Saturday, January 4, 2014

Tamolitch Pool - McKenzie River

Tamolitch Pool - McKenzie River
One of Oregon's utmost concealed treasures is the Tamolitch Pool, located on the upper reaches of the McKenzie River.  This unusual natural wonder is rarely scene by the average tourist.  An astonishing pool of frigid high alpine water that springs up from the ancient lava flow.
Tamolitch Pool is where the McKenzie River emerges from the basalt covered terrain.  Due to the porous nature of the basaltic lava in the area, water has a difficult time staying on top of the ground, especially in low water flow seasons.  From just below Carmen Resevoir the entire McKenzie River suddenly vanishes.  It flows underground for roughly 3.5 miles before silently bubbling back up at the place known as Tamolitch pool.
But before Tamolitch Pool can be discussed, you first must get there.  Being a part of the McKenzie River Trail, Tamolitch Pool can be reached from two different directions.  From the north you start at Carmen Reservoir and hike south following the "dry river bed."  From the south you start at Trailbridge Reservoir and hike north along the river.
 
I chose to hike from the south and journey upstream to the Pool.
This trail leads you through magnificent old growth fir, hemlock and cedar, with wild rhododendrons, and ferns of all kinds.
Vine Maples decorate the forest floor in every direction.  At the time I hiked the trail, Fall was beginning to take its hold on the damp landscape.

Shortly into the hike the forest canopy blocked out the rays of the sun, and an erie feeling came across me...a feeling as though I was being watched by an illusive preditor.  Cougar and/or Black Bear would be the two creatures I would not want to come across, especially alone, or with somebody for that matter.  Chills ran down my spine, and my heart raced a bit.
The trees were covered in moss, the rocks were covered in moss, branches and logs on the ground were covered in moss.  Moss was everywhere.  This place could have been in the movie Lord of the Rings.  My imagination started to control my reality and the trees started taking on unusual creature like forms.
 
The preditory chill followed me.  It didn't help either that about a mile into the hike, I came across some fresh bear droppings.  I wanted out of there.  I was hoping that my internal fear was just that...internal.  I trekked on, despite the possible danger of coming face to face with a bear.  Staying alert and cautious of the surroundings became the forfront of my hike. 
As long as the trail stayed near the river, there was plenty of light to illuminate the forest floor.  My dog, Pynekone, was with me, and I kept him close.  I monitored is behavior.  When he acted bored, I knew I was okay, and nothing threatening was near.
Along the trail I listened for birds sounding happy and active chattering squirrels.  I did my best to focus on the beauty of the dense temperate volcanic forest that surrounded me and photograph the Cascade forest at its best.  I calmed down, but stayed alert.
The trail eventually climbs atop an ancient lava flow, the very flow that altered the McKenzie River at Tamolitch Pool.  The trail climbs higher and the river is soon far below you quietly making its way down a steep sided gorge.
Hiking for almost two miles, the roar of the river became faint and the sound of moving water was no more.  I knew I must be near Tamolitch Pool.
...and there it was, Tamolitch Pool, where the McKenzie River reappears from its underground journey.
Though the pool appears to be quiet, a closer look reveals a lot of activity within the crystal clear water.  There are several active springs within the pool where the McKenzie River makes it way back to the surface.  (The picture above was taken at the top of the Tamolitch Falls - the last of three major falls along the Mckenzie River.)

Tamolitch Pool is rarely visited by the traditional tourist, and the Tamolitch Falls is rarely seen by those who journey to the pool.  The falls can be seen during most high water seasons, winter and early spring.  I visited the pool in October...there was no falls.
The photo above shows the location of the falls, known as Dry Falls when water isn't flowing over the basalt cliff.  The yellow line shows a break in the old lava flow where springs also occur during higher water levels.
The picture below is what the falls and springs look like when "flowing" on the surface.
Tamolitch Falls is about 60 feet high.  As the snow melt decreases, so will the falls...
...eventually the Tamolitch Falls dissappears but the springs continue into early summer, but they too will quit flowing.
The color of the pool is phenomenal.  This IS its true color.
The pool was quiet and crystal clear.
The intense color can definately rival that of the blue waters of Crater Lake.
 Tamolitch is a Chinook word for "tub" or "bucket" due to the bucket-like basalt bowl where the river emerges.  I am glad they went with the Chinook word, Tamolitch, for it compliments the phenenomenal pool rather than, "bucket."
It is an amazing place...a full-sized river "beginning" or re-emerging from a single point.
I sat on the edge of the dry falls and just listened.  There was little sound.  A spiritual level of respect and admiration for the rare beauty before me can not be ignored here.  I sat on the edge and whispered to myself, "This is amazing!"  I definately saw God this day.
The silence of the pool was soon interupted by the force of gravity, pulling the river up and out of the crytalline blue pool, and the McKenzie River continues on its journey through the basalt sided gorge.
I soon realized I would have to leave this peaceful place and make my way back through the dense, damp, moss covered trail that brought me to the mystical Tamolitch Pool.  Once again, a sense of fear came over me.  Could there really be something quietly stalking me, or was it all my imagination?
 On the return hike, I made sure to make a lot of noise to alert "my preditor." I wanted the hungry beast to know that I was just passing through and offered no harm.  Pynekone didn't seem to be bothered by his surroundings, or my whistling.
  I didn't cross paths with any other hiker the entire hike.  I am sure my heart would have leaped out if I did suddenly encounter another person.  I came upon the same bear droppings that generated my fears and I quickly moved on.
I have hiked many trails for many miles alone over the years, and I must admit that this hike was the first time I was bothered and mentally distressed with fear of an attack by an unknown preditor.  I guess it really didn't help that prior to my hike I watched a few programs on the National Geographic Channel of a couple being ambushed by a cougar, and a program showing what to do if attacked by a bear, or another program searching for the illusive Sasquatch.  I made it back to my truck safe and sound.  And, they say Television doesn't influence one's mind.

In my opinion, the Tamolitch Pool is a hundred times better than the popular springs of the Metolius River headwaters.  Some secrets are better left alone. 

3 comments:

Blessings said...

Loved your story. I look forward to making the trek myself next year. Would you say that when the falls are going there might be a way to sit behind the falls?

Steven Michael said...

I believe you could sit behind the Tamolitch Pool Falls, but you'll likely get VERY wet.

Anonymous said...

We camped near McKenzie Bridge this last weekend and hiked up to Tamolitch. The color is exquisite as you described and definitely worth the 2 mile hike. We were not alone, however. Probably 20+ cars in the parking area and down the road. We encountered many hikers and trail bikers going up and coming down from somewhere above Tamolitch. Still, the quietness and awe on the faces of people sitting above the pool did give the overlook a spiritual feeling. There were no falls, but several clusters of people clinging to the rock ledges to the right of where they would be. Only a few brave souls jumped into the very cold blue water.
Do you know what causes the blue coloring. We thought maybe copper? I didn't see any info with a quick google glance.