What is the Tree of Life on Washington’s Coast?

Clinging to the rugged shoreline of Washington’s coast is an especially tenacious Sitka Spruce. The tree is a favorite among visitors to the area because it appears to grow suspended in the air with just a few roots clinging on for support.

A little creek flows underneath, forming a little cave, and on a rainy day I was there a little waterfall could be seen.

Sitka Spruce is known for being especially sturdy. During World War I, straight-growing Sitka Spruce was sought out because the wood was the preferred wood for bi-planes that needed a high-strength to lower-weight ratio on construction materials. This Sitka Spruce displays its heartiness as it hangs on to the western shoreline of North America.

On this day, just feet away was a high tide, a violent ocean, and little room on a small beach littered with tree-sized logs. Turing one’s back to the water was not advised. I didn’t stay long, but it was good to see this unusual and inspiring tree.

The Tree of Life is located near Kalaloch and within the Olympic National Park.

For more information visit the Coastal Interpretive Center’s page on the tree.

Hiking, Eagles, and Restoration in the Whychus-Deschutes Proposed Wilderness

Trip Report:
Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Group: Eugene-based Hiking Club (met ONDA on site) | Dates: May 22, 2017 | Participants: 6 | 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 mainspring 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 hikers 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 a 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 dike 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.

Visiting the Dark Grove – Devil’s Staircase Wilderness 2016

Trip Report:
Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Date: June 12, 2016| Duration: 1 Day| Participants: 10 | Group: Eugene-based Hiking Club; As this was the first visit to a very remote location, for safety, I enlisted the help of Oregon Wild to introduce us to the area. | Hiking 5 miles (1,000-foot elevation loss/gain)
Type: Day Hike

The proposed Devil’s Staircase Wilderness is one of the most remote and inaccessible regions of rainforest left in the Coast Range. This impenetrable area has limited hiking trails or roads and is visited by only a few hundred people a year. Yet it remains unprotected despite the efforts of conservation groups and Oregon’s congressional delegation. To find out more about this compelling landscape, eleven hikers joined Chandra LeGue, the Western Oregon Field Coordinator at Oregon Wild, for a day of hiking to the Dark Grove. The Dark Grove has never been logged and is home to ancient trees that are 400-500 years old.

Our caravan of cars departed Eugene and meandered on back roads through the coast range. At one point, the green surroundings were cleaved from our sight as we drove through a wasteland of cut and darkened stumps: one member in the car likened the lifeless land to the desolated area at Mount St. Helens just after its eruption. This sight was a stark contrast to the lush biomass that we would encounter later that day.

About 15 miles northeast of Reedsport, we pulled off the pavement and slowly traveled up a single laned, overgrown backroad. Salmonberries grew in abundance here and scratched the sides of the car.

IMG_4548We parked at a junction and walked down an old logging road that was being reclaimed by the forest. Then we disappeared into the bushes, venturing down an elk trail. Posted on a tree was a sign that told us this was not the path to the Devil’s Staircase waterfall and unless you’re prepared to stay the night, and have Search and Rescue to look for you, to turn back. Fortunately, we had a guide for our inaugural visit.

The so-called “trail” was on loose soil and maintained a direct angle downward at 45-50 degrees. For the next hour and a half, we carefully descended 1,000 feet. Roots frequently caught our feet as we clamored over fallen logs and beneath large trees that had crashed across ravines and splintered. Ferns grew in abundance and they and helped us balance ourselves with their solid fronds. We quickly learned that ferns were our friends.

The weather that day was pleasant and sunny, though had our schedule been a day or two off, our visit might have been plagued with slippery trails.

Finally, the trail leveled out and we enjoyed lunch in an amphitheater-like area of fallen logs surrounded by a carpet of greenery. We saw a shadow over the canopy as a turkey vulture circled far overhead, no doubt curious to see if the humans had lost their way.

IMG_4571A forest of Salmonberries obstructed our path, so we made a trail straight up a ridge, then down into a forest of sword ferns. The ferns stood at five to six feet in height, so they engulfed us all and many of the shorter members traveled with their arms raised straight overhead. These tranquil glens often hid downed logs and it was easy to twist ankles or slam shins.

IMG_4577A fallen giant became our catwalk above the salmonberries, foxgloves, and ferns. We crossed a creek, but could barely see the water because of the thick undergrowth. Scampering down the side of the massive tree, we squatted and crawled through a small jungle, then emerged at the root base of the fallen giant – it was 25 feet tall!

IMG_4592In front of us was the Dark Grove, a cathedral of 8-foot wide Douglas Fir trees. The trees were dark in appearance, the result of fire about 150 years earlier. Touching the bark a charcoal residue was imprinted on fingers. The tree model is Becky Lipton.

blog-2016-06-dark-groveCrossing back across the fallen giant, we stood at the base of one of the largest trees we saw that day. Eight people stood at its base, arms outstretched and hands grasped. They counted one, two, three… their calls became muffled as they rounded the opposite side…the voices returned and the loop stopped – at seven and a half people! This immense tree was somewhere between 35 to 40 feet in circumference! Several hikers mentioned they felt like kids in a giant outdoor playground.

We continued through the ferns and back again along the ridge (which was unmarked on the Forest Service map). We lost the trail several times but finally found what we were looking for: a small rocky outcrop along Wasson Creek where the channeled water made a small waterfall for us to enjoy. We rested for half an hour in the sun.

The rest of the afternoon was spent returning via the same trail that we had descended earlier, which was a workout! At about 4 pm, we returned to our cars and started our two-hour drive back to Eugene.

This hike was a rugged and demanding off-trail experience, and all of us got scratched and dirty, some of us stung by insects, and one person had a fall (fortunately the ground was padded by an abundance of moss and there was no injury)! I understand why people get lost in this wilderness; even with directions, I could never have found this remote location. The sheer scale of the forest is very disorienting, but experiencing this place at ground level provides clarity as to why it needs to be protected.

Enjoy the Majesty of the General Grant Tree of Kings Canyon National Park

If you and your family have the opportunity to visit the General Grant Tree of Kings Canyon National Park you are in for a treat.

Parents can walk among and appreciate the majesty of these ancient and immense Giant Sequoia Redwood trees. Kids will enjoy being outside, playing in an old cabin, and walking through the Fallen Monarch, a cave-like giant redwood that is so big that it once stabled 32 U.S. Cavalry horses.

The General Grant Tree is important because it is the world’s third-largest living thing (by volume). The General Grant is 268 feet (81.6 meters) in height and has a circumference of 107.5 feet (32.7 meters)! It is not just big, but ancient; although the exact age of The General Grant is not known the National Park Service’s website estimates the tree to be between 1,800 and 2,700 years old.

When visiting this tree spend a few minutes contemplating about the civilizations and people who lived about 2,000 years ago, then consider that the General Grant was likely an old tree when those people walked the earth. Wow!

Some “fun facts” displayed on a placard near the General Grant Tree help visitors better understand more about this immense redwood, they include:

  • If the trunk of the General Grant Tree was a gas tank on a car that got 25 miles per gallon, you could drive around the earth 350 times without refueling.
  • The General Grant Tree is so wide it would take about twenty people holding hands to make a complete circle around the base.
  • If the General Grant Tree’s trunk could be filled with sports equipment, it could hold 159,000 basketballs or more than 37 million ping-pong balls.
  • President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the General Grant Tree to be the nation’s Christmas Tree in 1926. In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower designated it as a National Shrine, a living memorial to those who have given their lives for their country.

Many of the Giant Redwood trees in the Sierra Nevada Mountains were named just after the American Civil War. It was at this time that General Grant Tree was named after Ulysses S. Grant the final leader of the Union forces. A short distance away from the Grant Tree is the Robert E. Lee Tree, named for the leader of the Confederate forces. The Lee tree is the 12th largest tree on the planet.

The General Grant Tree and other Giant Sequoias are located in Kings Canyon National Park and the adjacent Sequoia National Park. Visitors to the Grant Tree can enjoy a self-guided trail that is half a mile (.8 kilometers) in length. The trail from the parking area is paved so wheelchairs and strollers are welcome. The location of the Grant Tree is roughly a 1.5-hour drive east of Fresno, California.

A Weekend of Redwoods, Elephant Seals and Sanborn

The summer at Sanborn provides opportunities to meet others from distant lands and explore the abundant areas around the hostel. On Saturday morning we depart for Ano Nuevo State Reserve to hike among the dunes and view the massive bull Elephant Seals. Some bulls can be up to 16 feet in length! The afternoon will be spent beachcombing and exploring the coastline. In the evening we return to Sanborn Park Hostel for grilling your favorite food on the bbq, meeting new folks, sitting around the fire, watching deer in a nearby field, and telling stories. Creative thoughts and those young at heart are welcome. We overnight at the hostel. On Sunday, we head to Big Basin Redwoods State Park to hike the 10 mile Berry Creek Falls Loop. This loop includes the remarkable Golden Falls, Silver Falls and the 65 foot Berry Creek Falls. All trips depart from the hostel at 9:00 am. Overnight reservations recommend fee per person is $8.50.

Organization: Sanborn Park Hostel
Date: Saturday-Sunday, 11-12 June 1999
Trip leader: Mark Hougardy
Participants: 12