Friday, February 26, 2016

Over Crooked Canyon River

I was dozing while we drove across the Crooked Canyon River in Central Oregon.  My travel buddy made a sharp right turn and screeched to a stop.

"What's the matter?" I asked, suddenly jolted awake.  Did we hit a deer?  Get a flat tire?

"You gotta see this," he said.  "Put on your shoes."

The Railroad Bridge

All I saw was a sign:  No dogs allowed. Keep them in your car.  Many dogs have jumped to their death  here.  What in the world?

The above viewpoint was about a hundred yards away.  All I could do was gasp.  And then it suddenly occurred to me.  "Wow.  You stopped all by yourself."

He smiled smugly. "You've taught me well.  Did I do good?"

"Oh, yes."
The two highway bridges.

There are three generations of bridges crossing this canyon and all of them are beauties.  From the railroad bridge, built in 1910, to the green highway bridge which was used until September 2000 when the new red one was opened on the wider U.S. Highway 97.  Today, you can walk out on the green one for these incredible, vertigo-induced views. They are all nearly 500 feet long and a dizzying 300 feet high.
The official name of this pitstop is the Peter Skene Ogden Overlook.  His name is popping up more and more frequently as I travel throughout the Pacific Northwest.  Ogden lived from 1793 to 1854 and was a trapper for the Hudson Bay Company.  He explored the parts of Oregon that Lewis and Clark didn't get to, including this beautiful basalt canyon framing the Crooked River.

I'm so happy they left the old narrow bridge for us pedestrians to walk on.  But, yes, I agree with those signs.  Keep your dog in the car!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

White River Falls

It often begins with a sign.

This one read:  White River Falls
                          Turn left 4 miles

"You like waterfalls.  Should we?" my travel buddy asked.

"Sure.  Why not?"

White River Falls

And this is what we found!

It's one more reminder NEVER to ignore these signs when traveling.  I had never heard of this waterfalls and have since found that it is a little known gem in the Oregon State Park system.

We were blown away.  Not just for its beauty, but for the interesting historical ruins surrounding it.

These derelict buildings are all that's left of an old hydroelectric power plant.  A broken piece of stone with 1910 etched into it, lies discarded in a clump of brush.  This historic plant at the base of the waterfalls once supplied all the electricity to Wasco and Sherman Counties in Oregon until the completion of The Dalles Dam in 1960.  A short, but rugged trail, leads down to the buildings and to the incredible horseshoe-shaped formation of basalt cliffs with the two-tiered falls plunging over it.  

The White River originates at Mt. Hood and since there has been so much snow this year, it is gushing in full splendor.  It plunges 90 feet to the gentle winding river below.  But as we were driving down Highway 197, we never would have known from the placid hillside that such drama existed only a few short miles away.

Never ignore those signs.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Walking on Snow

My tracks prove my existence
Until the wind blows them away.

An elk discovers my scent
While walking on fresh falling snow.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Human Spiders

I woke up Monday morning with a whiplashed neck.  Watching human spiders scale the vertical walls of Smith Rock is a strenuous exercise!  I still can't believe what I saw.  I know many of these routes are securely bolted, but strength, agility and fearlessness are still necessary and many of us homo sapiens just do not possess such attributes.  Rock climbers are a different breed of people.

I watched in fascination, evidently craning my neck the entire time.
Of course, most of the climbers were young and I caught myself before envy and wistfulness sent me down that dark road to regret.  Do Not Go There, I cautioned.  Can't say the same for my travel buddy.  "You know the equipment has gotten so much better," he said.  "I think I'm going to take up rock climbing again."

I didn't say a word.
 It's true.  I could hear the climbers a mile away.  All their ascenders, carabiners and ropes jingled as they walked.  They had so much equipment they looked like they were going on a Himalayan expedition.

My travel buddy loves all the high tech gear associated with extreme sports.  Perhaps (hopefully) his ambition will take him no further than REI, but just in case, I pointed out the stretcher at the base of one of the rocks.
But then again, he has spider in his DNA.  I've witnessed his boulder jumping and effortless shinnies up chimney rocks.  Unlike me, he has not posted those Do Not Go There signs at various synapse junctions leading to his brain.
So I don't say a word.  I will watch him climb summits.  Belay and rappel.  Creep up vertical walls. Squeeze through cracks and ski across glaciers.  

But I will remain below.

And catch him if he falls.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Day at Smith Rock

Smith Rock.  How did such a spectacular place end up with such a boring name?  Because its name is so forgettable, I didn't take it very seriously even though Smith Rock is one of the Seven Wonders of Oregon.

But our jaws dropped when we rolled into the parking lot last weekend and saw the view.

How this massive rock formation got its name is far from boring.   In the mid 1800's a U.S. Calvary Private by the name of Voke Smith, fought in many skirmishes here against hostile Indians.  One version of the story is that he leapt to his death rather than get captured.  Another version is that he fell off a cliff during a battle.  At any rate, don't you think Voke Rock would have been more interesting than Smith?
Mother Nature doesn't care about names and we have her (and nobody else) to thank for this exquisite landscape.  The combination of  volcanic ash towers and a meandering river creates an environment of pure bliss for us hikers.  There are numerous trails, both easy and difficult, throughout the park.

The geology is fascinating.  The color in the rock is known as "tuff" and is the result of hardened ash.  Millions of years ago, a nearby volcano exploded and a thick layer of ash settled here.  From a distance the giant spires rise above the landscape like a Gothic cathedral.  Even the Crooked River that winds through the canyon was pushed here by heavy basalt flows.  One day is not enough to explore this incredible place.  We will be back for more.

It is truly a Wonder.  And totally unforgettable.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Hiking the Eagle Creek Trail

We took a chance last Sunday and headed for the Eagle Creek trailhead near the Cascade Locks, hoping it wouldn't be so busy because of the Super Bowl.  But Oregonians evidently don't watch football.  The two parking lots were completely full, meaning we had to add an extra mile to our hike.

It only took me a hundred yards up the trail to get it--to get why this trail is the most popular hike in the Columbia River Gorge.  I know I have a tendency toward hyperbole, but man oh man, this has got to be one of the most scenic hikes in the entire world.  My travel buddy and I were in complete rapture for the rest of the day. I didn't even mind the traffic jams.

This trail has been well-used and well-loved ever since its completion in 1915.   It's a slow steady climb that goes through an old growth forest of Douglas Firs and Cedars that drip with moss.  The trail then winds along a basalt cliff with a sheer drop into the white water rapids below.  Cable lines have been fastened along the cliff walls for additional security and believe me, I used them! (If you suffer from acrophobia, think twice before attempting this one.)

Because we have had a lot of rain and snow this year, the creeks are high and we had to traverse a couple, balancing on logs, jumping from rock to rock (and dodging leprechauns.)  Not only that but the trail takes you behind a few waterfalls.  I didn't mind getting soaked a bit; it was so much fun!    

The Eagle Creek trail is ten miles out and back.  It begins at the campground and ends at Wahtum Lake.  The iconic Punchbowl Falls, however, is only two miles up and this was our destination.  This falls, which is framed by a bowl shaped grotto, has graced many a calendar and poster as well as a famous Styx album cover.  

But . . . 

that iconic view from below was not accessible last Sunday.  Because of all the rain, the creek was too high.  We were out of luck.  Waders were needed to round the corner in the freezing cold water.

So back up we went to see the falls from above.
Punchbowl Falls

I have no complaints.   

Metlako Falls

On the way back we took a side trail to see Metlako Falls--another beauty.  The truth is, we lost count of the waterfalls, both along the trail, and in the distance.

  Not only was this a beautiful hike, but an adventurous one.  No wonder it is so popular.  As I was walking along, I forced myself to stop and soak in the scenery. I realized how incredible (and rare) these moments in life are.  It's not often we enter a prehistoric, pristine world.  So dewy and green.  Fresh and magical.

I slowed down.  I let other hikers pass me.  I was in no hurry to get home.