Sunday, June 30, 2013

North by Norhtwest

One of the things I've come to appreciate about the Portland area is its diversity, and I don't mean the politically correct version of the word that is so popular now. By diversity I mean all the different areas you can visit in one day within about a three-mile radius (in this case, forest, city, and island). This past week has been absolutely perfect as far as weather is concerned. Summer normally doesn't come until July 5, but at least for now it's here in full force. Since there was no reason to wait for the clouds to clear or the sun to come out, I headed to northwest Portland early on to begin an urban hike. I drove across the St. John's Bridge and parked in one of the neighborhoods across from Cathedral Park. Driving across bridges takes no time at all, but walking back across is another story. The St. John's Bridge is no exception, but at least it's got a pretty view on the way.
 From up here, it was very easy to see Mt. Hood wreathed in clouds behind the Steel Bridge, as if it just couldn't quite step out of its comfy white cloak. After crossing the bridge, I found the steps that lead up to the Ridge Trail, part of the Wildwood Trail system that makes an approximately 40-mile loop through Forest Park. There were glimpses of the bridge through the trees, and it didn't take long to be almost level with the Gothic spires. The trail wound its way up for some time (much farther and twistier than Google showed, how surprising!) until it joined Leif Erikson Drive. The word "drive" is misleading because really it's a wide dirt multi-use trail, as in bikers, runners, dads with strollers, probably even unicycles at times (the bagpiping Gandolph can't always be riding in downtown, right?) so there was plenty of traffic to keep one from feeling too lonely. There are also well-placed maps at different junctions to keep hikers from getting lost, well usually. There was one intersection where the signage was particularly unhelpful and it does no good to look for moss on the north side of a tree because moss grows on all sides and surfaces.
Enough sunlight does filter in to allow certain varieties of flowers to grow. I have no idea what the flowers on the left are, but they rather remind me of inflated turbans. Columbine also makes an occasional appearance, and it's almost always in this red and yellow combination. At times the trail had rather a Shire look to it. If it wasn't for the posts on the side of the bridge, you could almost imagine elves (and yes I know, elves aren't technically in the Shire) making their way over the stream and tripping lightly up the steps, as opposed to hobbits who don't do anything lightly with those hairy feet.

 I took a wrong turn here and went up the steps because I've learned in the past that when in doubt, go up. This time the "up" trail appears to have been a shortcut to the back side of one of the businesses along Highway 30. I retraced my steps and went along the trail that paralleled the stream. It was then less than a quarter of a mile back to the highway and along the raised sidewalks that are part of what used to be the community of Linnton. From what little research I've done, Linnton used to be a thriving town. That changed when the highway was widened and the roadside businesses became level asphalt. There are still some homes dotting the landscape and businesses along the east side of the highway but apparently it never recovered its past glory. One of the things left behind was a series of staircases and raised sidewalks that allowed the townsfolk easier access to bus stops and businesses. Those are on the agenda for a future hike.

It was at least a mile or so back to the car and on the way I explored the block-wide farmers market on the east side of the St. John's Bridge. There was everything from local berries to salsa and tamales and crepes. Good thing I didn't have any cash or I might have spent it.

Next it was off to Sauvies Island to pick berries. This past week, a co-worker mentioned that her daughter and boyfriend had picked berries at Sauvies Island Farms and that at $2 a pound, the berries were much cheaper than those at the farmers market. I'm not sure if the cheapness factor holds up when you calculate gas, time, and effort, but it was still a fun way to spend the afternoon. The island is connected to the highway by a bridge that crosses the Willamette River. Along the river are houseboats and the area is dotted with farms. I usually leave my car at the park and ride and walk along the road to whatever the destination is. It always feels like walking in a postcard, that is if you ignore the cars that whiz by on their way to the local beach. The clouds were just beginning to clear from the mountains and the fields of flowers made a great foreground. The sprinklers were an unfortunate distraction but you can't arrange real life very easily.

 After about a three-mile walk, I was at the farm. A lady at the entrance was directing people to the proper fields and giving out cardboard flats to hold berries. The road to the berry patch had a view of Mt. St. Helens and flower patches along the way. Lavender, daisies, hydrangeas, and lilies were growing side by side waiting to be picked and turned into a bouquet. After passing corn, cabbage, kale, and other veggies, I finally found the raspberry section. The berries were the size of medium strawberries and were growing in abundance. It was no time at all before my container was filled and it was off to the blueberry patch. Again, the berries were huge and picking berries in a civilized field was quite a pleasant switch from picking thorny blackberries on the side of the road.

On the way back, I was struck again by the beauty of Mt. Hood with the flowers in front of it. Ignoring the idea that I should put my cardboard flat loaded with three plastic containers of berries down before taking the picture, I tried holding the flat and taking the picture. Let's just say, it didn't work. I was down on my knees picking up blueberries when I looked up and realized this was actually the best angle for the picture. Someone on their hands and knees picking up blueberries and then taking pictures probably looked pretty crazy to those driving by, but if I ever see those people again they won't recognize me anyway so it doesn't matter.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Eagle Creek Falls Trail

The Eagle Creek Falls trail hike is one I've done before, but certain trails quickly become old friends that you want to revisit each year. The trail head is about half a mile from the parking lot, but this year my curiosity got the better of me. There is a mysterious staircase that appears near the exit ramp that leads to the parking lot. The staircase connects what used to be the original Columbia River Highway with the highway-turned-bike path that runs along Interstate 84. I decided that this year I was going to explore the stairs before starting on the hike. In my research with Google maps, it appeared I could take the stairs to the old highway and would eventually find a trail that would take me the back way to a footbridge that crosses the creek. That would then spit me out near the trail head and both satisfy my curiosity about the bridge and give me a different way to the trail head. I went up the stairs and continued following the old highway until I passed a sign for a trail that seemed to be going in the right direction, so seeing a fork in the road, I took it. After a bit, the trail came to another junction, but I continued on the original trail. That's where I made my mistake because after another five minutes I started to get the feeling of déjà vu all over again and before long I was back on the old highway. I realized later that I should have turned onto the other trail at the junction and that would have taken me to the bridge. Well, there's always next time.

Eagle Creek trail is fairly level, which is one of the reasons I like it, and for the first two miles is made up of mostly packed dirt with a loose rock here and there. Eagle Creek is actually a tributary of the Columbia River and hosts a number of waterfalls along the way as the trail runs parallel with the rushing water. I think the word creek is rather misleading because it has all the sound and speed of a serious river. The first waterfall on the way is Punchbowl Falls. The trail to Punchbowl intersects with the mail trail, but the junction is easy to miss, even with the great signage at about a foot above eye-level. From the riverbed, the falls is around a corner and to the left. Depending on the time of year, it's very easy to walk out on the rocky "beach" to get a look at the falls. However, a week after one of the rainiest Mays on record is not the time of year to do that. Let's just say I spent some time dumping water from my shoes and wringing out my socks, but it was worth it.

I often wondered why it was called Punchbowl Falls because, frankly, I've never seen a punch bowl in the shape of a waterfall. However, this time I did a little exploring after finding a non-official trail that led down to a ledge overlooking the top of the falls. From there, it was easy to see the perfectly round bowl that the water flowed into and then the name made sense. The picture below and to the right looks through the gap and into the area where the picture of the actual falls was taken. The sound of the water was so loud but at the same time relaxing. There are several campsites along the river and going to sleep while listening to the churning water is my idea of a perfect vacation.

Punchbowl Falls is only about two miles in, and my next goal wasn't until mile six. Meanwhile, the trail went from broad and smooth to narrow and rocky (this rather reminded me of the part in Pilgrim's Progress where Christian would much rather walk on the smooth trail that appeared to parallel the rocky trail he had been told to stay on). At times, there are thick steel cables firmly fastened into the rock to give anyone who might have a touch of dizziness or slippery footedness a way to reestablish their balance. But it's also at these places that the view is the best. 

Tunnel Falls is right in the middle of such a section of trail. The water thunders over the cliff and down 130 feet with a force that is absolutely amazing. It's called Tunnel Falls because the narrow trail leads through a tunnel that was carved into the rock behind the falls. In the picture on the left there can be seen, with a bit of imagination, a little "Hobbit hole" to the left of the falls and about half way down. It's reassuring to have the cable here because this is often a somewhat crowded section of the trail as everyone lines up to take pictures and becomes totally oblivious to everything else.

The next "favorite" has at least two names: Crisscross Falls, Twister Falls, and probably others I don't know about. Either one will do. It's actually higher than Tunnel Falls by about 10 feet but because the trail is above it, it doesn't seem that the water is falling so far. It's quite easy to stand right at the top of the falls without any fear of falling in and snap away with the camera. At least, that's what someone told me. The rainbow dancing on the edge of the water immediately caught my eye, and I was quite thankful that the camera could sense it. I've never been to Hawaii, but I always picture rainbows in the water there and I'm glad I didn't have to go so far to see them. I hovered around this spot for a while, just taking in the wonderful noise of the water and feeling the warmth of the sun before starting the seven-mile trip back. I admit to complaining about the rain every now and then in the Northwest (okay, I complain a lot about the rain in the Northwest) but being able to stand on the edge of a waterfall and only be 45 minutes from civilization makes up for all those gloomy wintery days.