The Criterion Tract is a BLM parcel on the west side of Highway 197 between Maupin and Madras at the highest point between the Columbia River and Redmond. We made the 2 ¼ hour drive out there to pursue an off-trail adventure on the rimrock ramparts above the Deschutes River.
We were the only car parked at the corral trailhead just south of the crest, and we made our way cross-country to the farm road that leads along the crest from the north trailhead. There was examination of wildflowers among the cattle tracks (The cows are gone for the season now) and discussion about the sagebrush galls, caused by a kind of midge. The gentle slopes on the crest are covered by 20-foot-wide grassy Mima mounds.
We parted from the road at the telephone poles that lead down to the river, and followed Sleet Ridge out to drop down to a salt lick at a saddle. We then descended from the saddle to a bench to get views downriver to a couple of bends and the Lady Frances Mine, which extracted perlite, across the Deschutes. The Mutton Mountains on the Warm Springs Reservation were at their most verdant.
We walked around the nose of Sleet Ridge and munched on lunch under a shady juniper with views up the river and on to Mt. Bachelor and the Three Sisters. In order to make a loop, we faced the daunting task of descending steeply into Outlaw Canyon before finding a route up 1300 feet back to the trailhead. There was some trepidation at this prospect as we picked out the breaches in the rimrock and determined a route. The lower slopes were very steep, but we accomplished this in about two hours with a few rest breaks.
As for wild creatures, we surprised a group of deer and Ezra’s birding acumen landed us mountain bluebirds, horned larks, meadowlarks, kingbirds, vesper sparrows, kestrels, a bald eagle, etc. No ticks, no snakes . . .
(Run your mouse over the pictures for filenames/captions.)
Discussions and Trip Reports for off-trail adventures and rediscovering lost trails
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