- Patrick Stoll
Oregon Wildflowers, A Legendary River, and an Enchanted Forest
Updated: Jul 24, 2019
In late June 2019, my wife and I had the opportunity to spend a week at a beautiful cabin in the woods near Camp Sherman, Oregon. We have stayed at the cabin many times over the years and will be forever grateful for the experience. As on most of our previous visits, we spent much of our time hiking, exploring, and relaxing at the cabin.
Early the first morning of our visit, I started the day with a short trail run around nearby Suttle Lake (this has become one of my Camp Sherman traditions). As I ran along the north side of the lake, I saw numerous Washington Lilies (Lilium washingtonianum) in bloom in areas that had been impacted by the B&B Complex Fire in 2003. I made the photo below during my run. Note: the lilies are named after Martha Washington, not the state, and are pretty much unique to parts of Oregon and Northern California.
Later in the day we drove back into Sisters, Oregon to ask the folks in the U.S. Forest Service office about snow levels and trail conditions associated with some to the trails we hoped to visit (we learned later that some of the information we received was not entirely accurate). That evening, we went for a short hike along the West Metolius River Trail, starting from the trailhead at the Canyon Creek Campground located about 5 miles north of Camp Sherman.
No mater how many times I see the Metolius, I am always amazed at the clarity of its spring-fed waters.
One of the river's more popular springs flows from the east bank a short distance downstream from the Canyon Creek trailhead. The panoramic image below is one I made during this hike. It is made from eight vertical exposures stitched together.
The next morning we headed off to the Iron Mountain trailhead at Tombstone Pass on State Highway 20. We were really looking forward to this hike. We had been there three times before, but had only hiked it twice - one year there was too much snow on the trail. We were a little too late one of the other two years. I say "too late" because the main attraction here (in addition to a great hike) is the amazing wildflower display at the Cone Peak Meadows along the Iron Mountain trail. It is not an exaggeration to refer to meadow area as a "carpet of wildflowers". The area cries out for the use of a polarizer filter on your camera to insure maximum saturation of the vivid display of colors.
As it turned out, we probably timed the hike just right - the wildflowers were at their peak and the trail was snow-free. We hoped that our luck would care over to the hike we had planned the next day into the Canyon Creek Meadow below Three Finger Jack.
Overnight a cold front passed through the area and dropped the temperature about 15-20 degrees. There was extensive cloud cover in the direction of Three Finger Jack. We decided to give it a try anyway. At the Jack Lake trailhead, a cold wind was blowing. Clouds socked in the area where we had planned to hike. It did not look promising. After talking it over, we decided to try a different hike, one we thought would put us in the sunshine we could see to the south. From the trailhead at Jack Lake, we were about 20 miles north of Sisters. We decided to drive to the Three Creeks area located about 20 miles south of Sisters. We knew there was too much snow to hike to the top of Tam McArthur Rim but we thought there was a good chance we could hike into Little Three Creeks Lake located below the rim. And that's what we did!
This next day was kind of a lazy day. We drove down to a picnic area along the Metolius where we read our books, had a picnic lunch and did a little more hiking along the river.
Later in the week we decided to drive over Santiam Pass to return to the west side of the Cascades (the side where Iron Mountain is located) to hike around Clear Lake. Near the top of the pass, we turned off onto an access point for the Pacific Crest Trail located near Three Finger Jack. The forest in this area had burnt in the B&B Complex fire in 2003. The new open space created by the fire facilitated the regrowth of bear grass (Xerophyllum tenax) throughout much of the area. A member of the lily family, bear grass grows from rhizomes. After a fire, new growth from the rhizomes can be almost explosive. The flowering "candles" that are so characteristic of bear were at their prime! With Mount Washington in the background, I made a number of photos along the PCT.
Soon after leaving the PCT, we arrived at Clear Lake, the headwaters of the McKenzie River. What an amazing lake! According to geologists, the lake was formed about 3000 years ago when lava flows formed a dam that backup of the runoff from Mount Washington and other nearby creeks. The consistently cold water of the lake has preserved parts of the forest that were flooded as water pooled behind the volcanic dam. The water is so clear that "ghost" trees can still be observed from certain areas.
After parking our car in the small lot near the picnic shelter, we began our hike along the west side of the lake. I am always struck by greenery and lush vegetation found on the west side of the Cascades. It certainly felt like we were hiking though an enchanted forest.
At the far (south end) of the lake, the water flowing from the outlet forms the McKenzie River. A wooden bridge spans the river at that location. As we made our was across the bridge, I looked downstream and saw what must have been a woodland nymph and her companion.
When we completed our hike we returned to our Camp Sherman retreat on the east side of the Cascades. At one point, later in the week, we did try the Canyon Creek hike once again but discovered that there was still too much snow in the meadows below Three Finger Jack for any wildflowers.
Eventually, it was time for us to return to Boise. As we were driving between Sisters and Bend, I pulled off at a roadside viewpoint to make a photo of the cloud-draped peaks to our west (I'm sure I must of been the first person to make a photo at this location). The panoramic image I created was made from nine separate vertical exposures. If printed at a resolution of 200 pixels per inch (with no upsizing), it would produce a 64" x 20" print.
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