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Death standing in front of lifeThe Badlands






A Three Hour Tour...






a three hour tour


Elevation: 3,800 feet

The high desert Badlands sits just east of Bend, Oregon about 16 miles outside of town.  This has been a contentious area as of late as the ONDA has been trying to preserve this area as a natural wild habitat.  This area was the home to the beauty of the natural desert and a wide open space worth keeping and protecting for our children and future generations.  I couldn't be more behind it as well simply because I believe in keeping areas which we can enjoy forever and not put the ever-loving price tag onto things.  I think I would rather see a pile of brush and bracken than another subdivision or mini-mart.

I had heard of this place for a long time, but didn't know where it was.  Our next door neighbor at work said he had been out hiking in the Badlands that weekend.  I asked him where it was and found out I lived about 18 miles from the area.  We had a three day weekend coming from work and Tanis and I were going to have a free day together.  I figured a nice hike during a break in the 2006 winter would do us both good.  We hadn't been hiking since the fall before and I was getting a bit restless without being able to go out climbing.

Looking out over the badlands

Tanis and I had a relaxing, late morning.  We ate some scratch and got out to the Badlands with our dog, Sammy, just before noon.  It was a beautiful day with sun filling a brilliant cobalt sky and just hints of discombobulated clouds wandering the atmosphere as lazily as I intended to do this hike.  I figured a one to two mile stroll would be fun.  Tanis was game and brought his snow boots in case the snow on the trail got a bit deep. There was some laying about in pockets, but very little on the actual ground.  We drove east out of Bend, Oregon on Highway 20, pulling into the trailhead parking lot just past Mile Post 16.

We hopped out of the jeep and went up to the trailhead map.  The area boasted of 30,000 acres of land the ONDA was trying to preserve.  Their looked like a series of looping trails, none of which looked very long or unreasonable for a 6 year old.  Tanis asked which one we were going to take and I confidently explained we would take the Ancient Juniper Trail and loop into the main trail and hook back into the trailhead after a short jaunt.  That was the plan.  And much like what Colin Powell said, "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy," once my foot hit the trail, my plan was lost, I just didn't know that yet.

Sammy sitting atop a rock outcropping in the Badlands, Oregon

We took the trail and I immediately noticed the trail started and stopped constantly.  I could never tell if I was on the trail.  We stopped several times to backtrack to rediscover the trail, only to lose it a hundred yards later.  I finally found the ruts of a road that looked like the trail and was generally heading in the right direction.  The first physical formation we were looking for was Flatiron Rock, and by my reckoning we should reach it in about one mile.

We wandered on the loose, pumiced soil, taking our time and not moving at any speed above a six year old mosey.  Tanis started up with his normal inquisitive questioning about the nature of the universe.  A child's mind is difficult to instruct to, because it is so very direct and takes each word as literally as possible.  Being a pain in the ass means you should take some aspirin to make it stop hurting.  Calling Tanis a chatty-cathy gets a horrid retort that his name is Tanis, not Cathy.  You step into these verbal potholes like you are driving in any mountain town in the aftermath of winter and studded tires.  I tried my best not to use common speech, but a child hears exactly what you say without the innuendo of time and maturity.  As you get older, the world becomes less solidified and straightforward.  Age brings us further trickery and falseness becomes more or less a way of life.

Tanis ODonnell standing at the entrance to the Badlands outside of Bend, Oregon

As we wandered, I started noticing the trail we were taking was not turning like it should.  And I was virtually positive we should have run into Flatiron Rock.  I figured we had missed the turn-off for the first loop and could catch the next one, going a little bit further than I had wanted to.  Another mile or so, the road started turning the right direction and begin a longer, lazier loop than what I wanted or was expecting.  I figured the one to two miles had turned to about three or four.  Tanis seemed to be having a good time so I figured we could handle this without too much issue.  We had a lot of water and I had brought some fruit snacks and granola bars.

Their were some 1,000 year old Juniper Trees, large, twisted trees that were short and fat.  The bark was wrapped around itself in layers, some peeling off and joining other areas.  There were trees that had half of them die and have an entire other tree growing out of the side of them.  They reminded me of smaller version of the giant baobab trees of the African plains.  You could tell these little trees had lived through history, had weathered an unknown amount of fiece storms, droughts, fires, floods and disease.  They had lived when the native americans had wandered through this area during yearly migrations, evidence of which was painted here and there on the rocks and arrow heads and other tools buried in the loose soil.  It was history you were walking through, the last thousand years of this very area all represented in these pudgy little trees amongst the desert scrub.

Tanis ODonnell crushing my head

The sun was starting to move across the sky and we had traveled about four miles.  We were just now rounding to start coming back from the way we came.  I was worried now that we had severely wandered off-course.  I couldn't say anything to Tanis as he has an "I told you so" streak that makes my wife's almost unnoticable.  I started thinking we were lost at this point, but we were moving in the right direction.  The clouds were rolling in and the temperature was dropping.  We only had our coats on, but it was still a pleasant day.

Tanis kept up like a trooper, not ever really complaining, even after we hit the six mile mark.  I knew we had passed the trailhead at some point and were going beyond it.  I could see a paved road about a mile away, through the desert, but the current dirt road which we were on was starting to go deeper into the desert, away from the trailhead and that other road.  Tanis knew the jig was up once we started bushwacking through desert towards the other road.  We reached the road and Tanis for the first time said he was getting tired.  We took the paved road back to highway 20 and realized we were yet another two miles from the trailhead.  The wind was picking up and the clouds completely shut out all the heat from the sun.  As we hiked, I am sure we looked the site.  A man, his boy and their dog walking along the side of the highway.  We had several people stop and ask us for a ride whcih I politely declined.  I had to explain that we weren't broke down anywhere, I was a moron and got lost.  Tanis couldn't believe I wasn't letting people give us a ride.  He sure as hell wanted a ride.

A very old juniper tree growing up out a basalt outcropping

Nine miles and four hours later, we reached the jeep.  Tanis was happy, but honestly, he wasn't all that put out.  We drove home while I called Linda to laugh at my hiking skills.  Tanis later went to soccer and played his heart out.  Then he went home and went to bed.