Deschutes National Forest covers 1.8 million acres east of the Cascade Mountains in central Oregon. The forest contains five Wilderness areas, six National Wild & Scenic Rivers, nearly 350,000 acres of old-growth forest, and more than 250 known caves. The 10,497-foot stratovolcano Mt. Jefferson (shown above) is the second-highest mountain in Oregon. It’s also the most difficult volcano to reach in the Cascade Volcanic Arc because it’s located in a rugged wilderness.
Black Butte is an extinct cinder cone that rises over 3,000 feet above the surrounding plateau. There is a gravel Forest Service road that climbs halfway up the cone to a parking lot and restrooms. From there, visitors can hike the rest of the way to the summit. While we were hiking down the cone to the parking lot, we passed a sweaty and exhausted couple who apparently didn’t know about the road and had hiked all the way up from the bottom of the cone. Imagine their dismay when, after 2 grueling hours in the hot sun, they came upon the parking lot! They asked where we had started our hike, I guess hoping to hear that we had made the same mistake. Then they told us what they had done, so I asked earnestly, “Was that on purpose?” After the wife flashed a dirty look at her husband, I immediately realized it wasn’t on purpose, so I tried to soften the sting by saying, “Well, at least you’re getting some good exercise.” To which the wife replied, “Not really, my calves are killing me.”
The 6,436-foot summit of Black Butte has served as a fire lookout since 1910. It started with a couple of wood planks nailed between some trees. Then in 1934, the Forest Service wanted to build a permanent lookout tower and estimated that it would take a couple dozen trips to haul up the construction materials. It actually took nearly a thousand trips by pack horses to carry supplies for the 84-foot tower—oops! Then in 1995, the Forest Service built the modern tower shown in the top photo. This time they wisely constructed the tower in a nearby town, disassembled it into sections, lifted the sections to the summit by helicopter, then reassembled them there. In 2001, the 1934 tower collapsed under heavy snow. The bottom photo shows a cabin at the summit where fire spotters reside during the summer fire season so they don’t have to make the long climb to the summit every day. Three-Fingered Jack (left) and Mt. Jefferson (right) are visible in the distance.
The 7,794-foot Mt. Washington is a deeply eroded shield volcano. The pointy peak is a volcanic plug that was heavily eroded by glaciers in the last ice age about 10,000 years ago.
When we visited, the sky was thick with haze from a forest fire burning on the Three Sisters. The Sisters are three volcanoes, each taller than 10,000 feet and situated much closer together than the 40-60 mile spacing that’s typical between volcanoes in the Cascade Volcanic Arc. These volcanoes erupted between 170,000 and 600,000 years ago. A satellite survey in 2001 showed a deforming uplift near South Sister. There was worry that the volcano was weakening and may collapse. A swarm of earthquakes near the uplift in 2004 added to that worry, but the uplift slowed in 2007 and now is under watch.
In the distance we could see our old friend, Mt. Hood.
We dispersed camp in the middle of nowhere in Deschutes National Forest. Much to Theresa’s great delight, there was a large pile of free firewood left behind and stacked neatly by the fire ring in our campsite.
Theresa put the ax she found to good use and split the well-seasoned firewood into smaller pieces. Normally it costs $5-10 for a small bundle of 4-6 pieces of firewood, so we probably got about $50 worth of free wood! We filled our RV exterior compartments with as much wood as we could carry, and there was still a large pile of firewood remaining for the next few campers. We were able to roast many a marshmallow with all this free wood.
The natural 253-acre Suttle Lake is one of central Oregon’s most popular outdoor recreation sites. There are three large campgrounds on its shores, and it’s a great place to fish for rainbow trout. We hiked halfway around the lake. It was a pretty place, but unfortunately the serenity was penetrated by the constant hum of traffic on Highway 20, which runs along the north side of the lake.
The Lodge at Suttle Lake is adorned with First Nations artwork, including this masterfully hand-carved wooden door.