A Quick Adventure in Oneonta Gorge

The Columbia Gorge highway used to go through this tunnel until the late 1940s.

The Columbia Gorge highway used to go through this tunnel beside the entrance to Oneonta Gorge until the late 1940s.

Oneonta Gorge is, well, gorgeous.  I’d never done the full hike, which is like the Columbia River Gorge’s entry to canyoneering.  Hikers have to clamber over a massive log jam, then walk right in the creek to get to the destination of the waterfall.  Denise and I had been there before a few years ago, but had never ventured too far, as the season was wrong to get wet.  Today, with temps in the nineties, I was primed to try it.  It’s been hot for a while in Northwest Oregon, and a lot of people seemed to have the same idea.  I arrived at the trailhead by 10 a.m. and barely got a parking space.

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As my dear readers may know, I like my solitude, but was not worried.  I figured once people realized they were going to have to scramble over a log jam and set soaked upstream, many would turn around.  Boy, was I wrong!  Oh well.  Beyond the log jam, I was really in the bowels of the chasm.  1The walls were only 25 feet apart at a few points.    There was no solitude on this hike, but plenty of adventure and beauty.  Soon enough, I was getting quite wet, sloshing along up to the middle of my shins.  Then it got interesting.  I tried to skirt a deep pool by clambering on rocks, but to no avail. I had to get soaked up to my belly. The water was chilly at first, but not too bad.

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After traversing the narrow, deep pool, the canyon opens up a bit, then effectively dead ends in cliffs split by a good sized waterfall.  People wandered around taking selfies and group portraits.  A few waded in the deep pool below the falls.  I gawked at the canyon walls as much as anything.  What a lovely place. I could have stayed there a long time, but the crowd seemed to keep increasing, so I turned back, reveling in the beauty of Oneonta.  There’s a good reason it’s popular.

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Summertime Fire Danger Walking Blues

Looking at the swollen Sandy River

Looking at the swollen Sandy River

Sometimes I have to sneak in a nature fix.  This was the case when I left a party in my old mountain town to take a walk with Jack.  The Old Maid Flats area is one covered in ashy soil from a volcanic eruption dating to the late 18th century.  I love the groundcover that results. Nearby, the Sandy River was noisy and frothing with brown water.  There had been no rain, so this suggested that the glacier fed river was being inundated with snowmelt from high on Mount Hood.  High temperatures in the area show no sign of easing. With the fire danger high across much of the Pacific Northwest, I hope people will minimize the use of fireworks tomorrow, but I fear a number of wildland fires will be triggered.  It’s enough to make me blue, and as Eddie Cochran said, “there ain’t no cure” for that.  Oh, for some rain!

Along the Sandy to Sundial Beach

Jackie Chan, my faithful canine hiking pal, has been sick for some time, so a hike the other day was the first time he’d joined me on a real hike since his megaesophagus diagnosis.   I opted for a casual hike to Sundial Beach near the mouth of the Sandy River which I’d found online.  It’s directly across the river from the delta where I had walked multiple time before, but Sundial Beach has considerably fewer hikers.  The trailhead is along Graham Road across from the Troutdale Airport.   The paved path heads onto a long dike, apparently guarding the airport and nearby industrial concerns from flooding.  It is also one section of the Portland area’s 40 mile loop trail, a clear dividing line between the urban world and the natural world, a line on which I enjoy walking.


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Unsigned side trails drop off the dike and give access to the banks of the Sandy River.  I followed a few in search of beauty, which I found, along with other walkers and swimmers. Plenty of dogs played in the water and on the sand.   I continued on, seeking the Columbia River.  The dike and parallel trails curve north and west, and high energy power lines dominate the scenery at points– both practical necessity and visual disappointment, like so many things in our world.  For a while, the towers reminded me of the Tripods in the dystopian fantasy series The White Mountains (highly recommended for tweens).

It was pretty hot for much walking, but Jackie and I made the best of it.  Finally we reached the real beach on the Columbia, which seemed mammoth due to low water levels.   This would be a great spot for a picnic.  A kayaker came down the Sandy, wondering if he’d reached confluence.  I suppose it was a bit hard to tell with many sandbars and such in the low water.  On the return leg, I saw a raptor guarding its nest atop a “tripod”.  I think it was an osprey but could not be sure.  The paved path started feeling like an oven, and Jackie started slowing down, so I was glad to get back to my car with its air conditioning.  Besides, the tripods could not follow us there.


A Five Falls Loop at Silver Falls State Park

I hadn’t been to Silver Falls State Park in almost 20 years, somewhat pathetic considering it is Oregon’s largest state park at 9000 acres.  The park boasts many waterfalls, and one hike connects most of the big ones.  I headed there this afternoon to see some of these falls. I didn’t have time for the entire Trail of Ten Falls, but I created a loop hike of my own that visited 5 falls.  In the early afternoon I parked at the North Falls Trailhead. The small lot was close to full, so I felt lucky to get a spot.

My first waterfall was Upper North Falls.  It is less than a quarter mile up a spur trail that is virtually flat.  The falls are 65 feet high in broad punchbowl formation.  It’s not the most dramatic waterfall, but it is very pretty setting, and the large pool below was surely tempting for the swimming-inclined.

Downhill the trail splits, and I opted for the Canyon Trail rather than the Rim Trail, on which I would later return.  Shortly there was a view from above of the North Falls.  It is a good sized beast at 136 feet, and the trail starts higher than the top  Thus I found myself descending a considerable set of stairs a switchback before sliding behind the falls.  Way behind.  Approximately 50-60 feet of horizontal rock extend overhead from the trail as I gawked at the falls. Not too shabby. That’s when my camera died.  Brilliant.  I took only mediocre cell phone shots from there to the end.

I spend some time at North falls, then motored onward. There is a junction a bit over a mile down the fern and fir coated canyon.  For now, I moved past, barely spying the relatively diminutive Twin Falls around a rocky corner. I opted to continue to Middle North Falls and was pleased with the choice.  The main trail did not go behind the falls, but a side trail did, and only a few people wandered down there, making it a very peaceful setting. After relaxing and enjoying the views for a while, I retraced my steps to the last junction from there.  The side trail climbed a side drainage to the barely-there Winter Falls.  A short distance above that, Above that, I veered left on the Rim Trail, which headed to the North Falls Trailhead through a beautiful forest with a couple of great views toward North Falls.  Another great afternoon in the woods.

The Sick, the Sore, and the Sluggish Beat the Heat at Mary S. Young State Park

A weak but game Jackie Chan finds a hydrant in the Mary S. Young woods.

A weak but game Jackie Chan finds a hydrant in the Mary S. Young woods.

Our pup Jackie Chan is sick, having been diagnosed this week with megaesophagus.  We learned that after he’d spent ten days unable to keep food down.  We will have to change the way we feed him for the rest of his life. This requires a vertical position, during and after feeding, which is a challenge until we get a custom chair.  Now that we know how to do it, he is keeping food down and hopefully getting stronger.  My wife Denise has had her own challenges in the past few months, many stemming from a crushed heel bone. It is no ordinary break.  Six months later, while I am feeling lazy, it’s finally time for a family hike.

Mary S. Young State Park is not dramatic like Smith Rock or Silver Falls, yet it offers ball fields, access to the bank of the Willamette River, and plenty of easy hiking trails, which was perfect today.  Denise, Jackie, and I took a walk on the Blue Heron Creek Loop Trail.  The trail was flat for a while, meandering among oaks, alders, and Douglas firs, but there were two sections of switchbacks when it crossed small canyons.  Out in the open, the sun had been beating down, but the forest was a very pleasant temperature.  There were some fantastic old growth trees.  Because Jackie was still weak, we did not complete the entire Blue Heron Creek Loop, but took a shortcut down a paved path back to the parking lot and air conditioning.

McIntyre Ridge, Wildcat Mountain, and a Secret Spot

Looking south across the less well known Eagle Creek drainage

Looking south across the less well known Eagle Creek drainage from the far point of my hike

The easiest way I know to get to elevation in Northwest Oregon is to drive to Timberline Lodge. The second easiest way is to hike to McIntyre Ridge or Wildcat Mountain from the west. The access road is paved until the very end, and you get a three thousand foot elevation headstart on most trails in the area.  The area used to be more popular with dirt bikers and target shooters, but access and the rules have changed.  It is less noisy than fifteen years ago, but target shooters still find spots to practice their skills. The start of the trail winds around an old quarry-like area, the far side of which drops off into a canyon for great views.

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The trail climbs briefly, then levels off at a spectacular promontory with views over the Eagle Creek drainage–unrelated to the more famous Eagle Creek in the Columbia Gorge.  After a mile of casual uphill walking, there is an unsigned junction. Most people head left here, the way to the unassuming but beautiful high point along McIntyre Ridge. I found a few other hikers out there taking in the pretty forest and the view so the always dramatic Mount Hood.  A man sat on the bench installed there years ago as a tribute to two men who loved the area.  I wandered around the ridge for a while, then turned back.  I had more destinations in mind. At the junction, I headed left, or the other way, on the Douglas trail.  The trail soon heads up through some switchbacks.  At the high point, there is another unsigned trail to Wildcat Mountain itself.  This is another modest peak with almost no views, but I scaled it anyway.

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The peak is anticlimactic.  Views can only be had by peering through trees.  The best part of the hike, however, was yet to come. I remember continuing east on the trail more than a decade earlier in connecting to Huckleberry Mountain. There is a spot on the narrow ridge I wanted to find.  I dropped back down to the Douglas Trail, and fifteen minutes later, I emerged on the open rocky ridge. Clouds had started to move in, but I could still see Mounts Hood, Adams, and Jefferson as well as many foothill peaks and the Eagle Creek and Boulder Creek valleys. It’s a gorgeous green spot in all directions, and not a soul in sight. Just my kind of place.  I sat there for a while contemplating the state of the natural world and then hiked back to my car, more than satisfied.

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Urban Hiking: Three Creeks Natural Area

Urban hiking can be defined many ways.  When I head to a spot  for a hike inside the metro area, I know I may see a bit more trash, graffiti, and uses of nature I might find strange. Yet such experience and observations are also invigorating. Wandering around the Three Creeks trails, I found hidden camps, graffiti walls, bridges to former industrial wastelands, and more.

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Because the Three Creeks area is less official than Mount Talbert or Powell Butte, there is less protection of the area, but I saw many new plantings, as a group works tirelessly to reclaim the area from the industrial past that reportedly included a dry cleaner dumping its chemicals in the bottomland here.  I am glad people pay a bit more attention to nature now.  Three Creeks is a great place to  see it. I will continue to seek unique hiking destinations near Portland.  Suggestions, anyone?

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.


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