This blog entry is more of a public service announcement than an overwhelming show of photographic talent. My daughter, Emma, and I recently hiked the Flatirons Rock Trail in the proposed Badlands Wilderness area located about 16 miles East of Bend, Oregon and desert wildflowers there are about as good as I’ve ever seen them. It is a perfect time for a hike in the Badlands so that you can appreciate how beautiful of an area it is. Local groups, including the good people at ONDA-Oregon Natural Desert Association have done an immense amount of work to establish this wonderful place as a fully protected wilderness area.
It is my opinion that this special area of Central Oregon should be protected as soon as possible. Lots of good reasons back up my opinion on this issue, including: 1. It is beautiful and accessible for a huge portion of the year as it’s desert climate usually keeps this area free of snow in the winter when alpine trails are only available to hardcore backcountry skiers. 2. A huge majority of the residents of Bend and Central Oregon support the idea of this area becoming an official Wilderness Area. 3. This area is much better protected now that it is a proposed wilderness area than it probably was previously. I’ve spent lots of time in many of the desert areas around Bend, Oregon, mostly scouting for stock photos. Virtually everywhere in the desert areas I’ve been to, with the exception of the Badlands study area, I’ve been shocked by the amount of garbage that has been dumped randomly around these otherwise beautiful areas. I’m of the opinion that garbage begets more garbage. When a place becomes downtrodden with debris, a misconception develops that it is OK to litter and otherwise pollute in that area. I don’t know how the Badlands study area looked 15 years ago, but is virtually free of any sort of debris currently and I do know how non-study desert areas look today, and it’s not good.
If establishing any desert area as preserves it as well as the Badlands area has been, then I am in favor of the protection. I won’t go into the nuances of what activities are restricted and which are not in Wilderness areas but I will say that wilderness areas are open to all people but not necessarily all uses, which is more than fair.
The entire sixish mile long loop trail to flatiron rock was decorated with pockets of color like the wildflowers shown above, which I think are some sort of desert aster. There were also countless old growth juniper trees along the trail. Their ancient and severe form exude character and determination. Their ability to defy time and the harsh high desert climate in the Oregon desert should earn them the respect of any in tune naturalist. I’ve heard that some of the older juniper trees in this area are over 1,000 years old. Amazing!
As the desert is a…..desert, you’ll want to bring sunblock and water and snacks for the family. As summer is beginning to heat up, I’d also recommend you plan your trips in the morning or evening as your hiking will be a bit more pleasant if you can avoid the mid-day heat. The following photo is of a wildflower that I believe is called a “phacelia” which has beautiful lavender colored blooms and like many of the desert wildflowers, it has a very short blooms season, so go for a hike soon if you want to see the phacelia in bloom this year.
This pretty little flower fades from lavender to a lighter lavender to a light green on the inside of the bloom and it has a pleasing glow about it, making it one of my favorite desert wildflowers. The following flowers in the foreground of a classic desert scene are desert monkeyflowers. Their rich pink blooms with yellow centers provide a striking display of color in what would otherwise be an earth-toned palette along the Flatiron trail. This appears to be a great year for monkeyflowers in the Oregon high desert.
In the mid-ground of the above high desert photo are some yellow flowers which are shown in the following photo.
The above flowers, “Oregon Sunshine” are some of the happiest flowers anywhere. In years of high spring precipitation, like this one, they can almost form mats of cheerful yellow flowers. They are another of the bonuses found along the Flatiron trail if you can get there soon. The next to last image in this blog entry Taken in the Flatiron rock formation is of my favorite photo model and hiking, partner, Emma, who also happens to be my daughter! She was a wonderful companion throughout the hike, as she always is. She was also very patient with my photographic habits. All these traits plus she makes me smile everyday, make me feel very lucky.
I should mention that the brief hike to the top of the Flatiron rock formation is well worth the extra effort as the views of the Central Oregon Cascades over the high desert are stunning.
The take home message from this story is that if you live in Central Oregon, now is a great time to experience the beauty of the the proposed Badlands Wilderness area east of Bend, Oregon. The wildflowers won’t last long so get out soon and when you return from your desert adventure, contact your senator and tell them that The Badlands should be permanently protected as a fully designated Wilderness area! For more info regarding the Badlands, please visit ONDA’s website.
For more photos of the beautiful desert areas of Central Oregon, please visit our main stock photo website, Pacific Crest Stock by clicking the following link….High Desert photos.
Thanks for visiting,
One of my favorite and lesser known Central Oregon destinations for hiking and Photography is the Whychus Creek canyon, which is best accessed from the Alder Springs trail head south east of the city of Sisters, Oregon. This beautiful area is monitored and maintained by one of my favorite non-profit groups, the Deschutes Land Trust. It offers classic high desert views of sagebrush seas, the Three Sisters Mountains, and the Whychus Creek Canyon. Below is an image of the Three Sisters and Broken Top as seen from near the Alder Springs Trail head.
This area is accessible for much of the year because it is lower in elevation than many of the more popular hiking areas of Central Oregon. Trail details are available from many different local hiking guides and from the Land Trust’s website. Parking is available at the trail head and the trail is easy to navigate but is not handicap accessible. Initially the trail skirts along a high desert ridge with some views of the surrounding buttes, the distant Oregon Cascades, and Whychus Creek far below. Below is an image of the Whychus Creek Canyon from the Alder Creek Trail.
I’ve been to the Alder Springs area many times but I’ve rarely seen the dark and moody skies like those in the above image which help to add interest to this photo. In addition to the brooding skies, I love the big western feel of this photograph with its raw and rugged canyon zig-zagging into the distance between high desert mesas and the sparse details of junipers and sagebrush dotting the scene. In early spring during certain years, you might be lucky enough to find a floral gem of the desert, the ephemeral Bitterroot flowers. Below is one of my favorite groupings of Bitterroot blossoms seen along the Alder Springs trail.
These delicate flowers seem to glow from within as if they have their own inner light source. They are a favorite of my farrier friend, Big Todd, because I think they appeal to his delicate and sensitive side. High along the canyon you can find all sorts of surprises. I’ve made many trips there in early spring to capture the flamboyant accents of Balsamroot in full bloom. If you want to enjoy these early season beauties, you should arrive before the deer herds as they seem to be a favorite snack for these foraging ungulates. Perhaps, more importantly, you should only venture off trail to view these flowers with the knowledge that you will have a good chance of encountering Rattlesnakes fresh from their winter slumbers! In all seriousness, I’ve noted a very strong correlation between these balsamroot being in bloom and Rattlesnakes coming out of hibernation. On the day that I shot the following photograph of Balsamroot and basalt columns, I was “rattled” twice by the local serpents. I was hiking off trail along a steep slope near a big drop down into the canyon floor. As I crossed a rocky area, I heard a faint rattling noise. A primal impulse triggered my flight or fight mechanism and I quickly chose the flight option! As panic ensued I quickly leaped out of the area. During my less than grand exit, I spotted the fluttering tail of the rattlesnake disappear into a rocky crevice directly beneath my dancing feet! Please keep in mind that I am not especially afraid of snakes, unlike my mother who seems to think they are the devil incarnate. I simply don’t like being surprised by poisonous snakes while crossing rocky and exposed slopes. After I’d cleared the area and my heart rate dropped to a reasonable level I rounded a canyon edge and saw another rocky slope I had to cross. I conjured unhealthy visions of Indiana Jones in Raiders surrounded by viscous asps in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I mentally gathered myself and selected the least exposed route across what the dark side of my imagination perceived as a giant rattlesnake breeding ground. Mid route I stepped on a loose rock which toppled into an adjacent area and sure enough, RATTTTTTLE! Panic! To make matters worse, I was unable to spot my angry foe amidst all the plate sized rocks surrounding my nervous ankles. I blindly bounded out of the area never seeing the offended serpent. Perhaps, understandably, it took me a bit longer to compose myself after my second scare of the day. Eventually I gathered myself and captured the following image of Balsamroot flowers backed by some beautiful lichen covered basalt columns high above Whychus Creek.
One of my favorite images from this area also involved an adventure into this rattlesnake infested location. The following image captures some of the most colorful rock formations I’ve ever found. The brilliant orange and yellow lichen growths are simply stunning and when combined with the vertical accents of the basalt columns they make for a very surreal scene. I’ve seen few images from this area probably because of the very real threat of rattlesnakes and because of the treacherous locations in which these beautiful rock formations seem to be found. During the process of capturing the following scene, I was precariously balanced on the very edge of a 50-foot cliff with my left foot and two legs of the tripod holding my 4×5 camera balanced on loose rocks. On multiple locations my tripod slightly slipped allowing me to experience a different form of terror than that offered by the hidden rattlesnakes! Eventually I captured the following photo and then took a longer but rattlesnake-free route out of the Whychus Creek Basin.
The stunning color combinations, the vertical accents and the warm evening light make this one of my favorite fine art images.
In regards to the Alder Springs Trail, it really is quite special. From desert mesas to cold flowing springs, beautiful sights are everywhere. The trail passes through a spring laden oasis of plant life and eventually to the confluence of Whychus Creek and the mighty Deschutes River. The take home message from this trail is that if the balsamroot have begun to bloom and you are wary of rattlesnakes, you should consider staying on the trail! If you are interested in licensing any of these images, please visit the High Desert Gallery of our stock photography site, Pacific Crest Stock.
By Mike Putnam