It was a brisk and bright late fall morning when six intrepid—and socially-distanced—souls met at the cattle guard on Peninsula Road at the north boundary of Crooked River Ranch. Friends and Neighbors of the Deschutes Canyon Area (FANs) trail monitor Eric Hanson was on hand to lead a hike called "The Peninsula: Past, Present and Future." Hanson has spent many hours exploring the area and was eager to share some surprising secrets of this beautiful, albeit bleak, land.
Hike Leader Eric Hanson led several guided hikes on the Peninsula.
The Peninsula, as locals call it, is part of the Crooked River National Grassland. It also contains land managed by Bureau of Land Management, some private parcels, and state park at the northern tip. Far below on the east side, the Crooked River winds its way through a narrow gorge, while on the west side, the Deschutes River flows through a steep canyon before the stunning backdrop of the Cascade mountain range. Both rivers meet at Lake Billy Chinook, forming the northernmost tip of the Peninsula.
The land itself offers a first impression of flat scrub with grasses and sage punctuated by western junipers. Increasingly, it's a place where recreationists ride horses, walk dogs, or watch birds. No matter your outdoor interests, the Peninsula is a place to enjoy wide open vistas and spectacular views. On this day, however, hikers were given a glimpse into the fascinating past of the Peninsula—and there has been a lot going on out there over the years.
Hikers take in the view from Deschutes River Canyon Rim.
Hanson noted that the Peninsula has a long history of Native American activity. He has found obsidian shards that show evidence of tool use, and is most excited about the discovery of several stunning petroglyphs on the canyon walls. More recent history shows evidence of how homesteaders tried to claim and tame the land in the early 1900s. The remains of rock foundations (were they homes, sheds, barns or root cellars?) indicate their place in history, and a careful observer might uncover an old rusted can of evaporated milk (the soldering on the can gives away its age) which was a staple of life for those surviving in the middle of nowhere. The homesteaders are long gone now, as the land proved tougher than the settlers. Still, their historical footprints remain, as Hanson showed us photos of an old wooden water trough he had discovered and shared the story of the Seven Sisters Wall, a massive four-foot wide by five-foot tall rock wall further north on the Peninsula which was rumored to be a project devised by a homesteader with seven daughters, as a way to keep them from getting into trouble.
Anchor rock gives glimpse of Peninsula history.
Our group did a fairly easy three-mile loop tour around part of the Peninsula. Along the way, we learned about the FANs nest box monitoring project, how Opal Springs supplies water to Madras, Culver and Metolius (and that there are no opals—just naturally tumbled agates—at the springs), examined a damaged wildlife guzzler (one of several on the Peninsula), observed several rock foundations, learned that the ghost town of Geneva (across the Deschutes River side of the canyon) was named after its postmistress, and noted some new and some old government survey markers that have received some recent attention as wildfire mitigation projects are gearing up.
Hikers inspect a collapsed wildlife guzzler.
Sign up for a FANs activity and you'll find yourself in interesting company. Our group had experienced hikers, climbers, birders, plant identifiers, and explorers who added to the conversation and provided even more insight into the ongoing story of the Peninsula. Some of the random topics that came up included: the age of western junipers (some are hundreds of years old); the geological age of the Peninsula (around 5.2 million years) with the Crooked River canyon being less than a couple of million years old; nesting locations and habits of golden eagles; the different species of sagebrush and how to identify them; wildlife programs pros and cons; and, of course, the ever-popular interest in rattlesnake activity (they come out when temperatures are over 50 degrees). All in all, it was a fascinating hike. Thank you to Eric Hanson for sharing his time, knowledge and expertise.