Clearwater Falls, Oregon

Clearwater River, July 2014

One of the best places to see waterfalls in the United States is relatively unknown, and a little off the beaten track. However, if you are willing to explore a bit, and have the flexibility to spend at least a day adventuring about without a set schedule, you will be amazed by what you will see; and by what you can discover. The location is the North Umpqua River, located in South-central Oregon. The North Umpqua is a tributary of the Umpqua River, and it flows 110 miles from its source in the Mount Thielsen Wilderness to the Pacific Ocean. One hundred and ten miles of river is a lot of terrain to cover - more than one person can reasonably expect to see in a day, but the region of the river I'm talking about is a much smaller area, which is the area along Highway 138 from Idleyd Park to Diamond Lake. This area is part of the Umpqua National Forest, and is known for its emerald green waters and great fishing. The Forest Service, which manages the area, calls it the area of "Thundering Waters", as there are over seventeen waterfalls that can be visited in the region. (Check out this map here). Although there is not a bad waterfall in the group, my favorite is Clearwater Falls. 

Directions: Clearwater Falls is closest to Diamond Lake off of Highway 138. The Falls are located to the South on a Forest Service access road at mile-marker 69.5 along Highway 138. The Falls are clearly marked on both the East and West directions of Highway 138. From the parking area, it is a quarter-mile (.25) walk to the top of the falls, on a developed trail. The trail starts alongside the Clearwater River, and meanders up to the base of the falls, before ascending the remainder of the way to the top of the falls. Although this is a hike that contains minimal elevation gain, and a relatively short distance, it is one of my favorite hikes in the region because it provides great opportunities for exploration. Among the many things present to explore are a crossing at the Clearwater River near the parking area that allows access to both sides of the river; and a large pool at the top of the falls that partially feeds the falls itself. Best of all, this is an area that is usually free of visitors, and one that provides a great amount of solitude.  


Tips/Facts. As part of the Cascade Range, Clearwater Falls, and the area around it has a great deal of volcanic rock. Like Burney Falls in California, much of this rock has eroded over time to store giant underground aquifers, which help feed the waterfall. Like Burney, Clearwater Falls has an impressive rate of flow. Unlike Burney, however, visitors can enter the water above the falls - which I did - only to find that this water (and the water from the Clearwater River) is extraordinarily cold (slightly above freezing). But, if it is a hot day, or if your feet are tired, the pool above the falls is a great spot for a restorative dip. 


2014 Perseid Meteor Shower and August Supermoon

Once again, it's that time of year, when the  sons of Perseus streak across the nighttime sky. Generally, this is a great meteor shower to watch, as the Perseids are one of the larger showers that have been observed continuously from 36 A.D. through the present day. This year, however, the annual Perseid Meteor Shower coincides with a supermoon. The supermoon of August 10, 2014, is not just any supermoon - it's the largest supermoon of all of 2014. It also has a number of names, such as the Sturgeon moon; the Green Corn Moon; and the Grain Moon. This supermoon will also be 14% closer and 30% brighter than all of the other full moons of 2014. And, in terms of hard numbers, the August 10 full moon will be 221,675 miles away from the Earth; and while this may seem far, this is actually the closest the moon will be to the Earth until the full moon of September 28, 2015.

Unfortunately, the arrival of the supermoon on August 10, 2014 means that this year, the Perseid Meteor Shower will be hard to see, as its peak days will be August 12-13, 2014, and during those nights, the light of the supermoon will flood the sky. If you are still interested trying to see the Perseids this year, the best time to view is anytime from August 6, 2014 to August 13, 2014 during the pre-dawn hours, after the moon has set, from 2am until dawn.

The other thing that will aid you in catching a glimpse of the Perseids is to get away from unnatural light sources. The best thing you can to do to improve your chances to see the Perseids is to get outside. Cities generate a lot of light pollution, which makes it harder to see everything in the night sky, including the Perseids. Secondly, as the supermoon is bright in 2014, and will not set until the pre-dawn hours, you will need to have lots of patience. Even if you wake up in around 2am, your eyes will need a little bit of time to adjust to the dark; so sit back; relax, and enjoy watching the universe move in inscrutable and beautiful ways. Finally, be sure to have fun! If you're heading out to watch the Perseids - or the supermoon, bring food, drinks, and plenty of blankets and pillows to stay comfortable and warm. 

Interested in science? You might like this NASA app HERE; and about the dust passing through our atmosphere during the shower here. And, if your interested in the Perseids, here's ten facts about the meteor shower.

Skull Cave

Exiting Skull Cave

One of the lesser known gems of the National Park system is Lava Beds National Monument. Established in 1925, the park is home to the largest concentration of lava tube caves in the United States. Currently, over seven hundred (700) separate caves have been discovered in the park, and over twenty of these caves are accessible to the general public. That's right: over twenty of the caves are accessible to visitors. While there are many amazing things about Lava Beds - petroglyphs, hiking trails along the Medicine Lake shield volcano, interpretive displays about the Modoc War and more, the caves are the signature attraction. Unlike many National and State Parks which discourage or limit exploration of underground features to pre-set guided tours, Lava Beds encourages exploration of its many caves. And, as a matter of fact, Rangers will "rent" flashlights (no charge with a valid Driver's License) and provide information about the conditions found in the various caves within the park. One of the easiest caves to explore in the park with an interesting geologic and cultural history is Skull Cave. 

Directions: Skull Cave is not located off of the main "Cave Loop" area of the park; instead, it is located two miles to the North of the Visitor Center, off of the main road. Directions to the cave are well signed on both directions of the main park road. From the parking area, the trailhead to the cave - which is a large lava tube - is readily apparent. Skull Cave is actually not just one lava tube, but two lava tubes that are stacked atop one another. And, unlike the other caves present in the park, Skull Cave is large. The size of Skull Cave makes it the perfect beginner's cave to explore, because the enormous distances involved preclude any feelings of claustrophobia inside the cave. At the beginning of the trail, one immediately gets an idea of the scope - and size of Skull Cave, as one can see into a massive opening in the rock, which by my estimation, is approximately one football field wide, and one football field tall. 

While Skull Cave is interesting because it is two lava tubes stacked atop each other, it is also interesting for its cultural - and geologic history. The cave itself is named for the many animals skulls - bighorn sheep, antelope, and mountain goat found within it; and the two human skulls also found within it. The entirety of the park was home to the Modoc Tribe of Native Americans for many years; and they, along with their ancestors used the caves for a variety of reasons. Skull Cave, however, was utilized as a year-round source of water by both animals and humans in the past, because it was one of two caves in the park to have a year-round ice floor at its bottom. 

Today, while the ice floor is protected from visitor access by a metal gate, it still exists (albeit much smaller than in the past). The ice floor also highlights the interesting geology present in the cave. The distance into the cave is relatively short; and the distance into the bottom of the cave is even shorter - some 580 feet. However, in that 580 feet, the temperature drops dramatically. When I visited, the ambient temperature above ground was ~85 degrees. At the entrance of Skull Cave (within .1 miles of the parking area) the temperature was ~60 degrees. By the time I reached the bottom of the cave, the temperature was slightly below 30 degrees, and all of this had occurred within 580 feet! Because of its history, its unique geology, and its beginner-friendliness, I would definitely recommend that any visitors to Lava Beds check out Skull Cave.

Tips: As mentioned above, the Rangers at Lava Beds provide free flashlights for exploration at the Visitor Center, as long as you have a valid government issued identification, and of course, return the flashlights. And, as this cave always has ice in it, be sure to dress accordingly when exploring it. 


Bodie State Historic Park

There are ghost towns where only the crumbling remnants of overgrown foundations remain; there are ghost towns where a few dilapidated buildings remain; and then there is Bodie, California – an entire town lost to the passage of time in the mountains of California.

Read More