Pioneer Bridle Trail: Oregon History
The end point of the Pioneeer Bridle Trail is a replica of a Barlow Road tollgate that was a money maker in the 19th century for Sam Barlow. He built the road and charged five dollars of the hardy pioneers who took wagons on the rugged bypass around Mount Hood rather than deal with the Columbia River Gorge.
I like to hike up the trail towards Government Camp. It starts in a small pullout east of the Tollgate Campground, which is a suprisingly lovely spot given that it is right off Highway 26. On a recent hike there, the leaves had finally turned gold and orange for us, weeks after they seemed to hit their peak in New England.
I leash Niko for the first part of the trail. He is getting old and deaf and I don’t trust his judgment near the highway. The trail ascends slightly between the highway and the Zigzag River, going through some wonderful forest with amazing foliage typical of the west side of the Cascades.
We cross a few Forest Service roads that access vacation cabins, but there is no traffic, and I only have to be careful for Niko in one or two spots. There are few views, but I still enjoy the trail, as it is easy walking, and usually free of other hikers.
At one point, the trail was somewhat popular with downhill mountain bikers. You can descend from Timberline Lodge at 6000 feet through the ski town of Government Camp, all the way to my trailhead at less than 2000 feet. With the more technical Sandy Ridge mountain biking trail system open now near Brightwood, the Bridle Trail may have paled in comparison, but that long descent must still be appealing, and there are stretches once that have a real wilderness feel when the trail crosses to the north side of the highway.
About a mile out of Rhodendron, the trail nears the highway where a pedestrian bridge parallels the highway bridge. I often turn around in this area when I am just out for a jaunt with the dogs. I find it interesting that conifer needles add traction on such a bridge when it is wet, yet seem to detract from traction when it is dry. Any physics explanations, readers?
This time, I continue half a mile further, crossing the bridge and meditating on the riffles of the Zigzag River before getting in a groove stretching my legs in the dark forest.
The Bridle Trail makes for a nice hour long hike when I can’t justify being away much longer. Paperwork to finish, papers to grade, dishes to wash, and so on. Life. Of course, the trail parallels a major highway, and it never feels like wilderness, but it is a nice respite from the chores of daily life. When I slow down a bit, I always find something unique to admire in the environment.
Mist falls intermittently. I head back toward my car and reflect on the history of this route as I walk. Life must have been tough for the pioneers traveling this route in covered wagons. They had already been gone from the midwest for months when they hit Oregon, and surely it was a welcome thought, knowing the last of the big mountains was behind them. It humbles me to walk on such a path, if only for an hour or two.