Monday, September 14, 2015

Opal Creek

Tucked into the woods east of Salem, Oregon lies a magical place.  Ancient trees rise high to the sky, towering over clear, teal-blue waters.  Long strings of moss drape from branches,while huge ferns carpet the forest floor.  Exploration may yield hidden swimming holes, or remnants of a mining camp from bygone days.  After hosting many uses over the years, this area is now preserved as a wilderness area. 

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.

Gorgeous forest

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.

Rushing 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!)

Unique sign

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.


  1. This looks a great place to wander.
    The equipment is a steam boiler....It looks a bit like a Lancashire boiler but a bit more primitive. I'd enjoy a better look at it.

  2. Great shots of a great landscape. The "Opal Pool " is so impressiv, a stunning atmosphere !
    I visiting you from " Our World Tuesday "
    Greetings from Germany

  3. HI Linda What agreat hike through the most wonderful wilderness. Loved the tall trees, the clera water, your photograph of the small waterfall, the old buildings and the fantastic rusty old cars.

  4. It looks like a great place for hiking. I am pleased that its wilderness status attracts so many people but on the other hand I like to walk without meeting others. Pretty selfish really.

  5. Gorgeous shots and such a lovely pool!

  6. Fabulous the old vehicles!

  7. Hello Linda, you seem to find all the great places for hiking. I love the pretty clear Opal creek and the giant trees. The cabins and buildings are pretty and old trucks/vehicles are cool images. Great post and photos, thanks for taking me along. Have a happy new week ahead!

  8. Great shots - I love the bright colours. I have some shots of a very similar boiler from here - it was used to make steam in a quarry.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  9. Beautiful indeed, Linda. I love that gorgeous color of the clear water in Opal Creek. Thanks for all the great pictures and sharing them with me. :-)

  10. wow, what a great place full of history! it's beautiful and i love the abandoned vehicles!

  11. Another beautiful place to hike and take photos! Wonderful!

  12. What a fantastic day! Such variety and beauty. Sounds like a good place to hike on a cooler day too, and perhaps fewer people. A hot weekend day would be super busy. I can just picture it in spring or early summer, and green and drippy!

  13. What a beautiful place, Linda! Beautiful photos, looks like a great place to enjoy and take pictures!

  14. Oh my can number 12 be put into my back yard to take where ever I go and stay that breath taking view...wink! Oh wait maybe number 14 too..
    Great photos - I really would like to know who on photo 13 how you got the water so soft looking -- I've yet to be able to do that..
    Hey I was wondering where in your travels in OR, where one who is new to the state -- can find breath taking fall colors?


  15. You know, you never cease to amaze us (your readers) with the places and the pictures you are sharing. Whenever I read your post I get this sudden feeling of excitement that I also would like to go to those places. If only they were near.

    I love those crystal clear water. I I saw that in person, I wont be able to resist it. I'd simply jump and swim there :) Love the real slide by the way.

  16. It looks so beautiful there. Gorgeous serie!
    Visiting from Through my lens, Hilde

  17. Old mining areas are so interesting. Those ancient trees are a treasure. I wonder if Opal Pool is teal because of calcium citrate in the water? Great that you have a new retired hiking buddy!

  18. Great period history and nice rock pools.Becoming over popular is a growing theme world wide as even the remotest places are on the web now and found in a page click whereas before it was word of mouth only and a select few that knew the quieter places. I'm as guilty as anyone though I do keep certain spots a secret just for myself.

  19. Good to hear that such a scenic and historic area is being preserved for future generations to enjoy and study. I love the old vehicles just rusting away.

  20. What a beautiful place this is, Linda... thanks for sharing your hike with us. It's great that this area has been saved as wilderness, for everyone to enjoy and experience.

  21. I'm impressed that you take the time to learn the history of the cool places you visit. As usual, superb photos, I especially love the first one.

  22. I enjoyed this post SO much Linda! Definitely my idea of paradise with the historical site, the lovely water, the totally awesome forest, etc., etc. -- love it!
    Blessings, Aimee

  23. Another beautiful place with my favorite combination of and water. Here in my part of Wisconsin we don't see that combination much. The color of water fascinates me. Thanks for taking us along. I miss hiking...

  24. What an amazingly beautiful place. Sounds like a perfect place to explore


  25. Awesome post. - Loved the color of the water, such a pretty shade of aquamarine. - Wow that old mining equipment was cool as were the abandoned vehicles. I just loved all your photos.

  26. I love to find places that time has forgotten--what great photos along the way, too,

  27. Fabulous hike - I like hikes where you find cool stuff like that. Loved the rusting cars and equipment. I'd like to take a ride down that water chute. Is the water really cold?

  28. What a beautiful place! You have so many wonderful day trips:)

  29. Wow Linda, this really is a gorgeous place! I love ferns and moss and it looks like it's here in abundance. I love the old vehicles and buildings also. So sad about the two trucks falling off the road. Opal pond really looks gorgeous. Guess that's why it's such a popular place.

  30. Wow.... what a journey. Just like you said ... "is like taking a step back in time"
    Love that lunch spot.

  31. Such pretty colors. I like the touch of having what look like prayer flags in the window.

  32. What an amazing hike - I always love the dense forests you have in your part of the world. Sunny days are the ones to look for great shadows!

  33. Just wonderful! I love the colour of the clear water.


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