Leader: Mark Hougardy
Group: Obsidians (met ONDA on site)
Dates: May 22, 2017
Type: Weekend Camping & Restoration Work
The Whychus-Deschutes proposed Wilderness is a rugged and beautiful landscape in central Oregon. Driving here requires a vehicle with high clearance and some sturdy hiking shoes for the remaining distance. It is a place of weathered cliffs, cold streams, and rocky canyons. If you have observant eyes you might even see bald eagles flying overhead. A prominent landmark is Alder Springs. The main spring appears to spontaneously gush from the dry ground at an impressive 60 gallons per second. These cool waters flow a short distance into the picturesque Whychus Creek and a few miles further it joins the turbulent water of the Middle Deschutes River. These unique waterways provide spawning habitat for salmon, steelhead, and are central to all life in the area. This wilderness is prominent in fueling the region’s robust outdoor recreation opportunities, tourism industry, and a high quality of life. The Whychus-Deschutes landscape is an asset, yet it lacks permanent protection.
The first evening allowed for some hiking and enjoying the local sights. The ridge above the campground offered wonderful views of basalt columns. The columns were between 80 and 100 feet in height.
I wanted to find out more about protecting this land so I led a group of fellow Obsidians for an explore. We joined several other volunteers for an extended weekend of restoration work with the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA). During the summer months, this sensitive area can be hammered by an influx of visitors who are seeking their own interpretation of this place. We were there to learn about the natural history, rebuild trails, fix up campsites, and remove some invasive plants that were taking resources from native species.
First, a shout out to ONDA. Learn more about ONDA’s great work and how you can help at onda.org
Here are some photos of our restoration weekend:
The next morning we drove to the Alder Springs Trailhead and gathered our gear.
This is stark and beautiful country. Our route was about three miles one way. We worked the entire distance.
Volunteers jumped to it keeping the trail open.
This water bar (a small dyke that prevents erosion on trails) had filled in and was no longer functioning. Our team rebuilt this and a good many others that day. The green in the background is courtesy of Alder Springs that flows at the base of the canyon.
Our host, Gena from ONDA, is crossing Whychus Creek.
Our group is removing an abundance of Knapweed from a meadow. Knapweed can quickly take over an area and choke out native vegetation.
The creek skirted along the base of this amazing painted cliff. The horizontal bands displayed a multitude of geologic layers. The cliff’s face was streaked with gray which oozed out during recent rains. Several of us enjoyed lunch at this picturesque location.
Our work group is removing a large outcrop of Mullein. Mullein adapts easily to natural meadows and can outpace native plants.
An amazing view looking down Whychus Creek.
We enjoyed a well-earned break at the confluence of Whychus Creek as it pours into the Deschutes River. This view is actually several hundred feet downstream from the confluence. The scenery here is spectacular.
The hot afternoon required a head-dunk in the cold waters of the Deschutes River. This is me.
The next day we were at it again. We easily spent two hours pulling Knapweed in just this little meadow.
More Knapweed! One plant was so tough it snapped a hand trowel.
Such amazing colors on these butterflies. Animals we saw on this trip included two bald eagles, turkey vultures, several meadowlarks, a robin, one gemstone colored Lazuli Bunting, scores of butterflies, and two snakes. Sadly, we saw four deceased deer, victims of an aggressively cold winter.
Our group removes an illegal fire ring that was fifteen feet from the creek. We restored this sensitive habitat as best we could.
Such simple, yet complex, beauty can be observed here. Note the small butterflies.
The last of our group returns down a dusty path after a long and rewarding weekend.
A true delight was spotted next to the trail. This is a primary feather of a Bald Eagle (possibly from a sub-adult). The top edge of my trail shoe is included for scale. This feather was discovered near the final hour of our restoration work – helping to protect public land. Seeing it was a welcome gift.