Box O Ranch Loop (Soda Mtn. Wilderness) 26-Apr-2018

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon

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.

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
The green gate at the end of the driveable road

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),

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
Going south on 40-4E-19.2

with a view of Mount Shasta far to the southwest.

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
Mount Shasta on the horizon

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.

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
An old log cabin sits just off the road

The old road continued to gradually descend, through mixed oak,

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
Along 40-4E-19.2

and pine forests,

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
Along 40-4E-19.2

around a big yellow “no mechanized” gate, past a large old stock pond,

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
An old stock pond along 40-4E-19.2

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,

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
Across the intermittant drainage

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.

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
Along the old road/track up Keene Creek Ridge
Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
Along the old road/track up Keene Creek Ridge

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.

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
The view to the north

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.

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
Open country on the east side of Keene Creek Ridge

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,

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
Climbing over the ridge, with Mount Shasta on the horizon

but one which gave us our only view of Mount McLoughlin for the day.

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
Mount McLoughlin (far left) from the top of the ridge

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.

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
The meadow at the former Box O Ranch

We made our way across the meadow,

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
Through the meadow at the former Box O Ranch

to Jenny Creek,

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
A creek flows through it

and then continued on,

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
Heading toward the old ranch house

over the drainage from Oregon Gulch,

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
The seasonal flow 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.

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
The ranch house sits in a small stand of trees in the meadow
Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
The ranch house
Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
Ranch house detail
Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
Ranch house detail

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,

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
Old irrigation plumbing at 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.

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
A pine forest in Oregon Gulch
Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
Rosebud Mountain from Oregon Gulch

We passed another old stock pond (called “Oregon Gulch Reservoir Number One” on some maps) which was presided over by a deer hunting blind.

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
“Oregon Gulch Reservoir Number One”

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.

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
The final leg of our loop on BLM Road 40-3E-12.1

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.

Box O Ranch Soda Mountain Wilderness Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument Oregon
The track (solid blue) of our loop hike to the Box O (the dashed red track is an easier alternative)

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