“The terrain in Eastern Oregon is completely different from Oregon west of the Cascade Mountains. Words used to describe it are desert, cattle ranches, wheat ranches, pine forests, wilderness, remote, sparsely populated to unpopulated, and in parts extremely rugged. You can drive for miles in some areas and not see another car, human being, or house.”
The description above is appropriate for Eastern Oregon where I recently spent time hiking, enjoying the scenery, and visiting friendly communities along the way. Mountain ranges in the area include the Elkhorn, Strawberry, Wallowa, and Blue Mountains. The area is popular with hikers, backpackers, cyclists, campers, and fishermen. The scenery has rich history and abundant wildlife and vegetation. My favorite – mountain lakes, streams, and waterfalls – are nature’s special jewels.
Eastern Oregon covers almost 40 percent of the State. Tourists enjoy big skies and unspoiled natural beauty in a peaceful environment which produces a never-ending feast for the eyes. Wildflowers include Buttercups, Mariposa Lily, Shooting Star, Indian Paint Brush, and Yarrow. Wild berries, including Huckleberry, Gooseberry, and Thimble Berry, are abundant.
Obsidian Summer Camp was about a 300 mile drive and we passed through Bend, Prineville, Mitchell, Dayville, and John Day. This year camp was at Logan Valley in the Malheur National Forest which is part of the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. We took our time on the way stopping for lunch in Bend, visiting the colorful John Day Fossil Beds, and hiking trails of the spectacular Painted Hills.
The Strawberry Mountain Wilderness supports a native population of elk, mule deer, antelope, black bear, sheep, coyotes, cougar, pine marten, beaver, and other wildlife. Almost 400 kinds of birds are found there, including ruffed and blue grouse, woodpeckers, nutcrackers, eagles, hawks, and many more. August isn’t an ideal month for bird watching but the birders in our group spotted many birds and butterflies.
Hikers on the higher more strenuous hikes saw mountain sheep and goats. Curious California Big Horns surrounded one hiking group when they stopped to eat their lunch. The close-and-personal encounter delighted them and is a rare experience! One hiker saw a bear and many spotted deer, coyote, marmots, and chipmunks.
The weather was warm but pleasant with afternoon thunderstorms often accompanied by lightning. The days began with breakfast at 7:30 a.m. followed by hikes of varying difficulty. Accessing some of the remote trail heads involved driving on rugged mountain back roads. Because of the heat and altitude, I picked moderate hikes of around 6 – 7 miles. My favorite was to Strawberry Lake and Falls – both breathtakingly!
Several of us spent a day exploring nearby towns and historical sites like the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site in John Day. Most evenings we sat around a large campfire and listened to reports summarizing hikes completed that day. The gatherings included lots of laughter, making s’mores, and sharing incredible sunsets followed by clear skies and moonlight.
We just missed the phenomenal super moon that appeared on August 10th. According to astronomers it was the second of three consecutive super moons this summer. The first was on July 12 and the final show will be September 9. Super moons appear bigger and brighter and take place when the moon becomes full at the same time it’s closest to us in its orbit around Earth. A big, clear mountain sky is one of the best places to admire the moon.
After summer camp some of us continued on to the Wallowa Mountains and Eagle Cap Wilderness area near the Idaho border. We passed through small towns including Prairie City, Baker City, Joseph, Enterprise, Lostine, and Wallowa. The Wallowa tramway lifted us to the summit where we hiked the rim admiring Wallowa Lake and magnificent views of the surrounding mountains.
We missed the Wallowa County Fair in Enterprise and the Joseph Blues & Brews Festival but enjoyed outdoor markets and several live performances in local parks, restaurants, and pubs. Terminal Gravity Brewery & Pub in Enterprise is fantastic. During summer their outside seating in a grove of Aspen trees is a wonderful euphoric atmosphere.
Active wildfires in the area were the only negative aspect of the trip. We planned to visit Imnaha and Hat Point in Hell’s Canyon overlooking the Snake River but wildfire danger forced the Oregon Forest Service (FS) to close access to the area. A river hike in the Strawberry Wilderness and one outside Wallowa were also diverted when the FS closed several hiking trails and roads leading to trail heads. On the bright side, the smoky skies created extremely colorful, dramatic sunrises and sunsets!