Judge John B. Waldo is often associated with John Muir and Henry David Thoreau. While his impact was substantial he is not as well known as other conservationists of the day. In the late 1800’s he proposed a greenspace straddling the crest of Oregon. For decades he traveled extensively documenting the area’s unique topography and natural beauty. He worked hard to pass legislation preventing special interest from monopolizing the area’s resources. Today, numerous national forests, a national park, and wilderness areas between the border with California clear to the Columbia Gorge exist because of his vision. Our visit to the UO Archives was an introduction to his original writings and photographs. We even saw some founding documents for Crater Lake National Park.
Trip Report – Leader: Mark Hougardy; Group: Obsidians; Dates: February 16, 2019; Participants: 6; Type: University of Oregon Archives
Note: Originally published in September 2017, this trip report was updated in March 2019 by the author to read more like a travel article.
Trip Report: Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: September 10, 2017, | Participants: 7 | Type: Day hike and wayfinding
In Oregon’s Cascade Range an old tree stood guard over a forgotten story. The memory was about an explorer named Judge John Breckenridge Waldo and his intrepid spirit was that of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau. Waldo is the unsung grandfather of Oregon’s protected lands. It is because of his perseverance that six national forests, Crater Lake National Park, and over a dozen wilderness areas exist today. Yet, few remember Waldo’s name or celebrate his achievements.
The tall perpendicular woods and glassy mountain lake made seeing this old tree even more intoxicating. A year earlier while researching Waldo I spied a grainy black and white photo. The picture was snapped in 1890; it revealed a couple of trees and a canoe by a lake with the handwritten text, “Camp Edith, Waldo Lake.” An interesting yet unremarkable image, except that Camp Edith wasn’t referenced on any map. After a year of research, my fellow explorers and I stood before those words carved into the tree’s hardwood — it was Waldo’s “lost” campsite.
Our morning started with sunlight enriching the blue and turquoise waters of Waldo Lake. The radiant vista poured 5-miles into the distance and an additional 2 miles at breadth. As the sun rose further into the sky it revealed depths of 60 feet or more in the crystalline-like liquid.
From 1877 to 1907 Waldo extensively explored and chronicled the “untrammeled nature” of Oregon’s Cascades. He believed that modern life had “narrowing tendencies” on a person and that wilderness allowed difficulties to “be perceived and corrected, and the spirit enlarged and strengthened.” Waldo was a reflective man who did not seek publicity. Rather, he quietly and diligently advanced his vision: a 300-mile long protected swath along Oregon’s mountainous crest from the Columbia Gorge to the California border. Upon returning from his expeditions he spent countless hours increasing public awareness through letter writing and using his resources as a State Legislator and Chief Justice of Oregon’s Supreme Court to advocate for preservation.
After Waldo’s death in 1907, his writings went missing only to be rediscovered in the 1980s. The papers now reside in the archives at the University of Oregon. This is where I first saw the old photo of Camp Edith. When I inquired with seasoned hikers, campers, and old-timers, they had not heard of the camp. Finally, I met an aged flower child that loved to backpack. Surprisingly, he knew about Camp Edith but only revealed, “When you find ‘the tree,’ you’ll be there.”
The following winter I jumped into reading a rare 500-page copy of Waldo’s transcribed diary. During his treks, he traveled for months at a time to nourish his insatiable wanderlust and love of the Cascades. But like many travelers, he was often homesick. To lessen the loneliness he christened a favorite camping site in honor of his daughter, Edith. A colleague blazed the camp’s name into a tree trunk.
The snow had melted in the mountains and some ground reconnaissance was needed. I enlisted several members from a local hiking group to join me at Waldo Lake. We walked into the forest to find “the tree” provisioned with a photo from 1890, a few telling diary entries, and the mystifying advice of an old hippie.
Progress was slow as we bushwhacked through the woodlands, crossed marshy fields, and scrambled over downed logs. We were close to calling it a day when a member of our team let out a joyous shout. Thirteen decades of bark growth had covered the blaze’s perimeter, but the inscription was legible: “Camp Edith, Waldo Lake.”
We had unearthed a sumptuous moment of discovery.
An excerpt from one of Waldo’s 1890 letters was appropriate to read-
“The lake stretches away up to the North; crags and peaks tower above us. It is a splendid scene – this source of rivers and cities, hid away, like pure trains of thought from vulgar observation – in the deep bosom of the wilderness buried. Camp Edith sends you greeting – greeting to Edith from ‘Papa’s Lake.’”
We departed Camp Edith carrying Waldo’s story with us — our spirits nourished and renewed.
Leader: Mark Hougardy
Dates: November 7, 2016
Type: University of Oregon Archives Visit
On this sunny day in November, our small group of Obsidians spent several hours with the original writings, journals, and photographs of a true champion of nature – John B. Waldo.
Waldo was an ardent conservationist, he’s been referred to as the west’s David Thoreau and even Oregon’s John Muir. Waldo was known for venturing into the Cascades, often spending months at a time, and recording his findings of this dynamic and vibrant landscape.
Over the course of his life, Waldo worked as an explorer, legislator, and chief justice on the Oregon Supreme Court, all the time helping to preserve land in the Cascades. He envisioned a protected band of land along the crest of the Oregon Cascade Range that ran the entire length of Oregon. This goal became his personal mission.
On September 28, 1893, the Cascade Range Forest Reserve became a reality and 5 million acres were protected.
Today, we can experience his legacy in the protected lands and open spaces of the Cascades from Mount Hood south to the border with California, that include: Crater Lake National Park, Mt. Hood, Willamette, Umpqua, Rogue River national forests, and other public lands. And in the middle of this grand monument are the deep and pristine waters of Waldo Lake, named in his honor.
Curiously, little is written about Waldo. The judge was a philosophical and reflective person who did not directly seek publicity. But possibly this muted message is part of his larger voice – appreciating the beauty of Oregon is best experienced by hiking on the trails, exploring in the mountains, traveling in the wilderness, and experiencing the (as he wrote) “untrammeled nature and the free air.” Discover Waldo’s story for yourself. The University of Oregon archive is free to use – Knight Library, Paulson Reading Room.
Reference: John B. Waldo and William G. Steel: Forest Reserve Advocates for the Cascade Range of Oregon, Gerald W. Williams
Umpqua and Willamette National Forests
Here are just a few of the photos from his collection:
Waldo Lake is one of Oregon’s largest bodies of water, though its lack of amenities such as convenience stores, resorts, and ban of motorized motors upon the water makes this destination easily overlooked. If you’re interested in a great overnight backpacking trip to try the Jim Weaver Loop, a 20.2-mile trail around Waldo lake, here are some photos taken in early July.
We parked the car and started from Shadow Bay near the southeastern edge of the lake. Our hike around the lake was in a clockwise direction. We were quickly out of sight from the parking lot and headed along the trail.
Near Mile 2. Our first stop was at the South Waldo shelter, it was fully equipped with wood and a stove; this is a popular destination in the winter. We continued on.
The south shore had some great views of the South and Middle Sisters. The trail now meandered up the western side of the lake.
Close to Mile 5. Overlooking the picturesque Klovdahl Bay. Overhead, the clouds began building into thunderheads; in the distance, we could hear the rumbling crescendo of thunder as though gigantic timpani drums were being struck.
The western trail has a number of places where the forest looks like it had a close encounter with a forest fire; note the scoring on the tree at the right.
Mile 10. Continuing north. Seen in the right on the image, about 2-miles away is a scarred hilltop within the burn zone.
We spied several campsites peppered along the western shore of the lake, but as we reached the northern shore we discovered a favorite spot was vacant. As evening approached we appreciated a gentle breeze that chased most of the mosquitoes away.
Enjoying a gorgeous sunset. The sky was clear that night when the stars came out they were so bright you could almost touch them.
A very small toad had made its home just outside our tent during the night. It was discovered in the morning hiding next to one of our shoes.
Roughly Mile 12. Heading east, the trail meanders through the burn zone along the north shore. This day was going to be hot so we tried to cross before the sun rose too high in the sky. Several weeks earlier, during a scamper through the burn zone, we crossed this section and encountered numerous trees that had fallen across the trail, these had since been removed – thank you Forest Service!
Mile 13-ish. Standing on the north shore looking across to the southern shore. The morning was calm, it was difficult to tell where the sky ended and the lake began. Determining the depth of the logs seen the water was difficult, but if the terrain continued its steep angle into the water, these logs were at least 40 feet deep in the foreground and 60+ feet deep further out.
A Couple Selfie taken on the trail within the burn zone.
We’re out of the burn zone and heading south along the eastern edge of the lake. Half of the trail around Waldo Lake is in the woods, with only brief glimpses of the water. Be prepared to see lots of trees.
Just as we neared the south shore a massive toad was seen at the edge of the trail eating mosquitoes. During the entire trip, mosquitoes were not a big issue, though the last several miles of the trail we were devoured by these little flying beasts! I was glad to see this toad!
Mile 20.2. The best part of finishing the loop trail around Waldo Lake is that you can dip your feet into the lake’s cold and clean water.
We arrived back at the car the next day. Except for people we saw in the campgrounds, we only saw 6 people on the trail.
In 1996 a forest fire decimated an area in central Oregon that was roughly 5 miles wide by 3 miles long. Much of the fire’s southern advance was stopped by the immense shoreline of Waldo Lake – a glacially carved body of water that is 10-square miles in size!
The titanic forces of fire and ice have affected this magnificent landscape in dramatic and beautiful ways; all of which are best experienced from the trail.
Here are some photos from a two-day, 8-mile backpacking trip along Waldo Lake’s north shore and deep into the burn zone of the Ringdon Lakes area.
Hiking along Waldo Lake’s north shore. Waldo Lake is considered to have some of the purest water in the world. The lake was named after Judge John Breckenridge Waldo, who is considered to be the “John Muir of Oregon” for his work helping to conserve large tracks of forests in the Cascades.
Scampering over and under the “blowdown;” these are trees that have been blown down by the wind. In this case, the blowdown are the trees that burned in the 1996 fire.
Passing one of the many ponds that dot the northern shore of Waldo Lake.
We exited the burn zone and made camp. Shown are several youthful members of the group seen enjoying the shallow and cool waters nearby.
If you think you’re too old for backpacking? Just look at Jack, at 70 years old he celebrates life by getting outside.
A view of the evening sky as seen from our campsite. That night we heard only nature’s sounds…which included the buzz of mosquitoes.
The night sky was dark on this moonless night. Note the prominent stars of the Big Dipper, in the right of the image, is Polaris (the North Star) and the Little Dipper. To locate Polaris, all you have to do is to find the Big Dipper pointer stars, which are located at the outer part of the Big Dipper’s bowl (seen at the bottom of the image). Draw a line from these and go about 5 times the distance to Polaris.
In the morning, the trail led us north, deep into the burn zone of the Waldo Lake Wilderness. The devastation from the fire continued for miles, but new growth was all around us as we hiked. Also observed were several types of bees, a wasp, woodpeckers, and a small toad.
Lake Kiwa is shown in the background. The trail junction (not shown) was partially hidden by a fallen tree that also served as the post for the trail sign. The path returning us to Waldo Lake was heavy with blowdown; this two-mile trail required twice the time because of the number of downed trees we had to climb over – more scampering!
Lower Rigdon Lake offered us the visual treat of a deep blue and some much-needed shade for a short break. Near the top of the hill is Upper Ringdon Lake.
Coming down from the Ringdon Lakes; in the distance is Waldo Lake. Note shown, but interesting; there were areas on this section of trail that frequently crossed flat rocky areas where glacial scouring makes could be seen.
Returning to the shoreline trail we enjoy the sights of Waldo Lake’s varied and picturesque scenery.