By the middle of June, Karen still had some vacation time, the weather forecast for the Central Cascades was favorable, and another overnight "See Oregon First" trip seemed in order.
Armed with guides to birding "hot spots" and wildflower books, Karen and Barbara set off early on June 17. The plan was to spend the day in the Santiam Pass area of Highway 20, visit the beautiful Metolius River area by Camp Sherman, stay overnight in Bend and do the Cascade Lakes Scenic Loop (Highways 46, 43 and 97) through the Central Oregon High Cascades the next day.
After a brief stop at the Detroit Ranger Station, we followed Highway 22 to its junction with Highway 20, just west of Santiam Pass. Enroute, we enjoyed the blooming Rhododendron and other early roadside wildflowers.
Our first objective was Lost Lake, which the bird guides assured us would be full of woodpeckers, looking for Pine Beetles in the dead and dying trees of the area. Just before Lost Lake, the highway crosses a fairly recent lava flow and in spite of its barren appearance, some wildflowers find it the perfect home. That required a short stop for wildflower and lava rock photos.
As we pulled into the Lost Lake road we saw a rather cryptic sign "Campground Road Closed June 16-17." No explanation as to WHY the road was closed but we decided to take a short, cautious walk to see those multitudes of woodpeckers. We found multitudes all right, but they were mosquitoes--nary a woodpecker, or hardly any other birds to be seen. I guess they read the "Closed" sign and cleared out! However, we DID find some flowers and scenery worth photographing. AND we learned the campground was temporarily closed for improvements.
Ascending the last steep pitch of the highway before Santiam Pass, we started to see the acres of dead trees, killed in the huge "B & B" forest fire of August, 2003. On earlier trips through this area, this forest had been full of RED instead of green conifer trees, being killed by the Mountain Pine Beetle.
Our next destination was "Big Lake" which is a few miles south of Santiam Pass. From Big Lake there are wonderful views of Mt. Washington and the Pacific Crest Trail passes by the lake. We had our choice of picnic tables within the campground--only a little Ground Squirrel kept us company. Just a few miles further east, as we descended from the pass, we could begin to see the real scope of the 2003 forest fire. It looks pretty bleak but some accounts of the fire on the Web point out the good and the bad results.
We turned north on the Camp Sherman/Metolius River Road. This is all lava flow country and water sometimes travels by unusual means through lava. A good example is the "magical" Metolius River which either originates under nearby Black Butte or in the high mountains to the west (theories vary). Anyway several springs suddenly appear from under rocks. The flows combine to form a beautiful stream, revered by fishermen for its trout population. The fish apparently thrive in the river's constant flow, and consistently cool temperature. After the requisite stop at the "head" of the Metolius, we drove on north a few miles to the Wizard Falls fish hatchery. This has to be one of the loveliest sites for a fish hatchery--situated in a Ponderosa Pine forest and next to the Metolius River. We enjoyed a stroll among the fish ponds and along the bank of the river before heading for our night's lodging in Bend.
After dinner, and in the long June twilight, we drove to Drake Park adjoining the Deschutes River as it flows right through the heart of Bend. Too late for photography, but we enjoyed strolling along the tranquil river, and watching the NON-migratory Canada Geese who see no reason to make a long, arduous migration north when they have it so good right in Bend! Even a couple graceful, white Mute Swans imported from Europe graced the river and mooched bread from willing little children. It's easy to see why Bend has been such a magnet for retirees, Californians and all who love the mountains and high desert country. Lots of folks were getting around Bend on their bikes and outdoor shops were on every block. Tomorrow would be our turn to go see some of that mountain country!
The weatherman did not lie--we awoke to bright sunshine and clear blue skies. Thanks to the presence of the Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort near the beginning of the "Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway" the highway was smooth, wide and climbed up into the mountains with gentle grades. Karen consulted her birding guides and found that just a few miles before Mt. Bachelor was " Swampy Lakes" which was (again) supposed to be a good place to find those elusive woodpeckers and other choice birds. We walked up one of the many trails leading from the Swampy Lakes parking lot. This must be a busy area in winter; signs for many cross-country ski trails were nailed to trees. There was indeed a lot of bird song, but none associated with woodpeckers, sad to say. So, we pressed onward.
We had considered taking the ski lift to the top of Mt. Bachelor for stunning 360-degree views of Oregon, but one look at all the snow covering the mountain told us they weren't ready for the summer season yet. Neither was the road into Todd Lake--after about fifty yards, it was snow-covered. We had much better luck at the next turn-off, to Sparks Lake. A lovely big meadow adjoins the lake and Karen soon found some choice birds to watch. The biggest bird of the day was here--a Sandhill Crane. Too far off to catch with the camera, but we had a good look at it with binoculars. The birds had to compete with the stunning scenery--whichever direction we turned, there was another beautiful snow-capped volcanic peak.
This area is also a drive-through geology lesson. Probably most interesting was the "dacite" lava flow beneath Broken Top Mountain. Dacite looks like a duller, opaque version of glassy obsidian and apparently the Native Americans found it convenient for their pictographs. At the "Devils Garden" there was an archeology leaflet explaining a nearby pictograph and the sorry mess some modern graffiti artist has made of it.
For the next few hours, it was just "one durn lake after another" and most were just a short distance from the highway. As we made the loop drive we saw Mt. Bachelor from various angles. Yesterday, we had the Big Lake campground to ourselves, but on this route we had lots of company--mostly fisherman who were using a great variety of flotation devices to get far out into the lakes. There was heavy traffic at the boat ramps too.
The last lake we visited was Crane Prairie Reservoir. The name "Crane" commemorates the thousands of Sandhill Cranes who summered here--until a dam covered up "their" prairie. Today it is home to many waterfowl and we saw at least two Bald Eagles who make a living on the birds of Crane Prairie.
After the reservoir, it was literally all downhill as we drove east to Highway 97, and then north through Bend. Paulina Peak, in the Newberry Crater Monument, stood out on the eastern horizon near LaPine--another choice piece of Oregon scenery and geology but it would have to wait for another trip. Coming back, Karen made another attempt to check out the birds at the Lost Lake campground as the sign had indicated the road would be open today. Guess what! NOW the sign at the entrance read "Closed June 18-19 for campground improvements." Lost Lake is now on the list "to be visited--later."
As a family, we've been traveling much farther afield than Oregon recently. All the far-away lands have their charms, but it is very good to know that beautiful and fascinating places abound only a day's drive from home. We must do this again! Click here for photos of our drive around the Cascade Loop highway.
More information about the area we visited is on this website: "Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway"
June 24, 2009
Unless otherwise noted, text and photos are the property of Barbara and Karen Halliday, © 2009