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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Sheep Springs Horse Camp, Deschutes National Forest

Sheep Springs is a very popular camp, with easy trails, a beautiful setting, and convenient early season accessibility.

Mt. Jefferson views from Sheep Springs Horse Camp.

To get there: From Sisters drive west on Hwy 20 for 12.5 miles, take a right at the sign for Camp Sherman, then follow the horse camp signs for the next 9 miles, the last few miles are on gravel.

Sheep Springs has 11 spots, with four horse log corrals and a host spot.There are two manure bins, one at each end of camp, two bathrooms, a hand pump with potable water, and a separate small stock water trough. Both water sources are close to the entrance.
There is no day use area, but you can park in a dispersed camping area, on the left just before reaching camp. You can find season dates or make reservations ( probably a good idea ) on Recreation.gov and it is $16.00 per night. There is no gate, so riding or camping here can be done even when the camp is officially closed.

Sheep Springs Horse Camp.

Sheep Springs Horse Camp.

One of the water sources just outside the entrance to camp.

There are a couple of  beautiful rides within a short drive on bumpy gravel roads, if you are there at the right time of year to be able to get into the high country, and if trailering out is an option: Canyon Creek Meadows, starting from Jack Lake, and the ride to Cabot and Carl Lake and beyond.
Green Ridge is another fairly close option and it can be done early in the season.

There are also several nice rides from camp:
The Metolius Windigo Trail leaves across the road, and you can ride it south as long as you want....if you make it all the way to the crossing over the Metolius River at Riverside Campground and then turn back, that is about a 21 mile ride.

Along the Metolius Windigo Trail.

Three Fingered Jack from the Metolius Windigo Trail.

On the Metolius Windigo Trail.

On the Metolius Windigo Trail.

One of the signs on the Met Win.

You can also follow the Met Win to the west towards Bear Valley. It climbs gradually, eventually reaching the junctions with the Rockpile Lake Trail and the trail to Minto Lake. Unfortunately neither of these trails are cleared anymore, so from here it's best to just admire the valley and turn around making it a 10 mile out and back ride. Rockpile has been cleared in the past and may be again, but Minto has not been maintained in years.

On the trail to Bear Valley.

Riding back down from Bear Valley, Green Ridge in the distance.

Another option is to follow the trail behind sites 8 and 9, which heads over a small hill briefly and where you will then get a great view of Mt. Jefferson. You can continue on and do loop rides from here, there are a lot trails you won't find on a map, but that horse campers have made over the years.

Views of Mt. Jefferson.

Views from the small hill behind camp.

Fall colors in the burned area.

You can also loop past the Redmond Saddle Club over to the Metolius River and then follow Canyon Creek back.

The Metolius River.

Canyon Creek.

Owls live in this area and I have seen more than one on my various escapades. They blend in rather well in the trees, you never know when one is right above your head watching you!

The owls are around if you are lucky enough to spot them.

If you feel like a break from camping, Camp Sherman is so close you can drive in, have dinner at one of the restaurants, pick up supplies from the store, and explore some of the area, including the Head of the Metolius (where the beginning of the river literally appears out of the ground) or the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery.

Happy Trails!


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Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Twin Pillars Trail, Ochoco National Forest

Well I definitely have to get out and ride when we suddenly have a beautiful overly warm day in November. The Twin Pillars Trail is one that I have done a few times in the spring, and often have not been able to make it all the way to the base of the pillars because of blow down, but it is cleared now, so I went ahead and did the whole 12 mile out and back ride. The closest horse camp is Dry Creek but you would have to trailer out from there to do this ride.


On the Twin Pillars Trail.

To get there: From Prineville drive 8 miles east on Hwy 26, then take a left on Mill Creek Rd. Follow this for 11 miles, it will turn to gravel at about half way. At the sign for Wildcat Campground turn right and park in the lot for the Twin Pillars Trail.

Parking at the Twin Pillars trailhead.

The Twin Pillars trailhead.

The trail leaves beside the bathroom and follows the creek past the campground and into the forest. You will cross the creek eight times on the way out, as well as several other small streams that run across the trail here and there. Often there will be cows grazing, depending on what time of year it is.

A spring photo from a previous visit.

On the Twin Pillars Trail.

Not as green in the fall.

On the Twin Pillars Trail.

One of the many creek crossings.

After 3 miles you will get to the junction with the Belknap Trail, stay on the main trail here, but for future reference the Belknap Trail climbs fairly steeply uphill and intersects with the Wildcat Trail. Taking a left on the Wildcat Trail you can ride as long as you want, it will end at it's northern trailhead, if you can actually get through and the trail is clear. If you turn right, it will take you to White Rock Campground and the southern TH. You can drive to this camp, I have done it, but it was back in the day with a smaller rig than I have now, and the last two miles of the road is pretty rustic.

The junction with the Belknap Trail.

On the Wildcat Trail on a previous visit.

On the Twin Pillars Trail.

After awhile you will emerge from the forest into an old burn area from a lightning fire in 2000, and at this point the pillars will be in view.

The local wildlife.

On the Twin Pillars Trail.

The trail then switchbacks through large patches of manzanita to the base of the pillars.

The Twin Pillars.

I suspect most people would rather just visit the pillars, turn around and head back, but the trail does continue another 3 miles to the Bingham Springs Campground, this could be added to the ride making it 18 miles total.

The trail continues past the pillars.

The Bingham Springs Campground. I've hiked in from here, but it's not worth driving a trailer around this way.

Heading back down through the manzanita.

Views on the way down.

I actually met a few hardy hikers on this day, having to slosh through that many creek crossings could get old after awhile, but of course no problem via horseback!

Happy Trails!


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Friday, October 14, 2016

Willow Prairie Horse Camp, Rogue River - Siskiyou National Forest

A lot of the horse camps in Southern Oregon stay open until the end of October. Last year I headed over to Fourmile Lake Horse Camp  and did some riding in the Sky Lakes Wilderness. I knew I would eventually be back to check out some more of this area, and fall is a great time to do so.

Sunset on Mt. McLoughlin from the day use area at Willow Prairie Horse Camp.

I started by driving over to the Varney Creek Trailhead in the Mountain Lakes Wilderness. I have a friend who is a ranger and works in this area, and she informed me that this 17 mile loop had been cleared and was ready to ride. The first week of October was a little chilly which meant some snow had dropped in the higher elevations, and as I was driving towards my destination I could see the evidence on the highest peaks and wondered whether I should have done this ride on my last day instead, to allow some melting to occur. Oh well, too late to change plans now.

The Varney Creek Trail leads 4.4 miles up to a junction where the Mountain Lakes Loop starts. First I came upon Lake Como, and then I rode up over a ridge and was looking down on the stunning Lake Harriette.

Lake Como on the Mountain Lakes Loop.

Lake Harriette on the Mountain Lakes Loop.

From here the trail climbs to a junction with another trail that goes to South Pass Lake. Originally my plan had been to add this extra 3 mile detour, but this is the area where I did indeed start to hit some snow patches. I can walk my shod horse across snow for about 10 seconds at which point it balls up so badly in her feet that I have to get off and dig it out, so it was not worth the extra headache.

At the South Pass junction, we hit some snow patches.

On the Mountain Lakes Loop.

Aspen Butte on the Mountain Lakes Loop.


Mt. McLoughlin.

The trail then goes past Whiteface Peak and starts to zigzag back down. Near the end of the loop is where I discovered cute little Eb and Zeb Lakes.

Views from the Mountain Lakes Loop.

Views of Upper Klamath Lake in the distance.

Zeb Lake.

Getting back to the truck I had just enough time to make it over to the camp and get set up before dark.

Willow Prairie Horse Camp is conveniently located between Medford and Klamath Falls and has 10 sites plus a site for the camp host. He was actually still there and will be until it closes. There is a bathroom, a large garbage container, and smaller recycling can, and a waste water dump. There is a wheelbarrow with a trailer you can wheel your manure up into. Several water troughs are positioned around the camp that make it easy to have access from any spot, and there is also a hand pump with potable water.
Most of the spots are roomy enough for bigger rigs, they all have four horse log corrals except for spot #5 which has six corrals. This camp is well maintained and looks like it gets a lot of use. It's $10.00 per night and you can reserve these spots online, although at this time of the year it is not necessary. There are signs at each spot that will say whether it is reserved or vacant. They are allowing non horse people to camp there as well.

Willow Prairie Horse Camp, spot #9.

Across from the camp is a large day use area, with a set of two corrals, and a lovely view of Mt. McLoughlin.
Tucked back beside Willow Prairie meadow is Willow Prairie Cabin which you can rent, it also has it's own set of corrals, (there were four but one has fallen apart), and a water trough.

Willow Prairie Cabin.

Willow Prairie Meadow from the cabin.

The next morning as I was getting ready to ride, a guy that was camped there came by, said hello and asked me if I was planning to wear any orange, which reminded me to grab my vest. He was a hunter that was just packing up and was about to leave, but he said there were a lot of other hunters out in the woods. I was already wearing red, but I put my neon orange vest over top of that, and then went about bedazzling my saddle with bright green streamers of flagging tape. After all that preparation, and wearing this gaudy ensemble daily, I did not see a single hunter in all four days of riding!

The trail system here is a bit like a maze, but it's not particularly difficult to navigate especially if you stick to the main marked trails.There are a lot of other trails and roads going off in every direction from the main trails, and some are heavily flagged....as in someone bought out an entire store of flagging tape.
There are paper maps at camp at the pay station that you can take with you and the map is somewhat useful, mostly because the main junctions are numbered so you can see where you are. The websites say there are 19 miles of trails here, however there are a variety of trails that are NOT on the map, so there is opportunity to do more mileage than that. My strategy was to stick to the map at times, but also to wander off course when the mood struck me.

On the first day I did the trail system on the east side, most of this area is forested but there was a nice open meadow called Rye Flat with a view of Mt. McLoughlin that I ended up in at one point. On my way back, to make it a longer ride, I went on some of the other non mapped trails for awhile. The largest Western White Pine in Oregon is out here somewhere, but the trail that I believe it is on had a large tree down across it, and so I did not end up finding it.

Rye Flat.

Riding back down from Rye Flat.

The following day I rode past the cabin and onto the west side trail system for awhile but I quickly became bored of looping around aimlessly so I got onto road 3735 and stayed on it until I reached the #5 loop which I proceeded to do, as well as loops 6 and 7. On pretty much every trail there are signs with arrows pointing you back in the direction of camp.

Notice the three camp arrows just on this one sign.

On loop #5, my horse decided to take a nose dive, not on purpose, of course. She slipped, couldn't recover and went all the way down, but she also fell to the left, so I had no choice but to ever so gracefully bail off of her body, so she would not crush me. I've always been grateful that when horses fall they get back up instantly, it has saved my bacon a time or two. This time her weight was only on my left leg and foot briefly. We were both okay, and we continued on.
When I got back near camp, I also rode from the day use area for awhile on part of a short loop that bird watchers use, and then called it a day.

I am no mushroom expert but according to a friend these are Golden Pholiota.

A very helpful sign on the trails near camp.

On my final day I drove over to the Summit Sno Park which is right off of Hwy 140 and I did the section of the PCT to the south that goes through the Brown Mountain lava flow.

Brown Mountain from the Summit Sno Park.

After leaving the parking area, you have to cross over the busy highway. There just happened to be road work going on at the time,  and so I had to dodge a dump truck and other heavy equipment to get across to the other side.
An incredible amount of work went into constructing a trail through this large area of lava. I followed the PCT for about two hours one way, before turning around. You ride through lava, then a short stretch of forest, then lava, then forest, lava, forest, you get the idea...

On the PCT in the Brown Mt. lava flow.

Views from the PCT.

On the PCT with views of  Mt. McLoughlin.

This little guy was sunning himself along the trail.

In a couple of the forested areas, there were some ground wasps, this is the time of year to watch for them. My horse did get stung once, and I took note of where they were, so on the way back we hustled past them at warp speed,....not suggested anyone do what I do, it just seems to work for me. Meandering past them just gives them time to notice you, and they want to defend their nest.

As I was driving home along Hwy 140 and Westside Rd. there were some spectacular fall colors to enjoy.This may be my last trip of the season, although I am holding off on winterizing the trailer just in case!


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