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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Moss Springs and North Fork John Day Horse Camps

Well after fretting about how long the snow pack might last this year, then the heat wave of all heat waves arrives and "bam," the snow is gone!...so I figured I'd head east into the Wallowa Whitman National Forest.

Red's Horse Ranch.

I did nothing but drive the first day arriving at camp at about 4:30pm. On the forest service website and also in my hiking book the description of the gravel road leaving from Cove, OR to the camp makes it seem relentlessly steep and washboard, but I found it to be a decent road, of course everything is subjective, but I've personally driven worse roads than this. ( Don't be mad at me, if you end up hating this road! )

Moss Springs is a large camp with an interesting set up, there are 8 official campsites, one large parking/day use area and then 4 other day use areas that you can also camp in. At first I wasn't sure what to make of it, because the day use areas are nicer than the camp spots, in fact three of them have corrals whereas only one of the actual campsites has a corral, the rest only have either star feeders or hitching rails. The sites with corrals just have one, they are larger than normal and slightly dilapidated.
The funny part is, you have to pay $5.00 per night  to camp in the campsites but the day use areas are free, if you have a NW Forest Pass. There are two bathrooms with garbage cans, stock water from a stream, which is close to the entrance to camp, but no potable water or a manure bin.

One of the corrals at Moss Springs Horse Camp. This is a day use spot.

Although there were a number of vehicles parked in the lot and in a few of the camp spots, I soon realized there wasn't a soul around. This is a popular place to pack in and/or backpack so everybody was out in the wilderness, and I spent a quiet evening alone.

Large parking area at Moss Springs Horse Camp.

Although I had never camped there before, I had heard about Red's Horse Ranch so that was my destination for my first day of riding. It's 8 miles one way along a mostly forested trail, you follow the Little Minam River for awhile until reaching a ridge where you drop down to a beautiful valley. Red's horse Ranch, the Minam River Lodge, plus a couple of airstrips are all situated along the Minam River.

The trail splits 100 yards in from the trailhead, at Moss Springs Horse Camp.

On the trail to Red's Horse Ranch, looking down on the Little Minam River.

The airstrip at Red's Horse Ranch.

The caretaker's horses at Red's Horse Ranch.

Riding over to Red's Horse Ranch.

As I approached the ranch a guy came over and said hello, followed soon after by his wife. About an hour later I was still chatting with them. Roger and Debbie filled me in on the history of the area and the ranch which is now owned by the forest service. It is maintained by volunteer caretakers that are only allowed to stay a week, so every week new people come in and take over. There is no shortage of people wanting the opportunity to do this, and Roger and Debbie have done it now for ten years. They look after the place, fix things, and greet visitors such as myself. They have potable water and restrooms for the public, and you can let your horse have a drink at the trough, but you cannot stay in any of the buildings.You can however pack in and find a nice place to camp right nearby along the Minam River, or at the end of the airstrip where there is an old cabin.

From the forest service website:
History of the ranch

There was a plane parked at the end of the field so after saying goodbye to Roger and Debbie I had myself a nice gallop along the airstrip and then met the fellow that owned the plane and we also had a chat for awhile. He was planning to set up a tent and spend the night, and was mostly there to fly fish. A lot of planes fly into this area to visit Minam Lodge which is  just a half mile or so from Red's Horse Ranch. After yet another gallop along the airstrip, I rode over and took a look at the lodge as well. Not too long ago you could ride in and stay there for a reasonable rate, but a year ago it acquired new owners, and it will now cost you an arm and a leg. There are no roads that reach this area, but with people flying in, pack outfitters taking people down on horseback, and backpackers hiking in, they seem to have a lot of visitors.

Rina checks out her first plane up close and personal.

The old cabin near the end of the airstrip.

The Minam River.

The Minam Lodge.

I am not a packer but I was definitely reluctant to leave this valley, it would have been nice to stay overnight and go on a couple of excursions from there, but I eventually had to ride back up the hill to camp. There were a couple new people who had arrived, that were planning to pack in the next day. I talked to the guy about the trails for awhile, and he also filled me in on the status of camps and trails in the area of Washington that he lives.This turned out to be a very social trip for me, I was meeting new people every day.

Before leaving home I had printed out a map the forest service has of the main trails in the area and so I planned to do a large loop the following day. There is also a map on the board at the trailhead which turned out to be more accurate than the map I had. I heard that Back Country Horsemen had just recently been out clearing trails, so of course I am thankful to them that I was able to do this loop with no issues.
I followed the Lackey's Hole Trail to Cartwheel Ridge, then followed it to the junction with the Art Garrett Trail. I explored a few other side trails along the way but turned back, most were not clear, and then I finally finished the loop, staying in the saddle a pretty long time, just over 9 hours.


On the Lackey's Hole Trail.

On the Lackey's Hole Trail.

On the Lackey's Hole Trail.

On the Lackey's Hole Trail.

The view from Cartwheel Ridge.

When I got back to camp there was another guy who had arrived that day, who came over to ask me about the trail conditions and we visited for quite awhile. Taylor is a retired forest service employee who currently lives in Montana and came over to Moss Springs to do a 10 day pack trip. He had worked in this area many years ago in the 80's and it was his first trip back since then. He was using three Scottish Highland horses/ponies as his mounts and pack horses, can't say I remember ever having seen that breed in person, but they are very cute and nicely built.

On my last day, I explored a trail that left straight uphill from my campsite, it was not cleared but I was able to get through, until it ended in my very own private meadow. Then I went back and followed the road for awhile that continues past the camp and apparently leads up to a couple other trailheads, although I did not go that far. I turned around after I got a view way down onto Cove and La Grande. On my way back I saw a small herd of deer which of course is not a rare sight, but one had a tracking collar around it's neck, which is a little unusual to see.
Lastly I rode over to the Moss Springs Guard Station which is no longer being used, and I also checked out the area where some of the outfitters camp overnight, just a short distance from camp.

Later that afternoon a thunderstorm rolled in, although not really affecting me, other than a brief bit of rain, I could see it wreaking havoc over on the ridges I had just been on the day before.

The little meadow at the end of the unsigned trail behind camp.

Deer with a tracking collar.

The Moss Springs Guard Station.

 The next day I got packed up and drove back down into Baker City and was about 5 miles out of town on the highway on my way to North Fork John Day Campground when there was a heck of a noise suddenly coming from the right side of my truck. I slowed down not really knowing what was going on, but finally I clued in that I had blown a tire. That's a first for me, I actually was surprised it was a truck tire and not a trailer tire, since I've found most trailer tires are not very sturdy.

I was lucky that it happened on a flat stretch of road and there was also an area to limp across to the other side of the highway and be out of the way of traffic. I got out my manual and was trying to figure out how to get the spare tire out from under my truck, not as easy as it sounds, when a nice fellow named Doug stopped to help. He managed to get the spare off and was just started to jack up the truck, when another guy pulled over that worked for a tire company, and he just happened to have air and everything we needed to get everything changed over lickety split. Of course I offered him some money, but he refused, two very nice guys who saved me a lot of trouble!
I got back on the road and drove up past Granite to my next destination.
By then it was a Saturday and the camp was quite full, although not with horse people.

North Fork John Day has 14 regular spots, 5 walk in tent spots, and one group site. 4 spots and the group site are situated at the end, on a loop, which is the area you can have stock. I was told I could camp in any of the spots but clearly a person would want to be near their horse, so really the four at the end are the best choice. There are three bathrooms, a loading ramp and large day use area, two steel communal corrals as well as a star feeder and hitching rails in the middle of the loop for anyone to use. It is $8.00 per night and the group site is $25.00. There is no garbage, potable water, or a manure bin.


The steel corrals at North Fork John Day Campground.

After driving through and checking out the situation I actually chose NOT to camp there, I did not see an empty spot near the corrals, so I drove back up the highway about a 1/4 of a mile, to a great dispersed site I had seen earlier with a creek across the road and lots of grass.
A little later a guy stopped in on a motorcycle and introduced himself as the camp host. I asked him some questions about the camp and then I walked down later to get a better look at it. He saw my portable electric corral and mentioned that I could put that up in the stock area if I wanted to use it instead of their corrals, so my horse could have grass, but I was happy where I was, and all set up for the evening already.

The next day I rode on over to the camp and onto the North Fork John Day Trail and proceeded to do the 13.5 mile loop.
This trail follows along the river passing several old miners shacks, and the Bigfoot Hilton, which is also an old miners shack that has since been used as a shelter, but now is pretty dilapidated. A lot of these buildings are kind of hidden near the river in the foliage and you have to keep your eye out to spot them. Eventually it comes to the junction with the Crane Creek Trail which I took to continue my loop. From there I rode through some nice meadows to the Crane Creek Trailhead, another option for riding this loop instead of parking at the horse camp. The last part of the ride is along the N. Crane Trail from which I got some views of the nearby Elkhorn Range in the Blue Mountains. The trails were all cleared except for a couple trees down near the very end, but they were no problem to get around.

On the North Fork John Day Trail.

The Blue Heaven Mine.

Rina at the Bigfoot Hilton.

A rocky section along the Crane Creek Trail.

The Elkhorn's in the distance from the N. Crane Trail.


Although originally I had planned to spend a second night, just to have a leisurely drive back the
following day, I decided to leave after my ride instead, and arrived home safely with no further mishaps with tires!

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Gibson Prairie and Knebal Springs Horse Camps

I have been meaning to check out these two camps for awhile and yet it just didn't happen..... until now! They are both in the same general area in the Mt. Hood National Forest near Parkdale OR.

Mt. Hood from the Surveyor's Ridge Trail.

I decided to visit Gibson first, and as I pulled in to camp a man on a horse rode over to say hi and mentioned that he and his wife were clearing trails.
As I was tacking up, his wife came by, we chatted for awhile, and she gave me the lowdown on the trails in the area. Back Country Horsemen adopted this little camp several years ago, so it would not be closed down, and Barb and Dave are volunteers.

Gibson Prairie is a cute and cozy camp with three sites that all have four horse log corrals. There is a bathroom, a manure bin with a wheelbarrow, picnic tables and fire rings, and stock water from a spring fed water trough, although you do have to take a 250 yard stroll with your horse to get to it. One of the sites will easily accommodate a large rig and another of them can as well, if you back in and unhook.The forest service website about this camp is sadly outdated, stating there is no bathroom and the maximum length of vehicle is 16 feet, clearly this is incorrect and could explain why this camp doesn't get much use. No garbage, no potable water and no fee! Update: Just a few days after writing this the FS has now updated their website!

Gibson Prairie Horse Camp.

Gibson Prairie Horse Camp.

Spring fed water trough at Gibson Prairie Horse Camp.

The main trail that I was aware of before arriving is the Surveyor's Ridge Trail, which is also shared with bikes, but it turns out there are also a variety of "horse/hiker only" trail loops so on my first ride I went ahead and explored some of those. There is a map on the message board at camp and I took a picture of it with my phone and headed out.
I rode about 5.5 hours just following the various trails, and I was enjoying them quite a bit. I am more of a "wide open spaces with views" type of girl, but these trails were prettier than the average forest type of riding, with meadows here and there and plenty of wildflowers.
I did find the map a little confusing at first, but it was still helpful to plan routes, and after awhile I found it easier to get the lay of the land. Most of the trails are marked in some way, and they often go from trail to a gravel road for awhile and then back onto a trail, so keeping an eye out for flagging or markers was the key, since some of them are a little faint.

On one of the horse loops.

A meadow where the trail was a little faint.

Lots of wildflowers.

A lot of the junctions were signed.

That evening I talked a bit more to Barb and Dave, it's always fun to talk to others who have camped a lot and ask about where they have enjoyed riding. I have a list of so many more places to see, luckily there is no shortage of options to choose from.

The next day I started out on the Surveyor's Ridge Trail, which is 16.4 miles one way so I was obviously not going to get it all ridden in one day. To get to it, there is a tie trail just a short ways back up the main road from camp, I went ahead and flagged it with neon green tape as well as another trail from camp, so both are now easier to spot.
I headed south and was treated to a number of great views of Mt. Hood. I did see several groups of cyclists as the day progressed and my horse and I were certainly on the alert for them as we traveled.
Eventually the trail turned into a two track and kept going, I followed it quite a bit longer but at this point the views were gone and I was ready to turn around. On the way back for a change of scenery, I got off the trail, and took the road back instead.

On the Surveyor's Ridge Trail.

Shellrock Mt. and Mt. Hood on the Surveyor's Ridge Trail.

On the Surveyor's Ridge Trail.

Barb and Dave had left that day, so I had an evening to myself, mostly gorging on as many wild strawberries as I could get my hands on.

My original plan had been to ride two days at Gibson and then two days at Knebal but that changed when I realized how much more riding there was at Gibson, so the next day I got back onto the Surveyor's Ridge Trail and headed north. This ended up being a quiet day on the trail, I saw no cyclists at all. I rode as far as Bald Butte, with more views of Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier along the way, as well as a birds eye view down onto Parkdale. The trail does continue a little farther but I wanted to go back and check out the rest of the horse trails I had not seen yet. After pretty much checking out every nook and cranny of the remaining trails, I went back to camp and then drove on over to Knebal which is a mere 7.5 miles away.

Mt. Hood from the Surveyor's Ridge Trail.

Bald Butte on the Surveyor's Ridge Trail.

On the Roller Coaster Trail ( so named by Dave)

Knebal Springs has 7 sites, but only 3 of them have corrals. Non horse people can camp here as well, and they do, it seemed like it could be a pretty busy place. There is a bathroom, a spring fed water trough, a waste water dump, picnic tables and fires rings, but no manure bin, ( I dispersed mine into the forest) no potable water and no garbage. It is $12.00 to camp there.


When I arrived on Thursday in the late afternoon, there was just one nice older non horse couple camped there, but later on a few more people showed up.

Knebal Springs camp spot #5.

There were some very friendly deer hanging around camp, one in particular would walk right up to me, getting within just a few feet and checking me out. I bring salt and mineral blocks with me for my horse and it wasn't too long before one of the deer found them. I wasn't particularly bothered by them helping themselves to my salt but much later that night after dark there was a loud knocking noise that went on and on. At first I thought it was someone in camp, but finally I had to go outside and investigate. It was a deer trying to get at the salt blocks from the other side of the corral and banging on the plastic container I keep them in, so I ruined her fun, removing the salt which spent the night in the trailer instead, and I ended up with a much more peaceful night's sleep.

She found my salt and went to town on it.

The Knebal Springs Trail, which is shared with cyclists, leaves from camp and if you combine it with the Bottle Prairie Trail you can make a 9 mile loop. I rode it clockwise, eventually getting to a nice side trail up to Perry Point, with some views east over to the Columbia Plateau, and then later in a clearcut area, as I was almost back to camp, there were more glimpses of Mt. Hood. This loop is pretty much the extent of the trail system, but in order to get a little more riding mileage in, there is the option of following a trail that leaves the loop and makes it's way over towards Lookout Mt.

On the Knebal Springs Trail.

Mt. Adams from the Knebal Springs Trail.

On top of Perry Point.

On the Knebal Springs Trail.

After my ride the camp was really starting to fill up, so I got the heck out of there to free up my spot for someone else. Obviously doing these two camps in one trip is a great option, but if there is only time for one, Gibson has the most riding, less crowds, and has been lovingly tended to by volunteers such as Barb and Dave and has all the main amenities you could want... so check it out! All the trails are cleared and ready to ride!



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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!


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