Quinn and Buddy on the trial to the Mini Painted Hills
Last week I spent five wonderful days camping, fishing, and hiking with my 7 year old grandson, Quinn Baker. Here are some photos and a few quick notes from that outing.
We camped at Mule Shoe Campgrounds, a BLM site that sits on the banks of the North Fork of the John Day River. It’s a decent site – no water, but clean toilets and well tended camping areas. There are a handful of trailer sites and several more walk-ins. There’s a good boat launch/pickup area there as well.
Quinn is getting fairly adept at using a full-size spinning reel and rod. Given that we were constantly fishing in and around reeds and rocks, it’s surprising that we only lost a little tackle. The shot above shows Quinn at one of our two main fishing spots. This one is just below the campgrounds. If you look real close you can just see the top of our pop-up in the background.
Our second fishing spot (and in general, the best) was just downstream from the rapids at Priest Hole.
We caught around a dozen fish altogether, most of which were small-mouth bass like the one Quinn is holding here. We also caught four small steelhead of comparable size. I’d never caught a steelhead before, but now I know where the madness comes from that sometimes causes otherwise rational and well-educated people stand in ice cold water for hours on end fishing for the beasts. What power those fish possess!
The highlight of our trip turned out to be a hike we took up a ravine that I’ve come to call Cougar Creek. The creek is one of more than a dozen good-sized but highly ephemeral streams that flow off the northern flanks of Sutton Mountain. (I visited this area in April 2011 with my buddy Jim Carlson. We had the good luck to come across a cougar track – hence the name.)
The creek leads out of an area Jim calls “The Mini Painted Hills.” The formations here are similar to those found in the Painted Hills Unit that is located just a few miles to the south of here. I’ve been into this area four times now and found boot tracks on the trail only once.
Most of the domes in the area are dominated by iron-bearing clays, but one large, white dome lies on the northeast side of the basin. I’m not sure what this material might be, but it doesn’t have a salty taste so maybe it is some kind of carbonate?
We spent a couple hours hiking and poking around in the basin and covered better than 2 miles overall. Quinn seemed totally oblivious of the heat and effort involved. He turned out to be a wonderful hiking companion – steady, durable, and reasonably cautious.
Quinn stands at the top of the highest dome in the area. We went to great efforts to stay on solid ground as we moved among the domes. When we had to cross one, we took care to tread only where deer or other animals had laid down trails before us.
On our way back down the creek we came across an area that appeared to have been recently disturbed – by what I couldn’t tell. If you click on this image and blow it up to max size you may be able to see the dozens of red flowers that are blooming there.
The plants turned out to be monkeyflowers. (I think it might be Memulous kellogii, but I’m not totally convinced). I ran across this flower when I visited the Painted Hills with Erica, Quinn’s mom, a year ago. It’s native to the Pacific Northwest.
We also came across stands of Mariposa lilies in a couple of the open areas on the slopes above the stream.
We saw a fair amount of game, including pronghorns and golden eagles. Quinn is a highly-organized kind of guy, so shortly after we arrived he began keeping track of the animals and plants we were encountering on a couple Post-It pads.
The fire-index was at “moderate” throughout our visit, but no one was taking any chances. Open fires and fire-pits have been banned since the 1st of June. But I managed to melt a giant marshmallow on our gas stove, and Quinn somehow managed to choke it down.
As I indicated at the outset, it was a great trip for both of us. Watching Quinn hike through that terrain was one of the most moving experiences of my life.That kid moved through the hot breeze and over the broken ground as if he had been doing it all his life. He also “got it” where the wonder of the geology is concerned, remarking to me several times how wonderful the place was. I just hope he never loses track of that connection.