On Saturday morning, when I stopped at my friend Jeremy Dickman's Bend home to pick him up for a hike on Tam-a-lau Trail at the Cove Palisades State Park, his preschool-aged stepson took one look at my Prius sitting in their driveway and said to himself, “A girl car?”
Go ahead, I laughed, too. After dropping the hilarious, sexist tyke off at his grandparents' house in Redmond, we were soon back under way and cruising north through Terrebonne, high above the Crooked River, and then through Culver as we headed toward Lake Billy Chinook, created in 1964 when Round Butte Dam was built.
I'd only ever been to the area once before, also in the winter, to visit a writer living a few miles west of the lake in Crooked River National Grassland. That was a snowy, wet year, and I remember a white-knuckle drive in my rear-wheel-drive pickup on the packed ice covering Jordan Road, which hugs parts of the lake.
This time, as we descended toward the Crooked River arm of the lake, I saw instead some trucks and boat trailers parked below. I didn't see any snow, and the only ice around was at water's edge by the shady beach and, presumably, keeping beverages chilled in coolers in the few boats we saw on the water.
We followed Jordan Road south and across the bridge to The Peninsula, the large finger of land jutting north with the Deschutes River arm on its other side.
We drove past the Lower Deschutes Day-Use Area, and headed a few thousand feet farther down the road, parking just inside the entrance to the Upper Deschutes Day-Use Area. Alternatively, you can continue to the larger parking lot down below, but you'll be adding a bit of distance on to your hike.
Dickman and I managed to do that anyway. First, we walked up the pavement and crossed Jordan Road. So far so good. But just shy of an opening in the fence, Dickman said he thought that path led to the nearby campground, which was true; given the nexus of trails here, one could conceivably hoof it to the Deschutes Campground. But if we'd taken a few steps more, we would have also seen, through the trees, a large sign marking the Tam-a-lau Trailhead.
We wound up back at the vehicle, checked out the map we hadn't wanted to lug along and retraced our steps, eventually arriving back at the small fence opening and that cheerful sign.
Seeing the large sign reading “Tam-a-lau Trail” felt like a victory after 10 or 15 minutes of walking in circles.
What's with the name? According to the park brochure (available at the trailhead, should you find it), it's a Native American phrase for “place of big rocks on the ground.” The term was once shared by a trail that served as a Columbia River trade route. True to its name, a number of boulders rest here and there along the trail.
What's more, by the time we reached the trail, the sun had broken through the cloud cover, the sunshine increasing the beauty of our surroundings by at least 76 percent.
However, given the trail's position on the northwest walls of The Peninsula, we walked in shade much of the one-mile hike up. And I do mean “up.” Ask anyone who's done the hike and they'll tell you just how steep and tiring it is. I'm here to tell you, it's not as bad as they're saying.
No, I'm kidding! It's not that bad at all. Don't worry, the most “breathtaking” thing about the hike is the view of the Cascade peaks. According to the brochure, the trail gains 600 vertical feet in elevation to the high plateau at the top of The Peninsula. Pilot Butte in Bend is close to 500 feet, so if you can summon the will to hike up that, you can do this.
You know how I was saying there was a dearth of ice? Well, that's true, but trail did have abundant patches of mud when we visited. Wear your least-loved hiking boots, and be prepared to scrape them off periodically, unless you enjoy carrying extra weight. A hiking stick, ski pole or cane would probably be advisable.
All in all, this hike is about six miles, should you do the relatively flat loop at the top of The Peninsula, which at its northern point, affords views of The Island, which is not actually an island but rather an isolated plateau farther north on The Peninsula.
According to the brochure, the pristine, 200-acre area that is The Island is “one of the few remnants of pre-settlement ecology” left in the West. It's probably for the best, then, that it was closed off to casual use in 1997, 11 years after being named a Research Natural Area.
Contrast that with the well-used area where the Tam-a-lau Trail reaches The Peninsula's top. Instead of attempting the long loop through muddy soup, we paused and took in the sights of the water and Mount Jefferson in the distance, downed some granola bars and proceeded back downhill. An hour after we'd found the trail proper, we were back at the vehicle.