Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Central Oregon roamings, part 7 - Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds-Blue Basin roamings

OK, so I've talked about how much there is in the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument to see. Now for the part that required a bit of effort, some hot day hiking, some moments looking for buzzing rattlesnakes, and a lot of appreciation for a beautiful geologic area!

There are two trails that make up the Blue Basin area - the Island of Time shorter 1 mile trail that stays low and goes into the canyons that make up the Blue Basin. I did that one, but not until first hiking the 3+ mile loop trail that climbs fairly steeply to the hillsides above the basin to offer long views in many directions up and down the John Day River Valley, down into the Blue Basin, and complete with a canyon hike to get up there.

This first stretch was where I was most aware looking for rattlesnakes as it was so hot at 3:00pm as I passed through here, gaining elevation, sage, a few junipers...never saw one but was buzzed by them twice! Rascals...the nerve to get me all jumpy but then cower and hide so I can't photograph them? Next time I'll spot you first, THEN you can show me how tough you are!

After thoroughly enjoying the hot hike above, I came down very steeply to join the Island of Time trail and hiked up into the basin as well. Wow. What color, what a landscape! Previous days thunderstorms had the wash that flowed out of the basin showing signs of having really been roaring with water, but now was dry again which I found fascinating on this hot day!

Upon leaving in early evening I reflected on my two long days enjoying every part of the national monument throughout these regions. I was so pleased to have been here as I drove back toward Prineville. And I was so pleased to know I had a long full day ahead of me still to explore areas sound of Bend, Oregon in lava lands! Onward to that shortly!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Central Oregon roamings, part 6 - Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds-John Day River areas near roads

There is a lot to see in the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. So much in fact that I'll save the stuff that included the spectacular hiking into and around the rim of the Blue Basin area for later to give special attention to just that part of it! For starters I began by roaming all of the sights that are essentially accessed from driving around on the road or short 1/4 mile walks from a parking area. Even if you only do this simple approach you'll still enjoy seeing great geologic formations and history of the area!

Cathedral Rock is the in-your-face stunning formation of rock by a sharp bend along SR 19. After a stop here I headed north to enjoy the short nature trails in the Foree Picnic Area. The Flood of Fire trail started off with a great view back down the wonderful winding roadway that brought me here - I loved it!

Then a short 5-10 minute walk (keeping eyes open for cool lizards and being careful for snakes which never materialized here) to a great overlook at wonderful geologic eroded hillsides of this volcanic region. Wow.

Another short 15 minute loop walk on the other side of the picnic area, the Story in Stone Trail, was just as enjoyable but yet very different in what you learned along the interpretive trail, which was set up excellently!

Later in the day, long after having sweated out a hot hike on all 4+ miles of trails in Blue Basin (coming later!) I stopped at the James Cant Ranch site, a historic homestead of a settling rancher in the John Day Valley here just below Sheep Rock.

While I didn't see sheep on the cliffs above me, a

nice ram skeleton on a roof of an outbuilding was humor enough! I loved touring the old farm - the barn was open and the old farm implements always warm my heart to view and photograph. Lastly before closing I rushed in to the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center to tour the museum and fossils shown there. WOW!!

It was a very long, very hot day, and one I used every minute that I could to enjoy this unit of the monument - one I highly recommend and do allow a full day if you can! Coming next? My hike into Blue Basin, around it, dancing with buzzing rattlesnakes, and sweating in a lot of hot sun!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Central Oregon roamings, part 5 - Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds-Carroll Rim Trail

After leaving the Painted Cove area I headed back toward the overlook area of the main portion of the Painted Hills. However this time I opted to do the Carroll Rim hike as the sun was getting low and not just sit on my behind at the overlook with the same angles of the hills that I had before. What a treat this trail was! It is a rather short 3/4 mile up to the top of the overlooking rim and a decent steep portion of trail for a bit as well. The views along the rim are a grand overview of the entire Painted Hills unit and worth it! The wind was howling at me up there and it was getting colder quickly. The light was beautiful as it rolled across the hills.

I left the Painted Hills shortly afterwards and was thrilled with the results of this, my first full day of the four day trip. Had I really began this day up by the Columbia River? I hardly could remember the abandoned buildings, the courthouses, and even the Clarno Unit of the monument all from that day!

What a great long day it was...and to be followed up with a grand day coming up at the Sheep Rock Unit of the monument! That's for the next story....

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Shoe Tree

I interrupt this regularly scheduled blog series of visits to natural areas in Central Oregon with this stunning sighting: The Shoe Tree! There, somewhere randomly driving US 97 between the booming metro areas of Central Oregon such as Shaniko and Moro...coming around a bend in the highway climbing to a small gap/pass, there it flew by my sights out on the east side of the highway. I almost went off the road trying to slow down as I realized what it was!

I have no clue how many months or years this tree has stood here ornamented with literally hundreds of pairs of shoes that have been tied together and tossed up into every imaginable limb of this dead snag, the only tree around as far as you could see. It was indeed a smile-inducing moment! What fun. I bet I spent 15 minutes here along the pull-out just looking it over.

OK, tomorrow it's back to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument with more roaming and much hiking that took place on day three of my trip!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Central Oregon roamings, part 4 - Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds-Painted Cove

After I had spent almost two hours just in and around the Painted Hills Overlook area of the monument, I had some extra time before it would be getting really close to sunset time. Man, this time of year sunset comes late! So before returning to the overlook area and also doing the Carroll Rim hike I headed further into this unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and visited the Painted Cove area.

Yet again I was stunned with the geology of this area and what a better way to see it up close than in Painted Cove!

A boardwalk path leads you up close and personal through the hills with very detailed interpretive signs to offer a wealth of learning about the geology of the hills. And most amazing yet again, here I was....and all alone. Not a single other person came back this far into the monument during the hour of lovely light I had here. Not one. Seems only tourists doing drive-by sightings at the overlook visit on Sunday evenings!

I did find one small plant growing near the edge of one hill - otherwise they are void of vegetation in this clay hard "soil" that holds/absorbs no water.

After this short loop hike and an hour of photography it was time to head back for another hike before sunset - that comes up next!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Central Oregon roamings, part 3 - Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds

Upon leaving the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, I headed into the quiet small town of Fossil, Oregon. You know you are in quite the rural areas of a state when a town like this hosts the county seat with a very pretty county courthouse building, and Wheeler County is well represented (courthouses will be covered in a later post!).

The Painted Hills Unit is by far the most famous area of

the monument and it is indeed spectacular with scene

ry. First up I spent over an hour hiking the short Overlook Trail area to enjoy the "famous view" into the main larger region of the painted hills. I then returned here for more photography as the sun set - after a lot of earlier clouds and showers I was fortunate to have the sky clear out nicely these last four hours of the day!

Grand color comes from the ancient volcanic activity of the region, ash fall, mud flows, you name it. Being I was here on a Sunday evening the area was virtually my own national monument as I only saw a very few groups of travelers and I believe I was the only one who appeared to be 'a photographer' and not just stopping to take a fast photo out the car window.

Another attraction in the Painted Hills Unit is the Painted Cove area, and for that I'll save for its own entry as it was fascinating to be able to get up close to the geology of this area there!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Central Oregon roamings, part 2 - Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Upon leaving the White River Falls area the road took me winding down into the town of Maupin along the Deschutes River. From here I took grand sets of backroads to work my way to SR 218 and the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. There are three separate areas that make up this national monument and the Clarno unit is in the region between Antelope and Fossil along SR 218, the most northerly area of these highlands.

The drive down from US 97 at Shaniko to bisect SR 218 at Antelope was spectacular in its own right - what a winding road of fun!

Then after a long climb up, SR 218 does another fascinating drop on winding roads through a mix of juniper forests and sage lands, all the way down to crossing the John Day River and then in just a few more miles reaching the Clarno Unit along the highway. The Palisades are the main attraction here, huge cliffs that were formed from the result of massive lahar outflows from ancient volcanic times. That's the necessary requirement to preserve what today are some wonderful fossils to view - a very rapid burial of debris under pressure. Indeed, this is the best location to easily see many fossils of leaves, many areas of petrified logs in the cliffs, and the interpretive part of the trail does an excellent job of helping you find the easy ones!

Another nice trail takes you up a couple hundred feet elevation to below the cliffs of the Palisades to get a closer look at the Clarno Arch, a small natural arch in the cliffs from the years of erosion.

I was humored too by the "cute" signs around the region to remind you to watch for rattlesnakes. I only saw lizards here but saw many rattlesnakes along the roads nearby that I drove around. Just as I came down from the Clarno Arch I did get buzzed by a rattlesnake which I was never able to locate. The rascal - spook me but not let me photograph it!?!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Central Oregon roamings, Part 1 - White River Falls

There is no way to briefly cover the wide assortment of adventures and locations I managed to fit in to a 4+ day photography roadtrip to Central Oregon this week. So why not break it all up into many segments to give due respect for every area of the natural world I was so pleased to visit?!

My first full day had me heading south from The Dalles, OR and roaming randomly planned back roads off the main highways with a goal to be hiking and photographing in the Painted Hills unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument some 12 hours later. Lots of time! I found wonderful abandoned structures such as churches and homesteads which I'll share in a later post here. My main first area was to barrel down into the Deschutes River Canyon near Shearer Falls, then up into the Tygh Valley where the White River flows through.

And here also lies a special hidden treasure of the Oregon State Park system, White River Falls State Park (http://www.oregonstateparks.org/park_36.php). Here the White River leaves the flat valley land and dives into a stunning canyon on it's final approach toward the Deschutes River. What a joyous location to be lucky to have morning clouds to give nice details to the water and canyon walls.

The short hike down 1/4 mile to the river below the falls takes you to a wonderful relic of history, an abandoned old hydroelectric power plant which was built in 1910 and supplied Sherman and Wasco Counties with power until 1960. I could have spent a full hour just photographing stuff around this old building! But I had plans for heading east to both the Clarno and Painted Hills units of the fossil beds...so I'll save those for next and leave you with previews of White River Falls, my first main stop!

Next up, Clarno after a nice drive to Maupin, up Bakeoven Road, down through Antelope, and east across the John Day River to the Clarno unit!