The delta between 12 miles and 14.68 miles was enough to make me really, really happy that I decided to bring camp shoes. While we didn’t have any significant elevation change in the Lower Deschutes River canyon, the rough track of basalt railroad ballast slowly rendered our calico soft winter feet to blistered, pounded hamburger (or tofu, for some). I was glad that Suzanne brought bourbon, because I didn’t bring enough ibuprofen.
I was really pleased to be back in the Central Oregon desert again, this time escaping a very wet and cold storm system that hung over the Cascades. The NOAA forecast was off-putting (“Mostly cloudy, with a low around 31. Windy, with a southwest wind 21 to 31 mph decreasing to 9 to 19 mph in the evening. Winds could gust as high as 40 mph.”) but only 50% accurate. We had mostly sunny weather, cool, and breezy, sometimes gusting enough to knock me off balance.
We started at the Mack’s Canyon trailhead, which is 17 miles down a gravel BLM road that is 50 miles from The Dalles. The “trail” was an ancient railroad bed that was constructed in the early 1900′s as part of the “Deschutes Canyon War“, where two railroad companies built parallel tracks on opposite sides of the river in a race from the Columbia River to Central Oregon. Within the year, they both acknowledged that it was a stupid idea to continue building two separate railroad lines, so they negotiated using the western line, which is still active today. The east line is now a limited-access road for the first 19 miles and has largely reverted back to nature for the last five miles.
We saw quite a bit of wildlife, including a band of about 12 big horn sheep, two very big snakes, the ubiquitous deer, and two tick varieties (big and little). We also found a decomposed big horn sheep, which was a neat way to see and touch their horns without the threat of being gored.
We squeezed a lot out of this weekend – miles, hours, blisters. It was one of those great weekends where you need Monday, and maybe even a little of Tuesday, to recover. And not just for the dogs.
We camped just north of the Harris Ranch, on a boater’s site with a nice pit toilet and space to spread out. That night, we sat in the wind-calmed darkness, sipped whiskey and chatted under the vast blanket of stars, the promise of summer just around the corner.