Upstream from its flat, calm course through the city of Bend, the Deschutes River cuts and careens through a series of falls and rapids. Somewhere just shy of 7,000 years ago, the river was moved into its present course by the volcanic forces that define the landscape it drains. Lava Butte erupted and sent a basaltic a’a flow of molten rock west towards the Deschutes. The river shifted along the front of the flow, eventually settling in where the lava turned to stone. Many rapids line the western edge of the lava field today, where the river rolls along the rocky margin. One of those picturesque cataracts is Dillon Falls.
The snow is almost entirely gone from the banks. Spring is coming back to the forests and wetlands that flank the Deschutes as it makes its way north. It’s been months since I’ve seen Dillon Falls, a set of Class 5 rapids I admired many times last year. Images stick in my mind, yet no images sit on a hard drive or on paper in my apartment: my camera has never been along for the ride. Time to rectify this.
I hike downstream first, below the falls, where the water is calm and the forest is quiet. While heading back upstream, a sound from above turns my attention from the discarded, lichen-covered twigs on the ground to the branches still in use overhead. A Douglas squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) feasts on a cone, warily maintaing eye contact with me while it methodically works its way through the meal. I feel like John Muir, equally taken with this small mammal as he was. In praise of the Douglas squirrel, Muir wrote,
He is the squirrel of squirrels, flashing from branch to branch of his favorite evergreens crisp and glossy and undiseased as a sunbeam. Give him wings and he would outfly any bird in the woods.
Back at the falls, I perch on a rock and try to capture the rush and flow of the river. The lighting isn’t ideal, but it works out well enough for a few long exposures. The whitewater froths and thunders through the little gorge, and an American dipper flies into view. Again, I feel like Muir, looking in wonder upon an organism so perfectly suited for this habitat. In his writings on the “water-ouzel,” the great naturalist penned,
No cañon is too cold for this little bird, none too lonely, provided it be rich in falling water.
Too true. Though Muir was writing about the Sierras, I’ve yet to encounter a waterfall here in the rainshadow of the Cascades without a dipper nearby. Oh to fly among the rapids like this bird, deftly swooping above the tumultuous water, ever at home inches above the mighty current.
As I complete my temporary stay here on the banks of the river, my attention is invariably turned to the trees. This is no hotpsot of biodiversity, but there is more here than most places in this part of the forest. Ponderosa pines dominate at this elevation, but here by Dillon Falls they’re joined by grand fir, western juniper, and lodgepole pine. Across the river, a glade of quaking aspens waits for warmer weather, when their skeletal, white frames will be graced with trembling green leaves. Spring is coming, and summer won’t be far behind.