Santiam Wagon Road – Central Oregon Attractions

A remnant of the Santiam Wagon Road

A remnant of the Santiam Wagon Road

If you are looking for an interesting historical area to visit that is close to Bend, try following parts of the route of the Santiam Wagon Road as it parallels present day Highway 20 and parts of Highway 126 between the cities of Sisters and Lebanon, Oregon. This particular wagon road is interesting because its purpose was to provide safe passage from the Willamette Valley eastwards into central Oregon. A route was found in 1859 by connecting old Native American trails to a route discovered by Hudson’s Bay Company trapper Thomas McKay. It became the main route across the Central Cascades from 1865 to 1939. In 1939 the Santiam Highway opened.

The road was maintained by the Willamette Valley and Cascade Mountain Wagon Road. Local ranchers formed the company with Andrew Wiley, John Gray, and John Brandenburg, the pioneers who originally proposed the road and scouted a route. Tolls were collected along the route. Settlers used the road to move their livestock eastwards to pasture lands and markets. The new road also enabled trade, commerce, and communication to pass between areas East and West of the Cascades.

Santiam Ski Lodge

Santiam Ski Lodge

On a recent visit, we stopped at an abandoned building just north of Hoodoo Ski Resort. The Santiam Ski Lodge was built in 1939 by the US Forest Service with help from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). It is a big lodge-style building with a rock wall base supporting large log beams. It slept 60 people. Now in disrepair, a potential buyer found out that it would cost as much as $5 million to make it usable.

Another bit of local history in this vicinity focuses on a mile and a half of railroad track that was constructed at Hogg Rock. Colonel T. Eggenton Hogg thought he could make a lot of money by creating a rail line across the Cascades which would have connected Newport, Oregon and Boise, Idaho. As a part of his money making scheme, he had workers start at the summit of Santiam Pass and start building a track through the sheer rock face. He only built a small section of track and then used mules to move a boxcar along the tracks to retain the rights to the pass by having a “working” right of way. The line was never completed after Hogg lost financial backing for the project.

Oregon grape

Oregon grape

Our group hiked 2.2 miles starting at USFS Road 2672 near Hackleman Creek. This trail follows the old wagon trail through old growth forests. You can almost imagine what the early settlers had to go through following the slow progress of their wagons along the road. We had to ford a few streams and climb a short hill as we made our way to the Fish Lake Remount Station.  In May, trillium, fairy slipper orchids, and Oregon grape were in full bloom. Winter Wrens made sure we were aware of their territory by singing loudly as we made our way along the trail.  The distinct distant calls, and large cavities observed in Ponderosa pine, cued us in to the presence of pileated woodpeckers.

The meadow that has replaced Fish Lake

The meadow that has replaced Fish Lake

We arrived at the Fish Lake Remount Station in a little over an hour. The seasonal lake had faded away to be replaced by a large meadow. Native Americans hunted, fished, and collected plants in this area long ago. Settlers stopped at Fish Lake to stay in the roadhouse, built in 1867, and get much needed supplies as they made their way along the wagon road. The Willamette Valley and Cascade Mountain Wagon Road Company ceased operations to Fish Lake in 1907. The area was also popular for camping and it was not uncommon to see 100 wagons camped there in summer months. The saloon and hotel burned down in the 1920’s.

The Forest Service used the site to rest their pack animals and stock up on supplies. Packstrings sometimes had as many as 20 horses and mules tied together.  Three cabins and several outbuildings were built in the 1920’s and 1930’s and are still standing today. The CCC built several of the structures in 1934.

Cabin at Fish Lake Remount Station

Cabin at Fish Lake Remount Station

There is a parking area about ¼ mile away from Remount Station. There are several picnic tables at the site and a great view of the lake (or meadow depending on the time of year). If you want to spend more time there, Hall House, which served as the supervisor’s cabin, is available to rent out through http://www.recreation.gov/.

Smooth

SmoothPhoto3

I moved to the high desert a couple of years ago and thought I left some of my favorite friends behind. One of my favorite birds where I lived before was the cedar waxwing. I felt lucky when I saw one.

If I could use one word to describe cedar waxwings it would be “smooth”.  Whenever I see one I have an urge to reach out and touch it. Its tawny feathers ombre into a creamy yellow on its underparts and gray near its tail. The feathers connect together so tightly that they give it a silky smooth appearance.

SmoothPhoto2Cedar waxwings get their name by a unique feature on the tips of their wings and tail. They look as if they got too close to a craft project that involved melting crayons. The tail is tipped in Sunshine Yellow. Small waxy droplets of Sizzling Red tip the wings.

They seem to wear a disguise on their faces. Black masks bordered with white frame their eyes. They raise a small crest of feathers on the tops of their heads as part of their communication. It alters their appearance so that they look like someone else.

Their voices are a wispy series of notes. I always recognize it even if I don’t see the bird. It is very high pitched making them sound smaller than they actually are. One time I saw a grosbeak feeding one and thought it might be because it mistook the call for one of its young.

SmoothPhoto1At some times of the year, waxwings flock together. I see specks flying high across the sky announcing their identity with their distinctive calls.  I used to be happy to see one or two waxwing birds at a time but now I see flocks in my yard.

I left behind people I had grown close to to move here. I thought I was leaving everyone but now I flock with different crowds. Sometimes they remind me so much of someone I knew before. Are they wearing disguises or did a special piece of my past follow me to my present?

Bend = Beer

Why, you may be asking, is she writing about beer on a site that is supposed to be related to history and nature. Well… beer is a big part of Bend’s history.

Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter beer and a growler

Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter and a growler

The history of beer in Central Oregon

Earlier this year, the High Desert Museum had a great exhibit about brewing. It was a temporary exhibit and it has closed but I can still share part of what I wrote about the exhibit. Here is an excerpt:

“The exhibit follows the history of brewing with an emphasis on activity in the Central Oregon region. What started out as saloons set up in tents has evolved into brewpubs that can be found throughout the area. Brewing slowed down during the Prohibition period of 1920 to 1933. Prohibition actually started four years earlier in Oregon due to the protests from some of its residents. Many women that participated in the temperance movement were upset by the bad influence alcohol had on their lives. At one time, there were breweries in nearly every Central Oregon town.

After Prohibition ended, new businesses opened that served a wide variety of alcoholic beverages.  Grant’s Brewery Pub located in Yakima, Washington, was the first craft brewery in the northwest. It opened in 1982. In 1983, after a series of legislative measures passed it became legal to produce and sell beer from independent breweries in Oregon. Craft brewing started in Bend in 1988 when Gary Fish opened Deschutes Brewery. As craft beer became more widely accepted, other breweries opened in two successive waves of activity that began in the 1990s. There are currently 26 breweries in the area with five more rumored to be opening in the not too distant future. Continue reading