Posts Tagged ‘Oregon’

On the Ground

I’ve posted nothing for the last few weeks because I was off doing things. Oh, and I didn’t bring my laptop, and there was no internet in most of the places I’ve been.  This is where I used to live from 2000-2008.  See the small white roof on the left side of the ridge?  That’s the barn on my former property, and the  old trailer house is just to the right of that, tucked into the brow of the ridge.

The photo was taken from the front porch of the house our friends Kerri and Jim are just moving into.  It was built in the last year or two before I left Dayville, on a piece of property that was undeveloped for the first few years that I lived there.  In those days I was laboring over my dissertation with varying degrees of success.  I had finally begun to wring some productivity out of myself by setting a firm schedule: get up at 6 am, write until 10:30 or so, go for a long walk with Joda, and then show up “at the crack of noon” (as my boss liked to put it), for my job as a museum technician at John Day Fossil Beds NM.  Joda would start reminding me that it was time to walk at around 10:20, and we’d set off from the house in some southerly direction, usually following game or livestock trails off into the hills.  We explored all the draws, hollows, and ridges around there, getting to know the land and the critters that were living there.

I was reminded how much I like this kind of hiking while we were on this recent trip: somewhat directed, but with no established trail, just a beginning and an end with no way to predict what might be in the middle.  Follow the deer trail and see where it goes–  as you continue on, there’s always one more ridge to follow, one more curve to peek around.  You might run into an old trapper cabin, or an abandoned mountain lion den, or some lovely red beds (above).

Now that my hiking buddy has gotten too old for long treks, and we live in a land of established human trails, the magic of this kind of hiking has been absent.  Sadly, I don’t think there’s any way to make Joda into a hiking dog again.  But on the drive back from Oregon, I saw some hiking possibilities closer to home.

western Wyoming


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Mt McLoughlin

Bo at the trailhead sign, sort of

It was the place to be on a Saturday in mid-August!  We just didn’t know it until we arrived.  We’d been sort-of planning to climb Mount McLoughlin since last year, and definitely planning to climb it since last week.  Not until we were on our way to the trailhead did Bo mention that the Klamath Falls Herald and News had printed a front-page article on hiking this trail just a few days before.  “Great!” I said, “We’ll have all of Klamath Falls up there with us!”

whitebark pine and me

Mt. McLoughlin is the southernmost “big” peak in the Oregon Cascades.  At just a smidge under 10,000 feet, the ascent consists of a hike and then a bit of  scrambling or bouldering near the top, where the ground is unconsolidated and covered with rocks large and small (anchored and not- anchored).  In the summer, you don’t need any special equipment, just a decent set of lungs and joints.  It’s nothing to sneeze at, either, though.

When we parked at the trailhead, sure enough, there were almost two dozen cars already there.  We cleverly arrived at least two to three hours after most self-respecting hikers would have started up the trail, so that gave us the feeling of relative solitude.  Of course, we saw lots of people on their way down, including the entire Mazama High School football team (that would be the Vikings– see my earlier post about midges– it took me a minute to figure out that it wasn’t a bunch of teenaged boys who all just happened to be fans of Minnesota’s NFL team).

lunch stop, and first panoramic views

The first 3.5 miles or so were really nice– a bit of climb, but mostly smooth walking through a forested landscape.  The last mile and a half or so are the part that take some fortitude.  Above treeline, this part of the trail is not very well-defined, and it involves climbing over boulders and/or sliding your way through ashy, volcanic dirt, and at a fairly high elevation that might make you short of breath or make your head a bit spinny when you stand up from the crouch you’ve been in as you hop and crawl along.  And then, finally, after yet another break to catch our breaths and enjoy the view– voila! we climbed over another rock, and there was nowhere else to go!  I actually asked a woman sitting next to a rock if this was the top (it must have been a side-effect of the shortage of oxygen; normally I would never ask a stranger a dumb question like that).

ah! Summit!

So, that was it.  We sat for awhile, ate some food, Bo took video and I took photos, I rooted around in the foundation of the old look-out tower until I found “the canister” (a mountaineering tradition: a container where you can put a piece of paper with your name and the date you were there), which turned out to be an empty plastic Gatorade bottle stuffed with business cards and such.  I didn’t have a pen with me and had to use the burnt end of a stick as a charcoal pencil on the back of a piece of paper ripped off my photocopy of the trail guide.  The sky was hazy with smoke from nearby wildfires, and some weather seemed to be coming in, too, but we could still see Mt. Shasta to the south and most of the the closer peaks.  There’s just something about being up at the top, above treeline, that is different from any other experience– any other hike, or even flying over in a small plane.

The clouds getting darker and gathering over our heads, we came down.  Bo proposed pizza and beer at a Klamath Falls brewery, and I think that sped our steps.  When we got back to the parking lot, most of the cars from the morning were gone.  And that was it!  We did it.

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Welcome to the State of Jefferson! Greetings especially to all of the Blogtrotters who are dropping in for the day.

I am writing from Klamath Falls, Oregon, very close to the border with California.  But since 1941, many of the counties in southern Oregon and northern California have called themselves the State of Jefferson, after the third US president.  There have been many reasons– political, topographical, and cultural– for the creation of this fictional state.  I won’t get into those.  For me, this area is all about water– water of many forms, states, temperatures, and in many places.  As is often true in the American West, the water is a cause of and solution to many problems, and the source of many conflicts between people– farmers, native people, boaters, ranchers– and the local plants and animals.  About ten years ago, Klamath Falls made national news because of the dramatic and somewhat violent clash between federal land managers, who shut down the irrigation due to drought and the survival of an ugly little group of species called the suckerfish, and the farmers and ranchers who formed actual bucket brigades to continue irrigating anyway.upper Klamath Lake I live on Upper Klamath Lake, which is very long and shallow– only about 6-8 feet deep in most places.  It is also what lake scientists call hypereutrophic, which basically means that lots and lots of stuff live in it– bacteria, algae, plants, fish, and so on.

If you drive about an hour north of my house, you get to the north end of this crazy lake and, after driving up a mountain, you wind up at the deepest lake in the United States: Crater Lake. Crater LakeCrater Lake sits in the caldera of a volcano that is still considered active– Mount Mazama.  The lake is nearly 2,000 feet deep, and lake scientists call it ultraoligotrophic— which basically means that there is hardly any life growing in it at all, because it the water is so cold and pure.

I love the contrast of these two totally opposite bodies of water being right next to each other.  It’s like the two siblings whose personalities are completely opposite being forced to share the back seat of the car for a long family road trip.  “You think you’re so deep and mysterious??  Well, I have most of the surface area of the back seat, so there!”  “Well, if you think I am going to waste my time talking to someone as shallow and germy as you, you can just forget it!”

Spreing CreekOf course like all siblings, even those who are complete opposites in personality, these two bodies of water share common blood.  Crater Lake  contains such a large volume of water and is at such a high elevation, that some of the water escapes.  To the southeast of the lake, there is a little stream called Spring Creek that originates as freezing cold, pure water that comes out of the ground in hundreds of springs and then makes its way to the Williamson River, which feeds Upper Klamath Lake.

Spring Creek

one of the springs that feed Spring Creek

Then the water (all of it that doesn’t get captured for irrigation, anyway) makes its way from Upper Klamath Lake into the Klamath River and south into northern California, where it curls west and north again, collecting more and more tributaries, until it enters the ocean near Crescent City, CA, just a hair south of the Oregon border.  So, you see, even the ultraoligotrophic water eventually mixes with the hypereutrophic water and it all goes to the same place: the Pacific Ocean.mouth of the Klamath RiverJust like our mixed up watershed, there are lots of different people and lifestyles in the State of Jefferson.  From sunbaked ranchers east of town to Shakespearean actors over the mountains in Ashland, from retired lumberjacks to retired bankers from the Bay area, to hippie bakers to F-15 pilots at the military base– there are all kinds of people here.  And despite the disagreements about various issues like water and how to use it, I’ve found the atmosphere to be one of friendliness and care.  So, I hope that you blogtrotters out there will come and explore this place non-virtually some day!

PS:  Please be sure to read the correction I put up after writing this post!

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Here’s a view from the house to the north.  Last Saturday– the sunset was stunning.

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Now that I am working and living at Crater Lake most of the time, I don’t have access to the internet for certain personal activities like updating this blog.   Those activities must be saved for the weekend– and instead of sitting at home updating blogs, we’ve been out and about for most of the weekends for the past month.

Palisaded rocks in Gearhart Wilderness

Palisade rocks in Gearhart Wilderness

Over the 4th of July weekend, we camped out with Kerri and Jim (and two horses and 3 dogs) on Gearhart Mountain.  Gearhart Mountain is an old shield volcano, and on the top are eroded and weathered basalt pillars, known as the Palisades.  The bugs were bad, and our one neighbor in the campground had a generator that seemed to be running someone’s life-support system (we later found out it was a little girl’s TV), because it was running 24/7.  But it was nice to know that we can drive less than 2 hours east of Klamath Falls and be in a completely different world, of lakes and tall trees and weird-shaped rocks.

The next weekend, we again met up with Kerri and Jim, this time in Veneta, a little town outside Eugene, for the infamous Oregon Country Fair.  It’s a weekend of music, food, crafts, and general creativity, all with a hippie flair.  The Fair was celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and because we were guests of horse patrol volunteers (aka Kerri and Jim), we had access to all of the activities and vendor booths before and after closing time for the general public.  I loved the air of merriment and creativity.  Some of the costumes people came up for wearing around the Fair were amazing– like the two “stick figures” fashioned out of glow sticks and attached to black head-to-toe suits and worn at night.  And the variety of great food options was impressive too– everything from cheesecake to moo-shu vegetables, knish and crabcakes, gumbo, tamales, felafel, gyro, burritos, and organic donuts.  Mmmm!  I know Bo took some photos, so I’ll have to post one later.

Union Spring

Union Spring

The following weekend, I stayed at Crater Lake for a gathering of herpetologists and other natural science folks.  The Science & Learning Center’s research coordinator wanted to do a survey of sorts, to identify some good sites to visit as part of a Bio-Blitz citizen scientist event next summer.  I didn’t get a shot of our best site, Spruce Lake, but suffice it to say that the amphibian folks will be keeping an eye on this little lake on the west side of the park, which was dry the last two times it was monitored, but quite wet this time and teeming with salamanders, newts, frogs, and snakes.Cascade frog

This weekend, we decided that we’d had enough with the travel, and it was time to stay home and catch up on things.  We didn’t count on the temperatures getting almost up to 100 degrees, though!  Clearly, we needed to get up into the mountains to escape the heat.  Since we had never really explored any of the Sky Lakes Wilderness area in the mountains west of town, we drove up to Four-Mile Lake, about 40 miles away.  As we suspected, the lakeside campground was filled with Medford and Klamath Falls residents doing the same thing we were.  The lake was pretty, though, a relief from the heat just to look at it.  A mild breeze mostly kept the mosquitos away.  We hiked 2 miles on a trail to Squaw Lake, smaller than Four-Mile and completely deserted.  Joda and I had a great swim– I got halfway across before freaking myself out looking at the weird shapes on the lake bottom– and then we hiked back, refreshed.

Four-Mile Lake

Four-Mile Lake

One of the other reasons we wanted to stick around town this weekend was that we’ve been trying to get most of our produce from local sources.  The Klamath Falls farmer’s market starts at 9:00 on Saturday morning– and we found out this week that you have to get there pretty close to that time before certain veggies run out!  The city has a trolley car that runs around downtown for events like this.  We usually go to Daily Bagel for breakfast and coffee, spend about $20 at the market, and then go to the Eco-Mart for local eggs.

Klamath trolley So those are the stories of a passel of July weekends here in the greater Klamath basin area.  We’re looking forward to September, when the heat (and bugs) die down a bit.  Mostly, though, I’m glad we have so many choices about where to go to exercise our bodies, minds, and senses of appreciation for the natural world.

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Spring Creek

There are some impressive springs around the edges of Crater Lake National Park.  No one has ever proven that this IMG_2124water, which wells up out of the ground with amazing clarity, purity, and sometimes force, is directly related to the lake.  But it seems to me very likely that the deepest lake in North America, which holds 5 trillion gallons of water (a volume that has a recorded variation of less than 1% regardless of precipitation) must have some outlet other than evaporation.

When you go to the west side of the lake and look at the nascent Rogue River roaring and scouring its way through the basalt, it’s very likely that you will become a convert to the hypothesis that the lake is leaking.  In a more subtle way, our trip to Spring Creek yesterday lent credence to this view.  Unlike the terrain west of the the lake, which tumbles a precipitous 6,000 feet to the town of Grants Pass about 50 miles southwest as the crow flies, the landscape directly south and east of the lake consists of a broad, flat valley that is less than two thousand feet below the elevation of the lake bottom.  Some of the waterways over here on the Klamath county side are, to put it gently, not very cold or swift-moving.  Most of the streams meander along lazily, accumulating cow droppings, fertilizer, and other debris along the way.  The water takes a pit stop in Upper Klamath Lake before either getting diverted for use in irrigation or finding its way into the Klamath River canyon further downstream in California, where it finally becomes  cleaner and swifter.

In contrast, Spring Creek is clear, cold, and bright.  The light sandy bottom is marked by “bubblers”, small cavities capped by suspended sand.  The water was so cold that I couldn’t leave my foot in the water for more than about 30 seconds before feeling an ice cream headache coming on.  Joda, on the other hand, could hardly bring herself to get out.

Many fallen trees lie undisturbed in the stream.  The trees that have been there long enough are topped with a layer of moss and other vegetation, and the really old tree trunks aren’t even visible any more, but you can tell they were there because of the floating mass of greenery.  For some reason, Joda was really taken with these green mats; she  climbed up on several of them, which I found odd, since she’s never liked river rafting.Joda on one of her floating plant islands

I’m sure we will be back to Spring Creek soon.  The water is great for a lazy Saturday afternoon float on an innertube.  In a few weeks the wild strawberries will be ripe.  Plus, maybe the water won’t feel quite so cold.

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Crack in the Ground

Since I moved to Oregon 12 years ago, I’ve explored nearly every nook and cranny in the state, from the entire stretch of coastline to the hippest neighborhood in Portland; the driest, flattest outback of Jordan Valley to the lush rolling hills of the Willamette Valley; the  austere power of the Owyhee River to the crystal-clear meandering streams south of Crater Lake.  But until this past weekend, I had never explored Silver Lake, Christmas Valley, or Summer Lake.

Not too far east of us, the landscape turns severe and dry, and extreme in the juxtaposition of flat valley and jutting mountain ridge.  What geologists call the basin and range extension spreads from Nevada up into Oregon, and while it is in evidence here in the Klamath area, just over the hills to the east and north, this landform is in its full glory.   Basin and range landforms are created when the earth’s crust is stretched thin, like stretchmarks on skin covering a swelling body part (in this case, the swelling is caused by the rubbing of the North American plate against the Pacific plate as the one rides up over the other).  Amidst the dramatic contrast of high mountain and low valley, rainwater’s ability to drain out is lost, resulting in alkaline or dry lakes.

But since much of central Oregon is covered over with a moonscape of lava tubes and basalt rock, the effect is all the more impressive.  This is the case in Christmas Valley, which must surely be one of the most isolated settlements in the state.  Situated in the middle of one of these broad, flat valleys, with the range east and west and mounds of basalt north and south, the town is gridded out in all its nakedness.  The streets are duly named: Jingle Bell Lane, Mistletoe Road, Ivy Lane.  North of town is Crack in the Ground, a two mile, 70-foot deep fissure in thick basalt rock.  The fact that it has laid open, unfilled with sediment, for nearly a thousand years is what makes this landform impressive to geologists.  To hikers, it’s just… well, impressive.  Like a cave, the temperature inside is about 30 degrees cooler than the outside air; last Saturday there was still snow and ice on the floor, even though the temperature was close to 80 degrees.  The rock wall on one side of the crack is smoothed and rounded, while the other side is sharp and straight.  Did one side of the crack get washed by water and other side did not?

There are lava fields to the north, and even further north and west sits Fort Rock, a huge round promontory, as well as Fort Rock Cave, where 12,000-year-old sandals and other artifacts have been discovered, pushing back the date of human habitation of this area.  But that day, we didn’t have time to explore these sites, and instead, we headed south toward Summer Lake.  Dropping down into the valley, we saw a huge escarpment on the west side towering over us.  The difference altitude makes in botanical life is obvious here, as the sagebrush-dominated valley floor contrasts with the coniferous forest atop the range.the bath house at Summer Lake Hot Springs

Summer Lake Hot Springs sits off the south tip of the “lake”, and has a plentiful supply of 112-degree water.  A bath house built in the 1920s is still the main soaking site, with a pool large enough to swim laps in.  Although we were planning to tent-camp, we were tempted by the owner’s offer of an airstream trailer for $40 a night, especially since it included heat, electricity, plenty of floorspace for a restless dog, and unlimited access to the water.Summer Lake Hot SpringsWe ate dinner and breakfast in the nearby town of Paisley– which reminded me of Dayville– and the next morning we continued south to Lakeview and west back toward home, stopping briefly to check out Hunter’s Hot Spring on the north edge of Lakeview, which is fed by a water source that is so pressurized that it causes a geyser called Old Perpetual to erupt every 90 seconds.

I’ve said it too many times already, but I keep marvelling at this truth: Oregon hosts an astounding variety of landscapes, if you’re willing to travel only a few hours in any direction.

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