Introduction to Three Creeks Natural Area

Entry to the Three Creeks Natural Area.

Entry to the Three Creeks Natural Area.

Three Creeks Natural Area was a bit of an unknown quantity to me prior to today.  There are no formal trails, but there is plenty of space to wander.  I simply wandered the area and found some great spots.  A giant meadow greets hikers once they descend from the parking area.  In the middle a photographer was taking serious close up shots of daisies.  I nodded and kept going toward the trees on the far side, unconcerned with where I was heading.   The area is all hemmed in by roads, after all.  Soon I encountered came upon the cattails, seemingly out of place in what seemed to be a dry area.  Of course, precipitation is well below normal for much of Northwest Oregon.

The cattails seemed out of place with the water apparently hiding

The cattails under a blue sky

I made rough loop through the area.  These photos only skim the surface.  There were occasional reminders that it is essentially an urban hiking area, remnants of graffiti, homeless camps, and industrial buildings nearby.  There is also evidence of rebirth in many planted trees–over 21,000 in the past decade according to the Three Creeks website.  One group comes out to work on cleanup ever Sunday. Yes, every Sunday.  That dedication helps make the Three Creeks Natural Area a small gem for outdoor lovers on the south side of the Portland metro area.  Check it out.

Can you identify the lilac flower? There were not many of them.

Can you identify the lilac flower? There were not many of them.

Larch Mountain Runaround

On the drive.  A classic view of the Columbia River Gorge

On the drive. A classic view of the Columbia River Gorge

Sunday was a perfect day for a hike.  It was warm but not hot, the skies were clear, and I didn’t have to work. I always try to go somewhere new, but it’s harder and harder to do that when I have lived in the same corner of the globe decades. Thus I found myself surfing through the wonderful Oregon Hiker’s Field Guide website where I checked out some obscure spots.   Then it hit me like a ton of noble fir limbs dropping on my head in a windstorm  Duh!  Larch Mountain.

A road goes almost all the way up Larch Mountain, right below the summit crags of Sherrard Point.  Many people were walking up the steps, including cyclists who had ridden up the 14 mile winding road east of Corbett.  They really earned their views.  The rest of us had but a five minute walk. are great, and little effort is required to get said views. The real hike lay below, in the old crater. descending one side to Multnomah Creek, and looping back up to the east.  I spent little time on top, knowing I had miles to go.

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The descent is steady, and the forest gradually changes. I had seen a great meadow from the top, but the trail only skirts it. While there were few views on the hike proper, and a few too many other hikers (cry me a river, I know), I found lots to observe.  The crater loop hike is about six miles long, and while the end of the loop felt a little underwhelming, I was happy to have completed the trek.  It is a very worthy hiking destination.

Local Getaway on a Sunshine Day

One trail to the banks of the Willamette River is about a three minute drive from my condo.  On a sunny afternoon, it makes an easy getaway for Jackie Chan and me.   Due to subnormal precipitation levels, the waterline already looks like it’s at midsummer levels.  That means it is an easy walk across the channel to Elk Rock Island.  I’ve mentioned the island at least once before in my blog, but it bears repeating.

Having a natural spot with multiple ecosystems close to home is a treat.  The dry channel we cross resembles a desert landscape (compare to the second photo from this February post),  while the shorelines are a mix of beach and rocky ramparts.  The center of the island rises up with groves of both Douglas firs and alders, along with small meadows.  Fisherfolk were out in force, along with pleasure boaters nearby.  I could happily have wandered the island for hours in the perfect weather, especially on the rocky southern and western shores.

Great Falls of the Potomac

Here is a simple plug for a spot to hike and picnic if you are near the District of Columbia.  The Potomac River splits Virginia and Maryland, and a great falls crashes along for hundreds of yards.  When I visited there with my family recently, I also saw kayakers playing in the froth, and climbers scaling the taller riverside crags.  Do not expect much solitude, but visit expecting a unique spot close to the nation’s capitol.

Great Falls

Coopers Rock State Forest

Coopers Rock State Forest is a brief drive east of Morgantown, West Virginia.  I visited there recently on a brief whirlwind family visit.

The area is high above a river valley, which leads there are great views.  That also makes it popular.  The parking areas were jammed when I headed out there with my mother, older sister, and her boyfriend.  The viewpoints up high are pretty accessible, but for some reason I took almost no photos from there.  The real curiosity was the rock formations below.  We had a nice picnic, and then Joe and I took a brief hike that skirted below the highest cliffs.  Later, my sister Hannah and I embarked on a different trail.  Great rock formations were everywhere.  Coopers Rock is a great place to visit, and I will cherish the memories I was able to share with parts my family I don’t see often enough.  Never enough time!

The Devil in the Hiking Details

Angel’s Rest is a great short hike ending on a spectacular promontory.  It can also be overcrowded.  Nearby Devil’s Rest, on the other hand, is less well known, and the trails have relatively few hikers.  It is accessible from Angels Rest, but I chose to hike from Wahkeena Falls.  The trailhead there also experiences crowds, but once above the falls, they gradually decrease.  I’d hiked the lower portion last year, but I’d never climbed Devil’s Rest.  Ten days ago, I finally made it to a completely underwhelming summit.

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Luckily, there are great vantage points along the way, and very pretty forests for hiking.  The upper portion of the climb was fairly taxing for me  There were two great viewpoints looking across the Gorge.  The summit consisted of two separate jumbles of mossy boulders in the trees. My pup and I sat there for ten or fifteen minutes relaxing, and then we descended via a loop trail connecting to the Angel’s Rest  trail.  The forest was very different: deciduous, muddy, and open. Once I reached the springs near the Wahkeena trail junction, I was in cruise mode.  This hike has a nice balance of exercise (a bit over seven miles), solitude (on the Devil’s Rest trail proper), and beauty.  It’s not a wish-list hike, but the details add up to a very nice experience.

Mitchell Point

While the crowds flock to trails near Multnomah Falls and Angel’s Rest, it is relatively simple to find more solitude by heading east.  I often struggle to find a balance between my life in the city and the solitude I crave, especially given a certain propensity toward laziness. I don’t want to drive three hours to get to the perfect trail on a day off.  So I compromise.  Mitchell Point was a great spot for that balance.  The trail was only a couple miles long, but filled with first class views from its rocky ridge.  Well worth a visit, but note that the top has very steep drop offs.

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Jenne Butte, I’ve Got Your Number

Jenne Butte is one of numerous tiny dormant volcanoes in the Portland metro area.  It lies just east of the larger and more well known Powell Butte.  A hike here was a nice way to spend an hour and a half.  There is no signage along the way, but it was not hard to find my way up to the butte from the paved Springwater Corridor trail where cyclists of all sorts zipped by.  In thirty minutes I was on top of the first wooded summit, then found my way to the second summit with its water tower, close to a hilly suburban development on the backside.  Views are sparse, but it was still pretty in the forest. My pup and I got a little workout and were delighted to find another location for find peace and quiet close to home.

Camassia Park Loop

To very loosely paraphrase NFL running back Marshawn Lynch, I’m all about those views, boss.  I need open space.  That may seem a tad ironic for a resident of heavily-forested western Oregon. Yet even when I am hiking close to home, there are spots that remind me of Colorado wildflower meadows, rocky Nevada canyons, or my beloved Mount Hood’s ridges. So it was when I went in search of Camassia Natural Area not far from home. I was intrigued because the landscape promised to be different than our typical temperate rain forests.

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Millennia ago, floods scoured the small rocky bench, stripping away soil. Now the area is dotted with relatively modest white oaks and madrones.  The mossy, rocky ground made the plateau seem like a mash-up of an eastern forest and alpine tundra.  A well marked loop trail is an easy way to explore the park.  I walked it quickly, but would love to return when I have more time.  It is also possible to link this with nearby Wilderness Park.  As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the most unique natural sites in the Portland area and well worth a visit.

Wilderness Close to Home

The slight opening inside the loop trail made for great light on this tree

In the middle of Wilderness Park

I am always looking for green swaths of undeveloped land near me, and I tire of going to the same old places repeatedly. A photographer friend mentioned a nature park in West Linn, but I never caught the name.  No problem.  What I found was Wilderness Park, fifty-plus acres of pretty woods in the middle of upscale suburbia.

The trailhead, minutes from West Linn High

The trailhead, minutes from West Linn High

The trail system seemed relatively simple.  I could make a loop from various points. In short order, I found myself climbing a rather steep set of stairs with rounded log steps.  They seemed unique on the way up, but I had a different adjective for them on a wet descent.

Looking up the steps. Wait, I might have to huff and puff?

Looking up the steps. Wait, I might have to huff and puff?

Once on the loop, the trail is at an easy grade, and the walking is pleasant.  It is a good place to escape from the noise of the world, even for brief visit.

Cool greenery, and a fungus among us

Cool greenery, and a fungus among us

I found myself looking at the subtleties of the greenery a lot.  Leaves fascinate me at times as the perfect examples of the cycle of life.  The tree might not die for centuries, but the leaves come and go annually.   They are so green with youth in the spring, colorful in their maturity, and then they fall, wither, decompose, and vanish. I find it beautiful to note the way they add different notes to a landscape depending on the light.

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Even on a wet gray day, Wilderness Park was great place to hike locally.  I also found a second nature park on the way home, which I believe is the one to which my friend referred, but that’s for another post. Happy trails.

Jackie tested, Jackie approved.

Jackie tested, Jackie approved.


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