Thursday, July 24, 2014

Beargrass and Mosquitoes

It's time to explore the McKenzie Highway!

Day three of our July 4th camping trip, I talked my hubby into making the short drive from our campsite at Clear Lake to a trail off the McKenzie Highway.

The beargrass is blooming!

The McKenzie Highway (aka Oregon State Hwy 242) is a steep mountain road that winds its way up through the Cascades until it reaches McKenzie Pass, elevation 5,325 feet.  Snowstorms make plowing difficult, so the highway is closed every winter.  I'd never before traveled this road, and heard it offered great views and lots of good hiking trails.  We were so close, it was a perfect opportunity to check things out.

Bear wants some bacon

But first Roger made a hearty camp breakfast - hashbrowns, eggs and bacon!  The smell of frying bacon held Bear's attention.  We did share a small bit with our doggy.

Benson lake trail

Then we piled into Roger's truck and headed towards the day's destination - Scott Lake Trailhead.  Once on the McKenzie Highway, I immediately realized why this road is closed every winter.  It was winding....and narrow.....and really, really steep!  The lanes were barely wide enough for Roger's big pickup.  Some of the sharp curves were so tight, it forced us to slow down to almost 15 mph.  It was a slow go.  And Roger was none too happy about driving through such tight switchbacks.

Tons of beargrass was blooming
But the scenery was wonderful!  Dense dark green woods lined the roadway.  As we climbed higher, I began to see the forest floor was covered with white poofy beargrass.  And it was thick!

Finally, I spotted the turnoff for Scott Lake Trailhead.  We bumped down a gravel road for a short distance until I spotted the sign for Benson Lake Trail.

Lodgepole pine

We made it!  I hopped out of the truck to put on my hiking boots and was immediately swarmed by a cloud of mosquitoes.  Apparently we'd timed our arrival for peak mosquito season in the high country.

While I laced up my boots, Roger slapped and swatted the pesky critters.  Finally, he could take it no longer.  Grabbing Bear's leash, Roger said he needed to start moving.  He offered to  hike up the trail a ways, and meet me at Benson Lake.

Beargrass valley

Today's hike of choice was a short 1.5 mile trek to tiny Benson Lake.  I secretly hoped Roger and Bear would be content with hanging around the lake, and I could continue on to the summit of nearby Scott Mountain.  But not only were the biting bugs thick today, temps were also heating up.

Lovely reflections in a nearby pond

The trail began in a forest of gnarly old lodgepole pine.  White fluffy beargrass plumes lined my path, making tempting photo subjects.  Last year had been such a good year for beargrass, I didn't expect to see such large amounts of it blooming once again.

Beargrass reflections

As long as I kept moving, the mosquitoes left me alone.  But once I stopped to say, take a photo, it was as if I'd rung the dinner bell.  Luckily I was wearing pants and a long sleeve shirt, and this helped shield most of my exposed skin.  Although the day was hot, I chose to keep myself covered up.

Benson Lake

The trail climbed all the way to Benson Lake.  The high elevation forest wasn't as thick as the forests on the west slopes of the Cascades, and bright sunlight beat down upon me.  Sweat poured out of my body, and dripped down my face.  If it wasn't for the lovely beargrass show along the way, hiking this trail wouldn't have been much fun.

Gnarled old tree

About a quarter mile from the lake, I ran into Roger and Bear heading back.  Roger said the mosquitoes were too bad for him to sit around the lakeshore.  He'd decided to return to the trailhead, and would meet me at the truck.

Yet more beargrass

I finally arrived at Benson Lake.  It was a pretty blue mountain pond, rimmed by cliffs on one side.  A couple of nearby small ponds had great reflections of the adjacent trees and plants in their waters.  I wandered around with my camera, recording some of the sights.  But the biting pests buzzing around my head wouldn't allow me to linger for too long.

Beargrass macro shot

Since Roger was already grumpy from having to drive that narrow windy road, and endure the heat and biting mosquitoes, I didn't want to make him wait too long for me.  So my time at Benson Lake got cut short, and continuing on to Scott Mountain was out of the question.  Back down the trail I traveled, stopping to snap an occasional shot of beargrass.

A relaxing afternoon at camp

After a harrowing drive back down the McKenzie Highway, I treated my hubby to an ice cream bar at the Clear Lake resort store.  Ice cream always makes everything better!

Despite the heat and annoying bugs, I enjoyed my short trip up McKenzie pass, and hope to return again soon.  Although the next day we had to pack up camp and return to the "big city," it was nice to spend a quiet 4th of July weekend exploring a new part of Oregon.

Sharing with:  Weekend Reflections and Weekly Top Shot

Monday, July 21, 2014

Waterfalls of the McKenzie

I didn't mean to keep everyone hanging so long, waiting for part two.  But....sadly life (aka my real job) gets in the way of other fun stuff (such as taking photos and blogging about them).

But now without further adieu......I give you day two of our July 4th camping trip!

Clear Lake in the morning

If you read my last post then you know my hubby and I decided to spend July 4th weekend up in the Cascade mountains camping.  We chose a lovely spot at Clear Lake, and had a wonderful first day checking out it's shores.

Roger and Bear ready to hike

Day two, we were ready for more exploration.  A mile from our campground was the McKenzie River trail, which of course followed the McKenzie River, a whitewater mountain stream.  Along this trail were two impressive waterfalls - Sahalie and Koosah Falls.

Our trail for the day

Roger, Bear, and I began our hike following Clear Lake's grassy shoreline, offering occasional glimpses of it's lovely blue-green waters.  At a junction, our path left the lake, and plunged into an old-growth forest full of huge Douglas Firs.

The trees were ginormous! (photo by Roger)

It wasn't long before we heard the rushing waters of the McKenzie River.  The trail led us across the highway and began to parallel this lovely churning stream.  The water, originating from the springs above Clear Lake, was tinged with a hint of blue.

Lovely McKenzie River

Our hike today was a short 4.6-mile loop.  We'd first traverse the east side of McKenzie River, taking in the developed (aka "touristy") overlooks for both waterfalls.  Then, our trail would turn and cross the river, leading back across the western bank, for another view of both cascades.

Posing on the log bridge

Our loop began at a rustic log footbridge over the McKenzie.  We'd cross this on our return trip, but both Roger and I couldn't resist climbing up and checking out the river.  Plus, the bridge made for some great photo ops!

My boys on the bridge

Even Bear followed us up there!

This squirrel was hoping for a handout

As I was packing up my camera, Roger spotted a squirrel cautiously creeping across the bridge.  The little guy was obviously used to being fed by hikers, and I think he was hoping for a handout.  Mr. Squirrelly didn't get any grub from us - but he did get his picture taken multiple times.

Sahalie Falls

Not far from the footbridge, I began to hear the sound of water roaring.  Our trail became more developed, with log handrails to protect visitors from falling into the steep canyon below.  This path led us to a large overlook, and there before us was the raging torrent of Sahalie Falls.

One of the many river overlooks

At 100 feet in height this waterfall, swollen by snowmelt, resembled a thick firehose.  Spray swirled up from it's base, dampening my camera lens even though I was nearly a football field's length away.  Due to poor lighting and interference from other visitors, I was disappointed with my photo attempts.  But I'm including one image here, so you get to see it anyway.

Koosah Falls

On to the next waterfall!  Another half mile of following the lovely McKenzie brought us to Koosah Falls.  I liked this cascade much better.  Although shorter than Sahalie, (only 70 feet in height), it was thinner and more delicate than it's big sister.  And it had multiple water streams flowing down the cliff face.

Koosah Falls zoomed out (photo by Roger)

Later research explained the origin of the waterfall's unusual names.  "Sahalie" meant such things as "top," "sky," and "heaven" in Chinook jargon (which was the old trade language of Northwest Indians).  "Koosah" also meant "sky" or "heaven" in Chinook.

Ultra-blue waters of the McKenzie

After checking out the wonderful developed overlook for Koosah Falls, Roger and I continued along our riverside path.  We came out at a dam above a small reservoir.  Crossing the river on a road over the dam brought us to the western side, and the return trail.

Roger perched on the cliff's edge

The western trail was less developed, and much rougher.  I climbed over rocks and tree roots, watching my every step.  The riverbank began to get higher, and steeper, until it became a tall cliff.  It was there that we came upon Koosah Falls once again.

His shot of Koosah Falls (photo by Roger)

It was fun to see this waterfall from a different angle.  However, there were no handrails or developed overlooks here.  Roger perched precariously on the cliff's edge to snap a couple of images.  I edged as close as I dared, but not wanting to make the evening news, stayed a good distance away.

Tiger lily!

Then we continued on, up the path, climbing through the forest.  I spotted a few flowers still blooming - tiger lilies, and a couple of gorgeous white Cascade lilies.  We ran into quite a few groups of mountain bikers.  I was surprised to see so many people riding bikes on this rocky, narrow trail. 

Our trail went right through this downed tree

Especially when the trail crossed a downed tree via a makeshift staircase!  Wonder how the bikes rode over this?

Another view of Sahalie Falls (photo by Roger)

By now the sun had risen high in the sky, and things had begun to warm up considerably.  But passing by Sahalie Falls one last time, the spray from this churning monster cascade provided a nice cooling mist.  Refreshed by this unexpected shower, Roger and I headed for the footbridge, and our campsite.

Cascade Lily

By this time our poor old doggy was beginning to flag.  We didn't want to leave him alone at our campsite, so he had to come along.  Bear did pretty good up until the final mile, when his ailing back legs began to act up.  But old Bear was a trooper, and was able to make it all the way back to camp, where he curled up and slept the afternoon away.

Heading back to camp

A lovely hike indeed!  It was great to be able to access this trail right from our campsite.  It was such a beautiful path I was tempted to sneak out and do it again.

We spent July 4th eve peacefully sitting by the campfire (no fireworks allowed in the National Forest) with a tired doggy snoozing nearby.  But I was already planning the next day's hike - a trip up McKenzie Pass to explore a high alpine lake. 

Check back for my next post, and I'll tell you all about it.

Sharing with:  Saturday's Critters and Our World Tuesday.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Campin' at Clear Lake

With Fourth of July weekend approaching, my hubby and I wanted to get away.  On the 4th, there's so many fireworks shot off (both legal and illegal), our neighborhood resembles little Beirut.  Tired of being in the middle of the blast zone (not to mention trying to calm our terrified dog), Roger and I decided to head for the mountains.

The lake

Time to explore a new place!  Our destination - Clear Lake, high in the Oregon Cascades, situated between Santiam and McKenzie Passes.  It came highly recommended by one of my co-workers, who'd recently camped there.

Our killer lakeside camping spot

Since we didn't have reservations, Roger and I both took vacation July 3rd to beat the holiday rush.  Leaving Portland early that morning, our plan worked like a charm.  Not only did we get one of the walk-up campsites, we scored a killer lakeside spot.

The reflections were nice

Clear Lake totally exceeded my expectations.  Such a gorgeous place!  Situated high in the Central Oregon Cascades, just west of Mount Washington, this body of water was created when an ancient lava flow dammed the McKenzie River.  The spring-fed water bubbling into this basin makes the lake so clear you can see all the way to the bottom (yes, this lake was very appropriatly named!)

The guys trying some fishing

Due to it's clarity, the lake's water was a fetching shade of blue-green.  The shores were ringed on three sides by lovely old-growth forests.  The fourth side was cleared due to the lava flow.  But the rough, black lava was quite interesting, and scenic in its own way.

A few tiger lilies hangin' out

After setting up our camp, and cooking brats over the campfire, I was ready for some exploration.  A few short steps from our tent got me to the shore of Clear Lake.  The banks here were very brushy, but a couple of clearings provided access.

Lovely evening water patterns

A 5.5 mile loop trail circled Clear Lake.  You know me, of course, I had to hike it!  Leaving Roger back at the campsite with our old dog, I headed 'round the lake counterclockwise.

Bratwurst roast

I started out in the campground, passing by other campers, all enjoying the forested shade on this hot summer day.  Approaching the boat dock, I observed a few kayakers and fisherman in rowboats.  Motorized boats are not allowed here, which I loved.  The motorboat ban attracts a totally different crowd, usually those who want a quiet, serene outdoor experience.

Trail around the lake

And then, I hit the lava beds.  The cool forests gave way to barren ground and direct sunlight.  Very hot direct sunlight.

Hiking through the lava fields

The dense, black lava rock didn't help matters.  It felt as though the rocks were absorbing the sun's heat and reflecting it right back at us poor hikers.

Green water and more lava

Yeah, it was a very hot trek through the lava fields.  Thankfully, the Forest Service had constructed a paved path so that hikers didn't have to traverse the rough lava rock.

The water was an unusual color

Even though this portion of my hike was toasty, the lack of trees made for some great views.  Around every corner was another gorgeous cove, with glittering aqua-blue water.  Lush green vegetation surrounded the shoreline, adding to the color palette.

Two of the Three Sisters mountains rise over Clear Lake

At the lake's northern end, I passed by the "Great Spring" a rushing 300-foot long river that miraculously emerges from under an old lava flow.  The water in this pool was the clearest I'd ever seen.  It was an eerie metallic blue color and very, very cold.  I later read that the water from this spring maintains a constant 38 degree F temperature year-round, which prevents the lake from freezing in winter months.

Shoreline flowers

Rounding the northern tip of Clear Lake, I continued to take in some very nice views of the opposite shore.  Then the small resort building came into view.  The county operates a tiny resort with a restaurant, cabins, and rowboat rentals.  Rising above the forested shoreline, the tips of two of the Three Sisters mountains revealed themselves.

Wonderful reflections at the lake's outlet

I continued around another long inlet creek, which seemed to take forever to traverse.  Seeing more and more people on the trail made me realize the resort, and civilization wasn't far.

Beautiful forest

After hiking in solitude for most of the way thus far, it was a shock when I finally made it to the first set of cabins.  From there, I wandered along a gravel road, dodging bikes and people until arriving at the resort restaurant/general store. 

Trees and sky

The store sold a very limited selection of food and drink.  But a large bottle of ice tea called my name.  It tasted mighty fine to this hot, sweaty hiker.  I guzzled that bottle in no time flat.

More of the lake's green water

Refreshed, I was ready to tackle the final two miles.  The trail dived back into thick woods.  The cool forest was a welcome relief.  I passed by some enormous old-growth Douglas Fir trees.  I tried to capture one with my camera, but the image just didn't do it justice.

Pretty flowers

Then I crossed a log footbridge over the lake's outlet creek.  The water's colors here were amazing shades of blue and green.  Surrounding trees and bushes reflected themselves perfectly in the colorful waters.

Time for dinner!

Rounding the south end of the lake, I traveled by some lovely little bays.  The late afternoon light illuminated the water's color to a brilliant aqua blue.  And there were more amazing reflections.  Simply beautiful!

Baby ducks play in the water

I ended up back at our campsite just as Roger was putting baked potatoes and steaks on the grill.  It all looked so good!  Hiking around the lake had given me an appetite.  We finished our meal roasting "adult" marshmallows dipped in Bailey's Irish cream.  Highly recommended!

Mama and babies on a floating log

After dinner, Roger and I sat around the fire, listening to some baby ducks splash and play in the water below.  The peeping they made sounded almost joyful.  When I went down later to photograph these cuties, I spotted a mama duck and two babies perched on a floating log.  (All together now.....awwwwwwww!!!)

Tomorrow, Roger and I planned to visit two waterfalls within hiking distance of our camp.  I also hoped to hike one of the trails at nearby McKenzie Pass.  But those adventures will be part of my next two blog posts, so come back and visit!

Sharing with:  Our World Tuesday and Wednesday Around the World.