For hike #8, I headed out of Bend, up Cascades Lakes Scenic Byway, past Mt. Bachelor and into the beautiful Cascade Mountains. I’m trying to get as many hikes as I can up here at higher elevation before winter arrives, ending hiking season abruptly. (I give it a few more weeks before that happens.)
This hike was a solo hike, in more than one way. I came to the trail by myself and had the trails to myself, a bit astonishing considering that it was such a beautiful afternoon. I guess residents of Eastern Oregon consider Labor Day (Sept 5th) the last day of the hiking season, no matter what the weather is afterwards. Well, their loss!
I began my hike on Sparks Lake Trail, which, oddly enough, hasn’t any views of the nearby Sparks Lake. My original plan was to take this trail south 2 miles, then head off trail westbound until I found the Ray Atkeson Trail (which contours the east side of Sparks Lake) and take it back to my car. But that would make the loop hike just a 4-5 mile hike. I needed a longer hike.
As I stood at a trail junction looking at a map, trying to piece together a longer hike, it occurred to me that moments like this is exactly why I love this 100 Hikes Project of mine: it motivates me to go further, to explore more, and to push myself physically.
I continued south down the Sparks Lake Trail, still not sure where to turn around. The trail gently rises and falls in elevation, like a boat in the swells of the sea. Nothing too strenuous, but you do have to watch your step: this area is an ancient lava flow. For the most part, the ground is soft and brings green life to this forest, but a long time ago, this land was covered feet thick in lava or hailed on by a maelstrom of volcanic material. Signs of it are everywhere, sometimes more obvious than not. I enjoyed checking out the interesting forms of rock. I wondered how much these stones have changed since being spewed from the hot bowels of our planet. Have they changed much in form or location since were tossed by the angry volcano gods many millions of years ago? I imagine that they have not.
The trail eventually merges into the much longer Metolius-Windigo Trail in 2-3 miles. It continues due south, as did I. I come to another trail junction, where a sign says that if I head west, I’ll reach Quinn Meadow Horse Campground. I’ve never heard of it, but I believe I’ve finally found my destination for today’s hike. I start heading west down the Appaloosa Trail and towards the meadow. The forest in this area is covered in Bryoria fremontii, more commonly knows as Old Man’s Beard or Black Moss. The lichen is hanging off of nearly every branch in this enchanted forest, heightening my enjoyment of the hike.
Up to this point, the trail has been relatively flat, but it now begins to switchback down the side of ridge, dropping about 300 feet in elevation. I can see on my topo map that this is the edge of the ancient lava flow coming from nearby Talapus Butte and Katsuk Butte, located a few miles north. (Sparks Lake is in the eastern shadow of these two buttes.)
The dusty switchbacks bring me down to my final trail junction, where I head south towards Quinn Meadow. I’m tempted to head north, where my map says there’s a few springs. I’m running low on water and the thought of refilling with clean and cold spring water is enticing. However, in not too long at all, I’m walking next to a quiet stream formed by the springs, where wild grasses and small flowers grow along its banks. This is Quinn Meadow. I fill my water bottle and sit along the stream, enjoying the quietness of the solitude.
I look at my watch. It’s 5:30pm and I’ve only a couple hours of sunlight left. I guess Quinn Meadow Horse Campground will have to wait for another day. I head back the direction I had come and reach my car a little before 8pm. Total hikers I ran into: zero. Total mountain bikers: seven. It was a great hike and I’m sure I’ll be back again in the spring!
- GORP.COM – Sparks Lake Trail Information & Hiking Resources
- AllTrails.com – Sparks Lake Trail
- USDA – Quinn Meadow Horse Camp
- Date of hike: September 15, 2012
- Location: Deschutes National Forest, Oregon
- Duration: 5 hours
- Length: 10.2 miles
This map was made with the data my GPS captured on the hike.
For a more detailed trip report map, check this out.