Mondays’ Meander: En Route to High Desert Country

We started south from Portland but in a short while turned off I-5 toward the Santiam Pass in the Cascade Range. We were embarking on a three day weekend trip in Central Oregon. I was looking forward to the drive toward the 4,817 ft. high pass situated betwween volcanic peaks of Three-Fingered Jack and Mount Washington.

The weather was cloudy and roads were fine, with a spatter of rain now and then, and plenty of white snowy banks and forest floors at highest elevations. But soon we had to pass through countless charred remains of coniferous trees and through Detroit, a tourist town of 231 which sits alongside Detroit lake and Detroit Lake State Park. The infamous Santiam Fire in August 2020 began as three separate fires due to lightning strikes, merging into one horrific fire spurred on by 50 mph winds. It finally burned 402, 274 acres. We recall it well; it spread to four counties including a part of ours. Under fire watch for weeks, we remained indoors for ten days due to gathering thick smoke and gusts of high winds; bags were readied for an evacuation order. We didn’t get one, but thousands of others did. It was an unprecendented monster fire as it began to creep closer to Portland. I already had a healthy fear of fire; I tend to be very careful even when using candles. The smoke lingered for a very long while; there were many fires trhoughout Oregon that summer and fall.

And this was our first time in this particularly damaged Cascades Range area since then. And as we drove closer to the areas impacted, I had a window partically down–I could still smell the entrenched odor of old burned wood.

As we climbed, we began to see the black tree trunks and stumps. It was unnerving to drive from lushly green Willamette Valley into fire-eaten landscape.

Above, a view taken by Detroit lake which does show some greening of the forests; the darker and somewhat sparse areas of the mountains are not the worst damage, it seemd, but it was still apparent. Marc captured subdued feelings as I scanned blackened parts of trees beyond the camera, as I tried to imagine what it was like for residents to scramble for their lives amid an inferno…Any charred remains looked worse with each mile travelled. Five people died in the wide ranging fire. And all homes in Detroit were destroyed.

We continued into and past Detroit, gazed quietly at remnants of fire’s path–as well as hopeful rebuilding of homes and mercifully greener spots. Forest habitats heal and even can flourish, finally.

(Apologies for some poorer shots–I was shooting from a moving car mostly during this part.)

Below, a part of Detroit Lake with a view of Black Butte, left.

We began to reach the summit and then to descend.

Before long, we were entering the rain shadow side of the mountains–and into Sisters, OR.

Well-known for its touristy Western-themed atmosphere and shops, there are many reasons to visit, including hiking, fishing, horseback riding (lots of ranches in this area), mountain biking, skiing–as well as enjoying the Sisters Rodeo, a Quilt Show and the Sisters Folk Fesitival. Here are a few shots taken as we drove, then walked a little downtown. But it was very windy and cold and we wanted to get to Bend by late afternoon.

Then we were off and into sprawling high desert, a whole other experience and one of my favorite kinds– despite being a rainforest sort of gal…For one thing, the different types and fragrances of plants and the rocky, dry earth are fascinating, really lovely. And sunlight shines hotter; my skin’s rosiness after three days attests to it. And everywhere around the flatter landscape–easily seen mountains!

A sculptural group of wild horses.

It was just the start of a fun and relaxing trip. See you soon for upcoming posts–I have many more pictures from this Central Oregon trip! Next up: the bustling small city of attractive Bend and more of the surrounding environs.

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