High & Wild in Eastern Oregon
|The Strawberry Mountain Wilderness|
Admit it. You've never heard of this wilderness. Even most Oregonians would be hard pressed to tell you where it is. Unless you've driven Hwy. 26 through Prineville to John Day and Prairie City, you'd have no reason to know it exists. I visited Prairie City a long time ago in early spring, and saw a sunrise that tinted this snowcapped range the color of strawberry ice cream. I've been planning to return ever since that day.
When we moved into the Strawberry Campground, at the end of Forest Road 6001 out of Prairie City, the camp host, a retired woman who works the national camp host circuit, impressed two things upon us: Don't drink the lake or creek water without using both filter and iodine tablets, and don't even consider taking her firewood. We listened. The best camp hosts are repositories of local information, and this one was no exception. We found out that the plentiful berries around the campground were (large) blue mountain huckleberries and (small) red"squawberries," or kinick-kinick. By our third day there, we also knew where to find the best food in town, that the bears were mostly on the south side of the range, where we could get hot showers for 50¢, and which grocery store had unsafe meat-handling practices that after we bought a nice steak there and happily grilled and ate it. We are both still among the living.
Because we really didn't have enough week left to hike deeper into this wilderness's 100 miles of trails, we chose to stay in the $6 per night campground on the north side and do a long hike one day before leaving the next. This camp was the closest to the trailhead of the three camps on that road, and it also had fresh (and safe) running water.
We suffered many fine adventures in this camp. We came home late one night from the county fair to find rainwater had skirted our rain tarp and dampened much inside. We awoke abruptly to a brilliant flash that lit our tent, then listened uneasily for a half-hour as the lightning struck around us at a three-mile radius. Then more rain, and dozing fitfully while wondering if we really fixed the leaky spot. And yes, the chipmunk who took refuge with a warm engine under the hood of my car, only to poke his head out at a gas station many miles away. Chip, we hope you're happy in your new home.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication