Oregon’s Soda Mountain Wilderness is divided by a powerline corridor into two pieces. The larger, western piece hosts some of the best known hikes in both this wilderness and in Southwestern Oregon: the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the Lone Pilot Trail, the Pilot Rock Trail, and the Boccard Point Trail. The eastern piece, where oak and pine forests transition into the state’s eastern desert, has no formal trails and is less well known. Jenny Creek, which has been suggested for Wild & Scenic River status, and the former Box O Ranch are perhaps the best known of the eastern area’s offerings. Last December, we did a short exploratory hike to the summit of Rosebud Mountain on the edge of the Oregon Gulch Research Natural Area, which is within the wilderness. Today we explored the heart of the wilderness with a longer loop hike to the former Box O Ranch and Jenny Creek.
The 1,200-acre former Box-O Ranch, which was surrounded by public land on three sides, was acquired by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in a land exchange in July of 1995. The exchange, which had been opposed by a local coalition of private property owners, was a fair-market swap for 931 acres of BLM land in the Lake Creek drainage about 10 miles southeast of Eagle Point. The former ranch lands came within the Soda Mountain Wilderness when it was established in 2009. There are no formal trails in this eastern piece, but there are several decommissioned dirt roads which, while useless as roads, are excellent as trails. We used these – and some cross-country – to make our loop. We drove BLM Road 40-3E-12.1 south from Highway 66, over Randcore Pass, to its end at a green gate on the edge of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.
From there, we went south on old 40-4E-19.2, now little more than a scuff on the land (but still showing well on Google Earth),
with a view of Mount Shasta far to the southwest.
About a mile from the trailhead, we passed another old road going to the east (one which connects with the old road we used to return via Oregon Gulch) but continued south on 40-4E-19.2 to where a classic old log cabin sat close to the road. There are some other old buildings in this area – one with parts of its metal roof missing – but we stayed on the road and didn’t go near those.
The old road continued to gradually descend, through mixed oak,
and pine forests,
around a big yellow “no mechanized” gate, past a large old stock pond,
and then a smaller stock pond to a faint fork in the road about 2.9 miles from the trailhead. Here we turned east on to yet another old road that crossed an intermittant stream,
and climbed up to a saddle on Keene Creek Ridge. This old road, shown on the map as a 4WD track, was easy to follow is some places and sketchy in others, particularly where it crossed meadows.
Later the day would turn overcast, warm, and muggy (for Southern Oregon at least), but at this moment conditions were exceedingly pleasant and the view enormous.
The old road/track faded away at the top of Keene Creek Ridge and from here to the Box O Ranch we’d be going cross-country. Thanks to the widely spaced trees and lack of any significant undergrowth that characterizes this open country, off-trail travel here is pretty easy. We were worried about getting covered with ticks but only one was spotted the whole day.
If we made one mistake, it was to have stayed too high for this cross-country segment of our loop. In hindsight, it would have been better to have descended the intermittant drainage on the east side of the ridge to flatter ground near Jenny Creek and then followed up the creek to the ranch (see dashed red track on the map below). As it was, we found ourselves climbing over a ridge with rocky outcrops,
but one which gave us our only view of Mount McLoughlin for the day.
From the ridge top, we made our way down through the forest to the edge of the huge meadow wherein sits the former Box O Ranch.
We made our way across the meadow,
to Jenny Creek,
and then continued on,
over the drainage from Oregon Gulch,
to the old, now badly deteriorated, ranch house nestled in some trees in the meadow. Ranching is hard work, but doing it in this idyllic setting must have (hopefully) eased the burden somewhat.
We stopped for a quick lunch at the ranch house, then continued on with the loop by following one of the ranch’s irrigation ditches into the mouth of Oregon Gulch,
where we connected with another old road going up the gulch. Shown on the map as a 4WD track, it may also be BLM Roads 40-4E-28.2 & 28.3. No matter as it provides a gently sloping, perfectly walkable trail right up the gulch, through the Oregon Gulch Research Natural Area.
We passed another old stock pond (called “Oregon Gulch Reservoir Number One” on some maps) which was presided over by a deer hunting blind.
Two miles from (and 600 feet above) the Box O, we came to another road junction. By now the day had really warmed and, although the 600-foot climb over two miles was pretty mellow, we were feeling the heat. So we were happy to turn right (north) here, on to what is (or was) the continuation of BLM Road 40-3E-12.1 and follow it back to where we parked.
Despite the draining mugginess, this was a wonderful loop hike (9.1 miles; 1,700 feet of elevation gain) through a wilderness that probably doesn’t get visited (other than by deer hunters) or appreciated as often as it should. There’s no need to build trails here as the remnant old roads and tracks – no longer intended or suitable for mechanized travel – make for excellent hiking and equestrain trails. Linking them to make a loop – as we did – involves cross-country travel through country where this is easy to do. And both the historic Box O Ranch and Jenny Creek – and Rosebud Mountain – are worthy goals as part of a good hike through this eastern part of the Soda Mountain Wilderness.