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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Headwater Springs of Fall River

Fall River - Bellwether of Climate Change

Spring-derived streams are fairly common along the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range in Central Oregon, including the Metolius River, Cultus River, Quinn River, Brown’s Creek and Fall River. The combination of heavy precipitation along the Cascade crest, permeable volcanic bedrock, plus groundwater flow serves to recharge all of these spring-fed streams. But Fall River has been the most extensively studied as a local indicator of climate change — besides having a delightful hiking trail along its banks to explore.
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Photo of Boat on Upper Deschutes River

Meander Belt on the Upper Deschutes River

What do river meanders and the results of a train wreck have in common? Both reflect the dissipation of excess energy. When a moving train impacts a large object on the tracks, the extra kinetic energy of the railcars causes them to scatter in a serpentine pattern behind the engine. When a river has more energy than it can dissipate through turbulence and sediment transport, it will carve meanders in its floodplain to reduce its gradient and stream power. A classic example of this river dynamic is found in a 6-mile meander belt on the Upper Deschutes River, between LaPine State Park and the Big River Campground.
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Panoramic Photo of Paulina Falls

Ancient, Cataclysmic Flood on Paulina Creek

Nearly all the clues needed to solve the mystery were right in plain sight — the huge gravel bars, the dry abandoned waterfalls, the actively-migrating falls just below Paulina Lake today, plus the wave-cut terraces marooned several feet above the lake’s current water level. But it wasn’t until two Forest Service researchers, Lawrence Chitwood and Robert Jensen, put all of these clues together back in the mid-1990s that the full story of Paulina Creek’s ancient flood became clear to everyone.
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