Saturday, January 4, 2014

McKenzie Pass - "Oregon's Volcanic Legacy"

"Oregon's Volcanic Legacy"
Every person living in Oregon or even visiting the state should take the time and travel over the volcanic and historic McKenzie Pass in the Central Oregon Cascades.
The McKenzie Pass and Santiam Pass was given the National Scenic Byway status in June of 1998.  The 82 mile loop illustrates best how the Cascade Range was formed.
The alpine volcanic environment along the historic Hwy 242 is a rugged and harsh landscape to enjoy.
The McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway takes you on a journey through a land of contrasts. On the west side of the Cascades, you'll encounter lush Douglas fir and red cedar forests; on the drier east side, lodgepole pines prevail.
Lava fields adjoin snow fields, providing a stark black and white contrast between the forces of fire and ice, a contrast that is often mirrored in crystal-clear lakes, whose still waters are countered by several cascading waterfalls.
The Byway boasts the highest concentration of snowcapped volcanoes and associated glaciers in the lower 48 states.
The Three Sisters (among other peaks) tower above the Byway.
At 5325' above sea level, the McKenzie Pass summit reveals a violent past in a 360 degree view.  Though my mother and I were both in shorts, it was not warm out!  The high elevation, lack of trees and being early October make up a recipe for...COLD! 
To the immediate south you can see the North and Middle Sisters, the most recognizeable peaks along the Pass.
To the northwest you'll see Belknap Crater, (on the left) and next to Belknap Crater is Little Belknap Crater, (on the right) in the photo below.  From this viewpoint, you can see the Belknap Crater Complex, clear evidence of "recent" volcanic activity. The Belknap Crater Complex, is a broad shield volcano five miles in diameter and about 1,700 feet thick, and was formed by fields of lava vents that erupted profusely about 1,500 years ago.
The exception in this Complex to that particular activity is Little Belknap.  When Little Belknap was formed, lava poured 12 miles to the west and ash was ejected from the northernmost of the two summit craters.

Beyond Little Belknap Crater lies Mt. Washington.  This peak is better seen from the Santiam Pass.
 To the North you'll see Mount Jefferson...Oregon's second highest peak rising 10,497' above sea level.  To the distant north, on clear days, you can see Mount Hood...Oregon's highest peak rising to 11,240'.  Mount Hood was not visible this day due to a few forest fires in the area.  Mt. Jefferson was beautiful, even without a snow-pack.
To the northeast Black Butte, (below), looms on the mid-horizon, rising 6,436' above sea level.
To the East, (below), Black Crater rising 7,251' dominates the view.
The McKenzie Pass summit is not only the border between three counties, (Linn to the north, Lane to the south and Deschutes to the east), but the highway is the border between two Oregon Wilderness Territories, (Mount Washington Wilderness to the North, and Three Sisters Wilderness to the south).  Also at the summit of the Pass is the Dee Wright Observatory.
The Civilian Conservation Corps, Camp F-23 of Company 927, (Belnap Unit), built the observatory from the black lava basalt rock from the immediate area.  This unique structure was built during the Great Depression as part of the "recovery" projects during that time.  The Dee Wright Observatory is a stone memorial named after the (CCC) foreman who oversaw its construction, but died before it was completed.  The basalt tower offers panoramic views of the Cascade Mountain Range, from the Sisters to the south and as far north as Mount Hood.
I took this picture of my mother inside the Observatory, she was trying to keep warm, but without success.
This peculiar structure allows the viewer to easily identify the visible Cascade peaks in a very unique way.   The viewing windows inside the structure are referred to as "lava tube" viewing holes. Through these windows or holes, visitors can view and identify all of the visible Cascade Mountain peaks.
Mount Washington
Mount Jefferson
Black Butte
Black Crater
North and Middle Sister
In this picture, my mother and I are posing on the obseratory roof.

A half mile paved trail loop through the rugged lava field give the hiker a first hand look at the forces that created this black landscape.  Mount Jefferson looms in the distance.  It was a good time to let the dogs out and let them stretch their little legs.
Though the trail is only a half mile, views of the "miles" of lava allow you to experience the vast desolate volcanic legacy.
Though the terrain appears lifeless, it is far from that.  Trees, mostly Mountain Hemlock and Lodgepole Pine are scattered throughout the lava field.  Struggling, only the trees with a tight stronghold can survive in this harsh enviornment.
Several old trees succumb to the severe winter cold and the clashing summer heat.
When an old trees dies, a new one will take its place and continue the survival cycle.
This Mountain Hemlock, (above), is growing out of a small crack in the solid basalt.  Only time will tell which one will survive...the tree or the rock.

Along the volcanic trail, you'll come across large round volcanic boulders.  These rocks are known as Lava Bombs...believed to been thrown through the air during explosive eruptions from nearby crater vents.
I wanted one...but they were all too large and too heavy to remove, let alone even move.
From the Dee Wright Observatory, the lava field appears relatively flat, but once out in the flow, the trail winds past high towering basalt structures which were created when large chunks of lava cooled, but the flow continued moving and the moving force "uplifted" large pieces to a verticle stance and left "frozen" in time.
Eventually, a forest will reclaim this black landscape, and cover the lava field with a variety of trees like the Mountain Hemlock, and the Vine Maple.  Ferns and mosses will cover the basalt rock and a full forest will once again turn this black land green again...just as long as another volcanic eruption doesn't claim the land first.

The McKenzie Pass historic wagon road was constructed as a way to reach Central Oregon from the Southern Willamette Valley. The road extended from Eugene up the McKenzie River Valley, over the lava beds at McKenzie pass and on to the Camp Sherman and Sisters area.
The old route is mostly the same as the modern highway, with the exception of a few spectacular sections that are away from the current route and look much as they did when abandoned in the mid-1920's.
This particular road is unique in that the roadbed is built across the lava, a feat that required chipping and smoothing lava rocks over great distances. This method of construction is fairly permanent allowing the road to remain, very much the same as it was over 100 years ago.

The McKenzie Pass route ends in the old western style town of Sisters.  From Sisters my mother and I travelled west on Hwy 20, and over the Santiam Pass...the main route crossing the Cascades.
The best way to enjoy the vista's across the Santiam Pass is to actually take side roads, and go off the beaten path.
Mount Washington rising 7,794' above sea level, and towering over 3,000' above the alpine Big Lake is Santiam's most prominant land feature.  Big Lake is best known for the fishing, primative camping, and views of Mount Washington.
Hayrick Butte, located near the summit of the Santiam Pass, rises 5,523' above sea level.  This often overlooked geologic feature has a unique past worthy of taking notice.  Hayrick Butte is a tuya volcano.  A tuya is a type of distinctive, flat-topped, steep-sided volcano formed when lava erupts through a thick glacier or ice sheet. They are somewhat rare worldwide, being confined to regions which were formerly covered by continental ice sheets and also had active volcanism during the same time period.
Hayrick Butte's neighbor is Hoodoo Butte, a popular skiing destination.  Hoodoo Butte rises 5,702' above sea level.  Without snow, the red cinder blanketing the slopes is exposed.  Hoodoo Butte is a cinder cone and apart of the the Sand Mountain Volcanic Alignment.  This Volcanic Alignment, which consists of more than 20 cinder cones, including Hoodoo and Hayrick Butte's, and miles of lava, represents some of Oregon’s most recent volcanic activity.
Within the Sand Mountain Alignment, the terrain is relatively flat, due to the ash and pumice eruptions, and the pyroclastic flows that filled the valley's from Sand Mountain and other nearby cones.  The area is a great winter cross country skiing and snow mobile playground, due to the soft and gradual sloping landscape.
From the eastern base of Sand Mountain, five major Cascade peaks can be viewed.  To the northeast the 7,841' Three-Finger-Jack towers high above the Lodgepole Pine forest.
Mount Washington looms to the east.
...And, the Three Sisters rule the skyline in the distant southeast.

The Sand Mountain pyroclastic "landfill" acts as a giant filter for rain and snowmelt, which slowly moves underground until it emerges in a giant, cold spring near Clear Lake. The McKenzie River's headwaters come from this spring.


Katie at Black Butte Ranch said...

Great photos! I love the lava fields around MacKenzie Pass. Your narration was superb also. I really enjoyed your whole post. Great job!

Eve said...

What a wonderful trip and such an interesting history! I love that area! Great photos too! :)

Steven Michael Photography said...

"WOW! I really liked all the pictuers and i especially the ones of you guys waving! and i liked the ones peeking thru the rocks looking at the mountains. very beautiful!! love you!" (Your Neice Nicole)