|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.
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.
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.
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