Surveyor Mountain (not to be confused with Surveyor’s Ridge near Hood River) is a long, high-elevation ridge capped by Surveyor Peak (~6,200 feet) in the north and Summit Rock Point (6,542 feet) in the south. The Casacde-Siskiyou National Monument’s expansion now protects the ridge, whose snowpack feeds headwaters streams of Jenny Creek. This creek, a candidate for Wild and Scenic River status, flows south past the Box O Ranch, over Jenny Creek Falls, and into the Klamath River.
The area is popular with birders who can look (or listen) for Dark-eyed Junco, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Swainson’s Thrush, Clark’s Nutcracker, Spotted Towhee, Steller’s Jay, Scrub Jay, White-headed Woodpecker, and Northern Goshawk. The mountain is also important habitat for higher-elevation birds, such as Red Crossbill, Cassin’s Finch, and Gray (or Canada) Jay, that may be threatened by regional climate change. The Monument is near the southern limit of the Gray Jay’s range. This knowledge made exploring the ridge seem like a worthwhile way to spend a morning before the thunderstorms struck, so we did.
How to get to the ridge wasn’t abundantly clear, given that part of it is on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and part is on a piece of the Fremont-Winema National Forest, and maps of the various forest roads involved aren’t necessarily up-to-date. So, from Dead Indian Memorial Highway, we drove east on paved Keno Access Road to a right turn on to Johnson Creek Road (BLM Road 40-5E-2.0), then a left fork on to gravel Surveyor Meadows Road (BLM Road 38-5E-28.1), and lastly a left turn on to dirt BLM Road 38-5E-28.1 to its end at a bright red cinder quarry. Our sole guiding principle was to take whichever road went uphill.
This cinder quarry (or pit) is an excavation of a volcanic vent that formed between 5.3 million and 11,000 years ago. From the quarry, we headed southwest up,
and on to a feature mapped as the Rock Slide. Surveyor Mountain was built over tens of thousands of years by eruptions of pyroclastic material, ash, cinders, bombs (the lava kind), and extrusions of relatively fluid basaltic andesite lava. The jumble of broken boulders we were scrambling over is that lava.
Climbing the Rock Slide took us over one of the elevations along the ridge, where we found open meadows nestled in the trees. Only a few wildflowers were starting to appear in these openings.
After about 0.5 miles, we scrambled down off the elevation to a saddle,
and came under the forest canopy. Somewhere along in here we crossed off of the Fremont-Winema and on to BLM land.
It was pretty easy going under the trees, mainly because it was obvious the area had been selectively logged – primarily for larger, older growth trees – a while back. The undergrowth hadn’t fully recovered from this, so we were able to move right along. After a mile, we came to another jumble of exposed lava rocks, these ones being the northern edge of Summit Rock Point.
This high point is positioned at the end of a ridgeline of these boulders, so we dutifully scrambled along and over them as clouds built in the distance.
The point itself is just a slightly higher pile of these same rocks, with no particular distinguishing characteristics. But it got us just high enough to see the top of Mount McLoughlin under the gathering clouds.
After a snack, we decided to return through the forest rather than along the rocky ridge, so we dropped directly down from the high point,
and started back, catching a glimpse of Buck Lake and Aspen Butte along the way. This view was possible because Surveyor Mountain is cut on its east side by several predominantly normal faults trending northwest-southeast forming a classic fault-block mountain analogous to the Grand Teton Mountain front in Wyoming. The east-northeast sides of the faults form the lowland in which Buck Lake and the Spencer Creek drainage reside.
We couldn’t avoid the Rock Pile without detouring way downslope, so we had to do some more scrambling,
during which my eye caught a spot of bright green down in the mottled gray rocks. This was a Pacific Treefrog (Pseudacris regilla), the smallest and most commonly seen and heard frog in Oregon (but the state amphibian in Washington).
Right after that, we regained the quarry and came to the end of our short (2.5 miles round-trip; 400 feet of elevation gain), but fun, cross-country hike along Surveyor Mountain to its high point.
We heard lots of birds but, as is often the case with us, didn’t actually SEE many (and we’re not good enough birders to identify them by their calls alone). Thus we’ve tended toward wildflowers because they don’t hop or bounce or fly around while we’re trying to identify or photograph them. If wildflowers were to start doing that, we’d just have to switch our attention to rocks…