Box O Ranch Loop (Soda Mountain Wilderness) 15-Apr-2021

Oregon’s Soda Mountain Wilderness is divided into two sections by a high-voltage power line. The western section got the few trails in this wilderness; the eastern section got none. Which, of course, spawned our interest in exploring it. We did a short hike from Randcore Pass to Rosebud Mountain (Rosebud! Rosebud!) in 2017 and then a loop from the pass to the old Box O Ranch in 2018. These explorations were done by connecting old and fading roads with a little cross-country travel. During our loop in 2018, uncertainty about the location the wilderness’ eastern boundary got us to climb a rocky ridge we didn’t need to climb. True, we got a view of Mount McLoughlin, but it wasn’t worth the effort. Map gazing (and a download of the wilderness boundaries) suggested a lower, easier path for part of the loop. We went out today to explore this revised loop.

The air temperature is supposed to reach 90°F (32°C) by this weekend (welcome to the new normal). But today it was cool and sunny, with just a light overcast, when we reached the metal gate at the informal trailhead. This is actually the boundary of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which is intermingled through here with the wilderness. The old road past the gate is very evident for 1.5 miles (1 km) to where it passes an old log cabin. The cabin is still there but some more recent buildings, which were there in 2018, are now gone.

The old road is very evident here
Mount Shasta
The old cabin
Cabin detail
Strips of bark were used to caulk the seams

The road continues on – in increasingly poor shape – downhill past the cabin, past a yellow gate, past two old stock ponds (both still holding water), to a cattle guard, about 2.8 miles (4.5 km) from the trailhead. Here a much fainter old road veers off to the east; it was faint when we hiked it in 2018 and it’s even fainter now.

The first of the old stock ponds
On the road, with Mount Eddy (arrow) in the distance
The second, smaller stock pond with Mount Shasta in the distance
The old cattle guard

The old road and some cross-country travel brought us to a junction with another faint old road on the southwest side of Keene Creek Ridge. In 2018, we had kept going east over the ridge and stayed high, thus making this loop harder than it need be. This time we turned south at the junction, expecting this old road to end as shown on the map. Well, it did and it didn’t. We found a pretty good use trail that took us to a spring that had been made into a stock pond. Another use trail took us from there to pieces of an old ranch road that we were able to easily follow to the big meadow west of the crumbling Box O Ranch house. This is a much easier route than the one we thrashed through in 2018.

Soda Mountain (arrow) from the old road
Surprisingly, there was still some surface water
The old road is barely visible where it crosses meadows; Keene Creek Ridge in the distance
The use trail on the northeast side of Keene Creek Ridge (past where the old road ends on the map)
The spring/stock pond
Continuing on through nicely open country
Getting closer to the old ranch
Descending toward the ranch and Jenny Creek
The meadow at the Box O Ranch (arrow points to old ranch house)

We didn’t visit the old ranch house or Jenny Creek this time. We had a snack at the edge of the meadow and then followed the ranch’s irrigation system around into Oregon Gulch. There is a pipe that bridges the gulch and channeled water from Jenny Creek around to the meadow. The system seems to have been part ditch, part pipe.

Following the irrigation route, with the old ranch house in the distance
The ridge on the horizon was burned by the 2014 Beaver Creek Complex Fire, which was stopped short of destroying the old ranch buildings
The irrigation pipe across Oregon Gulch

Once in Oregon Gulch, we followed a much faded old road up it all the way back to the trailhead. In 2018, it had been hot and cloyingly humid as we made our way up the gulch; we were both knackered by the time we reached the truck. This time is was pleasantly cool, with a gentle breeze – much better! 🙂

On the old road up Oregon Gulch
One of the open areas along the road
Rosebud Mountain
On the way to the trailhead

Our loop came to 8.7 miles (13.9 km) with 1,350 feet (412 m) of gain. We saw several deer during the day and lots of deer tracks on all the old roads and use trails. This helps explain why this area is popular with hunters. But it’s also a good destination for hikers. A hike out to Rosebud Mountain affords views of Mounts McLoughlin and Shasta, while this loop gets you views of Shasta and visits to an old ranch and Jenny Creek. 🙂 Other, more cross-country, routes are possible; you just have to be careful not to get mired in buckbrush. 😳

Our loop, showing the old cabin and the old ranch house (R); the gate symbol is the old cattle guard
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2 comments

  1. You can reach the ranch from the east via a long drive on gravel road and a short walk – still probably more than the casual visitor would want to do. We think the loop is more fun and lets you see more of the backcountry. We also thought that the beauty of this spot compensated (a little) for all the hard work involved in working a ranch.

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