Sometimes I imagine what it must have been like during the time of Lewis and Clark, when the west was virtually unmapped and discovery lay around every corner. What was it like to see everything with fresh eyes, day after day, knowing that the plants they were cataloging and the geography they were mapping were virtually unknown to the rest of the population? Sometimes I long for that sense of discovery and the wide-eyed wonderment of seeing something for the first time. Having hiked and biked the areas near Bend for 13 years, sometimes my outdoor adventures start to feel a little, well, stale. But recently, I’ve discovered a place where that sense of wonder and discovery still exists: Skyline Forest.
Skyline Forest is the sleeping giant of conservation projects in Central Oregon. If you aren’t familiar with it, the forest is 33,000 acres of mixed-aged Ponderosa pine, Manzanita and bitterbrush that was once known as the Bull Springs Tree Farm. To give you a better visual perspective of the size of the property, you could take South, Middle and North Sister and plop them down inside Skyline Forest. This property is currently owned by Fidelity National Financial and the Land Trust has been in negotiations with them to try and conserve the forest since 2005.
Part of my job, and the reason I was out on the forest was to take two of the Land Trust’s tour leaders on a scouting expedition. Skyline Forest is so vast that my experience thus far has been exploring small parcels of it. Bull Springs, Three Creek Butte, and the historical mill sites are all current destinations for Land Trust outings. On this day, we were scouting the area around Snag Springs.
Snag Springs is one of the lesser known springs in the forest, just a small oasis amidst the pine and rabbitbrush where aspens suddenly proliferate along with thimbleberry, rangers button, and a variety of other native plants and wildflowers. To be sure, Skyline Forest is not pristine. It is full of old logging roads and trails, but in a sense, those old roads make for great, although at times confusing, hiking.
We started out from the Bull Springs trailhead, a dusty path right off of CP-1 and followed the bubbling waters of Bull Springs. At a heavily used area with a large fire container and a submarine-like tank in the ground (perhaps an old latrine?) we turned onto another road and followed the drainage for a while before climbing a ridge and eventually dropping back down into the spring area. Too make an interesting loop we followed the old road up to another ridge, where it eventually ran into CP-2, then we dropped into a small rocky gully, eventually following the trail back to the Bull Springs trailhead.
What did we discover? Aspen galore, which would make for a lovely fall hike, ranger button which is a wildflower I’d never seen, a thimbleberry snack (my first), and butterflies galore. To top off our day we interrupted a golden eagle mid-bath in Bull Springs. As he escaped silently through the trees I again thought of Lewis and Clark. Skyline Forest may not be pristine wilderness, but with its proximity to Bend and Sisters, its vastness and its system of roads and trails, it is still a place waiting to be discovered. Maybe you’ll find your first thimbleberry, or a new place to ride your bike or hike with friends, or if you are really lucky, maybe you’ll see your first golden eagle.
You can discover Skyline Forest on a guided hike with one of the Land Trust's volunteer naturalists. See the full schedule of hikes here. Special thanks to the Conservation Alliance and Bend Park and Recreation for making these free hikes possible.