- Associated Press - Saturday, March 7, 2015

BEND, Ore. (AP) - Oregon Badlands Wilderness is great for many things. When you’re in the mood for a hike or run, it’s an often sunny, out-east alternative to Bend’s overused trails (I’m looking at you, Shevlin Park and Deschutes River Trail).

If you’re in the market for seeing rabbitbrush, junipers, sage and oodles of crazy-looking lava rock, you need venture no farther than The Badlands.

And trek out to one of The Badlands’ high spots, such as Flatiron Rock or Badlands Rock, and you can catch some prime views of the terrain in all directions - the Cascades to the west, Horse Ridge to the immediate south, Smith Rock to the north and, just a stone’s throw to the east, Badlands Rock.

Another thing that limped into my mind immediately after my first hike in quite a while: It’s a great place to develop the kind of calves Popeye might envy.

Sure, you could grab some weights, hit the treadmill and do calf raises. You could jump rope or run in place. Or you could just go hike in the 29,000-acre Badlands, home of sandy trails through Western juniper woodlands.

Even if you’re not thinking about how to tone or bulk up your calves, the southern regions of your legs are going to be sore after a hike there. On one condition, that is: if it stays warm.

Like other sandy east-side trails, by which I mean those in the China Hat Road vicinity, such as Horse, Cabin and Bessie buttes, the tread will firm up once it cools off again.

On a recent Friday, which was still fairly warm considering it was February, my hiking companion, Map Guy, and I met up and gorged on a breakfast of gut-bomb burritos, then set out the 17 miles southeast on U.S. Highway 20 to The Badlands, portions of which, back in the olden days of the 1940s, were used as a bombing range and gunnery site by the U.S. military.

There were just a few cars at the trailhead when Map Guy and I pulled up for our stroll to Flatiron Rock, about 2½ miles north of where we stood. Owners of low-profile vehicles, be warned: The exposed rocks could take a toll on your undercarriages.

As usual, Map Guy and I passed the time by quarreling about things such as the cold he was terrified I might pass along to him, how he wished he’d put Neosporin ointment up his nose and how terrible that idea sounds.

He claimed a doctor once advised doing that. I later Googled “Neosporin up your nose,” and WebMD says not to do it - unless directed to by a doctor. Curses, foiled again.

In this manner, the first mile flew by, even though it somehow took us 30 minutes to travel that far. During respites from the conversation, I noticed the sounds of the wind and birds. Map Guy showed me how if you rub sage with your fingers, they’ll smell like sage. The rugged outdoors has much to teach us if we only pay attention.

Not everyone quiets down to pay mind to their surroundings. Just a week and a half ago, my wife and her friend and frequent walking companion somehow managed to miss Flatiron Rock - it’s OK, I told her I was going to embarrass her this way - and walked right past it, before realizing their mistake and turning around eventually.

As required by law, I made the obligatory husband joke about how garrulous they probably were being. To be fair, though, the trail continues north past the large outcropping, the base of which is situated maybe 25, 30 feet west of the trail, with a sign right at the site of the rock that says “Flatiron Rock Trail” pointing north. So if you’re not looking around, or only glance at the sign, it’s conceivable you could misread it and think the rock still lies ahead.

Some people don’t read the signs at all. We saw what were clearly bike tracks, though bicycles are not allowed here. Horses are OK, though, so saddle ‘em if you’ve got ‘em. Don’t pout, though, mountain bikers. Your preferred mode of enjoying the outdoors is welcome right across U.S. Highway 20 at Horse Ridge.

Once atop Flatiron Rock, we admired the views, both up close as we wandered through the formation and of the sights in the distance.

Much of our hike out and back was spent searching for contoured lava rock that could serve as a natural water dish for my dog, Kaloo. I’d brought plenty of water, but not a bowl to serve it in. Nothing says “poorly prepared” quite like scoping out rocks for a beveled surface to use as a water dish for your thirsty mutt. Fortunately, we found a couple that served their purpose.

There was no way Map Guy and I would have missed Flatiron Rock. Our eyes had been peeled for a while, as Map Guy had been griping about the distance from somewhere shortly after the one-mile mark.

By the end of the hike, we were beat, and Kaloo was trotting ahead to rest in every shady spot he could find, though he might have done that to get away from Map Guy’s whining.

For those unlike Map Guy, who want to add in a little more distance/calf-building exercise, another option for reaching Flatiron Rock is the adjacent, winding 1.9-mile Ancient Juniper Trail.

If you go …

Getting there: Take U.S. Highway 20 east from Bend and turn left into trailhead parking area near milepost 16.

Difficulty: Easy, though distance on sandy trail may tire some legs.

Cost: Free

Contact: Bureau of Land Management, 541-416-6700


The original story can be found on The Bulletin’s website: https://bit.ly/17YHcsI


Information from: The Bulletin, https://www.bendbulletin.com

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