In late October I visited the Indian Ford Preserve, which is located several miles northeast of Sisters, Oregon, with Deschutes Land Trust (DLT) leader Kelly Madden. This is the flagship property of the group and it was purchased in 1995. Preserves are purchased outright, donated, or are protected through easement agreements with the owners. This property is 63 acres in size and consists of meadow, forest, and stream habitat. Indian Ford Creek meanders through the property. It is on the border of land dominated by Ponderosa pine or Western juniper.
There is a wide variety of wildlife that uses the preserve. I could see sign of mule deer and saw a herd nearby on my drive there. It was a quiet day for bird life the day I was there but I heard California quail, Steller’s jay, and pygmy nuthatch and saw a song sparrow, bald eagle, and a fleeting glimpse of a warbler. I wasn’t there for long but can tell you that based on the bird checklist for the site and observing the edges of different kinds of habitats; it’s probably pretty active in the spring and summer. DLT is always looking for help in doing bird surveys on their preserves. If that interests you, go here: http://www.deschuteslandtrust.org/get-involved/volunteer/bird-surveys
I went on this walk to see fall foliage. I learned that warm fall days, cool nights, and no frost create the brightest foliage. Elevation, moisture, and genetics can also affect how the foliage looks. The golden leaves of quaking aspen fluttered on the west side of the creek but there was little other color on this trip. The drought has adversely affected plant growth and fall color.
I learned more about Western juniper from our guide. This slow growing, long-lived species can change its sex from year to year. They are sometimes hermaphroditic – or both sexes. When the trees are younger than ten years in age, they send down tap roots that are 51” long. At around the age of ten, the roots start expanding out laterally. The root system can be five times the height of the tree. They like to start to grow under sagebrush but they don’t do as well in shaded areas as they mature. They start maturing when they are around 25 years old and are full reproductive maturity by age 75. Their growth form is pointy and triangular until they are about 100 years old. At around 120 years of age, the tree splits and takes on a more open form.
I also learned some new facts about aspen. The main tree in a grove is called the “Grandma” tree while the rest are referred to as the nursery. The grandma has the darkest bark in an aspen stand. We learned that early settlers often left a blaze mark, otherwise known as an arborglyph, on the tree trunks.
I recently saw a sign at a local nursery that said, “Buy one aspen and get one free!” and it cracked me up. Knowing that they are clones and sprout up from one “Grandma” I wondered how many trees an unsuspecting customer might end up with.
DLT has rehabilitated the habitat on this preserve. Invasive and non-native plants have been pulled. Willow has been planted along the streambanks. Cattle and other livestock are fenced out of this piece of property. In the past as many as 30,000 cattle grazed in this region. As a result of the Deschutes Land Trusts’ habitat rehabilitation efforts, salmon have been observed in the creek for the first time since 1964.
Native Americans regularly camped in this area and forded the creek here. The Northern Paiute and Molalla tribes lived in this area. It has been used for over 10,000 years. From here they may have gone on excursions to collect obsidian near Paulina Lake, collect food at Abert Lake, or trade with other tribes. One of the things local tribes here created were ornately decorated gloves. They were much sought after. The gloves were made all the way up until the 1920’s.
Some tribal members went up to the 10,358 foot peak of South Sister on vision quests. It is thought that Native Americans went up there to mourn a death in the family, to celebrate the start of puberty, or to deal with a stressful time in their lives. They made rock piles and likely did not eat or drink and exercised to the point of exhaustion. The 5-6 foot high rock stacks were discovered on the summit by explorer Adolph Dekum in 1883.
Explorers, trappers, and settlers started coming to this area in the 1800’s. In 1825, Peter Skene Ogden, of the Hudson’s Bay Company, camped nearby at Whychus Creek and let his horses graze in the meadows of Indian Ford. John C. Fremont explored areas near here in December of 1843. A military camp was established at Camp Polk in September of 1865 to protect resident miners and settlers. It was only used until May of 1866 and there were never any wars with local tribes. After the military camp was abandoned, Samuel Hindman and his family moved into the area and had a post office and store. In 1888, the post office was moved into present day Sisters. The name of the town was changed from Camp Polk to Sisters after the nearby mountain peaks. The town was located along the Santiam Wagon Road and it soon prospered from all of the business generated by travelers. In 1901, the town of Sisters was formally established.
A visit to this preserve gives you a magnificent view of the nearby peaks and buttes and a look at a meandering creek that has been carefully restored to its former glory. The preserve is rich in recent and ancient history and you can see why native peoples and settlers chose to visit and live here.