August 20, 2016

Winema National Forest, FS 86 Road, and Klamath Territory (Jul. 2016, OR)


Ponderosa and sugar pine forests

Winema National Forest, near Klamath Wildlife Refuge
Near Chemult, OR
July 21, 2016
Desert heat, 80 degrees F. A few clouds in the sky

In July, my dad, brother, and I did a driving tour to revisit old familial hunting grounds that I frequented as a kid. The Winema National Forest holds a special place in my heart, although I have neglected my duty to spend some time in its shade. My dad still goes out to this part of Oregon on his annual pilgrimage to hunt for deer and elk. I have fond and vivid memories of this place, having camped here with my family since I was an infant. However, I haven't spent any time there in the last 15 years, so it was time for a revisit.


Ponderosa and sugar pine forests

Ponderosa and sugar pine forests

The forests here in the high desert are drastically different than the McKenzie, to which I am most accustomed and intimate. Once you cross to the eastern side of the Cascades, the flora is built for the scant rain, along with a distinct pine scent. The signature orange bark of the pinus ponderosa is what I remember most about this forest. It was just as striking to me visiting it this summer as when I remembered it. Simply gorgeous.

Ponderosa and sugar pine forests

Ponderosa and sugar pine forests


The 86 Road

Just south of the small old timber town of Chemult is the Forest Service Road, No. 86. This road is a family favorite, as it defined the boundaries of the family's old hunting grounds. There are many spurs that break off from this road, all of which my dad and his brothers know by heart. This is their country.

86 Forest Service Road

If you don't follow roadsigns (or don't know your way around by muscle memory, like my dad), this forest can become quite the maze.



The roadsides are walled in with the dense mix of ponderosa and sugar pines. The underbrush is composed of thick sage of at least a couple varieties. The soil is largely volcanic, composed of a lot of pumice, small lava, and other igneous. The dirt is always dry due to its spot on the eastern side of the mountain. Thus, all of the plants are adapted to these dry environments. Despite the lack of water, the greens persist throughout the whole forest.

Ponderosa and sugar pine forests

We drove for a while down the 86, experiencing the gorgeous country and familiar pine smell. We made our most lengthy stop as we saw a set of antlers cross the road. This majestic buck was Bambi-dad-esque, knowing he was all manner of cool. He knew he looked good. He was also slow in his crossing, despite him knowing we were there.

Buck on the move

Buck on the move

He sauntered off as if he knew he was protected out of season. It appears he had just come from the official boundary of the wildlife preserve, sitting on the right side of the road. It was at this point that we realized that we were straddling the boundary of the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, for which the fence sat immediately to our right.

Buck on the move

The edge of the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

We stopped at the border fence of the Klamath Wildlife Preserve long enough to try to photograph the blacktailed buck that casually paced into the shadows of the forest.

Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

Although it's easy to focus on the monstrous ponderosas and any big game that catch your eye, there are some intricate forms that make up the forest floor. I spent some time here to catch a closer look. A great meadow stretched from the right side of the road, indicating the start of the Klamath Marsh for which the preserve was named.

Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

We heard a loud screech, leaving us each to cast our gaze to the sky to find its origin. A hawk was standing watch atop a tree at the edge of the preserve, looking out over the meadow. I was able to get my 300mm on my camera in time to snap a photo of the hawk.

Hawk in tree

Hawk soaring

Some purple details dotted the side of the road. At a closer look, bumblebees were hopping between these polkadot blooms among the green.

Bumblebee

Bumblebee

Bumblebee

The purple stalks were some welcome color within the dense sage green foliage.

DSC_0958

DSC_0960

A large dandelion species was in bloom and seed along the road, with a seed ball ready for the wind to pick it up.

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We also inadvertently found the border of the forest, as where the 86 road meets the wildlife preserve was the end of our Winema tour. Dad seemed to remember that this part of the road never had a wildlife preserve on one side, thinking that the land was acquired by the Interior Department since I was a child.

Entering Winema National Forest

Klamath Ranch Territory

To roll the story back just a bit, I'd like to talk a bit about the beauty of the Klamath area in general. As you move south from Chemult, the wildlife preserve, and large marsh, as well as a system of rivers keep the land green within the valley of peaks. Although it's still considered the desert, this high country is prime ranch land. Before we went into the Winema forest, we drove through the pretty ranch country of the Klamath on our way to Chemult and back. The land's cattle spotted the country, as well as the occasional barn, snag, or live tree.

Klamath Valley ranching

Klamath valley ranching

Klamath Valley ranching

Some clouds also dotted the landscape, making scenes that were worthy of any farmhouse fireplace art.

Klamath valley barn

Reflections on the tour

I had not been here in a long time - this much is true. But what was weird was that after at least 15 years, I remembered a lot about this place. The smell, the textures, the forms. They all remained vivid in my mind. I felt like I had been gone a while, but I still remembered the history of this land: the natural desert, the way the snows interact with the terrain, the volcanic stories the land tells us. I remember how I used to make stick forts in the dense underbrush under the watch of the ponderosa and sugar pine.

I would like to have some property here. I would visit it frequently. There's something special about this forest. It's a challenge to survive here - the forest tells this story every day. But the hardiness of these ancient trees has a certain charm that cannot be ignored.

Come check out the Central Oregon High Country. It doesn't disappoint. Plus you can visit Crater Lake on your trek through here.

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