Enjoying the Sun!
Joined: 25 Mar 2007
Posts: 1037 | TRs
Location: Land of many waters
|Took the Isuzu for a driving/hiking tour of this tiny wilderness in NE Orregon, located about 35 miles east of Pendleton. We drove up the long grade on Hwy 204 towards Tollgate; since I wasn't driving, I could note the roads to trailheads. After reaching Tollgate, the hwy descends slightly towards Spout Springs, a homegrown ski area that rivals the Cascade areas for snowfall. Beyond Spout, we turned west on Road 31, a nicely paved forest road that passes through an area used as winter recreation, on several old logging roads through rapidly growing clearcuts. A few more miles and there is a sign for the Umatilla Rim Trail, which gives access to the Nine Mile Ridge Trail and others in the area. We parked in the gravel lot near the spring-fed pool; there are no amenities here, BTW. And began a short exploratory hike along the rim trail through lush and dry meadows, with views extending across the Umatilla River
View from Nine Mile Ridge towards North
N. Fk Umatilla Wilderness
drainage, west towards High Ridge and Meachem and north towards the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the hazy heated skies above Pendleton. Since the temps were soaring into the mid to high 80's, we walked slowly, enjoying the beautiful assortment of wildfloowers, including some not seen very often (or at all) in the Washington Cascades, including lush clumps of a rayless Rudbeckia (Rudbeckia occidentalis),
Rudbeckia growing on Nine Mile Ridge in the N. Fk Umatilla Wilderness.
Golden Pea on Nine Mile Ridge
Penstemon on Nine Mile Ridge
Field of Valerian
and the vibrantly colored Golden Pea. We also glimpsed a blonde bear as it slowly moved into the underbrush away from us (sorry, I was too excited to get out my camera!). We hiked the Rim Trail until a short ways from an abandoned forest road and the grassy junction of the Nine Mile Ridge Trail. The ridge extends out north into the wilderness. Since it was so hot we both decided not to descend to the main ridge below and be faced with a steep ascent in the heat of the day. All the ridges in the area have extensive meadows and strips of forest consisting of Western larch, Douglas Fir, Subalpine and Grand Fir, spruce, as well as alder, willow, maple, serviceberry and other shrubs. There is also a large elk population in the area, which we saw signs of along the way. And many, many small springs. No water in the area is potable. Bring lots of your own.
After returning from the hike, we continued SW on Road 31 and then turned in on the stub road to High Ridge Lookout.
High Ridge Lookout off Rd 31
The lookout is manned by the Forest Service and was built in the 1960's. We talked to the guard there, a veteran guard and firefighter who has been in the service since his twenties. He was supposed to be posted at Table Rock Lookout, on the Rim Road (FS Road 64/65) but the road is currently impassable due to washouts and yes, snow drifts. The road is due for some serious road work next weekend and should be open in one to two weeks. Meanwhile, we enjoyed the warm rock garden beneath the tower on the sunny ridge, filled with waterleaf, yarrow, wild grasses, scarlet gillia and buckwheat. Views from the tower extend into Idaho, past the nearby grandly high, snow-laden Wallowas.
Proceeding on our road tour, we turned down Road 32 at Ruckle Junction. This is a miserable rock-strewn canyon road that drops rapidly down the Thomas Creek Canyon, a stream feeding into the Umatilla River. The only saving grace of the road was the magnificent gardens of penstemon and buckwheat clinging above the road on rocky outcroppings. Closer to Umatilla Forks, there are several nice pull-out areas for dispersed camping, located in the trees and next to the growing creek. Camping is also available at Umatilla Forks, along the short Buck Creek Road and at Corporation Camp on the boundary of the forest. We completed our tour by driving down the Umatilla towards Thorn Hollow, climbing up the winding road and through the wheat, pea and soy bean fields of the Umatilla Indian Reservation to Hwy 11. Great tour for a really hot day; the temperature in Milton-Freewater was 95 degrees F. Ouch! TG it is dry heat!