Sunday, September 13, 2020

Heartbreak

For the past week I've watched my beautiful state burn.

It all started last Monday with a huge windstorm, blowing hot air eastward across Oregon.  Unusual for this time of year, it was branded as a "historic" wind event, with gusts exceeding 50 mph in Portland.   Fire danger was off the charts.  In an area that hasn't seen measurable rain most of the summer, forests were bone-dry and ripe for wildfires.  It was a disaster waiting to happen.

 In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, all hell broke loose.


Tuesday night's sunset

 

Downed power lines ignited several fires around the small towns of Detroit, Gates and Mill City, east of Salem off of Highway 22.  People had minutes to evacuate.  Detroit and Gates burned to the ground, and Mill City lost several structures.  The fires merged with another forest fire already burning to the north creating a huge inferno that threatened Silver Falls State Park and several nearby towns.

Southeast of Portland, another fire erupted along the Clackamas River.  Campers along several riverside campgrounds hastily evacuated as the wind-driven flames grew exponentially.  

East of Eugene, along the scenic McKenzie River, another fire decimated several small towns, as the occupants ran for their lives.

On the coast, a fire threatened the town of Lincoln City, prompting evacuation of nearly half the town.

And in southern Oregon another wind-driven fire destroyed the towns of Phoenix and Talent, reducing entire neighborhoods to rubble.

By Tuesday evening, a total of 35 wildfires were burning across the state of Oregon.

 

Apocalyptic wildfire smoke

 

All week I nervously scanned fire and evacuation maps, watching shaded areas indicating the fire perimeter cover more and more favorite hiking trails and inch closer to nearby towns.  Smoke from the fires began pouring into my city, creating ugly orange-tinged clouds.  The sky looked simply apocalyptic.  Thursday, one fire crept perilously close the Portland Metro area, threatening a SE suburb.  Occupants of an entire county were placed on some level of evacuation notice.  One of my coworkers who lives in Oregon City, notified of a level 2 "get set" notice, had to pack up his home and be ready to evacuate.



Winds raged for three long days until finally dissipating on Friday.  Although fires continue to burn, and likely will until the winter rains come, at least their growth has now slowed.

But the damage has been done.  One million acres of forest burned.  At least ten people dead.  Over 40,000 people evacuated, many not sure they will have a house to return to.

 

Hazy orange skies
 

Three years ago, watching the Columbia River Gorge burn, I thought the Eagle Creek Fire was tragic.  This has been much worse.  So many favorite hiking areas are now gone.  Among them:

Jefferson Park.  See This post from 2018.

Opal Creek.  See this post from 2015.

Olallie Lake.  See this post from 2012. 

Riverside Trail. See this post from 2019.

Table Rock.  Which I'd just hiked this past June.

So much destruction - it's heartbreaking.  So many wonderful forested areas are changed forever.  I can't even begin to comprehend what these once places will look like now. 

As the fires continue to burn, my entire state is blanketed with a thick layer of acrid smoke, pushing air quality into the "hazardous" category and forcing me indoors.  Although I'm sorely missing hiking this weekend, I am thankful I still have a home to be stuck inside.

 2020 can't get over fast enough........


Monday, September 7, 2020

Patjens Lakes and Coffin Mtn Sunset

Summer means camping and hiking.  In mid-July my hubby and I decided a trip to the Central Oregon Cascades was in order.  We have a favorite Forest Service Campground along Highway 22 where we love to stay.  But since some of its sites are first-come first-serve, there's always a risk of being skunked.  In past years, an early Friday morning arrival has always secured a spot.


Beargrass-covered forest floor

This year our luck didn't hold.  In this post-COVID world, everyone has discovered the great outdoors, and I've noticed hiking trails and campgrounds are busy all the time, not just over weekends.  So....sadly we discovered our favorite campgound was full, as was our second choice down the road. 



Beargrass close-up

Would we end up back home for the weekend instead of camping?  Luckily our third choice, Marion Forks Campground, wasn't far away.  Driving in, we were astounded to see most of the sites still empty.  After choosing a nice spot and setting up camp we discovered why.  No water.  Not being prepared for such an inconvenience, this necessitated a trip to the closest town to buy a couple gallons of water and then on the way back, another stop a nearby campground to fill up our large water jug.


Tiny pond all dried up
Finally, campsite secured, water procured, it was time for a hike!  Over the years I've visited most of the trails along Highway 22.  However, there were still a couple left on the list.  Today's trail of choice was a short loop to visit the Patjens Lakes.  A lovely trek through lodgpole pine forests at Santiam Pass, I'd heard the wildflower bloom was good here this year, so I was itching to check things out.


Wilderness boundary

So hubby and I made the short drive from our campsite to Santiam Pass, and then to the shores of Big Lake.  The Patjens trailhead had it's parking area near one of the lake's campgrounds.


Beargrass and Scarlet Gilia brightened the forest

Due to the morning's campground chores, it was nearly noon when we started our hike.  And it was already hot.  But we had plenty of water so off hubby and I went down the trail.


One of the few butterflies I was able to capture

I'd heard there was a good wildflower bloom and right away I discovered that the rumors were true!  Beargrass covered the forest floor, along with purple penstemon and orange-red scarlet gilia.  Many photo breaks may have been taken.



Beargrass everywhere!

The forest here burned in a 2011 wildfire, so there wasn't much shade.  Tall gray and black skeletons of trees provided the only semblance of a forest.  And there were lots of downed logs across the trail. Hubby and I clambered over several in the first half mile.


Gotta stop and smell the beargrass....

Deciding to save the trek past Big Lake for the end, we started heading westward on the loop, passing through burned-out forest, a dried up pond (that was really deep green) and then climbing up a ridge with some great views of the nearby hills and mountains.  Mt Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, the Three Sisters and Mt Washington were all in view, plus nearby Hoodoo Butte.


First Patjen Lake

On the downhill side of the ridge hubby and I were passed by two young girls with huge backpacks.  One of them did not look very happy.  The older girl said they were looking to camp at one of the Patjen Lakes.  We kept leapfrogging the girls until passing by the first lake (more like a pond, really) when they left the trail to go check it out.


Scarlet Gilia

The four lakes that make up the Patjens Lakes are all very tiny.  Actually we only saw three lakes.  I suspect the fourth lake might've dried up to just a grassy swamp.  The third lake was the only one that looked suitable for any camping or swimming.  We hiked down to it's shore and admired the view.


Third Patjen Lake was the best

Past the third lake, the trail started gradually climbing uphill, back to a junction with Big Lake.  Although I'm never a fan of forest fires, I have to say the fire cleared away dense forest, opening up spectacular views of nearby Mt Washington.


Scraggly dead tree

The burned out trees also created a great habitat for woodpeckers.  My eagle-eyed hubby spotted three of them pecking away on a nearby snag.  I switched to my zoom lens, but the light was terrible and I only got a few extremely backlit images before the birds flew away.


Mt Washington

Climbing further from the lakes, we came upon the best concentration of beargrass yet.  These fluffy plumes lined the forest floor.  Forward progress may have been slowed a wee bit.....


Lovely beargrass poofs

Wildflowers also attract butterflies, and there were several flitting around the blooms.  Continuously on the move, they were difficult to capture.  We came upon one place in the trail where several beautiful blue butterflies were congregated on the trail itself.  It was a damp, muddy area, and I assumed they were attracted to the water.  I tried my hardest to get a good image of all those butterflies but nothing really turned out.  So you'll just have to take my word for it.


Beargrass was especially thick beyond the ponds

After a mile of hot climbing, I glimpsed some blue water through the trees.  Finally Big Lake!  A lovely royal blue, this lake was home to two campgrounds and a church camp.  It also attracted the motorboat/waterskiing and off-road vehicle crowd, so it really wasn't our kind of place to camp.


More Mt Washington views

But the lake made a lovely place to hike around.  As we contoured around the shore, Mt Washington became more and more visible until we reached a high point that had a money shot view of the mountain.


Hoodoo and Hayrick Buttes from Big Lake

Across the lake Hayrick and Hoodoo Buttes were visible.  Hoodoo Butte has a small, family ski area atop it's summit.


Wonderful Mt Washington view from Big Lake

As we completed the loop and headed back to our truck, both hubby and I decided this short trail packed a lot of wonderful scenery into 6 miles.  The only drawback was tons of blown-down trees that we had to navigate over, around, and in a few cases, under.


View from Coffin Mtn trail

But our day wasn't over yet.  Because we were camping a short distance from Coffin Mountain, I really wanted to capture sunset from the summit.  My hubby is such a good sport, he agreed to such a crazy request!  So we took a short break at our campsite before packing back up and driving to the Coffin Mountain trailhead.


Wine, cheese and Mt Jefferson views from Coffin Mtn

It was still hot, and we both carried a heavy load.  I had my camera gear (although my sweet hubby carried my tripod! Thanks dear!) and we packed a wine and cheese dinner to enjoy on top.  Although only a short 1.5 mile climb, it's also 1000 feet of elevation gain.  We puffed, sweated and groaned as we slogged uphill, but once reaching the top, it was so worth it.


Coffin Mtn lookout at sunset

There's a staffed fire lookout on Coffin Mountain's summit.  The guy manning the lookout waved but didn't come out.  No matter, hubby and I perched ourselves on the helipad, dug out our goodies and enjoyed a front-row view of Mt Jefferson.


Sunset over Detroit Lake

I was lucky - the sunset was spectacular.  We were joined by another couple and one young man with a big camera like mine.  As the sun sank and the sky turned colors, I tried my best to capture the show in all directions.


Mt Hood

The sky to the north and east turned a lovely shade of pink.  I caught Mt Hood on the horizon.  To the west the sky above Detroit Lake turned orange with the setting sun.


Last view as we hiked back down

Once the sun sank below the horizon, hubby and I packed up to try and beat total darkness.  We trucked downhill quickly, but about halfway I ended up digging out my headlamp.  It was nearly 10 pm when we reached the truck.  By the time we arrived back at our campground, all the sites were full and our neighbors across the road appeared to be gearing up to party for awhile.  But tired from two hikes, hubby and I fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows and didn't hear much all night.

A great day of hiking!  And I'd planned a jaunt up the PCT for the following day.  Coming next post.....


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Ape Canyon

Sorry to disappoint you, but this post is not about apes.  However it is about a great hike I took on Mt. St. Helens' south side the day before the July 4th holiday.

 

Tiger Lily

 

Yes, that day my trail of choice was called the "Ape Canyon Trail."  Apparently this canyon got it's name due to a report of some ape-like being residing in the forests on the south side of Mt. St. Helens.  Back in the 1920's a group of miners reported moonlit figures throwing stones down the canyon (in actuality it was kids from a nearby YMCA camp).  The legends persisted and eventually this canyon and a nearby cave were named after the alleged apes.

 

Ancient forest

 

But on this day it was wildflowers, not apes, I was after.  Rumor had it the penstemon bloom was in full force along the Loowit Trail.  It was high time for me to check things out.

 

First view of the mountain....but it's hiding

 

Anticipating holiday weekend crowds, I got an early start and snagged a coveted parking spot at the nearby Lava Canyon trailhead.  The place was crawling with mountain bikers.  Along with hiking, mountain biking was also allowed on the Ape Canyon and Loowit Trails.  Although not a huge fan of sharing the trail with two-wheeled traffic, at least the majority of the bike crowd would be creeping uphill in the morning.  And I've found the mountain bikers to be very courteous when sharing the trail with hikers.

 

Lupine and paintbrush


 

The Ape Canyon Trail climbed steadily uphill for 6 miles and 1300 feet in elevation.  The great part about this hike is while most MSH trails cross desolate plains decimated by the 1980 eruption, this canyon was spared from the devastation.  A lovely old-growth forest preserved from the blast began about a mile up the trail, dominated by huge fir and and cedar trees.  Wildflowers bloomed thick in the green carpeted forest floor.  This shady forest is especially welcome on hot sunny days.

 

Almost to the Loowit Trail


However, surprisingly today's weather was unseasonably chilly and cloudy.  Which was much appreciated by me as I slogged uphill.  The only downside - no mountain views.  MSH was shyly hiding her head in the clouds.


Heather blooming along Loowit Trail

 

Perhaps it was the cooler weather, or perhaps the early start, but I made good time ascending Ape Canyon, and before I knew it I had reached the junction with the round-the-mountain Loowit Trail.  Let the wildflower show begin!


 

Heather close-up


 

The first wildflowers I noticed were large patches of pink heather and cream-white partridge foot.  The blooms really brightened up an otherwise gray, barren landscape.

 

Colorful hillside

About a half mile onto the Loowit I began to notice patches of purple on the adjacent hills.  There was the penstemon I was seeking!  It was thick.  Every once and awhile the purple was accompanied by a small spot of orange - Indian paintbrush was also in bloom.

 

Partridge foot

 

The next mile took extra time to cover as I was seeing photo ops everywhere.  The penstemon was in top form, covering huge swaths of the ground.


Penstemon

The blooms turned an otherwise desolate landscape into a lovely purple-dotted plain.


Purple lined trail

Many of the nearby hills also sported their own purple patches.


Purple patches on nearby hill

 

The Loowit Trail eventually intersected with the Abraham Trail.  By this time, it was nearing noon and I was starving.  Finding a large rock nearby I perched on top and dug into my lunch.  It was a great break spot - I could see the Loowit Trail continuing towards Windy Pass, and also the Abraham Trail stretching towards Windy Ridge.  However all I could see of MSH was the base - her summit remained firmly hidden under a thick cloud layer. 


Junction to Loowit and Windy Ridge Trails

 

While I was eating lunch many hiking and biking parties passed by from both directions.  The world had woken up and it had become a busy day on the mountain!

 

Flower garden below trail junction

 

Looking towards the Abraham Trail I could see a large hill covered with orange and purple flowers.  It didn't seem too far away, maybe I could hike just a little bit more?


Colorful butte

 

I started down the Abraham Trail, only to discover after a quarter mile the trail dipped steeply downhill, and climbed back uphill after crossing a small wash.  Did I really want to do more climbing?  I'd already hiked 7 miles, which would make a round-trip distance of 14 miles so far.  Did I really want to add more mileage to my already large daily total?


Mountain bikers

And so, although the temptation was great to just keep going towards the colorful hill, I knew I was pushing my limit.  I already had a long return trip, no need to make it any longer.  So, reluctantly I turned around and headed back towards the Loowit/Abraham junction.

 

More beauty on my return trip

 

Hiking back across the Loowit I encountered large groups of mountain bikers.  I grew tired of stepping off the trail so they could pass.  I also ran into quite a few folks with large backpacks, trying to hike the entire 32-mile Loowit Trail.  I chatted with one man who said he had taken two days to cover the distance and encouraged me to backpack the entire trail someday.  "You can do it!" he exclaimed.  (I appreciated his vote of confidence)


Mt Adams peek-a-boo view

 

Nearing the junction with Ape Canyon trail, I noticed skies to the south clearing and got a good view of Mt Adam's snowy base.  Only it's very top remained in the clouds.  Sadly, MSH didn't get the memo and remained completely socked in.


The "notch" into Ape Canyon

 

I passed by the "notch," a narrow slot in the rocky cliffs that opened up into Ape Canyon.  At least the surrounding forest and hills were now visible - an improvement from the morning when I'd initially passed by.

And then it was down, down, down through the ancient forest.  I had to be very careful listening for mountain bikers barreling downhill as I didn't want to get run over.  Luckily all of the bikers I encountered were also on guard for hikers and they were good about slowing down. 

 

Friendly mouse

 

About halfway down the Ape Canyon Trail I noticed a small gray creature hopping in the middle of the trail.  It was a tiny mouse!  I crept closer to get a photo and the mouse didn't run away.  Quite the opposite, it hopped towards me.  At one point it even crawled onto my hiking boot.  I don't know if it was so young it didn't recognize me as a danger, or if it was blind.  After getting my fill of photographs, I tried to shoo the mouse off the trail into the forest, afraid one of the mountain bikers would run it over. 


One last pic of the spectacular forest

The last two miles seemed endless.  By now the sun was partially shining through the clouds, and temperatures were starting to become uncomfortably warm.  But finally the road, parking area, and my car came into view.  Clocking in at a little over 14 miles, my feet were happy to have the hiking boots finally off.  

But I was intrigued by the wildflower-studded hill I'd seen on the Abraham Trail and just couldn't reach.  Maybe I needed to approach from the opposite direction and start at Windy Ridge?  Not to spoil the surprise, but a couple of weeks later I did just that.  Stay tuned for a future blog post about that hike!


Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Birds of Cape Disappointment

In mid-June I got a new camera!  My first full-frame DLSR!  (For those of you who are not photographers this is a big deal, at least to me).

Of course I couldn't wait to try out my new toy.   It didn't take long for an opportunity to present itself.  The following Friday my neighbor invited me to accompany her on a bird-watching trip to the coast.


White-crowned sparrow
 

My neighbor was hoping to find some pelicans to photograph.  But our first stop, Fort Stevens State Park on the northern Oregon coast, was a huge bust.


Caspian Terns
 

Undeterred, she suggested we cross over the Columbia River into Washington and see what was happening bird-wise at Cape Disappointment.  After photographing waves there on New Year's Day (which after all that's happened, seemed so long ago) I was game.


Terns hanging out on the beach
 

We parked near one of the beaches at Cape Disappointment State Park, loaded up our camera gear and set out to find us some birds.  On our way to the sand, I spotted a cute little White-crowned sparrow who posed so nicely for me I had to take it's picture.


Tern with a fish
 

Once we reached the beach, my neighbor and I walked towards the crashing waves.  Suddenly she spotted a large cluster of birds sitting on the sand.  They were a flock of Caspian Terns which are not a species one sees everyday.


"Hey Bob, those weird ladies with cameras are at it again!"
 

These birds were taking turns flying over the ocean, diving down and catching small fish in their beaks.  My new camera got it's first real workout trying to capture the terns in flight with fish in their mouths.


Sleeping seagulls
 

A little further down the beach we came upon a large flock of unusual seagulls.  Instead of being all white these were partially gray.  My neighbor didn't know what type of gulls these were, but the birds didn't seem to mind two ladies with cameras snapping away.


Seagull telling someone off
 

Most of the seagulls were tucked up trying to sleep.  If one of us got too close, the birds would get up and walk a short distance away before settling down into napping position once again.


No one wants to play with this guy
 

The gulls were so used to people, we were able to get really close and capture some funny shots.  Like the one above.  It looked as if none of the other gulls wanted anything to do with this guy.


Tern in flight
 

After awhile we wandered back to the terns and got a few more photos of the birds in flight.  They were a lot of fun to watch.


Tern and ocean view
 

 And I got more practice trying to capture moving birds.  Not easy!


My favorite in-flight shot
 

I can't tell you how many photos I took just to get one good image.  Good thing I shoot digital and not film.


Osprey with his lunch
 

As we were walking back to the car my neighbor spotted an osprey sitting atop a nearby tree.  The osprey had a fish in his talons, and a crow was trying to steal it from him.  Trying to escape the pesky crow, he flew our way and landed on another tree right in front of us.  As the osprey resumed his lunch, my neighbor and I snapped images like crazy.  Opportunities like this don't happen very often!


Osprey taking his lunch elsewhere
 

Finally, the osprey got tired of the paparazzi and took his lunch elsewhere.  But my neighbor and I now had full memory cards and were ready to head home.  A successful day on the coast and my new camera performed like a dream.  I'm looking forward to many more photo shoots.