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Seasonal Treasures on Elk Rock

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Not bad for five minutes from home

 

I have written of Elk Rock Island in previous posts, but I hadn’t been there in months.  Spring Park, the access point, was closed for some time for maintenance. Today I found out what that meant when I zipped over there after the first half of the Trailblazers game.  North Clackamas Parks & Rec crews completely resituated the access and revamping it so it will not bog down in mud, and the grade is improved. They put in a bridge over a little boggy area and a resting spot over a side channel.  Nice work.

Walking on Elk Rock Island is neither epic nor exotic. Yet it is a small natural oasis Portland area residents should treasure.  I know I do.  My experience today was very different than my previous hikes here. With winter rains collecting in spots that are bone dry in summer, and water level high enough to cover part of the north side beach, the overall feel of the island was very different.  That is not a bad thing. The light on the now mossy, grassy rocks on the south and west sides was amazing.  Without leaves on the cottonwoods, the forest high on the bluff was much different, with sneak views in various directions.  The beach area was gloomy in the shade, so I didn’t dally there. By the time I circled the island, the light was already shifting, but the views were still great. Something about the water made me look forward to getting out in a kayak when it warms up more.  Happy outdoor adventures, everyone.

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The foreground makes me think of the U.K

Powell Butte-ification

It was a good day for a hybrid hike. That meant part paved bike trail, part pretty woods walk, part glorious meadow, part trail detour along a road.  Confused?  That’s okay.  The main trail head at Powell Butte remains closed due to construction of a new underground reservoir.  Yes, you read that right.  After all, the city of Portland recently drained a reservoir because a man urinated in it, although scientists admitted that even if the guy had peed toxins, the parts per million would be so low as to pose no danger to the public.

I started my walkabout on an open grassy part of the paved Springwater Corridor trail, about seven miles east from where I walked a week ago.  I climbed the Hawthorn Trail’s looping curves meant for descending mountain bikes.  I saw no mountain bikes until I emerged on top, once the trail emerged from the forest to a spectacular meadow.  There I had to decide how to return.  I could head via trails I’d already hikes, but I wanted to try something new.  To the east, there were detours due to the construction, but I thought there might be a way to loop back to the Springwater Corridor.  I found lots of fencing instead.  I followed the mouse maze detour all the way down to Powell Boulevard and walked by apartment complexes and mini malls for some real urban hiking.

Clackamas River Dead End Trail

Oh so tempting

Oh so tempting

After a friend told me on two different occasions how he enjoyed the Clackamas River Trail, it was high on my hiking radar.  When I got a day off today and the sun was shining, the Clackamas seemed a logical destination. Denise and I loaded up a couple packs and headed out there for a quick out-and-back trip.  As I drove along the river, I fondly remembered kayaking it with a buddy years ago.  The waters are more pristine upstream from North Fork Reservoir, but a road parallels the river for many miles.

D & JC walking in front

D & JC walking in front

Although I’d driven the road multiple times (its the route to the famous Bagby Hot Springs) it hadn’t occurred to me that I’d have the road as backdrop while hiking.  Duh.  It was in the background half the time.   The woods are still really nice, more open than most forests on Mt. Hood, due to an obvious wildfire.

A stand of charred trunks

A stand of charred trunks

Denise led the way for a while, and then I took over.  The walking was not too tough.  The trail was rocky in a few spots, muddy in a few spots, and lined with poison oak for fifty feet (in the switchbacks).   After climbing over a high point, we switchbacked down to the riverside and a tiny but pretty beach.  Jackie wanted to chase sticks, so I obliged.  Then it was onward and upward again.  The trail was closed at the two mile mark due to recent slide activity that made the trail impassable.  The signage had alerted us to the situation, but it was still a let-down.

View from the trail closure

View from the trail closure

The jade hues of the river were gorgeous from that high point.  I wanted to jump into its depths or kayak down the whitewater.  Maybe on a hotter day.  There are many more miles to the trail.  Hopefully it will get repaired and re-open at some point.   I’ll be back.

Mr. Snake tried to hide.  Jackie didn't clue in.

Mr. Snake tried to hide. Luckily, Jackie didn’t clue in.

 

Not Quite a Mount, Talbert (but I like ya anyway)

Light in the forest--a beautiful day for a hike

Light in the forest–a beautiful day for a hike

A hill should not be called a mountain, but I couldn’t hold such mis-labeling against Mount Talbert for too long. After all, it definitely pokes above the surrounding landscape southeast of Portland. It is also one of the only such buttes in the area which still has a pristine forested top. There are signs of selective logging low on the west side, but it has been well done despite the remaining slash piles. When I got a surprise day off a couple days ago, I had to take advantage of the good weather. After all, our summer preview will soon come to a close. I’d been meaning to check out Mount Talbert for months, so this was a good opportunity to cross it off the tick list.

Nice wildflowers in the forest along the Mather Road spur

Nice wildflowers in the forest along the Mather Road spur

The well-designed trailhead on Mather Road was a perfect place to begin my walk. There is a small picnic shelter area, a bathroom, and ample parking (a Fed Ex truck took up four spots sideways, but there was no shortage of space).  At the start of the trail there are a couple interpretive signs and a readable map.  From there, it is easy to set out on multiple loop treks. More specifically, try the Summit Trail for a short loop with some views, or consider the much longer Park Loop Trail around the periphery for a longer ramble. I combined the two, with the West Ridge Trail as a connector. At the beginning, the trail heads uphill immediately through a few switchbacks, and I rapidly boosted my heart rate. Later I would see a couple joggers and a serious walker with ear buds in. Locals must know this a good spot for a workout. Me, I was just there for the scenery.

Believe it or not , this is the summit.  Love the shadows on the dirt

Believe it or not , this is the summit. Love the shadows on the dirt

The interpretive signage at the bottom points out that there are various oak restoration areas in the park. I noticed that those areas have sparser undergrowth besides ferns, and they are much more open to sunlight. Although there is a good amount of uphill walking, the so called summit is very unassuming. There are slight views to the south. My favorite part was descending from that high point. The forest seemed more like a real mountainside, calling to mind the lower stretches of Salmon Butte.

This is looking downhill, calling to mind Fern Gully

This is looking downhill.  Isn’t there a book called Fern Gully?

I’d seen nobody on the Summit Trail, but I did encounter a few folks descending the West Ridge trail as it dropped to the north. Then I cut back on the Park Loop toward Mather Road. The walk lasted about an hour. I probably walked a bit over two miles. It was a weekday, but I was surprised how few people were out on a nice day. The trails were in good shape, the intersections were well marked with one exception, and the forest was unspoiled.

More gorgeous flowers on the Park Loop section

More gorgeous flowers on the Park Loop section

Note: Dogs are not allowed at Mt. Talbert in an effort to respect the local wildlife. Luckily, Jackie Chan was out of town with his mama, so I didn’t feel guilty about going it alone. A couple other people ignored the signs, but I might have noticed a bit more wildlife noise without Jackie on the path. There were lots of juncos, sparrows, and robins, some squirrels, and something big in the leaves below a drop-off.  I never saw the creature.  Maybe next time.  I’ll have to come back, and it will be a pleasure.

As rugged as it gets.  Climbing back to the West Ridge

As rugged as it gets. Climbing back to the West Ridge

Tryon Creek State Park Revisited

Tryon Creek in person

Tryon Creek in person

Once upon a time, when the earth was young and my hair was all brown, I grew familiar with the trails of Tryon Creek State Park, wedged between Southwest Portland and Lake Oswego.  I hadn’t revisited the park for years, but chance chose this past Sunday for a visit, which coincided with the park’s Trillium Festival.  Certainly, the flowers were out in force. As of 2013, there were 44 recognized species of trillium.

The famed flowers, lovely in all their colors

The famed flowers, lovely in all their colors

Here’s two fun facts: the White Trillium is the official flower of the Ontario, while the Large White Trillium is the official wildflower of Ohio.  But enough about learning.

Swampy area on Iron Mountain Trail

Swampy area on Iron Mountain Trail

My walk was uneventful but pleasant.  I saw the spot where I’d walked almost a mile in the dark many moons ago.  This time was simply a nice afternoon hike between the Iron Mountain Trail, Cedar Trail, and Old Main Trail, completing the link with the bike path along Terwilliger Boulevard.   I found serious ant activity, a lot of mud, and some very cool stumps.

Strange tree--it grew on the stump of another

Strange tree–it grew on the stump of another

I found the area muddier than I expected, so completing my loop on the paved path was a good call.  It also made for an easy downhill cruise to the car.  Tryon Creek State Park is free, it’s convenient, and all the best trilliums hang out there.  It’s a great place for hikers and flower lovers to spend an hour or three.

 

Remembering Salmon River Canyon

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For some reason I found myself poring over old photos tonight.  Flashback to two  summers ago.  I hiked up the Salmon River Trail with my friend Steve, who toted his infant daughter on his back. There are couple great lookout points on the trail including this one. After hiking a bit over an hour to get there, we sat and enjoyed the views and each other’s company. Glorious day.

A Walk in the Park: Lacamas Park

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Sometimes when I leave the house for a hike, I don’t thoroughly prepare. Life feels too hectic to take an extra thirty minutes to check all my gear. I just want to be on the trail. Shocking, I know. Sunday was such a day. I threw on trail runners and my old worn out hiking pants, grabbed a backpack with stale water, leashed the pup, and drove to Lacamas Regional Park outside Camas, Washington. An acquaintance had said there wasn’t much reason to go hiking there, but I wanted to check. The map I found had looked interesting.

Lacamas Lake is a long narrow lake with one developed trail along its southwest side.  Although it’s pretty, I will admit that the lake looks rather ho-hum for hiking. Across the road at Round Lake, on the other hand, there is  a whole system of trails circumnavigating the body of water and ranging into the woods beyond.  loops A variety of casual and moderate loops are possible. The main round-the-lake trail is essentially an access road in many places. Offshoots, however, can be much more challenging, especially in muddy conditions. I encountered steep grade more than once.

The park has three healthy waterfalls. That was a lot of white water in a medium-sized park. Shortly after leaving the dam at the outlet of the lake, I heard a bird of prey crying. It was way up a many-limbed snag. I tried to get a better angle and zoom in with the camera, but I was only partially successful. I could not identify its species, but I was sure it was not a red tail hawk, perhaps the most common raptor in our area.

For a weekend, there was only a smattering of other hikers, mostly near Lower Falls, which is impressive indeed. It’s not a steep drop, but it feels massive from the footbridge across its lip.  Beyond the popular areas,  there were a few intersections with no signage, and the map didn’t quite match the world.  I made an educated guess and plunged down a steep path to a muddy valley. It was a happy mistake, as I came upon Woodburn Falls, the third waterfall of the day. It was perhaps the prettiest of all, conjuring a smaller version of the famous Ramona Falls on the west side of Mount Hood.

Lacamas Park had a full parking lot, but the crowds were well dispersed.   A number of people  were fishing, and some were birdwatching. I saw at least one mountain biker.  This would be a great place to go for a run. The official lake loop is 1.2 miles, but with additional lops to waterfalls, you could easily add three or four more miles.  This would also be a great place to canoe or kayak. While the trail along Lacamas Lake itself may not be spectacular,  there is plenty of  exercise to be found in the regional park, so consider a visit.

I had not prepared for much, so I certainly got more than anticipated. The weather had looked iffy early, but it was almost perfect until the end. I got some great sunny moments to light up green, gold, and brown of the ubiquitous moss. As I finished the lake loop, mist started to fall. Good timing. It was a perfect way to end the hike-almost as if I’d planned it.

A Great Day to Take Jackie Out in Forest Park

I love it when a plan comes together. Although I pushed myself to get work a lot of work done during the daylight hours a few days ago, I found enough daylight to go for a brief hike. Without having a plan, I ended up again on Leif Erikson Drive. This time I headed north to the Alder Trail, 1.5 miles from my car. At that point, there is almost no traffic on Leif Erikson. There was less on the Alder Trail. It climbed rapidly into a side canyon, then more gradually. There was a point at which I was breathing fairly heavily, which surprised me. Few trails in Forest Park will do that to you besides the Ridge Trail or the Powerline Trail.

In many spots on the day’s hike I saw numerous bright white patches of Trillum.  I remember wondering if the plural should be “Trillia” or “Trilliums”. Silly writing geek.

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I hooked back on the Wildwood Trail and headed south for about a third of mile until it hit 53rd Drive.  I took a brief offshoot uphill to the spot that as a teenager, I knew as Inspiration Point. At least, I think that’s where it was. I was disappointed that it did not seem very inspiring. At sixteen, an open place in the woods must have been inspiring because it let you sneak a beer, a clove cigarette, or a kiss. I’ve grown a lot since then. So have the trees. There are essentially no views.

From there it was all downhill. I encountered two interesting people on the Wild Cherry Trail. Before I’d even turned onto the trail from its terminus near my second encounter with 53rd Drive, I saw a boy about ten years old take off from the parking area, staring at what I assumed was a smart phone. He wandered down the trail for a hundred yards. I walked slowly, waiting for an adult to catch up to him. The boy then stepped off the trail, holding the phone up in front of his face. I surmised he was geocaching. He did not seem to realize Jackie and I existed. I quietly passed the lad.  Ten minutes downhill, I heard big strides behind me. I pulled off to the side to let a tall man with impossibly short shorts pass on impossibly long legs. He said ‘great day to take him out,” referring to my canine partner. I agreed. And he was off.

I was soon stuck behind a young couple. It seemed rude to try to pass them on a narrow trail, and I was in no rush.  I didn’t try to eavesdrop,  but I couldn’t help hearing a lot of twenty-something cute couple conversation. I couldn’t tell you the substance of a single utterance of either party.  I couldn’t help but think how different my hiking experiences are. I almost never hike with others, and I rarely speak. They were shiny happy people, and good for them.  It was a great day for all of us to get out in Forest Park.

Cherry Orchard Tease Hike

The Columbia Gorge is more diverse than some people realize. People who rarely stray from the Portland metro area are missing out on many worthy trips. The eastern end of the Gorge is drier, rockier, and more open, and trail signs there alert hikers about snakes, ticks, and poison oak.  Unlike trails near waterfall central, there is a viewpoint every other switchback on trails east of Hood River and Bingen. I was reminded of this after the wife and pup and I drove up to The Dalles following our adventures along the Deschutes River .

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While sitting at a park chomping on some unhealthy food (sorry, Ma), I looked across the mighty Columbia (rolling on, of course) and I saw a massive basalt escarpment I’d noticed before. I mistakenly thought this was the Coyote Wall I’d heard of as a hiking and biking destination.  It seemed a good spot for a hike, but we ended up somewhere else entirely.  Life is like that.

The Lyle Cherry Orchard trailhead is a broad pullout a mile or so east of Lyle, Washington.  The trail itself begins right beneath a rocky tower.  We knew we were in the right place because we saw dozens of cars.  As it turns out, there is a group called Friends of the Gorge and they organize group hikes.  We quickly met a couple dozen people descending the trail.  Everyone was smiling—a good sign.

We gained elevation rapidly, soon meeting the old roadbed of highway 8, a predecessor to the current highway.  At a flat spot, there was a signpost with waivers to fill out, as the trail goes through private land.  Fair enough. Above that, the trail switchbacks through scrub oaks and small crags, then comes out onto grassy benches rimmed with cliffs. There are stellar views of the gorge, both east and west.  Even with a few clouds in the sky, it was a sublime place to relax for a few minutes.

The trail shifts its approach, and beyond a stile, climbs steeply across an open slope.  A fall here would not be pretty, so we didn’t fall.  Coincidentally, I bumped into a man I knew from Portland.  It was no place to chat, so we moved on, climbing out of the steep stuff into an undulating oak forest.   No cherry trees yet.  Along the way, the trail passed two seasonal ponds, along with a skull and skeleton of a critter.  The last mile of the trail is rather humdrum in comparison to the first mile, but it’s still enjoyable.   After turning onto an old road, the trail opens up in the meadow of an old homestead site which offers a great picnic spot.  We found no cherry orchard, but there were more amazing views. Taking in the breeze, sun, and views was enough for us.

Jackie Chan met a few ticks on the descent, which I quickly dispatched with ninja swiftness.  Other than that, the hike was smooth,  and we were happy to get back to the car and think about cold beverages.  It was a very nice hike overall.  People with less time could stop at the upper grassy bench and be very satisfied.

Sun, sky, water, and you

When the sun hits this time of year in Portland, you can’t wait for permission to get outside.  Someone once said of western Oregonians that we don’t love the rain, but it’s easy to celebrate sun chooses to grace us.  Wednesday was such a day.

Nice day for fishing on the Columbia

Nice day for fishing on the Columbia

I debated heading solo to the Gorge for a new hike, but the morning was chilly and the gorge would be shady, so I hedged.  My wife finally said she’d go with me, but she needed to finish some paperwork.   We got out of the house in the middle of the afternoon and headed northwest to Sauvie Island–NOT for the “clothing optional” beach, but just for a nice walk.  I hadn’t been out there in years.

Looking back upstream

Looking back upstream

We had a false start on one trail that was shut down to protect wintering birds. Ultimately we drove all the way out Reeder Road, where there are many places to stop along the Columbia River.   We walked for a while at beachy areas that seemed artificially enhanced by the look of the heavy equipment tracks.   We were not alone.  Lots of sun worshippers were out.

Tracks all over the place

Tracks all over the place

Where there was no sand, the shore was somewhat mossy in the way of Old Maid Flats on Mount Hood.   There were some great raptor nests atop power poles in the area, but I saw no eagles.

Nest atop the pole

Nest atop the pole

The beaches did not feel satisfying , so we returned to the car and drove all the way to the end of the road.  Right away I saw a trail closure for vegetation rehabilitation.  This was going well.  Sarcasm aside, we could still walk along the bank of the river, which wasn’t half bad.

Everyone's favorite topless volcano near the topless beach

Everyone’s favorite topless volcano near the topless beach

At one point the bank had completely washed away, right next to a barbed wife fence.  I was getting really frustrated, as though the hiking gods (I suspect Loki is involved) were saying, “Yo, a good hike ain’t gonna happen.”  Okay, that was Loki filtered through Jesse Pinkman*.

Jackie Chan relaxing after a nice stick chasing session

Jackie Chan relaxing after a nice stick chasing session

After a few moments, we hopped the fence gingerly and continued.  We spied couples canoodling and enjoying the sun, wearing shorts no less!  Californians and Floridians might not appreciate how surprising that is, but it’s kind of a big deal.  Our dog chased sticks repeatedly.

Quiet spot on the Columbia

Quiet spot on the Columbia

The river was right below us all the while, and great views ranged from Mt. St. Helens to Hood, and I even caught a sliver of Mt. Jefferson’s’ craggy summit.  It was a gorgeous afternoon.  On the return leg, I really appreciated the way the light hit the water so it almost seemed metallic.   It was the kind of walk that accrued pleasure over time.  There was no dramatic climb or wilderness feel, but it was perfect spot for a walk on a preview-of-spring day.

Shadows and  unique water light

Shadows and unique water light