BEND, Ore. -- I got off work early on Friday feeling excited. My husband, Robin, was off too, and we had big plans -- which are basically what we call any plans that involve us spending time alone without our 3-year-old.
Rather than spend these rare and precious hours catching a movie or heading to a happy hour, we decided to hit a local trail.
The bright blue sky beckoned us east.
Getting out of the car, we encountered springlike conditions. The temperature hovered in the mid-40s, but the sun made it feel 10 degrees warmer.
Robin and I opted to try a trail we'd never been on before -- Badlands Rock Trail. It's a 6-mile-round-trip hike in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness that leads to a large rock outcropping.
The path from the parking lot is wide and easy to follow. The scenery is that classic, lovely High Desert look -- full of gnarled juniper and interesting rocks. The trail itself is soft and sandy.
For three miles, we took in our surroundings and chatted nonstop.
While I like exploring the Badlands and other traditional High Desert areas, sometimes the hikes lack something for me. I like a hike with a payoff -- a waterfall, a gorgeous mountain vista, a field of wildflowers. Sometimes the hikes in the desert can lack that dramatic end point.
This trail was different.
The description said the trail would lead to a rock outcropping. I imagined a 10- or 20-foot pile of rocks. Something interesting but not all that impressive. I wondered if I would know when I got to the right rock.
Let me say this: You won't miss it.
This tower of rocks juts up from the ground in dramatic fashion. Rather than one large rock, this is a series of layers, with rocks stacked on top of one another and nestled together to form a large tower. From the trail, we spotted two people and a dog climbing along the top of the rocks. They looked tiny.
We knew we wanted to climb to the top as well and began walking around the large rock structure, which I describe as the size of a small castle. The best route we found started from the far west side of the rocks, but we couldn't find any clear-cut path to the top.
Getting up is a matter of carefully picking your footing. We found the rocks to be incredibly steady, but the footing was still tricky. It would be easy to twist an ankle or gash a knee (or worse) on the hard, jutting, uneven rock. Needless to say, our progress to the top was slow.
We scaled one of several rock crags that sprung from the tower. From there, we sipped water while ooohing over the views of the snowy Cascades. We also caught views of the Ochocos, plus Horse Ridge and plenty of other interesting formations. This was some payoff.
Having scaled to the top of the outcropping, we were doubly glad to be child-free on the hike. No way could we have attempted that climb with a young child. In fact, I wouldn't recommend the climb for children younger than 10. At least.
Hiking without a preschooler in tow was something of a treat for us. We walked at a fast pace, no stopping to prod at bugs or collect a pile of sticks. Neither of us inexplicably stopped in the middle of the trail, refusing to budge or explain why we wouldn't continue on. And we didn't have to pack an extra pair of pants for potty emergencies.
Sometimes I think the best way to appreciate a child is to be without said child for a few hours. The drama and dilemmas seem funnier and far less aggravating under a sunny sky in the middle of a desert. A hike with a double payoff.