|The trail beckons...|
For a couple of years now, I've been wanting to start backpacking again. After several failed attempts, I decided 2015 would be the year I'd make it happen, and chose Memorial Day weekend for our first trip. Knowing this holiday's rainy reputation, I picked a trail in sunny, dry Central Oregon. Hearing lots of glowing reports, the Mill Creek Wilderness, just east of Prineville, got the nod.
Roger and I rose early that Saturday morning, and after a 4-hour drive, pulled into the Twin Pillars Trailhead, at the Mill Creek Wilderness western edge. After lots of last-minute adjustments (it had been a long time since we'd donned humongous backpacks!) we set out along the trail, Roger charging ahead, and me meandering behind.
After passing through a pretty car campground, we found the "official" trailhead, next to a gated crossing. Stepping through this threshold transported us into a lush, green, magical wilderness.
|Entering the wilderness area|
Although the trail was supposed to follow Mill Creek, the stream didn't show itself for the first half mile. Our path finally climbed up a steep bank, and we gazed at the lovely little creek, burbling below.
|Our first sighting of Mill Creek|
The forests here were predominately ponderosa pine. The undergrowth was much more grassy than the forests on the Cascade's western slopes. But I enjoyed the change of scenery, especially when we passed through a meadow chock-full of yellow Arnica blossoms.
|A meadow full of arnica|
I'd read this trail was known for it's multiple creek crossings. Realizing we might have to wade, Roger and I had strapped sandals to the outside of our packs. Not a huge fan of water crossings, I was a tad bit apprehensive about high spring runoff creating a raging torrent. But at mile 1.3, when we encountered our first crossing, Roger discovered a large downed tree spanning the creek.
|First creek crossing|
We both easily shuffled across it's trunk, no problem. Our feet stayed dry - this time.
|Tentative log shuffle|
We continued on, trekking through more gorgeous scenery. The wildflowers were out in force, and I enjoyed the colorful display of purple larkspur, orange columbine, and more yellow Arnica.
Then we came upon creek crossing number two! But again the crossing was easy-peasy, thanks to a few well-placed logs.
Crossing number three was another cinch - the water was shallow enough we could almost walk across. Roger and I hopped over on a few well-placed stones. Only the bottoms of our boots got wet.
|Hopping through the shallow part|
I was beginning to think these creek crossings had been over-hyped when we came upon our fourth ford. This one was different. There were no rocks or tree trunks to hop onto. The water was just deep enough that wading would totally submerge our boots. Good thing we brought those sandals!
|Sometimes you just have to take off the boots and wade!|
Sooo......we dropped our packs, off came the boots, and on went the sandals! It seemed a lot of work just to walk across a twenty foot wide creek. But I didn't want wet boots for the rest of the weekend, so that's what I did.
On the creek's opposite shore, our efforts were rewarded with a wonderful bright green meadow to walk through.
And more wildflowers to stop and admire. Or, in my case, photograph. And, no Roger didn't pick this columbine blossom. He merely held it up so I could capture the yellow underside.
|Entering the burn zone|
About two miles in, we began seeing blackened tree trunks and scorched bushes, remnants of a 2000 forest fire. Although the burned out trees made for a somber landscape, seeing so much lush green undergrowth was encouraging.
|A large survivor|
Some of the larger trees appeared to have escaped the flames.
|The forest is coming back to life|
Around the three mile mark, we came upon a side creek draining a lush meadow. This area was reputed to have some nice campsites, and I'd hoped to find one for ourselves here. But after counting a half dozen tents set up, I decided to keep going in hopes of finding something more secluded.
|Evidence of rebirth|
By this time, Roger was starting to tire. Carrying our tent and a couple other items, he definitely had the heavier load. That, and since he didn't hike as much as I, wasn't as conditioned. And, in our haste to leave, he'd accidentally grabbed his old worn-out hiking boots, and now his feet were beginning to protest.
I offered to hike ahead, and scout for possible campsites. A short quarter mile later, I stumbled upon the perfect spot. Situated on the creek's bank, we'd be serenaded by it's babbling waters. The site also boasted a fire ring, a couple of log benches, and a private wooded area to pitch the tent. And, best of all, there were no other campsites nearby.
|A peaceful place|
Yes, this place would do quite nicely! After setting up camp, and enjoying a leisurely lunch, it was barely noon. The day still young, we decided it was time for more exploration. The trail continued to a rock formation called the Twin Pillars. Since we now had lightened loads, Roger and I decided to go check it out.
Stop back for my next post and see what we found.
Sharing with: Weekly Top Shot and Scenic Weekends.