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Cascade Range-related plate tectonics

The Cascade Range (or Cascades) is a major mountain range of western North America, extending from southern British Columbiamarker through Washingtonmarker and Oregonmarker to Northern California. It includes both non-volcanic mountains, such as the North Cascades, and the notable volcanoes known as the High Cascades. The small part of the range in British Columbia is called the Canadian Cascades or Cascade Mountains; the latter term is also sometimes used by Washington residents to refer to the Washington section of the Cascades in addition to North Cascades, the more usual American term, as in North Cascades National Parkmarker.

The Cascades are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, the ring of volcanoes and associated mountains around the Pacific Oceanmarker. All of the known historic eruptions in the contiguous United States have been from Cascade volcanoes. The two most recent were Lassen Peakmarker in 1914 to 1921 and a major eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980marker. Minor eruptions of Mount St. Helens have also occurred since, most recently in 2006.


At its southern end the range is about 30 to 50 miles (50 to 80 km) wide and 4,500 to 5,000 feet (1,370 to 1,520 m) high and 80 miles (130 km) wide in northern Washingtonmarker. At its northern apex at Lytton Mountain (2,049 m) in Canadamarker, near the confluence of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers, the range is only wide, with its northeasternmost edge being the Nicoamen Rivermarker. The tallest volcanoes of the Cascades are called the High Cascades and dominate their surroundings, often standing twice the height of the nearby mountains. They often have a visual height (height above nearby crestlines) of one mile (1.6 km) or more. The tallest peaks, such as the 14,411 foot (4,392 m) high Mount Rainiermarker, dominate their surroundings for 50 to 100 miles (80 to 160 km).

The northern part of the range, north of Mount Rainiermarker, is known as the North Cascades in the United States but is formally named the Cascade Mountains north of the US-Canada border, reaching to the northern extremity of the Cascades at Lytton Mountainmarker, just southwest of the confluence of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers. Overall the North Cascades and southwestern Canadian Cascades are extremely rugged, with many of the lesser peaks steep and glaciated, with valleys quite low relative to its peaks and ridges, resulting in great local relief, and major passes are only about 1,000 m (3,300 ft) high. The southern part of the Canadian Cascades, particularly the Skagit Rangemarker, are geologically and topographically similar to the North Cascades, while the northern and northeastern parts - the Coquihalla Range, the name of which is unofficial, , the northern half of the Hozameen Rangemarker and most of the Okanagan Rangemarker are less glaciated and more plateau-like in character, resembling nearby areas of the Thompson Plateaumarker.

Because of the range's proximity to the Pacific Oceanmarker, precipitation is substantial, especially on the western slopes, with annual accumulations of up to 150 inches (3,800 mm) in some areas—Mount Bakermarker, for instance, recorded the largest single-season snowfall on record in the world in 1999—and heavy snowfall as low as 2,000 feet (600 m). It is not uncommon for some places in the Cascades to have over 200 inches (5,500 mm) of snow accumulation, such as at Lake Helenmarker (near Lassen Peak), one of the snowiest places in the world. Most of the High Cascades are therefore white with snow and ice year-round. The western slopes are densely covered with Douglas-fir, Western Hemlock and Red alder, while the drier eastern slopes are mostly Ponderosa Pine, with Western Larch at higher elevations. Annual rainfall drops to 9 inches (200 mm) on the eastern foothills due to a rainshadow effect.

Beyond the foothills is an arid plateau that was created 16 million years ago as a coalescing series of layered flood basalt flows. Together, these sequences of fluid volcanic rock form a 200,000 square mile (520,000 km2) region out of eastern Washingtonmarker, Oregonmarker, and parts of Northern California and Idahomarker called the Columbia River Plateaumarker.

The Columbia River Gorgemarker is the only major break in the American part of the Cascades. When the Cascades started to rise 7 million years ago in the Pliocene, the Columbia River drained the relatively low Columbia River Plateau. As the range grew, the Columbia was able to keep pace, creating the gorge and major pass seen today. The gorge also exposes uplifted and warped layers of basalt from the plateau.


Cascade eruptions in the last 4000 years

Indigenous peoples have inhabited the area for thousands of years and developed their own myth and legends concerning the Cascades. According to some of these tales, Mounts Bakermarker, Jeffersonmarker, and Shastamarker were used as refuge from a great flood. Other stories, such as the Bridge of the Gods tale, had various High Cascades such as Hoodmarker and Adamsmarker, act as god-like chiefs who made war by throwing fire and stone at each other. St. Helensmarker with its pre-1980 graceful appearance, was regaled as a beautiful maiden for whom Hood and Adams feuded. Among the many stories concerning Mount Baker, one tells that the mountain was formerly married to Mount Rainier and lived in that vicinity. Then, because of a marital dispute, she picked herself up and marched north to her present position. Native tribes also developed their own names for the High Cascades and many of the smaller peaks, the most well-known to non-natives being Tahoma, the Lushootseed name for Mount Rainiermarker.

The legendary and diverse ethnographic history of the Cascade Range is too complex to recount here, except to say that the spine of the range forms the divide between the Interior Salish and Coast Salish language groupings, and mythographically between the realm of Coyote on the east and that of the Transformers and the spirit-world of the Coast on the west.

Legends associated with the great volcanoes are many, as well as with other peaks and geographical features of the range, including its many hot springs and waterfalls and rock towers and other formations. Stories of Tahoma — today Mount Rainiermarker and the namesake of Tacoma, Washingtonmarker — allude to great, hidden grottos with sleeping giants, apparitions and other marvels in the volcanoes of Washingtonmarker, and Mount Shastamarker in California has long been well-known for its associations with everything from Lemurians to aliens to elves and, as everywhere in the Cascades, Sasquatch or Bigfoot.

In the spring of 1792 British navigator George Vancouver entered Puget Soundmarker and started to give English names to the high mountains he saw. Mount Bakermarker was named for Vancouver's third lieutenant, the graceful Mount St. Helensmarker for a famous diplomat, Mount Hoodmarker was named in honor of Samuel Hood, 1st Viscount Hood (an admiral of the Royal Navy) and the tallest Cascade, Mount Rainiermarker, is the namesake of Admiral Peter Rainier. Vancouver's expedition did not, however, name the range these peaks belonged to. As marine trade in the Strait of Georgiamarker and Puget Soundmarker proceeded in the 1790s and beyond, the summits of Rainiermarker and Bakermarker became familiar to captains and crews (mostly British and American over all others, but not exclusively).

In 1805 the Lewis and Clark Expedition passed through the Cascades by using the Columbia River, which for many years was the only practical way to pass that part of the range. Trade on the lower Columbia River did not occur until after Lewis and Clark in 1806, more specifically as a result of David Thompson's visit on behalf of the North West Company shortly afterwards, and Simon Fraser's journey down the Fraser in 1808. The Lewis and Clark expedition, and the many settlers and traders that followed, met their last obstacle to their journey at the Cascades Rapidsmarker in the Columbia River Gorgemarker, a feature on the river now submerged beneath the Bonneville Reservoirmarker. Before long, the great white-capped mountains that loomed above the rapids were called the "mountains by the cascades" and later simply as the "Cascades". The earliest attested use of the name "Cascade Range" is in the writings of botanist David Douglas. On their return trip Lewis and Clark's group spotted a high but distant snowy pinnacle that they named for the sponsor of the expedition, U.S. President Thomas Jefferson.

Central Washington Cascades

In 1814 Alexander Ross, a fur trader with the North West Company, seeking a viable route across the mountains, explored and crossed the northern Cascades between Fort Okanoganmarker and Puget Sound. His report of the journey is vague about the route taken. He followed the lower Methow River into the mountains. He might have used Cascade Passmarker to reach the Skagit Rivermarker. Ross was the first European-American to explore the Methow River area and likely the first to explore the Stehekin River and Bridge Creek region. Due to the difficulty of crossing the northern Cascades and the paucity of beaver, after Ross fur-trading companies made only a few explorations into the mountains north of the Columbia River after Ross.

Exploration and settlement of the Cascades region by Europeans and Americans was accelerated by the establishment of a major trading post of the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouvermarker near today's Portland, Oregonmarker. From this base, Hudson's Bay Company trapping parties traveled throughout the Cascades in search of beaver and other fur-bearing animals. For example, using what became known as the Siskiyou Trail, Hudson's Bay Company trappers were the first non-natives to explore the southern Cascades in the 1820s and 1830s, establishing trails which passed near Crater Lakemarker, Mount McLoughlinmarker, Medicine Lake Volcanomarker, Mount Shastamarker, and Lassen Peakmarker.

The course of political history in the Pacific Northwest saw the spine of the Cascade Range being proposed as a boundary settlement during the Oregon Dispute of 1846. The United Statesmarker rejected the proposal and insisted on the 49th Parallel, which cuts across the range just north of Mount Baker. Throughout the period of dispute and up to the creation of the Crown Colony of British Columbiamarker in 1858, the Hudson's Bay Company's York Factory Express route, as well the route of fur brigades, followed the Okanogan River along the east edge of the Cascades and the Columbia River through the range. Passes across the range were not well known and little used. Naches Passmarker was used for driving cattle and horses to Fort Nisquallymarker. Yakima Pass was also used by the Hudson's Bay Company. The vast majority of non-native residents of the Cascade Range region until about 1840 were British subjects, most of mixed French-native blood and some Hawaiians and blacks as well as Scots who were the backbone of Hudson's Bay Company administration.

American settlement of the flanks of the Coast Range did not occur until the early 1840s, at first only marginally. Following the Oregon Treaty the inward flux of migration from the Oregon Trail intensified and the passes and back-valleys of what is now the state of Washingtonmarker were explored and populated, and it was not long after that railways followed. Despite its being traversed by several major freeways and rail lines, and its lower flanks subjected to major logging in recent decades, large parts of the range remain intense and forbidding alpine wilderness. Most of the northern half of the High Cascades, from Rainier north, have been preserved by US national or British Columbiamarker provincial parks (such as E.C.marker Manning Provincial Parkmarker), or other forms of protected area.

The Canadian side of the range has a history that includes the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush of 1858-60 and its famous Cariboo Road, as well as the older Hudson's Bay Company Brigade Trail from the Canyon to the Interior, the Dewdney Trail, and older routes which connected east to the Similkameenmarker and Okanagan valleys.

The southern mainline of the Canadian Pacific Railway penetrated the range via the passes of the Coquihalla Rivermarker, along one of the steepest and snowiest routes in the entire Pacific Cordillera. Near Hope, B.C.marker, the railway roadbed and the Othello Tunnelsmarker, now decommissioned, are popular tourist recreation destinations for hiking and bicycling. The pass is used by the Coquihalla Highway, a government megaproject built as part of the Expo 86 spending boom of the 1980s, which is now the main route from the Coast to the British Columbiamarker interior. Traffic formerly went via the Fraser Canyonmarker, to the west, or via Allison Passmarker and Manning Parkmarker along Highway 3 to the south, near the border.

The Barlow Roadmarker was the first established land path for U.S. settlers through the Cascade Range in 1845, and formed the final overland link for the Oregon Trail (previously, settlers had to raft down the treacherous rapids of the Columbia River). The Barlow Road left the Columbia at Hood River and passed along the south side of Mount Hood at Government Camp, terminating in Oregon City. There is an interpretive site there now at "The End of The Oregon Trail." The road was constructed as a toll road — $5/wagon — and was very successful.

In addition, the Applegate Trail was created to allow settlers to avoid rafting down the Columbia River. The Applegate Trail used the path of the California Trail to north-central Nevadamarker. From there, the Applegate Trail headed northwest into northern California, and continued northwest towards today's Ashland, Oregonmarker. From there, settlers would head north along the established Siskiyou Trail into the Willamette Valley.

With the exception of the 1915 eruption of remote Lassen Peakmarker in Northern California, the range was quiet for more than a century. Then, on May 18, 1980, the dramatic eruption of little-known Mount St. Helensmarker shattered the quiet and brought the world's attention to the range. Geologists were also concerned that the St. Helens eruption was a sign that long-dormant Cascade volcanoes might become active once more, as in the period from 1800 to 1857 when a total of eight erupted. None have erupted since St. Helens, but precautions are being taken nevertheless, such as the Mount Rainier Volcano Lahar Warning System in Pierce County, Washingtonmarker.[11493]

Human uses

Soil conditions for farming are generally good, especially downwind of volcanoes. This is largely due to the fact that volcanic rocks are often rich in minerals such as potassium and decay easily. Volcanic debris, especially lahars, also have a leveling effect and the storage of water in the form of snow and ice is also important. Much of that water eventually flows into reservoirs where it is used for recreation before its potential energy is captured to generate hydroelectric power before being used to irrigate crops.

Because of the abundance of powerful streams, many of the major westward rivers off the Cascades have been dammed to provide hydroelectric power. One of these, Ross Dammarker on the Skagit Rivermarker, created a reservoir which spans the border southeast of Hope, British Columbiamarker, extending into Canada two miles. At the foot of the southeast flank of Mount Baker, at Concrete, Washingtonmarker, the Baker River is dammed to form Lake Shannon and Baker Lake.

In addition, there is a largely untapped amount of geothermal power that can be generated from the Cascades. The USGS Geothermal Research Program has been investigating this potential. Some of this energy is already being used in places like Klamath Falls, Oregonmarker where volcanic steam is used to heat public buildings. The highest recorded temperature found in the range is 510 °F (265 °C) at 3,075 feet (937 m) below Newberry Volcanomarker's caldera floor.

Cascade Range volcanoes

Image:Cascade_Range_map.png|thumb|275px|Major volcanoes in the Cascade Range (image map)

rect 219 49 360 66 Mount Bakermarkerrect 387 93 244 77 Glacier Peakmarkerrect 208 160 369 178 Mount Rainiermarkerrect 171 185 329 205 Mount St. Helensmarkerrect 175 186 207 230 Mount St. Helensmarkerrect 213 210 378 236 Mount Adamsmarkerrect 203 264 363 294 Mount Hoodmarkerrect 201 313 391 342 Mount Jeffersonmarkerrect 202 361 366 386 Three Sistersmarkerrect 240 395 437 420 Newberry Volcanomarkerrect 180 434 461 460 Mount Mazama markerrect 169 481 366 505 Mount McLoughlinmarkerrect 205 535 447 566 Medicine Lake Volcanomarkerrect 172 547 202 590 Mount Shastamarkerrect 177 569 312 590 Mount Shastamarkerrect 205 606 339 648 Lassen Peakmarker

Volcanoes south of the Fraser River in the Cascade Volcanic Arc (a geological term) belong to the Cascade Range (a geographic term). Peaks are listed north to south.

North Cascades

  • Coquihalla Mountainmarker (southern British Columbia) — highest peak in the Bedded Range.
  • Mount Bakermarker (Near the United Statesmarker-Canadamarker border) — highest peak in northern Washingtonmarker. It is an active volcano. Steam activity from its crater occurs relatively frequently. Mount Baker is one of the snowiest places on Earth; in 1999 the ski area (on a subsidiary peak) recorded the world's greatest single-season snowfall: 1,140 inches (95 feet or 2,896 cm).
  • Glacier Peakmarker (northern Washington) — secluded and relatively inaccessible peak. Contrary to its name, its glacial cover isn't that extensive. The volcano is surprisingly small in volume, and gets most of its height by having grown atop a nonvolcanic ridge.

High Cascades

  • Mount Rainiermarker (southeast of Tacoma, Washingtonmarker) — highest peak in the Cascades, it dominates the surrounding landscape. There is no other higher peak northward until the Yukon-Alaska-BC border apex beyond the Alsek Rivermarker.
  • Mount St. Helensmarker (southern Washington) — Erupted in 1980, leveling forests to the north of the mountain and sending ash across the northwest. The northern part of the mountain was destroyed in the blast (1980 Mount St. Helens eruptionmarker).
  • Mount Adamsmarker (east of Mount St. Helens) — the second highest peak in Washington and third highest in the Cascade Range.
  • Mount Hoodmarker (northern Oregonmarker) — the highest peak in Oregon and arguably the most frequently climbed major peak in the Cascades.
  • Mount Jeffersonmarker (northcentral Oregon) — the second highest peak in Oregon.
  • Three Fingered Jackmarker (northcentral Oregon) — Highly eroded Pleistocene volcano.
  • Mount Washingtonmarker (between Santiam and McKenzie passes) — a highly eroded shield volcano. [11494]
  • Three Sistersmarker (near the city of Bend, Oregonmarker) — South Sister is the highest and youngest, with a well defined crater. Middle Sister is more pyramidal and eroded. North Sister is the oldest and has a crumbling rock pinnacle.
  • Broken Topmarker (to the southeast of South Sister) — a highly eroded extinct stratovolcano. Contains Bend Glacier.
  • Newberry Volcanomarker — isolated caldera with two crater lakes. Very variable lavas. Flows from here have reached the city of Bend.
  • Mount Bachelormarker (near Three Sisters) — a geologically young (less than 15,000 years) shield-to-stratovolcano which is now the site of a popular ski resort. (Mt.marker Bachelor ski areamarker)
  • Mount Baileymarker (north of Mount Mazama)
  • Mount Thielsenmarker (east of Mount Bailey) — highly eroded volcano with a prominent spire, making it the Lightning Rod of the Cascades.
  • Mount Mazamamarker (southern Oregon) — better known for its Crater Lakemarker, which is a caldera formed by a catastrophic eruption which took out most of the summit roughly 6,900 years ago. Mount Mazama is estimated to have been about 11,000 ft. (3,350 m) elevation prior to the blast.
  • Mount Scottmarker (southern Oregon) — on the southeastern flank of Crater Lake. At 8,929 feet (2,721 m) elevation, this small stratovolcano is the highest peak in Crater Lake National Parkmarker.
  • Mount McLoughlinmarker (near Klamath Falls, Oregonmarker) — presents a symmetrical appearance when viewed from Klamath Lake.
  • Medicine Lake Volcanomarker — a shield volcano in northern California which is the largest volcano by volume in the Cascades.
  • Mount Shastamarker (northern California) — second highest peak in the Cascades. Can be seen in the Sacramento Valley as far as 140 miles (225 km) away, as it is a dominating feature of the region.
  • Lassen Peakmarker (south of Mount Shasta) — southernmost volcano in the Cascades and the most easily climbed peak in the Cascades. It erupted from 1914 to 1921, and like Mount Shasta, it too can be seen in the Sacramento Valley, up to 120 miles (193 km) away.

Protected areas

There are four U.S. National Parks in the Cascade Range and many U.S. National Monuments, U.S. Wilderness Areas, and U.S. National Forests. Each classification protects the various glaciers, volcanoes, geothermal fields, rivers, lakes, forests, and wildlife to varying degrees.

National parks

National monuments

Provincial Parks

Wilderness areas


Red Huckleberry near Crater Lake

There is a wide range of flora and fauna inhabiting the Cascade Range. The southern part of the Cascades are within what Conservation International defines as the California Floristic Province, an area of high biodiversity. There are numerous species of trees, shrubs and other flowering plants, as well as a gamut of mammals, avifauna, amphibians and reptiles.

See also




External links

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