Silent Sunday: End of the trail to Clarno Arch
Stepping back in time at Clarno Palisades
In May I visited the Clarno Palisades area, 18 miles west of Fossil, Oregon in the Clarno Unit of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. This unit gets light usage. We only saw a few other visitors.
There are three short hikes near the covered picnic area. The Geologic Time Trail winds along ¼ mile to connect you to the other two trails. Interpretive signs note the changes of the last 50 million years. The colorful small signs explaining the geologic history looked brand new. The Trail of Fossils takes you up a ¼ mile loop trail on the hillside and shows you fossils that left their imprints in large boulders.
An almost-tropical forest covered this region 44 million years ago. 120 inches of rainfall per year, compared to about 9 inches today. Bananas used to grow here! Bear-like predators, four-toed primitive horses, and other creatures once roamed this land. The Clarno Arch Trail takes you up ¼ mile trail (yup, another ¼ mile one!) to the base of a cliff with a natural arch cut into the stone. This trail has a 200 foot elevation gain. If you hike all the trails out and back, it adds up to 1.25 miles.
Spring shrubs and flowers
When I was there in mid-May, wildflowers were in full bloom. The rose bush featured in one of my earlier posts—Wild Rose: Friday Flowers—was near where we parked. The “trunk” of that shrub looked like a formidable weapon! We saw orange globemallow blooming along the trail. Large netleaf hackberry shrubs grew on the slopes near the cliffs.
Birds of the cliffs
There were a handful of birds out that day. Canyon wrens serenaded us with their descending song. A prairie falcon, American kestrel, and golden eagle flew near the cliffs protecting their nest sites. A California quail called Chi-ca-go in the background. Swallows flitted overhead.
Logs and lichens
We spotted several fossilized leaves and branches along the Trail of Fossils. When we went up the Clarno Arch Trail, we saw large fossilized logs sticking out of the cliff face. The colorful lichens covering the rocks attracted my attention as usual.
Stairway to the arch
The columns of the Palisades were formed by volcanic lahars 54-40 millions years ago. They are stately and beautiful but the stair step-like structure beneath the arch really got my attention. Water must have pooled up in each “step” before falling.
When we were there with Bend Parks and Recreation, it was a cool day. I imagine it gets hot in the summer here so plan your visit with that in mind.
Other attractions nearby
Here is a Trail Guide for hikes in the Clarno, Painted Hills, and Sheep Rocks Units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
Scenic views all around
The hike to Gray Butte, located in the Crooked River National Grassland near Terrebonne, Oregon, is great to walk in the spring because of the wildflowers. I went here in May and we saw quite a few colorful flowers. The habitat is sagebrush steppe with scattered western juniper trees.
I have been here twice with Leslie Olson, one of my favorite guides with Bend Parks and Recreation. One time we went on Cole Loop Trail #854 and the other time we went on Gray Butte Trail #852. The roads to the trailheads have sections that are rough but passable. We did out-and-back hikes of around four to five miles total distance. They are listed as easy to moderate hikes. Here’s a map that shows both trails.
A piece of history
My most recent hike began at Gray Butte trailhead, elevation 3,800 feet, near the McCoin Orchard. The orchard was originally planted by Julius and Sarah McCoin in 1886. The property was purchased by the U.S. Forest Service in the 1930’s. At one time there were 100 fruit trees here – apple, pear, plum, etc. Grassland range specialists saved the surviving trees in the 1980’s. When I was there, the trees were in full bloom.
Did I make it to the top of the butte yet? Nope, but we had fantastic views from the Gray Butte Trail. Gray Butte reaches an elevation of 5,108 feet. We stopped for lunch on a rocky overlook known as the Austin Creson Viewpoint, elevation 4,200 feet. Austin Creson was involved in the planning of this trail. The viewpoint is 1.9 miles from the trailhead and this was where we turned back.
The Austin Creson Viewpoint is on the northern edge of the Crooked River Caldera. This caldera is enormous. It encompasses 425 square miles. In fact, the volcanic eruption associated with this caldera was the sixth largest on earth. Woah! Right here in Central Oregon. That’s impressive.
From our lofty perch at the viewpoint we had great views of Mt. Jefferson, the Three Sisters, Broken Top, and Black Butte. Yes, it was a bit cloudy but seeing the peaks peeking through is always thrilling.
We saw and heard eagles, swifts, and sparrows on our hike. We also saw a weird beetle known as the American oil beetle. Nice to look at but don’t touch them because they will produce an oil that will irritate your skin.
Gray Butte wildflowers
Seeing the wildflowers on this hike made my day. They are so beautiful! I am including photos from my most recent hike and from my earlier hike a couple years ago. Enjoy!
For driving directions, see Gray Butte Trailhead. Note that if you stay on the trail for about 6.5 miles from the Gray Butte trailhead, you’ll end up at Smith Rock State Park. Please use applicable maps for this route.
Be prepared on any trips you make into the backcountry and help to preserve its beauty for the rest of us. Thanks!
Hiking on a caldera
Today I took a hike up Gray Butte, northeast of Terrebonne, Oregon. It was a nice hike with lots of wildflowers and spectacular views. This view is from the edge of the Crooked River Caldera looking west to Mount Jefferson, on the right, and Black Butte, on the left. The rocks in the foreground are splattered with messages left by lichens.
My place in the world is out in the wild places of central Oregon. From dry sagebrush steppe in a caldera to lush meadows bordered by pine forests. There are so many special places to explore…
Weekly Photo Challenge – Place in the World
Short and sweet hike
The Mill A Loop is a short and easy hike that starts on the flag bridge in the Old Mill district of Bend. This 1.1 mile trail is paved and mostly flat. You walk along the Deschutes River for most of the hike. At certain times of the year, kayakers, stand up paddleboarders, and innertubers will float by you on the river.
The Flag Bridge is a well-known sight in Bend. The flags are changed to celebrate different holidays and events. I am always impressed by these flags of many colors fluttering in the breeze. They also fly over a smaller pond near the restaurants.
You will walk past a few notable landmarks. Yes, you start out in a shopping center, but you’ll also go by the Les Schwab Amphitheater, Deschutes Brewery, and the Bend Whitewater Park (adjacent to McKay Park). The amphitheater is where many concerts and outdoor events take place here in Bend. Deschutes Brewery, founded in 1988, was one of the first craft brewers in the region. The brewery has a nice tasting room and guided tours. The Whitewater Park was completed in 2015 and it divides the river into three channels. One channel is for wildlife, one is for innertubers and rafters, and one is for whitewater surfers, kayakers, or paddleboarders. I have seen people out surfing in wetsuits in all kinds of weather. See my post Bend Whitewater Park for info about the park and a few videos.
There is a lot of artwork on display along this route. Look for a large metal sculpture of a horse outside Tumalo Art Company close to the Flag Bridge. Be sure to take a closer look at this piece. A tall sculpture that incorporates steel wheels from one of the old lumber mills is just outside of Anthony’s restaurant. The Colorado Avenue Bridge has artwork inside and outside of the pedestrian tunnel. The amphitheater has beautiful murals on both sides of the stage. On the east side of the Whitewater Park, there is a tall metal sculpture that was designed as a perch for kingfishers. There is a sculpture of a group of Canada geese on the west side of the river.
Flora and Fauna
I have to mention the beautiful flowers in the landscaping along this route. I really like the blooming border plants on the west side of the amphitheater. They are gorgeous in the spring and summer months. Watch for the occasional hummingbird when the flowers are in full bloom. There are also some delicious smelling hops plants near the amphitheater.
I walk this trail regularly and the types of wildlife seen varies by season. Ospreys and bald eagles can be seen near the river. Common waterfowl include Canada geese, mallards, mergansers, and American coots. You may see songbirds such as red-winged blackbirds, scrub jays, robins, cedar waxwings, and goldfinches. Swallows drift over the river in pursuit of insects. There is a beaver dam a little ways south of Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe and you may get a glimpse of them in early morning hours. I have also seen river otter and muskrats. A small population of the Oregon spotted frog breeds in this vicinity.
There is also a one-of-a-kind 12-station fly fishing course here. You may notice circles on land and in a couple of the smaller ponds. Each station has a sign nearby and you can try your hand at various casting challenges.
A little history
This district was named Old Mill because there used to be two lumber mills located here, one on each side of the river. The three iconic smoke stacks you see were part of a powerhouse that ran 24/7. The stacks were preserved when REI took over the space. This spot was very important for the economy of Bend in the early 1900’s. Timber was hauled into Bend and floated in the river until processing at the Brooks-Scanlon or Shevlin-Hixon mills. The Oregon Trunk Railroad had a line that went to the mills to pick up lumber.
To see a map of this hike and others nearby, look at this brochure from Bend Parks and Recreation. The Mill A Loop is the yellow trail on the inset map. I think you will enjoy walking this easy trail, no matter what season it is.
To find out more about the Old Mill District, click here.
The Otter Bench Trail gives you some breathtaking views of the Crooked River. The trail head is near the town of Crooked River Ranch and the trail goes along the base of the cliffs bordering the river. We walked a couple miles in, stopped for lunch, and then headed back. There is little elevation change on the section we hiked but if you decide to head down to the river, it gets steep.
The trail goes through juniper and sagebrush habitat and along rocky talus slopes. If you go off the trail a little ways, you can walk to the edge of cliffs that enclose the river far below. If you have a fear of heights, don’t get too close to that edge. A turkey vulture flew by at eye height when we were close to the edge. Hope it wasn’t waiting for a meal!
You get a good view of some of the geological forces at work here. The basalt columns in the lower cliffs are part of the Deschutes formation. Above them you can see light tan colored tuff. Far above the tuff area you will see more columnar basalt and it is part of the most recent Newberry formation.
There is a small dam on the river a few miles from the trail head.
There are golden eagles nesting on the cliffs and you can see how easy it was for them to find a nest site here. The Horny Hollow Trail forks off from the main trail but it’s closed seasonally when the birds are nesting. It was closed when we were there but I saw eagles flying above the highest cliffs in the distance.
I heard and saw quite a few songbirds on this hike in April. The list of species seen includes Townsend’s solitaire, black billed magpie, mountain chickadee, Brewer’s sparrow, and western meadowlark. It was nice to hear some of these songsters again.
As temperatures begin to warm up, the high desert starts its wildflower show. We saw big showy arrowhead balsamroot, purple phlox and rock cress, delicate pink prairie stars, yellow fiddleneck, larkspur, and white miner’s lettuce. After a particularly hard winter we were grateful to see these bursts of color.
This trail passes through Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Crooked River National Grassland, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife land. There is no fee to use the trail and there’s a good parking area at the trail head.
Here is a map that shows the Otter Bench trail:
Here are driving directions from BLM:
Directions to Otter Bench Trailhead from Highway 97 From Highway 97, just north of Terrebonne, turn left on to Lower Bridge Road (Sign with left arrow says “Crooked River Ranch”). After 2 miles turn right on 43rd St. After 1.7 miles turn left on Chinook Dr. After 5 miles (including a steep descent), go straight on to Horny Hollow Rd (do not take Chinook back up the switchback) Go 1.7 miles to the end of the pavement and park there.
It’s hard to imagine that the big flat area pictured above was once filled with water that all disappeared. Developer William A. Laidlaw was in this area in the early 1900’s and he promised settlers a project that would irrigate nearly 30,000 acres. Local businesses and settlers put up some of their hard earned dollars for the project but then figured out they were being taken advantage of. Laidlaw was burned in effigy in 1907 and 1912. New plans were made by the state for a reservoir.
In 1914, the huge earthen Tumalo Dam on the edge of 1,100 acre Bull Flat was constructed. It took 18 months to complete. The reservoir was filled with thousands of gallons of water. A couple of school kids were passing by the reservoir one day and heard a roaring noise like a tub draining. A giant whirlpool was sucking down the water at the rate of 220 cfs – as fast as it was being filled. Yikes!
They tried plugging the hole with bales of hay and detonating dynamite on floating barges. Nothing worked. It turned out the engineer that designed the project had not done much work on the soil at the site. It is extremely porous and modern day engineers liken it to a sponge. There are also lava tubes underneath the surface. Continue reading
In the shadow of Black Butte, water flows out of a hole in the ground and turns into a fast-moving river known as the Metolius. You can take a short walk to the headwaters, located about 14 miles northwest of Sisters, Oregon. Pine forests enclose the two clusters of springs where this 315-square mile drainage basin begins.
Since the water level is relatively constant, it has a couple interesting characteristics. The flow rate at the headwaters is 6,700 cu ft/min and it reaches 81,000 cu ft/min by the time it reaches Lake Billy Chinook, 28.6 miles away. The water temperature is consistently at about 48° F. Brrr!
The river supports a healthy population of fish including rainbow trout, bull trout, kokanee, and mountain whitefish. There is catch-and-release fly-fishing on the upper Metolius. Click here for more info on fishing there. Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery, 10.6 miles from the headwaters, raises rainbow trout, kokanee, and salmon.
There are almost a dozen campgrounds located along the river. We stayed once at the Pioneer Ford Campground in early September and it was nice. There are also several resorts near the small unincorporated town of Camp Sherman.
Trails border the river and branch out into surrounding areas. Hikers, horseback riders, skiers,and snowshoers enjoy the many miles of trails here. Spring wildflowers and fall foliage are particularly beautiful around this river.
There is a wide variety of wildlife that lives in the habitats near the river. River otters and beaver live in and around the river and other mammals such as mule deer, elk, black bear, bobcat, cougars, and squirrels live in the vicinity. Birds such as osprey, grouse, herons, and many songbirds use the area. Look for the small American dipper bird foraging along the river. I went to the Woodpecker Festival here last year. There are about a dozen species of woodpeckers here so this event draws people from near and far. See my post Where’s Woody for more about that.
This National Wild and Scenic River flows through land owned by Deschutes National Forest, Deschutes Land Trust,Warm Springs Indian Reservation, and private owners. Click here to find out about some of the recreational opportunities on Forest Service lands.
On a warm night at the Sunriver Nature Center last summer, visitors packed the room and stood outside the door for a chance to listen to the guest speaker. Who were they waiting so eagerly for? Fifth-generation Oregonian and author, William L. Sullivan. There are many people that write about the wonders of Oregon, but few are as prolific. His 18 books cover a variety of topics but he is best known for his travel guides that cover different regions of the state.
As he was introduced to the crowd that night, we were reminded that he had trekked across Oregon many years ago. Sullivan’s account of the 1,000-mile journey from the southwest corner of the state to the northeast corner can be found in his book, Listening for Coyote.
He also wrote a book about how he and his wife constructed a log cabin using only hand tools. They lived there for several years and still do so during summer months. Their account of that ongoing adventure can be read in Cabin Fever: Notes from a Part-Time Pioneer.
His lecture last summer focused on hikes and destinations in eastern Oregon. His book, 100 Hikes/Travel Guide – Eastern Oregon, was published in its third edition in 2015. Sullivan tries to visit the places he writes about once every seven years to see if any updates are needed. He stated that half of the hikes he covers are located in eastern Oregon.
William L. Sullivan was a great speaker with a good sense of humor. Here are a few tidbits from his talk that might inspire you in your explorations of eastern Oregon:
- Oregon has more ghost towns than any other state. One hundred years ago, the population in eastern Oregon was much higher than it is today and towns were abandoned as people moved on.
- There are 15 hot springs in eastern Oregon. They range from small hot pools to resorts with private soaking rooms.
- The evidence found in areas such as Paisley Lake and Fort Rock indicates people lived there more than 14,000 years ago.
- There are many ancient western juniper trees in the Oregon Badlands. One has been determined to be at least 1,600 years old.
- You can drive to an elevation of 9,500 feet on Steens Mountain and, if the weather conditions are right, can see five states from there.
- Oregon’s first power plant was constructed in Sumpter in 1869. It included ten miles of wooden pipeline and that pipeline was in use until 1969.
Do you want to go to the top of one of the few volcanoes in the U. S. located within the city limits? Pilot Butte is a cinder cone that rises 480 feet above the city of Bend. There are some amazing views from its 4,142 foot summit.
Look at this 360° “photo sphere” image that I took from the top. You can move the image around to see it all. It is a fantastic place!
About 190,000 years ago, Pilot Butte erupted and spewed glowing cinders and steam hundreds of feet into the air. The butte was covered in a foot of ash when Mount Mazama erupted 7,700 years ago. As Pilot Butte eroded away over the years, it evolved into the extinct cinder cone that we see today.
You can get to the top in a few different ways. The Nature Trail is a 0.8 mile hike and the Summit Road Trail and the Summit Drive Trail are both 1.0 mile long. There is also a road that winds around the butte. The road closes for several months during the fall and winter. The Nature Trail is a dirt trail that ranges from moderate to moderately steep. There are several benches where you can rest and take in the sights. The Summit Road Trail starts on the west side and follows the road. You can also access it from the east side via a short trail. That’s the Summit Drive Trail.
The butte is covered by bunchgrass, wildflowers, shrubs, and western juniper trees. You will see reddish volcanic soil along the trail and in road cuts.
You can see lots of interesting wildlife here. Mule deer can be common during certain times of the year. A cougar was seen on the butte a couple of years ago but they are not a common sight. You are much more likely to see a golden-mantled ground squirrel. Red-tailed hawks and other raptors hunt here so be sure to look up. You might also see (and hear) black-billed magpies and scrub jays. On warm days, western fence lizards might be out sunning themselves on rocks.
At the top of the butte there is a peak finder and several informational panels. You get spectacular views of several Cascade Mountain peaks to the west and north. You may be able to see Mount Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Washington, the three Sisters, Broken Top, Belknap Crater, Black Butte, and Mount Bachelor. To the south you get a great look at some of the 400 cinder cones that are a part of the Newberry system. Newberry volcano blew about 400,000 years ago and its lava flows covered 1,200 square miles in this region. To learn more about Newberry, click here to read one of my previous posts. To the east, you’ll see Powell Butte and the Ochoco Mountains.
You get great views of the city of Bend and the Deschutes River. You will also see the irrigation canals cut across the city on their way to the east and north.
The property where the butte is located was owned by the Foley family and was donated to the state in 1928. Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint is the most visited state park in eastern Oregon.
There is a local tradition of setting off big fireworks from the butte on the Fourth of July. It is not uncommon for fires to start from the falling embers. Firefighters are up there ready to put them out. Since the butte rises nearly 500 feet above the land below, it is easy to see the fireworks display from many locations in and around Bend.
The day we hiked at Paulina Lake, 25 miles east of Bend, the weather forecast was a bit iffy. In fact, the location for our hike had been changed to a warmer locale but we decided to go for it.
Paulina Lake sits at 6,350 feet in elevation and snow was predicted. We started our hike at Paulina Lake Lodge and hiked two and a half miles to the hot springs. We ran into snow, rain, hail, and sun on that October day.
The trail hugged the side of the lake so we had good views of it the whole way. Paulina Lake, and it’s fraternal twin East Lake, sit in a caldera that formed after Newberry volcano blew and then collapsed. Paulina Lake is 1,531 acres in size with depths up to 250 feet. To learn more about the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, click here for one of my previous posts.
The trail was relatively smooth with little elevation gain. At the beginning of the trail there were a few areas where the trail had been cut through fallen timber. In parts of the trail, the soil was brick red reflecting it’s volcanic origins. Lichens covered tree trunks in shades of fluorescent green.
As we made our way towards the hot springs, a cool breeze blew over the lake. I have been to a dozen hot springs and this one is a little unusual. The small springs sit along the shoreline of the lake and people dig them out to increase their size. They are only visible when the water levels are low. I did not try them out on this cold day but I have heard two or three of them are a “cool” 95 ° F while the other is about 110° F. It is weird that they are such a cool temperature when recent research determined that the magma beneath the lakes reaches a temperature of 654 ° F.
Fishing at this lake can be very good. The state record brown trout, at 27 pounds 12 ounces, and state record kokanee, at 4 pounds 2 ounces, were caught here. There are also rainbow trout in the lake. People troll fish, cast, or still fish here depending on the season. There is a boat ramp at the lodge and at Little Crater and Paulina Campgrounds. Click here for more info on Paulina Lake and the fishing opportunities there.
A short and beautiful hike
If you’re looking for a short hike to a couple small, quiet lakes, try out the hike to Blow Lake and Doris Lake southwest of Bend. It’s only a mile to Blow Lake and another mile and a half from there to Doris Lake. There are 400 feet of elevation gain. You can park at the Six Lakes Trailhead along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. As the trail name implies, there are six wilderness lakes to explore here.
The elevation here is 5,310 feet and you pass through subalpine forest on your way to the lakes. Blow Lake is 45 acres in size. Windfall trees form a frame along one edge of the lake and can be seen resting on the bottom of this clear lake. Doris Lake, a mile and a half away, is slightly larger at 69 acres in size.
Fall foliage looked beautiful during late September. Huckleberry leaves showed a lot of color. Even the meadow grasses and sedges showed shades of red along their golden edges.
We didn’t see a lot of wildlife on that particular day but did see gray jays, red-breasted nuthatch, mountain chickadees, and ravens. Both lakes contain brook trout that can get up to 14” in size.
Be prepared on any trips you make into the backcountry and help to preserve its beauty for the rest of us. Thanks!
As I hiked to Blue Pool, I wondered if it would really have the jewel-toned blue water I had seen in so many pictures. We walked for four miles and finally caught a glimpse of this small lake. Walking to the edge of a steep cliff, we looked down at its crystal clear waters.
About Blue Pool
Blue Pool, also known as Tamolitch Pool, was breathtakingly beautiful on this bright and sunny day. The turquoise and sapphire blue waters sparkled up at us. The leaves of trees surrounding the pool were just beginning to change color. Their reflections in the water looked like an Impressionist painting.
There used to be an impressive waterfall here but recent volcanic activity, and a diversion for hydroelectric power, has changed the course of the river. The river still flows over the falls occasionally during times of snow melt.
We arrived at the pool at 12:30 pm and there were three hikers down at the water’s edge. They intended to take a dip in the pool but hesitated for quite a while. I don’t blame them since the pool’s water temperature is only 37-40° F. Oooh, that would be cold! They finally got their courage up and screeched as they entered the frigid water. Like others before them, they did not stay in for long.
Some visitors prefer to jump off the 60-70 foot high cliff overlooking the pool and plunge into the water far below. The ice-cold water gets as deep as 30 feet. It looks so inviting but many have been injured here and a few have died so it’s NOT recommended. I think cliff diving into a big warm lake, as I did many years ago, would be a lot more fun.
About Mckenzie River Trail
We started our hike at Carmen Reservoir and made our way along the McKenzie River Trail. We walked through primeval looking forests dominated by Douglas’ fir, western hemlock, cedar, and an occasional pine tree. Drier areas had leggy rhododendrons reaching upwards towards the light; moister areas were draped in moss and ferns. Log footbridges led us over dry chasms that contain water only during times of really wet conditions. The trail had little elevation gain and was mostly smooth but did contain areas where rough lava rock or tree roots slowed our progress a little. Several mountain bikes whizzed past us at different points of the walk.
You walk close to the McKenzie River for the first part of this walk and then it vanishes. It actually goes underground for three miles and then pops up again in Blue Pool. The headwaters of the McKenzie River are located in Clear Lake, several miles to the north. See my post on Clear Lake here.
After we finished visiting the pool, we walked two more miles south to Tamolitch Trailhead. This is the place most hikers start and Blue Pool is a very popular destination. Blue Pool is located about 60 miles west of Bend and 68 miles east of Eugene. One of the people in our Bend Parks & Recreation hiking group dropped us off at Carmen Reservoir, drove to Tamolitch Trailhead, parked, hiked in to meet us, and followed us out to the van. That worked out well!
Tamolitch is a Chinook word meaning “bucket” or “tub.” I see why so many people include this place on their bucket list.
We were lucky to make this hike since the area has been closed due to a fire close by. It just reopened but a ranger and firefighter were at the pool to remind people not to smoke.
Be prepared on any trips you make into the backcountry and help to preserve its beauty for the rest of us. Thanks!