Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Jewels in the Old Cascades


Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 1978. Jewels in the Old Cascades. Seriatim. Vol. 2, No. 1. Winter. 38-39. 

By Andy Kerr

Up in the midsection of the Willamette National Forest they have been selling off the trees pretty fast. The once vast forest wilderness has been reduced to mere islands of trees. Economic dogma says as the supply diminishes worth goes up. If that's true, the proposed Old Cascades Wilderness is invaluable.

The Old Cascades would be comprised of seven units: Moose Lake, Rooster Rock, Gordon Meadows, Jumpoff Joe, Browder Ridge, Smith Reservoir, and Echo Mountain-Pyramids. These areas are still roadless because, till now, nobody wanted the timber on these steep, rocky slopes.

The Old Cascades is geologically different from the much more recent "High Cascades" (Mt. Jefferson, Three Sisters, et al.) and at this time, there is no representation of the Old Cascades within the Wilderness System. The ecological diversity of this proposed wilderness is outstanding. Besides many forest types there are numerous non-forest habitats: aquatic, rock balds, meads, successional lakes, etc.

To bridge these last undeveloped islands conservationists are proposing a hiking trail through the Old Cascades.

Moose Lake contains an icy stream flowing through mossy green deciduous forest. Further to the east the Rooster Rock Unit contains at least 23 rock spires jutting above the trees with names like Rabbit Ears, Turkey Monster, Bridge, and Porcupine. Known as the Menagerie, it is a famous rock climbing spot.

Across Highway 20 to the South is Gordon Meadows. The area contains, among other things, lakes in various stages of succession and an impressive sheer basalt cliff. To the east another prominent landmark is Jumpoff Joe. It is easily visible from Highway 20, which replaced the Old Santiam Wagon Road. Parts of the Wagon Road are still visible in the Jumpoff Joe Unit, much as it once was.

Heading east again, Browser Ridge offers hillsides of lightning caused snags towering above the new forest. It also contains Heart Lake, one of the few lakes in the Old Cascades which doesn't have a road to and a campground around it.

The Echo Mountain-Pyramids Unit is an ecological wonderland, for within a quarter mile on Echo Mountain Ridge there are 80 percent of the coniferous species found at this altitude in Oregon. This is the most diverse collection of conifers in the Pacific Northwest. Over on Iron Mountain, more than 300 species of wildflowers have been identified. The unit also contains many disjunct species—those isolated from their main areas of distribution. It seems that the glaciers missed this area during their trips up and down Oregon, leaving populations of Echo Mountain flourishing to this day.

If you've ever been to the Willamette National Forest and seen all those roads and stumps, you already know the most important reason for a wilderness area: a line. Whether it's that visible line on a map or an invisible line on the ground, it's there all the same. A line where we as people have said, "beyond this place we will not take the wildness out from the land. We will not interfere; we will only visit, learn, and pass through."