The Dago Diaries

One Italian American's Journey Along America's Great Divide

Day 15 The Pueblo Mountains

Walking up into the Pueblo’s and the connection to the Desert Trail

The day started with our continuation of the Denio Canyon alternate, we worked our way up a steep drainage that was pretty brushy for the first mile, after that the brush eased and the canyon steepened a bit. About 2/3 of the way up I saw a skull in the grass for some reason it looked different and when I moved it it turned out to be a huge ram skull. We all paused and admired it, took some photos and the one if the horns came off the skull and the smell sent me dry heaving beyond belief. For the next 2 minutes I gagged, heaved and dealt with abdominal pains as my body had a vile reaction the smell of rotting animal.

A large rams skull found along our way

After that we climbed and passed some historic junk on the way, aka old mining shacks. The mine was an Opal Mine, Oregon had small gold rush in the late 1800’s but it has always been semi precious rocs and gems that the state has been known for. Our Obsidian was a highly sought after and traded stone by the first nations and has been found all over the western states.

We walked the old mine road for a ways passing by some early homesteads and ranches form the settlers. We had to leave the road and gp cross country to connect to an other road, as we dropped down we found ourselves in a gulley with delicious fresh water. We all took break, drinking the cold clear water, taking a few minutes to rinse out our socks form the dirt and dust and eat a snack before we had to push on. The sky stayed cloudy but the temps felt OK.

Open ourselves up to nature’s embrace and knowledge

We walked one last road and then the trail took us cross country. It was in this area that the ODT and the original Desert Trail overlap. For the Next seven to ten miles we saw that we would follow a series of cairns originally constructed for the desert trail. We climbed along a rocky area, and caught the glimpse of our first Carin form there were followed them up to saddle. At the top of the saddle we got our first glimpse of the Pueblos a wonderful mountain range that ends at the Alford Desert and the dry lake bed.

We followed the cairns for a few miles traversing the mountains and all of us lost in conversation, then I had that feeling of something here doesn’t feel right, I pulled dup the GPS and soon discovered we had missed a descent and were once again “misplaced”. We consulted our top maps and decided to make our way down to where the trail was supposed to meet an old dirt road. The next couple of miles were gnarly, dense brush, 60 degree slopes of loose scree and sage that wanted to cut us open with each step. We dropped into a a small drainage and there we discovered a mountain spring, the water was cold and clear and each of us drank freely from it. There is nothing like the tase of fresh cold mountain water free of chemicals and even more so after the water we have been drinking. With bellies full of water we headed down and found the road.

Chug a lug lug, the fresh spring water tasted like heaven after weeks of cow Pooh

As we walked nth world to rejoin the cairns the sky darkened to a deep black cloud cover that sat low on the horizon. The wind picked up and started blowing hard, the temp dropped and we could see it raining off in the distance. As we came to ur junction to rejoin the bushwhack we weighed our options, go high and bushwhack with storm coming down on us, or plot a corse on dirt roads that barreled the route and be safe down low? We chose to be safe….one thing I make sure to remember is She-ra’s final words to me before I lift, “make good decisions”.

Storm clouds above and a dust storm below on the playa of the Alvord Desert

The road walk was pleasant, we wound our way along the mountains and enjoyed some Aspen groves and really cool rock formations. The road was decent too so we were able to make decent time. Eventually we came over a rise and off in the distance was a really big blue water trough. As we hiked along I was wondering if we could get water at that rough if needed. As we got closer I realized the water trough was actually Ron’s van. He was parked there waiting for us.

We stopped and chatted and Ron showed us the boxes he had picked up at Fields Station for us since we would arrive after they closed. He gave me a cold Coors Light and the girls each had a cold drink, but they opted for sodas and tea….Ron told us we were at least 7 miles away, which we knew but the day was quickly running out. The three of us decided to give our selves a break and slack pack the last 7 miles in to town. The girls each grabbed a water bottle and I took out most of my gear and still carried pack but in it was my first air kit, water and an extra layer in case I needed it.

The sun returns for the evening miles and many smiles

The three of us waved bye to Ron as he headed to Fields Station to wait for us and the three of us set off feeling light as a feather. The girls started to jog a bit down the dirt road, I don’t run so I just walked at a good clip, I stopped top pee and when I turned around the two of them were getting a little ways away form me. For the next 4 miles the two of them continued jogging each 1/2 mile getting father and farther away. I relished the time alone, and enjoyed the changing daylight and dramatic sky as we made our way to the pavement.

Finally we hit the hard top and the last 3 miles of this 30+ mile day. We walked as fast as we could and as the sky turned from dusk to dark the three of us stumbled into Fields Station, Ron had the van doors open so the three of us crawled in to enjoy his couch. And to ur surprise he had a taco dinner bar set up for us. We ate until we were full and then the three of us rolled out the parking lot in front of his van. That wis where we camped for the night, Swept Away crawled into Ron’s reclining camp chair and Salty and I shared his heavy duty plastic tarp on the ground.

As were getting ready for bed and taking our nightly sponge baths, I started to crack up and said, “If only my parents could see me right now…here I am as filthy as pig pen, sleeping in a parking lot like homeless person, and feeling like the richest person in the world.”

Day 14 Denied in Denio…

Bundled up for the cold morning hike, from left to right Allgood and Swept Away

Holy hell who threw the switch on the weather?  Yesterday was mostly cloudy and cool but my god this morning was downright frigid.  When I woke up it was well below freezing so much I fact that our water bladders and bottles had frozen.  Luckily we all slept with our filters and batteries so not all was lost.

We laid un our quilts, each of us our own cocoon of warm air and comfort.  We looked like a Katabatic Gear commercial since all 3 of us use their quilts.  I made hot water for coffee and waked Salty up with some hot coffee since she is stoveless.  Finally, as the sun lighted the sky we started hiking. 

Now that’s one serious tumbleweed

The day was pretty easy to start even if it was cold, we mainly followed an old dirt road passed a few springs and aspen groves.  We enjoyed the high vantage point and then we dived way down to the next valley so we could get over the mountains in front of us.  We had to leave the road and hike cross country along a series of drainages.  It was fun walking through the waist-high grass at times.  The tumbleweeds had all been trapped in the bends if the creek and were tall dried piles, a pretty cool sight.

A yard sale and snack at windy pass

We came to the junction of two drainages and Salty led the way up to windy pass the high point for the day.  We all made it and stopped for a snack.  We followed a series of dirt roads from high up the pass down to the valley below.  We weren’t sure if we would need to go to Denio NV today for water or if the new alternate we are heading on to fields would have water.

We heard from Renee who is the ED if the trail and she said we shouldn’t count on any water in the alternate.  We are the first to do it this time of year so we decided we should get the sure thing and walk the extra mile down the road to the Denio library where we could use a spigot.  We dreamed of a gas station or small store with snacks but were treated instead to empty streets and a library. 

We had already gone 27 miles, it was 5 pm and we were whipped.  We sat on the nice bench in front, had a snack, chewed some basil from their planter box out front, ditched our trash in the dumpster and filled our bottles.

Denio, NV….At least the water was free

As we sat there a blue minivan pulled up as we were closing up to leave.  He was an old cowboy and asked us ,”what are you all doing?  He said had gotten a call that people were hanging out in front of the library and his wife was the Librarian, but out of town.

We explained that we were hiking the ODT and had only come to town for water.  He asked where we were going, only to scoff at our plans.  “It’s too steep they don’t even run cows up there anymore it’s so overgrown”. After a few more minutes we shouldered our packs and he said, “I’m not trying to run you off…”

We left town feeling a little dejected and started up past the cemetery to our next goal the Denio Creek alternate.  As we crested the first large hill the sun set below the horizon, so we dropped our packs on a small terraced area and made camp for the night.

Terrace campsite above Denio, NV

Another stunning sunset on the ODT

Day 13, A 30 Mile Adventure

Walking ridges for the day

The day started like most up at dark, breakfast, and coffee and then each of us packing to get out at first light.  We had all slept great last night in the forest and since we had a lot of roads in our future we were ready to lay down some miles.

We traversed around the mountains and the descended down to the next area.  As we kept going we realized we were heading for the mountains we had watched the sunset over the night before.  We were excited to get into them because they looked so inviting.

Sometimes the toad is your trail, and on the ODT that’s a plus

We gained altitude gradually all day, then at about 12:30 we stopped at a very dry chicken spring for some lunch.  We had already come 17 miles and we all flopped down, pulled off shoes and commenced eating.  We lounged for close to an hour as we were starting to pack up, Swept Away looks up and says, “look it’s Ron”. Sure enough, it was him on his way to Fields.  He was as shocked to see us as us him.  He stopped and shared some cookies and drinks with us.  Bonus he had an extra hiking pole and was able to give Swept Away one to replace the one she broke the day before, I tell you this trail destroys gear.

We parted ways and continued on, the scenery just got better and better with stands of aspen trees dotting the landscape and starting to turn their golden fall color.  We passed a hunters camp and said hello, they guys were now hunting for mule deer and we’re napping as we went by.

We then started a steep descent to the creek below.  On a grade that made our knees scream in pain, we finally reached the drainage.  We walked an old Jeep road through the aspen stand, so cool to be in the woods for even a brief second.  We finally crossed the small creek where we gathered water.

Giving praise to the sun god

There was a large campsite by the creek but the temperature there was so much colder because it was in a sinkhole with a creek that we decided to fill up and keep walking.  We had to walk another mile until the hills leveled out and provided a spot big enough for the three of us.  As we set up camp darkened fell upon us.  We ate and joked before all drifting off to sleep.   

An evening stroll through the Aspen trees

A good long 30-mile day, haven’t done one of those in a while and it felt great.  We are pushing hard to make Fields by Saturday so we stay on a schedule to end our hike at the end of the month.  Everyone says we can push it after the Steens Mountain, which is only a few more days away.  So with fresh food in Fields and a 3-day push to Frenchglen I’m sure 30’s are about to the steady standard for the rest of the hike.

Day 12 The Oregon Mountains

Walking along the Oregon Mountains

We started off the day with one more meal at the Say When casino with Ron who agreed to cache our water 12 miles up the way so we didn’t have to carry it the full 45 miles to our next reliable source.

We started out with about 8 miles on pavement we listed to the Joe Rogan Podcast with Elon Musk and the miles clicked on by. We finally made it to the dirt road and walked along a ranch and power lines until we found our water cache and loaded up. The trail then followed a series of dirt roads along some ranch land, of course a mile down the trail we came to a trough over flowing with water form a pipe, oh well better to play it safe.

One of two water troughs we found running with ample water along this stretch

We began an ascent by the old Mitchell ranch which was fenced but basically an old adobe style ranch house that nature is winning the battle on. A mile up the hill from it and another trough was there with piped water spilling over, damn we have been carrying 12 L for nothing!

The trail then started us up a drainage into mountains, and our map indicated we were entering the Oregon Mountain Range, and it was a stunner. We turned up a creek bed and bushwhacked our way up the canyon. At a creek crossing we turned and there about 50’ Away was a large bull laying in the dirt. He stood up when he saw us gave us a stare and we gave him a wide bearth and all was well.

Hello bushwhack up the mountain

We then reached the junction of three drainages and to our left laid a 1600’ climb up a very steep slope covered in sage brush that varied from shin to waist high. We all dig in and started up hill. Salty charged ahead, clearly Simone doesn’t live at sea level, Swept Away and I took our time and stopped a few times to catch our breath. Finally after about 45 minutes we all reached the top of the mountain, 7,600’ in elevation our highest point so far.

On top of the world! A rare self timer groups shot form the top of the climb

The sky was starting to turn orange so as we walked down the primitive toad we discussed camping options. For some reason we turned around and on the hill we had just climbed stood that same bull just hanging out eating some grass.

We eventually came to a stand of mountain mahogany trees and decided to camp among them for a wind break and also the ground was soft and Duffy. We all enjoyed a spectacular sunset over the mountains and were thrilled to see a new type of landscape in our future.

The sunsets on this hike are just incredible

Finally we cooked dinner, made some jokes and each of us drifted off to sleep. It felt great to be back in the trail after being in town, for some reason on this trip my desire to be in town is very low. Maybe it’s because when we are out here on the trail we are totally alone with no other people or noises, going to town even a small one seems loud and chaotic

Day 11 TOWN DAY!!!

Day 11

A bloody mary at 8:30 am to go with my pile of food

Town day!!!! We awoke at 5:45 packed up quick and headed for town.  We all walked at a swift pace with the lure of town food and showers in our future. We quickly hiked down the road and at around 7:45 am we hit the backside of the school and were in town.

We walked straight for the Say When Casino Cafe, grabbed a booth and took turns in the bathroom washing up. We ordered large amounts of food and easily polished it all off.  Then we saw Ron parked up the street we dropped our packs with him and headed for the post office.  It was like Christmas we each got new Sawyer Squeeze Filters from pat, a new pack from Brandon at work for Salty and a sleeping pad and phone from home to try to get us going on the trail without a leaking sleeping pad and at least two working phones between the 3 of us.

Boxes of Fun!!!

As we sat there trying to get Salty’s new phone/my old iPhone to work, Swept Away’s phone died and went into a series of the apple screens flashing and then nothing at all.  We put it on rice in Ron’s van to see if it could be saved and then checked in early to our hotel for some much-needed showers.

The hotel was a true hiker special with peeling linoleum in the bathroom and a shower head that hardly worked.  Dirty carpet, tv without reception, but the winner was the walls above the beds on had a wall lamp that was bent and crooked and the other had no lamp but a band-aid covering the holes in the wall where it used to mount. 

This place was so jankie, all I could say is “Look I fixed it”

Laundry, yard sale and testing our new filters from Sawyer

We did our town chores, that included a resupply and hand washing our clothes since the laundry mat was not open anymore, and catching up with home.  Since I have the only working phone we took turns calling family, checking emails, etc… A large dinner that Ron treated us to back in the Say When, and then we called it a night.

Salty finally gave into peer pressure and got herself a new Six Moon Designs Minimalist Pack

Days 9 & 10 the Oregon Dust Trail

A quick note regarding the next few weeks of blog posts.  As we were traveling along the ODT we had very limited and poor wifi in our brief stops in town as a result I was not able to uplaod new posts while hiking after McDermitt.  I am going to release each day indisvuadlally over the next few weeks so I hope you will all enjoy the hike we had.

We did finish the hike on Sunday at 2pm, it was one of the greatest and most cahllenging hikes I have ever done.  I alo could not be happier to have shared this trail with two amazing hiking oartners who were strong, stoic and always quick with a joke when things got tough.  Anyway thanks again for following along!

Days 9 & 10

Miles hiked 27 & 22

Dusty is the best way to describe day 9, we had an alpine start at 4am because we had received a text the night before from my boss and friend Ron that he was going to meet us at Anderson’s crossings that day which was 27 miles away.  We hiked strong in the dark dreaming of cold sodas and real food in the middle of the desert.

As the sun came up I stopped for the old daily constitutional and as I returned to trail I checked to see if I had a cell signal, the crushing text was from Ron he tried to make it to Anderson’s Crossing but the roads and or lack of roads made it too hard so he wouldn’t meet us.  I told the girls and we were crushed.  A little of the speed was taken from our stride.

We hiked on and about an hour later Ron texted us and said I’m here with his lat and long #’s we plugged them into our Gaia app and saw he had made it to Anderson’s Crossings just 15 miles away.  We were stoked! So we strapped On our packs and poured on the gas to get there.  We decided we would stop early and camp with Ron, so we declared it Sunday Funday and celebrated with some music from my iPhone as we rolled down the lonely road, caught a buzz from some legal items in our state and enjoyed the hell out of our Sunday.

A little dusty turned to mud thanks to my sweat during the day

Then the dust started, for 8 miles we walked a road that had been trampled by cows, oh did I not tell you that cows are the only company we see besides the pronghorn, mule deer, jackrabbits, rattlesnakes, and various other reptiles.  Anyway, the dust was at least 4” deep and sometimes deeper.  It was fine alkali powder like talcum powder and boy did it get dusty after 35 minutes we had to stop and empty our shoes, then we went cowboy style and donned bandanas over our faces like stagecoach robbers and carried on.

 

Cows are gonna stare at you wherever you are.

A few miles later we came upon a dead cow and a coyote eating away in it, circle of life in these parts.  The cow was pretty old and haggard but the weather had been so hot I’m sure the coyote was happy for the meal.

Finally a few miles later as the day wore on, we crossed a gate and the dust stopped but still no Ron.   We kept on walking dreaming of cold beverages and shade….we have had little to no shade for most of the hike so far, only small shrub-like sage bushes and our umbrellas.  Finally, we saw it off in the distance, a blue Sprinter Van on the canyon rim with an awning out.

We made our way quickly to the site and were greeted by Ron’s smiling face.  Being a fellow thru-hiker he knew exactly what we needed, camp chairs, a cooler full of cold beer and sodas, potato salad and giant burgers on the grill.  It was heaven on earth for us. We sat around all evening sharing stories of our hikes and listening to Ron tell us stories from his 1977 hike of the Appalachian Trail.  It was the best treat we could have asked for and Ron and I agreed that we were more remote than either of us have been outside of Alaska.  The Owyhee is a wild wonderful and sparse place.

Salvation in the form of fresh food and beverages thanks to Ron and his determination to get to us.

The next morning we slept in until 5:45 then we had coffee, ate some bagels and cream cheese and then hit the trail.  The day was good we started on a dirt road but then left for a lot of cross country.  The landscape was a lot of volcanic rock and grass so we could never get a flat footstep or get in a rhythm.  We made our miles in decent time though and found ourselves continually climbing up higher on the canyon rim.

We finally entered some canyon country where there was supposed to be a reliable running creek.  Nope not so reliable, we searched up and downstream looking for water but there was known,  we each had 3 L but that would be pushing it to make it to McDermitt.  We sat in some cottonwood trees shade, ate lunch and then pushed on hoping to score some water further upstream.  There were a lot of cows and pronghorns around so we knew water had to be somewhere.  As we worked up the canyon we found a few puddles but most were trampled by cows and we’re stagnant pools of Pooh and mud water.  Finally, we found one puddle that looked ok’ish.  The water had a kerosene sheen to it that I scooped away as we filled up water bladders of its life-saving H2O, the color was meh’ but we took what we could get.

Lovely pooh water from a puddle, but it beats no water at all

For the next couple of hours, we finished hiking cross country up the canyon until we hit some roads that led to town.  We hoped for better water to switch out what we had, but alas it didn’t happen. We walked down the road and along the most stunning cliffs above town.  Right before the final descent to town we found a flat spot and camped out, at 7 miles from town we had set ourselves for a perfect Nearo, hike in eat tons of food, and relax the rest of the day away.

Salty shows us the lovely sunset colors over McDermitt, NV

Bay 8 Owyhee River Biathlon

Fun with bones

Since the guidebook warned us of the numerous rattlesnakes that hang out by the shore of the river and in the grasses we opted to sleep in and start once the sun was up and we could see. We started out following some cow trail along the banks of the river weaving our way along the shoreline. We had to cross back and forth as we got cliffed out along the way but mostly we were doing well.

The brush and willows were thick and the side hiking was tough but the first 4 miles went well and then things changed quickly. We soon found the brush and the steep slopes too much so we started walking up the river itself (yes we are heading upstream against the little but if current there was. The water was full of weeds and little fish darted away as we stepped further and further upstream.

River or bushwhack either way it’s tough

With this being the hottest summer in Oregon’s history the river was extremely low and full algae blooms, weeds and frog eggs. As we tried to stay by the shore eventually we would have to cross the river and more than once it went over our chest and we floated away. After the first few times we came upon Whiskey Canyon. Flowing down was a hot creek from a hot spring so we decided to have a snack and warm back up by eating why we sat in the creek.

Finally we got back to the bushwhacking on the shores and trying to wade when possible. As the sun was getting higher we had one very deep wade over to the other bank where some big rocks were. Right as salty was about to climb up she jumped back in the water as a rattlesnake greeted her. We all slowly backed away and I climbed out at a different spot. When I got on top of the rock and looked below another snake laid coiled up resting in the sun. Great now we are all on edge even more about snakes.

Finally we reached a point where the canyon walls met the river and in the center were large boulders. We said screw it let’s swim. So with our packs on our backs the three of us entered the water and began swimming upstream. It was fun but so tiring. Our packs our buoyant because of our Katabatic quilts and other light gear, plus each pack is lined with a garbage compactor bag as a pack liner in theory keeping our gear dry and our packs bouyant. Well the packs did float us but are bags and clothes got a little wet. The other thing is even though we tried to do the breast stroke we had to do more of a hybrid dog paddle with our legs so we could feel for rocks and keep the pack at the correct angle, and a breast stroke with our arms to pull us along.

Canyon walls

Finally after all the swimming we made it to antelope canyon and took a long lunch break. After lunch we decided to try to stay on shore to make better time. The bush whacking was a bear over loose screw and slick grass. But finally we reached 5 bar and our escape from the canyon. We sat at that spot for an hit reveling in what we had just done and planning our water strategy for the the rim walk going forward. With 10 liters each we climbed up the steep canyon walls to the rim and started our walk toward McDermitt across the most stunning rolling hills one has ever seen.

What an amazing place the Owyhee is, I hope it does become a national monument as is proposed. The canyon was so remote and the landscape was so dramatic we could of been in the SW of the US. With sweeping cliff walls, tons of birds and wildlife the West little Owyhee is truly one of the best kept secrets in the US. It’s so great to explore my state by foot and go somewhere few ever will.

Smiles for miles

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