Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Summitting Black Butte - A Tale of Two Hikes

In late October I did a doggy-sitting stint for my daughter, who lives in Central Oregon.  Because my grandpuppies aren't hiking dogs and love nothing more than to laze around home, it freed me up to explore the nearby trails.  The Central Oregon area has some amazing places to hike - I was giddy just thinking about the possibilities!

Black Butte rises prominently above the Central Oregon skyline

One trail that ranked high on my list was the trek up nearby Black Butte.  An extinct stratovolcano, it's prominent symmetrical cone is easily distinguishable among the mountain parade of the Central Oregon skyline.  It was also the inspiration for Deschutes Brewery's famous Black Butte Porter (one of my favorite beers) with the peak's silhouette featured on the label.  I'd passed by Black Butte countless times in my travels to and from Central Oregon.

Nice trailhead sign

Now was my chance to finally stand atop Black Butte's summit.  In preparation for my Central Oregon stay, I'd checked out the book "100 Hikes in Central Oregon Cascades" by William L. Sullivan from my nearby library.  The day after my daughter left on her trip, I consulted the book for Black Butte's directions and trail information.  I discovered there were two trailheads for this particular hike, a lower and an upper.  The upper trailhead required navigating a washboard gravel road that turned rocky and rough in the final mile.  The lower trailhead, however, was right off a paved road.   

The lower portion of the trail was in dense woods

What I thought I read in the book was that Black Butte's summit was a 6-mile round trip from the lower trailhead, and a 4-mile round trip from the upper parking lot.  So it wasn't a hard decision to start at the lower trailhead.

Fall color ferns

It was a sunny morning when I pulled into the parking area of the lower trailhead.  I didn't get a particularly early start, so it was a stroke of luck that I was able to claim the remaining parking spot.  After donning boots and grabbing backpack and camera, I admired the sturdy wooden trailhead sign before setting off through a thick ponderosa pine forest.

Sunburst behind an unusual tree

After wandering through the woods for a half mile or so, the trail began to climb steeply.  I began to sweat, puff and pant.  Thank goodness for the shady forest, or I'd have been one hot mess!

My gps read one mile, then two.  By my reckoning, I should've arrived at the upper trailhead by now.  But when I consulted the electronic map on my gps display, it still showed I had a ways to go.  Oh well, it was a nice (if slightly warm) day and my foot was doing well, so I decided to keep going.  Although the surrounding woods were nice, for the most part the trail was unremarkable.  There was an area with huge unusual trees and another spot where the trees were covered in bright green lichen.  Otherwise, the trail was just a hot uphill trudge.

In one area the trees were covered with lichen

After three miles and nearly 1700 feet of climbing I finally arrived at the upper trailhead's parking area.  Still questioning why it had taken so long to get to this point, I finally got the bright idea to consult my hiking book.  I'd taken a photo of the page with my phone, and upon retrieving the image made an awful discovery.  It wasn't 6 miles round-trip from the lower trailhead to the summit - it was 6 miles round-trip from the lower to the upper trailhead!  I'd read the book totally wrong.  In order to reach Black Butte's summit, I still had another 2 miles and 1500 feet of climbing (and that was just one-way!)

Forest views on the way down

What to do?  If I continued to the summit, it would mean a 10-mile round-trip hike, with over 3000 feet of elevation gain.  My plantar-fasciitis riddled foot, which had finally healed enough to enable short-ish hikes (5 miles or less), couldn't handle that yet.  But my foot wasn't hurting, and I really wanted to summit Black Butte.  I decided to travel a little bit further and see how things went.

White faced woodpecker

From the upper trailhead the grade got steeper.  I trudged slowly upward, sweating in the midday heat.  It was well past 1 pm, and my body wanted lunch.  After climbing about 3/4 of a mile, I came to my senses.  What was I doing?  Even if I reached the summit, it would be a tough downhill climb all the way back to the lower trailhead.  Walking downhill seemed to aggravate my foot the most.  It wouldn't be worth it to undo the months of healing now.  I needed to turn around.  Black Butte's summit would have to wait for another day.

Beautiful colored ferns

But first I sat on a nearby log and enjoyed a proper lunch.  The least I could do was fuel myself for the downhill slog.  And slog it was.  As predicted, soon after starting the descent, my foot began to throb.  The forest that had initially been in shade now was partially in sun, and that made a huge difference in temperature.  As I plodded along, sweating and limping, time seemed to stand still.  It took forever to reach the lower trailhead.   When I finally did, my foot was definitely not happy!

Smoky mountains to the south

But an evening of ice, rest, and ibuprofen seemed to calm things down and I was able to hike again the next day.  As the week went on, I kept thinking of my failed summit attempt.  I wanted a second chance.  So three days later, I decided to try again - only this time I'd start at the upper trailhead.

Walking through an open area

It wasn't a lot of fun bouncing along in my car over the washboard gravel road, and when I reached the rocky final mile, the road looked so rough I almost turned around.  But driving slowly I persevered, and finally the upper trailhead came into view.  I had to laugh - all the cars parked there were Subarus, including mine!

Aftermath of 2009 wildfire

Starting up the trail again, the first bit was familiar territory.  A quarter mile later, I encountered a white-headed woodpecker.  Not only did the bird stay put, it posed nicely on a low branch, so close I was able to capture some great images with my 24-105mm lens.  Such an amazing wildlife sighting, I took it as a good omen.  

A fairly clear view of Mt. Jefferson

After passing my lunch log from the previous hike, the forest thinned out and I emerged into an open area.  The views were quite nice - I could see the surrounding Cascade peaks - Three Fingered Jack, the Three Sisters, Broken Top.  I could see the golf course from nearby Black Butte Ranch.  And far up on the summit I could just barely make out the fire lookout tower.  

Mt Jefferson and fire lookout

But my views to the south and east were partially obscured by hazy skies.  The entire month of October had been unusually warm and dry, and wildfires were still raging south of here.  And unfortunately today the wind was blowing all the smoke towards Black Butte.

Shuttered lookout tower

Smoke or no smoke, I was still intent on reaching the summit this time.  I continued my climb, past an area of blackened tree trunks.  A nearby sign informed visitors that a 2009 wildfire was to blame.

Finally almost there!

The only good thing about wildfires, they open up the terrain for views.  The upper portion of Black Butte was totally devoid of tall trees, it's slopes instead covered with thick bushes.  I could see for quite a ways, but the smoke blocked what I assumed was an even better view.  Coming around the mountain, I had a great front-row sighting of nearby Mt. Jefferson.  And it was the only mountain still in clear sky - the others were partially obscured by smoke.

Cupola lookout at the summit

The tall fire lookout tower rose prominently from the butte's very top.  It looked shuttered up for the season, which surprised me since there were still wildfires burning. 

Very nice viewing platform

Finally I made it to the very top!  Yeah!  A sign pointed visitors away from the main fire tower and towards a viewpoint and "cupola lookout."  I'd read in the hiking book that people are not supposed to venture to the main fire tower, so I dutifully followed this sign.

This platform had placards for all the nearby mountains

The trail led to a cute wooden building.  It looked like the top of a fire tower, but instead of being on a tall structure, it was sitting on the ground.  This was the "cupola lookout."  After my hike, I tried to find information online as to it's history but all I learned is that this building appeared to be an earlier lookout facility.  A nearby building used for sleeping and cooking fell into disrepair and was burned down by the Forest Service in 2016.  I thought this little cupola was charming, and made sure to photograph it thoroughly.

View of both lookouts

On to the viewpoint - and boy was it a nice one!  The Forest Service had built a large wooden deck in a prominent location, enabling visitors to view all the nearby Cascade peaks.  Railings enclosed the deck on three sides.  Along the railing were small plaques lined up with the view of each mountain peak.  On a clear day, Mt. Hood, Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Washington, Belknap Crater, North Sister, South Sister and Broken Top were visible.  I was able to see all the mountains, but some of them, shrouded in smoke, were not so clear.

Still very smoky to the north

Taking a break on the wooden benches on the deck, I enjoyed a quick snack and soaked in the vistas.  I'd finally made it up here, and the journey had been worth it!  

Three Fingered Jack Mountain

After chatting with a nice lady and her two dogs, I packed up and retraced my steps back down Black Butte.  My return trip was uneventful.  I did notice the smoke clearing to the west, enabling some clearer views of Three Fingered Jack mountain.

A bright patch of color

Although most of the fall colors here were past peak, I did pass by one area still showing off a nice bit of yellow leaf color.  And there were still a few aspen leaves clinging to the trees in a nearby grove.

Last of the aspen leaves

After not seeing many people all morning, on my descent I met quite a few people climbing up.  Back at the trailhead the parking area was now full (and this time most of the cars weren't Subarus.)  I survived the drive down the nasty gravel road and in no time was back at my daughter's house.

Phenomenal sunset that evening

My daughter has an incredible view of all the Cascade peaks from her back deck.  She often sees some great sunrises and sunsets from here.  That evening I witnessed a phenomenal sunset over the mountains.  Watching the light drain from the sky, I looked over at the silhouette of Black Butte on the horizon and thought to myself "I've been on top of there!"

Despite my initial trail confusion mistake, I didn't give up - and now I've earned bragging rights for summiting another Cascade peak!

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The Marvelous Metolius

Bubbling out of the ground in the shadow of nearby Black Butte, the Metolius River winds through Central Oregon directly east of the Cascade mountain range until joining the Deschutes River at Lake Billy Chinook.  Designated a wild and scenic river, it's a popular place for photographers, especially in the fall.

The Metolius River in early October

My neighbor Cheri and I visited the mighty Metolius in early October.  We were hoping to photograph some fall colors along the river.  Although the Metolius at Wizard Falls was impressive, it's rapids a vivid bright blueish hue, we were disappointed to discover the autumn foliage was just getting started. 

Wizard Falls on the Metolius 

However, I got a second chance to photograph the Metolius.  In late October, I spent 10 days in Central Oregon, doggy-sitting for my daughter.  Because my grand-puppies didn't require constant attention, I was free to explore the nearby trails.  One of the places on my list was to revisit the Metolius River.  So, now in Central Oregon once again, it was time to see if the leaf color had progressed any.

The same spot three weeks later in early morning shade

I headed out on a chilly morning and was delighted to discover the bushes lining the Metolius now decked out in vibrant yellows and reds.  The only problem - it was so early in the morning that the river itself was still in shade.  Lack of sunlight meant it's unique aqua-blue color wasn't very prominent.  But because I was there, I snapped some images anyway.

Another early morning shot from the bridge

I'd have to wait for the sun to crest over the tall trees to get my river lighting.  To pass the time and warm myself up, I decided to take a hike along this lovely river.  Trails lined both sides of the Metolius, stretching both up and downriver.  I chose to head upriver from the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery.

Sunny spot along the river

The first 11 miles of this lovely river are open for recreation, mainly fly fishing, hiking, and rafting.  The lower 17 miles flow through the Warm Springs Reservation, where public access is difficult or nonexistent.  The upper portion of the Metolius is lined with thick forests of pine, cedar and fir, along with numerous other bushes.  The vegetation makes a lovely backdrop to this super-clear mountain stream.

Ponderosa pines

I didn't venture far down my trail of choice before sunshine broke over the trees and lit the river's waters.  Swirling eddies in the center churned a vibrant aqua color.

Golden ferns

Although much of the adjacent forest was coniferous, the bushes and plant understory was a riot of color.  One area was covered with ferns, all a lovely shade of gold.


Riverside scenery

With all this beauty, hiking progress was mighty slow.  My only problem was finding a clear enough spot to get down to the water.  But I managed to find access via numerous fishing trails.

River rapids

I hiked as far as Metolius Spring, where several clusters of springs gushed from the banks, creating this beautiful river.  Having hiked about 2.5 miles in distance from Wizard Falls, it was time to turn around and see if the sun had finally illuminated the river there.

Red vine maple leaves

Vine maple also grew in these forests.  It's autumn leaves are the prettiest of all, turning shades of yellow, orange, and fiery red.  I passed by a huge thicket of vine maple, and my camera found all sorts of vibrant subjects.

Multi-colored vine maple

Upon my return to Wizard Falls, I was delighted to discover the sunlight had made it's way to the river, illuminating nearly the entire width.

Wizard Falls in midday sun

Compared to my morning's photos, this was much better.  The sunlight made the water colors absolutely pop.  It's amazing the difference light makes on an image.

A bit of daylight makes a difference!

One of the many gorgeous scenic spots in Central Oregon, I was glad I'd made the trip back to revisit.

Lovely spot in autumn

Enjoy the photos, and happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate!

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Theodore Roosevelt NP - More From Day Two

As promised, here's the part two recap of my second day at North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  If you missed my previous post about this park's wild horse herd, you can find it here.

C'mon in!

My day began before dawn, as I planned to capture sunrise over the lovely formations at the Painted Canyon Overlook.  Luckily it was a quick jaunt down I-94 to the rest stop to reach my desired vantage point.

Pre-sunrise sky at Painted Canyon Overlook

I was surprised by how many people were hanging out in a rest area this early.  There was a large group at the official overlook, so I chose an out-of-the way, but still dramatic, alternative.  After scoping out and settling in to my spot, I was still visited by a handful of bystanders, all here to watch dawn break.  

A good start to the morning

The sunrise was a good one.  First, streaky clouds lit up in lovely pink shades.  Then the sun made it's dramatic appearance in a blaze of orange and yellow.  Unfortunately, right before the sun crested over the horizon, some guy walked across the blufftop, right into my frame.  Ugh!  Good thing I have photoshop, I guess (also cropped out was a prominently placed "danger" sign near the cliff edge.)

Little Missouri River from Wind Canyon Overlook

After enjoying lovely morning light on the striped hills of the Painted Canyon, I headed back towards Medora and the main park entrance.  I've already covered the wild horse photo session in a previous post, so after spending half of the morning there I continued driving the park road, stopping occasionally when something caught my eye.


Making a daylight visit to last night's sunset spot, I found the Wind Canyon Overlook just as stunning in morning light.

I found this sign amusing

Coal deposits are found in the subsurface around TRNP.  When exposed to oxygen, coal veins can spontaneously combust.  Passing by the Boicourt Overlook, I noticed this unusual sign.  Apparently burning subsurface coal is a problem here, as well as the numerous well-intentioned people who report the fires.

Trail to Boicourt Overlook

Stopping at the Boicourt Trail, I took the short path here to an impressive overlook showcasing eroded hills and canyons spread out for miles.

Magnificent scenery at Badlands Overlook

But the best scenery of all was at the Badlands Overlook.  Normally the road through this South Unit of TRNP is a loop, but at the time of my visit the last few miles were closed due to a landslide.  The road now dead-ended at this overlook.  After spending a half hour soaking up the splendid landscapes and munching a granola bar, I turned around and retraced my steps (or tire tracks) back along the same road.

Nice blue skies too!

Another view from the Badlands Overlook......

Interesting rock formations

I saw these interesting formations - rocks balanced on top of narrow columns of eroded soil.  There was no place to pull over, so I stopped my car in the road and rolled down my window to snap a few pics.  (There wasn't much traffic)

A lone peak in the prairie

I noticed a "Peaceful Valley Ranch" on my park map, so decided to stop in and see what was there.  I found several ranch buildings, corrals, and some lovely cottonwood trees displaying their finest colors.

Lovely fall colors at the Peaceful Valley Ranch

According to park literature this place was a working ranch in the late 1800s, a dude ranch in the 1920s, headquarters for the CCC and WPA in the 1930s, and park headquarters in the 1950s and 60s.

Along the trail to the river

I noticed a short trail that took visitors to the banks of the Little Missouri River.  After spending most of the morning in my car, a hike sounded really good!  The trail was quite lovely, surrounded by golden cottonwood trees.

Scenery from the banks of the Little Missouri

Reaching the Little Missouri, I walked along it's shoreline for a half mile or so, enjoying the scenery and blue skies.  I met up with a friendly man and wife, who pointed out a solo wild horse standing on top of a nearby hill.

I spotted a herd of buffalo walking down to the river

I was just about to head back to the parking lot, when the people I'd been chatting with pointed upriver.  A huge buffalo herd had just crossed a nearby road and were sliding down the steep riverbank into the water.

Buffalo scattered about

This area looked pretty close to the park road, so I hustled back down the trail to my car and drove to the road crossing spot.  Luckily there was a really wide shoulder here so I was able to park.  Then I followed the trodden dirt through a prairie dog town to the river's edge.  Most of the buffalo herd were now on the opposite bank, so I felt safe despite the short distance.

Mother and calf

What a great vantage to photograph the shaggy beasts!  As I focused and clicked away, other visitors, seeing what I was up to, parked in the same wide spot and joined me on the bank.  I chatted with quite a few nice people from all over.

Evening light at Boicourt Overlook

By midafternoon I was tired and hungry so I took a break back in Medora, checking out one of the two local saloons that were still open (this was late September so the tourist season was winding down.) 

Sunset from Boicourt Overlook

Sunset was around 6:00 that evening, so about 5, I headed back to the park.  I was planning on going back to the Wind Canyon Overlook until the ranger at the entrance gate suggested trying the Boicourt Overlook.  He said there were far less people there, and thought it was the most beautiful place in the park to watch a sunset. 

Post-sunset sky

Okay, I was sold.  It was a little bit more driving but I had plenty of time.  From the parking area, it was about a mile walk to the overlook.  The weather wasn't as nice as the previous night - a strong wind whipped at my tripod and chilled me.  But when the sun finally went down, I realized the ranger was right.  The sunset was incredible, as was the scenery framing it.

The sky kept glowing as I walked back to the car

After sunset, knowing I had a mile walk back to the car, I hustled to pack up and get out of there before things turned totally dark.  But bright orange light lingered in the sky long after the sun had left, lighting my way and creating interesting patterns with the clouds.

I had a wonderful two days at this "new to me" National Park.  Theodore Roosevelt NP was full of surprises.  I didn't expect it to be so beautiful or have so much wildlife.  I definitely hit the peak of fall colors, and would recommend visiting in late September if you want to see this place in full autumn splendor.  Five stars, two thumbs up - definitely put this National Park on your bucket list!