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Deschutes River, Oregon

Deschutes River
Topography and Geology

The Deschutes River in Central Oregon drains the east side of the Cascade Mountain Range.  The cold green water provides a counterpoint in what is otherwise a  
stark and arid landscape. 


The lower 100 miles of the Deschutes River Canyon averages 2,000 feet deep. The sparse vegetation allows the angler to observe nearly twenty five million years of geologic history recorded in the steep canyon walls. Forty million years ago Central Oregon was a semi-tropical, flat coastal plain which may have received 240 inches of rain fall per year. About 30 million years ago the drifting Continental and Pacific Plates collided. The Continental Plate was pushed on top of the Pacific Plate and the coastline started to gain elevation. This was the birth of both the Cascade and Coast Range of mountains. This rising land mass changed the weather patterns and Central Oregon started to dry up. The collision of tectonic plates resulted in a tremendous fracturing of the Earth's crust. Molten magma rose through these fissures and spread out across the surface of the land. This created the second largest basalt mantel on Earth. These basalt flows occurred intermittently for nearly 10 million years and cover over 10,000 square miles. Some layers are a million years apart. The Deschutes has been in its present position since the last flows. There is reason to believe that the river has been larger during some periods, especially at the end of the ice ages. The canyon seems too wide to have been cut by a river of its present size.

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There is evidence to suggest that humans have been companions to the Deschutes River for over 10,000 years. Any area with clean water and a substantial fish population is attractive. Primitive populations had no lasting impact on the scenery. However since 1850 the human impact has been somewhat more imposing. Railroad building and livestock grazing have made major changes in the topography and vegetation. Present management is demanding that livestock are fenced from the riparian zone and in many places the stream side vegetation is recovering rapidly. Do not be mistaken that the Deschutes fishery was created by the tail water of the dams. The resident trout population certainly benefits from the rich stable flows created by the impoundments. The anadromous runs of steelhead and salmon though still bodacious, have suffered from poor fish passage and the destruction of spawning habitat.

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HOME.  The Fly Fishing Shop, Welches, OR

1 (800) 266-3971

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Deschutes photos by: Mark Bachmann - all rights reserved.

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