Monday, September 24, 2007

Right Angle Viewpoint

This is an interesting area especially geologically. Millions of years back this area was on the flanks of a once large volcano of the West Cascades Geologic Province. The thick layers of pumice and pyroclastic deposits that are common here indicate that. Erosion of the former cone has been so extensive that its location cannot be determined. Hot springs -Bagby 4 miles to the south and Austin 7 miles to the east - indicate still-hot magma not very deep down. A quartz-vein mine and quartz outcrops near Pansy Basin indicate the past presence of once deeply buried magma in the next valley east of Bagby. Like virtually the entire Cascade Mountain range, all the rocks here are volcanic.

None of this gives definitive information linking to any single volcano however. The two hot springs are at low elevation and do not necessarily indicate location of any former peak. Quartz veins form adjacent to bodies of magma so likely are some unknown distance from any volcano fed by that magma - and some bodies of magma never make it to the surface. The eruptive deposits in the Baty Butte - Right Angle Viewpoint area certainly indicate a position downslope from a volcanic peak - but what was the direction of that slope? Once flat deposits could easily been tilted in any direction by later mountain uplift, and the chaotic structure of volcanic deposits often gives little indication of slope anyway.

On the drive up, easily spotted pyroclastic deposits across the bridge from Freyer Park likely originated from the general Right Angle Viewpoint area, but millions of years of erosion may have masked another stream valley source. Their location 20 miles distant does indicate a high volcano to provide the momentum to travel that distance.

The drive up follows the Molalla Forest Road, most of which was once privately owned by Weyerhauser Logging. Most of the Old Growth timber in the Molalla drainage went down this road directly to mills on the Willamette, all on unregulated private road.

The road is reached through the town of Molalla and the district of Dickey Prairie. A distinctive feature alongside the road is The Molalla Eye. Part submerged in the clear Molalla River, this is a radial set of basalt columns. Normally these columns form in a vertical position. They are created during the solidification process in the lower, slower cooling part of a lava flow. Geologists once assumed that these were basalt crystals, but a closer look shows that they are actually shrinkage cracks, similar to those in mud.



The Molalla Eye




The circular nature of The Molalla Eye is so different from the norm to beg explanation. Most likely a lava tube cave was refilled by new molten lava. As cooling proceeded from all sides rather than from top and bottom, columns formed in this circular pattern instead of the typical erect fashion.

After the eye the route immediately passes a narrow section with high cliffs before entering a broader portion of the valley. Past the road crossing of Lost Creek, a left turn onto an unmarked road on BLM property climbs quickly to the unmarked trailhead, which is past the highpoint of the road, at about 4400 feet (1345 meters). The trail quickly reaches the Molalla - Clackamas watershed divide. The entire route taken today meanders back and forth between these two watersheds and includes parts of three subwatersheds - Blister and Stroupe Creeks connecting to the Clackamas, and Lost Creek draining to the Molalla.



One spot along the Clackamas-Molalla divide




Watershed boundaries can be at knife-edged high peaks (Baty Butte), along long steep ridges (Right Angle Viewpoint) or along gentle slopes with only slight changes in slope angle (like the spot pictured to the right or the trailhead area).



A viewpoint along a small spur road past the trailhead looks down on Lost Creek Canyon and Lost Creek Meadows. The upper portion of Lost Creek is a classic example of glacial widening of the highest portion of a valley; just below the glaciated section is a very narrow, cliffed canyon formed exclusively by water erosion. Lost Creek has another secret - it once flowed north into what is now Wear Creek and down to the Clackamas.



This notch marks the former route of Lost Creek




For unknowable reasons it now makes an almost 180 degree arc and heads towards the Molalla. 600 feet (185 m.) of elevation separates the two routes now, resulting from the power of glacial erosion.

The upper, glacial portion of Lost Creek Canyon is filled with mixed conifer forest, meadows, rock cliffs and boulder talus. The road that once followed the creek has been removed. Some of the broad glacial valley was logged some decades ago. A strange ditch system was constructed at that time, with the excavation spoils forming a high wall along it. This runs along both sides and the headwall in a more or less square pattern. Built to contain a slashburn? Certainly overkill for that but possible with a "bigger is better" mentality. A fireline built during a wildfire? No sign of a recent wildfire exists here. A vain attempt to control the natural drainage in this wet canyon? As the ditch runs little or no water, it has little effect here. A continuous high water table along the entire slope creates wet soils in this canyon, not surface drainage. Whatever the intent of this sizeable structure, it has little impact other than to annoy off-trail hikers and to provoke wonder at why it is there.



Young Noble forest in Lost Creek glacial canyon






A young forest dominated by noble fir with some Douglas fir mingles with shrubfields and wet meadows across the clearcut canyon. The wettest soils here do not grow conifers, nor do the rockiest. Formerly a trail dropped down the headwall slope into the canyon. This route can be followed on the flats where Lost Creek originates, but it is lost in the lush wet steep meadows in the highest part of the headwall slope. To the left of where this abandoned trail drops into Lost Creek canyon is a slight highpoint with glacially-created cliffs. The view is partially screened by trees.



Thunder Mountain



On this hike I headed south on the recently reopened (but long abandoned) trail which now reaches June Lake in five miles (8 km). Still abandoned trails formerly reached the Nohorn and Bagby areas.

The first open view is to Thunder Mountain, a 5185 ft. (1580 m) peak two miles (3.25 km) off to the east. It is reachable from here by following a combination of obliterated road and abandoned trail. There is also a newer unmarked USFS trailhead on the south (right) side of the peak. Skookum Lake is nestled on the north side. Before the 1996 floods the Fish Creek Road passed about 100 yards from that lake. The floods caused such severe damage to the poorly designed road network that the USFS eliminated over 100 miles of both gravel and asphalt road, so that access from the north now is around a dozen miles over obliterated road. I'll be posting about hiking to Thunder Mountain soon.

The trail climbs stairstep-fashion with alternating steeper and more gradual sections. High cliffs soon make their appearance, providing views into the upper Clackamas basin. Visibility west into the Molalla never fully opens up due to the dense forest.

To the north Baty Butte makes its debut from an open rocky clifftop. An older name for this 5052 foot (1540 m) peak is 'Old Whitespot". The salient feature behind this name is a large U-shaped pumice bed exposed high on the south side in a shallow incurved slope. Surrounded by mudflow deposits below and capped with dense basalt, the pumice stands out well from just this one trail. The extensive open rockface is primarily ancient mudflow and extends down to the trail below. Mudflows are actually a mix of every size of materials, and rocks imbedded in the mass provide hand and footholds making for a simple rock scramble up from the trail to the pumice bed, and up to the top at the bare knife-edged near cliff at the top, visible left of the pumice. This is one of the most southernly outposts of Douglasia, a primrose family evergreen with bright flowers each June.

At the time of the pumice eruption, a stream channel had cut into an earlier mudflow, which subsequently filled with pumice. The bottom layer of pumice is pure white, but then black basalt rock from the eruptive vent was included in the mix. Following all this, lava covered the mudflow and pumice, with remnants of that topping the mountain today.

The little vegetated bowl channels snowslides into a narrow chute hurtling over the trail and then a cliff of erosion resistant basalt before landing in Blister Creek canyon. Slide alder with a edging of Alaska cedar follows the chute - other vegetation can't survive the avalanches.



Baty Butte
















Heading south along this trail its obvious how little human use this area gets. The only readily identifiable tracks were of elk.


Elk Tracks at Right Angle Viewpoint








Its not that this area has not attracted human attention in the past. Usually excess runoff is handled with a simple dirt ditch. Near Baty Butte several stone lined ditches were constructed by some forgotten Forest Service worker. The picture below is of the only one no longer carrying summer water.



Drainage Stonework






Another feature showing that this area was a focus of volcanic deposition on the flanks of a major volcano is seen in windthrown trees. In some spots the soil around the roots is made up entirely of pumice. This is an exposure about a yard (meter) deep, but unrevealed is how deep the pumice goes. And was this bed from the same event that gave nearby Old Whitespot its name, or some other? The number of eruptions millions of years ago in the Western Cascades Province was no doubt large.

Deep Pumice Beds





The trail zigzags up and finally travels just below the ridgetop in the thick old growth forest on the Molalla side. Occasional closed-in views to the west are too limited to be sure what is being seen between the trees. The forest floor has extensive carpets of pink-flowered betony, an effective muscle relaxant.

The route finally crosses the ridge at about 4900 feet (1500 m). The trail is now Right Angle Viewpoint. I named it because Mounts Hood and Jefferson are at a 90 degree angle from here. An extensive exposure of ancient mudflow, crumbling and unstable, is little vegetated and treeless. The picture below is across the Cascades Range to Olallie Butte in the distance. See this earlier 2007 post for more on the Olallie Scenic Area, and this one.




Olallie Butte and the Cascades from Right Angle Viewpoint



The very steep east face of the ridge is soft enough to sink a foot into, so it is climbable. A fall however could be disastrous. I picked my way down and across to photograph close up a most peculiar feature (pictured below). Apparently Flow Face consists of pyroclastic deposits that were hot enough to weld together and form erosion resistant layers that now have been naturally excavated from the surrounding pyroclastic material.




Flow Face






This trip was late for most flowers, though a variety of drought tolerant types exist on the slope around Flow Face. Most of these bloom early, going dormant for the summer dry spell. Young spirea plants were blooming in white; and some plants of the mountain goldenrod were in bloom on the slope at Right Angle Viewpoint.



Mountain Goldenrod


















Purple Coralroot in seed






This leafless saprophytic orchid is so deeply purple that even the seedpods shown here are strongly the flower color. Its a common plant in the deep humusy conifer forests of the Northwest. It makes a living from decaying forest duff and produces no green chlorophyll. It no longer needs leaves so they have degenerated into mere semi-transparent sheaves.









Mushrooms aplenty



Speaking of saprophytes, this hike in late summer or early Fall will reveal many types, especially in the mushroom family. No member of this group develops chlorophyll. Most are saprophytic and a few are parasitic.












Here a saprophytic mushroom fruit cluster is being parasitized by another mushroom. The white filaments is the body of the parasite mushroom. In most mushrooms these filaments are hidden underground or in decaying wood, with only the 'fruit' or mushroom showing.










This bright coral mushroom is considered a primitive form, without the specialized spore-producing gills, pores or teeth of other types. The spores are produced on the branched fruiting body instead.

1 comment:

Katherine said...

What a beautiful set of posts Bryon. I just found your descriptions after googling for a few of the new Metro nature areas. I've been looking for some trails and guides for outdoor day trips in Clackamas county - similar to Houck and Cody's Portland-focused "Wild in the City." You have a great start here for a similar guide. Thank you so much for sharing.