Monday, December 17, 2007

Mount Talbert and Landslides

Built by volcanic outpourings, carved by ice age floods, Mount Talbert has some very steep slopes. Naturally enough some landslide potential exists. This mountain seems to consist mostly of grey andesitic flows which are quite resistant to erosion. The rock bones of the mountain are mostly near the surface. Only where deep soils have accumulated is land slippage likely.

The mechanics of most landslides are fairly simple. The section of ground destined to slide cracks loose from the remaining slope along a nearly vertical but curved surface and gravity tugs until the slide block rotates downward. The falling mass moves most quickly along the curved surface next to the remaining slope, so the top angles back towards the slip surface. The rotating block begins to break up from the bottom. This process often continues until the block disintegrates, but an equilibrium can be reached, stopping the process - part of the block stops in place, freeze-framing the process at any point. I recently located such a slide on the west side, above some apartments.

Just below the Loop Trail is the sudden drop characteristic of a slip surface. The drop is some thirty feet. A game trail tracked by deer passes over a seepage area onto the hummocky top of the frozen-in-place slide. Many hummocks are made as the slide block breaks up. Some firs rode the slide and survived, slanting strongly towards the mountain. Adjacent trees on different hummocks slant at different angles while those on a single block angle the same. The trees in the decades since this land movement grew upright, bending the trunk.

Park Improvements in West Linn

West Linn Wilderness Park has just been linked to the adjacent Camassia Natural Area with a new trail. The city park and what is The Nature Conservancy's first purchase in Oregon have always been contiguous, but old tracks connecting the two have slowly closed in with poison oak and other shrubbery. The new route starts at the low point of the trail in the section of city park west of Clark Street. Slanting down a steep slope it passes a view of a boggy pond before joining the main trail system on the southeast corner of the scabland portion of Camassia. TNC has provided signage.

Joining these two makes a more useable open space for those wishing a bit of exercise. Both have their unique botanic qualities which complement one another. This rapidly developing area is blessed by these prime examples of nature in the city.

The Wilderness Park features a fir forest with much larger trees than usual. This area is just uphill from the first sawmill west of the Mississippi, and the woodland has been growing back from very early logging of probably 160 years ago. The biggest Douglas firs take three people to link arms around - nearly 5 feet wide and 15 feet around. The largest grand fir are nearly as big.

A hearty attempt to eradicate English Ivy began last summer but less than half the area is done. There are still remnant populations of many native woodland plants so hopefully they can spread once the ivy is gone.

Camassia Natural Area is positioned lower on the slope and has large areas with only a little soil over basaltic bedrock. Massive displays of deep blue camas peak in April, and other flowers, some very rare, add to the spring show. Dwarfed oaks are scattered about, but much of the thin soil area is treeless. Wildflowers in Western Oregon are usually limited by the dense dark forests, but here they grow lustily and provide a solid display in the sunshine.

Licorice fern, Oregon grape and mid-sized oaks at Camassia Natural Area

Google Map of the two natural areas

Monday, October 15, 2007

Beetles, Fire and Changed Environments

Unlike most of the posts this Blog Action Day, this one won't be about human-caused pollution or overpopulation or resource depletement. Rather I'll tell the tale of the environmental losses caused by a tiny beetle

I first met with this insect while working for Kurisu International, a high-end Japanese landscape design / build firm, some twenty years ago. We would find the telltale heavy pitch flow caused by the female beetle tunneling under the bark to lay her clutch of eggs. Sometime sawdust would be present. The only cure was to dig out the bug, or death to the pine would be sure. We called it the pitch beetle, due to the obvious pitch usually near the base of the tree, but sometimes up the trunk near branches. Unfortunately, most homeowners did not recognize the risk revealed by this pitch. Once hatched, the many larvae each consumed its own tunnel, with a fan shape quickly forming. If the pine did not die that year, it certainly did the second, as many more beetles were present then. Many a handsome landscape pine died. No tree-sized species seemed to escape. and no chemical spray was effective against it, as it was protected under the bark.

The same process is occurring in the Cascade Mountain forests. All types of pine can succumb to this problem. One year some or many pines will die, and the second sees the loss of most or all of the mature trees old enough to have thick bark. Young thin-barked saplings are not affected. One season after dying, the bark falls in lodgepole pines, with the heavy bark of white and ponderosas lasting several years. In two or three years, the lodgepoles begin to fall to the ground, and in ten to twenty most are gone. Again, with the massive white and ponderosa pines the big boles last much longer, with isolated snags still present after the lodgepoles are part of the forest duff.

What are the environmental effects of this loss?

Alteration of forest makeup
In the Olallie Scenic Area, the adjacent Warm Springs Indian Reservation and many other locations, all the mature pines died over a period of a few years. Some forests were pines almost exclusively for miles, all dead above a certain size.

Will the pines return over time? Will fir replace them? Or will meadows and shrubfields take over? Most likely all these will occur, depending on local conditions. Its clear that we just don't know, but certain is that these forests will never be the same. And of course they never have been before. Forests were more open two hundred years and more back, and only the high level of fire supression has allowed the thick woodlands of recent decades. And the beetle has opened the woods back up. The following has the potential to open them up much more.

In the foreground are pine dead for a year or more (no needles), those which died this year (red-brown needles still on the tree), and on the distant slopes the large grey areas are dead pine forest, with the deep green areas predominately fir forest. Looking east, with Olallie Lake on the left. This is environmental change on a large scale!

Fire Danger
All that dead wood becomes ready to burn each dry summer. Its both kindling and fuel for potentially massive burns. We lucked out with this summer, wet and cool as it was. Next year if hot and dry will likely see some big burns in the beetle kill areas.

Fire encourages lodgepole pine, most of whose cones release their seeds in response to the heat of a fire. The firs, now green and lush, will be the victims here.

The current scenic and recreational values will be greatly diminished. Two previous posts overview Olallie area outings and have more info - Olallie Scenic Area Highlands and Clackamas Headwaters Tour.

And forest fires are huge polluters of the air, especially by particulates. In the days before effective fire control, smoky summers were accepted as the norm for the Northwest. Nowadays they are an occasional nuisance, with Portland, Seattle and other Northwest cities getting rare health warnings about excess smoke and particulates.

Death to the beetle
The bark beetle has eliminated its food over large areas. They will die off virtually to nothing from their current spike in population. Without mature pine, they starve. So the pines, now seemingly on the ropes, will get their chance to come back in time. Fire will speed that process for lodgepoles and to a lesser extent ponderosas.

A small beetle has altered many miles of Western woodlands. A more open forest, with more flowers in newfound bright light, may be the result. Or perhaps in areas fire will come and return large areas to domination by pines. Time will tell us the results. With the large areas involved every possibilty may play out somewhere.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Blog Action day is Monday, October 15th, and the subject is the environment. Look for our special post on that day.
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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.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Alstroemeria "Ivana", Inca or Peruvian Lily

In my mother's garden the Peruvian lily held a place of honor. This was a tough, strong-spreading, spring blooming orange, tall and a little floppy. Later years saw extensive work by specialists on this genus. First came the Litgu hybrid series, mostly still tall and a little floppy, but in a wide range of colors. More recently (since 1998) the distinctive Princess series of Inca lily has entered the trade and it is so different that it represents a new class of plant.

Rather than tall and floppy these are compact, sturdy and self-supporting, growing 10 to 16 inches (25-40 cm) tall. These need no longer be relegated to mid- or back-border positions. Rather than a single though satisfying burst of bloom each spring, these continue until cold fall or winter weather. There are now 21 color forms available, with more likely. Yellows, whites, purples, orange, reds, pinks and multicolors are all available.

Ivana Inca Lily

These are vigorous enough to make a good groundcover yet not unduly invasive. They lend themselves to foreground placement in your borders. Picking harmonious color groupings adds a great deal, and makes gathering cut flowers easier.

Summer watering and adequate fertilization with a low to moderate nitrogen fertilizer will result in more blooms. One simple maintenance technique also results in better plant performance: instead of cutting to deadhead or gather cutflowers, yank the stem out of the ground with an upward pull. This will break the stem cleanly away from the buried rhizome. Underground the plant keeps a ready store of buds, which are stimulated by this to sprout and supply new growth and bloom.

Established plants can be divided to make more. Otherwise leave them alone to spread and prosper. Unlike some perennials, they can be left indefinitely without harm.

Cold Hardiness: zones 11 to 8, if well mulched zone 7
Heat Hardiness: zones 12 to 7
They grow in full sun to partial shade, with best performance with the most sun. In the hottest climates some shade may be required.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Osprey Bathing

We were surprised to spot an osprey bathing in the Clackamas River just below our house. Taking advantage of the broad shallows, the bird was taking its time. After watching for 5 minutes I attempted to get a photo. The osprey took offence before I was 100 feet away, and flew off.

All our osprey disappeared south during the first week of September, a little earlier than last year. During the Down The River Cleanup on Sept. 9th we observed three osprey upriver from here. So some tarry longer than others.

We had three pair fishing here, up from two last year. One pair always flies upriver to points unknown to me. The others head downriver to nests in cell phone towers. These towers are a major boon to osprey - large snags suitable for nest building are in such short supply that it is the major limiting factor in this population. Big cottonwood or Douglas fir snags are rare nowadays, and snags by definition are short-lived. A mammoth fir snag in Mary S. Young State Park on the Willamette River fell about 10 years ago, and a large cottonwood overhanging the Clackamas 4 or 5 miles upstream from here crashed down 3 years back. So its off to the cell phone towers for the osprey which were using those nest sites. The natural snags may take many decades to replace.

Its possible to build towers for osprey nesting. A telephone pole, some crossbeams, a few planks, at it looks like home to an osprey couple. If even a small handful could be scattered along the river the osprey population would greatly expand.

Monday, September 03, 2007


If its purple you want, you want this plant! The bright burgundy summer blooms intoxicate with their color, and look back at the viewer from their low perches atop sprawling perennial mats of leaves. The leaf reminds you of buttercups; but the blossom shows its true family alignment, with the mallows. The flowers are held one to a stem and can reach 2-1/2 inches (6.35 cm) across.

This grows around six inches (15 cm) tall on open ground. The stems grow strongly horizontal, and will climb up into adjacent plants and so appear to be taller. Its able to spread 2 or 3 feet (60 to 90 dcm) with those vigorous sideways stems.

Winecups grows and blooms lustily only during the heat of the summer. It begins to die back promptly with cooler weather towards Fall. It demands sun and takes well to dry conditions. Make sure it has good drainage but it doesn't need rich soil. Dry sandy soil suits it well, and cool wet clays limit its season as it is so insistent on warm conditions.

Winecups, Callirhoe involucrata

The thick fleshy roots lend themselves to division once its had time to spread.

Keep watered the first summer to get established, but then expect good drought tolerance. Mulch to control weeds especially the first season when foliage may be sparse. I haven't bothered to deadhead this one.

Cold Hardiness Zones 8 to 4
Heat Hardiness Zones 12 to 3
Full Sun only!
Native from Texas to Wyoming across the Great Plains.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Willow Gentian

Sometimes a plant is a standout of its type. Such is true of the willow gentian. Though almost all plants in the genus Gentiana share intense blue flowers, most are low growing, soon out of bloom and finicky to grow. Willow gentian grows a useful medium height, blooms August till frost, and given its preferred conditions is quite simple to grow.

The trumpet flowers of this leafy two footer (60 cm) are among the truest of blues -- dark and rich like the best of chocolates. They nestle in small clusters along the tops of the gracefully arching stems. They look up from their perches to show markings of white and yet darker blue.

Willow Gentian

They like cool shady nooks that you can keep watered in dry spells. Give them a good loose soil high in organics. They will award all your efforts with flowers from August on.

Give it plenty of room to allow the arching stems space to fully develop. A yard (meter) between plants is not too much. A shortcoming is its dislike of alkaline, free lime soils, much like an azalea. The dry regions most likely to have such soils naturally are also too hot for the willow gentian's liking.

You can make more by simple division in the fall or spring. Seed should be sown as soon as ripe, and cuttings can be sucessful. A white form exists, as does a dwarf blue one.

Gentiana asclepiadea
Willow Gentian

Grows wild from Central Europe to the Caucasus Mountains and Asia Minor.

USDA Cold Hardiness Zone 5a
Height to 2 ft (60cm), spreading 2-3 ft (60-100 cm), more with age.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Olallie Scenic Area Highlands

This expansive backcountry area is underappreciated by forest users, with almost all use limited to around the larger lakes at trailhead elevation. The higher elevations here give access to one of the most extensive regions of upper montane forests and meadows not on a high glaciated peak in The Cascades. At 7215 ft. (2200 m) Olallie Butte is the highest point between Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson. If you try this area out, you will find few other folks on the trail.

Family at an unnamed lake

On this outing I met only one other group - a young family of four with their dog. From northern Washington and used to the deep-canyoned, steep-trailed North Cascades, they found the comparative gentleness of this landscapen better suited to their growing family. The unnamed lake is a short hop off the trail. Its outlet was dry at this time, and I'm uncertain if it is part of the Clackamas or Santiam watershed.

The Ice Age glaciation of these highlands took the form of sheet glaciation rather than carving deep valleys. The ice sheets left behind so many water bodies that many have never received names. Hiking on any trail up here reveals a series of pretty ponds and attractive lakes.

This hike starts just of Forest Service Road 4220, accessible using Roads 46 and then 4680 or 4690. I started at Lower Lake Campground and proceeded south on Road 4220. No trail completes the loop hike planned, and the road gives access to some little-visited ponds and lakes which have little or no parking available.

Beaver Tarn

First stop was a mountain pool with no outlet. Its waters are strongly tainted with organics. Usually tannins and such are flushed out by an exit stream, but this old beaver pond has none. So the tannins and other chemicals build up, making the tarn tea-colored.

Two linear grassy strips cut across the pond and support some straggly trees. They are remnants of very old beaver dams. No sign of current beaver activity could be seen. The pond backs up to the roadfill but has never flowed across it.

Next up the road was First Lake. Limited parking exists here and a few primitive campsites are near the water. A trail follows the north bank (to the left in the photo) but peters out just past the lakes westernmost point. The outlet is also on the north near the road. It is choked with large logs too big to wash down the creek. Like all the outlets found on this hike, the outlet creek is dry during the rainless summer.

First Lake

The clear water supports salamanders and some fish. Like other glacial lakes nearby, this radiates out from Olallie Butte and the view from the west edge gives the length of the lake with the Butte on the skyline. Sunlight on Road 4220 is visible just past the lake, with the gravel rising towards the south.

Also visible in the background are grey patches of bark beetle killed lodgepole pine. The adults burrow their eggs under the bark, and the larvae fan out to feed on pitch, girdling and killing the pine in the process. The thin bark falls off in two years, exposing the tunneling that did the tree in. In around ten years the trees fall. Many thousands of this common pine have died. In fire-history areas the lodgepole made up almost all the forest, and the big trees are all gone. The young pines that have yet to mature their bark are spared, so we can hope that this insect epidemic will see the bugs run out of food and die out.

Beetle Tunneling

Fire danger will be higher with all this dead fuel around. The current cool wet summer has put an end to high fire danger this year, but next year could bring drought.

I reached the Pacific Crest Trail at Head Lake, one of the ultimate sources of the Clackamas River via Squirrel Creek. At first the route follows the divide between the Clackamas and the Deschutes drainages. After crossing and recrossing this divide the trail enters into the Santiam drainage.

Head Lake
with Jefferson behind

The Pacific Crest trail climbs from the lake. Many ponds and meadow areas can be seen along it. The first was some distance below the trail and had tannin-tinged water, indicating lack of an outlet.

Most of the area is quite rocky, with only the little soil that has developed since the glaciers melted. Occasionally the path enters deeper soils of unglaciated areas. The forest thickens, more undergrowth appears and everything looks more like a typical westside woodland, without the rocks and pines more common eastside.

Mount Jefferson from the cliff

High up the ridge a glacial dropoff provides stone seats for lunch. Mount Jefferson is on the skyine nine miles (14.5 km) distant. The cliff exceeds 100 feet (35 m) height. The view over the treetops extends from the south slope of Olallie to Double Peaks. Drought tolerant wildflowers and shrubs take advantage of the sun on the cliff face.

Glacial striations in Bedrock
just off Trail 2000

The faint, eroded glacial striations indicate the ice moved more or less at right angles to the cliff, which it helped create during the Ice Age.

North Side Mount Jefferson

The heavy crevassing of Russell Glacier is clear in this 8X telephoto of Mount Jefferson. The apparent secondary peak to the right of Russell Glacier is a remnant of the west slope of the once higher and larger mountain, cut off by the notch created by the glacier. Originally the slope would have been continuous to the original peak. Likely thousands of feet of rock have eroded off all sides of the mountain by ice, water and wind.

Cigar Lake

This rock-strewn lake was the high point of this hike at 5500 feet (1675 m). The sheet glacier divided at what is now the lake, with part flowing to the right in the picture and the rest directly into the camera. In that direction below the water down the very steep slope are springs fed by the lake. They support a colony of spirea and other wetland plants which is bisected by the rocky trail.

Cigar Springs and the trail

More trails are available in this area. Close by is the Double Peaks (5900 ft., 1800 m.) trail, which forks off at Cigar Lake. A second steeper route parallels the Pacific Crest Trail giving access to a different set of lakes. The Crest Trail heads south and two trails branching off it give access to the high terrain above Breitenbush Lake. Other forks pass more lakes on the way to trailheads downstream.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Clackamas Headwaters Tour

This excursion is one I set up for The Clackamas River Basin Council, and lead for them the first time this year. In it participants visit a series of springs and lakes all of which are headwaters of one fork or tributary of the far-flung Clackamas River. Date was July 8th.

We visited in order deep bright blue Little Crater Lake, teal-colored Clackamas Lake and nearby Forest Service museum, Summit Lake, Lower Lake, and Head Lake. Finally we barely passed out of the Clackamas watershed to visit Olallie Lake, store and resort.

Butterfly in the Trail

Though our group saw no single wildflower display to match that in Pansy Basin, there were a variety of sometimes unusual plants present in bloom. The peak of the Cascade Mountain butterfly season was only a week off, and we saw hundreds of them from several species - orange, black, white, blue and yellow colors usually with two or more per kind. A large black and white one was seen once; a pale yellow, orange and black one was very common.

Our route passed through the Summit area on Mount Hood with the intent of entering the Clackamas watershed on its northeast side and ending up in the southeast corner. This allowed us to traverse mid-elevation areas only lightly eroded as well as higher areas with many lakes due to sheet glaciation during the last ice age. Elevations visited range from 3300 to 5000 feet (1000 to 1525 meters), so includes mid-elevation sites up to the watershed boundaries. Much of the route (up Forest Service Road 42 and then 4220) was through dry piney woods with much eastside influence. Firs were always present but the pines dominated much of the area. A beetle infestation has killed thousands of pines in this region. Its a borer whose larvae girdle the tree. This is heavily affecting this region, especially lodgepole pine but also the larger white pine.

Little Crater Lake

Little Crater Lake is an artesian spring which has carved out a 45 ft (14 m.) deep lake in the soft siltstone. The pure, cold water displays a striking deep yet bright blue. It was named by comparison to the much larger water-filled caldera in Crater Lake National Park. You can see whole trees at the bottom, preserved by the 34 degree (1 degree C) water. Elevation here is the lowest of our stops at 3250 ft (990 m.).

White Bog Orchid

In the wet meadows the white bog orchid was making a show. (Habenaria dilatata). These sturdy perennials are quite obvious and showy spread throughout the acres of damp meadow. Other common names include bog-candle and scent-bottle.

Saint John's Wort

Another perennial flowering in the meadow was a St. Johns Wort (Hypericum formosum scouleri). Though related to the European species which sees use as an herbal anti-depressant, this one sticks to wet meadows, rather than dry ground. Weather it has herbal uses is unknown.

Next we visited Clackamas Lake, which has cold springs both in and just above the lake. This lake is tinted a teal due to Mares Nest algae growing there. Its not fully understood why this lake has so much that it colors the water. Perhaps temperature, perhaps something else or some combination of factors. Elevation here is 3400 ft (1035 m.)

Clackamas Lake

The lake is surrounded by wetlands and meadows which host a number of unusual plants. Betula glandulosa is a small birch which is common in the wetlands. This is very shrubby, growing 5 to 10 feet high (1.5 to 3 m). It is small leafed and not particularly ornamental. The swamp cinquefoil (Potentilla palustris) shares the wetlands around the lake with the birch. Its flowers are a dull dark red-purple, much unlike its usually yellow relatives. Potentilla is a large genus of the rose family, and includes both perennials and shrubs, some useful as ornamentals and offered in the nursery trade.

Just downstream from the lake is a Forest Service museum, housed in a 1930's Civilian Conservation Corps-built guard station. The structure was crafted almost entirely of clear fir, then widely and cheaply available. Twenty-foot long knotfree tongue and groove paneling line the walls. Such lumber can scarcely be found today at any price.

This small museum contains examples of early 20th Century equipment 70 and more years old, along with period photographs. The volunteer staff is talkative and informative.

USFS Cabin for Rent

We were also treated to a tour of a nearby cabin also part of the 1930's CCC legacy. Its now rented out for only $80 a night ($100 weekends). The two story structure has beds for 9, includes a kitchen and woodstove and a wonderful view at the edge of Clackamas Meadows, with old growth out the back.

Further down the road we visited Summit Lake. A mile off the road down an upgraded gravel road, it features picnic tables but no other facilities. The maps show a creek entering and exiting this lake, but in reality none exists at any time of the year. Springs and underground drainage must exist to keep the water level even. It will drop less than two feet from its depth during our visit by the end of summer. A similar rise would overtop the road, which judging from the complete lack of erosion never happens. This lake is inhabited by very shy ducks who keep to the untracked east shore away from people. Colorful dragonflys abound, and huckleberries fill the forest floor. At 4200 feet, this lake has both low and high elevation trees.

Heading down the 42 Road keep an eye open for 4220 painted in green on the pavement - with frequently disappearing road markers this has proven to be successful in guiding travelers. The junction is easy to miss. The route changes to gravel or dirt, following the old Skyline Road. Along the route Lemiti Creek and wetlands prove to be attractive. Once away from the creek the junction with FS Road 4690 is reached, with a better gravel road ahead for the rest of the trip. 4690 is a good return route to return through Estacada. Pavement is reached soon and then a high speed road most of the way back.

Heading south past the junction Olallie Meadows and Campground is reached on the left after a little more than a mile. The meadow is bisected by the boundary with the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Nearly 3 miles past this we stopped at Lower Lake Campground to access the trail to Lower Lake. The longest hike we undertook, the stroll to the outlet of Lower Lake is less than a 1.5 mile (2.25 km) round trip. Elevation here is 4740 ft (1445 m.).

Lower Lake

Unlike most viewpoints, you hike down to this one. This unimpeded view of Olallie Butte and the length of the lake is the reward for this short jaunt. Olallie is a young volcano with its most recent red-tinted cone obvious and little eroded. The far eastern side shows signs of glaciation, perhaps late in the last ice age. Its height is 7215 feet (2200 m.) and it is only 2 miles (1.25 km) distant.

The stony forest floor offers a scattering of wildflowers and many huckleberry plants of several species. Along the lake we found a butterfly hangout - about 25 in a few square feet. A single osprey flew off towards Olallie Butte and disappeared.

Head Lake

Only a mile down the road we rolled out of the vehicles to view Head Lake at 4935 feet (1500 m.). The ridge in the background framing Mount Jefferson is the boundary between the Clackamas and Deschutes River drainages. The Pacific Crest Trail follows that ridge. Head Lake's outlet is dry at this time of year, but signs of flow earlier are obvious. It is the head of Squirrel Creek. The mainstem Clackamas originates on the north side of Olallie Butte perhaps a thousand feet (300 m.) below the summit. The steep trail to the top passes close by the source. The Clackamas watershed collects about a third of the Buttes runoff, the rest running to the Deschutes.

Our final stop was Olallie Lake, just over the divide from Head Lake to the southeast. This mile-long lake is the largest in this glaciated region. We parked at the store lot. Cabins are available at the resort as are non-motorized boats. Two pair of Ospreys soared over the lake.

Our return route took us down the mainstem Clackamas River. We quickly left the dryer woodlands for the rainforest dominated by Douglas fir typical of the Western Cascades. Occasional views of the river and patches of old growth are a feature of this route.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Pansy Basin

This high glacial valley is of note floristically, geologically and hydrologically. It is located in the Bull of the Woods Wilderness Area at over 4000 ft. elevation. Locals can identify the area as being the next valley east from Bagby Hot Springs. Access is via Forest Service Roads 6340 and 6341. Two trails lead up the valley - the trail most traveled is the one on the maps, with a fairly even grade up the east side, and the hard to find older horse trail that crosses the basin floor and climbs (twice) the west valley wall. Early trail builders did not bother much with planning even grades for easier hiking - horses did the work. Distances then from the nearest road were much greater - in 1940 the trail to Pansy Basin was 25 miles, not one.

The Clackamas River Basin Council sponsored this excursion. I've lead these outings for a few years now, adding commentary similar to that in this article as we hike along.

Much of the basin is floored by a large post-glacier landslide including many blocks the size of furniture, even as large as automobiles. A guesstimate is for an event date 11,000 years back, probably not long after the glacier melted out from the valley. A look up the landslide scar on the west valley wall shows how it occurred. An ancient pumice deposit still hangs in a cliff above the boulders remaining from the slide.

Upper Pansy Basin
From Edge of Avalanche

Originally the soft pumice was fronted with hard basaltic rock, and the two separated, resulting in the rockfall. Only a little of the pumice moved. The slide is hundreds of feet long and its momentum carried it a ways up the far ridge. During extreme weather conditions, two lakes form atop these boulder fields, whose size is evident from shoreline deposits of trees and twigs. How is this possible?

Evidently the same rare conditions that bring flooding in low elevations are needed to form these temporary lakes. Cold temperatures freeze the soil, copious snow follows, and then the 'Pineapple Express' comes along - very wet tropical rainstorms that melt snow to the highest elevations and add many inches of rain too. These conditions make mountain travel difficult - snow and ice at low levels make for many miles in the cold rain on foot or ski in less than enjoyable conditions. Snowmobiles are illegal in the Wilderness Area though they could be used on the approach road to within a mile or so of the basin.

As no one has witnessed these two lakes, we must make deductions about them from the evidence they leave behind. The linear shoreline deposits of woody debris, including both small wood and whole trees, could only have been left by ponded water. No erosion features exist, so the high water must be short lived. The two lake sites are very different. The lower is deep and broad and consists entirely of rock just as left by the slide. The upper lakebed is mostly covered by organic soil washed in by the stream that enters over a falls from the east. Most of the time this stream simply vanishes into the rocky substrate beneath the soil. The lake however leaves behind a more spectacular record of its departure. The dried rushes and grasses which occupy the lowest levels of the lakebed are laid down in a circular pattern as the lake water wheels around the rocky openings which act as drains, circling just like water rapidly exiting a bathtub. The lower lake has a more subtle clue - the lichens growing on the boulders change below the high water mark. Evidently a species very common elsewhere on the slide does not tolerate the rare submergence events and leaves the lake locale to another species that does.

The disappearing waters of both lakes and stream reappears a mile or more downhill just past the parking area at the trailhead. During wet seasons springs appear uphill and squirt through the culvert walls beneath the Forest Service road.

Pansy Basin Falls

The stream flowing off Dickey Ridge into the basin has a pretty nameless falls. It drops into a rocky slot at its base and then flows off to one side towards the slide area. Early in wet seasons it reaches the meadow before disappearing, but at dryer times it is lost in the slide alder thickets which border the forest. Such was the case during this visit.

Vegetation zoning in Pansy Basin;
in the background rocks are
logs left on the temporary lakeshore

The meadow makes quite a show at its peak in late June. There are other areas with more floristic variety than Pansy Basin, but few with a better show. The clear vegetive zoning has deep blue larkspurs dominating the wettest, richest soils near the stream and red to orange Indian paintbrush in the dryer and thinner soils. Larkspur is there too but far fewer. In the low areas near the drains only rushes and grasses grow. Otherwise the salmon Jacobs ladder is scattered throughout the area, with the native orange columbine present in often rocky areas with only a little soil. 

Western Columbine

Cats ears are unusually abundant on the dryer sections. The European dandelion is present, no doubt brought in via horses decades ago. A few other species make scattered variations to the show.

Along the forest trail some forest floor plants were flowering well. Oregon anemone (Anemone deltoidea) was abundant in spots, as was Coralroot (Corallorhiza mertensiana). This leafless, saprophytic orchid is normally deep reddish purple, but we found a single very unusual yellow plant.

Oregon Anemone

A small lake is hidden away above Pansy Lake on the old trail. On this visit it was half dried up in comparison to the picture below from 2004. We are not sure why - this has not been a dry year, and snowpack was ample.

Green Lake

Pansy Lake itself though shallow is much larger. It is impounded by a hillock of moraine left behind in the final retreat of the glacier from this high valley.

Up the remains of the old trail from Pansy Lake (damaged in the 1996 floods) is a relict stand of 5 and 6 foot thick Douglas firs, all with fire scars from an ancient fire. That fire eliminated all trees but these few for miles in all directions. The lake no doubt broke the intense fire allowing these trees to survive. The yard thick veterans which have grown up since the blaze seem little in comparison with these Methuselahs. At this elevation (4200-4300 ft, 1300 m.) their size is surprising, and certainly indicates great age.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Siberian Perennial forget-me-not

This perennial flowers like the annual blue forget-me-not but without its weedy ways. Try this perennial forget-me-not to enjoy in a permanent clump-forming foliage plant.

Langtrees Siberian forget-me-not is a hearty grower in most soils as long as some extra moisture is present. It's a wet ground plant rather than a dry forest floor plant. though far from a bog plant. Do expect to water it in summer unless growing in a naturally moist soil or in a region with consistent summer rain. We sited it at the bottom of a slope with some natural seepage through late spring, and it seems to love it. In cool summer areas it will take full sun but in hot regions give it part to full shade. It needs about the same conditions as an astilbe.

The light blue flowers open in airy clusters over the plant late March into May or June with some bloom later. The heart-shaped leaves (up to 8 inches but smaller if dry or in the sun) are lightly variagated silver and remain attractive until winter. Other variations of this species can be more or less variagated, or just green. Expect moderate to fast growth.

If happy it can sprout from seed in places of its own liking. Divide in early spring or fall once it has expanded its rootstock.

In Photo: Brunnera macrophylla "Langtrees"
Heat Hardiness Zones 9 to 3
Cold Hardiness Zones 3 to 7
Height 12-18 inches, 30-45 cm
Spread to 24 inches, 60 cm, or more with age.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Osprey Back

The osprey have returned for the nesting season. Their high pitched call is most distinctive as the mated pairs scout out the 'home territory' they are reclaiming after a South American winter sojourn. In one case we observed a third osprey following the pair - perhaps last year’s offspring. The yearling is likely to find his or her own way before nesting begins in earnest.

We noted osprey last in mid-September. These eagle-sized birds (sometimes mistaken for bald eagles) fish for a living, and will have no other food. Their high-speed dives are easily the most spectacular activity among the wildlife we observe here. They hunt from stream-side perches and by hovering kestrel-like over the river. A guesstimate for their success ratio is about one out of three dives. Sometimes they grasp a large salmon and need to slowly spiral up to gain enough elevation to fly off to their home.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mount Talbert In The Snow

The spate of cold weather in January finally brought snowfall for the first time in three years. At our house about four inches fell, enough for me to get out the old Asnes Trends with the crack which I've saved for just such times. An odd combination of high camber racing and metal edged backcountry goodness, they carved christys well, cutting down to the underlying grass only in the turns.

Visiting natural areas in the snow gives you the opportunity to see things that otherwise are always missed. Animal tracks rarely show up in the thick duff of Pacific Coast forests. With fresh snow even a novice tracker will find tracks of several animals, even small ones otherwise never seen.

At Mount Talbert, only two inches were on the ground, not enough for optimum tracking as the larger animals - deer and coyote - will break though the snow, leaving indistinct tracks. A little searching along a track will bring up obvious ones despite this. Smaller animals leave very clear traces in these conditions.

The first track I noticed was rabbit. Following along the track was easy. Soon I found another set of tracks that joined alongside the rabbits - coyote! This fellows interest in the rabbit is strictly gustatory. A second coyote soon joined the track, and the two met, greeting each other, leaving a jumble of tracks - while the rabbit went into a brushpile to hide. No easy meal for the coyotes this time!

Rabbit tracks are round-toed, with the back foot usually leaving a long mark alongside a toes-only front print.

Following other tracks, it became obvious that various animals will use the same path. A open route is open for all. One unidentified large rodent was seemingly accompanied by a deer - but no doubt they were there at different times. The deer passed around fallen trees while the rodent went under.

Following the many deer tracks backwards, I soon found several beds, including these two where they laid during the snowstorm, keeping the ground bare in a curled-up deer pattern. Some of the leaves which was the cushion were shaken off when the deer awoke and lay on top of the fresh white snow. A second, smaller bed was a few yards off, and the animal had evidently slept with one leg stuck out. A third bed was found which was used the night after the snow had fallen.

Raccoons left clear tracks under these conditions. The front and back tracks are placed along side one another with the back print larger. Like us, raccoons are omnivores, eating meat, fruit, and eggs, and prefer to wash their food well. They are urbanizing well, needing only a small area of cover.

Some squirrel species have a Latin name that means "seed loving", and this describes their feeding habits well. Both ground and tree dwelling types exist, and ours are tree types locally. They spend some time foraging on the ground and so left tracks during this snow event. The elongated toes are adapted for grasping and climbing. In summer they busy themselves cutting conifer cones, dropping them to the ground and then hunting them up on the ground. Many are stored for winter; they will also gorge on the seeds, leaving the dismembered cone scales in sometimes large piles. These are usually near the base of a large fir, their escape route in case of danger.

Squirrel feeding at Mount Talbert