Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Twin Pillars

After backpacking a short distance to our campsite, the day was still young.  Not ones to lounge around all afternoon, my hubby and I wanted to explore more of Central Oregon's Mill Creek Wilderness.

This bridge is in poor shape!

My hiking guidebook (the most excellent "100 Hikes in Eastern Oregon" by William L. Sullivan) noted the Mill Creek Trail continued past a landform called the Twin Pillars.  Sounded interesting!  We were game to check it out.

More of the burn area

So Roger and I shouldered our much-lighter backpacks, bid our campsite goodbye, and jumped back onto the Mill Creek Trail.  Not twenty steps from our tent, we crossed Mill Creek for the final time.  No wet feet for this crossing - this time there was a bridge.  Although in extremely poor condition, this ancient bridge held both our weights, and I was thrilled to escape more rock-hopping.

Little pollinator

Almost immediately after the creek crossing, our landscape changed dramatically.   In 2000, a huge fire swept through this area, and we again entered into the burn zone.  Although the charred tree trunks were a somber sight, the forest floor was lush and green, even sporting pockets of wildflowers here and there.  I caught a busy bee, hard at work pollinating some lupine.

Adjacent hills rising up from the creek

It wasn't long before our flat, mellow creekside trail got steep.  To reach Twin Pillars, we'd have to gain 1400 feet in 2.5 miles.  From here on out, it was all climbing.

Roger spots our destination

Puffing up the first steep pitch, Roger and I were rewarded with a glimpse of our destination - the rocky monolith of Twin Pillars, perched high on a ridge.  It reminded me of "Pride Rock" from the Lion King movie.

Lush creeklet valley

After climbing for a long while, I was disappointed to find we lost all our elevation, snaking down into a small valley.  A tiny creeklet trickled through the very bottom, and the surrounding area was lush and green.  Although a lovely place, all I could think about was the steep climb up the other side.

White ghosts

The lack of trees meant no shade from a late spring sun.  As temps began to warm up, sweat poured from my body.  Even intermittently cloudy skies provided no relief from the heat.

Halfway up the hill

The trail began climbing in earnest, winding up a steep hillside.  As I descended, the surrounding landscape spread out below.  The lack of trees and vegetation meant wide-open views.

Twin Pillars and burned forest

Twin Pillars stood out like a beacon, slowly getting closer, guiding us up the hill.  A pair of eroded volcanic plugs 200 feet in height, these monoliths were local landmarks.

Large blowdown tree

The fire seemed to have done the most damage near the top of the hill.  Hardy any trees were left standing, and those that were looked to be merely burnt-out shells.  Roger found one large scorched tree that had recently blown over, leaving only it's splintered trunk.

Huge burn area

Looking back down the hill, the fire's devastation spread for miles.

Under the twin pillars

Finally, the trail leveled out and contoured around the hillside, until we were directly below Twin Pillars. 

GoPro selfie at the pillars

Good opportunity for a selfie shot with my GoPro!

Torched trail sign

My guidebook mentioned a signed trail branching off the main path that would take hikers to the very base of Twin Pillars.  I looked around everywhere, but wasn't able to locate said sign.  Then on the way back, I happened to spot a charred remnant of a trail sign bolted to a burned out tree.  It appeared the trail was also a casualty of this fire.

Heading back down

As we began retracing our steps, Roger noticed storm clouds building over the surrounding hills.  We'd heard there was a possibility of thunderstorms that afternoon.  Not wanting to get caught up high during an electrical storm, we decided to hustle downhill as fast as we could.

Threatening clouds

Of course as soon as we descended low enough, the clouds blew away, and blue skies returned.  Oh well, as least we'd have a peaceful night sleeping!

As we continued down the trail, Roger and I were met with at least a half dozen other hiking parties, most with large backpacks, trudging up the steep grade.  I'd always heard this was an uncrowded place to visit, but the wilderness area seemed to be anything but.  Maybe it was due to the Memorial Day holiday?  Either that, or the cat's been let out of the bag about this fabulously scenic area.

Lovely little blossom

Tromping through the last mile of burned-out forest, I struggled to keep up with my hubby, who was nursing a serious case of "horse in the barn" syndrome.  (I think he was looking forward to some of the wine we'd packed to camp with us).  But a lovely tiny pink flower blooming amidst the devastated forest caught my eye, and I just had to take a photo break.

Cooling my feet back at camp

After eight-plus miles of hiking that day, our campsite was a wonderful sight!  Yet another reason I was thankful we'd camped right next to the creek - it made a great place to soak hot, tired feet!

Toast to a successful day!

Now for that wine!  Happy hours don't get any better than this - sitting on a log, drinking vino out of our coffee mugs, enjoying some string cheese and dehydrated backpacker meals.

Yep, the perfect ending to a great day.

Sharing with:  Our World Tuesday


  1. Linda, your photos are beautiful, and I was especially touched by the one where you are cooling your feet in the water. Thank you so much for sharing. It is extremely hot and humid here in Montreal right now and your photos are offering a much needed and refreshing moment for me.

  2. That was a hike and a half Linda. Pity about all the tree damage. Glad you got there in the end and you do not even look exhausted.

  3. Wonderful to see the vegetation already beginning to re-establish itself after the fire. At least it opened up some great views for you. Nice wine glasses!

  4. I love your posts, they always make me smile.
    Even forests charred by fire have a certain beauty. And, as that little flower shows, the forests will rebound and flourish.
    Wonderful post, Linda.. every photo, every word!

  5. The forest fire though terrible at least gave us a view. Another grand walk.

  6. I know exactly what you mean by that scene in The Lion king. Such devastation but good to see signs of life everywhere. What a great time you are having. You seem to have the balance just right with those difficult hikes and then the water and wine to follow.

  7. It will be interesting to see how these forests recover - our forests burn rather too often these days, but the regeneration is remarkable.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  8. Nice series- pretty flowers. Sad to see burn but part of the natural course

  9. Sad to see the burn area. We had some fires last year, so I know how devastating this can be.

    Mersad Donko Photography

  10. Linda, I always enjoy your hikes and images. I feel like I am there with you reading your post. The burn area does look sad! I can only imagine how pretty it was before the fire. The twin pillars are cool! And I love the last shot of you and your hubby with the vino! wonderful photos and post. Have a happy day and new week ahead!

  11. What a great time! And your photos are beautiful. I love where you are cooling your feet. I would do the same. And lovely shots of you both!

  12. Great hike! I have all of Sullivan's hiking books and I just love them.

  13. What a great day on the trail! I know that sinking feeling when a trail loses all the altitude you've gained!

    We aren't backpackers, don't want to lug all that stuff, etc., but I sure do like the IDEA of backpacking! :-)

  14. I always feel sad when I see the devastation caused by forest fires. You made a good choice in your campsite, that's for sure. Thanks for taking me along with you. :-)

  15. That looks like it was one hot fire. Good to see a few wildflowers returning. Looks like a perfect way to cool off in that stream:)

  16. Linda, so sad to see those burn areas. Looks like you are having a fabulous time hiking!

  17. its sad to see the beautiful forest burned like that but you can always find beauty amongst the ashes.

    beautiful hiking area.

  18. So sad to see the scope of devastation from the fire. The heat must have been horrendous for the trees not to survive. Perfect camping spot.

  19. I've read with you as you hiked your way through that book and can't wait for the day when you say, "I've done them all!" I've been so sporadic with comments over the last months, but I read every one of your posts and so enjoy your adventures. Thanks so much for your continued support for me both on the blog and on FB. I appreciate your friendship and still hold out hope that one of these days we will meet in person!

  20. That's an impressive rock. The fire damage is sad - unfortunately I'm all too familiar with that sight.

  21. What an area! Thanks for sharing. Tom The Backroads Traveller

  22. I love a creek for cooling my feet after hiking. I cooled them off for 20 minutes and walked at the same time in Lake Superior the other day, it was perfect for preventing swelling the next day!

  23. I love mountain creeks too! The Twin Pillars look very, very neat and I love the little pink flower!
    Blessings, Aimee

  24. Although it's sad to see so much charred wood, it's great to see the f area regenerating!

  25. Wow- that was a big hike! Beautiful views, and thank you for sharing them.

  26. Interesting hike. Love that last shot!

  27. It takes your breath away to see how a fire changes a landscape, doesn't it? We have areas here in the Smoky Mountains that have been ravaged by several tornadoes over the past five to ten years. They look like a war zone, just like the landscape in this post does. What's also incredible though is how nature reclaims that area and watching it revive itself over the years. It's encouraging really, to know that even fire-scorched or tornado-ravage landscapes will heal. Sometimes in life, I feel fire-scorched or tornado-ravaged, but it's nice to know that we, too, can heal. Enjoyed your post!

  28. What a hike! And such beauty, even in the ashes.

  29. Looks a smashing area. I'd be surprised if there's not a few rock climbs on Twin Pillars. Backpacking and camping always feels special.

  30. This looks like a beautiful place to hike, and your photos are gorgeous, as always. We also hope to return to backpacking this summer or fall; we always enjoyed hiking up into the hills, and having the wilderness to ourselves after the day hikers headed back down.

  31. Great hike - I also hate when I climb and climb and suddenly have to go down before going up again. What's that about? The pink geranium is s pretty.

  32. Looks like another nice hike and I'm glad to see Roger out there enjoying it with you.


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