Saturday, July 27, 2013

Over Santiam Pass (Day Twenty-eight)

Refreshed from our rest days, we left Bend at a brisk pace and soon arrived in Sisters after many scenic miles through dry forest at the foot of the eastern Cascades. In Sisters, we mentally and calorically prepared for our ascent of the Cascade mountain range. Still debating whether to cross at McKenzie pass or Santiam pass, we observed the intersection where the Santiam and McKenzie highways meet. McKenzie is the lower traffic road, but Santiam has a consistently wide shoulder and was a more direct route to our destination.

Choosing Santiam, we wound our way upwards through the dry forest and sunlight. The forest opened as we neared the pass, the sun further heating us as we steadily gained elevation. Respite came in the form of a small, shady roadside waterfall where we dunked our heads and filled our water bottles. Soon we stopped again at an overlook with a view of Mt. Washington and Black Butte. Interpretive signage discussed the B&B Complex fires that burned the area in 2003, and also gave a neat clue as to the reason for the shapes of the visible high peaks. Mt. Washington is a stunning glaciated volcanic mountain with steep sides of bare rock, while Black Butte is a smooth cone with gradual forested slopes. Perhaps because of its highly eroded state, it might seem that Mt. Washington is the older volcano. Actually though, Black Butte is older. Further west, Mt. Washington bears the brunt of Pacific moisture, gathering glaciers that cut its sides. Protected in the rain shadow of the Cascades, Black Butte stays glacier free and retains its smooth sides. Cool!

Hardened by the passes we climbed in Idaho and Montana, we reached the top with breath to spare. Gathering speed, we dove down the western slope into dense forest. As we picked up the North Santiam highway that leads to Detroit, the forest grew denser. and darker. and deeper. and greener. Traffic was light, the pavement was smooth, the shoulder was wide, and the evening sun winked through the trees. It lit brilliant rooms of trunk and moss and fern, and it filled the rushing water of streams and tiny falls with bright confetti. Still several miles short of Detroit, we lay our heads to rest on the mossy, flower-speckled ground of a retired road and fell asleep on the wet west side.

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