This past month, I got a taste of old age.
About a month ago I tweaked my ankle running. Rather than let it rest, I tried running on it again and it really blew up on me. There's no major damage, my doctor told me, but it put me on the shelf for at least a couple of weeks. No schussing down the slopes at Mt. Bachelor, no snowshoe forays, no nordic styling at Meissner. No hiking, no biking, no running, no funning.
Heck, if you took away my beer, I might not even realize I was in Central Oregon.
It certainly didn't help that we continue to get fresh snow in the mountains or that last weekend the weather was something out of a travel brochure. By Sunday my ankle was feeling somewhat better and I'd had enough of cabin fever. It was time to ease myself back into the Central Oregon lifestyle.
I persuaded my wife to join me, just in case I got out a couple of miles and the ankle decided it had no intention of getting back.
We had originally decided to try hiking the Dry River Canyon just off U.S. Highway 20, about 17 miles east of Bend. But when we pulled up to the trailhead, we noticed a big “closed” sign on the bulletin board, along with some helpful suggestions of where else to hike in the area. (We'd later learn that the canyon is closed from Feb. 1 to Aug. 31 to protect nesting falcons.)
We could backtrack a mile to the Flatiron Rock trailhead and hike about two miles to the namesake formation, or head over to the south side of the highway and hike on the Horse Ridge Trail. Or we could continue on the road we were on and hike the three-mile-long Badlands Rock Trail.
We opted for this last option and drove the paved road to the signed turnoff for the trailhead.
The Badlands Rock Trail was exactly what we were looking for: wide, flat and soft. Unfortunately, it was exactly what half of Bend was looking for as well. The lot was full of cars, trucks and trailers, each sporting the decals and accoutrement of their sport of choice.
Before we had even left the lot, we were stopped by a couple who wanted to know if the trail is a good place to go for a run. (It is.) Shortly thereafter we were passed by a pair on horseback. We greeted a pair of mountain bikers completing their ride. It was a true multi-use trail.
My wife, who is a stickler for following the rules and is known for pointing them out to people who aren't, commented that biking wasn't allowed on that trail. I had missed the “no biking” logo at the trailhead, and apparently so had these gearheads.
The trail passed initially through some mature junipers, but soon the terrain opened up into your classic High Desert landscape. The view was divided into broad swaths of color — the yellow bunch grass, the silvery-gray sagebrush, an unbroken blue sky — as if forming a larger-than-life, unofficial flag of Central Oregon.
The trail itself is as wide as a road, but beyond the immediate vicinity it gets lost among the vegetation. Looking toward the horizon, it's easy to imagine how this landscape might have looked before roads and towns and destination resorts. Off in the distance, we could see the horseback riders bouncing above the sagebrush, straight out of a Western movie.
The trail forks at several points, but it seemed pretty obvious to us where the main trail was headed. As long as you keep heading more or less north on the trail, it's hard to get lost.
You can link up with many other trails, including the Flatiron Rock Trail and the Ancient Juniper Trail — providing as long a day hike as you might want.
Badlands Rock Trail itself meanders for nearly three miles one way to Badlands Rock, an outcropping from which you can enjoy a 360-degree view of the area. Or so I read in the guidebook. Doing my best Hopalong Cassidy imitation, we never quite made it there.
“I guess these are the kinds of trails I'll be hiking when I'm 80,” I told my wife as I limped back to the car.
I should be so lucky.