|
|
|
MailTribune.com
  • Tam-a-lŠu Trail shows high desert at its best

    This Central Oregon hiking gem and others at Lake Billy Chinook offer an ideal short getaway
  • When the weather begins to break in the spring, sunshine finally dominating over gray clouds, I start yearning for Central Oregon, not because of its mountains — it's far too early to hike at elevation — but for its high desert. It's those sagebrush flats and juniper uplands just to the east of the mountains that call.
    • email print
  • »  RELATED CONTENT
    • For more information
      You can get brochures on the lake and Tam-a-lŠu Trail at the Cove Palisades State Park office.
      The most detailed guide for the trail to The Ship, if you chose to take that path, too, is in Ellen...
      » Read more
      X
      For more information
      You can get brochures on the lake and Tam-a-lŠu Trail at the Cove Palisades State Park office.

      The most detailed guide for the trail to The Ship, if you chose to take that path, too, is in Ellen Morris Bishop's "Hiking Oregon's Geology," put out by The Mountaineers Books of Seattle. Bishop is author of the acclaimed "In Search of Ancient Oregon: A Geological and Natural History," published in 2003 by Timber Press of Portland, which won an Oregon Book Award.
  • When the weather begins to break in the spring, sunshine finally dominating over gray clouds, I start yearning for Central Oregon, not because of its mountains — it's far too early to hike at elevation — but for its high desert. It's those sagebrush flats and juniper uplands just to the east of the mountains that call.
    That eroded landscape of buttes and narrow canyons that is so hot and dusty in the summer is brimming with wildflowers this time of year. Freshened by cool breezes under a saturated blue sky, every detail is sharply etched in an ascendant sun.
    Three years ago, during my first visit to Central Oregon's Lake Billy Chinook, hampered by a knee problem, I was frustrated by the allure of the Tam-a-láu Trail, a six-mile path into some of the best of this desert country, accessed from the Deschutes Campground on the south side of the lake. The path rises about 1.25 miles to the tip of a formation called The Peninsula, where there are spectacular views of the Deschutes and Crooked River canyons, and Mount Jefferson in the high Cascades to the west.
    On that visit, all I could think about was going on that hike, knowing I couldn't make it. After surgery to correct the knee, I have since hiked the trail, and it is everything I thought it would be.
    The walk up The Peninsula, with its panoramas and splashes of flowers is worthwhile in itself. But it is another formation, called "The Island" that makes the trail unique. You never walk on that plateau, but you see it in the distance during the hike as if it were a place existing only in the imagination, as it has been for 14 years now. Because this isolated 200-acre plateau sheltering one of the last pristine ecosystems in the West is barred to recreationists. It was only used for sheep grazing for a short time in the 1920s before being abandoned, and has since been designated a Research Natural Area. It was closed to visitors in 1997 to protect its unique ecology, the same year the Tam-a-láu Trail was created as a federal, state, tribal and private project.
    The trail's name comes from an American Indian phrase meaning "place of big rocks on the ground." Indian tribes inhabited the area for thousands of years before white settlers came and still live in the vicinity today. An ancient trail once passed through the area as part of a trade route to the Columbia River.
Reader Reaction
      • calendar