Oregon

Mowich - Mt. Thielsen

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Hemmed in by the Cascades to the west, Hwy 58 to the north, Hwy 97 to the east, and Hwy 138 to the south is a tract of mostly National Forest wilderness served by an array of mostly dirt roads. The landscape almost entirely forested, and while it's a somewhat more open and sparse forest than the western Oregon jungles, views to the tantilizingly close volcanic peaks were limited. There was a little too much snow at upper elevations during my mid-April excursion, so it's possible the highest, westernmost reaches of this area I couldn't get to may eventually yield better vistas.

This was nonetheless an entertaining outing. I did this as a day trip from Eugene, but the dispersed camping options are endless and there were many spots where I would have loved to just set up camp. Aside from a wide, well-maintained gravel road heading up toward Miller Lake, nearly all the roads I encountered were mostly dirt, from fine, dusty sand like driving on a dry beach, to grittier clay deeply rutted by runoff. My stock-height Forester handled everything I encountered (except the deeper, slushy at upper elevations) though you can expect to find yourself teetering on two or three wheels from time to time. I would imagine these roads become significantly more treacherous on a rainy day.

There are many access points to this area from Hwy 58, 97, and 138, but check maps carefully because there is a railroad line which runs along the north and then east and there aren't that many places where you can cross it. I started from Hwy 58 near Mowich (NF 5825), where, if you veer left onto the smaller, rougher road,  you can follow the charming and meandering Little Deschutes river. As you move south you'll eventually encounter the wide gravel road that goes from Chemult to Miller Lake. If you follow this road and see the sign for Deer Butte Trail, this was a fun & quick spur that spirals right to the summit of a little butte. The road presents some ruts and tree roots, but is an entirely do-able and entertaining little drive up.

If you poke around in here in spring, you'll certainly encounter trees that the winter brought down and that no one has cleared. In the younger forests I was often able to just pull fallen trees off the road, but there were a number of spots I simply had to turn back because of a fallen tree that was simply too big to move or chop.

Even though it's often hidden from view, the craggy peak of Mt. Thielsen is clearly the star of the show here. If you wrap around the south side of Thielsen along Hwy 138, there are more views to be had and some interesting areas to explore on the western side of the mountains in the vicinity of Lemolo Lake and the North Umpqua River. If you do venture into this area, Crystal Springs to the east of Lemolo Lake is definitely worth checking out - a pleasant babbling brook emerges right out of the ground and forms some pretty, crystal-clear pools before eventually curving off through the trees. Even if you just use Hwy 138 as a quick, paved return westward towards Roseburg and I-5, this is a gorgeous drive through a deep, narrow valley, closely following the picturesque Umpqua River. I ran out of time to explore this area on this trip, but I'm hoping to do an overnighter along this enchanting corridor in summer 2018 and post it here as its own excursion.