Thursday, April 5, 2012

Three Fingers Rock is an easy hike for families and kids in Eastern Oregon

Reading people's thoughts about being on top of Three Fingers

Three Fingers (courtesy Summit Post)
The Big Wide Open

Looking toward Owyhee Reservoir to the west (and Norm Nelson)

A bighorn sheep skull

Between the fingers
Three Fingers from a distance (note two-track trail to the right)
Heading over the first ridge
Unmarked trailhead

Trip map (click to enlarge)
Hi all,

The weather looks promising for a desert outing this weekend. No rain is in the forecast, can you believe that? So it'd be a good time to venture out for a hike in the Owyhee desert.

As part of an ongoing series of sneak-peeks at new hiking and biking routes that we'll be including in a forthcoming guidebook on the Owyhee Canyonlands, I would recommend heading for Three Fingers Rock near Homedale, Idaho.

The dirt road access for Three Fingers is a little ways past Succor Creek State Park. A good all-wheel-drive vehicle with high clearance is recommended for this trip, but it's not that gnarly of a road. A Subaru Outback should be fine, too.

How to get there: Take I-84 to the last exit in Nampa. Take ID 55 west toward Marsing. Turn right on Chicken Dinner Road, then left on Homedale Road, and go to Homedale. Follow State Highway 19 west of Homedale, and then Highway 201 in Oregon, to a signed turnoff for Succor Creek State Park on the left. Head south on the dirt road. It's 21 miles to the unsigned turnoff to reach Three Fingers. You'll go past Succor Creek State Park (a possible camping location for the weekend), and it's the first major right-hand turn after the park at a saddle. It's 3.9 miles on the dirt road to "the trailhead" for Three Fingers, a high point in the road, where you'll see a steep two-track headed to the west over a hill. There is a fiber optic cable post across the road at this spot. I parked my Ford F-250 in a pullout and hiked from there.

It's about 1.2 miles to the top of Three Fingers from the trailhead, or 2.4 miles total. Bring a lunch and some water to enjoy on the summit. You can't see Three Fingers from the trailhead, but you'll see it on the dirt road as you're approaching it. It's a basalt cap on top of a grassy knoll with three distinctive knobby fingers.

From the trailhead, we followed the two-track ruts to the top of the first ridge at .3 miles. From there, a grand view of the Owyhee Plateau opened up before our eyes. The two-track bends to the north toward Three Fingers. We cruised over there, and then followed footpaths toward a gap behind the rock between the first finger and the second finger. Sure enough, it was possible to scramble to the top from there. I had to lift my puppy over a few steep spots, but a dog should be fine on the hike.

Once on top, we could see for more than 50 miles in all directions. Three Fingers Gulch below looks very intriguing, and I plan to hike that draw down to Owyhee Reservoir to see what kinds of treasures can be found there. Looking through the binoculars, we saw some very cool rock formations near the reservoir. My buddy Norm thought it was Leslie Gulch, but I am quite sure it's not, giving that Leslie Gulch is a number of miles to the south of Three Fingers Gulch. We will have to go there and see.

We discovered several unexpected pleasures on our trip. First, Norm spied a gold eagle nest on the backside of Three Fingers. With the binoculars, he could see an eagle chick in the nest. There might have been more chicks in the nest, yet to hatch.

The second thing was that someone has placed a silver canister at the summit of the first finger containing a number of notebooks inside. Several summit journals contain people's thoughts over the last 10 years. That's pretty cool. I made a few notes in one of the notebooks.

If you've got a copy handy, bring along Roadside Geology of Idaho by David Alt and Donald Hyndman in your day pack. It's a great reference for a hike in the Owyhees. It explains the rhyolite volcanic eruptions and the oozing basalt lava flows that shaped that countryside. It's pretty easy to imagine those events when you're sitting in a catbird seat on Three Fingers, enjoying a quiet moment surrounded by the beauty of nature.

Three Fingers isn't that far from Leslie Gulch if you'd like to consider camping out at Leslie Gulch for the weekend. As I mentioned, Succor Creek is a good camping spot as well. The only downside with Succor Creek is that sometimes I have seen so many OHV users in that park, a non-motorized group might feel a bit overwhelmed. On our way back to Homedale two weeks ago, I saw an adult male doing donuts on an ATV in the main portion of the park. People ought to know better than that. Too bad Oregon doesn't have a camp host at the park. They need one.

FYI - A big campout is planned at Leslie Gulch April 13-15 with the Idaho Outdoors Yahoo Group people, including trip leader Leo Hennessy and group moderator Owen Jones, who has a power boat that will shuttle people to canyon hikes from the reservoir. Leo says he's got over 65 people signed up so far. Should be a big party! Better get there early to find a decent camping spot!

Have fun!
- SS


Unknown said...

just went on this hike today...loved it!!

Steve Stuebner said...

Excellent, glad to hear!

Jeff said...

Thanks for this post. We took our just turned 3 yr old last sunday. He made it to the summit from the car under his own steam. His 1st real hike. Fun adventure hike with the scrambling to the summit and geodes along the trail. Keep family adventures coming. Thanks again.