WHYCHUS

Walking along the edge of Whychus creek, warm sun incenses the air with the sweet smell of pine and fir. Watching the water roil and slide over basalt bed rock I let my mind ascend the tree canopy and and fly to edge of this waters origin; glaciers. I know this place in my own right, climbed the peaks who house the diminishing glaciers, walked along the upper reaches of Park and Whychus Creeks and visited the smattering of glaciated tarns that mirror all who care to gaze.

Evidence of Indians residing in the area extend back nearly 8,000 years when the Molalla Indians and perhaps other tribes used Whychus to access Obsidian born of the nearby volcanoes. Whychus, meaning “the place we cross the water” was named by the Warm Springs Confederated Tribes reflects the glacial tributaries great importance.

Any wilderness traveler knows the dangers, necessity and thrill of crossing water. Finding the right place to cross dangerous waters sometimes requires great detours. Seasonality, rain fall, temperature and snow pack heavily influence streams like this. In the late dry summer Whychus can be a harmless thread of a stream, but the spring melt-off can be a white boiling dragon capable of consuming anyone daring to cross. Unrestrained water offers an opportunity to admire both beauty and power. Water and its relentless submission to gravity will pay no heed to a human looking for hasty passage. Instead, a stream in full spring flow will demand patience; the toll.

Since the arrival of American pioneers, Whychus has been subjected to human modification. Many in the Central Oregon area have rallied to transform Whychus from its modified form back into its more wild character. Restoration projects, art, policy and recreation are all examples of community coagulation dedicated to remake what once was; a wild stream fed by mountainous glaciers.

Thank you

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One response to “WHYCHUS

  1. Thanks, Jon, for this lovely tribute to Whychus Creek and by extension to the many, many people who have labored mightily to restore it to a more natural condition. I can easily think of a hundred such folks and yet know there are many hundreds more. Native Americans as well as long-time and recent immigrants to Central Oregon have fallen in love with what remains of Whychus’ grandeur, and then put their backs, cash, prayers, legal briefs, citizen organizing and love into helping many damaged places return to health. It is an extraordinary feat that native fish are again making their way from the Pacific Ocean to Whychus Creek. Yet still so much more remains to do to unwind over a hundred years of abuse.

    I remember when I first went looking for the mythical Alder Springs (then on private land) and instead at sunset stumbled on the lower road crossing where a few friends and I made camp. It still seems an odd dream to recall being woken in the middle of the night by a raging party of Russian Orthodox merry makers on holiday from the Willamette Valley — an inauspicious beginning to my own love affair with Whychus Creek.

    In the intervening decades, I’ve had the privilege to earn a portion of my living by designing, constructing, maintaining, restoring and patrolling trails along Whychus, from its headwaters on the the Cascade crest to its climactic confluence with the Deschutes River. For the assistance and comaraderie of fellow wilderness, trail and youth crews, as well as many volunteers, I am eternally grateful. I am particularly eager to thank Laurel Skelton, now passed on but then a recreation planner for the Crooked River National Grassland, who invited the Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District trail crew to get involved in establishing a first modest trail to Alder Springs, instead of the huge one that others had proposed.

    Among many moving moments over the years of work, I recall when a quiet youth corps member mustered his courage to show crew mates a native plant that his grand mother still collects for family feasts. Another late fall afternoon, driving home after transplanting native plants into a closed road, a colleague and I were transfixed by a heard of elk charging out of the fog and streaming by for what seemed forever. So many other rich memories.

    And then there are tales of fun along Whychus from many days exploring and evenings of solitude or laughter when camped with special friends. One final story of when circumstances required me to run along the trail in only my swim suit. Coming around a blind corner I encountered a women’s hiking group. A tad flustered I kept running, but heard behind me, “Not bad” 🙂

    Donations to further improve Whychus Creek can be made to the Deschutes Land Trust, Deschutes River Conservancy, National Forest Foundation, and FANS (Friends and Neighbors of Whychus & Deschutes through the Oregon Natural Desert Association). All these organizations welcome volunteers as well as donations.

    A final note and plea:
    There are still some who intentionally abuse Whychus Creek leaving garbage, driving off road, setting fires… though hopefully the corner has been turned on the worst of that. However, we now have a problem of increasing numbers of people unwittingly loving the place to the point of harm. The three best ways to minimize such impacts are by: 1) staying on official trails; 2) camping without a camp fire, and 3) if you have secret places, keeping them secret. If one is compelled to explore cross country off official trails, “Leave No Trace” encourages traveling in small groups, spread out and only on durable surfaces such as rock, hardy vegetation or stream gravels — away from steep, erodible or cryptobiotic soils. Whychus Creek has an unfortunate history of illegal trail construction that continues to jeopardize wildlife, water quality, archeological and other resources. If you know of such trails, please do not publicize them and avoid them whenever possible to allow them to re-naturalize. Finally, when you can, carry out other’s garbage and camp well away from the water’s edge. For more inforation see http://www.lnt.org .

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