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Old-Growth Alaska Cedars in Echo Basin

Fifteen thousand years ago, the Cascade Range was covered with a massive ice cap, up to a half-mile thick and extending 170 miles from Mt. Hood south to Mt. McLoughlin. As the climate warmed, a disjunct population of Alaska yellow cedars was left behind in a unique glacial bowl, known as Echo Basin, where cold air collects and pools. Just an hour’s drive from Bend, this basin and its old-growth cedars can be explored on a 2.5-mile loop hike, along with alpine meadows and glorious wildflower displays in late spring and summer.
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Exploring Sphagnum Bog at Crater Springs

The very name “sphagnum bog” conjures up a vision of the Scottish moors — a dark, stagnate, acidic wetland with low fertility, tea-colored water and perhaps a well-preserved Iron Age bog body or two. But the misnamed Sphagnum Bog found just inside the west boundary of Crater Lake National Park is nothing of the sort. It’s actually a fen, fed by mineral-rich, alkaline spring water that supports a diversity of peat-adapted plants. A forested 2.3-mile trail leads to Sphagnum Bog, which can then be explored on a cross-country ramble.
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Hiking the Pioneer Santiam Wagon Road

There’s nothing quite like walking an old pioneer wagon road to bring immediacy to Central Oregon’s history. One can almost hear the creaking of the freight wagons and the “hee” and “haw” shouts of the mule drivers. Operated as a private toll road, the Santiam Wagon Road was a vital route across the Cascade Mountains from the late 1860s to the 1930s. Today, from late spring to early fall, one can walk a well-preserved section of this pioneer road on a shady 3.0-mile hike, which winds through stately groves of old-growth Douglas fir.
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Footloose in Devils Garden Lava Field

Located on the northern edge of the Fort Rock Basin 60 miles south of Bend, the Devils Garden Lava Field is a 45 square mile maze of lava tubes, spatter cones, tumuli and kipukas. These broad flows of pahoehoe lava are not barren like many in Central Oregon, but feature ponderosa, juniper and mountain mahogany. This flora supports a rich variety of wildlife, including mule deer, bighorn sheep and fabled “lava bears.” Best of all, it's easily explored on a 2.1-mile jeep road hike through the lava field to pine-covered Little Garden kipuka.
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Photo of Boundary Springs

Boundary Springs - Source of the Rogue River

Central Oregon has its share of spring-fed rivers — the Metolius, the Cultus, the Quinn and Fall River — but none of these enters the world quite so dramatically as the Rogue River at Boundary Springs. Gushing down the hillside over colorful, moss-covered rocks and logs, these headwater springs are unique. A good 2.5-mile hiking trail starts on Forest Service land just north of Crater Lake National Park and follows the river canyon (mostly spared from an encircling 2015 wildfire) upstream to the springs across the Park boundary.
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View of Mt. Mazama Pumice Flow

Tephra from Mt. Mazama's Climactic Eruption

It was one of Oregon’s highest peaks, over 12,000’ in elevation. It was taller than Mt. Hood and more massive than Mt. Jefferson. But in a matter of hours 7,700 years ago, it disappeared in one cataclysmic explosion, sending ash deposits as far away as Canada and hot pumice flows hundreds of feet thick up to 25 miles from today’s Crater Lake. The distinctive, white-colored signature layer of these tephra deposits can be found throughout Central Oregon today, revealing itself at trailside or on riverbanks when least expected.
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Close-up View of Spotted Frog in Marsh

Big Marsh - Paradise for Oregon Spotted Frogs

Once a shallow 2,000-acre lake, which was filled by volcanic ash during the eruption of Mt. Mazama 7,700 years ago, Big Marsh today is one of the largest, high-elevation wetland/marshes in the nation. A half-hour drive west of Highway 97 from Crescent, it’s a one-of-a-kind resource supporting a wide diversity of Central Oregon wildlife — from elk, to river otters, to sandhill cranes — plus the largest population of threatened spotted frogs in Oregon. A 2.4-mile cross-country ramble invites visitors to explore this natural wonder.
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View of Old-Growth Fir at Candle Creek

Old-Growth Douglas Firs at Candle Creek

When Central Oregonians think of Douglas firs, we usually envision the majestic coastal firs. But Central Oregon has a distinct inland variety, the Rocky Mountain Douglas fir, which is morphologically and genetically different from its coastal cousin. Occurring from British Columbia south to New Mexico, these cold-hardy trees can grow up to 150’ in height, 6’-8’ in width and can live more than 500 years. A 30-acre grove of these old-growth firs is found on a short, easily-accessible hike at Candle Creek in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness.
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Photo of the Dry Meadow Fen

Fen Wetlands in the Jack Creek Headwaters

Tucked away in a seldom-visited corner of Fremont-Winema National Forest, just a half-hour drive east of Highway 97 south of Crescent, is a collection of groundwater-fed fens (peat wetlands) supporting some of the richest concentrations of rare and distinctive plants in the Pacific Northwest. Formed in thick deposits of volcanic pumice from the eruption of Mt. Mazama 7,700 years ago, these fens are permanently wet year-round, with a fascinating assortment of mosses, sedges, wildflowers and even carnivorous plants.
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Panoramic View of Balanced Rocks

Balanced Rocks of the Lower Metolius Canyon

Hidden and nearly unnoticed in the canyon lands above the Metolius River arm of Lake Billy Chinook are several small bowls with unique geologic formations, known as the “balanced rocks.” Carved by erosion over eons of time, these great slabs of rock weighing many tons are poised up to thirty feet in the air above pinnacles of softer rock. First recorded in 1855 by a railroad survey party traveling in the area, these balanced rock formations are accessible today by a short hike from a good road about thirty driving miles west of Culver.
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