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.
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.