Devil’s Garden is a heavenly hike

    Photo by Lee Juillerat A sand lily adds color to the bleak landscape.

    It’s too rugged and ragged to be regarded as heavenly, but with its dramatic geology and seasonal displays of beautiful and unusual wildflowers, the area called the Devil’s Garden is a hellishly delightful place to visit.

    Where and what the devil is Devil’s Garden? An easy 30-mile drive from Klamath Falls leads to a tumble of jumbled rocks when seen from Squaw Flat Road between the communities of Dairy and Sprague River.

    There’s probably no better time to enjoy the Devil’s Garden than in the next few weeks. This is the season when fields of wildflowers, including some rarely seen east of the Cascades, are in bloom. Among those we could identify — thank to Niel Barrett and Mary Beth Lee — were yellow fritillary, daggerpods, sand lilies, shooting stars and sagebrush buttercups.

    With warming temperatures the displays should be even more abundant. Ron Larson, a retired biologist who has led field trips to the region, and Bob Bastian, a retired biology teacher, say Devil’s Garden’s unusual wildflowers include bitterroot or Lewisia redivia, named for Meriwether Lewis, who made the first collection in what became known as the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana.

    “It’s got pretty diverse flora and plants we don’t normally see,” says Larson.

    While he celebrates the flowers, Bastian also marvels about a giant Ponderosa pine, one he believes is either the state’s first or second largest, based on its diameter — about 26-feet at a height of 3-feet, and its height.

    “It is absolutely phenomenal,” he says of the “P pine” found near the Garden’s north end. “It’s magnificently tall.”

    The pine and flowers are part of its intrigue, but Devil’s Garden gets its name from its appearance. Fittingly, the devil is in the geologic details. The Garden is a tumble of wondrously weird, strangely tormented rock formations seemingly dropped from another planet.

    Geologically, the Garden is the remnants of a hydroclastic volcano that over eons has weathered and eroded into a maze of low ridges and hard dunes. According to geological reports, the “hydro” in hydroclastic refers to the interaction of the magma with water, while “clastic” refers to the fact that, because of contact with water, the magma shattered as it erupted.

    “Thus,” one explanation tells, “a hydroclastic volcano can be thought of as a cinder cone that formed during an eruption that had a strong interaction with water — either actually erupting into and building a cone within a body of water, such as a lake, or erupting through a very high water table that affected the magma as it came up through the volcano’s throat.”

    Those erratic, unpredictable formations are what makes wandering around the Garden so alluring. Larson says the erupted magma and ash flew airborne then solidified as it landed, creating the delightful mishmash of dune-like formations, including volcanic tuff that was cemented together then broken into bizarre formations. Some are tall and sprawling like broken fortress walls, others are fragments small enough to fit in a hand. Sections could be perfect locations for scenes from “The Game of Thrones.”

    Scattered among the rocky mazes are fields of flowers, not tall and showy, but mostly semi-hidden ground huggers. Because of last winter’s below average rain and snowfall, Larson expects the peak floral displays will be relatively brief, so people wanting to see the most vivid wildflower displays should do so sooner than later.

    Still, in any season Devil’s Garden is a place of fascination, another place to wander and wonder. That’s what makes Larson, Bastian and those of us who cherish its allure devil’s advocates.

    Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at or 541-880-4139.

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