top of page

Guest Field Notes, June 27: Stay cool, and keep a low profile

That's a view down the upper valley of Eagle Creek, June 18. A week ago my wife & I went up there together, from the place called Boulder Park. There is no longer the resort that is shown on old USGS topographic maps. That improvement (its removal) must have happened shortly before we settled in Oregon and set up camp for the long term, about 26 miles downstream, about 26 years ago, for the map says "field checked 1987."

Boulder Park is in the lower left; we visited Culver Lake and Bear Lake in their glacial cirques halfway up on the east side, and Cached Lake near the top on the west side of Eagle Creek.

Above Copper Creek Falls, there was water everywhere!

The hillsides were under flood irrigation from snowmelt, and I had to keep stopping for a drink, it was so alluring.

Eagle Creek above Copper Creek Falls flows in multiple channels, and out of channels, this time of year. Just below the falls, it does converge to a single channel, where you can behold its clarity and volume in one place:

Though you could see bottom as if the water were much shallower, I believe the water was five feet deep mid-channel, and flowing swiftly. We were glad to find the relatively new foot bridge there. Years ago there had been a pack bridge, but the last time I'd crossed I had to ford, and it was butt deep. The tricky thing about fording streams, where the water gets to be deeper than your legs are long, is buoyancy: there's not enough weight on your feet to keep the current from sweeping you downstream!

Although the valley meadows were green, the high lakes were still just coming out of winter:

Around Bear Lake, in open fields the spring snow had that characteristic texture that makes for difficult walking but easy water-crossing:

It's fun to see the differences in timing depending on elevation and on forest cover and slope aspect. Everywhere, life seems to get about the business of new growth as soon as there is an opportunity:

It kind of looks like the little mushrooms didn't just respond to the thawing but participated in it. Nature seems to be more of a dance than a contest, and maybe best appreciated in terms of reciprocal relations rather than as a sequential history of what causes what. Another thaw-related phenomenon that we noticed and wondered about in the forest, which holds the snow longer (but less so right around the trunks of trees), was the pattern of collection of larch needles along little ridges on the snow:

It looks like the needles probably insulate the snow (rather than accelerating its melting by absorbing sunshine), and so the snow surface develops ridges where there are needles, and hollows in between; but then you wonder how the needles get swept into their arrangement. Maybe it's another dance: the topography of the snow directs airflow that arranges the needles...

One reason I love to go tramping in the mountains early in the season is that on trails you see not a pavement of human footprints, but a silent story of animals' passing ... mostly the tracks of the intrepid elk. The elk are my heroes, they're so strong and capable, such big animals who can make a living in the wild. They routinely go over difficult passes; they can climb steep mountainsides at a run.

On the way up to Cached Lake, we seemed to be following in the recent footsteps of some elk who, like us, were more or less for convenience following trail 1922 up the Cached Creek drainage. At one place it looked like there was a little tussle or maybe just some fraternizing. Then at a certain bench where the water was slow enough and exposed enough to make frogs sing, we came upon a group of elk grazing on the recently returned green.

See how muscular they are!

As we watched them, by and by there was a subtle shift of the air, moving up-valley now; the elk quickly reacted to the olfactory alarm and were off as a group, up slope. We just kept on our track up valley, as one of the elk watched us from a safe distance.

At Cached Lake there were only some windows and leads of open water, where some fish appeared after what must have been a long dark winter for them. Maybe the penetrating sunlight warmed the mud some in the shallows, so the anaerobic biological factories could resume production. Anyway, bubbles of gas rose from the bottom to the water surface like something was cooking. Always something going on, on a living planet.

On the way back down from Cached lake we passed an elk calf who was hiding in plain sight:

She didn't move, and kept her head low, as she was told to do in such a case. She couldn't help that her spotted rump stuck up; her hind legs were already well developed.

We didn't want to linger and bother her, but after we passed, we looked back and saw that she had raised her head to watch us. What a story she had to tell the others. I don't know if Mom will have told her that she did the right thing, but you really can't be too wary of humans, and it's best to keep a low profile.

Featured Posts
bottom of page