The Bad, Bad, Bad Badlands Wilderness

June 5, 2009

A little too early Saturday morning Bill Wynkoop and I made a trip to the Badlands recreational area east of Bend, Oregon. The high desert that comprises more than half the state has a very different beauty than the thick green lushness of the wet west side. Here it’s simple rugged beauty where a “less is more” view pervades the landscape.
On the drive over the cascades we stopped off outside the little town of Sisters to get a shot of the horses grazing in a pasture with a back-drop of the Three Sisters mountains in the distance. There is still road side snow on the passes with a fairly solid pack at 5,000 feet. The 10,000 foot Three Sisters were still iced in winter snow in spite of the summer like weather we have been having

Horses - Middle and North Sisters

The Badlands Wilderness is located approximately 15 mile east of Bend on Hwy 20. This 30,000 acre wilderness is managed by the BLM and is highlighted by rugged high desert features, thousand year old junipers and unique volcanic formations.

Badlands Trailhead

I was a wonderful sunny morning when we arrived and there had been a heavy rain the night before. This made the sandy soil very nice for walking and biking. The forecast was for temperatures to be in the low to mid 80’s by afternoon. At the trail head we choose a looping route northerly through an ancient juniper forest to Flat Iron Rock then easterly a mile or so to Badlands Rock, then heading southerly back to the trail head again. This would make a nice 10-11 mile hike and get us back to the car before it got too warm.

FlatIron Rock Trail


Ancient Juniper

Juniper Apartment

As we started out we recognized that we had come when the desert was in bloom as we immediately began to spot occasional wild flowers. This is not a place where you will find them in lush carpets covering the landscape but widely scattered yet still there. With the barren landscape the season to grow and bloom is very brief. Even a few days can change the look and today it was as green as it gets.

Tiny Purple Flower

Yellow Flowers

White Flowers

Purple-White Flower

Purple Flower Clump

Sparse Blue Flowers

The forest too was very sparse by western Oregon standards and I love the knurly old trees and interesting shaped snags. Life isn’t easy here. Cold winters and hot summers along with occasional forest fires make it a challenge for all vegetation growing here. The soil is basically decomposed volcanic ash and does not have the high organics found in the damper climates.

Flat Iron Rock was a large outcrop with interesting rock formations. It had almost concentric rings of rock and some rings were pretty thin and weathered. From the highest point we had another commanding view of the cascades and Three Sisters.

Trail up Flat Iron Rock

(The trail up FlatIron Rock)

Looking North off FlatIron Rock

(Looking North off FlatIron Rock)

Intersting Rock Formations

(Interesting Rock Formations on FlatIron Rock)

The Three Sisters and Broken Top from Flat Iron Rock

( Looking West off FlatIron Rock)


A notice on the trail head sign alluded to the fact that the area between Flat Iron Rock and Badlands Rock was the nesting ground of the prairie falcon. They mention closer of this part of the trail over the summer. As we didn’t see any sign at that point mentioning closer and saw the trail appeared to be well used we decide to go ahead and follow it to Badlands Rock and avoid the large out crops. The trail thus far had been mostly a good jeep trail that was easy to follow. As we headed east along the jeep trail at about half way the jeep track faded and we soon found ourselves with no evidence of a trail. We decided to keep going a little southeast knowing we’d run into the trail to the south we were looking for. This was the badland country with rocky outcrops and small valleys. We followed a rather zigzag course to avoid the larger outcroppings. After what seemed like a good while and good distance we had still not see the trail. So now what to do? We backtracked to the last large outcrop and climbed it to get a view of where we were. We could see a prominent large rock about a quarter mile to the north of us and decided it must be Badlands rock. We headed in that direction and as we approached we found the trail we had been on and the fork we were looking for.


Juniper Stump

A naked juniper

Badlands Rock

( Badlands Rock)

Badland Rock Trail Sign

(There’s the Trail!)


It was early afternoon now and getting warm as we made our way south. This trail was a good jeep trail and was easy to follow. We soon began to get out of the badlands area and came to a more open desert section. Now we had broad view of the surrounding hills in every direction. Now the trees were sparse and I did notice some cool snags.

Dead Juniper

The Leaner

High Desert

Butterfly and Yellow Flowers

Juniper Snag

The Trail Back


By the time we reached the car it was pretty warm and our water bottles low. It was a wonderful hike and we were glad to be heading into Bend and find some good food.


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June 5, 2009

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