Two-hour Loop: New Trails at Green Mountain Nature Preserve

Wow, it felt good to be back on a trail!  We’ve had a packed schedule in October, all with events that didn’t give us an opportunity to hike.  Finally, schedule and weather aligned to give us a small window for a quick hike.  The trail building elves for the Land Trust of North Alabama have been toiling away on several new trails on the Green Mountain Nature Preserve, so we thought we’d put together a short loop hike to check out a few of them.  It was also an opportunity to give Casey the Hound some fresh scenery and smells, so the three of us headed out on a slightly cool Sunday morning.

As usual, the parking lot at Green Mountain had around ten vehicles, as this is a popular preserve.  We set off down the Alum Hollow trail for about 500 feet before coming to the junction with the Talus trail on the left.  Our plan was to hike the length of the Talus trail, then the length of the Talus Connector trail over to the Three Sisters Loop, which we would circumnavigate before taking a piece of the Ranger trail back up to the Alum Hollow trail.  The GPS track from the hike records this as a 1.96 mile loop overall, though you can shave off about .4 miles if you’re not a stickler for hiking all of the Three Sisters Loop.

At the Talus/Alum Hollow trail intersection, a warning sign is posted to advise that the trail is currently under construction or maintenance.  A blue-flagged footpath, with the signature Land Trust trail diamonds, peels away to the south.  I knew from a previous trail building session that the Talus trail starts out as level, then descends one lobe of Green Mountain along an increasingly rocky footpath.  For the most part, the descent is gradual along switchbacks, though there are a couple of short sections that are not yet as engineered as one would like.  The trail is quite passable, however, as long as you watch your footing.  Perhaps I should mention here that the Talus trail is named for a large bone in the human ankle, so named because one of the Land Stewards took a pretty good knock to the talus while laying out the trail.  There’s another meaning of talus: a slope formed by the accumulation of rock debris, and that is arguably applicable here too.

I think this landscape is quite interesting, as every fold of the mountain that could collect and funnel water is covered in rocks.  This makes sense, as the water and gravity would erode away the soil, but what strikes me is how there are not any visible streambeds.  Every channel looks like it has had a landslide.  At about .3 miles from the Talus trailhead, there’s a steep descent for about 100 yards, with a boulder-strewn wet weather creek to the left.  This area can be slick in wet weather, as there aren’t steps in place yet.  But the payoff after completing this stretch is worth it, as the trail crosses the creek (again, tricky footing) and passes an exposed rock outcrop on the left.  You can hear the sound of rushing water here, as there is a tiny waterfall tucked back into one end of the outcrop.  The water gushes along for about 50 feet before disappearing underground, in the manner of most Green Mountain creeks.  We tarried a little while here to listen to the water and to admire some crystalline rock formations found near the waterfall.

The end of the Talus trail is just a few feet past the waterfall.  Actually, at the time of our hike the Talus trail appeared to continue past the Talus/Talus Connector intersection, instead of ending there as the current trail map showed.  There’s plenty of room in the southern end of the preserve, so perhaps the Talus trail will be a gateway to that acreage.  We opted to stick with the map, and turned northwest onto the Talus Connector trail.

The Talus Connector regains some of the lost elevation over its .28 mile distance, passing some nice rock outcroppings and at least one rock-eating tree.  Toward its western end, the trail levels out and passes through an open section of young hardwoods where we found a lone smooth aster hanging on to its blooms.  Though the trail is both flagged and has trail diamonds, there has not yet been enough foot traffic to really establish the footbed.  On this trail and the Three Sisters Loop you’ll need to stay alert to stay on the trail.  This is definitely not a set of trails you’ll want to try in low light conditions – plan accordingly!

The Talus Connector hits the Three Sisters Loop at about 6 o’clock on a twisted clockface, so it’s roughly the same distance clockwise or widdershins to the intersection with the Ranger trail on the north side of the loop.  We opted to go clockwise at first, as the climb seemed more gradual.  At about .15 miles from the Talus Connector/Three Sisters intersection, the trail turns east and passes a Land Trust boundary sign as it climbs through some short switchbacks.  Don’t let the boundary sign throw you off — you’re still on the official trail, so just follow the flagging and diamonds.  In about 400 feet we reached the first of the Three Sisters — large rock formations in the general vicinity of each other.  We continued on around the loop to the other two sisters, then completed the east side of the loop to arrive back at the Talus Connector/Three Sisters intersection.  I should note that at the time of our hike all trail intersections had a wooden post, which will doubtless contain signage in the near future.  We decided to backtrack the eastern half of the loop to reach the intersection with the Ranger trail.

The Ranger trail is a .64 mile footpath, but we were using only its steep eastern end to climb back up the mountain.  At the Ranger/Three Sisters intersection, we turned right and passed behind one of the sisters before beginning a brutally steep no-nonsense climb of about 60 feet.  We were glad to have our hiking poles, and also glad to be heading uphill since it’s difficult to fall UP a mountain.  The trail finally started to switchback for the rest of the .15 mile distance to its intersection with the Alum Hollow trail.  It was on this stretch that we met the only other hikers we’d see on our loop hike.

From the Ranger/Alum Hollow intersection, it was an easy .4 mile back to the parking lot. Casey was pretty draggy at this point — though the distance was relatively short, it was a challenging hike for an old dog.  He did perk up when we emerged into a parking lot full of people and dogs, as there was a planned Land Trust hike-a-hound event with the Humane Society just about to begin.  Casey had sort of a “how was I to know there was a party going on?!” expression on his face, but I have to say he was a quiet hound on the ride back home.  Perhaps a before and after set of photos is needed.

Despite the relatively short length, we thought this hike was a little challenging due to the elevation changes, the occasionally tricky footing, and the faintness of the footpath.  The hike only took about two hours, so if you’re looking for something new and different on Green Mountain, these trails are an alternative to the relatively easy Alum Hollow, East Plateau, and West Plateau trails.

Urban Hiking in Washington Park

We’ve had a rough time with the old blog these last couple of weeks. October is always a busy time of year for us, and this year we also had some family obligations in Florida over our one free weekend, so getting in a hike someplace new was just not an option. Normally, we’d fill in the gaps with a “Quick Look” post, but we also had a week-plus long internet outage (not hurricane-related – limited to our house and which prompted a change in internet providers) so basically we ended up just skipping a week. Sorry about that.

With no new material to draw on, I’m going to go back a short bit in time and talk about a wonderful day of walking/hiking that Chet and I did on our recent trip to Portland. We’ve put up a couple of posts about some of our more traditional hikes out there (Dry Creek Falls , Cape Lookout and Tamawanas Falls), but this post will be about the urban hiking we did in the Northwest section of Portland.

We had been told that “Northwest” was a cool place to stay in Portland, so our first few nights were spent in a beautiful rental home just off 23rd Avenue. To our west rose the Tualatin Mountains, which line the western side of the Willamette River. Atop these mountains, Portland maintains a string of parks: the 5200 acre Forest Park is the largest and is one of the largest urban parks in the United States; the 160 acre Washington Park is just south of Forest Park;  the 178 acre Marquam Nature Park is just south of there. There were so many choices for urban hiking it was hard to pick, but in the end we went with Washington Park since we could walk from our house to there, and it seemed chock full of interesting stuff.

We “hiked” up 23rd Ave and cut over across W. Burnside Street to the walking entrance at the northeast corner of the park. The walk from the house was mostly uphill (boy Portland has a lot of “up”!) but at the park entrance, we realized we had more “up” to go. A lovely shaded trail, with some steps to get us up the steepest parts, led up into the park. This corner of the park is home to a Holocaust Memorial and a Lewis & Clark Monument. We skipped these on the way in, planning to find them again on our way out. We passed an adorable little building that turned out to be restrooms, and then walked along the road up to our first goal – the International Rose Test Garden.  Along the way, we passed some gorgeous flowers!

 

In 1915, in the dark days of World War I, the President of Portland’s Rose Society convinced city leaders to start a rose test garden. His idea was to have a safe place to cultivate European hybrid roses far from the destruction of war. From that start, the International Rose Test Garden has grown to house 10,000 individual rose bushes and hundreds of different varieties. The day we visited, the sky was blue and the temperatures were perfect – not too warm, not too cold – and the 4.5 acres of the Rose Test Garden were just jam packed with blooming roses everywhere you looked. There were small roses and massive roses;  there were shrub roses and hybrid teas; there were roses of every shade you can imagine. It was a joy for the eyes, but also for the nose as the scent from all those blooming roses filled the air around us.  We wandered around taking about a zillion pictures of roses for quite awhile before we decided to move on to our next goal.

 

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Just across from the Rose Test Garden, Washington Park houses the Portland Japanese Garden. It’s billed as the “most beautiful and authentic Japanese Garden outside of Japan,”  but when we got to the entrance we realized two things: 1) it was pretty crowded, and 2) it cost $16.95 a person, which we didn’t have on us. Ah well, maybe another time. We had a pretty ambitious plan for the day, so we just went on to our next planned adventure – a hike on the Wildwood Trail. This National Recreational Trail winds for about 30 miles through Washington and Forest Parks and we just HAD to walk on at least a bit of it. From the Japanese Garden, we  first took the Garden Link trail for a short ways. This trail led steeply uphill above the Japanese Garden, so though we couldn’t really experience the place as it should have been experienced, we did at least catch some glimpses of a serene garden landscape below. Garden Link Trail took us past a spur trail to Fairview Boulevard, and then soon after that split in two directions. We wanted to go towards Hoyt Arboretum, so after double checking with a friendly (but barely English speaking) German couple on our directions, we headed off to the west.  Soon we came to the charming “Winter Garden,” where we branched off onto the Beech Trail. Beech led to Oak and soon we arrived at the Hoyt Arboretum Visitor’s Center.

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As luck would have it, we arrived just 5 minutes before the start of a volunteer-guided hike. Chet and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to flex our rusty “Tree Id Ninja” skills, so we decided to join in. The guided hike lasted about 90 minutes, and covered parts of several of the trails around the Arboretum Visitor’s Center.  Along the way, our knowledgeable guide taught us about many of the native trees and shrubs – things we’ve never seen in Alabama!

  • Salal is an evergreen plant with blueberry-like fruit that the local Indian tribes dried and used to supplement their diet over the winter.
  • Like the “Holy Roman Empire” which was declared to be “neither ‘holy’ nor ‘Roman’  nor an empire,” the iconic Douglas Fir should not be named “Douglas” (it was discovered by a guy named Archibald Menzies) and it is not a fir (it’s a different genus).  We also saw how the Douglas Fir pine cones have “mice” hidden in them.
  • A California Bay (aka headache tree) can give you a splitting headache if you crush the leaves and then take too deep a sniff – there are chemicals in the leaf that cause the blood vessels in your brain to temporarily swell. The headache goes away after a couple of minutes, but it’s very painful while it lasts!
  • The Western Red Cedar is not a true cedar. True cedars only grow in the Himalayas or the Mediterranean – like the Cedar of Lebanon or the Cyprian Cedar.

We also saw some trees that we’re used to seeing here. They were very proud of their lone Pawpaw tree, since normally it only grows in the east and they had managed to keep one alive and producing fruit there. We also saw a carefully labeled “Tree of Heaven,” which Chet pointed out we generally cut down on sight here as it is an invasive pest. Our guide also gave us his rule of thumb about edible berries: if the berry is white, leave it alone; if it is blue, it’s alright to eat (though it might not taste great); if it is red – it can go either way. I’d be interested to know if this really holds true everywhere, or if that is just a Pacific Northwest truism.

 

We enjoyed the tour, but it was a couple of miles we hadn’t actually counted on hiking, so we had to abandon our plan to walk another three miles to get into Forest Park to see the view of Portland from Pittock Mansion. We just didn’t have the legs for it. We caught the park shuttle back towards the Holocaust Memorial, but ended up missing it and the Lewis And Clark monument both. Instead we took the bikeway down through Stearns Canyon and back down to Burnside Avenue. From there, we retraced our steps to our temporary home, stopping along the way for a “lupper” (too late for lunch, too early for supper) that included the most delicious tomato soup I’ve ever had, plus ooey-gooey grilled Tillamook Cheddar cheese sandwiches. We also had to sample a local beer, so we tried the delightful Deschutes Black Butte Porter. All told we covered about 7 miles that day, and we only saw a fraction of what Washington Park has to offer. Makes a good argument for another trip!

 

 

Quick Look: Wall Trail

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Trail Name: Wall Trail

Location: Old Stone Fort State Park, Tennessee

Length:  1.25 miles

Rating: Easy, though some of the optional side trails might be steep.

Points of interest:  Prehistoric Native American site, waterfalls

Blog Post: Not What You Think It Is: Old Stone Fort

Notes:  Side trails and optional trails will get you closer views of the waterfalls.

Follow the Leaders

It came as a real surprise when the Land Trust of North Alabama asked us to lead one of their fall series hikes.  We’ve been on a few of the guided hikes and really enjoyed them, and learned a lot on each one.  The leaders seemed so confident and polished and knowledgeable and prepared, so we knew the bar was set pretty high.  Despite that, we jumped at the chance to lead a hike.  It’s flattering to be asked, and it didn’t hurt that we were asked to head a Hiking 101 excursion on the Nature Conservancy’s Keel Mountain Preserve.

We had about a month to prepare, and had thought at the time we might use the blog to drum up interest in the hike after the Land Trust announced their fall hikes series.  When the announcement came out, people started signing up right away, and in no time we had a waiting list!  So we never needed to promote the hike, as these guided hikes are very popular.  In fact, the entire fall series was just about filled to capacity before the first scheduled hike.  Which was, in fact, the hike Ruth and I were leading.  Yep, the rookies were batting leadoff.

We thought about the guided hikes we’ve been on, and considered what worked and what didn’t.  The hiking part was easy — it was the talking part that was going to take some preparation.  The hike description said that we were going to teach people all we knew about hiking — good thing it was a short hike!  We were also to cover safety tips, recommended gear, survival, and how to respect the trail.  So there were the main topics of our outline, plus we thought we’d throw in a short bit about the Land Trust and Nature Conservancy and also something about the geology of Keel Mountain.

Since we had the advantage of having two guides on our hike, we figured out a plan for dividing up the speech-making and research.  One thing we’ve noticed on previous guided hikes (with one guide) is that conveying information can be tricky when you have a large group of hikers all moving at a different pace.  It usually resulted in the guide stopping somewhere and everyone waiting until the last hiker arrived before the guide could start the presentation.  We hit upon the scheme that Ruth would lead the hike, and would present the first topic (preparing to hike) in the parking lot.  Then she would head down the trail to a predetermined location and give the next spiel (respecting the trail).  I would be the sweep, at the end of group, so that when the faster hikers were ready to move on, I’d arrive on the scene with the slower-paced folks and repeat the presentation while the hares went ahead with Ruth to the next stop.  Overall, we planned two stops on the way up, a longer presentation at the Lost Sink, and one last stop on the way down.

Though we’ve hiked the Lost Sink trail on Keel Mountain several times, we knew we should have a look at current conditions so we’d be less likely to be surprised.  So we took a practice hike the weekend before and picked out the locations where we’d stop to do our presentations.  We also noted a few of the plants in bloom or berry (the American beautyberry was in rare form) and decided we’d point out a few of our favorite trees (smoketree, shagbark hickory, persimmon, and hackberry).  We went up to the top, where the waterfall was disappointingly puny, due to the dry weather.  After that, over the next week we researched and outlined our presentation.

We caught a major break in the weather, as it rained profusely the week before the hike, and cleared up on the day before, which helped dry out the trail and also knocked down the high temperatures.  We laid in a huge supply of water, printed out a couple of handouts, grabbed a few bags of candy as a post-hike treat, and headed out on Saturday morning to make the drive across the county.

We arrived a little later than intended, but still arrived before most of the group so we had enough time to get organized.  Folks arrived on time or a little late, as we expected, but by 9:20 Ruth had finished her presentation on pre-hike planning, gear, and other hiking tips and we took a group photo before 23 hikers, one dog, and two guides headed up the trail.

From our perspective, the hike went really well.  The group was a mix of ages, though we didn’t have any children on this hike, and they did space themselves out on the trail so that our “instant replay” strategy on the presentations seemed to work.  Ruth’s group got to the Lost Sink quite a bit ahead of the trailing group, but they were polite enough to wait for me to come chugging up and deliver my remarks on geology.  It was on the way down the trail that Ruth and I (separately) realized a flaw in our plan.  We had left the candy and handouts locked up in the truck, and I had the only key!  So the hares arrived in the parking lot with only the satisfaction of a nice hike, and the tortoises came along later and snarfed up all the candy.  Indeed, the race was not to the swift, and time and chance favored the more moderately-paced hikers that day.  In retrospect, Ruth should have brought her keys, or I should have handed off the keys at the top.  We were able to email the handouts to the participants later.

We made the one mile hike to the Lost Sink on Keel Mountain, and didn’t leave anyone behind on the one mile back to the parking lot.  I don’t think we had anyone fall (a good thing, because portions of the trail can be challenging), and no one got stung or overheated.  I particularly enjoyed hearing the conversations on the trail about past or planned hikes and camping trips, and old-timey recipes for herbal cures, and the latest advances in wireless technology (we were in Huntsville, after all).  We learned a lot from the research, and from the experience of the hike.  For instance, we bought and carried way too much water, but Ethel the dog appreciated it and the collapsible bowl we had in a day pack.  I think the humans enjoyed the hike too, and maybe the rookie guides started off the fall hike series with a solid base hit.

I’ll admit we were a little nervous about how things would turn out — remember, the event leading up to Gilligan’s Island was supposed to be a three-hour tour — but our preparation gave us confidence, and of course the folks on the hike were a generous and receptive audience.  We had set aside a little treat for ourselves Saturday night to celebrate a successful hike:  a couple of bottles of my latest homebrew batch of Moo-le Milk Stout.  We don’t always have a beer after a hike, but…who am I kidding?  We almost always have a beer after a hike!  But at the end of the day, the hike was great, the beer was smooth, and leftover candy wasn’t going to eat itself.

 

 

Bashful Falls

Mount Hood looms in the distance, visible from any high ground in Portland, weather permitting.  Its top glistens with snow, when you can see it through the clouds.  On our first visit to Portland, how could we resist getting a closer look?  So we headed out again up the Columbia River gorge, retracing our route up Interstate 84 to Hood River, where we turned south and drove past the fruit orchards into Mount Hood National Forest, where we had picked out a hike on flanks of the mighty mountain itself.

Our destination was Tamawanas Falls, a 109-foot waterfall on the east slope of Mount Hood.  We planned to do a simple out-and-back hike, but it is possible to build a loop of about five miles if you are so inclined.  Given that this is a short and relatively easy trail with a large and showy waterfall at the end, it’s a popular hiking destination.  A large parking area on the side of Oregon Highway 35 can accommodate dozens of vehicles, with overflow parking and portable toilets nearby.

After ponying up the $5 per vehicle day use fee, we set off from the well-marked trailhead onto the East Fork trail, numbered #650 in the National Forest’s scheme.  The trail passes an informational sign detailing the U.S. Forest Service’s innovative plan to improve fish habitat in 1998.  Prior to that, it was standard practice to remove fallen trees from streams, in the belief that barriers to navigation would prevent fish from migrating.  In 1998, the USFS tried a different approach, actually placing over 1,000 logs in the East Fork of the Hood River.  The logs actually helped prevent streambed erosion and slowed flood waters, which was actually more helpful to the fish population than keeping the streams unimpeded.

Within 100 yards of the trailhead, the East Fork trail crosses the East Fork of the Hood River on a narrow but sturdy bridge, anchored on one end by some impressively large logs.   Our luck with the Oregon weather was holding — though we had driven through some rain on the way there, we had a crisp, clear day by the time we started walking.

For the first half mile of the trail, the East Fork trail parallels Highway 35, slowly rising along a ridge.  The wide, well-groomed footbed was a new type of soil for us — a powdery gray volcanic ash soil, soft underfoot.  This is doubtless typical of the Mount Hood area, but was a new experience for us Southern hikers used to pine straw, leaf litter, or red clay under our boots.  Our Eastern volcanoes haven’t been active for around 200 million years, but Mount Hood is steaming merrily away (and the infamous Mount Saint Helens is only about 65 miles northwest of here).

At about the .5 mile mark, the East Fork trail continues to the north, and the Tamawanas Falls trail (#650A) branches off and heads west.  The Tamawanas Falls trail descends down the north side of the ridge, and soon crosses Cold Spring Creek on a log bridge.

From this point on, the trail is never far from Cold Spring Creek.  The trail gradually climbs for the next 1.1 miles, passing a few late summer wildflowers such as woodland beardtongue and fireweed, winding below huge Douglas firs, Western red cedars, and assorted hardwood trees.  But make no mistake, the evergreens are large and in charge here.

Around .2 miles into the Tamawanas Falls trail, we came upon a short section of trail that had obviously been crossed by a landslide.  It was only about 50 yards wide and easy to navigate across.  The valley sloped uphill as we headed westward, with the creek beginning to drop in small but scenic cascades.

We soon came to a second, larger landslide, where the path narrowed a little but was still passable.  At about .9 miles, the Tamawanas Tie trail merged in from the north, where it winds its way up the ridge to Elk Meadows.  But that wasn’t the feature that caught the eye.  Instead, it was the massive landslide that engulfed the trail, forcing us to pick a path upward through the boulders and jagged rocks to rejoin the trail about 500 feet away.  I wouldn’t call it bouldering, but we were glad to have the hiking poles with us!

Navigating the large landslide was the most taxing part of the hike, but the payoff comes quickly.  About .1 mile after the landslide, Tamawanas Falls comes into view, and it’s a beauty.

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The trail technically ends at an overlook near the fall, but it’s relatively easy to pick your way across the rocks toward the base.  However, there was a large crowd of people (probably around 20-30) who all had the same idea, and the sloping ground and jagged rocks made navigation a slow process.  Tamawanas Falls is about 40-45 feet wide, and with that volume of water comes a mighty amount of spray.  You can theoretically walk behind the fall, but the uneven terrain and soaking spray deterred most people, including  yours truly.  Instead, I partially crossed Cold Spring Creek to a small island about 50 yards downstream and set up my tripod to get some glamour shots.

The word “tamawanas” is from the Chinook concept of “friendly or guardian spirit,” though the Forest Service actually renamed the waterfall from its original name of Giffords Falls.  I’m not convinced that they got that right.  I don’t know the Chinook word for “bashful and uncooperative spirit,” but I’ll settle for calling this Bashful Falls.  I’d get positioned for a photo, then a huge cloud of spray would completely obscure the waterfall.  The spray would then clear, but my lens was then covered with water droplets.  I’d clean it off, and another cloud of spray would wash over me.  Then miraculously, the spray would clear, I’d wipe down my lens, and then the sun would disappear behind a cloud.  The light in the valley at that particular time was awful too, with the waterfall in shadow.  Bashful Falls flows to the north, which means the ridges on either side block the sun when you’re down on the valley floor.  I couldn’t get far enough away from the waterfall to avoid the spray, unless I chose to wade in the creek on the other side of the island, and the current made that an unattractive proposition.  So I took some lousy pictures, which I’ll share with you in a break from my usual careful curation of photos.

Honestly, this is the best that I could do at the time, and it has been Photoshopped nearly to death.

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This was a very nice waterfall to experience, though.  The shifting spray was quite atmospheric, and a cool breeze whistled over the increasingly damp onlookers at the base.

After having a quick trail lunch, we retraced our steps to the parking lot, stopping for a brief time at a little cascade that was a more willing photographic subject.  The overall hike, according to the GPS track, was around 3.6 miles.  And, since we were in the neighborhood, we couldn’t resist driving up to the Timberline Lodge, the historic inn built by the Works Progress Administration from 1936-38.  The interior is quite striking for its low ceilings and the heavy feeling of the massive beams and posts.  We quite enjoyed the WPA art still onsite, particularly the carvings and the rugs and tapestries woven onsite.  And, of course, there’s that 11,245 foot volcano out the back door….

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My new love: Cape Lookout

I’ve done a fair amount of traveling in my life, but one of the places I’ve never been is the Pacific Northwest. I’ve always wanted to go, though, so for this year’s vacation Chet and I decided on a trip to Oregon – specifically Portland with a side trip out to the coast. I had a great time, and really enjoyed pretty much every place we went, but I think the highlight for me was the Oregon Coast. There’s just something about driving along with the blue Pacific on one side of you and steep, spruce and fir covered mountains jutting up on the other side that can’t be beat. It’s majestic and beautiful and awe inspiring and so different from the scenery we have here.

Of course, we had to hike in this wonderland so we’d picked out a moderate hike in a stretch of coast just south of where we were staying. The historic Highway 101 threads its way south, passing through what seems like a new state park or state recreational area every few miles. The one we headed for was Cape Lookout State Park, which is 2000 or so acres of land including the entire Netarts Sand Spit to the north, the headland itself which juts two miles out into the Pacific and towers 400 feet above the surrounding beaches, and a gorgeous four mile stretch of sandy beach to the south heading towards Sand Lake. Cape Lookout is basically a chunk of basalt rock left over from the ancient lava flows that formed many of the islands and headlands along this coast.

There is a campground and recreation area on the north edge of the park towards Netarts Sand Spit, and the Oregon Coast Trail leads from there along a gradual 2.3 mile ascent to get to the top of the cape.  I really wanted to hike out to the very tip of the cape though, so we opted to drive up to the Cape Trail trailhead, which was at the top. The parking lot there was very roomy as the trail is pretty popular. We found a spot and parked near the port-a-potties. I only mention this to point out that while there are bathroom facilities here, they are primitive and at the time we were there anyway, were pronounced “gross” by one woman who’d just used one. I opted to take her word for it.

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It had been very cold that morning. We hadn’t figured out the heating situation in the Airbnb we’d rented, so we woke up to a 40 degree cottage. Chet found the heat, so I did finally agree to get out from under the covers when it had warmed up to about 60, but once I’m cold, I tend to stay cold so I’d dressed in jeans and a light long sleeved sweater, plus a fleece jacket. Luckily,  I came to my senses before I headed out on the trail and changed into the wicking t-shirt I’d brought because I later learned that cold in the morning in Oregon does not mean cold all day!

The kiosk for the trail was at the far western edge of the parking lot, with a joint trail heading out from the southwest corner. About 100 yards along the trail, the Oregon Coast Trail splits off on the first of what appeared to be many many switchbacks that would lead you 1.8 miles down to the sandy beach below. We kept going straight so that we could reach the point.

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As usual, we were hiking with a backpack, tons of water, food, and hiking poles. At first it seemed like the poles might have been overkill as the trail was fairly level, soft underfoot, and not rooty or rocky at all. In about 1/2 mile, there were gorgeous views down to the sandy beach and on south towards Sand Lake (actually a cove). Just past our first gasp-inducing viewpoint, I spotted a plaque on a boulder to the inland side of the trail. It commemorated those lost in the crash of a B-17 bomber in 1943. The story is that  the bomber was on coastal patrol on a very foggy day and the pilot mistook the fog-shrouded cape for a cloudbank. He flew right into the side of it. There was one survivor.

Besides the stunning beach views, this section also had several new-to-us flowers to puzzle over. We had little hope of identifying them on the spot, but took pictures and looked them up later. Candy Flower is in the same family as the “Spring Beauty”  we find in Alabama and is just as pretty. Pearly Everlasting actually does grow in Alabama, though I can’t say as I’ve ever noticed it. Just a little way past the plaque, the trail starts heading more steeply down and away from the southern views as it takes a couple of switchbacks down the north side towards Wells Cove.  This part of the trail was shadier than the first section, which was welcome because by this point I was pretty warm! We also spotted a few more unfamiliar plants, which we later identified as Salal (a blueberry like plant that the native Indians relied on to get them through the winter), rose twisted stalk  (a sort of Solomon’s seal),  thimble berry (sort of like a raspberry), and a type of hedge nettle. We also spotted some Alabama favorites – trillium and false Solomon’s seal.

At about the mile mark, the trail makes a hairpin turn to head back uphill. Right at the curve, there is a section of fence and beautiful views of Wells Cove, the Pacific Ocean, and north towards Three Arch Rocks and Cape Meares.

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The trail headed up and around the rim of Wells Cove, with steep drop offs on one side down to where the waves were crashing into the rocks hundreds of feet below. After a bit, it also became very mucky. We passed a couple of groups making their way back and they told us the muck didn’t last for too much longer. One guy commented that his decision to wear clogs had not been a very good idea. I loaned one older gentleman my hiking pole to steady himself with as he crossed a particularly muddy few feet. There are a few sections of boardwalk that take you over some of the mud, but this was my least favorite section of the trail. It is not recommended for tennis shoes, flip flops, or clogs!

After the mud, the trail curved up and around  until our old friend the sandy beach came into view again. It was an easy walk from there with great views to the south and west. Here we were walking along the top of cliffs that dropped straight down to the water. I enjoyed watching the birds flying high over the water, but below me.  Soon we reached the very tip of the cape. There a smallish rocky outcropping provides a cleared area from which to look out onto the ocean. A bench provides a place for a couple of folks to sit and enjoy the view.  We sat on the rocks and enjoyed the view and our lunch. At other times of year, namely December to June, we hear that you get a great view of migrating whales from here. We’d missed all that and saw not one whale, but it was still a beautiful view out into the vast Pacific Ocean. As best as I could tell from later research, if you go west from here, the next land you’d hit would be Japan, or maybe one of the Kuril Islands, claimed by both Japan and Russia and somewhere around 2000 miles to the west.

The hike back to the car was uneventful, though it did provide us with lots of opportunities to admire the beautiful, rugged Oregon coast spread out before us. We put in a total of 4.6 miles, according to our GPS track. It might not have been the longest hike but it might have been the most scenic.

10beach_view

Just Gorge-ous: Dry Creek Falls, Mt. Hood National Forest

Did  you miss us?  For the first time in three years of blogging, we went a week without posting anything.  But we had a good excuse — we were hiking in a new (to us) part of the country, in the Pacific Northwest to be exact.  We’ve been trying to vacation in areas of the country in which we’ve spent little or no time, and the PNW (as the cool kids call it) came highly recommended.   So off we went to Portland, Oregon!

It probably won’t surprise you to read that we did some research on hiking opportunities in the area, and of course there were practically countless options, with national forests, state forests, state parks, and city parks all within easy reach.  Yet one of our first hikes was to a place that popped up in my Facebook feed, when a friend shared a link to a Buzzfeed article on “16 of the Most Photogenic Hikes on the West Coast.”  Just for grins I perused the article to see if any were near Portland, and it turns out that Dry Creek Falls was a good candidate for us — not too long, very scenic, not too difficult, and in the Columbia River Gorge.  And, a little more research turned up an irresistible reason to take this hike — the bulk of it is on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Most hikers in the eastern U.S. have at least a passing acquaintance with the Appalachian Trail, a 2,200 trail stretching from Georgia to Maine.  The AT is a National Scenic Trail, established as one of the first two trails of this type by Congress in 1968.  The Pacific Crest Trail is the other one, and the AT, the PCT, and the Continental Divide Trail are considered the triple crown of North American long distance hiking.  The PDT is over 2,600 miles long, spanning the states of California, Oregon, and Washington.  One end is at the U.S-Mexico border, and the other is at the U.S.-Canada border.  It’s legendary.

Our trip began with a drive out of Portland eastward on I-84 through the Columbia River Gorge.  Famed for its scenery, the gorge didn’t disappoint, with a surprisingly wide blue river flowing westward to the Pacific Ocean between towering ridges of stately conifers.  We stopped in the town of Cascade Locks to lay in a supply of trail snacks, then made our way to the trailhead, which has a large paved parking lot off the ramp to the Bridge of the Gods (yep, that’s what is called — it’s a highway bridge over the Columbia River, named for a landslide-formed natural bridge around 1450 AD).  There’s parking there for about 15 cars, and all slots were occupied so we retraced our steps and parked in another hiker’s lot under the bridge.   It was a short walk back to the trailhead, which has information kiosks, a nice large restroom building, and on this particular day it had a Trailhead Ambassador.  A lady was there to answer any questions and offer advice, and she asked us to brush our boots prior to going on the trail to avoid spreading seeds from any non-native plants.  She looked us over and said we looked like we knew what we were doing (we were in our usual overkill mode with daypacks, boots, multiple layers including raingear, and hiking poles – for a four-mile hike).  Well, thank you, madam.  We dress to impress.

The trail begins across the road from the eastern side of the trailhead, and unceremoniously begins with a quick climb to gain some altitude before crossing under I-84.  It’s common on these long-distance trails to cross over or under major roads, and sometimes the route even shares the road shoulder for a few miles, but my limited experience on the AT has been in wilderness areas, so it was amusing to be on a National Scenic Trail with semi trucks roaring by above my head.

 

After a road walk of about 100 yards, the trail continues on a gravel road to a winter trailhead, from which the PCT plunges into the woods.  We took the route south, which wound through an open forest with very gradual elevation gain for about .6 miles.  This stretch of forest was particularly open because the devastating Eagle Creek fire started in this very location almost a year to the day before our hike.  The fire burned nearly 50,000 acres, and a year later there are still roads and many trails closed as a result.  The trailhead ambassador told us that there are still smoldering embers down in the rootballs of some fallen trees!  Tourism in the Gorge has really suffered as a result, so she was particularly happy to see hikers on the open trails in the area.  The really large trees have particularly thick bark, so most of them have shrugged off the damage, and a year later the understory is in full recovery mode, with stands of fireweed springing up in lovely late summer bloom.

 

Just over one mile into the hike, the trail crosses a powerline cut, with well-marked signage on either side.  The next .9 mile or so gradually climbs and crests a low ridge, into a cool and quiet hollow with ferns and wildflowers abounding.  At the end of this stretch, we reached a trail junction, with a narrow dirt road leading to the southeast and the PCT continuing over a wooden bridge to the northeast.

 

We followed the sign to Dry Creek Falls, and in around .2 miles we arrived at a narrow canyon with high rock walls on three sides and a 74-foot waterfall spilling over a relatively low spot.  There are actually additional drops not visible from the bottom of the waterfall that make its cumulative height around 230 feet.  There’s no path upward from here, and the only way to see the upper drops would require a cross-country hike and rappelling, so the 74-feet that we could see were more than adequate.

 

This is a popular hike, or at least it was on Labor Day weekend, so there were many folks there posing for selfies.  There’s really not much of a plunge pool and Dry Creek itself is rather small as it flows away from the falls.  We took a little while to rest, have our trail lunch, and look over the impressive canyon walls and the machinery left over from when the Dry Creek was used as a water source for the city of Cascadia Locks.

 

We retraced our route back to the PCT and returned to the trailhead, covering 4.27 miles in this hike according to our GPS track.

Herb robert

As for the botanical aspects of the hike, we saw our familiar maidenhair fern (though it was probably a Western species), the aforementioned fireweed, and one other wildflower that might be herb robert.  I can’t claim to be very confident in my identification of Western wildflowers, but the blooming time, location, and overall appearance fit the description.  We also saw another yellow wildflower and something that looked like our Christmas fern, but that particular species doesn’t grow in Oregon.

All in all, this was a great introduction to the trails of the Columbia River Gorge.  The waterfall was very pretty, and the hike was a manageable length, beautifully maintained and easy to follow.  And best of all, we logged 2 miles on the iconic Pacific Crest Trail — just 2,657 miles to go to complete our segment hike!