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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The Old Railway along the Deschutes River

Deschutes Canyon - Hiking Central Oregon's First Railway

The original railroad surveys of the Deschutes River Canyon, conducted in 1855 by Army engineers, concluded that “the Deschutes Valley is mostly a barren region…separated from the rest of the world by almost impassable barriers.” In fact, at the turn of the century, Central Oregon was the largest territory in the U.S. without a railroad. Only in the early 1900s, when its wealth of ponderosa pine was recognized by commercial interests, was serious rail construction begun south from the Columbia up the Deschutes River. Hikers today can follow a section of this now abandoned rail bed for many miles, with spectacular river and canyon views.
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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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Photo of Two Spawning Kokanees

Spawning Kokanee at Crane Prairie Reservoir

One magnificent spectacle of nature that recurs every fall in Central Oregon is the spawning of kokanee salmon in the tributary streams of local Cascade lakes. Though an introduced species, these landlocked, lake-dwelling sockeye salmon are no less impressive. Several local streams have kokanee runs in the fall, but three tributaries of Crane Prairie Reservoir — the Upper Deschutes, Cultus and Quinn Rivers — are less-visited, beautiful and easy to access. If looking for an outing on a warm, sunny day in late September or early October, these three kokanee spawning sites are worth a visit.
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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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