Category Archives: Historical sites

Just Another Manic Sunday


Cool, clear, classic Clackamas River


Dawn broke clear and cool over the upper Clackamas River drainage after an impromptu camping trip amid the teeming hordes escaping the metro area.  Every campground was full for miles.  So it goes.  It was a great morning to look at clear water, tall trees, and mossy rocks.  Then there was the low waterline at Detroit Lake, living the late summer reservoir life of stumps and marinas in the mud.  We did a lot of walking, although we didn’t end up taking a serious hike.  We simple went with the flow, something at which I do not always excel.  We found gorgeous spots of placid river, and soaked up views from the dam at the foot of Detroit Lake. Ten to fifteen fishermen cast their lines right off the top of the dam.  Some of them were even successful.  Pretty cool.

Once we got out of the foothills, we had a decision to make.  We could go to a popular hiking area like Silver Falls or Opal Creek, but we opted instead to do something a bit more unique, based on the classic on-the-fly smart phone search.  Onward to Willamette Mission State Park!  It was there that Jason Lee established a Methodist mission in 1834, two decades before Oregon was even a state, and survival had to come before any conversion of Native Americans.  The part comprises almost 900 acres of river, lakes, orchards, and open fields. It’s just over an hour from home, yet I’d never visited.  Time to change that.


The edge of Goose Lake


Once in the park, we walked the short trail to the of Goose Lake, then drove to the viewing spot of the nation’s largest Black Cottonwood, which is not incredibly tall in comparison to redwoods or Douglas firs, but boy, that trunk is massive!


Denise soaking up the wisdom of the tree


One of the cool things the park does is create what they term a ghost structure, which duplicates the basic shape of the original mission buildings.  The structure was built close to the riverbank,  and mosquitoes were a big problem, along with malaria.   Not such a great spot, as it turns out.  The mission moved to Chemeketa, now known as Salem, in 1840.  Ironically, an 1861 flood ravaged the area, and the main river channel moved further west.  The water below the ghost structure is now a landlocked lake most of the year.


The ghost structures

The trails were pretty, and dotted with nut trees and apple trees.  There were many walnut trees, and a lot of a few other species, which probably included filbert trees.   A few deer darted through the area, perhaps looking to nosh on some apples.


Once we left the orchard area, we discovered a path to the Willamette River itself, on a quiet rocky beach with calm water that instantly make me think of Huckleberry Finn.  I skipped a few rocks, which Jackie wanted to chase.  Sorry, not a ball, buddy.


I swear Huck left his raft here somewhere


It was a lovely spot, and the temperature was perfect.  Just visible downstream was the Wheatland Ferry.  It seemed such an quaint anachronism that we had to take it.Such happenstance led us to Dayton, a cute little town which was apparently founded by Joel Palmer, part of the Barlow Road entrepreneurial team and namesake of the Palmer snowfield and chairlift at famed Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood.  We also chowed on great burgers at the Block House Café.  Then came the Sunday afternoon traffic issues, part of which was caused by a pair of tractors on the highway, which seemed humorous yet fitting in Oregon’s wine country, and a fitting capstone for the day.


Rather pretty if I do say so.  Note the cabin on the far left.

History and the View at Canemah Bluff


Looking down at the mighty Willamette


In a shocking development, I went for a walk last Sunday.  The weather was iffy, so I stayed close to home, and I was able to find another pleasant place to leg stretch close to the city.  Canemah Bluff is located above the Willamette River at the south end of Oregon City.  In the 19th century, pioneers settled there and established their own community, which predicated its economy on people who necessarily portaged around nearby Willamette Falls as they headed up or down the Willamette. The town was eventually annexed by Oregon City in the 1920s.  It is still a lovely area, and the Children’s Park (no, I didn’t go down the slide) is a great place to start a walk.  A small network of trails offers a few different options depending on your ambition and interest. Like Mount Talbert and Powell Butte, they have nice signage and mini maps on posts at junctions.

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One of the things about this area is that, historically, Native Americans conducted annual controlled burns, and this affected biodiversity.  Unlike many areas in Northwest Oregon, the bluffs here offer broad wildflower meadows lined lots of oaks and madrone trees, as well as alder and cedar forested areas further uphill.

The walking was easy, and I found myself marveling at the great colors all around.  Bright wildflowers abounded in the open areas, but the most amazing hues of all (and this on a gray day) were on the madrone trunks.  In a couple photos, they seemed to almost glow a rusty color.  Eventually, I caught a glimpse of a pioneer cemetery, then headed uphill on the Old Slide Trail.  They were very pleasant woods to amble about.  On that segment of  trail, I found myself falling into arty photography, noticing the symmetry in a certain fern’s fronds, a stand of deciduous trees, even the perfectly placed bee in the center of a flower. I have found that taking a great photo gives me a great deal of pleasure, but there is nothing like a good walk.  Happy hiking, everyone.

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Smokey the Bear, Billy the Kid, and ETs: a trip to Roswell

Read it and weep.  The nuclear age begins here, and rocks glowed

Read it and weep. The nuclear age begins here, and rocks glowed, sayeth the kids.

My recent vacation in New Mexico was combined with a work trip for my wife.  Leaving Albuquerque, we took a longer but  more interesting route south and east.  We couldn’t take a picture of the “Very Large Array” of radio telescopes (Featured in book/movie Contact), as it was 50 miles off the highway.   But the site of the first nuclear detonation was a bonus, if a bit depressing.  The drive was boring for a long way until we neared Capitan, where the landscape got greener as we gained elevation.

Smokey The Bear near Capitan, NM

Smokey the bear representation near Capitan, NM, where he was found as a cub

Capitan offered a Smokey the Bear museum, but we simply took a quick look around the gift shop.   Apparently Smokey the Bear was already an advertising concept, when a real black bear cub was orphaned in a fire here. in 1950.  After attaining some celebrity, Smokey was later shipped off to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. to amuse onlookers and eat bon bons.

Lincoln County War

Lincoln, where Billy the Kid was involved in the Lincoln County War

The next town, Lincoln, was more famous for the carnage that emerged from a power struggle between rival factions.  Henry  McCarty, aka William Bonney, later known as Billy the Kid, happened to be on one side.   It was a bloody time of back and forth revenge killings.  In 2013, the town is remarkably quiet, but there are lots of great interpretive signs to peruse.  Again, we opted not to pay for the museum.  So much to do, so little time!

Nuclear heat on our arrival in Roswell

Nuclear heat on our arrival in Roswell: see the temp at the top

From Lincoln, we powered straight through to Roswell, and hour away, where it was a bit warmer.  Did I mention it was hot?   Okay, Roswell was baking.  Of course, it was a dry heat.  Still, we were thankful for air conditioning.

Bitter Ponds

Bitter Lake

The next day, while Denise worked, I headed for water.   Jackie Chan and I drove east of Roswell to Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge.  I didn’t know what to expect, and ended up doing a nice little driving tour around multiple lakes.  At one point we got out and walked, but it was soon too hot for much walking, even before noon, and Jackie was a bit under the weather.

Jackie is not digging the heat: the upland desert trail

Jackie is not digging the heat: the upland desert trail

I did enjoy the bit of walking we did.  The trail took us away from the lakes in a forbidding landscape.  I saw few birds, but appreciated the plant life.


Great seed pods–yucca, I believe.

Don't tread on me, the prickly pear says

Don’t tread on me, the prickly pear says

Desert flowers always surprise

Desert flowers always surprise

Upland Desert Trail near Bitter Ponds Wildlife Refuge

Upland Desert Trail near Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Strange metal supposedly recovered from UFO crash site.  Probably Japanese jewelry

Strange metal supposedly recovered from UFO crash site. Some now say it’s a style of Japanese jewelry.

Before leaving town the next day we hit the UFO Museum.  It had some cheese factor to its displays, to be sure, but it also offered food for thought.  What if aliens did land near Roswell in 1947?  Would that change our world today?  Fun things to consider, but it was time to leave and return to Oregon

These guys wouldn't talk to us.  The UFO museum before we left town.

These guys wouldn’t talk to us. I think they heard about waterboarding.

Petroglyph National Monument: A Toasty Stroll

Petroglyph National monument

Entrance to Rinconada Canyon

Petroglyph National Monument is a low key destination.   It lies on the western edge of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with a visitors center and four separate areas to explore: Rinconada Canyon, Boca Negra Canyon, Piedras Maracadas,  and Volcanoes.   The latter does not actually have any petroglyphs, but hey, three volcanoes!

Kilroy was here

Kilroy was here, perhaps?

Rinconada Canyon, with a parking lot just off Unser Blvd NW a couple miles north of I-40, seemed the most convenient spot for a walkabout. There is a decent bathroom at the parking lot, and a barrier prevented vehicles from going on the trail.   Right away, the heat makes itself known, as if to say, “Hello, pale people from the north; I will toast you now.”  We slather on sunscreen and tote water.   I wish I had a hat.

Looking back toward the parking area

Looking back toward the parking area

The canyon is really more of a vee-shaped plain, gently sloping, with ramparts on the outer edge of the vee covered in basalt boulders.  Cacti and sage and broken glass dot the flatter land.  Apparently locals formerly used Rinconada Canyon for target shooting before the area was protected.

Hot hot hot

Hot hot hot: D and Jackie Chan following

Denise and Jackie Chan the wonderdog do an about face after about half a mile when they realizes the pictures are mostly similar same, and it’s getting bloody hot.  I can’t blame them, but I soldier on for a bit.   One smart hiker carries an umbrella as sun shield.   There is certainly no respite from the sun, and there is no water on the trail.

Larger than most of the images

Larger than most of the imagesiveivel

The trail hugs the right slope near the rocks.  Petroglyphs seem to come in clumps on large rocks in little alcoves at the base of the canyon walls..   Mostly the images are simple and relatively small, such as dessert-plate sized birds, human faces, and deer.  Scientists do not know exactly what all if the petroglyphs mean, but it is interesting to speculate.

Don't come barefoot.  Only cacti thrive here

Don’t come barefoot. Only cacti thrive here!

Rinconada Canyon offers a harsh landscape for hikers, but one worth visiting for its geologic and human history.  Consider going in the cooler hours of  the day.

Some of the images are hard to decipher

Some of the images are hard to decipher.  Sun? Centipede? Who knows?

San Francisco–Walking Style

Hate to disappoint anyone, but I didn’t leave my heart in San Francisco.  I did however, have a great visit in a part business and part pleasure trip.

Jackie Chan the Wonderdog posing in Union Square

Jackie Chan the Wonderdog posing in Union Square

Denise was doing some work, and I drove down to join her a couple days later.  We had some great meals (Belden Place is a great café alley), some did some serious urban walking up some amazing concrete hills, and saw an amazingly goofy parody musical called Beach Blanket Babylon.  It’s been running so long in the same venue, the city renamed the street out front Beach Blanket Babylon Boulevard.   The wigs, oh the wigs!

One of the highlights was going to the ocean on our last day in the city.  Yes, San Francisco is not only the city by the bay (Oh no, now a Journey song is in my head!), it’s also perched on the Pacific.  At a spot called Land’s End, my wife and I found a restaurant called the  Cliff House that had a great if pricey lunch with stellar views of the Pacific.

Looking toward Cliff House from Sutro Baths

Looking toward Cliff House from Sutro Baths, a former resort

Afterward, we cruised north on an easy trail that had a few challenges in its options.  From Cliff House we walked a mile and a half to Eagle’s Nest.  A lot of people were walking the mostly flat trail, along with some runners.  At points there were trail junctions leading to the beach, the Legion of Honor Museum, and other destinations.   In spots the foliage was fairly dense, and it was usually lovely.


The hole in the rocks is heart shaped. This must mean something! Someone left their heart….

At one point, there was a fence blocking access to Painted Rock because it was dangerous and there were concerns about erosion.   I understood the concerns and kept walking.  I was surprised when we got a view of the area from a couple minutes later above to see a number of people behind the barricade.  I understand willingness to take personal risks, but to me, the risk of environmental degradation trumps that desire for freedom.

The Pacific below our placid trail

Looking toward the Golden Gate from the placid trail

Later, we had to visit nearby Baker Beach.  The neighborhood was upscale, but the beach was deserted. True, Iit was rather windy. Few people were on the sand. It was a perfect spot for Jackie Chan to.    We would not complain when leaving town and heading to the East Bay, the skies clearer and the temperature more than twenty degrees higher.  Great trip and great walking was had by all.

Golden Gate from Baker Beach.  Far side has a touch of sun.

Golden Gate from Baker Beach. The far side has a touch of sun.

Hiking to Pittock Mansion and a Whole Lotta Love

In between rounds at the Waterfront Blues Festival, I needed a decent hike, but I had little time, which was frustrating.   I always have the fantasy of trekking in Nepal or circumnavigating Mont Blanc, but most of my hikes are local and casual.  So it goes.  Yesterday, I opted to start in Lower Macleay Park, as I have done in the past, seeking what passes for elevation gain inside Portland city limits.

Beginning of the Balch Creek Trail

Beginning of the Balch Creek Trail

By the time I had cruised three quarters of a mile along Balch Creek and joined the Wildwood Trail, I’d passed 25-35 people.  This is not the trail for solitude on a weekend.   Normally I would avoid it on a weekend, but it is close, pretty, and still offers a challenge.

Glad I don't have allergies around this much cottonwood fluff

Glad I don’t have allergies around this much cottonwood fluff

Little cliff completely covered in moss along Balch Creek

Little cliff completely covered in moss along Balch Creek

The Wildwood Trail climbs in half a mile to the Audubon Sanctuary on Cornell Road, then continues toward Pittock Mansion.   There are a couple of trail junctions, including one which called to mind my recent trip to Maryland.

Jackie Chan at the new Cumberland Gap

Jackie Chan at the new Cumberland Gap: go west, young pup

Many people were walking and running in the forested hills, over many switchbacks.  Running shoes were definitely the footwear of choice.   With few exceptions, the trail is very smooth and make for easy walking, although effort is required. All told, there is around almost 900 feet of elevation gain. Not bad for inside the city limits.

Steeper than it looks.  Quite a few switchbacks

Steeper than it looks. Quite a few switchbacks

The Pittock Mansion is a unique destination for the top of an ascent.   It is a great old building, and there are spectacular views to the east.   Should you desire, you can drive up and pay for guided tours through the mansion, learning a chunk of Portland history.  I took a quick look at the building and turned around.

The Pittock Mansion

The Pittock Mansion

Here’s a fun bit of trivia:  Henry Pittock, for whom the mansion is named, and who was an avid outdoorsman besides being publisher of The Oregonian, is credited by most with the first ascent of Mount Hood, on July 11, 1857.   I think my hike just got more credibility.

On the descent, I veered onto the Upper Macleay Trail to make a bit of a loop.   It was pleasant, but offered little to recommend it over the Wildwood Trail.  I made good time back to the Cornell Road crossing and then to the bottom of Balch Creek Canyon, where the crowd increased.

Flowers near the Audubon Sanctuary

Flowers near the Audubon Sanctuary

I was happy to return to the car, and soon, drove to the Blues Festival for the closing night.  My wife and I love going each year, and this year we brought our pup into the fest.   This year’s festival, while not without controversy for a couple reasons, was as good as any in recent memory.   Try this variety and talent on for size: Nikki Hill, Robert Randolph, Mavis Staples, Chubby Carrier, and Taj Mahal.  And that’s just one day.

D and Jackie with earmuff--Robert Randolph was loud!

D and Jackie with earmuffs–Robert Randolph was loud!

There was also some guy named Robert Plant singing a ditty about a whole lot of love.  He did many familiar songs, including a great cover of “Spoonful,”  and some Zeppelin songs were reworked with more of a world music feel.  Amazingly, Plant still has the magic.  After seeing Eric Burdon a couple nights earlier singing “It’s My Life” and “House of the Rising Sun”, and now hearing Plant sing “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Whole Lotta Love”, I ticked off a bucket list item without planning on it.  What a weekend.

The man himself

The man himself

Paw Paw and a different Cumberland Gap

I’d never heard of Cumberland, Maryland.  Like many, at first I confused it with the famous Cumberland Gap to the south, where in 1775, Daniel Boone helped build a road for settlers to what was considered the western frontier of Kentucky and Tennessee.  In 2013, this Cumberland is poised as a potential great vacation spot.

Cumberland is a city of spires

Cumberland is a city of spires

It’s situated amid historic buildings, with good restaurants, and lovely scenery.

Washington's Headquarters from French and Indian War era

Washington’s Headquarters from French and Indian War era

When my family decided to meet in Cumberland for a mini family reunion, a few spots kept coming up in our research, including Rocky Gap State Park, George Washington’s headquarters (a tiny cabin from his early days), the Western Maryland Railroad, the Allegany Museum, and the C&O Canal, including the Paw Paw Tunnel.   We target the latter as a spot for a family hike.

Jackie Chan at the mouth of the tunnel

Jackie Chan at the mouth of the tunnel

The Paw Paw Tunnel is a part of the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal system, which runs 184.5 miles to Washington D.C.   Paw Paw is a 3118 foot long tunnel blasted through the mountain.  Construction on it began in 1836, and it was one of the great engineering feats of its day.   Since it is essentially flat, the trail is popular with cyclists as well as hikers.  Don’t expect solitude, but expect some unique sights.The route toward the Paw Paw Tunnel Trail heads south out of Cumberland along the Potomac River, then heads east.   The winding drive along Route 51 is pleasant, but the destination was easy to miss, as signage was not great.  A Boy Scout troop was camped in a field beside the trailhead, but there were few people on the trail initially.

Nearing the tunnel on a gorgeous day

Nearing the tunnel on a gorgeous day

It was muggy at the trailhead and there were some concerns about how far the hike would be for my mother, who is a few years past her mountaineering prime.  A sign at the top of the initial hill indicated the tunnel was 0.6miles away.   Research told me that the tunnel itself would double the distance.   Piece of cake.   If it were closer to Washington, like the area of my previous two posts, it would be a perfect candidate for Hiking Along, a site that helps kids.  They focus on hikes and outdoor education in the D.C. area.

The near end of the tunnel

The near end of the tunnel: note the trail splitting off to the right.

A couple caveats:  Beware of puddles and slightly bumpy terrain in a very dark environment.  Some people managed without, but a flashlight is highly recommended.

Picture yourself on a barge to the left of the railing

Picture yourself on a barge in the canal to the left of the railing

One nice middle aged couple we met did not have a light, and they were about to turn around a few hundred feet in when they encountered puddles.  We loaned them a light so they continued.   On entering the tunnel, it is hard to believe that the light at the other end of the straight tunnel is 3000 feet way.  Ten minutes into the dark traverse, you’ll start believing.

Jackie Chan and his mama

Jackie Chan and his mama

We’d heard there were bats in the tunnel, but encountered none.   I was slightly disappointed, but I think everyone else was happy.

The far end of the tunnel

The far end of the tunnel

Cool turtle just past the far end of the tunnel

Cool turtle just past the far end of the tunnel

At the far end, there are rocky slabs that create a small canyon that would not be out of place in the foothills of the Rockies. We relaxed there for fifteen minutes or so, taking photos before returning, passing much more traffic on the way back.


This would be awesome on a bike!

My mom loved this hike, I got to appreciate some history while walking, and I even saw youngsters enjoying it on foot as well as on two wheels.  This is a great family hike, and the path has many more miles to recommend it, even starting in downtown Cumberland.    We might have to return!


Denise, Jackie Chan, and I ready for the return hike– and  lunch at the Crabby Pig.  🙂

Sugarloaf Mountain: another Maryland winner

At the bottom of the hill

At the bottom of the hill

Sugarloaf is a small mondadnock, or standalone peak amidst land that has eroded around it. It is not as dramatic as the eponymous Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, reportedly one of the most climbed peaks in the world.  This peak has a different feel, due partly to some Civil War history in the area and partly due to a road that comes within a quarter mile of the summit at the lookout areas. While my wife was teaching a seminar an hour away, I took a morning to try some more Maryland hiking. I wasn’t disappointed.

The east lookout area

The east lookout area

Getting close to the top is not an issue, but the paths are still steep enough that they are not suited for somebody with bad knees or cheap flip flops.

A thorough trail system drapes over the upper half of the mountain.   From the East Lookout area, with a nice lookout and picnic area, two trails duck into the woods.   The Orange, or sunrise trail, heads towards the summit.  A connector trail goes downhill towards the white trail, which is curving around the mountain’s eastern flank at this point.   There are no views, but the woods are still lovely.


The white trail eventually connects with the blue trail,  which does more climbing.  From a broad notch near a nice rocky lookout, the red trail heads to the summit from the north .

Fellow climber

Fellow climber

Since I was visiting the nation’s capital, the combination of white, blue and red trails struck a nice chord.  At times, the final climb seemed steep, but it was short enough that the sweat I broke mostly came from heat and humidity rather than exertion.

The seep beginning of the red trail

The steep beginning of the red trail

The summit area is wide, and there are a few great views, mostly to the south.   A slow but steady stream of hikers passed over the top.   I didn’t stay long.

Jackie Chan the wonderdog on top

Jackie Chan the wonderdog on top.  Notice webbing for climbing anchors in background

View from the top

View from the top

On the way down, I noticed some rock climbers along a few cliff bands.

Rock climbing in the background

Rock climbing routes in the background

I descended the rock steps on the steepest trail, ending up near the western lookout.

Long set of stairs.

Now that’s a set of stairs!

Four tenths of a mile on pavement connect the two lookouts, making a nice loop a little under two miles.

The bottom of the descent trail

The bottom of the descent trail;  I guess the trail builders had some leftover rock.

The hiking at Sugarloaf Mountain is good, and the drive through the bucolic countryside is a bonus.   Clearly, Maryland has some great hiking.   Stay tuned for a write up on my next stop at the famed Paw Paw Tunnel with my wife and family.

Walking a little of San Antonio’s Mission Road

Some folks out there in TV land might not know it, but the Alamo began its famed history as a mission for industrious Franciscans from New Spain.  Those guys were everywhere as they spread out across the North American west to establish civilization and convert people  to Christianity.

Mission Concepcion

Lovely Mission Concepcion chapel

South of San Antonio proper, there are four other missions in various states of degradation, but all are interesting and worth a visit.  There is a lot of walking to be had, and there is a bike path along the river that can connect a lot of it.

Concepcion, the closest mission to the city, had a well -preserved church but little else to recommend it besides pleasant grounds.

San Jose had a vast compound, the walls of which were intact.   I loved the housing for Native Americans built into the thick walls.

Convent quarters at San Jose

Convent quarters at San Jose

Some structures had been refurbished, including the convent area which housed the holy men.  This mission had a full blown visitor’s center with exhibits, bookstore, and educational theatre.  By the time we were done, we’d poked around the old mill, the granary, the chapel, the convent, and other spots where foundations showed in the ground.  It felt we had walked half a mile.

The broad grounds of San Jose, foundation in the foreground

The broad grounds of San Jose, foundation in the foreground

Quarters for Native Americans built in the community walls.

Quarters for Native Americans built in the community walls.

San Juan Capistrano was further off the beaten path on the other side of the river.   Few tourists were at the site, although there was a shiny black stretch limo, its driver standing outside, relaxed, working a smart phone.   The spot felt a little anti-climactic after San Jose. It was small but cute, near an aqueduct across a creek to help funnel water.


Aqueduct to cross the creek valley.


The low key San Juan Capistrano

Finally we came to Mission Espada, where lots of low old walls enticed people to sit on them, despite the small signs indicating that was a no no.


Chapel at Mission Espada–looks like a face to me….

A harried ranger implored people not to sit on 300 year old walls for fear of their crumbling.  A few young ladies tried to get glamour photo in front of the cute chapel.  We were a little burned out on missions by that point, but we were certainly happy we came and wandered the historic grounds at each spot.  It wasn’t a hike, but it was a series of historic walks, and I would love to return to make a hiking connection between the sites along the Rio San Antonio.

Urban Hiking, RIverwalk Style

Urban Hiking, RIverwalk Style

While not hiking, tourists can easily get some exercise taking in the sights of San Antonio. The famous Riverwalk is the aqueous centerpiece of one of the cooler downtowns I’ve seen. It is easy to walk from our hotel to many great restaurants, shops, and historic buildings, walking on paths besides the water, often crossing lovely stone bridges like the one above.  There’s also a little place called the Alamo to explore, along with Hotel Menger, whose ice cream is so good, President Clinton had it shipped to Washington.  Don’t worry, I got out for a real hike, so stay tuned.