Sunday, May 26, 2013

What's in a Name

With the promise of decent, and possibly even sunny, weather this Saturday, it seemed only fitting to be outside to enjoy as much of it as possible. My first thought was to drive up north to Table Mountain near Bonneville Dam, but after a bit of hemming and hawing (I'm not sure exactly what that looks like, but it fits) I decided instead to do a day-long city/trail hike in parts of various southwest and southeast Portland suburbs that I have only driven through while on the way to somewhere else.

The trek started in George Roger's Park in Lake Oswego. Back in the day (which is a good way to say a long time ago without really knowing how long ago) this was where the iron that was mined nearby was smelted. The smelter has been restored and is now a local landmark in one of the more popular parks in town. There's a trail that runs through the park and at various times of the year has its own mini-waterfall, as well as views of the river.

After about a third of a mile, the trail comes out on Old River Road, which runs parallel to the Willamette River before dead ending into Pacific Highway. This part was the noisier part of the walk since the traffic is so heavy. I'm sure more than one person wondered what the crazy lady with the camera was doing taking pictures of shrubs, but they'll never see me again and if they do, they certainly won't recognize me without my disguise of capris pants and wild hair, oh wait, the hair is always wild. I liked the way the sun hit the droplets in this, whatever it is, rust-colored foliage. After crossing Pacific Highway, I headed for West Linn High School. According to Google maps (always a reliable source) there was a trail from the track leading up to the backside of Camassia Natural Area. I'd never been there, but a friend had told me about the abundant wild lilies that bloom every spring. I was too late for the lilies, but it was still a great place to explore. There is a wild solitude about it that is hard to describe, so I won't even try. I met a volunteer who showed me what she termed a quarry and as she was describing it, used a term associated with glaciers. Instead of appearing ignorant, I pretended to know what she was talking about, so now I'm still ignorant about what she was telling me. Oh well.   

From there, I found my way back to civilization and crossed over the bridge to Oregon City. My only association with Oregon City has to do with jury duty, but if I can keep myself from connecting it with long, boring waits in the jury room, it actually is a charming place to visit.
Off to one side is the Willamette Falls Dam and, to correspond with that, Willamette Falls. The roar of the water was quite distinct over the sound of traffic, even though they are some distance from the bridge.  While the falls aren't huge, there was still something impressive about them. From here, I turned left onto McLoughlin Boulevard and continued to walk parallel with the river.

My next goal was Meldrum Bar Park. About a month ago when I was walking on the west side of the Willamette, I had seen this spit of land jutting out into the river and wondered what it was. Once I discovered it's name, it went down on the list of places to explore. There were also plenty of fisherman out trying their luck. And they weren't the only ones enjoying the sun. I broke into a clearing just as this hawk circled lazily overhead. He seemed to just enjoy riding the warm air currents and expending as little energy as possible. Speaking of circling objects, I've seen rings around the sun but never in the colors of the rainbow. I managed not to stand there, rooted to the spot and pointing at the sky, but it took a bit of willpower. By this time I'd found another trail not on the GPS but which seemed to be heading in the right direction and did the logical thing by ignoring the GPS's warning that the world would end if I didn't go the right way and stayed with the trail.

At first, it seemed fairly well maintained and easy to follow, but soon that changed as it narrowed and became increasingly overgrown with blackberry bushes. My legs took quite a thrashing from the thorns, but rest assured, the blackberry bushes came through unscathed. I finally broke out into a cleared area behind some homes. As I went around a corner, I startled a heron that had been perched on a dilapidated deck. I'm not sure who was more startled, probably me because I wasn't quick enough to get the camera out. Instead I had to console myself with a picture of the empty deck.
After climbing up a small hill, I was back on paved roads and heading for the next spot, which was Elk Rock Island. Unfortunately that was about six miles away. So, I turned up the music on the ol' iPod and started to move. I'll have to come back to Elk Rock later in the summer when the river is lower and it's possible to get to it without wading through the river. Instead, I had to admire it from a distance and wonder what I was missing. Even so, from where I was it was still lovely. From here, I followed the road until it ran into yet another trail/park and then back to SE McLoughlin and into the Sellwood area. Sellwood is hard to describe. It's part hippy, part early 1900's, and all Portland. I enjoy this area because there's always something new to see. By now though, all I wanted to see was the other side of the bridge where my ride was picking me up to take me back to my car. So, what's in a name? In this case, it's Lake Oswego, West Linn, Oregon City, Gladstone, Milwaukie, and Portland. All in all, quite a mouthful.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Hills are Alive (and all that jazz)

A few weeks ago I decided that taking a Friday off from work to do some hiking was in order. After all, it isn't going to be sunny forever this spring and as much as I love wildflowers, photographing them in the rain is not nearly as much fun as when it's sunny. Dog Mountain was first on the list because of its reputation for transforming into a haze of yellow balsamroot, with some red and purple somethings thrown in for good measure. I left the house a little after 6:00 a.m. and was on the trail by 7:20 (after a making a quick u-turn when I missed the parking lot. Driving into the sun somewhat impedes the vision). There are two options when going up Dog Mountain, steep and steeper. I usually choose steep on the way up and and then come down the other route because it's more scenic and I figure it's easier to enjoy it coming down because you can actually focus on more than just screaming calf muscles. Both routes are beautiful, but it's once you pop out on the trail overlooking the gorge that you realize this is why you came.
 It's hard to describe the feeling of sheer joy, happiness, and contentment that comes from being in the middle of this beautiful creation. The hard work of the climbing is forgotten and all you can focus on is the beauty around you and the faint smell of the flowers and the wind rushing past. From the top there are views of Mt. St. Helens way off in the distance, as well as the gorge and endless yellow stretching beneath your feet. As I said to another spellbound hiker on the way down, every step is a picture and you just can't seem to get enough. Three hours and 20 minutes, and sevenish miles later, I was back in the car and headed for the next destination. The original plan had been to hike up Hamilton Mountain next, but then I remembered how irked I was last year to have to pay $10 for the privilege of sweating for another seven miles. Plus I've done it the past two years, so there was a quick change in the flight plan.

Most Fridays I'm lucky enough to go to a Scottish dance class in Stevenson, Washington, just a hop, skip, and a jump from Dog Mountain, and every week there are trails and markers that I wish we could stop and explore.
So, that's what I decided to do. There's a steel truss bridge over the Columbia River that is part of the Pacific Crest Trail and is open to pedestrians. Never mind that there is no sidewalk over the metal grid that makes up the road part of the bridge, but then again, cars can only go 15 mph on it. I've driven across the bridge numerous times and always wanted to take pictures from the side, which is not recommended while driving, so I parked the car at a handy spot on the road and set off across the bridge. An eagle swooped past at one point, but of course, I was on the wrong side to do anything about it but gape and try not to point in the air as it soared by. From there it was on to the St. Cloud recreation area. It's really just a large picnic area situated in what appears to be an orchard, but it's along the river and is quite pleasant. Then it was on to Cape Horn. This has been on the radar for some time and I was glad to finally get to explore it. The trail head begins on the south side of a park and ride lot so there's no parking passes required before setting off into what turned out to be a blue haze of flowers. My grandmother had a painting of Texas (in the shape of Texas, no less)
of a road making its way through a field of blue bonnets. I always liked the painting, although I thought the blue bonnets were a bit overdone, but I've changed my mind on that. Walking this trail was like being in that painting, and there is no way these pictures do it justice. After a bit of a climb to the first look out, it was a short jaunt to the next one.

I was looking at the map wondering which point I was at and if Fallen Tree lookout was anywhere in the vicinity, when I came around the corner and saw that, yes indeed, this was Fallen Tree lookout. The views of the gorge were spectacular from here and there's a real "out on the edge" feel. Not that I was on the edge or anything, but that's what I've heard. After a few more miles, I turned around and headed back. At one point, I was aware of a shadow overhead and looked up just in time to see another eagle, or possibly the same one that was near the bridge, buzz overhead. There was no way to get a picture since he disappeared into the trees, and I didn't see him again until I was in the car driving. Maybe next time. I drove back to Vancouver and had plenty of time to take another walk. The irises are out in full force now, as well as the poppies. This vacant lot was filled with orange flowers and it struck me that you don't have to travel far to find beauty; you just have to be looking for it.