Lazy Walking the Hoyt Arboretum

I am behind on my posts.  Oh well. Today I had a nice hike in the high country, but let me start by looking back to my last jaunt.   I have blogged about the Hoyt Arboretum before, which I grew up calling the “Arbo”.  It is notable mostly for the massive array of tree and plant species from around the world–over 2000 species are represented here.   I love finding trees from Scotland and Kamchatka in close proximity.  Many trails crisscross the hilly acreage in southwest Portland, but a road is always relatively close.

On this visit, I decided to simply wander back and forth.  I started on the Creek Trail, used a connector trail to cross over a road to find the White Pine and Bristlecone Pine trails, then veered off on the Fir Trail, where I passed a bamboo festival in the big shelter just below one of the main parking areas.  Ultimately I zigzagged on the Spruce Trail, Redwood Trail, and the mighty Wildwood Trail.  It made for a nice sinuous back and forth, frequently getting different perspectives on locations from the second trail.  I stopped at many benches in the area and read from Alan Lightman’s fascinating novel, Einstein’s Dreams.  Forcing myself to frequently stop (I probably sat at ten benches), made me slow down and be more aware of my surroundings.  I also read about 70 pages–the book goes quickly.  It was an enjoyable exercise.  Tune in next time for a report on adventures in Mt. Hood’s alpine tundra.

Rooster Rock and Points East

The state park's namesake

The state park’s namesake

Rooster Rock State Park is named for a volcanic plug with an easy if not highly desirable climbing route up its south side. The climb is a standard venture for beginners, which I first did when I was 15 or so. The area may be more famous to Portland residents as the site of a “clothing optional” beach.  But enough about that (awkward!)  I ventured there yesterday not to re-live teenage climbing glory, nor to investigate the nude beach, but to wander the low ridge to the east.  It seemed a perfect barrier between river and highway with potential views of both water and nearby peaks. I wasn’t entirely wrong, but the best part of the trip was walking along the mighty Columbia and eying the ramparts of its famous gorge.

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My stalwart companion Jackie Chan and I hiked east from the parking lot and found ourselves walking along a crazy disc golf course in the woods. It looked very difficult through the trees.  The trail stayed more or less level above the riverbank, but eventually dropped down after a mile or so and we emerged into a long meadow. Soon we arrived at the riverbank.  A family with young kids was playing in the water nearby.  We continued east for solitiude, meandering among sandy spots, grasses, and patches of forest.  Eventually the trail disappeared, and I reached a point where it got very rocky and narrow, so we turned back after checking out the avian wildlife on Sand Island.

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We climbed up a washout spot into a broad meadow, and I found an obvious trail up the edge of it into the forest above.  The forest was pleasant although the highway noise detracted a bit from my enjoyment.  At one point, for half a mile or so, I noticed a lot of horsetails and I found that interesting, as we were on a ridge.  I had thought of them as being confined to swampy areas.  Apparently not.  In a little over an hour total, I was back at my car. This is not a strenuous hike, but it was just the ticket for us on this weekday.  Afterwards, I drove west for a closer look at Rooster Rock itself and its big brother, the much more impressive Crown Point on the south side of the highway–another teenage climbing memory. Today I am content with a hike in the vicinity.

Looking up from the parking lot at Crown Point

Looking up from the parking lot at Crown Point

Pacific Crest Trail Tease


I have intermittently dreamed about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail since I read Eric Ryback’s book about the trail when I was in high school.  Naturally, life has taken random twists and turns, I’ve done a lot other cool things, from climbing cliffs and bungee jumping to getting married on a mountain to becoming a firefighter and publishing my writing.  At my age, I’m not sure I can press pause on my life for five months it would require.  Perhaps one day…  Here is a tease I stumbled on today in which a hiker took a second-long video every day on the journey, which is compressed to a three-minute video.  I’ve seen another version of this, where a man took a selfie every mile on the trail.  It was interesting to see his face change, but I wanted to see the scenery more.  This clip does that. Enjoy–especially those of you about to embark on the trail.  If you can’t follow my link (and sorry about the ad), here’s the full URL:

Cook Park and the Tualatin River

Just yesterday, I heard about a Postal Service picnic which would include an epic softball battle between area stations.  Unfortunately, I had other plans, but I when I was done I tried to check out the picnic.  Too late. Luckily, Cook Park is a good destination for more than softball watching. The park, located in Tigard, Oregon, has frontage on the Tualatin River in addition to numerous ball fields and picnic shelters.  There are some paved paths as well as what the map called “soft trails”.  As in dirt trails.  Okayyyy.   I wandered away from the parking lot and picnic areas and soon found such a soft trail.  The forest was fairly typical for our area.   Cedars and Doug firs and alders.  I saw light in the canopy and realized we were beside the river.  A kayaker was floating downstream, yelling at some friends.  Tree branches dipped low by the water.   It was an enticing spot which instantly made me think of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, up to some boyhood daredevilry, climbing, swinging, and diving into the cool water at last.

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Upstream a little, I found my way up a small rise and realized I’d come upon the boat launch.  Nice.  Apparently, the park rents kayaks here.  People were sprawled on the grass, in the shade, while others were boating.  This grassy area seemed a great spot to spend a hot Sunday afternoon.  I continued walking, following my instincts along a paved path into the woods, which led back to the ball field area where I spied my car.  Cook Park looks like a great place to revisit some time, perhaps with a ball game followed by kayaking or fishing, or just some Tom-and-Huck fun in the water.

Bucket List Hike Daydreaming

Above McNeil Point on Mt. Hood.  Not bad.

Above McNeil Point on Mt. Hood. Not bad.

I haven’t had any epic trips in a while.  The image above is a year old now. But this morning I stumbled on an image of a spot in Norway, and I was reminded what gorgeous scenery surrounds the fjords.  I want to go there!  I’d also love to hike in the Dolomites, climbing a peak or two the easy way. Before that, I should probably hit my family’s ancestral homeland in Scotland.  Ben Nevis, here I come!  Ah, but I’m only dreaming.  If money were no consideration, where would you like to hike?

Willamette Valley Drought

Drier than a good martini

Drier than a good martini

It’s been a long dry spell, and I don’t mean for the Chicago Cubs.  I can’t remember the last significant rainfall in the Portland metro area.  We are way behind on our annual precipitation, and while the temps have cooled off in the past couple days, the area is still dry as a Melville novel.  The grass in most yards yellowed weeks ago.  Keep in mind that I live in an area visitors typically think is always gray and wet.  While winters can be gray and long, Portland tends to get less annual precipitation than cities such as New York, Washington, Miami, Memphis, and New Orleans.  Summers here are great for outdoor activities, but I am concerned this year.  A few nights ago, my wife and I ate on a restaurant deck recently.  We were shocked to find the creek below the deck had vanished. It looked more like Southeast Oregon or Nevada than a spot in the lush Willamette Valley. I walk every day in my job, but I long for a hike in the rain.  This too shall pass.

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.


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