Category Archives: Flora and Fauna
My vacation is winding down, so I really wanted a wilderness experience. As I get older, I seem to have fewer and fewer of them, and that’s a shame. I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire, but yesterday I sought to rectify that absence and headed to the north side of the highest mountain in Oregon. The drive is long but the hike is shorter and easier than many approaches.
From the Vista Ridge Trailhead, the trail goes through half a mile of typical Cascade forest, then emerges into a charred landscape left over from the Dollar Lake fire in 2011. The underbrush is thriving, but here are few trees left alive over ten feet tall. Lots of silvery trunks make for an odd atmosphere, but I find it fascinating. Once I climbed out of that in a couple miles, the wildflowers started dotting the sides of the trail. I’d worried I was late, but not at all. Once I hit the Timberline Trail, I had a quick decision to make about finding a campsite. I chose to seek a new spot in Elk Cove, a big open meadow below the steep slopes of Mount Hood abutted by the massive talus slopes of Barrett Spur.
Once I made camp, I snacked and headed out on a hike to points east. Three stream crossings later, a couple of which are tricky, I made it to a nice set of rocky slabs above Compass Creek Falls. It’s hard to get a straight-on view of the falls, because it’s below the trail. I found a nice flat rock and napped briefly in the sunshine. Sleeping in the sun feels like vacation.
The flowers along the trail kept surprising me. Yellow, lavender, red, white, pink, orange. It’s such a treat to catch the mountainsides bedecked in coat of many colors. My walk back to camp was uneventful other than starting to see a lot more people. It was a good day.
My only disappointment was when I realized my camp was too far in the shadow of a massive ridge to see the comet Neowise, but that was a small price to pay for the lovely vista I had while eating a mediocre freeze dried dinner. An early evening ramble along a user path in the meadows let me see a different perspective of creek and flowers and mountain above. I took a series of photos and eventually wandered back to my tent feeling intoxicated by the beauty of the area.
I woke early today and headed out, knowing I had business to attend to at home, but also knowing my legs might not be up for another side trek. I am already thinking about my next visit to the area.
Having lived in the mountains for years, I am accustomed to dealing with cold, rain, and snow. That said, as a city dweller now, I play it cautious because I’ve learned not to trust other drivers. When the Portland area got its first snow freakout warning of the season, however, I decided it would be a nice opportunity to take a hike in different conditions. Luckily, the roads were simply wet on the way to Marquam Nature Park. Good start.
I left my vehicle in one of numerous pullouts along Terwilliger Boulevard and headed up the muddy Marquam Trail. I had no particular place to go, I just wanted to gain elevation and hopefully see a little snow. Ultimately, I created a loop with the Flicker and Towhee Trails. My route trended upward for a while, and then flattened out in a quiet forest. I topped out at less than 800 feet above sea level. There were dustings of snow here and there, and I did see a few flakes falling. The slick mud underfoot affected me more than any white stuff.
While Marquam is not a well known as its big brother to the north, Forest Park, it is also sizable and a fine choice for any Portland area hiker or jogger in need of a few trail miles, even when a touch of snow is in the forecast. Happy trails.
Amid a lot of literal and figurative cloudy weather, I found the perfect golden window other day for a walk. Nothing like leg stretching and photography experiments in the sun to make me feel better about the world. Okay, a mountain top would beat it, but hey. Rocks, moss, leaves, a passing seaplane, wings of a dove, er, seagull, and my boy Jackie Chan. Seeing him cut loose on a beach would prompt a smile from the biggest curmudgeon. All is right with the world. Well, mostly.
In the middle of a stretch of long days at work, it was nice to take a riverside walk with Denise and Jackie Chan the other day. It was another chance to play with my new camera as well. The weather was terrific, and we lucked out seeing a great blue heron as well as other waterbirds. The water level has risen with autumn rains, and the Willamette’s shore is very rocky, so we had to pick our path with care. We didn’t go far, but a short trip in nature is always a good thing. Happy trails.
In the Baker family, when one wants to check out an area with which we are not familiar, we say that we are “‘vestigating.” A gray Sunday seemed like the perfect time for such an outdoor ‘vestigation that offered possibilities for photographic endeavors. My new Sony DSC HX400v was calling my name, as I am still less than adept at its various controls and menus. My friend Hamid was game for a hike, and he knows more about photography than me. Winning!
Kellogg Lake is a major geographical feature in the Milwaukie area, yet few people see it unless they live in certain spots or ride the light rail train, which crosses the outlet from an elevated perspective. Elsewhere, it is hard to view the water. A modest trail network descends a hillside behind the Presbyterian Church. I’d heard of this but had no good information. So Hamid and I explored, trying first this route and then that. There is plenty of walking to be had for a small area, spur trails going out both sides of a small peninsula, where we checked out waterbirds, foliage, and views across the lake. We kept spooking an egret who was close to us on a few occasions. I was never fast enough on the shutter to catch it in flight, but I did find it from afar. Magnificent bird.
Rain started coming down in earnest after we hit the far end of the lake, and although we saw a heron and enjoyed the different vantage points, there was less to explore there, so we adjourned to the Beer Store Milwaukie, which is also a restaurant and bottle shop. I opted for Ninkasi’s seasonal ale, Sleigh’r. Hamid got a stout. It’s tough to go wrong with 15 rotating taps. We enjoyed lots of interesting conversation about art, music, friends, and the circuitous paths our lives had taken, topping off a very pleasant afternoon.
Initially, Denise and I headed for Latourell Falls. The sky was foggy, the temperature cool, so I was not overly excited, but I wanted to stretch my legs and take some photos with my new camera. Once we got on the scenic highway at Corbett, plans evolved. We stopped at first great viewpoint, known as the Portland Women’s Forum Viewpoint. Not a bad seat in the joint. I’d never been to the far end to the parking lot before, with slightly better views of the river and a classic look at Crown Point. From there, we drove to the nearby Vista House atop Crown Point, then dropped into the trees on the winding road to the first big falls of the Gorge.
For a few reasons, we didn’t set out on a real hike at Latourell Falls, which I’ve previously documented on this site. Instead, we strode up the first steep pitch to a nice viewpoint of the falls, then turned back. I was thinking Shepperd’s Dell would be our next spot, but I forgot all about Bridal Veil Falls State Park! Silly me. It isn’t dramatic from the road, but this is a hidden gem with two very different trails. Since Denise had not seen the river overlook trail, we skipped the waterfall trail and ambled about the meandering flat trail. There are views of the mighty Columbia in both directions, and great head-on looks at the Washington side of the Gorge in the Cape Horn area.
Shepherd’s Dell is not much of a spot to hike, but it has a cool falls, which is made more mysterious by upper reaches I’d never before noticed. The watercourse almost corkscrews. Cascades are visible through the trees along the highway which are invisible from the trail itself. This is a great little spot for a rest.
Like its big brother Multnomah Falls, Wahkeena Falls is a popular spot, and with good reason. The falls is not one clean plunge, but a couple of horsetails and a cascade below to boot. The base of the main falls is easily accessible by paved trail.
Knowing this, we cruised up there. It only takes a few minutes. I was impressed by the flow and the breeze which that created. I didn’t dally long by the falls proper, but continued past. We hiked up about 11 switchbacks to Lemmon Viewpoint, which took perhaps 20 minutes. I didn’t remember how tough the trail was, but it was easy, and the views were great. It was a nice capper to another great tour of the Columbia River Gorge.
Note: In double checking spellings of a couple waterfalls, I stumbled on a cool site for waterfall lovers, Northwest Waterfall Survey. I knew a number of the names, like Ecola and Mist, but was not aware of Dalton, Little Necktie, and a few others. Just when I needed new ideas for local exploration! Happy hikes, everyone.
They’re not actually called the Misty Moody Mountains, but the description fit on a gray day above Whittier. The rain came early and stopped. My regular trail pants got soaked from brushing against dripping trailside bushes, and made me wish I had my rain paints. Oh well. The trail did not get close to the waterfall I was attempting to spy up close, but the hike was beautiful anyway. Don’t you agree?
Alaska is large. Who knew? It felt like it was going to take a looong time to get from Talkeetna to Whittier, where we would go on the half day glacier cruise the next day. And so it did, but we saw some cool stuff along the way. We took a detour up Hatcher Pass, which is known for some historic mining buildings. It turned out to be a long detour–a long, beautiful detour with territory ripe for exploration. We didn’t exactly hike a lot, but the potential is off the charts, especially as we gained elevation. Such gorgeous, open country. I kept wanting to make comparisons to other places, but they fall short. Alaska is its own world.
The mountains and valleys we saw on that detour are but a mere wrinkle in the landscape of Alaska. And there’s more. Lots more. The weather wasn’t great, so we didn’t stop much more until we passed Anchorage. Once we were driving along the water, we started looking for whales, specifically Belugas. No luck. That’s okay. It was still a cool part of the Alaska experience. More to come.
Denali National Park is so big, the bus ride from the visitor’s center to the end of the road, which is not even at the far end of the park, is over 90 miles. Denise and I had only one day to see what we could, and the park entrance is over a two hour drive from Talkeetna. That doesn’t count our requisite random mountain photo stops. Denali dominates the landscape much of the way, but beyond that, there were countless lesser peaks, some glacier draped, some craggy, some forested. The entirety of these peaks, these wild areas, borders on overwhelming. It is good to know that such wilderness still exists when development threatens it in so many other places.
At the visitor center, we asked a few questions, used the plumbing, saw some exhibits, then headed toward a spot I’d already considered based on a tip from my sister Sarah. She and my niece had been in the park a few months earlier, and they had love the Savage Alpine Trail, a dozen miles into the park. Good enough for me!
The Savage Alpine Trail is a point to point hike with a car or bus shuttle in between. We opted for the closer beginning because we found parking there and heard it could be tight at the far end. The trail climbed casually through a scrubby forest above a creek, with views popping out here and there. Eventually we started climbing the side of a ridge, and views became far reaching in short order. We passed other hikers, and they passed us back a few times until the trail began climbing in earnest, switchbacking above the treeline into a world dotted with rocks and various ground cover. Denise was the one pushing the pace. I was almost giddy with excitement to hike in such terrain. I love open alpine ecosystems.
Descending hikers told us there were Dall sheep hanging out near the trail above us. It would be our first large Alaskan mammal sighting. We rounded a sort of promontory and got stunning views of the broad ridge above us, but more importantly, to the Alaska Range in the other direction. We were probably fifty miles from Denali, and range after range were in front of it. They could not hide the massive peak’s majesty. I geeked out on the terrain right here, on the shoulder of a minor peak, only a two mile hike from the road. Then we turns up hill and saw the sheep. They were lying in repose on a rocky crest above the trail, seemingly at ease with hikers nearby. Awesome.
The trail descends a bowl in an arc, then angles toward a rocky spur. It was fun terrain that got challenging on that spur, where we navigated among small crags and descended steep rock steps. No casual switchbacks here. It was an entirely different trail than the one we’d casually climbed. It made me wonder if traversing the route the other direction was more popular and easier on middle aged knees. There certainly seemed to be more hikers at this end. The snowy high peaks of the Alaska Range seemed to tease us in the distance. At the same time, the farther we descended, the more we could see of the shining Savage River. The final half mile took longer than expected, but the views were always there, in every direction.
At the bottom of our descent, I wandered along the Savage River while we waited for the shuttle bus. This was a fantastic introduction to Denali National Park. Certain spots and certain views reminded me of places I’d seen in Colorado or California, but ultimately, Alaska is always its own place. The scale is too grand to compare to anywhere else in the U.S. I hope I’ll be back for more. For now, it was beer thirty, and then we would move on to other Alaskan adventures.
My first trip to Alaska didn’t last nearly long enough. That said, my wife planned a heck of a trip in a tight time window. We flew late at night from Portland to Anchorage. After a few hours sleep, we ate breakfast at a nearby café which included reindeer sausage. Yep. Soon enough we had a rental car and headed north. Talkeetna, here we come. As soon as we passed the city limits, mountains loomed to the north and east. The forests were not as dense as those I am accustomed to in Oregon and Washington. The hemlocks and spruces were lovely, but on the small side. No matter. The scale of the land itself was cause for celebration. We stopped at a few different spots and saw stunning vistas. Mountains, lakes, wildlife and cute towns. I envisioned a hundred hikes on that two hour drive.
We arrived in Talkeetna a bit earlier than expected, and I moved up a flightseeing trip as a result. Twist my arm. Ten of us flew in a small plane courtesy of Talkeetna Air Taxi north to the Alaska Range. From the braided Susitna River to the Ruth Glacier and a fly by of big peaks, I was in heaven. We landed high on a glacier and gawked for fifteen minutes. Immaculate snowy peaks with massive cliffs were everywhere. The weather was perfect for us, if a bit warm for alpinists. For a mountain lover, this was almost a surreal experience, a bucket list trip to be sure.
Back in Talkeetna, Denise and I grubbed at Denali Brewing’s patio on a warm evening. They had a nice beer selection and great food. Mostly I remember the peanut butter pie. After exploring the town a bit more, including some unique street vendors, we retired to our room in the quaint Roadhouse. A nap was in order, but shortly after 11 p.m., we got up and headed out in search of the Aurora Borealis. We found it nearby. My photos are not great, but I include one for reference. Interestingly, there is a firm in Talkeetna that offers lesson on how to take photos the northern photos. Next time I will bring a better camera and take that lesson.
Not bad for one day. Look for more photos soon, including some of spectacular hiking in Denali National Park. Happy hiking.