When we woke up the morning after summiting Steens Mountain, Sprocket’s paws were clearly hurting him so I knew that hiking that day was out of the question for us. We retraced our drive back down to the highway and continued north to Frenchglen, the northern terminus of Steens Mountain Road. I explored a little mini-interpretive trail on the edge of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge while Sprocket chilled in the Jeep.
As we headed north from Frenchglen, I did a quick jog at the Buena Vista Ponds Overlood and then we headed north to the Refuge Visitor Center. The grounds were so pretty. There were tons of flowers, really helpful docents, a nice lawn, and a lake for bird watching. I did a quick tour and learned that leashed dogs were welcome on the grounds so I went and grabbed Sprocket and my book and we spent some time relaxing together on the lawn.
In Burns, I had lunch while watching some WCWS and then had a beer at Steens Mountain Brewing. Sprockets sore paws didn’t bode well for a summit of Strawberry Mountain the next day so I called my mom and let her know that we’d probably be getting to Tacoma a touch early.
The next day, we headed north and made a stop in Toppinish for a walk around the cute little downtown (I should have had tacos!) and then another walk and internet moment in Yakima before deciding to just push on to Tacoma. Sprocket’s paws were clearly still hurting him and I just felt bad for him.
I have had one too many trips back to Tacoma sitting in traffic through Fife and I decided since we weren’t on a schedule we were doing something different. Highway 410 was closed but instead we passed over Chinook and Cayuse Passes and headed down into Mount Rainier National Park and over into the Nisqually River Valley. As I headed up Highway 410, I wished I hadn’t told my mom I would be there that day; we could totally have gotten up to some hiking in that corridor but she was expecting us that night. When we entered the Park, there was still tons of snow on the ground and after the dry winter Colorado had, it was kind of shocking!
It had been a long time since I’d had a view of the giant rock that is Mount Rainier and ohhhh man did I start to feel the itch to climb The Mountain (yeah, that’s what PNW people call Rainier).
At my mom’s, I ate food and settled in: the fun was over and it was time to get to work.
Waking up early in the desert, Sprocket and I headed for Fields, Oregon. Word on the internet had it that The Fields Station had some of the most killer milkshakes around. I love milkshakes and so it went on The List for this trip.
Fields Station was packed when I arrived; there was an experimental aircraft fly-in and a motorcycle group coming through. I went to go order a milkshake and they warned me it would be at least a half hour. I was resigned to waiting when one of the servers asked what kind I was going to order. My answer, as always, was vanilla. Turns out, they’d made an extra vanilla shake so I got mine really quickly!
The milkshake really was good! I didn’t hang around too long after I’d finished it although seeing the planes coming in was pretty cool. My goal was to drive up Steens Mountain and move on through Burns before evening.
The road was in really really good shape and just when I started to think that this was going to be an easy highpoint on a lovely backcountry byway, I came around a corner just on top of the huge summit plateau and found a gate.
According to my previously mapped route, I was still over eight miles from the summit but it really didn’t seem like it was possible for it to be that far away. I have no idea why I decided to doubt every other resource I had at my disposal and trust just my eyes guessing how far away it was but I did. Sprocket and I headed down the road in the heat of the day at about 2pm. As we went up, we found patches of snow where Sprocket cooled himself down with a good roll.
The road had to wrap way around Big Indian Canyon which totally explains the length of the hike. And on top of it being a long way, we still had to gain almost 3000′ to the summit of Steens! It definitely didn’t appear that way when we left the car.
Finally, we reached the junction where the road to the summit of Steens Mountain went to the south and the northern end of the Mountain Loop Road joined with the southern portion we’d been walking and the summit was still almost 2.4 miles away.
By the time we reached the summit, Sprocket and I were both tired and we still had about nine and a half miles back to the car. The expansive views of so much of the southeastern part of Oregon were really fantastic though!
After the quick summit photos, it was time to start carrying ourselves down to #RuthXJ as fast as our tired legs would carry us.
Whenever we found snow, I noticed Sprocket would get off of the road and walk in it. It started to occur to me that his paws might be starting to hurt a bit but we were still quite far away from the car and I needed him to tough it out as long as he could.
We made it over the last little rise on the way back to the car and I started to jog a bit. We were both done and it didn’t seem to matter how we did it, only that we got back to the car pretty quickly. Sprocket gamely jogged behind me and when we arrived at the Jeep gave me the, “Human, be an elevator please” face that I couldn’t resist.
When we got to the campground at the bottom of the hill, it was abundantly clear I’d asked the old boy to overdo it. His paws were raw and walking on the crushed gravel in the site appeared to be really painful. I fed him and tried to walk him in some pine duff before tucking the tired boy into the tent. Dogs in pain, especially when they’re getting old, is so sad. I felt awful but also a little delighted that he had made the 19 mile jaunt without complaint. (I’m so sorry Sprockey-boy.)
I’ve been meaning to write about the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge for weeks but I just haven’t been able to. My keyboard simply can’t put up with the frustrated key mashing that ensues when my fingers attempt to act as a safety blowoff valve for my thoughts. While I’m not sure that I have a totally unique perspective on the issue, I can’t hold my proverbial internet tongue any longer.
I recently got in a (Twitter) debate with a denizen of the eastern portion of our country who mused about the small percentage of public land east of the Mississippi as compared to the sizeable percentage west of the Mississippi. I didn’t really keep my cool in the debate. To me, a life long westerner who has spent just enough time in the east to make me aware of differences, our public lands are one of the biggest reasons that our country is great. I have written about this before and shared a lovely piece by Tim Egan about the luxury of a public land area more than three times the size of France. This is one of the amazing things about America; we have set aside large swaths of our country for recreation, preservation, exploration, and, dare I say, healing.
Public lands (National Atlas data via Wikipedia)[/caption]
The first answer to “why is there so much public land in the West?” is the climate. Explorer, self-taught scientist, and amazing public servant John Wesley Powell understood that the American West was too arid for agricultural development like that in the east and argued for cooperatives between farmers and rancher for small scale water development funded by themselves, not the federal government. We ignored him and built large dams and the government funded disjointed water projects throughout the west. (I reviewed and highly recommend Wallace Stegner’s Beyond The Hundredth Meridian for more background in Powell.) This land is public because the economics of private ownership do not work (federal grazing fees, of which Cliven Bundy still owes over $1 million, are drastically lower than on private land as a result of lower quality and infrastructure costs plus fees not keeping pace with inflation). Oregon’s eastern “outback” is arid and sparsely populated much more like Utah than like the wet valleys west of the Cascades.
Secondly, and perhaps the better answer to “Constitution” wielding Malheur occupiers, Oregon gave up rights to those public lands when they became a state (as did Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and Nevada) under a disclaimer clause found in their respective statehood enabling acts (excellent opinion piece in High Country News, subscription required). Each state had to give up “all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States,” a power granted to the federal government by the Property Clause (Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2):
The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.
Reading comprehension is not the strong suit of the militia since this clause clearly grants Congress the power to regulate federal lands as they see fit, including as a National Wildlife Refuge.
My heart goes out to the people of Harney County and of Oregon. It breaks for all of us, the ones who look forward to hiking Steens Mountain, value the irreplaceable migratory bird habitat, and treasure the artifacts of pre-Columbian use of the land.
Kofa Wildlife Refuge
Many of my blog readers will have already heard about the occupation and are property incensed but I encourage each and every one of you to explain the absurdity of occupation and, perhaps more importantly, the wonder and value of our public lands, to your friends, your parents, your children, and anyone who will listen. Our country gives each and everyone of us the inheritance of our public lands and it is our job to protect that inheritance for the generations that follow.
Update: Less than 12 hours after I hit “publish” on this post, the Ammon and Ryan Bundy plus several others were arrested by the FBI and Harney County Sheriffs somewhere between Burns and John Day. Ammon later issued a statement asking the occupiers to “stand down” but the issue is ongoing. Coverage from The Oregoniancan be found here.
A few weeks ago, Sprocket and I headed east into the Cascades to hike Olallie Butte. It’s a nice mostly treed hike before scrambling up the last bits of scree to the summit. Olallie is one of Oregon’s 2,000′ prominence peaks and the high point of Wasco county is just off its northeastern flank.
Mt. Jefferson dominates the southern view, actually obscuring Three Finger Jack, Mt. Washington and South Sister, with Middle and North Sisters peaking over her eastern shoulder.
When I met F almost six years ago, he didn’t own a car and instead did his traveling in a U-Haul that housed not one but rather three motorcycles in the back. As early as our second date he tried to teach me to ride—I would like to tell you all that I tried hard but really I just wanted to ride a circle to prove I could before I crashed and embarrassed myself. Over the years, I’ve putted around in a circle a couple of times but I really failed at actually trying.
Once we learned about the riding area at Santiam Pass and how it has a lot of easy trails, we planned a camping and riding adventure with friends. We borrowed a bike from a friend and I finally committed to giving riding a try. F and I headed up Friday after work and spent the evening hiding from the awful mosquitoes but were able to find a campsite right on an easy trail with an amazing view of Mt. Washington that we climbed back in 2009. I spent Saturday morning riding around in circles getting more proficient at using the clutch and turning around the islands in the camping area. Actually, the best thing that happened to me was crashing in the sand—I’d always secretly harbored the idea that if I crashed I would, with absolute certainty, break my leg.
The rest of Saturday and Sunday were spent alternately riding and relaxing in camp. I steadily improved and I was meeting the “crash at least once an hour or you’re not improving quota.”
The rest of the photos are courtesy F and the GoPro:
Saturday, I tagged along with a hiking group I found on Meetup.com. They were headed out to hike Mt. June and Hardesty Mountain southeast of Eugene. We started by climbing Mt. June and then returned to hike Sawtooth Trail out to Hardesty Mountain. The weather was lovely for a nice leisurely long hike along the ridge between the two peaks.
View from Mt. June towards Sawtooth Rock and Hardesty Mountain:
Last week, we spent some time hanging out near Alsea, Oregon. After spending sometime browsing Peakbagger, I picked a couple of mountains to summit. Grass Mountain and Prairie Mountain are both considered “prominent” peaks. (Here’s a very in depth article on prominence if you’re curious). Oregon has 74 peaks with at least 2,000′ of prominence; Grass Mountain ranks 57th and Prairie Mountain ranks 47th.
Sprocket and I set off first for Grass Mountain. The road was currently being used for logging operations and was in really great shape. Instead of hiking the closed road to the summit, I opted to head directly up the ridge. From the mid-1950s to 1970, the mountain was home to a fire lookout although all remnants except four concrete foundation blocks are gone. The trees have grown up around the mountain and there isn’t much to be seen from the summit. Sprocket, however, enjoyed a good sniff:
Instead of returning down the ridge the way we came, we headed out the road. This lead around the south side of the summit affording me views of the southern Coast Range.
As I looped back around to the northwestern side of the mountain, I was delighted to catch a glimpse of Mt. Hood:
Then, I noticed Mt. Jefferson peeking out as well:
We backtracked down the mountain and then headed south of Alsea to Prairie Mountain. I expected to have to hike to the summit, just like on Grass Mountain. Instead, however, I discovered that the gate two miles shy of the summit was open. At the top, I saw someone working on radio equipment so I grabbed a quick photo and headed back out.
In all, it was an awesome day to be out playing in the Coast Range!