Lost Forest-Shifting Sand Dunes National Monument (Proposed)
Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 126-128.
Ancient pines and junipers, antediluvian fossils, and venerable dunes.
Location: Lake County, 30 miles northeast of Christmas Valley
Size: 577 square miles (36,624 acres)
Terrain: Open sand or gentle flats and rolling hills
Elevation Range: 4,290-4,792 feet
Managing Agencies: Lakeview District BLM (present); National Park Service (proposed)
Recreation Map: Northeast and Northwest Quarters, North Half Lakeview Resource Area, Lakeview District BLM
Three very different features are the centerpieces of the proposed national monument: Lost Forest, Shifting Sand Dunes, and Fossil Lake.
Lost Forest is a unique ponderosa pine forest located at least 30 miles from any other forest outliers. The trees have genetically evolved to produce seeds that germinate more rapidly than other ponderosa pines. These pines survive on a mere 9 to 9.5 inches of precipitation annually. Other ponderosa pines need a minimum of 15 inches. The unique deep sandy soil conditions—dependent on the nearby Shifting Sand Dunes—allow the ponderosas to receive the water they need. Some are over six hundred years old. Some of the largest and oldest western junipers in Oregon are also found here.
Shifting Sand Dunes
The formation is the largest inland moving sand dune system in Oregon and possibly the Pacific Northwest. The moisture retained in the dune system and the resulting complex soil conditions contribute to the preservation of the nearby Lost Forest.
The dunes are nothing less than spectacular. Constantly sculpted by wind and rain, the dunes are ever changing. (See Shifting Sand Dunes Wilderness.)
The Fossil Lake area has numerous cultural and paleontological sites that have been recognized as extremely important for the study of Pleistocene-age mammals. It is the "type site" (where a species is first discovered) for a number of fossil species. The area is unique in the archaeological record of the northern Great Basin and is one of the more important paleontological areas in North America.
Fossils were first discovered here (by European Americans) in 1877. Paleontologists have identified twenty-three mammal, seventy-four bird, six fish, and six mollusk species from the fossils that lived 2 million to 10,000 years ago. Snail shells obtained 14 feet below the top of the lakebeds have a radiocarbon age of 29,000 years. Ancient horses (not the feral ones we have now), camels, ground sloths, flamingos, mammoths, pelicans, swans, elephants, salmon, and snails have been classified. Many of the species described are now extinct.
The area was the bottom of the ancient Pleistocene Fort Rock Lake (see the wave line on Fort Rock) and was approximately 200 feet deep. When the climate became more arid, the lake dried up. Fossil Lake is what remains.
What To Do
Following the directions to Fossil Lake below, continue due east 9.5 miles past the powerline to "The Crossroads" in the heart of Lost Forest. Park and walk in the direction that beckons most. The area's highest point is 1.2 miles southwest. The Crossroads is located in a western juniper—ponderosa pine/sagebrush community. To the east a short walk is a tree-free sagebrush community. A short hike northwest is a ponderosa pine/sagebrush community. Northeast 1.5 miles is a ponderosa pine/bitterbrush community. Northeast 0.5 mile farther are dunes and shifting sand. East 1.8 miles and just south of road is a western juniper/Idaho fescue community without any ponderosa pine as it is too far from the Shifting Sand Dunes. East 0.2 mile of that is a small playa.
Sand Rock, 1 mile west of The Crossroads, is a fun little climb with nice views. If you plan to camp in the area and have a fire, bring your own firewood.