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Winter in Wood River Valley

I’ve shared a lot of pictures from Montana. In fact, most of the pictures I’ve shared have been from here. I’ve shared only a few from Oregon, and those were appropriate because I was born in Oregon and grew up at Crater Lake. Crater Lake will always be home. However, I spent a great deal of time in my youth in Wood River Valley.

Wood River Valley is the nearest valley to the south entrance to the national park. There are actually a lot of streams that enter the valley that are tributaries of Wood River, which flows into Klamath Lake. There is only one town in the valley and it is smaller than the one where I presently live. It is called Fort Klamath, named after an old Army Cavalry fort that used to exist and this is a cattle town with seldom more than 200 people living in the town or in the entire valley. 

The nearest bigger town, about 800 people, is Chiloquin, named after a Chief of the Klamath Indian tribe and which exists right next to the Klamath Indian Reservation. Chiloquin is over 20 miles from Fort Klamath. It was the proximity to the reservation that Ft. Klamath was built.

I thought it might be neat to share some pictures from Wood River Valley, most of which were taken this month. If I’m not mistaken, I’ve stated that one thing I love about where I currently live is that it bears a striking resemblance to the area I was used to when I was growing up. These pictures bear that out; some of them anyway. The difference is that Fort Klamath is in the Cascade Mountains and I currently live in the Rocky Mountains. The Cascades are volcanic and the Rockies aren’t.

The sun breaking through the gloom

The storm clouds that are coming over the Cascade Mountains in this picture have been briefly punctured by a brilliant shaft of sunlight. That adds a certain beauty and mystery to the mountains in the background. In the foreground is some of the wonderful land I mentioned earlier. This is the west side of the Wood River Valley. Seven Mile Creek can't be seen from here, but it is at the base of the mountains in the distance. That was one of my favorite fishing streams and it is a tributary of Wood River.

East side of the valley

This is looking east in Wood River Valley. The homestead that can be seen at the lower left has been there since I can remember. At one time, they had dairy cattle here and the farm is located on Crooked Creek, one of the tributaries of the Wood River. The milk from the cows would be poured into large milk cans that were then lowered through the floor of the barn into Crooked Creek. The creek is spring-fed and is always very cold, even in the heat of summer, so that would cool the milk down and keep it good until it could be used or sold.

The only problem is that although this valley is fantastic for raising beef cattle, it is lousy for dairy cattle. The milk has a weird taste because of the high-protein grass. The cows were exceptionally healthy, but the milk didn't taste great. Still, it was milk and going to the nearest big town to get milk would be futile. It would have been curdled by the time you got home.

Wood River Valley to the southwest

There are so many clouds in this picture, at the horizon, that it is hard to see that there are mountains all along the southwest part of Wood River Valley. Only the nearest are evident. The landscape also looks bleak and desolate. In the spring, though, this field will be a fantastic lime-green with new grass growth. The contrast between that and the dark green of firs and pines in the mountains is breath-taking. 

To the southeast

The camera angle here is actually pointing toward Chiloquin. The mountains on the east side of the valley also border Wood River Valley. Actually, the terrain here is nearly identical to what we see when we look out our windows here at home, though our valley is much smaller than Wood River Valley. At the tree line in the image, you can see yellow aspens and cottonwoods. These are growing on the banks of Crooked Creek.

The first school at Ft. Klamath

This large log cabin, 'large' by the standards back then, was the first schoolhouse in Fort Klamath. I'm not sure of the date of the photo, but it was probably taken in the 1880s. Even back then, this was a cattle community. This is because of the richly fertile volcanic soil and the grasses that grow on them.

Most cattle ranges average 3-5 acres per head of cattle, to sustain a herd. In Wood River Valley, the soil and grass are so fertile that they can raise two cattle per acre. I know of no other place on Earth, and certainly not in the US, that can make that claim. 

The beautiful ladies in this picture are wearing mostly handmade and fashionable garb for pioneer women. Things might have been simpler back then, but they sure weren't easier. The kids would be expected to do their chores before going to school and after school, boys and girls alike had several hours of hard manual work to do when they got home. Often, dinner was served after dark. And that was on the easy days. Kids today, or even when I grew up, wouldn't survive. To them (and us), 'work' is a four-letter word.


The tops of the mountains in the center of this image are covered with clouds, but they hold a special meaning to me. That is the Seven Lakes Wilderness. I hiked in there a number of times to camp and relax. Right after high school graduation, in fact, I went camping there; just me and my dog, Zipper. It was there that I had a very close encounter with a cougar, which walked between me and my fire, about 8 feet away. I had to hold on to Zipper, so I couldn't have prevented a mountain lion attack, but the cat wasn't concerned in the slightest and walked on through. 

Cougars don't like fire and they don't like people, so I have no explanation as to why the cat walked between me in my sleeping bag and my fire. I guess it perceived no danger and walked on down to the lake to drink. The name of the lake, by the way, was Puck Lake, nestled down in a small caldera in that wilderness. 

That is a brief but scenic overview of Wood River Valley.

What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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