2014 Blog posts

Trail Conditions: Whychus Canyon + Metolius Preserve

Winter weather has made hiking conditions at Land Trust Preserves varied. Please help us keep our trails in good condition by not hiking when too warm. Read on for more...

Stewardship director Amanda Egertson was recently out at several Land Trust Preserves checking trail conditions. We'd love your help in keeping our trails in tip-top shape, so read on for details on where to hike right now. **Winter weather conditions are always changing in Central Oregon. Please check the forecast as you prepare for your hikes.**


  • Trails at Whychus Canyon Preserve are icy and muddy in places. Recent freeze/thaw cycles have left trails in the sun very muddy and trails in the shade (like down into the canyon) very icy. ***To help maintain the great condition of our new trails, we ask that you do not hike on them when they are soft and your foot leaves an imprint.*** These imprints can remain for a long time, seriously degrading trails and creating lots of extra work for stewardship volunteers and trail crews.
  • Trails at the Metolius Preserve are open but are snowy and icy in places. Please use caution when hiking these trails. The Metolius Preserve provides miles of trails through forests and along creeks with lots of solitude!
  • Indian Ford Meadow's short trail is open for hiking, but please be careful of icy conditions. Enjoy this forested trail out to a viewing platform with spectacular views of the Cascades.
  • Camp Polk Meadow is also perfect for short walks and bird watching. Please use caution as the trail may have icy spots and some snow.

Thanks for helping us care for our Preserves!


Rod Bonacker finishes term on Land Trust Board

Many thanks to Rod Bonacker for all his help and guidance on the Land Trust's Board of Directors.

With the start of the new year, the staff and Board of the Land Trust also bid adieu to long-time board member and volunteer, Rod Bonacker. Much of the success of the Land Trust stems from having the right people involved, and Rod is one of those people. As the spouse of one of our founders (Maret Pajutee), Rod has always been there for the Land Trust whenever we needed a hand. 

Rod served as a Board member for eight years, including two years as President of the Board. His quiet mastery of complex natural resource issues combined with his innate leadership skills and boundless passion for the land made him a valuable resource for staff and Board. An avid fisherman, hiker, cyclist, and skier, Rod has always been most at home in the outdoors and we look forward to seeing more of him out on the trails and rivers. We know he'll continue to protect the places that make central Oregon such a unique and special place.

Thanks for all you've done and will continue to do for the Land Trust, Rod!


Ten Mile Dawn
A Poem by Rod Bonacker

Still dark this morning when I step into the river

The sun is just kissing the top of the canyon a thousand feet above me.
Grand Canyon has no steelhead, just saying,

I wade to my waist and shake out the line, the first casts lengthen and straighten.

I’m casting pretty good today.
The big deerhair fly skates across the surface below me, skipping along the seams and micro currents.
Man, I would bite that in a heartbeat.

Step downstream, Lift the line behind, cast again,
Mend the line straight, swing the fly,

Step, cast, swing
     Step, cast, swing

          Step, cast, swing

Light is halfway down the canyon wall, glowing in fescue,
Ancient basalts, dried balsamroot,

Step, cast, swing
     Step, cast, swing

          Step, cast, swing

Is that a bighorn up the....BOOOOSH!

Somebody threw a bus into the river down by my fly,
No grab though,
     he missed it!

Cast again, cover the spot, nothing....

Give it a rest and change to the smaller fly.
This never works for me.

I’ll have to leave when the light hits the river, its an 8 hour drive home.
Hate to leave so much of this run unfished,

so much water, so little time.

Cast and swing again,
     Cast and swing.......There!

Well, at least I won’t be skunked today.

I really should wade back to shore and get rid of some coffee.
The light is almost to the river, time to head home.

Step, cast, swing
     Step, cast, swing

          Step, cast, swing

Really... last cast,
Step, cast, swing
     Step cast, swing

          Step cast, swing

Ok five more casts or until the light hits that rock,
I mean it

Step, cast, swing
     Step, cast, swing

          Step, cast, swing

The Crooked River Caldera

Our January Nature Night on the Crooked River Caldera was a full house! Enjoy slides from presenter Carrie Gordon on one of the largest ancient volcanoes in the world right here in Central Oregon.

Thanks to those of you who came out to our January 16th Nature Night on the Crooked River Caldera! It was a great presentation thanks go our fabulous presenter Carrie Gordon!

Enjoy slides from Carrie's presentation on one of the largest ancient volcanoes in the world right here in Central Oregon--the Crooked River Caldera.

If you have trouble viewing the slides below, click here.

2014 Nature Night: Crooked River Caldera by Carrie Gordon from DesLandTrust

Additional Resources mentioned during the presentation

Geology of Oregon
by Elizabeth L. Orr, and William N. Orr. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Pub., 1999.

In Search of Ancient Oregon: A Geological and Natural History
by Ellen Morris Bishop. Portland, Or.: Timber, 2003.

Hiking Oregon's Geology
by Ellen Morris Bishop. Portland, Or.: Mountaineers Books, 2004.

Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries
. <http://www.oregongeology.org/sub/default.htm>

Carrie Gordon
is the Forest Geologist on the Ochoco National Forest and Crooked River National Grassland for the US. Forest Service. She holds a BA in Geology from Central Washington State College and is a Registered Geologist in the States of Oregon and Washington. Carrie has worked in Central Oregon since 1992 and was part of the team of geologists that discovered Central Oregon’s Crooked River Caldera. Carrie has had a life-long fascination with the land and the rocks, listening to the stories they tell.

***Thanks to North Rim, Lind/White Group at Merrill Lynch, and Arbor Mortgage for making Nature Nights possible.***

Beyond Misery Ridge

Local writer Katie Eberhart shares a post on her hike at Smith Rock State Park and its connection to the Crooked River Caldera--the topic of a recent Land Trust Nature Night.

by Katie Eberhart

In this post you’ll find narrative—as a hike-chronology, photos, and a poem recently published in Elohi Gadugi Journal. As you read, consider the invisible bridges between words and images, and between narrative and poetry. . . .

In Summer 2012, I climbed Smith Rock with Chuck and our friend, John Larson, from Arizona. We drove from Bend to Terrebonne (pronounced ter’-rah-bon), and from Terrebonne to Smith Rock State Park—in Central Oregon, near Highway 97.

We parked, shouldered our daypacks, and hiked down the steep trail to the Crooked River which we crossed on a bridge. We planned to climb the trail “Misery Ridge” and descend the west side of Smith Rock, then return along the river trail.

My daypack was heavy with two water bottles and a camera.

The Misery Ridge trail was steeper, narrower, rockier, and more precipitous than I expected. Crossing Misery Ridge, to the west the distant view was of vibrant green fields and farthest, at the western horizon, was the Cascade Range where the volcanoes, Mt. Bachelor and Three Sisters (South Sister, Middle Sister, and North Sister), were partly obscured by clouds.

Descending toward the Crooked River, the trail was steep but the switchbacks were farther apart than the many quick turns up the east side of Misery Ridge. I stopped to take pictures and watched climbers scaling the pillar, Monkey Face, until they clambered into the stone mouth.

I didn’t know at the time that between the cliffs and the Crooked River is the edge of the Crooked River caldera which formed when a super volcano collapsed and erupted 29.5 million years ago. I learned this later, during an Oregon Master Naturalist workshop and heard the story again, explained more fully by geologist, Carrie Gordon, at the Deschutes Land Trust’s recent Nature Night event.

Chuck and J.L. hiked more quickly than my cautious pace downhill on skittery pebbles. Eventually, I lost sight of them.

Where the trail teed, I turned left toward the parking lot. The path became less steep, trending laterally along the base of the cliffs—some with overhangs. Beneath one overhang, stacks of stones lined ledges. I hoped these cairns meant something—that they were a testament to passage or survival. But later, a friend suggested the neatly organized stones were probably the work of people, or kids, who were waiting for friends, or parents, climbing the rock walls.

Approaching the river, trees blocked my view except I could see boots and legs beneath the branches and I was sure that I would finally catch up with Chuck and J.L.

My cell phone rang and it was Chuck. He said they had turned right at the intersection of trails and so had taken a longer route.

Beside the river, I unlaced my boots, pulled off my socks, and waded into the water. Eventually, Chuck and J.L. showed up.

Hiking back to the parking lot, we followed the trail between the Crooked River and the magnificent orange-and-red cliffs of ash-flow tuff erupted during the Oligocene epoch. The evidence is written in the rocks and the rocks are so large you can see them from Highway 97, yet the geologic story was only recently uncovered.


Writing the poem, The Good Earth, I began with my experience hiking over Smith Rock, especially the views but also the mystery of human activity in the details—of stones and handprints, even the trails. I also looked out across the landscape and thought about the routes we follow. It is a sense of wonder, with responsibility, that I’m after.

The Good Earth
by Katie Eberhart

We climbed Smith Rock and there were people
in the mouth of the stone pillar—
Monkey Face. To get there you go by
Terrebonne. From the highway you think

“this is a hard-stressed landscape,
an agglomeration without name brands”

but after climbing the steep switchback trail . . . . .

Please visit the Elohi Gadugi Journal website to read the entire poem, “The Good Earth”, which is included in the Winter 2014 issue of Elohi Gadugi, “Intersections & Transitions.”

Read this post, complete with photos, on Katie's Blog.


The Crooked River Caldera, presentation by Carrie Gordon at the Deschutes Land Trust Nature Night, January 16, 2014.

“Field trip guide to the Oligocene Crooked River caldera: Central Oregon’s Supervolcano, Crook, Deschutes, and Jefferson Counties, Oregon,” Jason D. McClaughry, Mark L. Ferns, Caroline L. Gordon, and Karyn A. Patridge. Oregon Geology, Volume 69, Number 1, Fall 2009.

Smith Rock State Park website.

Map of Smith Rock State Park hiking trails.

Oregon Master Naturalist website.

Animal Olympians of Oregon

As we root for local Olympic contenders, Laurenne Ross and Kent Callister, let's not forget about the animal athletes from our backyard!

Here in Central Oregon, we’re gearing up to root for our local Olympians. Laurenne Ross is competing for Team USA in alpine skiing and Kent Callister is part of Australia’s snowboard half pipe team.

As we watch one of the most compelling displays of human speed and grace, let’s not forget about the other natural champions from our backyard. For these Oregon animals swiftness, strength and agility aren’t just for sport—they ensure survival. We think it’s time to celebrate these animals as the athletes they truly are.

Luge Champions: River Otters

River otters are beloved by humans for their playful ways, but did you know that River Otters are experts at sliding down naturally occurring mud and ice chutes? These slippery fellas are the luge Olympiads of the natural world. Here's a National Geographic video of otters sliding on ice.

Aerial All-stars: Flying Squirrels

We can’t help but notice the knack flying squirrels have for aerial acrobatics. These expert gliders leap from tree to tree with the grace of a true Olympian, sometimes reaching distances close to 300 ft. With their soaring flight pattern and daring tactics, they remind us of aerial skiers.
Mogul masters: Mountain Goats

We’ve watched the new mountain goat in town navigate rocky cliffs and dangerous drop offs with unmatched grace and agility. Based on the sure-footed mountain goat’s uncanny balance, we’d count on them to be at the top of the podium in the mogul category.

Snowboarding Pros: Crows

Intelligent and creative crows have often been observed playing in the snow. Some have even noticed crows practicing a new sport: “crow-boarding.” Check out this funny video of a Russian crow-boarder: the crow snowboards down the roof on a plastic lid and flies back to the top to start all over again. It may be hard finding an American crow that can compete with this Russian representative…
 Cougar near Sisters. Photo: Kris Kristovich.
Biathlon Champs: Cougars

The Cougar covers the largest territory of our Central Oregon predators. We’d bet on this sneaky cat to hit the target under pressure and difficult conditions. And with the cougars' sheer speed, we think they’d be a sure win in the biathlon sprint category.

 Did we forget any of your favorite animal all stars? What Oregon critters would you send to the Animal Olympics?

If you leave tracks, turn back

Mud season at Whychus Canyon Preserve means hikers should check trail conditions before proceeding. Read on for why...

The Land Trust's Whychus Canyon Preserve is becoming a favorite hiking spot for many locals. Its lack of snow pack tends to make it accessible during the winter and it is one of the first places you can hike in the spring. Come summer, the desert sagelands and rimrock canyon prove too hot for many, but by fall, trails once again beckon.

This spring as you head out to Whychus Canyon Preserve for an early season hike, we ask that you help us keep our trails in great shape by not hiking on them when they are muddy. Keep this short mantra "if you leave tracks, turn back" in mind.

Mud is part of spring in Central Oregon--especially in those arid sagebrush lands that receive moisture at this time of year. Rains or snows that may seem inconsequential in town may provide just the right conditions for ankle-deep, sucking mud. The best way to ensure you're not stuck in that mud is to get a trail report before you head out. Call the Land Trust or check our website as we usually post when conditions are poor. If you find yourself at the Preserve and you encounter mud:

  1. Please turn back. This will help keep our trails happy and hikeable!
  2. If you encounter a small patch of mud or snow, walk through it, NOT around it. Walking around causes erosion, widens trails, and damages sensitive, slow growing desert plants.
  3. If the mud continues beyond isolated patches, turn around, it probably won't get better! Even if you walk through it....
  4. Remember, when trails through the sagebrush meadows can be dry, north facing or shady trails in and out of the canyon can still be muddy.
  5. Take a deep breath, we know you planned your hike at Whychus Canyon, but you can come back and hike another day. Your sacrifice today will ensure that these trails are there for years to come. Try staying your favorite paved or gravel trail until things dry out.

So, why should you turn back if you encounter mud? In short, to keep our trails happy and here for the future. When you hike or run on a muddy trail, your foot leaves an imprint in the soil. Rain and melting snow settles in these spots eventually forming a puddle. Future trail users tend to either go through further deepening the indents, or around widening the trail. Over time deep ruts and holes are formed which require immense work to repair. Trails on slopes, like in and out of Whychus Canyon, are at even greater risk for damage because ruts trap water and channel it down the trail.

The good news is, mud season at Whychus Canyon is short--especially relative to wet climate mud seasons! Following these simple tips will allow us to keep these trails the community asset that they are. Thank you!

Just how dangerous are rattlesnakes?

Nature writer and reptile specialist, Alan St. John, gives tips on how you can avoid rattlesnakes during your next outdoor adventure.

By Alan St. John

As a nature writer/photographer specializing in reptiles, I'm often asked about the potential danger of rattlesnakes. With the warming weather, both hikers and rattlers will be out and about in Central Oregon. Most people (unless they're herpetology enthusiasts who purposefully look for turtles, lizards and snakes) have two primary questions of concern:

Will these venomous snakes advance towards a human and attack?

What hiking locations can I choose that are NOT inhabited by rattlesnakes?

The answer for the first query will allay needless fears. No, a rattlesnake will not aggressively slither towards you, its fangs dripping venom. Take comfort in the fact that snakes of all species fear us humans, and in most circumstances will immediately crawl away and hide. So if you encounter one of these buzz-tailed serpents, merely move away from it and allow the reptile to flee in the other direction. Simple as that, no danger involved.

A defensively coiled rattler can generally strike outward no more than about half of its body length. Only the relatively small Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis oreganus) is native to Central Oregon. Despite what you've heard, the larger diamondbacks and timber rattlesnakes occur in other regions of North America. Our local species averages only about thirty to thirty-six inches in length, with rare individuals growing a bit beyond four-feet. Hence, if you remain no closer than six feet, you're well outside of striking range and perfectly safe.

Once in a great while, people are indeed bitten by rattlesnakes and end up in the hospital for treatment (envenomation from our indigenous species is rarely, if ever fatal). However, considering that our area is a recreational mecca with thousands of folks annually trekking the many trails, fishing along waterways, and a myriad of other activities, it's a very uncommon event. Usually, bites happen when someone accidentally steps on an unseen rattlesnake, or while scrambling in a rocky place inadvertently places a hand on one that's hidden in a crevice. When enjoying the outdoors, just use the commonsense safety measures of wearing boots that protectively cover the ankle; look first before sitting down in tall grass where a rattler might be concealed; and most importantly, don't put your hand in holes where unknown critters might lurk. More than likely, though, you'll never see a rattlesnake because they spend most of their time in hiding.

As for the second question, generally speaking, if your nature jaunt is taking place in Central Oregon's mountains above 6,000-feet elevation, you can relax with the buzz-tail paranoia. At our northerly latitudes in the Northwest, rattlesnakes are usually absent at those colder, lofty zones. For example, although a century ago rattlers reportedly occurred in the environs of Bend, they were exterminated decades ago. Therefore, it's safe to assume that upstream from Bend in the Deschutes River drainage you won't encounter rattlesnakes. Likewise for the forested heights of Newberry National Volcanic Monument, and the popular wilderness trails in the Cascade Range above Sisters and Camp Sherman. Northern Pacific rattlesnakes are denizens of lower-elevation, dry, rocky habitats in sagebrush country and sparse, sunbathed juniper-pine woodlands. Consequently, utilize the previously advised prudent precautions concerning rattlesnakes at destinations such as Smith Rock, Lake Billy Chinook, Powell Buttes, and the Prineville/Ochoco reservoirs. When hiking on Deschutes Land Trust protected lands, it's possible to occasionally see a rattlesnake at Alder Springs, Camp Polk Meadow Preserve, Coffer Ranch, Rimrock Ranch, and Whychus Canyon Preserve

Northern Pacific Rattlesnake in den. Photo: Alan St. John. Timing can also lessen your chances of a rattlesnake encounter. Of course during the cold winter when reptiles hibernate, that possibility is zero. But even during the warmer months, choosing the time of day for your outing can make a big difference. When early spring's sunny April days initially rise above 70 degrees, rattlesnakes are just emerging from their rocky den sites, basking at the mouths of crevices. At that season, if you avoid south-facing, stony slopes before the rattlers disperse into the surrounding terrain by May, there is little risk of coming across one. Similarly, in the autumn days of late September and early October when rattlesnakes return to their dens, use the same avoidance method of steering clear of rock ledges and talus hillsides that have a southerly exposure. In between those two seasons during summer's hot weather, rattlers tend to mostly remain hidden in sheltered retreats at midday, coming out in the more moderate temperatures of the morning and evening hours, or after dark on warm July and August nights. 

Probably no other native animal in our region generates as many fears, false perceptions and tall tales as the rattlesnake. Hopefully, after reading the truth about this unique creature, hikers will stride away from the trailhead with less apprehension. Instead, perhaps there will be a tingle of excitement about treading ground that's still wild enough to harbor this icon of the American West's natural landscapes.

Alan St. John is a naturalist, photographer, and author of several books including Oregon's Dry Side: Exploring East of the Cascade Crest and Reptiles of the Northwest. A native Oregonian, St. John now resides in Bend and his work has appeared in National Geographic, Outdoor Photographer, Country, Natural History, The New York Times, and other periodicals. In the past he has worked as a reptile keeper at Portland's zoo, and conducted extensive herpetological field surveys for various agencies. He can be found turning over rocks and logs in search of frogs, lizards, snakes, and other critters at Land Trust Preserves.

Catch spring wildflowers while you can

Check out what's blooming at your Land Trust Preserves and make plans to see these colorful wonders while they last!

Spring in the high desert is always a great time to celebrate the small changes in nature. The blush of green that starts to grace our normally gray and brown sagebrush flats. The wax currant that bravely puts out its first leaves only to be welcomed by a snow shower. And the wildflowers! The little guys that shine their yellow and white faces to the sun to soak in some warmth before the next frost. Goldfields, prairie star, spring draba, each about the size of a dime, are heralds of spring.They light up the slopes of Whychus Canyon Preserve in April and May, but be careful, if you hike too fast you might miss them!

Come May the wildflowers start to get bolder. Dime-size flowers give way to half-dollar ones: sand lilies, larkspur, buckwheat. Then, we can revel in the showy guys that will signal the arrival of summer: lupine, balsamroot, and paintbrush. Now is the time to get out and soak in these blooms! The greens, yellow, pinks, and purples will only last for so long. Take our virtual tour of flower photos by Kris Kristovich below and then find these local favorites at Whychus Canyon Preserve, Camp Polk Meadow Preserve or Indian Ford Meadow Preserve on guided hike or on your own!

Let us know what blooms you're seeing in the comments below, or email us a picture of a pesky flower you can't identify to sarah (at) deschuteslandtrust.org and we'll do our best to help!

If the slideshow below doesn't appear, watch it here.

Photos: Kris Kristovich

Follow Deschutes's board Blooming in May at Land Trust Preserves on Pinterest.

The secret to tracking wildlife

Nature Night presenter Dave Moskowitz wowed audiences with stunning photography and great stories. Here's one take on the evening.

This week the Deschutes Land Trust brought author and tracker Dave Moskowitz to town as part of our winter Nature Night series. Dave's presentation, Wolves in the Land of Salmon, focused on these charismatic carnivores that are so loved and hated in the West. Those who attended the presentation were treated to stunning photography and stories about wolf biology and ecology.

One of my favorite stories from the evening included a series of photos showing some young wolves on the beach playing with kelp. Dave told of watching them chase each other with the kelp, in and out of the surf, over and over again. The scene, of course, also played out by human children on beaches around the northwest. (Watch a clip from the evening where David speaks about wolves on the beach below.)

He also talked about the habitat needs of wolves noting that they liked to rear their young near wet meadows where food was plentiful. Camp Polk Meadow Preserve instantly came to mind. We have wet meadows! In fact, we just helped restore some wet meadows! Will wolves one day call them home?

Dave's humor peppered the presentation including one delightful shot of a wolf rolling in an otter latrine ..."you know, those guilty pleasures we all like to enjoy." Visions of my dog flashed before my eyes and likely 3/4 of the crowd. And, that was Dave's point: wolves, like children or our dogs, are simply another animal trying to make it in nature. (Watch a clip from the evening where Dave explains how wolves have adapted to life on the coast.)

My guess is that most of us spent the presentation enamored with the idea of tracking wolves and getting so close to such magnificent creatures. I was! But, after spending more time with Dave, I think my real take-away was how much an understanding of a place and its natural history feeds into tracking wildlife. If we learn the biology and ecology of wildlife, it is much easier to really see and read a landscape and then hear the stories it has to tell. It's a good reminder that it's the small details--divots under a pine tree--that tell of the cougars that walked the trail before me. 

Learn more about Dave Moskowitz or read about his upcoming adventures to retrace the path of famed wolf OR-7.

Central Oregon Wildflowers by Mark Turner

Our March Nature Night on Central Oregon Wildflowers with Mark Turner was the perfect way to celebrate the coming of spring. Check out the slides from Mark's presentation highlighting a wide variety of local wildflowers with his stunning photography.

Thanks to those of you who came out to our March Nature Night on Central Oregon Wildflowers! And thanks to Mark Turner for his excellent presentation!

Did you miss the name of an interesting flower? Or maybe you weren't able to make the presentation? We've got you covered. Here are the slides from Mark's presentation featuring the small to the showy wildflowers of Central Oregon in his stunning photography.

If you have trouble viewing the slides below, click here.

Mark Turner is a photographer and field guide author with a passion for wildflowers and other native plants. Mark is a native of West Virginia, where he began learning about wildflowers and photography as a boy. He still has his pressed flower collection from a 4-H project when he was in elementary school. Mark studied photography at Rochester Institute of Technology and is a self-taught botanist. He is an accomplished public speaker and has given programs for numerous garden clubs, native plant societies, and the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. In a perfect world he would spend most of his time during each growing season in the field photographing plants and their habitats.

***Thanks to North Rim, Lind/White Group at Merrill Lynch, and Arbor Mortgage for making Nature Nights possible.***

Five reasons to join us for a 2014 Walk or Hike

Hike season is officially here and our 2014 roster is our best yet! Read on for five great reasons to get out and hike with Central Oregon's best...

We are super excited to announce our 2014 Walks + Hikes! If you've been on a Land Trust hike before, you know that they are some of the best guided hikes in Central Oregon--and they're FREE! If you haven't been out before, read on to find out why this is the perfect time to join us.

1. Nearly 2 miles of new trails at Whychus Canyon Preserve.
We’ve been hard at work building new trails and connections at Whychus Canyon Preserve. Our Walks + Hikes at Whychus Canyon Preserve are your perfect chance to get an introduction to new routes and scenic viewpoints! One section of new trail takes visitors on a brief half-mile jaunt from the kiosk to a new, easily-accessed viewpoint with stunning views of Whychus Creek, its canyons, and the mountains beyond. Another section links the kiosk to a northern viewpoint without descending all the way into the canyon. This trail can be connected with the main route through the Preserve for a new three-mile loop!

2. Birds, butterflies, flowers, oh my!
We know you’re curious about nature. That’s why our free Walks + Hike cover everything from beginning birding to butterflies, history to geology, mountain biking to water bugs and more. Whether you’re a seasoned outdoor expert or new to Central Oregon, you can learn something interesting on a Walk + Hike.

3. Brand new hikes and topics this year.
New this year, we’ve expanded our Walks + Hikes to include easy-going Wanders, new art workshops, and hybrid bike rides. If you’re looking for a scenic stroll with minimal walking, check out our Wanders. If you want to hone your artistic craft or explore creative outlets, check out our Art Workshops. Or if you’ve been waiting to explore around our Preserves by bike, our hybrid bike rides are for you. In short, there’s never been a better time to find the perfect Land Trust outing for you.

4. Our Walks + Hikes leaders.
We are so proud and grateful for an outstanding roster of volunteers who lead our Walks + Hikes. From Pulitzer-prize winning photographers, to geophysicists, butterfly experts and life-long natualists, we are humbled by the volunteers who’ve given countless hours making sure you get the best guided hike in Central Oregon. Read more about our Walks + Hikes Leaders here.

5. Folks like you.
We don’t mean to toot your horn, but toot toot! It’s interesting and engaged participants like you who make our Walks + Hikes that much more amazing. We keep our group sizes small, meaning you get more opportunities to ask questions and meet new like-minded people. Attend a Walk + Hike and you just might leave with an awesome new friend.

Why are you excited for this Walks + Hikes season? Share in the comments below!

Things we love: nature apps

As the warmer weather and longer days call you outside, we thought you might like to know some of our favorite nature apps.

As the warmer weather and longer days call you outside, we thought you might like to know some of our favorite nature apps for your mobile device:

  • iBird Explorer: With a huge range of species and an easy to use interface, this app is our favorite for birding. You can even keep notes on the birds you're seeing and save them to favorite lists. We have all the Land Trust bird lists loaded into our favorites!
  • iTrack: This tracking app is new to us, but comes highly recommended by expert tracker David Moskowitz. We're looking forward to testing it in the field!
  • PDF maps: This handy mapping app allows you to easily upload georeferenced maps to use outdoors. Download our georeferenced Whychus Canyon Preserve Trail map or our Metolius Preserve Trail map.
  • Washington Wildflowers: Wildflower apps for Central Oregon are tough! Just like ID books, it's hard to find one app that covers desert and mountain species. Washington Wildflowers is based on Mark Turner's Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest and contains western and eastern Washington species. While it's not Oregon specific, it is similar and seems to be our best bet while we wait for the Oregon app to come out!  
  • Northwest and Rocky Mountain Trees and Shrubs: Another plant app we like for tree and shrub ID. Based on Daniel Mathews' book. 

Do you have favorites that didn't make the list? Put them in the comments below!


Bird watching in Central Oregon

One of the most welcoming signs of spring is the twitter of backyard birds. Their chipper calls are the alarm clock waking nature up from its long winter rest...

By Sarah Mowry

One of the most welcoming signs of spring is the twitter of backyard birds. Their chipper calls are the alarm clock waking nature up from its long winter rest. Spring migrations mean many birds will become active April through June as they seek out mates, nest locations and new sources of food. Now that spring has come to the high desert, one great way to get out and enjoy the season is by going bird watching.

Bird watching is one of the fastest growing forms of recreation in the country, according to the 2012 National Survey on Recreation and the Environment. Why? It’s a great way to get outside and watch wildlife that’s relatively easy to find. What’s more, it is a low-cost form of recreation that’s fun and easy to start. So, how do you take on this new hobby?

Birding 101

If you have a pair of eyes, you can start bird watching right away. The next time you take a walk along the Deschutes or sit in your yard, stop for a moment and examine the birds around you. You’ll notice there are obvious differences in size and shape. There are small brown birds that flit through the bushes, large woodpeckers making a racket on your house, or massive herons gliding slowly through the water.

You can judge size using birds you already know: bigger than a robin, smaller than a crow. Though this seems basic, size is one of the most important clues to identifying a bird. The body parts of birds—beaks, wings and tails—are also clues to what they eat, how they fly and where they live. Great blue herons have long skinny bills perfect for spearing fish, and their long legs help them wade quietly in the water. Northern flickers (likely the woodpecker banging on your house) have beaks that are perfect for making holes in wood or the ground to dig for ants and beetles.

Hummingbirds have tiny straw-like bills for sipping nectar from flowers.

From size and shape you can move on to color. Bright birds can make identification easier, but it is often the subtleties in color you need to search out. Are there colors and patterns on the head or tail? What do the wings look like? Finally, behavior and habitat can be important clues.

Where did you see the bird? How was it moving? Was it in a group or on its own? Though these last clues take time to learn to see, they can be the most fun as you begin to understand the habits and habitats of birds, and the stories they tell.

Undoubtedly, as you dig deeper into birding, you’ll want to get yourself a pair of binoculars. Binoculars come in a wide range of sizes and can be purchased at many local outdoor or bird specialty stores. They are essential for birding because they let you see the birds up close. One caution: take some time to get to know your binoculars before you go looking at birds! Though they are simple to operate, it takes practice to learn how to find and focus on an object with binoculars. Practice focusing on stationary objects—your fence, flowers, etc.—before you try to catch moving targets. Even better, join an introductory bird walk, which will certainly cover the basics of binoculars.

Some other helpful birding equipment include a good bird identification book or app (iBird Pro is my favorite), and a notebook to record your observations.

Where to bird

In the high desert, head toward water and you’ll find great bird watching. In Bend, you can find waterfowl and migrating songbirds at Sawyer Park on the Deschutes River. In Sisters, Camp Polk Meadow Preserve’s wetlands provide habitat year round and contribute to its designation as a birding hot spot (more than 160 species of birds observed). In Redmond, try Cline Falls State Park for canyon falcons and wrens. Wherever you go, the most important thing to remember is to enjoy yourself! You may not identify any birds or see anything unique, but you’ll have undoubtedly learned something about watching wildlife, and observation is the key to becoming a naturalist.

Looking for some practice in the field? Check out the Land Trust's guided Bird Walks!

Read this article in Central Oregon Magazine.

Attracting Native Pollinators by Mace Vaughan

Mace Vaughan from the Xerces Society presented our final Nature Night of 2014 on Attracting Native Pollinators. Check out the slides from his engaging presentation to learn more about native bees, the challenges they face, and how you can help.

Thanks to those of you who came out to our April Nature Night on Attracting Native Pollinators! And thanks to Mace Vaughan from the Xerces Society for his awesome presentation!

In case you missed it, below are slides from Mace's presentation. Flip through to learn more about native pollinators, the challenges they're facing, and how you can help bring back the bees!

If you have trouble viewing the slides below, click here.


Mace Vaughan is the Xerces Society Pollinator Conservation Program Director and Joint Pollinator Conservation Specialist to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s West National Technology Support Center. Mace has written numerous articles on the conservation of bees and is co-author of Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies, as well as the Pollinator Conservation Handbook. He is the lead author of Farming for Bees: Guidelines for Providing Native Bee Habitat on Farms.

He was a lecturer on honey bee biology and beekeeping at Cornell University, from which he holds Masters Degrees in Entomology and Teaching. Mace has researched the behavior and community ecology of insects, and has worked as an insect wrangler and bee expert for PBS Nature.


***Thanks to North Rim, Lind/White Group at Merrill Lynch, and Arbor Mortgage for making Nature Nights possible.***


In search of bumblebees

Local writer Katie Eberhart goes looking for bumblebees in Central Oregon after learning about the plight of pollinators at our Nature Night on Attracting Native Pollinators.

By Katie Eberhart

Easter Sunday and two days before Earth Day, we set off on an in-town hunt for bumblebees even though the afternoon was cool and breezy. I carried a bottle of water and a camera. Chuck had binoculars. Within the first half block, we sidled between parked cars and a tall Oregon grape, peering at the hand-sized clusters of yellow blooms but seeing only honeybees and flies.

A few days earlier, we went to a presentation about native pollinators and were reminded — as summer approached — about bees, especially bumblebees. The speaker, Mace Vaughn, featured at one of the Deschutes Land Trust’s Nature Night presentations, talked about the important role bumblebees have pollinating native plants. Pollination helps with seed production, part of the process that we appreciated in spring 2012 as Arrowleaf balsamroot and lupine on The Dalles Mountain above the Columbia River.

We walked on a dozen blocks where we discovered a narrow strip of dry land surrounded by streets. Crossing into the wild island, we walked a gravel path between silver-gray sagebrush and tall currants with clusters of blooms as yellow as lemon rind.

Anytime I hear buzzing around my feet, I’m certain that next I’ll be surrounded by a cloud of angry wasps. Other times, though, the buzzing is softer and less insistent with bees Iooping around a few blossoms. I go closer, quietly spotting the bloom with a bee.

The golden currant in the “pocket” park was like this, with a calm humming. However, the bumblebee we saw wasn’t like the slow-moving bees in early spring in Alaska when it was still cold and only pasque flowers, buttercups, and bergenia bloomed. Those bumblebees crawled as if exhausted after such a long winter and it seemed you had all the time you needed to focus your camera and take a picture.

Standing beside the golden currant, I pointed my camera toward a flower with a bumblebee except, by the time I clicked the shutter, the bee was gone. It was as if there were two kinds of time, my slow human time and a speeded-up, fast-forward, insect time. I stood, clicking the camera shutter, hoping the auto-focus would focus on a bumblebee, until my patience was exhausted and we continued on toward the river.

Bumblebees have a tough go of it. The queens overwinter beneath leaves or dug into little burrows. In the spring, they emerge to feed, find a nest site, and lay eggs.
Mace Vaughn said that disease is one cause of the disappearance of bumblebees. The result is fewer bumblebee colonies so there is less genetic diversity. Other factors contributing to the bumblebee decline include fragmented habitat, competition with honeybees, and chemicals.

Chuck and I crossed the Deschutes on the Galveston Street Bridge. We walked south through neighborhoods, stopping at each blooming tree to look for bumblebees but we only saw honeybees. I like honeybees, but now think about them differently after Mace Vaughn’s talk. Vaughn explained that honeybees compete with bumblebees and other native pollinators. He said that, in town, having bee hives is like raising chickens–that chickens are not the same as wild fowl and honeybees are different from native pollinators.
(Of course, beekeeping is also a business and honeybees are essential for pollinating fruit and other crops.)

When we reached Miller’s Landing, a riverside park, passing the area fenced off for osprey nesting but where no ospreys nest, where the ground slopes upward to rocks with buildings on top, we stopped to watch a honeybee crisscrossing a large dandelion then noticed a black and pale-yellow insect zooming along the base of the cliff. I climbed over the rocks to get a closer look, hoping my camera would focus on what I thought must be a bumblebee. The insect zipped away at ground level, then returned and landed beside a tangle of stalks. I hoped it was a queen bumblebee searching for a nest site.

We lost sight of the bumblebee, only the second one we’d seen that afternoon, and so we walked on, along the river, our stomachs suggesting lunch was overdue. Despite looking, we saw no more bumblebees, but it’s hard to know whether few bumblebees survive in town or if our timing was poor and another warmer day might have yielded better results.

Read this post, complete with photos, on Katie's Blog.


Mace Vaughn is an entomologist with the Xerces Society.

My previous post on honeybees was Reading Sylvia Plath’s poem “The Arrival Of The Bee Box”

There’s a web site, Bumblebee Watch, where you can send your photos of bumblebees, to help with the citizen science effort to track and monitor bumblebee populations.

Xerces Society Pollination Conservation Resource Center

Xerces Society Pacific Northwest Region

Walking with butterflies at the Metolius Preserve

Writer Katie Eberhart explores the Metolius Preserve on a Land Trust butterfly walk and shares her experience on our blog.

By Katie Eberhart

While waiting for everyone to arrive for the Land Trust’s butterfly hike, I found myself thinking about the magic of butterflies—the colors and patterns; the fluttering-flight like a lopsided folding and unfolding; the delicate wings that might inspire kite-makers but don’t suggest longevity in the wilds. During the quick introductions, nearly everyone mentioned an abiding interest in butterflies. One woman said that she hoped to find artistic inspiration and I was thinking about the metaphoric possibilities and how butterflies seem to be a species with superpowers—with adaptations for evading predators (like hungry birds), surviving bitter cold and deep snow of mountain winters, and even outwitting people with butterfly nets.

To get to the Metolius Preserve, I had driven an hour from Bend, west past Sisters and toward the mountains, each turn onto narrower and less traveled roads, until I was driving on gravel and then on a narrow dirt track winding between pines. The morning was cool and breezy and not the most favorable weather for butterflies.

While hoping the breeze would die down and the air warm up, Amanda Egertson, the Land Trust’s butterfly expert, brought out a glass-topped box containing specimens of butterflies that we might see in the Metolius Preserve: Papilionidae which includes Swallowtails; Pieridae (Orange Sulfur, Sara’s Orangetip, and Becker’s White); the Blue butterflies of the Lycaenidae family, and Nymphalidae, the family of brush-footed butterflies like Fritillary, Red Admiral, and Green Comma.

Amanda explained that, to tell the difference between the Blue butterflies, you have to look at the underside of the wings. Glancing upward at the tall pines as if willing the breeze to still, she removed the glass cover from the butterfly case and pulled out the long pin which fastened a Blue Copper butterfly to the foam backing. She turned the specimen over, so we could see the pattern of black spots on the underside of the wings, and repeated this with the Silvery Blue. Before plucking out the third Blue specimen, Amanda announced that this one, the Melissa Blue, was “the peacock of butterflies.” Indeed, besides a pattern of dark dots like the other Blue butterflies, the underside of the Melissa Blue’s wings also had a flamboyant orange strip and blue-ish spots resembling the “eyes” on a peacock’s tail.

Some years ago, while hiking on a dirt road down-slope from a hay field, I encountered Blue butterflies gathered—“puddling”—on a patch of ground dampened by irrigation runoff. Amazed, I snapped pictures of the flock, my telephoto lens angled down at the butterflies’ iridescent blue wings. I didn’t know, though, that the clues to identifying Blue butterflies were hidden under their wings. I think now that if I encounter such a grouping again, I will get down on the ground, lying flat with my camera at the level of the butterflies and wait until one folds up its wings.

As the morning warmed and the sun beat out the clouds, Amanda stowed her butterfly specimen box, and we headed off, following a flat trail through open forest until a tiny butterfly caught our attention. Amanda quickly unfolded the butterfly net that had been sticking out of her pack and swept the air above the butterfly which, probably startled by the motion, flew up and into the net. Using smooth-tipped tweezers, she gently extracted the butterfly and dropped it into a clear plastic jar. We passed the jar around, observing the spots on the underside of the butterfly’s wings. The last person opened the jar and, in a few moments, the butterfly flew off. (I thought, when the tweezers came out, that the butterfly was a goner.) The identity of that butterfly was more speculative than certain. Amanda said it might be a Greenish Blue but that its wings were too tattered to say for sure. We walked on, going single file where the trail narrowed, everyone peering between the pines and firs, hoping to spot a butterfly in flight.

A yellow butterfly, too small and brightly colored to be a Swallowtail, flitted at the far edge of a glade. “Probably a Clouded or Western Sulfur,” Amanda commented, but again there was no certainty because the butterfly didn’t alight and so wasn’t caught in the net or photographed, and the constant flight made a good look with binoculars impossible.

Farther along, Amanda netted another Blue butterfly she identified as a Boisduval’s Blue which we each examined through the plastic of the container. After the lesson with the Blue butterflies, I was beginning to appreciate the difficulty of identifying butterflies that look so similar—butterflies we casually call “blue” or  “yellow” but as a generality, like listening to music when you think the composer might be Mozart but aren’t sure of the name of the piece.

At a “T” in the trail, where the forest was more open, the butterfly that stopped us in our tracks was black with showy white spots and orange wing tips. “A Lorquin’s Admiral,” Amanda said. This “puddling” butterfly was poking its proboscis into the damp dirt to “drink” and did not seem at all bothered by us.

When hiking, you frequently encounter a certain amount of novelty and unpredictability. You may see things you didn’t expect—the weather may change for the better or worse; or the sensations of heat and cold, the aroma of pine, or the screech of a soaring red-tailed hawk may remind you of other times and places.

As we returned to the parking lot, everyone was pleased that the weather had warmed up and that we had seen so many butterflies, but sometimes what you don’t see is what you think about. I would have liked to have seen a Green Comma, a butterfly with a superhero’s name and the power of invisibility. The Green Comma’s sculpted wing-edges and darkly mottled coloration let it “disappear” when it alights on the jigsaw-grooved bark of a pine.

Of course, camouflage is defined as hiding in plain sight. Maybe we hiked past flocks of Green Commas, all perched on pine trees and invisible to us. Or maybe there were no Green Commas clinging to the pines that morning—which leads me the notion that I have just encountered a place where nature and poetry overlap—at the question of what we see and what we don’t.

Read more from Katie on her blog, Solstice Light.

The Pygmy Short-Horned Lizard

Nature writer and reptile specialist, Alan St. John, gives you a glimpse at one of our region's unique cold-blooded critters: the pygmy short-horned lizard.

By Alan St. John

Hikers following Central Oregon trails through dry, sandy areas sometimes see tiny, rotund lizards that have a stubby tail and wonder, "What the heck is that odd critter?"

What they've encountered is a reptile that's unique to our region: the pygmy short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma douglasii).

There are twelve to fifteen recognized species of horned lizards native to North America, the tally sometimes differing according to the opinion of the taxonomist consulted. All have a rather bizarre, spiny appearance that causes them to resemble a diminutive dinosaur or dragon. Because of a rather plump body shape, they are sometimes mistakenly called "horned toads", but they're of course not an amphibian. Most kinds have a distinctive crown of relatively long spines at the rear of the head. But as the name implies, the short-horned lizard has mere pointy nubbins on its cranium. And it's truly a pygmy. Most "large" adults are usually only about two to three inches in total length. If any reptile can be considered cute, it's this dinky species.

Because horned lizards usually match the soil and pebbles where they live, their dorsal coloring varies from grayish-tan to reddish-brown, depending upon the geographic area. In fact, unless a pygmy short-horned lizard moves and catches your eye, it'll probably remain overlooked.

Generally, folks think of finding horned lizards in sandy deserts. The pygmy short-horned lizard indeed ranges throughout much of the open, semi-arid sagebrush-juniper country of the Northwest. But it also occurs in sunny clearings among pine woods on the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains. Surprisingly, populations even manage to survive along the Cascade crest, nearly to timberline at about 7,000-feet elevation.

Newborn pygmy short-horned lizards. Photo: Al St. John.
Newborn pygmy short-horned lizards. Photo: Al St. John.
In that harsh alpine environment with it's relatively short warm season, these hardy little lizards probably spend more time in hibernation each year than out basking in sunshine. Recent studies indicate that when winter arrives short-horned lizards bury themselves in sand a mere four or five inches deep, freezing solid as an ice-cube for months at a time. Then when the renewing warmth of spring arrives, they thaw out and become active again, dining on their primary food, ants. As an adaptation to a limited high-elevation breeding season, these lizards bear live young rather than laying eggs (ovoviviparous) and have a relatively short reproductive cycle.

In September of 2000, longtime friend and fellow naturalist, Jim Anderson and I hiked to the 5,500-foot summit of Sand Mountain in the Santiam Pass area. Just below the fire lookout tower, we found a petite two-inch female pygmy short-horned lizard on the sun-warmed, volcanic pumice-sand. While Jim took his turn snapping close-up photos of the diminutive animal, I surveyed our surroundings of stunted sub-alpine fir, noble fir and whitebark pine, marveling at the spectacular views of lofty, snowcapped peaks. Not the typical sort of place where one expects to find a warmth-requiring, "cold-blooded" (ectothermic) reptile!

Along with the Deschutes Land Trust's Metolius Preserve, other good locations in Central Oregon to observe pygmy short-horned lizards are in the vicinity of Cold Springs Campground west of Sisters, the shrubby sand flats around Tumalo Reservoir, and at Fort Rock State Park, about seventy miles southeast of Bend.

If you're lucky enough to find one of these interesting Northwest endemic lizards, please don't be tempted to bring it back home for a terrarium pet. With their specialized diet of ants, horned lizards of all species do not fare well in captivity and usually die before long. Besides, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife currently lists the pygmy short-horned lizard as protected, so it's against the law to take one from the wild.

Have you ever seen a pygmy short-horned lizard in the wild? Where?


Hundreds of bars from the canceled Dirty Half now fueling fire crews

With the cancellation of this year's Dirty Half, Land Trust development assistant Lisa Bagwell decided to take the treats to the front lines of the fire.

If you’ve ever crossed the finish line at FootZone of Bend’s Dirty Half Marathon, you know there’s a plethora of yummy treats at the finish line.

With this year’s cancellation of the Dirty Half, Land Trust development assistant, Lisa Bagwell was left with 800 peanut butter fudge bars and no voracious runners to devour them.

Good thing Lisa is a quick thinker.

“Once I heard the race was canceled, I immediately thought that these bars needed to go to the front lines of the fire! Thankfully Safeway donated doughnut boxes so we could package the treats and load them into our rig. After driving through smoke and thinking of all the lives affected by the fires, we were excited to do our small part to help: sweet treats for the firefighters to provide fuel to knock down the Two Bulls blaze.”

Katy, the owner of Nancy P's, told Lisa today that she had that same thought: the bars from the canceled race would be a sweet gesture to the brave firefighters. She decided to donate them to the fire efforts at no charge. Thanks, Nancy Ps!

The Two Bulls Fire continues to burn in and near Skyline Forest. The Land Trust is grateful to all those involved in the fire fighting effort and all those affected by the fire are in our thoughts.

How to explore Skyline Forest on horseback

Though the Two Bulls fire is currently burning in Skyline Forest, you can file this for future rides. Horseback trail ride author Kim McCarrel takes a look at the trails of Skyline Forest.

By Kim McCarrel

**Please note: The Two Bulls fire is currently burning in Skyline Forest. Riding there is currently not an option. File this for future reference. Thanks!**

Summer is nearly here, and the horse trails beckon!  

Are you ready to explore a part of Central Oregon that is close to Bend but feels remote? Would you like to see panoramic views of the snow-covered Cascades, inhale the piney fragrance of Ponderosas shading the trail, and delight in the delicate wildflowers that bloom this time of year? Then look no further than Skyline Forest, a 33,000-acre area adjacent to the Cascade foothills that the Deschutes Land Trust is working to protect for recreation, wildlife and scenic views.   

The equestrian parking area for Skyline Forest is at the end of Tumalo Reservoir Road, near Tumalo Reservoir. If you’re an equestrian living in Central Oregon you may already be familiar with the Tumalo Reservoir area. You may have ridden around the reservoir and on Bull Flat, the open sagebrush-covered expanse north of the reservoir. You may have even ridden along the bank of the canal that feeds the reservoir. These lands are owned by Tumalo Irrigation District and BLM, and the riding there is mighty nice this time of year.  

But you’ll find even better equestrian trails by venturing onto the adjacent Skyline Forest. There you can ride along seasonal Bull Creek to Bull Spring and the site of an old archery camp. You can travel to pristine Snag Spring, explore the site of a historic lumber mill, or gaze into the depths of Skyline Gorge, a 75-foot deep ravine carved by the old Columbia Southern Canal. And you can reach all of this from the parking area on Tumalo Reservoir Road. Read on for a photo slideshow, directions, and a map!

Routes & Directions:

Bull Spring
: To reach Bull Spring, ride along the southern edge of the reservoir. You’ll have a large sagebrush-covered field on your left. At the end of the sagebrush field, about 0.7 mile from the trailhead, veer left and pick up the trail that runs up the hill. At the top of the hill, take the trail heading south, ignoring the less-distinct trails that go off to either side. It will take you to the wide gravel Brooks-Scanlon Road (Road 4606). Cross it and pick up the trail that runs beside Bull Creek to Bull Spring. For variety you can return on the trail on the opposite side of Bull Creek, which at one point runs up onto a rock outcropping for a nice view of the mountains. Round trip from the trailhead to Bull Spring is about 7 miles.

Snag Spring: From Bull Spring, pick up the dirt road that departs on the north side of the area.  It quickly swings west and continues up the Bull Creek drainage.  (The creek is running underground here.) At all road junctions, stay in the little valley you’re in, and in about 1.2 miles you’ll come to a dense thicket of aspen on both sides of the road, an indication that there’s water underground here. Just past the aspen, tie your horses and walk to the left to find tiny Snag Spring and many seasonal wildflowers.  This is a very delicate area, so please keep your horses well away from the spring. Round trip from to Snag Spring is about 10 miles.

To reach Skyline Gorge: From Bull Spring you can ride to Skyline Gorge by heading south on Road 100, the dirt road you crossed as you entered the Bull Spring area. Follow it 1.2 miles to the CP-2 Road, then turn right and ride 0.1 mile and turn onto the first dirt road that goes off to the left. When it T-bones another road after 0.5 mile, turn left and continue 0.1 mile to the old Columbia Southern canal (now dry). Turn left and follow the single track trail that runs beside the canal. In 0.7 mile you’ll reach the Skyline Gorge segment of the canal, where the canal eroded a startlingly deep ravine. Round trip to Skyline Gorge is about 11 miles.

To reach the site of the Old Pine Tree Mill: From Skyline Gorge, continue riding downhill along the canal for about 0.2 mile. The trail will enter an open area, with a big grassy depression across the canal. This is the site of the old Pine Tree Mill, and the grassy depression was the mill’s log pond. Continue riding beside the canal to see the remains of the mill’s foundations, burner, and other equipment. Round trip to the Old Pine Tree Mill is about 11 miles.  

Note: None of the trails on Skyline Forest are signed, so use your navigation skills and have fun exploring this beautiful area! Download Kim's trail map.

Getting To the Trailhead:  You’ll find equestrian parking in the school bus turnaround area at the end of Tumalo Reservoir Road.  From Bend, take Hwy. 20 to Tumalo and turn left on Bailey Road next to the Tumalo Feed Company.  In a couple of miles the road name changes to Tumalo Reservoir Road. Continue straight ahead for 3.7 miles to the equestrian parking area on the left.

**Kim McCarrel is the author of several trail riding books for Central Oregon. An avid trail rider for more than 20 years, Kim's books include Riding Northwest Oregon Horse Trails, Riding Central Oregon Horse Trails, and Riding Southern Oregon Horse Trails (Ponderosa Press). Kim is on the Land Trust Board of Directors, the board of Oregon Equestrian Trails, and the Sisters Trails Alliance. She lives in Bend with her husband Steve.

Great horned owlets at home in Camp Polk Meadow Preserve

Adorable great horned owlets have been spotted at Camp Polk Meadow Preserve. Learn six fun facts about these cool owls and watch their video debut on our blog!

Take a trip to Camp Polk Meadow Preserve and you may see big, yellow, cat-like eyes peering out of a tall ponderosa pine tree. Inspect closer to see the start of tufted feather “horns” and fuzzy brown and grey feathers with black bar markings. Then, allow yourself to be completely overwhelmed by the epic adorableness of the sight: juvenile great horned owls snoozing in the tree.

These owlets have consistently been spotted at their home tree in Camp Polk Meadow Preserve while their mother hunts the meadow for insects, rodents, frogs, and other snacks. Curiously, while great horned owls are nocturnal hunters, the Camp Polk Meadow owls have been surprisingly active in the mornings. The mother has even been spotted swooping down for prey in the daylight.

Please be respectful and take care not to get too close to the young owls. Adults have been known to attack when they feel their family is being threatened. Great horned owls are the most powerful of the common owls, and, with a 4-5 ft wingspan, they stand out as one of the larger owl species. Great horned owls are fierce and stealthy hunters, using their impeccable hearing and sharp vision to catch their prey. They can even hear the squeak of a mouse (up to 900 feet away!), rotate their head 270 degrees to spot their target, and—with the help of soft, fringed feathers that reduce the sound of rushing air—attack almost silently. 

Watch our Camp Polk Meadow Preserve great horned owls in action:

Great horned owls typically start nesting in January. The female incubates her eggs while her mate brings food and within a month up to five eggs will hatch. The parents guard the owlets closely and feed them for several months, often providing their meals until as late as October. 

Although Great Horned owls have few natural predators, loss of habitat has decreased the owl’s nesting and hunting grounds. We are happy this owl family has made a home at protected Camp Polk Meadow Preserve, where the newly restored Whychus Creek attracts insects, frogs and food for the owls to eat. 

Fun Great Horned owl facts:

  1. If the Great Horned owl were the same size as a human, its powerful eyes would be the size of oranges.  
  2. These owls are also know as cat owls, hoot owl, big-eared owl, and “tigers of the sky.” These names reflect the owls tenacious aggressiveness and ability to hunt prey larger than itself.
  3. The Great Horned owls are the most widely distributed owl in the Americas. Their color varies depending on their location: Canadian owls are dark, owls found in arid locations are sandy in color, and arctic birds are virtually white.
  4. Great Horned owls take life-long mates. They make homes out of abandoned nests built by hawks, crows, or eagles.
  5. The owl is known in many cultures to be a symbol of good luck and wisdom. Other cultures perceive the bird as a sign of death and doom.
  6. The Great Horned owl is the only animal that dines on skunks. Bon appetit! 

Juvenile Great Horned owl. Photo: Kris Kristovich.

 What owls do you see in Central Oregon? Leave your answers in the comments below!