What is so special about the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument?

This national monument spans the border between Oregon (Jackson County) and California (Siskiyou County) immediately east of the I-5 freeway. It was first established in 2000 by President Bill Clinton and expanded in January 2017 by President Obama as one of his last actions before leaving office. The monument is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from the local Medford Oregon office. It is an important time to learn more about the monument because it is one of the four that Interior Secretary Zinke (Trump administration) has proposed to shrink. 

Several weekends ago, we hiked to Hobart Bluff in the monument with Mike and Chris from the San Francisco Bay Area. This view (with Jay and Mike) is to the northwest, parallel to the Bear Creek arm of the Rogue Valley, with Emigrant Lake in the near part of the valley and the buildings of Ashland just beyond the lakes. To the west of the valley (left side of photo) are the Klamath Mountains that consist of old Paleozoic and Mesozoic, mostly oceanic, rocks that were added to the continent many tens of millions of years ago. To the east of the valley (right side of photo) are the mountains that make up the Western Cascades—the now-eroded volcanoes that were active from about 40–15 million years ago. The currently active volcanoes are located just east of the Western Cascades; although they didn’t show up well in photographs, Mt. McLoughlin volcano was visible to the east and Mt. Shasta volcano was visible to the south.

So why was this area declared a national monument by President Clinton in the first place? Turns out this monument was the first to be recognized solely because of a desire to preserve its incredible biodiversity. In recognition of this biodiversity, the region has also been designated as an Area of Global Botanical Significance and proposed as a World Heritage Site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. 

And what is the cause of all this biodiversity, you may ask? Well, it’s all about the geology, of course! This location is at the intersection of the Cascade, Klamath and Siskiyou mountain ranges, with additional climatic influences from the Basin and Range province to the east (starting at Klamath Lake) and the Pacific coast to the west. These rugged mountain ranges are characterized by a complex suite of rock types that creates the various soil types, topographic changes, and micro-climates that produce so many diverse ecological niches. David Rains Wallace’s 1983 book about the natural history of the region (biological and geological), entitled “The Klamath Knot”, produced a visual way (a knot) to think about this complexity.

Clearly, there are many good reasons for preserving the natural environment of this region. As it is, there remain many private holdings within the monument, and the law allows for recreational activities such as hunting and fishing. In fact, our hike was curtailed by gun shots as we attempted to continue south to Soda Mountain. Only very limited commercial interests are likely to benefit from the monument’s shrinkage and it is my hope that the monument will remain at its current size so that more of the public can enjoy its bounty and beauty.

For more information :

—BLM site with photos and useful information: https://www.blm.gov/programs/national-conservation-lands/national-monuments/oregon-washington/cascade-siskiyou

—Site of Friends of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, a group that organizes hikes and other activities in the monument and strives to protect it: http://www.cascadesiskiyou.org/

—World Wildlife Fund’s site about the area’s global significance: https://www.worldwildlife.org/ecoregions/na0516

—Wikipedia site about “The Klamath Knot”: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Klamath_Knot


Climbing Mount McLoughlin—one of the lesser known Cascade volcanoes

Mount McLoughlin is located 63 kilometers (38 miles) east of Ashland, Oregon, where I now live. As shown on this map by the U.S. Geological Survey, Mount McLoughlin is located between the volcanoes of Mount Shasta and Crater Lake, which is the remnant of Mount Mazama that exploded to become a caldera 7,700 years ago. All of the Cascade Range volcanoes have been formed as a result of the Juan de Fuca plate (offshore oceanic crust) subducting beneath the North American continental plate.

Mount McLoughlin is a volcano with primarily basaltic andesite lava that has been built within the past 200,000 years or so; the most recent flows occurred within the past 20,000 years. Glacial action during late Pleistocene glaciations (last one 18,000 years ago) left an imprint on the north side of the mountain, which is eroded and very steep.


The mountain is most impressive in the winter when it is capped by snow. Here is a photo from the 2015-16 winter, when Jay and I were cross-country skiing along the Buck Prairie trails that have excellent views of Mount McLoughlin to the east.

IMG_3067.JPGAt any time of year, though, the volcano is a prominent feature on the landscape. This photo is a view to the north from the Indian Memorial Highway. Note the smooth, symmetrical sides of the volcano on the south flank.

P1070924.jpgAnita, a friend who has accompanied me on previous adventures (see January and February 2012 posts of our explorations in Argentina), accompanied me on a climb to the top of Mount McLoughlin on 22 August 2016. At 2894 meters (9495 feet), Mount McLoughlin is one of the lowest Cascade peaks and one of the most accessible, although it’s still a grueling climb, with an elevation gain of nearly 4000 feet (12oo meters) from the parking lot trail head to the peak’s summit. On the photo above, the trail extends up the right (east) side of the cone.

P1070883.jpgThe path is clearly visible through the pine trees and lava boulders up to an elevation of about 2400 meters (8000 feet). At this point, the hiker is above tree line and the summit is visible. This is a good psychological boost, because the trail gets harder to follow and rougher. But the views keep getting better and better…

P1070903.jpgMount Shasta is visible along most of the upper part of the climb. It is at the right side of this photo (looking southwest), although haze obscures the view. Fish Lake, where we camped, is in the foreground; Howard Prairie Lake is a thin sliver in the photo’s center. Pilot Rock is also visible, if you know where to look.

P1070910.jpgOnce at the top, there is a stunning 360-degree view of surrounding mountain ranges. This view, at the summit, is toward the west, with the northern part of the Rogue Valley visible in the upper left part of the photo.

IMG_1553.jpgAnother view from the summit looks eastward, toward Klamath Lake in the distance; the smaller lakes are Lake of the Woods (right side) and Fourmile Lake (left side).

P1070914.jpgHeading east, looking down from the summit, it’s possible to see the contrast between the south side of the volcano, which is less steep and forested, and the north side, which is very steep and eroded from glacial scouring. The upper part of the trail parallels this prominent east–west-trending ridge.

P1070921.jpgAnother view of the steep, eroded north flank gives a sense of how much of the volcano’s mass has been removed by glaciers. Mount McLoughlin is within the Sky Lakes Wilderness Area that includes these ranges north of the peak. With binoculars we could see in the far distance the Two Sisters and Mount Bachelor volcanoes that are located west of Bend.

P1070916.jpgSome hikers speed hike the peak, making it up and down in less than 6 hours. We took our time, pausing to rest and savor the views, taking 9.5 hours in total. It was satisfying to “bag” this peak that is such a distinctive part of the local landscape.