Tag Archives: Dee Wright Observatory

McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway — August 7-8, 2018

On Aug. 7, we three intrepid RVers moved to the Cold Springs Campground, for a bit of dry camping.  The campground was a quiet and pleasant place deep in the woods, with widely separated but relatively tight sites.  From there we took our cars to a number of interesting places, including driving a portion of the McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway.  We visited the headwaters of the Metolius River, where the river appears as a spring flowing out of the base of Black Butte.  The site is visually unimpressive, because the Forest Service platform was erected on private land too far from the spring outflow.  Afterwards we stopped for lunch at the Camp Sherman Country Store.

The McKenzie River contains Sahalie Falls (100′) and Koosah Falls (70′), two beautiful cascades that can be seen by hiking an easy 2.6-mile loop trail. These falls mark the terminus of two thick flows of basaltic andesite lava that dammed Clear Lake and moved into the McKenzie River 3,000 years ago. The results are two breathtaking waterfalls with foaming white water cascades in between.  The trail from Sahalie to Koosah Falls is less than a mile and well worth walking.  In addition to the powerful whitewater, the trail passes through an old-growth corridor densely packed with mosses, ferns, Douglas firs, hemlocks, and cedars.  

Just shy of McKenzie Pass the dense forest is replaced by an expanse of dark and broken lava that stretches for 65 square miles. It’s one of the most recent and most remarkable examples of volcanic activity in North America, the result of eruptions from Belknap Crater about 2,000 years ago. We stopped at the trailhead of the Lava River National Recreation Trail, a ½ mile paved path through lava gutters and ridges. It begins with the Dee Wright Observatory— constructed of lava rock by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935 — which has viewing ports to see many surrounding Cascade peaks.