adventures in nature

into the land of the volcanoes

Wow. Volcanoes, pumas, ospreys, red-tails and eagles – I don’t think it gets much better. Words and pictures really can’t capture the landscape and experiences on my recent trip up through Northern California, central Oregon, and central Washington. But I’ll give it a try.

On the northbound drive on I-5 just before we veered off on US Route 97, Mount Shasta greeted us in the last bit of light from the day with a peek at its snowy peak , denoting the end of the dry, hot Central Valley of California, welcoming us up into the cooler mountainous high desert lands and giving us just a glimpse of what was to come. The land of the  volcanoes on the eastern side of the Pacific Ring of Fire, known as the Cascade Volcanic Arc.

Mount Shasta (pic from return trip)

high desert red-tailed hawk

I saw some familiar friends along the way – in the flat, dry scrubland scape of Oregon’s high desert, perched on a lone tree, was a red-tailed hawk dressed in some unique plumage. At first I thought its head was bald, but then realized that it was just a very light color. Perhaps the sun exposure in the high altitude desert caused this coloration, perhaps it was partially due to its molting feathers. It’s eyes were a brilliant orange color, and it’s body feathers had brownish-orange spots woven into its back. It seemed like I was dreaming to watch this beautiful creature, as its shape and color seemed to shift with each movement it made.

The Columbia River Gorge in WA is a long winding monumental cut in the high desert landscape, a drastic change to the relatively flat and dry land that extends as far as the eye can see.

Columbia River Gorge near Vantage, WA

After cooling off with a swim in the river, a bald eagle soured overhead with a fresh catch in its talons. It spiraled up towards the sun until I couldn’t see it.

bald eagle by Columbia River near Vantage, WA

It turned out to be one of three bald eagles that I saw on the trip, the last one being a first year juvenile bald eagle by Mt Shasta on the return trip. There were more red-tailed hawks than I could count, and many many osprey nests as well. Passing through Klamath Basin, one of the premier birding spots in the Western US, we saw large numbers of birds including white pelicans, always a treat. I also saw my first nighthawk in Tumalo State Park, near Bend, OR, flitting above my campground on night three as the sun set – just after finding what appeared to be a mountain lion track not far from the campsite. Ironic because we had mounted on our dashboard our version of the “dashboard Jesus,” our official trip Protector and Guide – a mountain lion!

front right puma track??!! by Tumalo State Park        

We seemed to find osprey nests everywhere in Klamath Basin around the lakes, and one morning we were treated to quite a show.

osprey and baby at nest in Klamath Basin

Except for a western detour around Mt Shasta, all the other visible volcanoes were constant companions in our view to the West. One would come into view as we drove north, then slowly make its way around and behind us over a period of hours as we traveled at 70 or 80 mph. Most of these volcanoes are over 14,000 feet. You could feel their life as they stood like sentries over the landscape that they’ve helped to shape over millennium.

Mount Adams in WA

Then there is Crater Lake, located in Oregon at Crater Lake National Park … and it deserves an entry all to itself.

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