Thursday, January 17, 2019

Green Lakes Trail

After spending a splendid (albeit soggy) Friday exploring the amazing fall colors around Clear Lake and the McKenzie River (if you missed it, see that post here), I met up with my brother in Bend.  I had big plans to go on a hike the following day.  However, we woke up that morning to more rain.

Fall Creek lined in gold

The forecast didn't look very promising, calling for a cloudy, drizzly day.  We lingered around my brother's house until way past mid-morning, hoping things would clear.  Finally, getting a bit stir crazy, I suggested we pack our raingear and just go for it.  So we'd get a little bit big deal.

One of the lovely waterfalls on Fall Creek

I'd always wanted to hike the Green Lakes trail all the way to the Green Lakes.  Having only traversed a little over halfway to the famed lakes, this goal was high on my list.  My brother also was interested in exploring more of this trail, so he didn't take much convincing.

More autumn finery

We drove the Cascade Lakes highway to our trailhead in a pouring rainstorm.  A dry hike wasn't looking too promising.  But passing by Mt Bachelor a funny thing happened.  The sky began to clear.  By the time we reached the Green Lakes Trailhead, not only had the rain completely stopped, a tiny bit of blue sky was visible through the clouds.

Walking beside an old lava flow

Completely unexpected, but certainly appreciated, my brother and I hastily grabbed backpacks and started out on the trail before the weather changed it's mind.

Stormy weather to the south

The first part of the Green Lakes Trail (that I'd hiked twice before) follows Fall Creek.  Although gorgeous year-round, autumn colors put on a spectacular show, with golden bushes lining the creek's banks.  A few small waterfalls also added to the beauty.

Ultra-blue water

Two miles in we passed a junction with the Moraine Lake Trail.  After this, the forest thinned out a tiny bit and views opened up.  We got our first glimpse of South Sister through a clearing, and then began a short climb.

This path along the creek was the most beautiful of all

Emerging from the forest into another clearing, my brother and I came upon the most scenic portion of the hike.  Fall Creek wound through a wide plain lined with golden grasses and yellow bushes.  A huge lava flow rose up on one side of the creek, glittering with black obsidian.  Sunshine streamed down from the sky, illuminating everything in perfect light.

More golden bushes

As I looked back toward the direction we'd come, I noticed dark clouds hovering above the adjacent hills.  It looked as though rain might come at any minute.  But where we were standing it was nothing but sunshine!

South Sister

Normally an insanely popular trail, we'd seen maybe a dozen people thus far.  And most of those were heading back to the parking area.  It appeared that the inclement weather (or threat of) had scared most folks away.

Admiring South Sister from Green Lake

Climbing up to another wide-open plain, we were hit by strong wind gusts.  South Sister rose grandly from one direction, while Broken Top Mountain's craggy tip could be seen from the other.  Before us was the blue-gray waters of the largest Green Lake.  We'd made it! 

Beautiful place for a break

There are three Green Lakes in the area, all popular backpacking destinations.  But today we didn't see any tents, or for that matter, any people.  My brother and I followed a side trail to the shoreline of the largest Green Lake and ducked behind a stand of trees to escape the wind.  We had a killer view of South Sister - perfect place for a snack break.

Broken Top Mountain

After inhaling a couple of Cliff bars and some really good trail mix from my brother's backpack, I decided we'd better head back before our good weather window ran out.  So retracing our steps, we trekked back past the amazing lava flow and beautiful creek (with more photo ops).

The water sparkled in the sun

Although I was worried about rain returning, the skies remained sunny and dry the entire trip back.  As a matter of fact, sunshine and blue skies greeted us at the trailhead, illuminating the colorful autumn hues. 

Fall colors back at the trailhead

And Broken Top Mountain looked especially stunning with a dusting of snow.

Broken Top with a dusting of snow

My weekend ended with a trip to my daughter's home and another visit with her cute puppy, who was growing by leaps and bounds.

Cute grand-puppy pic!

Although the day started out wet, a surprise change in the weather made for a memorable trip along the Green Lakes Trail.  Gotta love Central Oregon!

Stats:  9 miles round-trip, 1150 feet elevation gain.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Autumn Color and Waterfall Extravaganza

Weary of the dull, gray January days?  This post is for you!

Continuing in my attempt to play catch up, I've made it to the photos from early October and my trip to Central Oregon's Clear Lake and McKenzie River.

Awesome sunrise over Detroit Lake

After visiting Clear Lake last year and witnessing some of the best fall colors in Oregon, I vowed to return again.  So I set aside the first weekend in October for a repeat visit.  Hoping to catch early morning light, avoid Portland's rush-hour traffic, and beat the rain that was forecast for mid-morning, I left home at an ungodly early hour.  But the perks of an o-dark-hundred departure?  Catching an amazing sunrise as I passed by Detroit Lake.

Fall colors were peaking at Clear Lake

Pulling into Clear Lake's parking area by 8:30 am, I was greeted by an amazing display of multi-hued vine maple leaves reflecting into the lake's aquamarine waters.  Fall colors were definitely at their peak.  Oh yeah!  This was exactly what I'd come for.

Vibrant reflections

Cloudy skies and humid weather made these vibrant leaves absolutely pop.

And more reflections

A five-mile hiking trail circles Clear Lake.  From the day use area, I opted to traverse the path in a counter-clockwise direction.  The first half mile hugged the shoreline, offering many vistas to view surrounding colorful bushes and their mirror images in the water.  Let's just say progress started out mighty slow.

Vine maple putting on a show

After copious photos, I managed to make it to the lake's very southern end.  Crossing a large wooden bridge spanning the McKenzie River (Clear Lake's exit point), I continued on past a deserted campground.

Colorful bay

Now following the eastern shoreline, I traversed a lava flow area.  This was one of my favorite spots for color - the bushes absolutely lit up with vibrant reds and yellows.

One of my favorite color spots

It was also here that I felt my first raindrops.  Uh-oh!  Time to pull on the raingear.  Guess the weatherman was right about today's forecast.

Multi-hued bushes

I continued my journey in a heavy mist.  Although it was difficult to keep my camera dry, the moisture on the leaves made colors especially vivid, and I just couldn't resist risking a camera dousing for more photos.

Scenic footbridge

I passed by the spring at the lake's northern end.  Bubbling out from the lava beds, it's Clear Lake's primary water source.  Supplying  the lake's incredibly clear water, this underground spring also keeps water temperatures between 43 and 35 degrees F, even during summer months.

The forest floor was a wash of color

Rounding the lake's northern end, I crossed a cute log footbridge surrounded by bright yellow foliage.  I then passed through an area where every leafed tree and bush displayed their autumn best.  The forest floor was a wash of color.  It was almost better than the lava fields!

Vine maple leaves

It was nearly 11:30 by the time I landed back at my car.  But the slow pace had been worth it - Clear Lake's fall colors were incredible.  Even better than last year's show.

Sahalie Falls

Still having the afternoon to explore, I headed down the highway to nearby Sahalie and Koosah Falls.  The day's rain had Sahalie Falls roaring.

McKenzie River

Then on to Koosah Falls.  A half-mile long trail connects the two waterfalls.  This path follows the banks of the scenic McKenzie River.  I made frequent stops to photograph it's boisterous, ultra-blue rapids.

Koosah Falls through the foliage

My first glimpse of Koosah Falls was through a screen of yellow vine maple.  Made for a nice composition, if I do say so myself.

Koosah Falls

There's only one viewing platform that gives visitors a full view of Koosah Falls, and even then I had to gyrate my tripod precariously to capture the full cascade.

Ultra-blue McKenzie River

Then it was another wonderful trip back along the McKenzie River to my car.

Even the leaves on the ground are pretty!

One final stop for the day.  I was close enough to revisit a favorite Central Oregon Cascade, Proxy Falls.  A quick drive up winding Highway 242 brought me to it's trailhead.

Vibrant vine maple on the path to Proxy Falls

By now the rain was coming down full force.  But no matter, I was already somewhat wet.  And again, the day's moisture made autumn colors along the trail absolutely pop.  The vine maple was simply stunning.

Scenic trail signs

A mile's trek brings visitors to first the upper falls.  The real show is at the lower falls, but access requires a bit of downhill scrambling.  I slid down the final slope, banging my knee, and dropping my tripod in the process.  But edging out onto the creek below Proxy Falls, the waterfall rose above majestically.  Covered in brilliant green moss and framed by fir boughs, it was a stunning setting.  The images I was able to capture were totally worth the trouble getting here.

Proxy Falls

By now my clothes, shoes, backpack, and camera were thoroughly soaked.  Time to head to my brother's house in Bend for some warmth and food.  I'd talked my brother into a hike for the following day, and let's just say it was going to be mighty spectacular. 

Continued in my next post.....

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Montana's National Bison Range

In Montana over the Christmas holiday, I was itching to put my brand-new zoom lens to work photographing the local wildlife.

Welcome to the Bison Range!

The day after Christmas my hubby and son planned to do a little bow hunting for deer.  With the men busy all day, I needed something to keep myself occupied.  Then I remembered the National Bison Range wasn't far from where my son lived.

Mountains emerging from the fog

Established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, this 19,000 acre refuge is home to nearly 300 bison.  This range is one of the last intact publicly-owned intermountain native grasslands in the U.S.

The mountain scenery was amazing!

Not only bison, this refuge also supports populations of elk, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, coyotes, mountain lions, bear, bobcat, and over 200 species of birds.  Just the place to give my zoom lens a workout!

Follow the snowy road

So after waiting until midday for the roads to thaw, I pointed my car northwards on Hwy 93.  Midway to my destination, I hit a patch of fog, and worried that it would persist.  But as I turned onto the final local road to the range, sunny skies chased the clouds away and I was rewarded with a beautiful Montana blue-sky winter day.

Snow-topped cattails

Because the bison range was a national facility, I wasn't sure if it would be affected by the government shutdown.  I fretted about driving all the way there only to find the place closed.  But turning off at the highway sign, I found the entrance gates wide open.  Yes!

Golden pastures

Driving towards the shuttered visitor center, the first thing I noticed were the mountains.  Rising up like a wall from the golden plains - they were breathtaking!  A few patches of lingering fog cloaked the highest peaks, adding to the scenic grandeur. 

Post Creek bordered one side

Only one main road through the refuge was open in the winter.  No matter, I was happy to follow the frost-covered route as it contoured over and around the range's rolling hills.

Water scenes

Lack of trees gave drivers fabulous front-row views of the towering mountain peaks.  Around every bend was another stunning panorama that I just had to stop my car for.  Instead of wildlife, my memory card began to fill with images of scenery.

Local deer

There were no other vehicles on this lonesome road through the park.  I drove about 15 miles before deciding to turn around.  I didn't want to get stranded in this remote area, and besides I hadn't seen one single buffalo.

Testing out my zoom lens

I was beginning to think my wildlife quest would be a bust when I spotted two does beside the road.  Slowly I edged myself out of the car, camera in hand.

This doe showed no fear

One doe was skittish, and quickly bounded away.  The other, however, didn't seem fazed having a camera lens pointed her way.

The one and only buck I saw

Further down the road, I saw one buck and got a couple fleeting shots as he retreated.

Magnificent views

The only other wildlife I saw were a dozen ducks and two Canada geese near the creek that formed the range's northern border.  Sadly, I wasn't able to get any good photos of either.

I couldn't get enough of the mountains


Grassy prairie

I really lucked out to visit on such a clear day.  The views alone were worth the long drive.

Lone tree at Ninepipe Reservoir

On my return trip, I decided to loop by the Ninepipe Reservoir, in hopes of finding some waterfowl to photograph.  Another national wildlife refuge surrounded this body of water, so I figured my chances of spotting birds would be good.

Snowy landscape

However, I found the lake frozen solid, and the surrounding landscape a snowy winter wonderland.  Oh well, at least there were more amazing mountain views.

Sunlight streaming through the grass

Although the bison were nowhere to be found, the amazing scenery surrounding Montana's National Bison Range was totally worth the trip.