Thursday, July 22, 2021

Canyon Creek Meadows

Timing is everything. Last year, the hiking club camped at Odell Lake right at the end of August and enjoyed a great three-day hiking extravaganza. The following weekend, the catastrophic Holiday Farm Fire roared down the McKenzie Highway and had the campout been scheduled for just a week later, we would have found ourselves right in the middle of two apocalyptic blazes (the Archie Creek Fire being the other fire). 

The scars from the B&B Fire were felt throughout the hike

At the time of this year's campout in late July, the Bootleg Fire (near Klamath Falls) had burned over 200,000 acres (it would eventually get to be over 400,000 acres in size) so it stood to reason we could expect smoky skies. But miracles do happen, for prevailing wind currents carried the smoke off to the east and we enjoyed blue sky all weekend long. Bad for everybody living to the east but we congratulated our self-centered selves on once again, our perfect timing. It's always all about us!

This bunch got lost in a parking lot!

The first hike on our itinerary was Canyon Creek Meadows, and things got off to a comedic start at the Jack Lake Trailhead. We eagerly grabbed the trail and enthusiastically walked 30 yards where the hike unexpectedly ended at a picnic table. Our group of about a dozen confused and consternated hikers then scattered in different directions in a search for the real trail and some of us even resorted to consulting our maps. Once the Old Summit Trail was found, we found wry humor in a group of experienced hikers that can't even find their way out of a trailhead parking lot.

You don't know Jack, but I do!

Once on the proper route, Jack Lake was encountered about a quarter-mile into the hike, the small lake not containing as much water as usual in this hot and dry summer. After side-swiping the body of water, the trail then began a nice little climb up a brushy ridge in the middle of the recovering 2003 B&B Fire burn zone. The forest is gradually returning but for now, the path was surrounded by sun-loving manzanita bushes with ghostly white snags poking out of the brush cover like so many quills on a mangy porcupine. 

A dry and scratchy trail 

The day was warm, maybe even hot, and the trail was dusty. Encroaching shrubbery offered no shade but did cheerfully scratch our legs as we trudged by. Continually gaining elevation as we hiked, it didn't take long before tips of taller mountains, chiefly Three-Fingered Jack and Mount Jefferson, could be seen rising above the wilderness acreage of silver snags and partially forested ridges,. In due time, and with more elevation gained, the bulk of both peaks would come to dominate scenery and skylines alike.

The first of many meadows

After a mile or so the trail began to level out, commencing an up and down transition from dead trees to a genuine live forest. We were on the east side of the Cascades though, so the terrain still had that high desert vibe in places, particularly in scrubby meadows comprised of hardy lupine and blooming subalpine mariposa lilies. The sparse meadows served advance notice of the meadowy wonders awaiting us on the other side of Canyon Creek.

Three Fingered Jack: You shall not pass!

Canyon Creek flows down from the two-toed foot of Three-Fingered Jack and yes, it does run at the bottom of a flat-floored canyon. The canyon floor is filled with a series of lush meadows, collectively known as Canyon Creek Meadows. The raised hand of Three-Fingered Jack loomed at the end of the creek's headwater, stating emphatically "Halt, your hike ends here!" It didn't take long for me to find myself lagging way behind my comrades, but on the other hand I have a bunch of nice photographs of larkspur, lupine, columbine, subalpine mariposa lily, and the like. My companions continued hiking to a glacier moraine wall where they espied mountain goats while I uncharacteristically turned back just a mile short of that worthy goal in concession to my post-hernia surgery recovery.

Some of that Canyon Creek Meadows glory

Wow, the lower meadows flanking Canyon Creek were stunning and totally way cool! The color combination of blue sky and green meadow appeal to humans on a primeval and instinctual basis and this particular human was instinctually and primevally pleased by the color combo. The sound of buzzing insects and twittering birds were a constant in the verdant meadows as I hiked past. The forested canyon walls loomed on the other side of the creek snaking its way through the vegetation like the sinuous watery serpent it is. Much photography abounded as I hiked through a couple of miles of the idyllic pastures.

Mount Jefferson presides over many
    square miles of recovering burn area

The loop was closed off by a gradual descent through brush and old burned forest before ending the hike just past Jack Lake. A fantastic vista of the fire-scarred landscape stretched to the north with snow-capped Mount Jefferson rising over the desolate expanse like the Great Snow King it is. Again, the clicking of the camera shutter was a constant.

Subalpine mariposa lily was a plentiful denizen of the meadows

Obviously, summer wildfires are now a thing these days but we were once again fortunate in our timing. About a week after the campout, lightning storms used the Cascade Mountains for target practice with the unfortunate side-effect being our forests were once again set alight. Maybe we should concede the point and just begin scheduling our campouts in January! 

Guard ant on duty!

For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. One of my favorite trails! I've hiked it it early August when the lupine takes over the lower meadows.

    1. This was my first Canyon Creek experience! I can see why people hike there!