science environment

Take A Virtual Roadtrip Up The Cascade Mountains

By Aaron Scott (OPB)
March 28, 2020 1 p.m.

The coronavirus outbreak and stay-home orders in Oregon and Washington have many nature lovers feeling pent up. Yes, hiking is still allowed, but only close to home. Unnecessary travel is discouraged, and many national and state parks and recreation areas have closed after people flocked to their trails in massive numbers.


So "Oregon Field Guide" decided to compile some of our best stories filmed around the Pacific Northwest. We will be rolling them out as virtual road trips to offer up a nature fix, and we'll be sharing behind-the-scenes stories from the "Oregon Field Guide" team along the way.

So grab your hiking poles and climbing gear: This week we're heading up the Cascade Range, starting on the McKenzie Highway.

McKenzie Pass

We had a great first day filming a wide range of cyclists, who all had big sweaty smiles. As someone who rides her bike almost everywhere, I was itching to ride the pass too, so I suggested we ride it the next day to get more footage. Producer Erin Ross was totally game, so we rented a couple of gravel bikes, and then early the next morning we set out with GoPro cameras attached all over our bikes and helmets. After a couple of hours, we made it to the summit and got to feel that we-made-it-to-the-top-of-the-world, just-biked-up-a-mountain-pass-with-NO-CARS(!!!) rush, and had the same giddy smiles as all the other cyclists we had filmed the day before. Erin's quads were sore the next day, and I almost wrecked a few times trying to film her and ride at the same time, but it was all so worth it to have the extra footage that gave us a way to make the Highway 242 story even more fun, and just a little bit personal. — Stephani Gordon, camera/editor

Santiam Pass

Sometimes our favorite stories happen when we hear about a good mystery, and we want to learn more about it. Vince Patton and I saw a viral video of a "hole in the lake," which appeared to show Lost Lake on Santiam Pass draining into quite a big hole. Was the lake disappearing? What was this natural phenomenon?

We wanted to learn more, and by doing so, we learned a lot about how the lakes and waterfalls of the McKenzie River area are intricately bound with a complex system of volcanic vents. There is a whole world down there. — Michael Bendixen, camera/editor

Valhalla: Oregon's Hidden Gorge

This canyon is one of the most awesome places I've ever seen, but it was also all kinds of dangerous. I'm glad it's well hidden because it's not someplace just anyone should go. I'm grateful I got to experience it with experts and bring back a story that conveys something of that extraordinary location, but I doubt I'll ever venture there again. — Jule Gilfillan, producer


Mount Hood

There is a spot on the Interstate Bridge that crosses from Oregon into Washington where you can look east and see the broad sweep of the Sandy Glacier on Mount Hood’s northwest side. Years ago, the bridge provided a weirdly perfect vantage from which you could spot, just barely, what looked like a small black dot on the glacier. It grew in size over several summers beginning around 2010. It was so far off-trail, so difficult to reach, that few ventured to discover what it was. But there on the surface of the ice, the entrance to a vast and unexplored world was slowly revealing itself.

In 2013, "Oregon Field Guide" joined a small group of cave explorers who made it their mission to descend into this hole and map everything they could find. They discovered a series of glacier caves that extended like arteries for nearly a mile within the ice. In places, massive rooms opened up like glorious cathedrals, bathed in eerie blue and green light. Though a few folks had been known to poke around the entrance, the caves were largely unexplored territory. And yet, within a few years, they were gone. The ice melted as the glacier retreated further up the mountain. The Sandy glacier is another victim of a changing climate and has lost 50% of its mass in the last 100 years. Today, the glacier caves live on only in memory, and on-screen. — Ed Jahn, producer

Columbia River Gorge

Some years back, we were working on a story about radon in the Northwest and got in touch with PSU professor emeritus of geology Scott Burns to learn more. As we were driving out into the Gorge to film some geologic examples, Scott just started pointing things out and telling us the what, where, when and how of all these familiar features.

I found it fascinating, and I knew I wouldn't be the only one! But since producing this story, I'm afraid I've become such a rabid geology enthusiast that my friends can't stand going to the Gorge with me anymore. — Jule Gilfillan, producer

Gifford Pinchot National Forest

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest is a rolling carpet of Douglas fir forests and Cascade peaks. So what’s a bayou doing out here?

OK, so it's not exactly a bayou, but each spring, travelers who take a U.S. Forest Service road north out of Trout Lake might be awed by the spectacle of hundreds of acres of flooded forest, even though there are no rivers or waterways nearby. It's a strange anomaly caused when ice clogs the "pores" of the many lava tubes that lie beneath the forest. This flooded forest is a beauty to behold, but it's tough to catch it in time. As the weather warms, the icy dams melt and the lake suddenly drains, revealing a meadow that is home to the world's largest population of a rare iris species and the westernmost aspen grove in the state of Washington. — Ed Jahn, producer

North Cascades

Michael Bendixen met microbiologist Robin Kodner by accident while working on a shoot about bioluminescent algae around San Juan Island and did what a good journalist does: stayed in touch. So when she told him about work she was doing about the equally colorful snow algae, we couldn't say no.

Particularly since it was an excuse to make "Oregon Field Guide's" first sojourn to the Mount Baker area of the North Cascades. I've lived in Oregon since I was a kid, and don't get me wrong: I love the volcanic peaks of the Oregon Cascades. But they can feel so lonely standing all alone. Sometimes I miss the rugged mountain ranges of my Colorado childhood. Little did I know that there were equally spectacular mountain ranges just a short day's drive to the north. Consider me actively looking for our next North Cascades "Field Guide" story. All ideas welcomed! ⁠— Aaron Scott, producer