Front Page Archives Next Page Prev. Page Sisters, Oregon Informat

Recollections of Sisters

By John Hayes

Black Butte, the tree covered cinder cone west of town looms over 6,000 feet above sea level. The butte's trail has been popular with both area residents and visitors alike, and those who complete the rigorous climb to its summit are greeted with a sweeping view of Cascade peaks, nearby lakes and the Metolius River.

Local gardeners have even looked to the butte as a planting gauge, determining by its snow level the appropriate time to put seeds into the soil.

It is unclear who was responsible for its name, but "Black Butte" appeared in the diary of Army Lieutenant Henry Abbot in l855.

In past years the butte has also been called Pivot Mountain. Its summit has been used for spotting fires since 1910 and is one of the first such sites on the Deschutes National Forest. The small cupola building was constructed in 1921 and served as both observation facility and living quarters for fire lookouts until 1979.

The 85 foot lookout tower was erected in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the log cabin below the cupola building was completed in 1980.

The well- used, two mile long trail has been in existence since 1908. There was, however, serious interest in making the summit accessible to more than just stout- hearted hikers.

Shortly after a vehicle road was completed to the top of Bend's Pilot Butte in the mid 1920s, a similar concept made its way west in the direction of Black Butte. Those who believed Central Oregon would become a major tourist center touted the butte as "one of the most perfect volcanic cones in America."

Proponents envisioned a vehicle road similar to Pilot Butte's, only on a much larger scale. They assured all who would listen that construction of such a road would entail no costly engineering work, and would most certainly become a major tourist draw.

Interest in the project waned, however, and eventually died out. A vehicle road to the Black Butte summit never materialized.

In February of 1950 Black Butte once again became the center of local attention. But this occasion was due to the hand of Nature and not a scheme generated by humans.

Winter's low setting sun revealed a strange golden band wrapped around the butte's southwest slope. Forest Service personnel from the Sisters Ranger District reported that the band was three miles in length and three- quarters of a mile wide. The gold strip stretching across the bright green background of trees was spectacular when viewed from the Santiam Highway below.

Sisters Ranger District spokesman Harold Gustafson explained that the color of the band was produced by sunlight hitting dead, brown pine needles. Prior to the phenomenon, the area was gripped by extremely cold temperatures, which caused the needles to dehydrate. A thin stratum of very warm air then moved in and crowded out the cold air in the area of the band. This sudden increase in temperature burned the needles.

The needle kill was considered extensive and affected mature as well as young trees. Foresters believed that no long term damage would occur, but they were concerned that there would be significant secondary damage if pine beetles attacked the weakened trees. The gold band remained visible throughout the season.

Mother Nature again visited Black Butte in September of 1981, when lightning strikes ignited several fires after nearly three months without precipitation. The fires eventually burned over 190 acres and took three days to control. Scars from the fire are still evident, particularly on the north side of the butte.

Front Page Archives Next Page Prev. Page Sisters, Oregon Informat
©1995 The Nugget Newspaper, Sisters Oregon. All rights reserved. Please send your comments to Eric Dolson, Publisher