The other buttes

Besse and Overturf are close by and worth a visit

By David Jasper / The Bulletin

Last Saturday, I hopped on my bike and rode about six miles from my home in southeast Bend to Bessie Butte, a perhaps lesser-known, but no less worthwhile, butte off of China Hat Road on Forest Road 1810, just a few miles southeast of Bend.

China Hat has little shoulder and just enough traffic — often pickups hauling ATVs or horses — to keep pedalers on their toes. Driving (or riding) southeast on China Hat, you can't miss Bessie, rising just south of the road, much as Lava Butte rises just west of U.S. Highway 97's southbound lanes.

Another reason it's easy to spot Bessie: The 18 Fire, which in 2003 burned close to 4,000 acres in this neck of the Deschutes National Forest, much of it ponderosa pine.

Once a couple of horseback riders directed me to the trailhead, just a few hundred yards from China Hat on Forest Road 1810, I stashed my bike and headed up the trail, walking through a forest in transition. Manzanitas with flowers blooming pepper stretches of the trail, lined with seedlings planted during the 18 Fire Recovery Project. A few taller pines still standing amid the scorched trunks and logs offer silent testimony to the damage wildfires are capable of doing.

The ¾-mile trail takes about 15 minutes to climb, give or take, depending on your speed of ascent, and offers spectacular views of unscathed forest near and distant, not to mention an array of nearby buttes including Cabin, Horse, Pilot, Lava and Luna, to name a few.

The top also affords great views of the Cascades, Smith Rock, Paulina Buttes and Newberry Crater. I had the place to myself for the ascent and my all-too-brief snooze on its summit, where clusters of manzanita and the sun-warmed sandy surface offer welcome relief from the wind for anyone who's not too proud to lie on the ground.

Ah, yes, the wind. The climb is easy, but be prepared to face the possibly strong winds on the windward face of the butte and its 2,680-foot summit. The stiff breeze comes howling straight from the Cascades with nary a windbreak in sight. Also given the sandy nature of the trail, you may be pouring loose sand from your shoes.

I liked the hike so much I returned the next day with my family for a Sunday afternoon getaway. The day before, I had passed a lone hiker with his dog and, toward the bottom, a small family of four making a slowly progressing climb.

On Sunday, there were two vehicles parked at the trailhead when we arrived, and by the time we were descending, several more had joined the festivities. We passed a woman on horseback, and later a mountain biker braving the sandy trail, the feeling of splendid isolation slowly dissipating.

Another convenient butte that gets little attention, at least from folks who don't live in the neighborhoods surrounding it: Overturf Butte, located smack in the heart of Bend's west side. From the back of a 1.7-acre park (featuring horseshoe pit and playground equipment) located at 475 N.W. 17th St., trails thread their way up this 3,881-foot butte.

This is an extremely easy hike, with access to trails peppered at different points of the trail, depending upon your approach. The main path up is a paved road that leads to the City of Bend water towers and passes right by the Bend Park&Recreation District's fenced-in Overturf Butte Reservoir Dog Park.

After the pavement ends, cinder and wood-chip paths lead the rest of the way to the peak, which in the late 1940s served as home to a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout.

All that remains of that lookout is a concrete slab and small sign, affixed to a wooden post, commemorating the lookout.

But the view the butte affords is still excellent. While the structures and roads that make up Bend are difficult to see from Bessie Butte, the view looking east from Overturf allows a glimpse of a bustling city. On Tuesday morning, I watched a semitrailer trundle up College Way on Awbrey Butte, and took in views of the Old Mill District's smokestacks.

Secily Luse and Tamara Dostal, who live nearby, walked up Overturf Butte on Tuesday morning, which they do two or three times a week.

Luse moved to Bend a year ago from Portland, and recalled her reaction to discovering Overturf's parks and trails: “Oh, wow, there are all these trails and stuff in here.”

“The views are beautiful. I like walking here in the morning. Now that the sun comes up at a somewhat-reasonable hour, it's so nice to come. At 6 in the morning, the sun's coming up over the city and it's just, ‘Ah.' ”