Thunderbolts and lightning, very, very frightening. We were driving up the Cascade Lakes Highway through an impressive thunderstorm attempting to reach the Green Lakes trail head at Fall Creek when we came to our senses. The second round of hail and the increasing display of lighting prompted a retreat back down toward the city of Bend, OR. We had known this was a possibility the day before when the lighting and thunder had started so we invoked our backup plan and headed south of Bend to the Benham Falls picnic area on the Deschutes River near the Lava Lands Visitor Center.
We parked on the east side of the river at the picnic area and waited for a rain shower to pass and some sunlight before setting out. We promptly crossed the river on a footbridge and remained on the west side for the remainder of the hike. The river was calm and peaceful above Benham Falls as we walked along watching the sun rise through the clouds to the east while the thunder and lighting continued to the west.
After approximately .7 miles the river became louder as it approached Benham Falls. The falls are not a classic waterfall but rather a series of turbulent rapids as the Deschutes flows through a lava canyon.
We headed up to the parking area here to make use of the facilities and had a deer bolt away as we came around a corner. Then a forest service vehicle pulled up and we spoke briefly with the driver who confirmed we made the right choice when we turned around. He said it was a mess up in the Cascades with many small lightning fires having been spotted. Indeed we heard (and saw) the helicopters and planes throughout the day flying over on their way assist with the fires.
The river calmed again after Benham Falls passing forest on the west bank and a lava flow on the east. The sun made a couple of brief appearances, once creating a faint rainbow in front of us, and then disappeared. We were heading toward the Slough Day Use area and the hike was quickly turning into a wildlife spotting bonanza. We saw douglas squirrels, golden mantled squirrels, chipmunks, and scores of birds. Heather also spotted a paper wasp nest near the trail which was not the kind of wildlife I was interested in seeing.
When we reached a small slough pond we started noticing little Pacific Tree Frogs hopping along the trail.
The further we walked the more frogs we spotted and soon our progress was slowed as we tip-toed along trying to avoid all the little frogs.
We made it to the day use area and went down to the river for a closer look when I noticed something staring at us from across the water. At first we thought it was another deer, but then I spotted a second one and we noticed that their heads were darker than that of a deer. We broke out the binoculars and while we were watching a couple more came into view and we confirmed that they were indeed elk. The first we have seen while actually hiking :). They headed on down the river and out of sight so we continued on as well. We didn’t have to go far when we spotted them again on the opposite bank. There was now close to 20 elk including a small bull and several calves.
The trail then swung around a 10 acre slough lake where the number of frogs somehow increased. There were now dozens of frogs hopping in all directions. There were also several families of ducks who left the reeds and headed for the center of the water as we approached.
Next we passed through a short forested section of the trail and came to the edge of a large meadow. Looking across the meadow we could see Mt. Bachelor beneath the clouds in the distance. Here we were greeted by mosquitoes which quickly became a nuisance. The thunder and lightning had not quit and as we hurried across the meadow a heavy rain began to fall. It was both a blessing and a curse as the rain helped keep the mosquitoes at bay, but drenched us in the process.
Shortly after leaving the meadow we reached the parking area for Dillon Falls. Like Benham Falls, Dillon Falls was a series of rapids in a lava canyon. We spotted an Osprey clenching a fish that it had snatched from the river as we descended down toward the calmer waters below the falls.
A series of log steps brought us down into the canyon and to the river’s bank where we passed through some different types of vegetation including a section of trail lined with ferns.
Over the next three miles we passed Aspen (where whitewater rafters put in), Big Eddy Rapids (where the rafters scream), and Lava Island (where they get out). Near Big Eddy there were several Osprey across the river including one perched on its nest.
A smaller bird was circling the river, occasionally diving into the water hunting for something. Just past the Lava Island Day Use area we came to our turn around point a small rock shelter used long ago by hunters.
The thunderstorms had ended and the trail became increasingly crowded on our way back, but the wildlife remained abundant. The birds and golden mantled squirrels kept us entertained as we returned to the car. We had started the morning expecting mountains and lakes, but instead found a river and wildlife which proved to be a more than adequate replacement.
Happy Trails 🙂