Bill has written a monthly "Oregon Trails" column for the Eugene Register-Guard since 2000. He wrote a monthly outdoor column for Eugene Weekly from 1992 to 2000. The R-G column usually appears in the "Cafe 541" Sunday feature section. It is sometimes republished in the Salem Statesman-Journal and other Gannett newspapers. To check out the R-G's latest issue, visit the Register-Guard website. Meanwhile, here is the text of a recent column -- without the map, but with a spiffy color picture.
Fog on Mt. June
Escape to the Scout Camp Trail
by William L. Sullivan
For years my favorite Central Oregon escape was Smith Rock, a sure desert retreat for hikers driven out of the Cascades by lousy weather. Whenever my favorite mountain trails were wreathed in rain or buried under snow, I’d get in the car and flee east to the dry beauty of Smith Rock’s riverside canyon.
But now I have a new favorite Central Oregon escape: the Scout Camp Trail.
This 3-mile loop descends past cliffs, caves, and wildflowers to a wild stretch of the Deschutes River opposite the confluence of Whychus Creek. It’s the same tantalizingly beautiful terrain you can see—but cannot access—from the Whychus Creek Trail to Alder Springs.
The Scout Camp Trail is one of several paths built by the Bureau of Land Management on the fringes of the Crooked River Ranch, a sprawling rural subdivision of vacation homes and ranchettes on the rimrock plateau between the Deschutes and Crooked Rivers.
Many people bought lots here because of Central Oregon’s reputation as a recreation center, but the ranch developers really didn’t think to provide much in the way of parkland or public trails. So the BLM has stepped in, partly to stop desperate recreationalists from creating dangerous and damaging scramble paths in the rugged canyons bordering the ranch.
The new trails aren’t just for locals, although it can seem that way. The only access is through the Crooked River Ranch’s labyrinth of mostly paved but weirdly confusing roads.
Open only to hikers, the Scout Camp Trail starts out perfectly level, through viewless, dusty juniper woods with bunchgrass and sagebrush. A few blue larkspurs bloom here in May and June.
After 0.3 mile the trail begins its descent into the Deschutes’ canyon, with views across the rimrock to the Three Sisters. Three Fingered Jack peeks over the left shoulder of Black Butte.
In another 200 yards, fork left at the start of the loop. Now the path switchbacks down bouldery sagebrush slopes brightened with huge clumps of yellow balsamroot sunflowers.
At the bottom of a cliff near the river the trail forks again. Ignore the deadend scramble path to the left, and instead follow the main trail downstream to the right.
This section of the loop is a little rough and rocky, tracing a cliff’s base. Lava flows from the Cascades 5 to 25 million years ago left the basalt in these cliffs. Trapped between the rock layers are softer strata of ash, river cobbles, and cooked soil—evidence of the devastation unleashed by the lava flows.
At the 1.8-mile mark the trail appears to deadend at a wall where a lava fin juts into the river. To continue you have to use your hands to climb 8 feet up and over the lava wall, 30 feet before the path reaches the river. It’s not difficult, but it’s also not obvious.
Beyond the lava fin the path climbs 0.4 mile to a junction. Ignore the scramble path straight ahead (which soon peters out), and instead switchback up to the right. Now you’ll climb to a ridge and hike past several shallow caves, where soft ash flow deposits have eroded out below the basalt rimrock.
Keep left to complete the loop. Back at your car you can decide whether you, too, have discovered a new favorite hike in Central Oregon.
Getting There: Drive Highway 97 just north Terrebonne (6 miles north of Redmond or 20 miles south of Madras) to a pointer for the Crooked River Ranch and turn west on Lower Bridge Road for 2.1 miles. Then, watching your odometer carefully, turn right on 43rd Street for 1.8 miles, turn left on Chinook Drive for 2.4 miles, turn left on Mustang Road for 1.1 mile, turn right on Shad Road for 1.4 miles, turn right on Peninsula Drive for 3.3 miles, turn left on Meadow Road for 0.6 mile, and turn right on gravel Scout Camp Trail a quarter mile to the trailhead at road’s end (GPS location N44 27.663’ W121 19.294’).