Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument
For the love of biodiversity, community, and four legged explorations
Written by Jeanine Moy, former KS Wild Outreach Director
Photographs by Shane Stiles, local photographer and Cascade-Siskiyou landowner
Cascade-Siskiyou is for lovers
Just a short drive from Ashland, Medford, or Klamath Falls, the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is a favorite weekend getaway for regional residents. It is home to many enjoying rural life on inholdings within the Monument. The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is where my dog Kiva and I had our first adventure-date.
After holding out for almost a decade to have a dog, I was excited to take my new companion on my favorite trails. The memory is as clear as the morning sky on Hobart’s Bluff, which features expansive views of the Rogue Valley, wildflower-strewn slopes, and glimpses of pointed Cascade peaks. As the day waned, we spent the afternoon chasing dragonflies and watching ducks on Little Hyatt Lake Reservoir, and then had dinner at the dog-friendly Greensprings Inn and Restaurant. For the record, this serves as a perfect romantic date for humans as well!
A wonder of natural history
Along the southern Oregon border, the Monument is situated like a keystone at the intersection of the north-south trending Cascades and the east-west Siskiyou Mountains – creating a region of transition, contrast, and renowned biodiversity. This area provides vital connectivity between the Cascade Mountains, the Siskiyou Mountains, the Coast Ranges of Oregon and California, the high deserts of eastern Oregon, and the interior valleys of southern Oregon and northern California. Incredibly, the Cascade-Siskiyou region ties together most of the major plant communities and eco-regions of the west.
In 2000, the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was established as the first and only monument designated for the primary purpose of protecting biodiversity. In 2016, at the recommendation of scientists and with the support of local officials and residents, President Obama expanded the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument to its present 113,000 acres to ensure more complete protection for the regions’ biodiversity. A true sanctuary for life, it features many different habitats: mixed conifer forests, upland meadows, oak savanna, juniper scrub, rosaceous chaparral, and numerous tributaries that feed into both the mighty Rogue River and Klamath River drainages. Some of these habitats contain old growth forests that house rare and endemic species, and some portions of the Monument are in recovery from decades of destructive clear-cutting, grazing, and other ecological damage.
The natural heritage provided by the Monument attracts several thousand visitors each year, most from within the local region. The range of visitors parallels the diversity of the Monuments’ biological wonders: students, scientists, artists, hunters, educators, birders, photographers, cyclists, cross-country skiers, boaters, fisherfolk, and others come here to explore the Monument’s landscapes. Infinite benefits are provided to the region through the Monument’s multi-purpose provisions as a living laboratory, a muse for inspiration, an outdoor classroom, a space for community to gather, and a haven for nature connection and therapy.
Just like building a bond with a dog companion over years, building a relationship and understanding of a place can have a profound impact on one’s understanding of the self and place in the world. I routinely return to several roads and trails in the Monument, never tiring of the views, landscapes of varied oak savanna and dark conifer stands. To see this place naturally persist over time, to change with the seasons, to regenerate and rewild, provides the deepest satisfaction. As a Naturalist leading adults on nature walks, or youth in science classes, I always muse that no two walks in the same woods will ever be the same. Natural awe for this place continues to grow in the local community, and I would suggest that a “Monument” culture is starting to bloom. Monument landscape paintings and photographs can be found in Ashland’s art galleries, Monument field trips for Rogue Valley students have become standard, local University professors and students conduct research in the Monument, and community members are eager to participate in land stewardship activities.
Why has the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument been making the news?
The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is one of 27 monuments across the U.S. under review by the Trump Administration with an eye toward reducing the Monument’s size or eliminating protections. These actions could put the Monument at risk, in legal limbo for years. Interior Secretary Zinke recommended that Trump reduce Monument boundaries – but he didn’t say by how much. Sec. Zinke also recommended reduced protections for the portion of the ~114,000-acres outside the Monument’s congressionally designated ~25,000-acre Soda Mountain Wilderness backcountry. This action would create a faux “protected area” in name only. It remains to be seen what will come of the administration’s actions and legal challenges to those actions, but local citizens and organizations will remain watchful and supportive for their Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.
In the meantime, the Monument is a great place to explore:
Recreation opportunities in the Cascade-Siskiyou are almost as diverse as the species which call it home. A visit to explore the Monument will surely provide memorable experiences to all. The sensitive habitats and wildlife make it all the more imperative to follow leave no trace principles and respect the private properties in the region. Habitats within the Monument are sensitive to human disturbance, and some are recovering from years of impacts. When bringing your pup, you can be a good steward by keeping them on leash and picking up/packing out their waste.
Pacific Crest Trail: Around 20 miles of the PCT rambles in and out of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Starting at the Green Springs Summit, you can either head north to Hyatt Reservoir or south to check out scenic vistas and early summer wildflowers at Soda Mountain.
Short, Scenic day-hikes: For ‘the most bang for your buck,’ access spur trails off of the PCT that provide scenic vistas — like Pilot Rock via the Mt. Ashland exit, Hobart Bluff via Soda Mountain Road, or Boccard’s point via Baldy Creek Road.
Guided nature hikes: Many local groups including the Siskiyou Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Oregon, Rogue Valley Audubon Society, KS Wild, Friends of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, and the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council host local experts to lead fantastic public hikes.
Climb: The most iconic feature of the Monument is the Devil’s Tower-esque Pilot Rock, standing high at 5,908’ summit elevation features a commonly used 3rd class route on the north side, and a few mixed sport/trad routes on the south side. Exercise caution on southern technical routes regarding both summer heat and moderate rock quality. Read more in Greg Orton’s Southwest Oregon rock climbing guide.
Road Bike: Many locals organize social rides that are welcome to all. Typical routes up the winding and scenic Greensprings Highway provide stunning views of the southern Rogue Valley foothills. Take a mid-way break at the Greensprings Inn and Restaurant before completing the 40+ mile loop back down the northern side of the Monument via Dead Indian Memorial Road (And yes, locals are working on getting the road name changed!). Check out social rides such as the Ashland Up and Down on Facebook.
Cross Country Ski: From the Dead Indian Memorial summit’s Buck Prairie, embark on rolling hills through big second growth forests with sneak peeks of Mt. McLoughlin, or choose to go further down the road and find access via Buck Prairie II. This network of trails lies just to the north of another developing trail network around the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Enjoy the expanse of Howard Prairie, the varied woods by Table Mountain snow play area, or vistas from Chinquapin Mountain. A good snow-trail map for this area was released recently and can be accessed online, or picked up at the kiosk by the Greensprings Inn.
Water-play: Head up to Hyatt Reservoir, Little Hyatt Reservoir, or Howard Prairie for a day on the water. If you aren’t packing your own water-craft, rent a stand paddle board from the Ashland Outdoor Store, or Southern Oregon University’s Outdoor programs and remember to bring your sunscreen!
Stay: Friendly folks run the Greensprings Inn and Restaurant — they make a great brunch and have a lovely porch to enjoy any meal. Indulge and stay in one of their cabins that were made tree-to-cabin on site, with options for outdoor tubs and bringing your fuzzy four-legged friend. For a well-rounded forest and cultural retreat, check out the annual West Coast Country Music festival that they host.
Willow-Witt Ranch is nestled in the northern end of the Monument, where you can enjoy farm tour or stay in the Meadowhouse or go primitive and opt for a yurt-stay. Check out some of the nation’s best Agrotourism first-hand and share your nature experience with well-mannered pigs, chickens, and sheep.
Although she is no longer serving as the Outreach Director at KS Wild, Jeanine Moy continues to organize partnership hikes, workshops, events, and creating art in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Check Instagram for more Cascade-Siskiyou #AdventuresOfKiva.
Learn more about KS Wild: https://www.kswild.org/