There is something relaxing for me about being in the mountains. Sitting on the balcony of my room at Callahan’s Mountain Lodge, just off Interstate 5 in the Siskiyou Mountains at the base of Mt. Ashland, I stare at the forested peaks around me. These mountains were those I had always driven past, admired through the car window, but never explored. Today, I got my chance to truly see them, and it was an incredible experience.
The view from my balcony at Callahan’s. What an amazing way to spend a night in the mountains!
Shannon Browne is the Community Partnerships Director for Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Her organization is charged with educating the public on this amazing part of the country. As we drive from nearby Ashland up into the Monument, she tells me why this place is special. “Each National Monument is created with a proclamation,” she says. “Cascade-Siskiyou is the only one specifically established to protect biodiversity.” I can see immediately why this is the case. We begin our drive at about 2000 feet above sea level in oak savannah. As we gain elevation (the Monument goes to about 6500 feet at its highest points), the scenery changes to conifer forests.
Oak savannah intermingles with conifers as we gain elevation.
“Cascade-Siskiyou sits at the intersection of several distinct bioregions,” Shannon tells me. “Here the Siskiyou, Klamath, and Cascade ecoregions meet, brushing up against the Great Basin to the east. The result is a remarkably diverse area.” In addition to the incredible plant life, the Monument is also home to more than 130 species of butterfly, 200 species of birds, bears, elk, mountain lions, and other mammals.
A juniper tree, just about the farthest west you’ll find them, illustrates just how diverse this land is.
Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was created under the Antiquities Act by President Clinton in 2000. Unlike most National Monuments, it is not managed by the National Parks Service, but by the Bureau of Land Management. Dave Willis is the Chairman of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, an organization established in 1984 which has spearheaded the efforts to establish and expand the Monument and designate wilderness in its backcountry. He tells me of the history involved with creating the Monument.
“The Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion is the most botanically diverse coniferous forest in North America, and maybe the world,” he says. “If we think of this as the Noah’s Ark of botanical diversity, the Cascade-Siskiyou land bridge is the loading dock for the ark.” Protections for this incredible place have come gradually, some through its proclamation and others through private negotiations. For instance, the proclamation doesn’t specifically outlaw cattle grazing on Monument lands. However, in a set of unique deals, money was raised to incentivize local ranchers to retire and donate their public lands cattle grazing lease privileges.
Hunting and fishing are also permitted inside the Monument, despite a common public misperception that they would be curtailed. However, logging for commercial purposes was expressly forbidden, along with off-road mechanized vehicle usage beyond specific BLM-designated routes (to protect the biodiversity for which the Monument was created). This has led to significant outrage locally over the Monument’s creation, and its early 2017 expansion in President Obama’s last weeks in office.
Dave tells me the expansion was necessary to achieve the goals of protection of biodiversity set forth in the original Monument proclamation. A 2011 study by scientists at Southern Oregon University looked at whether that purpose could be fulfilled within the initial boundaries. It determined that it could not, as land usage combined with climate change meant that more land would ultimately need protections. (The elevation differences inside the Monument, for instance, will ensure protections for varied species even as a warming planet changes the elevations at which they currently exist.)
As Shannon and I make our way further into Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, we encounter another unique feature of this place: it has privately owned land within the Monument boundaries. This land is truly private; none of the Monument rules apply on the private land. However, residents here have been mixed on whether or not they approve of the Monument’s existence, and especially its expansion. (Dave tells me that most are in favor, but there has been some resistance.)
A protest sign on private land within the Monument shows that not all residents like the environmental protections the Monument affords.
The higher elevations in the Monument are even more beautiful. Turning on Soda Mountain Road, Shannon and I head to an easily accessed section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada. Featured in the movie “Wild” with Reese Witherspoon, the PCT is one of three trails of the “triple crown of hiking,” along with the Continental Divide Trail and their much more famous cousin, the Appalachian Trail. (The PCT actually runs basically through my lodging at Callahan’s, and the hotel provides basic services as a rest stop for hikers.)
Stepping onto the trail, we are transported into a set that could have come straight out of the Alps. Wildflower-strewn mountain meadows bordered by fir trees and boulders thousands of years old become the dominant scenery.
What a beautiful scene!
From the higher elevations, the vistas open up, and we can see more of the mountains. This is a hiker’s paradise, and camping and horseback riding follow close behind. And yet, there are those who seek to destroy this amazing place.
Looking at some of the northwestern edge of the Soda Mountain Wilderness Area. I want to explore that place!
Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, along with other National Monuments, was part of the Trump Administration’s 2017 review. While details have yet to be fully released, Secretary of the Interior Zinke recommended reduced boundaries for the Monument, along with more freedoms for “traditional use,” like logging and off-road vehicle use. The heavy logging that necessitated the need for the protection of this unique corner of the planet could once again threaten its existence.
Imagine this beautiful scene no longer being available to hikers!
Dave is at the center of political efforts to ensure protections for Cascade-Siskiyou. Asked how people can help, he suggested a couple of routes. First, he said, come visit. See this amazing place for yourself and tell others how incredible it truly is. Spend a day hiking or horseback riding, and you will want to make certain that future generations can do the same. Second, call your representatives, especially if you live in Oregon or California. Tell them you want Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument to be able to achieve the purpose for which it was founded: protecting the extraordinary biodiversity found here. Finally, get involved. There are numerous organizations that help the region, and all can use another voice or check. (I included a link to the Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou website earlier, and again here. Dave’s organization, the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, can be reached by email at email@example.com or by writing to PO Box 512, Ashland, OR 97520.)
A visit to Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument makes a wonderful counterpoint to an evening enjoying the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as part of your Medford experience. I hope you seriously consider a stop here. You won’t regret it!
Note: Thank you to Travel Medford for making these connections for me as part of my trip, and for your generosity in sponsoring my beautiful stay at Callahan’s.