Mima Mound with Rock Ring

Mima Mounds - A Mystery on the Shaniko Plateau

In our scientific age, it’s hard to believe that the origins of any landform could still be unexplained, but this is the case with the extensive soil mounds and their encircling rock rings found northeast of Madras on the Shaniko Plateau. Known as mima (my-muh) mounds, several theories have been advanced about their formation, from differential erosion, to Ice Age freeze-thaw cycles, to soil movement by foraging gophers. But no one theory is widely accepted and these unusual land features remain a puzzle to geologists today. Hundreds of acres of this mima mound topography can be explored on BLM land near Shaniko.
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Panoramic View of Fen Wetland

Fen Wetlands near Little Cultus Lake

What the heck are fens? Unlike bogs, which are acidic, low in nutrients and dominated by sphagnum moss, fens are fed by mineral-rich groundwater, creating neutral or alkaline peatlands with a rich diversity of brown mosses, sedges, wildflowers and even carnivorous plants. Along the east slopes of the Cascades in Central Oregon, fens are rare, occurring only between 4,500’-6,000’ in isolated perched aquifers over slow-draining glacial till from the last Ice Age. Two secluded but accessible fens can be found near Little Cultus Lake.
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Fields of Pink Wild Onion

Wildflowers of Big Summit Prairie

The best spot in Central Oregon to view spring wildflowers? For sheer variety and extent, the loop road around Big Summit Prairie is hard to beat in late May and early June. Located at 4,500’ elevation in Ochoco National Forest about 30 miles east of Prineville, this 15,000-acre prairie is mostly privately-owned, but is surrounded by wildflower meadows, dry grasslands and rock prairies on Forest Service land.
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Panoramic View of Ponderosa in Kipuka

Kipukas - Forest Islands in a Sea of Lava

One of the more interesting geologic features of Central Oregon are kipukas (meaning “a variation or change in form” in the Hawaiian language). These are islands where lava has surrounded patches of older terrain, isolating them from the surrounding landscape. It’s hard to imagine a more dramatic contrast between the dry, rocky, barren fields of lava surrounding the relatively moist, shady islands of forest.
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