Monday, January 28, 2019

From the Ashes

The Eagle Creek Fire in September 2017 forever changed the face of Oregon's famous Columbia River Gorge.  Many of my favorite hiking trails were in the inferno's path, and had been closed ever since.

However, thanks to many hours of restoration work from volunteers, several of the trails between Bridal Veil and Multnomah Falls were quietly reopened Thanksgiving weekend.

The Historic Highway is open!

What a wonderful surprise!  Included in this list was the Multnomah-Wahkeena loop, my favorite fall hike of them all.  I'd sorely missed visiting this scenic path last year.  So of course the following weekend I headed to the Gorge to check things out.

Not only the trails, the Columbia River Scenic Highway was also reopened east of Bridal Veil.  Driving my car down this winding road to Wahkeena Falls Trailhead, I was happy to glimpse familiar scenery, and dismayed to see the destruction in other places.

Hazards of a burn area

Although I've hiked the Multnomah-Wahkeena loop many times in both directions, today I chose to start my trek at Wahkeena Falls and head counterclockwise to Multnomah Falls.  From the parking area, I was dismayed to see the large amount of damaged trees and blackened rocks adjacent to Wahkeena Creek.  A trailhead sign ominously warned hikers of the dangers associated with walking through a burned area.

Wahkeena Falls

Following the paved path, I climbed uphill to a spectacular view of Wahkeena Falls.  Evidence of the fire was everywhere - from blackened rock walls to a large burned tree trunk that landed in the splash pool.  I was surprised to see so much fire damage occurred close to the waterfall!

All the moss burned off the rock walls

The lovely arched rock walls on either side of the bridge spanning Wahkeena Creek had been charred by the fire, their beautiful orange moss cover totally burned away.

Black rock

From Wahkeena Falls, the paved path wound steeply up the face of a steep slope, switchbacking through a mossy forest.  Well, it used to be a mossy forest......

The fire opened up Gorge views

Most of the underbrush had burned away.  Blackened, downed trees were everywhere.  With the ground cover gone, last winter's rains had washed unchecked down the steep Gorge walls.  I saw evidence of many landslides.  Some of the beautiful rock walls that used to line the trail were damaged.

Lemmon Point surrounded by burned trees

The only bright spot was the fire had opened up a few more viewpoints.  I stopped at Lemmon Point and enjoyed a glimpse of the foggy Columbia River and Washington side of the Gorge.

Lots of downed trees in this area

Then I continued my climb upward.  Although there were still plenty of downed, blackened trees, I was surprised by the amount of green plant life that had already grown back.  Some of the leaves displayed lovely fall hues of yellow and gold.  It was actually very pretty - and unexpected.

Fairy Falls looks as good as ever!

I made an extended photo stop at Fairy Falls, one of my favorite Gorge cascades.  Untouched by the fire, it looked as good as ever.  I was so happy to revisit this familiar friend once again.

Spooky, foggy woods

Above Fairy Falls, I trekked through a foggy, ghostly forest.  The burned trees, with blackened bases, looked downright spooky.

Poor tree didn't stand a chance

Needless to say, I didn't linger!

Bright yellow leaves brightened up the burn area

I wasn't sure of the plant name, but large, bright yellow leaves covered the forest floor in many areas. This bright pop of color brought beauty to an otherwise barren woods

I was delighted to see the "sign eating tree" had survived

Reaching a junction with the Wahkeena Trail, I was delighted to discover the famous "sign eating tree" had survived the fire.

Lots of black trees at the Devils Rest junction

The Wahkeena trail flattened out and contoured across a bench, passing the Devils Rest junction on it's way to Multnomah Basin.

The damage was worse the closer I got to Multnomah Basin

The closer I got to Multnomah Basin, the more severe the fire damage.  Here the fir trees were entirely black, not just the bases.  The tall, bushy deciduous trees full of colorful leaves were all gone.

No more mossy trees...

The fairy-tale mossy forest above Multnomah Basin had been one of my favorite parts of this hike.  Starting the climb down to Multnomah Creek I was saddened to see all the trees in this area had been burned to a crisp.

Multnomah Creek surrounded by blackened trunks

Stands of charred trees lined Multnomah Creek, with several more fallen across it's waters.

Some particularly bad fire damage

I couldn't help but recall what a magical, beautiful forest it had been pre-fire.  Now reduced to gray and black, this was the saddest portion of my hike.

Downed trees across the trail

Good thing for the colorful yellow foliage, or it would have been totally depressing.

Weisendanger Falls

I was happy to see Weisendanger Falls was still flowing strong.  However, all the lush undergrowth had been totally burned away.  This area below the falls looked mighty bleak.

Fire damage above the falls

A few mossy trees still existed below the falls, somehow spared from the fire's destruction.

More opened-up views on the trail to Multnomah Falls

Coming upon the top of Multnomah Falls, I was interested to see how the paved, switchbacking path down to the lodge had fared.  Judging by the amount of downed trees and cleared stumps, it looked like the area had been hit hard.  But on a positive note, the fire had opened up new views of the Gorge.

Nothing left of this sign

The forest adjacent to this path had been logged extensively.  A large number of blackened stumps and logs sat beside the trail, waiting to be cleared away.  I noticed a brown Forest Service sign, burned down the middle, still clinging to it's post.  Seeing the extensive damage made me realize how close the fire got to the falls and lodge.  Hats off to the firefighters for saving this Oregon treasure!

Lots of trees cut down here

Multnomah Falls was as busy as ever, so I waded past the crowds and didn't stop for photos until I reached the very bottom.  Of course, you can't pass by this iconic cascade without getting a couple of images!  Then a quick half mile on the Gorge Trail brought me back to my car, closing this favorite 5.5 mile loop.

Multnomah Falls

Despite the sobering damage, I was overjoyed to finally be back on my favorite Gorge fall trail.  A huge thank you to all the volunteers who labored to get this, and all the other Gorge trails back open!

If you'd like to see some "before the fire" photos of the Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop, here are links to a couple of my most recent past blog posts:

Gorge November Ramble - from 2015

Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop - from 2016

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Morning at Fernhill

Time for another photography outing with my neighbor Cheri!  After tagging along with her for a couple of trips, and learning about photographing birds, I got the bug.   After convincing my hubby (aka "Santa") to let me purchase a huge zoom lens for Christmas and acquiring a beefed-up tripod head, I was ready for more avian action.

Great Blue Heron on a post

I had the Friday before Christmas off, and suggested to Cheri that we go out and try to find some birds to shoot (with our cameras of course).

A heron standing guard

Having just received my new lens in the mail, I was itching to give it a test drive.  Cheri suggested checking out a "new to me" wildlife viewing area, the Fernhill Wetlands just outside of Forest Grove.

Cheri looking for eagles

Located near the confluence to two rivers, this low-lying plain was the perfect habitat for migratory birds (and a few locals ones too).  The town of Forest Grove constructed several wetlands for storm water treatment and also added walking trails, parking lots, picnic areas, and a restroom.

We spotted one egret

Cheri and I arrived early on a chilly, foggy, December morning.  At first, we were afraid the fog would hinder our efforts to capture bird images.  But the landscape photographer in me loved the dreamy scenes it created.

Foggy hills

We needn't have worried about seeing birds.  Right off the bat, Cheri spotted a Great Blue Heron perched on top of an old dead tree.  He (or she?) seemed to be standing watch over the adjacent pond.

Artsy fog photo

Cheri, having visited Fernhill multiple times, took off on a path the circled one of the ponds.  She was on a mission - searching for the Bald Eagles that often nested here.

Northern shoveler

Dragging my tripod and heavy lens, I trooped after her.  We saw lots of ducks floating in the ponds and several flocks of Canadian Geese.  But no eagles.  Then Cheri spotted an egret perched on one leg at the edge of a wetland.  We shot a few images of the egret - and then when we weren't looking, it flew away.

Lots of Canadian geese

But Cheri did spot a couple of eagles far, far away on the opposite end of the wetland.  Although we could see them through our big lenses, they still weren't close enough for a good photo.

Close encounter with a heron

As we headed back towards the parking area, Cheri spotted another heron very close to the pathway.  Slowly, she crept closer to the bird.  The heron, of course, wanted nothing to do with the paparazzi and started to walk away.

Walking away from our cameras

A large puddle of water flooded this path.  Being a smart bird, the heron walked to the other side of the puddle (knowing we couldn't follow) and then relaxed next to some bushes.  But Mr Heron was still close enough that we could get some great shots with our big zoom lenses.  And we did.

Geese in flight

This photo below was my favorite of the heron.

Hooray for zoom lenses!

There were many flocks of Canadian Geese hanging out at the wetlands.  I tried my hand at capturing them in flight, but only got one shot that was decent.

More geese hanging out

It had been a great morning, and Cheri and I were ready to head back to her car, when we spotted a bush full of bright yellow birds.

While walking back, we spotted this bush full of birds

So colorful!  We couldn't pass up a chance to grab some images of these beautiful feathered friends.

Cute yellow birdie

My new lens performed well.  I managed to get a couple good images of birds and learned a bit more about the art of capturing moving subjects.  And got more much-needed practice. 

Another fun morning with my photographer buddy!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Green Lakes Trail

After spending a splendid (albeit soggy) Friday exploring the amazing fall colors around Clear Lake and the McKenzie River (if you missed it, see that post here), I met up with my brother in Bend.  I had big plans to go on a hike the following day.  However, we woke up that morning to more rain.

Fall Creek lined in gold

The forecast didn't look very promising, calling for a cloudy, drizzly day.  We lingered around my brother's house until way past mid-morning, hoping things would clear.  Finally, getting a bit stir crazy, I suggested we pack our raingear and just go for it.  So we'd get a little bit big deal.

One of the lovely waterfalls on Fall Creek

I'd always wanted to hike the Green Lakes trail all the way to the Green Lakes.  Having only traversed a little over halfway to the famed lakes, this goal was high on my list.  My brother also was interested in exploring more of this trail, so he didn't take much convincing.

More autumn finery

We drove the Cascade Lakes highway to our trailhead in a pouring rainstorm.  A dry hike wasn't looking too promising.  But passing by Mt Bachelor a funny thing happened.  The sky began to clear.  By the time we reached the Green Lakes Trailhead, not only had the rain completely stopped, a tiny bit of blue sky was visible through the clouds.

Walking beside an old lava flow

Completely unexpected, but certainly appreciated, my brother and I hastily grabbed backpacks and started out on the trail before the weather changed it's mind.

Stormy weather to the south

The first part of the Green Lakes Trail (that I'd hiked twice before) follows Fall Creek.  Although gorgeous year-round, autumn colors put on a spectacular show, with golden bushes lining the creek's banks.  A few small waterfalls also added to the beauty.

Ultra-blue water

Two miles in we passed a junction with the Moraine Lake Trail.  After this, the forest thinned out a tiny bit and views opened up.  We got our first glimpse of South Sister through a clearing, and then began a short climb.

This path along the creek was the most beautiful of all

Emerging from the forest into another clearing, my brother and I came upon the most scenic portion of the hike.  Fall Creek wound through a wide plain lined with golden grasses and yellow bushes.  A huge lava flow rose up on one side of the creek, glittering with black obsidian.  Sunshine streamed down from the sky, illuminating everything in perfect light.

More golden bushes

As I looked back toward the direction we'd come, I noticed dark clouds hovering above the adjacent hills.  It looked as though rain might come at any minute.  But where we were standing it was nothing but sunshine!

South Sister

Normally an insanely popular trail, we'd seen maybe a dozen people thus far.  And most of those were heading back to the parking area.  It appeared that the inclement weather (or threat of) had scared most folks away.

Admiring South Sister from Green Lake

Climbing up to another wide-open plain, we were hit by strong wind gusts.  South Sister rose grandly from one direction, while Broken Top Mountain's craggy tip could be seen from the other.  Before us was the blue-gray waters of the largest Green Lake.  We'd made it! 

Beautiful place for a break

There are three Green Lakes in the area, all popular backpacking destinations.  But today we didn't see any tents, or for that matter, any people.  My brother and I followed a side trail to the shoreline of the largest Green Lake and ducked behind a stand of trees to escape the wind.  We had a killer view of South Sister - perfect place for a snack break.

Broken Top Mountain

After inhaling a couple of Cliff bars and some really good trail mix from my brother's backpack, I decided we'd better head back before our good weather window ran out.  So retracing our steps, we trekked back past the amazing lava flow and beautiful creek (with more photo ops).

The water sparkled in the sun

Although I was worried about rain returning, the skies remained sunny and dry the entire trip back.  As a matter of fact, sunshine and blue skies greeted us at the trailhead, illuminating the colorful autumn hues. 

Fall colors back at the trailhead

And Broken Top Mountain looked especially stunning with a dusting of snow.

Broken Top with a dusting of snow

My weekend ended with a trip to my daughter's home and another visit with her cute puppy, who was growing by leaps and bounds.

Cute grand-puppy pic!

Although the day started out wet, a surprise change in the weather made for a memorable trip along the Green Lakes Trail.  Gotta love Central Oregon!

Stats:  9 miles round-trip, 1150 feet elevation gain.