So there you are, zipping along, unfussed by steep grades or switchbacks, and then, just before you get to Willamette Pass, you've got this little attraction. Well, I say little. It's only the second-highest waterfall in all of Oregon.
|Salt Creek Falls|
Salt Creek Falls is a marvel of falling water, but it's not quite as interesting as the geology that surrounds it. I mean, yes, tall as Niagara, "most powerful waterfall in southern Oregon," yeah, fine. Whatevs. You know what I was looking at after having gawked at the pretty falling water for two minutes? That's right, the rocks.
There's a story here, and it begins on a tall, bald outcrop that'll draw a geologist's eye faster than any amount of falling water.
|Outcrop, Salt Creek Falls|
|Other side of Ye Balde Outcrop, hooman for scale|
Bend down. Get your nose to the stone.
|Striations. Camera battery (1 1/2" by 1 1/4") for scale|
|U-shaped valley with a V-shaped valley bunged in|
These were exciting times. The Cascades we know today were coming into existence. And they were doing it through an ice cap that stretched all the way from Mount Hood to Mount McLoughlin, nearly two hundred miles of cold, hard ice that may have reached almost half a mile thick, busily grinding away at the volcanics. Glaciers spilled down stream valleys, plowing them from V's to U's. Cascades volcanoes that stopped erupting during these icy times didn't fare well - we'll see what happens to a volcano that goes dormant or extinct while glaciers are busy. It leaves them jagged shadows of themselves.
So look at that valley again, and notice the rounded shoulders of the surrounding highlands, and how only the tallest bits are jagged, and you'll get a sense of the power of an ice cap. Then look at the V-shaped notch there now, and you'll begin to appreciate the power of tens of thousands of gallons per minute of water roaring through after the ice went away. This is the fate of mountains: to be ground, sliced, diced, and worn away to something more acceptable to gravity.
|Salt Creek, below the falls, busily buzzsawing away|
|Salt Creek Falls, with view of columns|
You know, I know what you're gonna say. "Oh, boy. Basalt." And yes, it's Oregon, and yes, there's a billion trillion tons of basalt, but in this case, it's actually andesite. Yay, andesite! Okay, it's andesite that kinda looks like basalt, but still. It's more exciting! Because andesite is rather like Two-Face: it can flow very politely and quietly like basalt, sweet as Harvey Dent, or it can explode all over the place with extraordinary violence, like Harvey Dent's worse half. 600,000 years ago, this flow added its bit to the Cascades, and cooled into the happy little columns we see today.
|Happy Little Columns topped by Happy Little Trees|
|Columns o' chaos|
But that's all right. We've got a lovely valley filled with mist from the waterfall to contemplate when crazy columns make our noggins hurt.
|Mist drifting down-valley|
|Could it be... striations?|
|Glacial polish closeup|
So there you have it, my darlings. One small half-hour to forty-five minute jaunt, and you've got a nice waterfall, some volcanics, and a passel of outstanding glacial features to enrapture you. Not a bad place, that. Nice opening act to the later geo-dramas.
|Lockwood with Salt Creek Falls|
Ye olde indispensable tomes which, combined with Lockwood's instruction, allowed the author to sound semi-knowledgeable:
In Search of Ancient Oregon - simply the most beautiful book written about Oregon's natural history.
Roadside Geology of Oregon - a handy reference indeed.