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Clearwater Falls, near N. Umpqua Road, Oregon
We wanted to show our daughter some of the beauty of the southern Oregon Cascades that we enjoyed on earlier wildflower photography outings. Via Interstate 5, it's a 140-mile freeway drive from Eugene to Roseburg.
This is not an unattractive route unless you find yourself squashed in between trucks for most of the way, but we opted for the truly scenic 250-mile tour of the southern Cascades via Highways 58 and 138. And we stretched the trip out over three days to allow plenty of time to turn off the highway and visit spectacular waterfalls and lovely high mountain lakes. Well, okay, we really spent two days in the mountains and one day at the closest Indian casino, "Seven Feathers," just south of Roseburg.
Highway 58 from Eugene to its junction with Highway 97 provides dramatic variety in the scenery. Going from the low-elevation Willamette Valley, the highway climbed ever higher until it reached Willamette Pass at 5,100 feet. A few miles west of the pass, we stopped to admire Oregon's second-highest waterfall, Salt Creek Falls, and the rose-colored rhododenrons blooming in the surrounding forest. Just a few miles further, we turned north to visit Waldo Lake, the second-largest lake in Oregon, and one of the purest lakes in the world. Winter was not quite done with Waldo Lake, as shady spots under the trees still contained snow patches.
Returning to Highway 58, another high-country lake, Odell Lake, could be seen through the tall trees bordering the highway. Continuing east, the scenery changed dramatically as we left the "wet side" of Oregon. Fir trees gave way to pines and every road cut revealed the huge layers of ash laid down by Mt. Mazama when it blew its top thousands of years ago, creating Crater Lake in the process.
Our look at central Oregon scenery was brief, as we turned west at the junction of Highway 97 and 138, heading for Diamond Lake. It was tempting to make a quick visit to Crater Lake, just 20 miles due south of Diamond Lake, but we held firm to the trip's objective, to see some of the less well-known places in the southern Cascades.
After a pleasant dinner and views of the lake from our table at Diamond Lake Lodge, there was still plenty of daylight left--June 21 being the longest day of the year. We drove all around the lake, with stops at picnic areas at the lake's edge and took a short walk along "Silent Creek" which empties into the lake at its southern end. Even at 8:30 p.m. there was still enough light for photos of Mt. Thielsen, known as the "lightning rod of the Cascades" since its jagged peak seems to invite frequent lightning strikes.
When we walked down to the Lodge for breakfast the next morning, we found that the lake and surrounding mountains had disappeared! A thick blanket of fog was covering the lake, but that didn't deter the fishermen who were already drowning worms. Diamond Lake's reputation as one of Oregon's best trout fishing lakes has suffered in recent years, as millions of an illegally-introduced fish, the "tui chub" brought in as bait from the Klamath Basin multiplied like locusts, elbowed out rainbow trout to the ratio of 200 to 1, dirtied the water and drove campers away. Last fall, the lake level was lowered and a poison, rotenone, was applied to kill all aquatic life, including the chub and whatever trout had survived the chub invasion. This spring, new trout, both big and little, were put in the lake. Apparently the lake cleansing is working; a big trout fishing derby was scheduled for the day following our visit.
As we ate our breakfast, the fog blanket began to evaporate, and the beautiful mountains surrounding Diamond Lake slowly came back into view. The bright blue sky that appeared was assurance that we would have a fine, sunny morning to drive down the "North Umpqua River Road" which rates very high in the "scenic" category in the guidebooks.
The North Umpqua Road has several claims to fame: Number 1 is the fishing, of course. The "Wild and Scenic" Umpqua River is the premier stream for steelhead fly fishing. But, close behind must be the beautiful waterfalls along the main river and its smaller tributaries. The waterfalls come in all heights and while we only had time to see a few, they were all gems. While some of the falls require a good hike or a drive on forest roads, there were enough close to the highway and on paved roads to accommodate our low-clearance car and creaky knees.
Since Diamond Lake sits 5,190 feet above sea level, and Roseburg's elevation is 459, both the river and the highway descend over 4,700 feet in the seventy-six miles between the two points. This drop in elevation creates beautiful rapids in the clear, green river and there were lots of places to pull off and access the riverbank on the way down.
The US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management share management of the Umpqua River along the stretch between Diamond Lake and the small town of Glide. This means lots of pleasant campgrounds, often close by a waterfall. The BLM has created a particularly nice park and overlook at the "Swiftwater Recreation Site." They have created a handicapped-accessible fishing platform at the site, where we enjoyed watching the fishermen, and the big jumping trout they hoped to catch. There is a bridge across the Umpqua to give hikers and bikers access to the trail that runs alongside the river for more than seventy miles. From our vantage point on the fishing platform we enjoyed watching incredibly acrobatic swallows who have cleverly figured out how to use the tiny drain holes on the underside of the bridge for nesting sites. As the birds approached these little holes they never slowed down, yet always managed to zoom right up to, and into these 4-inch wide openings. How they applied the brakes and didn't crash into their babies we couldn't figure out!
At Glide we pulled off the highway to see the point where the North Umpqua and Little River meet head-on, the only place in the world where this happens. With the low water of summer, we didn't see much of a collision, but during winter floods or spring runoff, this spot deserves its name of "Colliding Rivers."
After Glide, we were back in civilization, and began to see lumber mills as we neared the outskirts of Roseburg. We turned south when we reached I-5, headed for that casino, but with very pleasant memories of an exceptionally beautiful drive through some of Oregon's mountainlands.
Barbara and Glenn
Unless otherwise noted, text and photos are the property of Glenn and Barbara Halliday, © 2007