Monday, November 28, 2016

#OptOutside Cougar Hot Springs Debacle

Cougar Reservoir

Another holiday season upon us, another chance to escape the madness by opting outside on Black Friday... Or so I thought. This year our family decided to laze the day away in Cougar Hot Springs. A popular destination nestled high in the cascades off the bank of Cougar Reservoir. The views during the two hour drive up from Bend were amazing, and by the time we pulled off the highway we were all antsy to be out of the car and exploring. But it wasn't meant to be. At the hot springs at least.

Cougar Hot Springs parking lot
 The parking lot was overflowing with vehicles. They were packed so tight that several cars were in the road. The people that arrived early, and were parked in actual parking spots, were completely blocked in by the latecomers who just parked behind them. It was a total disaster. I found a spot near the parking lot on the shoulder of the road, but a forest service employee threatened me with a ticket if I stayed there. I drove up the road looking for alternative parking but found nothing. I circled back and waited patiently for someone to leave. Impatiently, my kids begged me to double-park next to someone, but I refused. After a half hour of waiting, there were now three vehicles just sitting on the side of the road waiting for people to leave the parking lot. Meanwhile the forest service employee perused the parking lot writing tickets. Finally, a man came sauntering up the trail toward the parking lot. He saw that his car was blocked in and threw a fit. He began yelling at the forest service employee. At this point we were all restless and irritable in the car, so I decided to abandon the hot springs despite the fact that we drove two hours to get there. It was totally demoralizing, especially for my kids.

Delta Camp nature trail
Determined to make the best of such a disappointing turn of events, we pulled into a closed campground we passed just to get out of the car and explore. Delta Campground was an awesome campsite surrounded by old growth rainforest and towering western red cedars. Here is the kind of forest that just looks ancient. The trees like sentinels. Something out of Lord of the Rings. We explored the campsite and short nature trail nearby. The dog went nuts. The kids ran and laughed and soaked their clothes in the dense foliage. It was fun, and the frustration of earlier in the day was forgotten.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Oregon Badlands Wilderness: Larry Chitwood Trail

Do you know what I love about Bend the most? I can drive 20 minutes out of town in nearly any direction, and be in the woods. Today I forsook the mighty Cascades and went east. East toward the desert, into the Badlands. The Oregon Badlands got mixed reviews from my coworkers at REI. Descriptions ranged from "beautiful" to "boring".  Being a self-proclaimed "desert rat" I had to check it out. 

Historical artifacts?
The Larry Chitwood Trail offers the closest access to any trail in the Badlands Wilderness, and my Silverado was the only vehicle at the trailhead. After hitting the trail, I was immediately impressed. The old Juniper scrubland baked in a golden glow from the rising sun really reminded me of the Mazaztal Wilderness in Arizona, and it was absolutely awesome. The only problem? Piles of rusted cans and broken glass. Apparently, Bureau of Land Management considers the trash some type of historical artifact. Some of it may even be remnants of The Oregon Trail (as in, "Go west young man"). 

High desert Juniper scrub lands.
Looking at the map, the Larry Chitwood Trail is kind of a lollypop figure-eight loop, and that's exactly how I intended to hike it. I started with the west loop. I was surprised almost immediately by the amount of deer tracks I saw. In fact, I spent about 5 hours jacking around in that little stretch of wilderness, and I saw more deer sign than I've ever seen in one place in my life. The ground is really soft sand, so literally everything leaves a print. Deer, coyote, cat, I saw it all. I realized pretty quickly that the Oregon Badlands Wilderness is crawling with critters. 

The west loop was kind of a bust. Most of its length it skirts private property, and at times the trail just inched a little too close for my taste. In fact, at one point a mangy old farm dog howled at me as I strolled by. It wasn't the dog that worried me. It was its owner. Luckily I was out of sight before anyone popped out of the doublewide gung-ho with a double-barrel.

The east loop was more my style. Deeper into the wilderness. Away from roads and farms and loud-ass power tools. All I heard was birds. A concerto of birds in fact. Celebrating an unseasonably warm November no doubt. The deer tracks became more frequent. I started to see scat. I even saw bear scat, which if the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is to be believed, bears are ... "absent from arid regions of central and southeastern Oregon." I've seen a lot of bear poop in my day, and I'm pretty sure this is it (see below).

Bear poo?
Overall it was a fun trip. I didn't see a single person other than myself. Just a lot of birds and animal tracks. If you're looking for solitude, the Oregon Badlands Wilderness is the ticket. If you're looking for views, go elsewhere (west young man). I will return for sure, but probably in the winter months when it's a bit colder. Maybe a backpacking trip is in the cards for me as well. The Badlands has no water that I know of, which surely assists in keeping the masses away, but coming from Phoenix that's something I'm used to.

A final note. There are dozens of unmarked trails in this area that aren't on the BLM map. Route finding can be challenging, especially if you take a wrong turn. It's best if you study the area from above beforehand to get an idea of the layout (google earth), and don't forget your map and compass!