Gray Butte Hike: Wildflowers & Views

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.

View of Mt. Jefferson from Gray Butte trail 9May2018

View of Mt. Jefferson from Gray Butte trail

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.

McCoin Orchard at Gray Butte trailhead 9May2018

McCoin Orchard at Gray Butte trailhead

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.

Gray Butte Peak 9May2018

Gray Butte Peak

Dramatic landscapes

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.

Gray Butte American Oil Beetle 9May2018

American Oil Beetle

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!

Blue Pool is a Jewel

Blue Pool 15Sept2016

Blue Pool, Oregon

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.

Blue Pool Reflections 15Sept2016

Blue Pool reflections

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.

Blue Pool 15Sept2016

Blue Pool, Oregon

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.

McKenzie River 15Sept2016

McKenzie River

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!

 

 

Clear Lake – Sunken Sights

Sunken sightsClear Lake Underwater Forest 30Aug2016

Sunken sights await you at Clear Lake in Linn County, Oregon. This “young” lake was formed by nearby volcanic activity 3,000 years ago. The McKenzie River originates here.

Clear Lake Underwater Forest 30Aug2016

Clear Lake Underwater Forest

The cold water temperatures preserved a forest of ghostly trees beneath the surface. The water temperature averages 35-43° F. Brrrr! The leaves and needles of the trees are long gone but their trunks and limbs stand like some prehistoric creature preserved in time. Some visitors get a closer look at the underwater sights by scuba diving here.

Osprey over Clear Lake 30 Aug 2016

Osprey over Clear Lake

About Clear Lake

This 148-acre lake has an average depth of 50 feet and a maximum depth of 175 feet.  In August, it was stocked with 2,500 rainbow trout – 500 of which were large fish. There are also brook trout in Clear Lake. We saw schools of fish at the southern end of the lake. Osprey were busy looking at those fish as well. Rafts of goldeneye ducks floated nearby.

Here’s a short video of the fish at the south end of the lake.

Clear Lake Reflections 30 Aug 2016

Clear Lake reflections

Clear and calm conditions provided some great opportunities to take photos of reflections from my kayak. See my post titled Nature’s Arrow for one of my favorites. The plants growing in the lava fields bordering parts of the lake were just starting to show fall colors.

Clear Lake Reflections 30 Aug 2016

Clear Lake reflections

You can camp or stay in a rustic cabin at the Clear Lake Resort and County Park . It’s open year-round. There are non-motorized boat rentals there and a small store/restaurant. There’s also the Coldwater Cove Campground that’s managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

Things to do close by

This is a pretty lake and there are other natural attractions nearby. The viewing area for Sahalie and Koosah falls is just a mile away. The legendary Tamolitch (Blue) Pool is also close by. Note that the McKenzie Highway does pass close to Clear Lake and the falls so it may not be the quietest wilderness experience but the area is definitely worth a visit.