|The trail is an old road|
It had been many years since I'd visited the Opal Creek Wilderness, and one Friday in late July I decided to pay a long-overdue visit. Debbie, one of my long time hiking buddies, had recently retired and was able to join me. I love having retired friends!
|Abandoned lumber mill equipment in the woods|
Sunny, hot weather was predicted that day - not much different from the weather we'd endured all summer long. Hiking along a scenic creek seemed a perfect way to beat the heat.
|Lovely aquamarine waters|
Our trail began on an old road, now closed to auto traffic. The road paralleled the super-scenic Little North Santiam River, crossing a side creek on a high bridge, and hugging several steep cliffs. The forest here was filled with huge old fir and cedar trees. Their thick branches shielded the sun's glare providing welcome shade.
|Despite the heat, ferns are still growing|
Gold was discovered here in the mid 1800s and a mining camp established in 1931 was named "Jawbone Flats." An old lumber mill operated during the Depression, but quickly shut down after two of the lumber trucks fell off the narrow canyon road.
|One of many large trees|
Debbie and had traveled about two miles on the road when we came upon some of the old lumber milling equipment abandoned in the forest, slowly rusting away. The most impressive find was a huge metal tank resting atop a brick foundation. Moss crusted it's top and huge ferns grew from between cracks in the mortar. Other smaller metal parts were scattered across the forest floor and a nearby rickety wooden building looked ready to collapse at any minute.
|Enjoying the cool water|
Debbie and I continued a short distance further until we came upon a bridge spanning the creek. Here we got our first good look at the Little North Santiam's aqua-blue waters. A family with several kids and a dog were splashing around in a picturesque swimming hole below.
|Mother Nature's waterslide|
It was at this bridge where Debbie and I left the road and dived into the woods. A popular hike was to follow a forested trail to Opal Pool, and then return on the road, forming a nice loop. That's what we planned to do today.
|Peaceful lunch spot|
The trail, although rooty and rough, was extremely scenic. The forest was gorgeous, and we were never very far from the river's banks. Debbie and I popped out creekside in a couple of places to enjoy the water's view. In several locations, we came upon groups of young people sunning on the nearby rocks or playing in the cool waters, one group using a well-worn rock chute for a slide.
High noon had come and gone, so Debbie and I discussed postponing lunch until we reached Opal Pool. However, my tummy had different plans, and we ended up stopping early. Taking advantage of a lovely creekside campsite, we enjoyed a peaceful lunch break and had the place to ourselves the entire time.
|Loved the "hippy" signs|
We found out later it had been smart to have lunch where we did. We discovered Opal Pool is a very popular place - it was swarming with people. There would've been no quiet lunch break if we'd stopped here.
|Opal Pool water level was very low|
Opal Pool was a large teal-blue pool that formed at the confluence of Opal Creek and the Little North Santiam River. Over the years, rushing waters had worn the adjacent rocks down to form smooth bowls and channels. The hot summer weather had dropped water levels drastically, and at first it was hard to determine the exact location of Opal Pool.
|Tall bridge over the creek|
Wanting to capture some images, I clambered down the steep river bank, and crossed a craggy rock slope to get up close and personal with the water.
I caught this miniature waterfall cascading through a notch in the rock.
|Lovely, clear teal Opal Pool|
And located a much-reduced Opal Pool. It's waters were lovely indeed, a stunning shade of teal blue. Although smaller in size, it was still gorgeous.
The sunny skies didn't help with photography however. Part of the water was in sun, while others in shade. I tried my best to zero in on more intimate details, but I ended up with lots of "throw away" images. Note to self - must return on a cloudy day!
|Debbie watches from above|
Debbie stayed above on the trail, watching her crazy friend clamber over all the slippery rocks (she's probably the smart one!)
After Opal Pool, our trail climbed away from the creek until intersecting with the road again near the old mining town of Jawbone Flats.
|A small settlement in the wilderness|
From it's origins as a mining camp, Jawbone Flats has been preserved and now houses the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center. This area is now managed by Friends of Opal Creek, an organization that was formed in 1989 to gain protection of the Opal Creek watershed to study and enjoy.
|One of Jawbone Flats' cabins|
This area's plight was highlighted in the 1980s when Forest Service logging proposals generated intense controversy. Thousands of people trekked into this area to view the endangered old growth groves. A remnant of the great forests that once blanketed the Pacific Northwest, this was the largest contiguous area of low-elevation old growth left in Oregon.
|Old abandoned car|
Thanks to the work of the Friends of Opal Creek, this area won wilderness status in 1996, and is now protected.
|Ancient fire engine|
A walk through Jawbone Flats is like taking a step back in time. Several old vehicles from the mining camp have been left in the forest, slowly rusting away, ferns and moss filling their bodies. There's also a good collection of other mining equipment, including a few old ore cars, still connected together and sitting on a track. Fascinating bits of history and also great photo subjects!
|Jawbone Flats hydroelectric plant|
A small staff lives here year-round, operating a tiny store and providing educational materials. Besides a few private residences, the buildings include a dining hall, a lodge, and a couple of cabins that are rented out to visiting groups.
|More quaint buildings|
Debbie and I also passed a building that housed a small hydroelectric plant. Water is piped down from higher elevations, and run through a turbine to generate electricity for the residences. A very self-sustaining place!
|Loved the unique touches|
It was fun to walk through this unique, rustic old mining camp. So nice to see these historic buildings preserved. We stopped by the store, and Debbie struck up a conversation with the two young people manning the place, while I prowled around with my camera.
|Lovely, clear waters of Opal Creek|
Our trek out was entirely on the road - three long, hot miles. The afternoon had heated up considerably, and not even thick vegetation could shield it all (but it was much better than nothing). All the way out, we noticed a steady stream of people walking the opposite direction. Many were wearing swimsuits, looking for a cool dip to escape the toasty temps. Others were outfitted with large backpacks, intending to spend a weekend camping in the woods. I was surprised by the large number of people heading into this wilderness area. Arriving back at the trailhead, the large parking lot was nearly full. I had no idea this place was so popular!
|Following the road out|
Still, I can understand why people flock to this beautiful area. It's indeed a special place. I'm glad this unique forest has been preserved for generations to come. I just hope it doesn't get loved to death.
A lovely place to be on a hot summer's day!
Stats: 7 miles, 300 feet elevation gain.
Sharing with: Through My Lens and Our World Tuesday.