One thing that I really, really miss in Portugal is the presence of real mountains. Year-round streams and tall trees, too, but at least I can find those within a reasonable drive from the Algarve. Real mountains, the kind with no visible human footprint nearby, are much harder to get to.
So when we went to Oregon this summer, one thing I simply had to do was hike in the Cascade Mountains. Fortunately, my best friend and veteran hiking buddy was happy to oblige, so on my last weekend before returning home, we packed up and headed to the Cascades. Our first stop was Four-in-One Cone.
The trail starts out in dry forest, winding through pines and beargrass for several miles before reaching a wall of basalt lava.
(Click on any photo to embiggen.)
All central Oregon hikers know that this stuff is hell on hiking shoes — and ankles, too. Basalt is sharp and abrasive, and even worn trails like this are full of small pieces that turn and roll under your foot when you step on them. But the payback is awesome. Hiking on lava, seeing it all around you…there’s nothing like it.
The trail crosses to a forested island, surrounded on all sides by the lava flow. It turns southeast and meanders along the base of the flow, giving the hiker a fabulous view of the wall of basalt looming on one side…and North Sister dominating the view in front.
After crossing another wall of lava, the trail enters a cinder barrens, the result of the many eruptions that built Four-in-One Cone.
Even lava flows have more life than this. Cinder barrens are the most sterile landscapes I know of, and have an austere beauty all their own.
They’re also really great at turning ankles.
The trail climbs to the top of Four-in-One Cone and then runs along the ridge line, giving views into all four cones. But if you’re expecting perfect geometry and rounded cones, you’ll be disappointed. All four of these eruptions blew out the northwest side of the original cinder cone, resulting in an unbroken wall on east side (see above photo) and a series of gouges and ridges on the west.
Best of all, of course, is the magnificent view: Mt. Washington, Three-Fingered Jack, and Mt. Jefferson on one side…
…and North and Middle Sister on the other.
I think my favorite landscape shot might be this one, though. The bleached bones of dead pines shine brilliantly all through this landscape, in sharp contrast to the dark lava and the bright green of the living trees.
Central Oregon is a place of extremes. Edges are sharp, colors are vivid, and the whole landscape tells a tale of titanic births and deaths. It’s a part of my home that is deeply embedded in my heart, and there are no words for how it felt to stand here and breath this dry, piney air.