Back in August daughter Erica and I had a chance to explore a little of The John Day Basin and adjacent areas of the Ochoco National Forest. It was a short trip, just four days including travel time, but we had a wonderful time. Here are some of the photos from that excursion.
Our campsite at Walton Lake. This is a bit idealized so far as the sense of privacy is concerned. In reality the park is one of the most heavily used in Oregon and the pathways are usually busy. Still, it was a good spot and we had a very enjoyable stay, sometimes-loud-neighbors and a jill-billion yellowjackets not withstanding.
It's a heavily timbered area with Ponderosa being the dominant species.
Our trip coincided with the outbreak of fires throughout central Oregon including one that charred more than 50,000 acres near the Clarno Unit and Hancock Station. The resultant smoke made for some interesting sunsets.
Day 2 was spent mostly in the car as we drove from one area of interest to another. First we looked into the campgrounds at Wildcat and then the trail heads for Steins Pillar and Twin Pillars. Steins Pillar looks like a dandy and we will definitely come back and make the hike another day.
The Twin Pillars hike looks like a good one as well although much of the area is still recovering from the 2000 Hash Rock Fire.
Erica looks northeast across a recovering burn area and towards Twin Pillars (above). Later we stopped at a vantage point that gave us a clear albeit distant view of Hash Rock itself.
We spent much of the day simply running the rough roads along the ridge that separates the John Day Basin from the Ochoco forest. We looked for Black Butte, one of the most distinctive features of the southern approach to the Basin and almost couldn't see it due to the heavy haze - just visible dead center in the picture below.
It was pretty late in the year for wildflowers but we did encounter what I think must be wild currants in considerable numbers.
We finished the day by taking in the Painted Hills Unit. Even in the smoke filled air the place is something to see. I've photographed the section along the east side of the park a half dozen times but could not help adding another image or two of the area to my files.
I wonder how many visitors get so wrapped up in the power of the hills near the entrance and forget how much more the site has to offer? I know that happened to me the first several times I visited. Even on a day when the quality of the light is relatively poor the textures and colors can be captivating.
When I first visited the interpretive area west of the main painted hills area (over a decade ago) that portion of the site featured a rickety boardwalk and some very primitive signage. I'm not sure when it was all upgraded, but for the last few years visitors have been able to tour this portion of the unit on a state of the art walkway. The signage is much better as well.
The trail around Red Hill is short but along the way if you look carefully you may be able to find a fossil or two. Here's one that I found that may be a foot print of one of the earliest inhabitants. Size .09 D I think.
The trail is very new and the nearby area was seriously disturbed during development of the site. A great deal of grading had taken place in a nearby drainage area, presumably to combat flash flooding issues. Monkey flowers were growing everywhere in that area, a flower so delicate and so somehow out of place that I presumed it was an invasive non-native. But like fireweed it is both native and lovely.
One of the reasons I picked the John Day Basin for our trip was to look into a number of campgrounds that are located near the three units of the fossil beds. We also wanted to visit the Thomas Condon Palentology Center located in the Sheeps Rock Unit. The center is several years old but until this trip I had never set foot in the place. Wow! What a great place. I could spend several days there. I'll be returning as soon as time and circiumstances permit. All of this we accomplushed between 9 AM and 4 PM that day. The heat of the day (and it was a hot one) had come and would soon be fading with the lowering sun. Just the right time to set out on the 3+mile hike that follows the permimeter of the Blue Basin.
The Blue Basin is one of the most remarkable places I've visited in Oregon, or anywhere else for that matter. We entered in the north end of the loop trail which turned out to be the recommended proceedure.
There are a couple resting areas along the trail including one on the upper crest of the basin. In the view below the the trail down runs along the face of the opposite hill (the faint line just above Erica's hat).
As we made our way downhill the sun began to sink behind a cloud bank on the horizon. Meanwhile to the east a thunderstorm had formed and as best we could tell was fast approaching our area.
We picked up the pace a little but even so stopped for awhile at what is probably the best overlook on the whole trail. I want to come back to this exact same spot some evening when the sunlight is a little more full range. The colors are even more incredible than what you can see here.
As I've said on a previous post or two, for years the John Day Basin was, for me, THE outdoor destination. Then I visited Owyhee Country and fell deeply in love with all those wonderful piles of scrambled rock. Now I feel very conflicted about which I love the most. Guess I'll have to keep them both!