Winter is quickly approaching and for many of you, especially those east of the Cascades, you have probably already winterized your RV and are thinking about next spring.

Winter is a good time to start planning your RV outings for 2018. For those with an adventurous side, love of mountain top vistas and an interest in mining history, consider a trip to Oregon’s Ochoco Mountains.

The Ochoco Mountains are located east of Prineville centered in the middle of Oregon making them an easy destination for anyone in the Northwest.

From a convenient central base camp in the western Ochoco Mountains you can hike up the two highest mountains in the Ochocos and explore the ruins of several historic photogenic mine camps all while locating hidden geocaches along the way. It's a weekend’s worth of fun and there are plenty of free places to camp too!

Mining History

Cinnabar Furnace

Cinnabar ore was actively mined in the area from the late 1920’s through the late 1950’s. Mercury was extracted from the cinnabar by heating the ore. Today, you can see the remains of several furnaces that were used in the mining and refining process. The mining sites that can be easily explored during your campout are: The Mother Lode, Independent Mine and the easiest to reach (even by RV) is the Blue Ridge Mine.

All three sites offer interesting ruins to visit and photograph. The Four Horseman Hotel still stands at the Blue Ridge Mine along with the processing mill and the remains of the furnace.

Mother Lode Mine

At the Mother Lode you will find an old rock crusher that still turns (by hand), a double brick furnace for extracting mercury and a very imposing mill with condensing tubes that will remind you of a pipe organ. The most extensive remains are located at the Independent Mine, where you will find several cabins, a two-holer outhouse, a power house, a mill / furnace complex and the remains of an earthen dam. If you want more old mine sites to explore, there are several other sites in the area featuring minor ruins that can be found using a topo map.

Independent Mine

Mountains to Hike

At 6,926 feet, Lookout Mountain is the tallest mountain in the Ochocos. There are several trails available to reach the top but the easiest and most enjoyable way is to take the longer and less strenuous 804 trail to the top while taking breaks to find multiple geocaches on the way up and take the shorter and steeper 808A trail on the way down. If you start from the upper trailhead, the resulting loop hike will end up being approximately 4.6 miles.

Round Mountain

Next up is 6,755 foot Round Mountain. While the view may not be as stunning as neighboring Lookout Mountain across the way, Round Mountain offers a much more defined peak which provides a full 360° panoramic view. You have several options to reach the top of the mountain: 1) Round Mountain Road traverses all the way to the summit, but be aware there is a gate a fair distance before the summit to keep full size vehicles off the mountain (presumably to keep the solar panels powering the communication towers from being stolen). Motorcycles, bicycles and foot traffic can proceed around the gate on the north side. You can also hike to the summit from the official trailhead or from several other locations where forest service roads intersect the trail. It is an 8.8 mile round trip if you start at the trailhead.

Geocaching

To fill out your weekend of exploring, there are in excess of two dozen geocaches on and between the summits of Lookout Mountain and Round Mountain. Several that will lead you to interesting areas include The “Blue Ridge Mine Cabin” cache that will take you to an old obscure log cabin across the road from the Four Horseman Hotel. While there, be sure to hunt for the old Pontiac east of the cabin in the Aspen trees which was said to belong to the mine manager. By searching for the “Independent Mine” cache, you will be directed down the proper trail to the Independent Mine ruins. Finally, when hiking up Lookout Mountain, look for the “You Could Take Shelter Here” cache where you will find a warming shelter and a place to take a break any time of the year.

Enjoy your campout in the Ochoco Mountains and while you are there keep an eye out for wild horses that call the area home.

When You Go

Camping:

There is no developed campground between Lookout and Round Mountain, but there are plenty of beautiful dispersed campsites nestled among the Ponderosa Pines. A couple of nice spots are located off Forest Service Road 150 at N44° 21.248 W120°20.677 (pictured at the top) and N44° 21.460 W120° 20.262 There are multiple campsites within the first mile of well-maintained Round Mountain Road. Click here for the dispersed camping guidelines for the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests.

Mine Sites:

Blue Ridge Mine – N44° 21.313 W120° 18.592, Independent Mine – N44° 20.550 W120° 21.193, Mother Lode Mill – N44° 20.185 W120° 21.670

Hiking:

Click here for details and driving instructions for the Upper Lookout Mountain Trailhead which will take you to the Mother Lode Mine and Lookout Mountain

Click here for details and driving instructions for the South Round Mountain Trailhead

Click here for details and driving instructions for the Baneberry Trail which will be your starting point for hiking to the Independent Mine.

Everything listed above can be accessed by two-lane paved Canyon Creek Road. Twisty with some hills, but suitable for most any RV.

Note: The U.S. Forest Service and other government agencies have cleaned up the worst environmental threats (i.e., mercury contamination) at these mining sites. For hikers and other recreational visitors to Ochoco National Forest, the amount of mercury (a neurotoxin) around the old mines shouldn't pose a health concern.

 

 

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