Phantom Trails of the Santiam Pass area (old Indian trail to Table Lake)

This writing and photographs were kindly contributed by J.D. Adams of Salem, Oregon. His latest book, "Mysterious Oregon," is available on Amazon at:

"Phantom Trails of the Santiam Canyon"

"Unfolded before me are Willamette National Forest maps from 1937 and
1948, rescued from obscurity with knowledge unleashed like the first beams
of the equinox through the portals of Stonehenge. Here was a world ruled by
trails, where the glacial power of Mt. Jefferson flowed unchallenged through
a towering expanse of old-growth forest. The Santiam Highway was a single
track, treacherous and forbidding, perched on the canyon wall where the dam
is today. The view dropping off into the canyon is still etched into the
minds of old-timers. Turnouts were few, driving and negotiating skills were
honed when two cars had to pass each other."

"Detroit, originally a logging camp, was the hub of an extensive trail
network that included shelters and suspension bridges that were in use until
the 1960's. Lookout points surrounded the area, with phone lines that came
down into Mill City, Detroit, and Idanha. The Santiam River had a trail on
the south bank starting at Detroit that went up as far as Pamelia Creek.
According to local legend, pack strings of horses carried hay bales in to
Pamelia Lake to dam the subterranean outflow and raise the water level.
Controversy has raged intermittently about the history of the tilted logs in
the lake. In the Marion Forks area, the Santiam River Trail was improved
with rockwork bridges apparently built by the Civilian Conservation Corps,
and at a lake close to the river, a floating log cabin was seen. Prior to
1964, you could drive within 1/2 mile of Marion Lake, where there was a
boathouse, docks, and rustic cabins. Dr. A. G. Prill had a cabin on the
north side of the lake; only the fireplace hearth remains. A lost passage
over Minto Mountain allowed access to the Skyline Trail, the predecessor to
the Pacific Crest Trail, which was scouted by mountain guide Dee Wright in
1896. He later oversaw the construction of the observatory on the McKenzie
Pass by the CCC."

"Indian trails are still visible south of The Table formation of Mt.
Jefferson, crossing the Cascade crest into eastern Oregon. Underneath the Santiam Highway lies an Indian trail, a haunting presence felt in twilight
moments, when past and present merge into the timelessness of the canyon. In the wind is the sound of a forgotten traveler, cresting a ridge of long ago."

In the image to the left, the old Indian trail is faintly seen as it leaves the Cascade crest and heads downward and eastward. It is the faint track of brownish soil just to the right of center at the image's bottom... See below (2nd. Picture) for a better look at the trail as it traverses a slope on its journey down to Table Lake.

Here the old trail is seen as the faint trace across the greenery, slanting downward across the bottom third of the picture. Also shown are Cathederal Rocks and Goat Peak..The trail elevation as it cuts diagonally across the hillside is at 6000 feet. Note: the Indian trail lies just a mile or two north of the hiker picture at top of this page.

..... Here are exciting Update Notes, September, 2009. The time is now six years post-B&B Fire, so allow me to add more current information about this historic Indian Trail. In ancient times, it connected Hank and Hunts Lakes on the west side with Table Lake on the east side. In a sense, it probably connected Pamelia Lake with the dry canyons of the Metolius River and Warm Springs... THE GOOD NEWS is that my recent close examination of post-B&B Fire satellite imagery revealed that the area around this historic trail was untouched by the Fire. Hurrah! In fact, I was even able to faintly discern the old trail slashing across the mountainside, just as in the photo above! (and again in satellite photos 2022). In fact, I was able to trace the faint trail tread all the way to Table Lake! To contact me with pictures or reports, use:


Questions for the writer of Phantom Trails? Praise? Contact The Writer is J.D. Adams

To View more writing by J.D. Adams, click to read his piece entitled "The Wind."



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Page last reviewed FTP, 1/12/2023