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Monument Rock Wilderness offers solitude and views

Check out a historic lookout and giant cairn on the forest.
Richard Hanners

Blue Mountain Eagle

Published on July 31, 2018 4:44PM

Last changed on August 9, 2018 1:13PM

The Table Rock Lookout at 7,815 feet sits on the edge of a hundred-foot cliff overlooking the upper drainage of the South Fork Burnt River. It is manned from late June to when the snow flies.

The Eagle/Richard Hanners

The Table Rock Lookout at 7,815 feet sits on the edge of a hundred-foot cliff overlooking the upper drainage of the South Fork Burnt River. It is manned from late June to when the snow flies.

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The trail from Forest Road 1370 to Monument Rock passes between numerous large rock outcroppings.

The Eagle/Richard Hanners

The trail from Forest Road 1370 to Monument Rock passes between numerous large rock outcroppings.

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Monument Rock, a 12-foot high circular stacked-rock cairn that leans to the west, is believed to have been built by Basque sheepherders in the early 1900s.

The Eagle/Richard Hanners

Monument Rock, a 12-foot high circular stacked-rock cairn that leans to the west, is believed to have been built by Basque sheepherders in the early 1900s.

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A sage grouse enjoys the high meadows along the trail from Forest Road 1370 to Monument Rock.

The Eagle/Richard Hanners

A sage grouse enjoys the high meadows along the trail from Forest Road 1370 to Monument Rock.

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Lupine and Indian paintbrush fill the gaps between lush green sage brush during a mid-June hike to Monument Rock.

The Eagle/Richard Hanners

Lupine and Indian paintbrush fill the gaps between lush green sage brush during a mid-June hike to Monument Rock.

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Originally a cupola built in the 1920s, the Table Rock Lookout was upgraded in 1937 and 1949 and is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register.

The Eagle/Richard Hanners

Originally a cupola built in the 1920s, the Table Rock Lookout was upgraded in 1937 and 1949 and is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register.

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Monument Rock, a 12-foot high circular stacked-rock cairn, is believed to have been built by Basque sheepherders in the early 1900s.

The Eagle/Richard Hanners

Monument Rock, a 12-foot high circular stacked-rock cairn, is believed to have been built by Basque sheepherders in the early 1900s.

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The Table Rock Lookout was wrapped in aluminum during the 2016 Rail Fire. An old wooden garage below it burned to the concrete foundation.

The Eagle/Richard Hanners

The Table Rock Lookout was wrapped in aluminum during the 2016 Rail Fire. An old wooden garage below it burned to the concrete foundation.

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The trail to Monument Rock is actually the remains of Forest Road 1370. Sagebrush, Indian paintbrush and other wildflowers have overgrown the closed road.

The Eagle/Richard Hanners

The trail to Monument Rock is actually the remains of Forest Road 1370. Sagebrush, Indian paintbrush and other wildflowers have overgrown the closed road.

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One of many open meadows on the trail to Monument Rock.

The Eagle/Richard Hanners

One of many open meadows on the trail to Monument Rock.

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Indian paintbrush and sagebrush cover a slope above the trail to Monument Rock.

The Eagle/Richard Hanners

Indian paintbrush and sagebrush cover a slope above the trail to Monument Rock.

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Lupine and Indian paintbrush cover the trail from Forest Road 1370 to Monument Rock.

The Eagle/Richard Hanners

Lupine and Indian paintbrush cover the trail from Forest Road 1370 to Monument Rock.

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Monument Rock, a 12-foot tall rock cairn, is located on the far hill in this view from the Table Rock Lookout parking area. The hike to the cairn is about 2 miles long.

The Eagle/Richard Hanners

Monument Rock, a 12-foot tall rock cairn, is located on the far hill in this view from the Table Rock Lookout parking area. The hike to the cairn is about 2 miles long.

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Several large wildfires scorched portions of the Monument Rock Wilderness since 1989, including this one area near the trail from Forest Road 1370 to Monument Rock.

The Eagle/Richard Hanners

Several large wildfires scorched portions of the Monument Rock Wilderness since 1989, including this one area near the trail from Forest Road 1370 to Monument Rock.

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Lumpine flowering along the trail from Forest Road 1370 to Monument Rock.

The Eagle/Richard Hanners

Lumpine flowering along the trail from Forest Road 1370 to Monument Rock.

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Monument Rock Wilderness is the lesser known, little brother of the popular Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. The peaks are lower and less spectacular, but Monument Rock can claim quiet and solitude.

The 20,079-acre wilderness was established in 1984 and lies in the Malheur and Wallowa-Whitman national forests. The rocky ridge at the area’s northern boundary divides the Little Malheur River and the upper drainage of the South Fork Burnt River.

Elevations in the wilderness range from 5,200 feet in the valleys to 7,500 feet or more on the ridges. Ponderosa and lodgepole pines cover the lower elevations, while subalpine fir grows near the treeless ridgetops.

Wildlife species found across the wilderness include elk, deer, bear, badgers and a rare wolverine. Birdwatchers will find 70 species of birds, including water ouzels, pileated woodpeckers and sage grouse.

The hiking season in the wilderness begins in early summer and runs through November, with the majority of use seen during hunting season. Winter snowstorms and summer thunderstorms are common along the mountain ridges, with precipitation averaging 40 inches per year, about twice the amount received at surrounding lowlands.

The last 3 miles of Forest Road 1370 to Table Rock Lookout is rough and rocky. The nearest campground is Elk Flat Campground, a primitive spot with six sites on a grassy meadow about 4 miles from the lookout. There is a vault toilet but no water supply.

Large fires swept through parts of the wilderness in 1989, 1996, 2002 and 2016. The Rail Fire raced 300 yards in 60 seconds toward Table Rock Lookout in 2016, but the lookout had been wrapped in aluminum and survived intact. A wooden garage below the lookout burned to its concrete foundation.

Staffed from late June until first snows, the lookout at 7,756 feet atop Table Rock began as a cupola in the 1920s. It was upgraded to a 14-foot square cab with a catwalk in 1937 and again in 1949.

The lookout is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register and is a popular attraction. Looking south, visitors can make out a faint knob on a hill about 2 miles away — a 12-foot high cairn called Monument Rock.

Legend has it that bored Basque sheepherders built the circular stacked-rock cairn in the early 1900s. It now leans precipitously to the west.

Visitors can hike to Monument Rock along a closed portion of Forest Road 1370, which over the years has become overgrown with sagebrush and brilliant wildflowers. The trailhead is located at a hairpin turn about 0.8 mile below the lookout.

Most of the 2-mile hike to the giant cairn is level, passing between spectacular rock formations and across large meadows. From a historic fence line a little more than a mile from the trailhead, where the trail begins to peter out, hikers can start cross-country toward a 300-foot hill to the right. The cairn is not visible from the trail at that point.

An alternative is to hike north from the old fence line for half a mile to the top of Bullrun Rock. Visitors will enjoy great views down 150-foot high cliffs into the South Fork Burnt River region.

For hikers who enjoy cool running streams, Little Malheur Trail 366 runs for about 7.3 miles along the Little Malheur River. Hikers are advised to bring water.

Directions: To reach Table Rock Lookout from Prairie City, head south from Highway 26 on Bridge Street past the cemetery, where it becomes County Road 62. About 7 miles later, turn left on Forest Road 13. After another 11 miles, turn left on Forest Road 1370. The wilderness boundary is 6 miles farther.





























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