Category Archives: Central Oregon

The Lower Deschutes River: the Incursion of Invasive Plants and our Failure to Responsibly Maintain Native Plant Communities

This picture should give anyone more than enough reason to visit here, the Deschutes sliding out its mouth into the Columbia with the Washington side of the Gorge in the distance, the low angled early evening sun illuminating everything sharply.

 

[As I go over this post yet again, July 21, the 80,000 acre Substation Fire is still burning across canyon and wheat country here.  Included in the blaze are the 20 miles of the Lower Deschutes canyon down to the campground at the confluence with the Columbia.  Much of this burned down to within 2′ or 3′ of the riverbank including the historic Harris Ranch buildings.  So, when you look at all of these pictures, with the exceptions of where the fire hopped and skipped, everything is charred.  The Oregon Wildlife Federation, formed in the 1980’s to purchase and protect this portion of the canyon, has stepped up with $100,000 to help the area recover.  It will take considerably more especially if there is any intention of making headway regarding the spreading invasives problem.]

[Now, another 2 weeks later more massive fires continue to burn across the dried up West that has just experienced another record breaking month of heat, while the president goes on ‘bleating’ and blaming it on our ‘bad’ environmental laws and all of the water we’re diverting into the ocean!  ‘F’ing! moron!]

The last time we came here was eight years ago in December.  My memory of then is much like the experience on this evening…only it was clear and cold.  The light was similar except that then the low angled sun was due to winter, with that season’s urgency, not a late Spring evening like this outing.  This time it is warm, camp is comfortable and nearby and the greens are still gathered around the river and the still moist draws and seeps.  On that day we’d gone to Hood River for my birthday, to get out of town and there was a break in the weather so we drove here to these trails at the mouth of the Deschutes, hiked along the river, returning on the upper springs trail.  Winter or summer, green only sticks around a little longer than we do, before it retreats…life is shier here, tough, but shy.  The starkness of this landscape should be read as a warning to visitors, this is no easy Eden.  Life is earned here or at least requires a strength, patience and frugality that many don’t have.  This is much the same for people as it is for wildlife and plants.   Them that don’t, can’t.  That’s why it may be surprising to some that such a place has a problem with exotic invaders.  What could possibly look on places such as this as ‘favored’?  Well, Central Asia, especially its Steppe, with its continental, cold and dry climate containing many species that see such a place as this as home, or even better, without the competitors they faced back there.  The temperature can swing widely here on any given day while the seasonal extremes can vary as much as 125ºF from high to low.  Relatively few plants can thrive in this.  The dry summers with their very limited and sporadic thunder showers, combined with the ‘wet’ winters, total only 10″-12″ or so of precipitation, plus or minus, is another major limiting factor.  Of course, near the river, the moisture problem is moderated  and a broader range of invasives can find a ‘foothold’.  We, as a people, have ‘brought’ these weeds here with us in our travels, often as a result of our commerce.  Those that have made it here are spreading.  Too many prosper. Continue reading

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Cottonwood Canyon on the John Day River: Place, Plants and Experience

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Cottonwood Canyon State Park, near the campground, looking upstream toward the old Murtha barn and common buildings, the evening sun climbing the worn canyon sides. The Park retained some of the old ranch equipment.

Massive lava flows pushed around the lower John Day and Deschutes rivers over the course of several million years leaving them to find and carve new routes, often next to the very ‘plugs’ that filled their former canyons!  Today, deep below the layers of hardened basalt that form the palisades and ramparts projecting out in tiers from the smooth full curves that rise above us, we look through 15 million years of accumulated history.  The fine grained basalt shatters and fractures in line with their mineral structure under the forces of water, weather and gravity.  Sagebrush and grasses dominate revealing an oddly ‘netted’ pattern across the sloping canyon hillsides, lit by the often harsh sunlight, illuminating some kind of subsurface movement of the thin soils that soften the slopes.  The ‘net’ looks as if it had been draped across the land then stretched sideways catching and snagging on what lies beneath in a never the same, but consistent repeating pattern.  It shows best when the angle of the sun comes across the pattern, not when it hits it head on or when clouds make it too diffuse.  Coarse falls of shattered basalt spill down to the canyon’s bottom always seeking their angle of repose.  The sagebrush steppe plant communities cover the surface and in their richness and vigor speak to the soils beneath.  Along seeps and drainages cutting verticallly down the canyon’s face, spring lasts weeks longer, and species crowd in that you won’t see other than near the river.  The surface botanical palette in this way reveals what lies beneath…if one knows what to look for.  Cottonwood Canyon State Park is a great place to observe this. Continue reading

Hiking at Riley Ranch Nature Reserve and Along the Deschutes River

It’s the edges, the margins, that always contain the most diversity.  Large expanses of unbroken landscape take a portion of their character from their scale, a vastness, that the uninterested can often view as monotonous.  Seemingly endless expanses of ocean, desert, prairies even forests, can lull some into indifference, a kind of blindness, in which they lose interest and fail to see the intricacy and richness of that which surrounds them….By overlapping two different landscapes places can take on a complexity that neither has alone…and may even arouse many of those inured to the natural world surrounding them.  Two different landscapes sharing a common edge can form ecotones, where each landscape contributes species in patterns not found across the vastness of each alone.  Cut a river through an arid landscape and it becomes altogether different often with stark changes within a few feet.  Such is the arid canyon landscape of the Deschutes River immediately north of Bend, OR.

 

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Rimrock Springs, on the Crooked River National Grasslands: A Look at the Eastside’s Sagebrush Steppe Region

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In the comics world this would be called my ‘splash page’, a picture related to but not exactly honest, done for effect. This is taken from the top of the popular destination Smith Rock State Park, on top of Misery ridge, the trails up and down of which have been the cause behind many an emergency run to the local hospital. Here we’re looking across irrigated pasture lands in the middle distance, that would be steppe if not for all of the added water and on to the Cascades along the horizon.

You cannot make someone like something.  To many, a desert will always only look brown and dead, but for those attuned to them, deserts can be beautiful, awe inspiring, expansive, places of raw earth and geology, intimately tied to sky, filled with little jewel boxes, hidden just out of view and down at your feet…places of rock, delimited by the scarcity of water, with plants that not only tolerate its paucity, but require it, where the sun and wind seek it out.  My wife and I grew up in the ‘Sagebrush Steppe’, the Oregon High Desert and on its edge where it meets the Ponderosa Pine Forest.  I often spent hot summer days with my family water skiing on reservoirs in the dammed up canyons of the Deschutes and Crooked rivers, while she often found herself living out of places like Summer Lake and northern New Mexico for the summer.  We both still feel the draw of these places, while others only hunger for more green and lush landscapes where the scale is shifted and plants cover the earth often with flowers that you can’t help be pulled to.  As a horticulturist, I actually appreciate both. Continue reading

On Amelanchier / Serviceberries: Their Susceptibility to Rust and Their Use in our Gardens

Sometimes we are drawn to plants by memories and sentiment, plants we have early associations with.  They can regularly appear in our palette, our quiver of plants, that we might choose from.  We all have our preferences, our biases.  Sometimes the mismatch might only be aesthetic other times it can be a problem related to our site conditions.  When we include these plants they may struggle, yet persist in the garden, maybe demonstrating to others their ‘ill-fit’.  When a plant is a poor fit, its inclusion can become a glaring error to others that we are blinded to.  Diseases can present such a problem, diseases that can be problematic in our area, or that our site is simply unfortunate enough to suffer from.  ‘Rust’ diseases,  Gymnosporangium spp., can be an issue here.  In the case of Serviceberries, it can be disfiguring and debilitating.  Several of these species attack Rose Family members, that include the Serviceberries, which seem particularly susceptible, though it doesn’t kill them.  Diseased, stunted and suffering, unwilling to just die and put us both out of our misery, these plants continue.  It is akin to being drawn to the wrong lover or life partner…it’s not going to work out and we simply can’t seem to help ourselves. Continue reading

Arctostaphylos patula: Greenleaf Manzanita – Seeing a Plant in Context

Arctostaphylos patula growing on site near Whychus Creek south of Sisters, OR.  Here it is 5' tall growing in a mixed condifer forest along with Doug Fir, Grand Fir, Noble Fir, Ponderosa Pine and Western Juniper.

Arctostaphylos patula growing on site near Whychus Creek south of Sisters, OR. Here it is 5′ tall growing in a mixed condifer forest along with Doug Fir, Grand Fir, Noble Fir, Ponderosa Pine and Western Juniper.

Outside our breakfast window, when I was a kid, was an Arctostaphylos patula. I never thought that much of it at the time, and how unusual it was, that sometime, probably by the late ‘40’s or early ‘50’s, somebody had dug one up and transplanted it to our yard in Redmond. They are denizens of the eastside Ponderosa Pine forest ecotone not the Sagebrush ecotone where I grew up. We averaged less then 10” of precipitation a year, too dry (For those who don’t know Redmond, OR, lies wholly within Oregon’s High Desert country that puts it in USDA zone 6b, -5 to 0 F). It grew in this little jog of the house facing northwest. I’m sure it got overspray from when we dragged hoses and sprinklers around to keep the lawn green, which is probably why it had grown with some vigor, having a form that you wouldn’t see in the Ponderosa – Juniper transition band sixteen to twenty miles away. In my memory it was always clean, with bright green foliage, part of which can be attributed to the low desert humidity and our sandy soil. I wish it was still there to take a picture, but the house has sold several times and had ‘improvements’ to the structure and the landscape including an irrigation system. I don’t know whether it rotted out or they removed it for one of their remodel projects. In its day it was 6’ high x 7’-8’ across with the characteristic sinewy branches and smooth peeling red bark.

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Whychus Canyon Preserve

IMG_0062Whychus Creek starts up in the Three Creeks area south of Sisters, OR, below Broken Top and the Three Sisters, and runs north-easterly to where it joins the Deschutes River winding much of the way through a canyon carved through basalt.  It’s a beautiful band of green cutting its way through the Juniper – Sagebrush Scrub country where I grew up.  I’d never been to the Preserve before and was happy to see it mostly intact.  Though development has been creeping up along some of its edges the Preserve is being actively managed by the Deschutes Land Trust these days.  We hiked it on June 26 and many plants  were still in bloom.  Many people from the wet side of the Cascades have never developed an appreciation for the starkness of Oregon’s High Desert country.  Julie and I both grew up over here and where some people see barreness we see country defined by its sky, its geology and the spaces in between that set off the unique character of everything that lives here.  We took this hike with long time friends, Robert and Elayne, who stayed in Bend when we and others left.

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