|8/6/2013 12:57:00 PM|
STA's Sisters Tie Trail has something for everyone
|The flat, easy, Sisters Tie Trail is popular among hikers, equestrians, walkers, and bicyclists and is maintained by the Sisters Trails Alliance.|
photo by Craig Eisenbeis
By Craig EisenbeisThe Sisters Tie Trail doesn't harbor an unusual ecosystem; it's not especially wild; and it's certainly not backcountry adventure. What it does offer, however, is quick and easy access. It's right here in our own backyard! The Sisters Trails Alliance (STA) has done a good job of creating, promoting, and maintaining local trails; and this is one of the most convenient.
The trail is suitable for hiking, jogging, trail biking, and horseback riding; and the best part is that you can just walk out of town and into the woods. It's not especially crowded, either. On a recent transit of the entire distance, I encountered two dog walkers near town, one bicyclist, and one equestrian - riding a Clydesdale!
For the first couple of miles, at the south end of the trail, some of the route seems unnecessarily close to civilization. Cars can be seen and heard as the trail parallels Pine Street on its way out of town. Outside the city limits, this extension of Pine Street was formerly known as Squaw Back Road. However, the Pine Street name was extended out of town when "squaw" names were eliminated a few years ago.
Although it is close to civilization, if you want to get out and walk, bike, or jog, isn't a jaunt through the trees better than one where speeding cars graze your elbow? This trail is about the flattest I've ever seen. It's suitable for children and takes about one minute to reach.
The trailhead is located off North Pine Street just beyond where the pavement ends. From the STA kiosk, the trail takes off north and west for a little over six miles to the Indian Ford Campground on Highway 20 west of town. With a car drop, or a friends and family drop-off and pick-up, the one-way hike makes for a quick outing. Because of the numerous close approaches to access roads, you can do a round-trip or segments of almost any distance of your own choosing.
I'm a notoriously slow hiker, but covered the entire distance in slightly more than two hours. In the backcountry, my typical trail speed is just over two miles per hour, with the blazing speed of three mph usually reserved for paved routes. This one, however, is a three-mph trail.
Heading north from town, the trail passes through National Forest lands of our familiar second-growth ponderosa pine and juniper. One of the first "highlights" is a large fenced area that, many years ago, was our town dump and popular shooting range. Today a sign simply says that the area is under restoration.
This area borders Trapper Point and the Indian Ford Ranch subdivisions of Sage Woods and Indian Ford Meadows. Because of the forest's proximity to homes, it is considered part of the "wildland interface." Accordingly, this portion of the route was subjected to thinning and prescribed understory burning. Now, four years later, the vegetation has significantly recovered; and the area no longer has that burned-over look.
Especially in the first couple of miles, the trail crosses and follows many old dirt roads and tracks, so keep an eye out for the "Sisters Trails" markers. The STA has done a good job of marking most of the trail. Still, there area couple of spots where the proliferation of roads and paths make it necessary to pay attention.
There is a single-track fork near the crossing of the 600 Road that is less than clear, but an STA marker can be seen across the road to the right. Another double-track portion unfortunately parallels Pine Street at a distance of about 30 feet, and there is a long gap with no markers. Here, I was tempted to wander off on other routes, but my faith in STA was eventually rewarded by the appearance of an STA marker; and the trail veered slightly west to avoid homes on the west side of Pine Street.
At about the halfway point, the trail turns west by an old gravel pit and becomes a little bit "wilder" and shifts almost entirely to a single-track trail. It also becomes a little cooler and greener as the trail roughly parallels Indian Ford Creek. This second half of the hike is the most scenic. A number of wildflowers can be found along the trail, including penstemons, western blue flax, paintbrush, and several others.
As the trail continues farther west, it can be seen that this part of the forest receives more moisture, as there are many more young pine seedlings popping up. At one point, I found myself following raccoon tracks on the trail. Also along this stretch, the trail skirts the edge of a large and scenic rock extrusion.
Soon, the trail starts to follow what we used to call the "High Ditch." The High Ditch, which is no longer in use, carried irrigation water from the creek to portions of Indian Ford Ranch when it was still a "working ranch." Back then, my father and I frequently rode this area on horseback. In those days, there were still remnants of old fallen-down homesteads throughout the area.
After skirting the southern edge of a large block of private land, the trail creeps ever closer to Indian Ford Creek; and willows and aspens appear on your right. A slight side trip will reveal the creek itself and lush wetlands full of life. This is the most beautiful part of this hike.
You can also start your hike at the north end of the Sisters Tie Trail or explore just the more scenic parts of the trail from the campground. The trailhead is marked and heads south between campsites 10 and 11 on the campground loop road.
Another alternative is to drive to the old gravel pit off the northern end of Pine Street and traverse only the western and more wild three miles of the trail. There is a short dirt access road off Pine Street, a half mile south of its termination on Indian Ford Road. This access and the northern end of Pine "Street" are extremely rough and in poor condition.
The Sisters Trails Alliance is a community volunteer organization. Help and new members are always welcome. For information, visit www.sisterstrails.com.
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