also nearly frozen to death near the end of the ride.

The shorter loop runs up onto the ridge away from camp, then back down next to two enormous sand dunes, ( I learned that one of them is the tallest single structured dune in North America ) through a thicket of Russian Olive trees and back to camp. The longer loop goes past a couple of small lakes, but I did not see them except from afar.

The trails are marked with white plastic posts along the way.

On top of a dune at Bruneau Dunes State Park.

Hard to tell in the picture, but these dunes are enormous.

The next morning I had a relatively short drive of three more hours to get to City of Rocks National Reserve. I drove over a couple of passes on the way there which had just had snow the previous night, and that made me a little concerned about what conditions I would encounter upon arrival. As expected it had snowed in the park as well, but was melting rapidly.

Smoky Mountain Campground is a large people camp with an additional loop section of six horse sites each with a small steel corral, technically you are allowed two horses in each corral, but they are so small I wouldn't recommend it. There is a much larger communal corral, that you can grab and use if you happen to get to it first. The camp is paved and has garbage cans, picnic tables, fire rings, water spigots and hookups. (This was my first time ever having hookups in all my years of horse camping. ) There are a couple of steel receptacles to deposit manure into, but you have to scoop it in to them. There is a large day use area which is where the equestrian trailhead is and it has a vault toilet.  But there are also two bathroom buildings in the main campground with flush toilets and one also has showers. They charge $32.00 a night for out of state people, but with the reservation fee and taxes added in, it came to $37.00 per night.

The corral in spot 36 at Smoky Mountain Campground.

I had reserved a spot, you don't have to, but it seemed like a good idea since I would be staying through part of the weekend, also they allow non horse people to use them, and it was the only spot left when I checked Reserve America. I pulled in to site 36 and was getting ready to ride, when the camp hosts came by. After a long conversation it was determined that I was in the wrong spot. This camp is very badly designed, of the 6 horse sites, three of them are crammed in side by side at the top of what looks to be a loop road. Instead, the loop road was actually my spot, this became increasingly confusing during the rest of my stay as other people with reservations drove straight up the road and encountered what looked like my rig directly blocking their way, causing countless people to have to back up around a corner, some with trailers, and then drive in the other direction. This was especially bad for the poor folks who needed to get into #37, the only logical way for them to back in to their spot was to drive through mine.... which they could not do. Also once they were situated, they started to use my picnic table and fire ring because it appears to be theirs, since it is located right next to them. I didn't bother to explain that it was actually mine! If you do not want to deal with all of this hoopla, reserve one of the three separate back-in spots 33, 34, or after moving my rig into the correct area, I headed out on my ride.

My spot 36 that appears to be blocking the loop road.

I had three days to ride here and with new snow in the higher elevations I decided to stay lower down the first day and gradually ride on the higher trails as the days went on, and this strategy ended up working out quite well.

The trail leaves camp, eventually crosses and then follows Circle Creek for a mile and a half before you get into the rocks. On day one I took the junction to the left, this spit me out onto the dirt road that runs through the park and follows roughly along what used to be the California Trail that the emigrants used back in the day. The first thing I came to was the remnants of what was once the Circle Ranch, an old homestead the Tracy family built in 1904.
I then stayed on the road for as long as I felt like riding, checking out the different informational plaques set up along the way. A lot of the rocks have names and one called Camp Rock has what looks like graffiti on the backside of it, but it is actually bona fide signatures from emigrants passing through, they used axle grease to sign their names and the date, and although some have faded over the years, most are remarkably intact.

What was once the Tracy Homestead.

Riding along the road checking out all the rocks.

You can gauge the size of these rocks by the little bug driving past them.

Informational plaques are set up periodically in the park.

On Camp Rock the signatures of emigrants remain.

Another option for horse camping in the park is the Juniper Group Camp, I happened upon it as I was just about to turn around and head back. This site is out in the middle of nowhere, has a bathroom, hookups, (yes, they run underground power out to here), and a really nice acre of pasture area that has been fenced off to accommodate quite a few horses, although they would all have to be pastured together. There is a hydrant with non potable water, but when I tried it nothing came out, however the water trough in the pasture was full and clean, so I think if someone reserves this spot, it looks like they take care of keeping it full.

The Juniper Group Camp horse pasture.

At the Juniper Group Horse Camp.

This was once the site of a stage stop, there is a lot of history in this area.

After my ride I arrived back at my site to find myself with some non horse camper neighbors, we started chatting and I made myself a couple of new friends. Sam and Sue were visiting the park so Sam could rock climb and they also planned to mountain bike and then do some skiing at a nearby mountain. That evening after dinner they invited me to come along and watch Sam and some of his friends climb, so we headed over to Bath Rock. I learned quite a bit about rock climbing, most importantly that I will never try it, but it was very fun and interesting.

Sam scales Bath Rock.

Sunset at City of Rocks.

This area has cactus.....I was actually quite surprised to see it and it is not everywhere, all the time, but you have to watch for it along the various trails in the park. On my second day I took a series of trails that headed into the heart of a whole conglomeration of rock formations.

The Circle Creek crossing.

Quite a lot of cactus to keep an eye out for.

Before you arrive at the park, you have the option of stopping at the visitor center in the tiny town of Almo. There you can get maps and info, but there is also a map at the equestrian trailhead and mapboards in the park at the various parking areas, and they show all the specific horse trails, plus you can ride on any of the roads. There are several "foot traffic only" sections which are trails that are not horse friendly, I ended up on a couple of them briefly and had to turn back. When you get to junctions, although they are marked, they do not tell you whether it is a horse trail or not. There is certainly enough riding here to keep a person busy, I did almost everything in three days of long rides, but there is also national forest bordering the park, and a whole other area within a short drive ( you pass it on the way to City of Rocks) called Castle Rock State Park that I did not even visit on this trip.

On the Stripe Rock Loop Trail.

The rock on the right is called Stripe Rock, it has a seam running down it.

The view looking down from the Indian Grove Trail.

There are markers at all the junctions but they do not specify whether it is a horse friendly trail.

On my third day I was able to climb up towards Graham Peak, at an elevation of 8,867 feet. I took the road on the way up and the trail on the way down. I did run into a snowdrift at one point left over from winter and had to do a little bushwacking to get around it. But most of all the fresh snow had melted by this time except for at the highest points. It was Saturday by now and my once quiet days of riding became a different story as hordes of people descended on the park, mostly rock climbers. It was still possible to escape from everyone via the trails, but the roads and parking areas were very busy. Besides the campground that I stayed in, non horse people can drive into the park and camp amongst the rocks, there are some beautiful spots set up, and a lot of them are private and spread out.

On the Stripe Rock Loop.

A lunch break at Bread Loaves.

I decided to ride the road up to Graham Peak.

On the way up to Graham Peak, in the Sawtooth National Forest.

There are hotsprings in town, and I was invited to go with my new friends on Saturday evening, but the one thing I did not pack was a swimsuit, so I reluctantly declined.

On Sunday I got back on the road and drove over to the Wilson Creek Trail system located in the Owyhees near Boise in Marsing, Idaho. There is no horse camp here but I had visited this place once before a few years back while on a road trip in my car, and I figured I could drive on past the main trailhead and find myself a nice level spot for dispersed camping.

 At the trailhead there is plenty of room for parking, plus another big overflow parking area, a bathroom, and a brochure with a map of the trails that you can take with you.

The main trailhead on the left and the overflow parking on the right at Wilson Creek.

As I was just starting to get set up, a couple came by on horseback and told me they were headed off to find the creek, when they came back a little later they said they had not found it, but the following day finding the creek was exactly what I did, and it was a beautiful ride.

My little spot in the Owyhees at Wilson Creek.

A couple riders I chatted with briefly.

I did a large loop and the diversity that I encountered just in one day was quite something. Near where I parked it was fairly barren looking with just dirt and rock, then I rode into a canyon with steep cliffs towering above me and lush grass along Reynolds Creek. Awhile later I was out amongst rolling grassy hills and wildflowers. I had some company during the ride, there are large Mormon crickets that reside here, they sang me to sleep at night at camp, but on one particular stretch of trail through some taller grass, the ground underneath me suddenly started moving, with all of the big, kind of creepy looking insects, trying to get out of my way.

Kind of a barren landscape where I camped.

Lush greenery by Reynolds Creek.

A beautiful canyon with Reynolds Creek running through it.

Wildflowers in the Owyhees.

A partridge, but no pear tree. They cluck, sort of like a chicken.

The trails are marked and numbered.

The Mormon crickets, are large and slightly creepy looking, but harmless.

I spent one more night so I could drive back at a leisurely pace the following day.
On May 17th when I originally left for my trip it was snowing as I was driving across Oregon. In complete contrast a week later, I drove home in over 90 degree weather!