The allure of Rimrock Ranch: a volunteer's perspective

Jun 27, 2012
Kelly Madden, a volunteer with the Deschutes Land Trust, shares her experience on a recent geology hike at Rimrock Ranch.


By Kelly Madden
June 2012

Kelly Madden, a volunteer with the Deschutes Land Trust, shares her experience on a recent hike at Rimrock Ranch. Rimrock Ranch is a privately-owned 1,120 acre ranch near Sisters with outstanding fish and wildlife habitat, pine forests, productive ranchland and fascinating geologic history. 

Never in a million geologic years would I guess, high on the hoodoo, a pack rat has a nest. Nor could I imagine an intelligent discussion about the merits of a purple dwarf monkey flower. So many things to learn and see on our recent outing on a beautiful Friday morning at Rimrock Ranch.

I knew we were in luck when I met Gayle Baker, the owner of the ranch. Her open face, framed by majestic Mt. Jefferson, clear blue eyes, and welcoming smile made us feel immediately at ease. With grace she welcomed us and shared HER ranch with us- mere strangers from all parts Oregon. Mary Crow, our fearless leader, was organized, knowledgeable and clearly in control; I knew we were in for a great adventure.

Though the outing was technically a geology hike, we had the rare treat of many wonderful experts willing to share their knowledge.  Our group included a volcano expert (Danielle McKay), sedimentary rock expert (Janet Brown), geophysicist (Derek Loeb), wildflower whiz (Mary Crow) and ME. I am a newbie and a volunteer hike shepard.  I have NO real area of expertise, except a bit of knowledge about local history, an intense curiosity about the past and a desire to help preserve creeks, rivers, land, wagon roads, blazes and buildings.   

I particularly enjoyed seeing older structures on the ranch. At the bottom of the hill, entering into the lower meadow, there is an original homestead outbuilding with joists and lintels still intact, and hand hewn shingles still clinging to the hundred year old roof. Further down the lane, I was fascinated by a newer cabin. Amazing that a cabin built in the early 1980’s takes its cue from cabins before it. The construction and interior could have been built in 1908, 1948, 1988... it's all the same. Timeless. Checking out the buildings, I wasn’t looking FOR anything. I was trying to understand the building and read the landscape, the way some folks look at wildflowers or animal tracks. I am intrigued by structures and the people who create them.

On the road to the high meadow, we encountered MANY wildflowers... Oregon sunshine, rough eyelash weed, sulpher flower, arrowleaf balsamroot, giant buckwheat, yarrow, salsify’s exploding giant and dangerous puff, the lowly penstemon, wood rose, phacleia, clarkia, popcorn flower, granite gilla and a couple big elderberry bushes (to name just a few!). We proceeded to the lower meadow, stopping under the deep cool shade of old junipers and pines to rest on top of the dry summer smell of pine needles. Mary was great about finding shade patches!! I am inclined to believe the shade under old junipers is cooler than shade produced by a ponderosa. What do you think? There weren’t a lot of birds in the canyon at midday, although we did see a Pinyon jay, flicker and a few magpies. 

The outing had two highlights for me.  The first was our time spent with Gayle by the banks of Whychus Creek, eating delicious pound cake, coffee cake and fruit, provided so graciously by Gayle and Ocho the dog, Gayle's four legged ambassador to the property.  My own dog, Louie, the 14 ½ year king of my heart had been put to sleep only six days prior.  I felt like Ocho knew I was missing my little guy as he settled his stinky self right into my lap for belly rubs, ear scratches and a love exchange!! That made my heart feel peace and somehow tasted better than the cake!!

The second highlight was the geology, in particular, the rock pinnacle at the bottom of the hill. Walking down the hill, we had a great view of Skyline Forest, Three Creek Butte and Tam MacArthur Rim. We saw no snakes, no ticks and the sky was blue, blue. Then, at the bottom... the hoodoo.  The pinnacle is like a giant forearm jutting into the sky. Dividing the rock almost in half is a layer of cobbled darker rock, perhaps part of a pyroclastic flow?  The darker band looks like a bracelet on the arm of rock. Derek Loeb commented: “This tuff hoodoo has a relatively thin, but prominent, rounded and well-sorted cobble deposit.” I thought it looked like a tattoo. High up the face, in a crack, what looks like black moss is really pack rat droppings... a packrat's nest.  I thank Janet Brown for calling my attention to this extremely cool feature. 

The best part of the hike for me was walking up the hill at the end with all these experts. For me there is nothing better than combining fantastic informal education with exercise, the outdoors and interesting people, all with the aim of preserving and protecting resources so future generations can have the same experience.