Monday, July 29, 2019

Falls Creek Falls

Falls Creek Falls.  That's got to be the most unoriginal name for a waterfall.

Wild dogwoods in bloom!

This spectacular 200-foot high cascade with the dumb name wasn't my original destination.  On this mid-May Friday, I'd planned to hike nearby Dog Mountain hoping to catch the better-than-average wildflower bloom currently blanketing its slopes.  However, ferocious winds greeted my arrival at the trailhead. From prior experience, I knew windy weather at lower levels meant downright miserable conditions at the summit.  So I scrapped the day's Dog Mountain itinerary.

Mighty Falls Creek Falls

Where to go now?  Any trails adjacent to the Columbia River Gorge would also be windy.  Then I remembered a short, but beautiful nearby trail to an enormous waterfall.  Hidden in a canyon and inland from the Gorge, it was sure to be calmer there.  Falls Creek Falls, here I come!

Lower falls

It had been several years since I'd hiked this trail.  A short 3.4-mile round trip journey, I'd been passing it over for longer and more challenging jaunts.  But today I was spring photography mode, and nothing says spring like green forests and gushing waterfalls.

Upper falls

The Falls Creek Falls trail started in a lush forest full of blooming wild dogwood trees.  I loved the large, white flowers and it was a nice surprise to see so many.

A photo with me in it for scale

The path quickly transitioned into an old-growth forest, full of huge, mossy Douglas fir trees.  I marveled at the tree's sizes.

Lovely cedar woods

The day was cloudy and threatened rain.  Wanting to reach this cascade before the clouds let loose, I hurried down the trail, only occasionally stopping for a quick photo or two.

Oregon grape in bloom

The sound of roaring water was my clue that I was close.  Climbing a small rise, the forest parted to reveal the middle and lower portions of this three-tiered waterfall.  What a sight!  Full from spring runoff, it was gushing mightily.

Mossy rocks line the creek

Although Falls Creek Falls has three distinct drops, the top 50-foot tier was hidden from view.  The middle 70-foot fan and lower 80-foot drop were the only parts visible from the viewing area.

Lone dogwood bloom

The viewing area wasn't very large.  Perched on the side of a steep drop-off one had to watch their step.  Trees blocked a clear straight-on view, so I had to jockey my tripod a bit to capture the entire scene.  There was a lower viewpoint, but it involved scrambling down a steep slope, something I wasn't willing to do.

The trail followed a spectacular old growth forest

The day's cloudy, damp weather was perfect for waterfall photography.  Although it sprinkled briefly any serious rainfall held off the entire time I was at the falls.  And, normally a popular spring hiking destination, I had the place to myself!

Moss-covered trees

Hiking back out, I encountered several groups of people, all toting cameras and tripods, marching towards the falls.  The sun began peeping out of the clouds, ruining the nice, even light from overcast skies.  Now I was doubly glad I'd arrived early.

Scenic Falls Creek

I took my time hiking back, enjoying the bright green mossy forest.  Lots of great old trees to photograph, as well as the scenic Falls Creek.

Huge streamside tree

And of course, I couldn't resist capturing some more dogwood blooms.

More dogwood flowers!

I passed by an old stump with a thick mat of moss on top - like it was growing hair.  A well-placed hole on the side looked like a mouth.  It almost appeared human!

This stump looks human!

So despite being a second-choice trail, I enjoyed my hike through this truly lovely forest.  But the Forest Service really needs to come up with a better name for such an impressive waterfall.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Weekend Hiking Two-Fer

It was nearly mid-May and I was getting a little panicked.  Due to weekend commitments and general life getting in the way, I was creeping behind on my #52hikechallenge.  Luckily, Mother's Day weekend I had absolutely nothing planned.  Time to get outside and hike!

The lovely Salmon River

Saturday of that weekend, hot temps were predicted.  That meant choosing a cool, shady place to hike - bonus points if it followed a river.  The Salmon River Trail, near Mt Hood, checked all the boxes.

Huge old growth trees

William L. Sullivan's "100 Hikes" book (aka "bible") breaks the route along the Salmon River into two separate hikes.  The Lower Salmon River is a 2.5 mile ramble that mostly hugs the river banks, passing some magnificent stands of old growth forest.  The Central segment continues along the mighty Salmon River before veering up a bluff.  One can hike anywhere from 3.5 to 6 miles or even farther up the canyon.  For today's trek, I decided to start with the Lower trail and continue about two miles up the Central trail, for a respectable 9-mile round trip total.

Fairy Bells

In order to beat the heat (and get a parking spot) I got an early start.  The other advantage of my wee morning hour arrival, hardly anyone was on the trail. 

Lots of trees growing from this nurse log

I wandered along the river, admiring the huge, mossy old growth trees.  Several decaying downed logs on the forest floor had new life sprouting forth from their crumbling wood.  Called "nurse logs" it was fascinating to see the various plant life growing out of them.  Even a high number of very large trees!

A straggler avalanche lily

I'd heard the wildflowers were in top bloom along the Salmon River and discovered the rumors were indeed true.  Trilliums were just fading, but pink-purple Corydalis was going strong.  I also noticed lots of yellow violets, chocolate lilies, a few straggler avalanche lilies.

Loved this mossy forest!

After a wonderful walk through the Lower Salmon trail's magnificent old growth forest, I passed through a car campground and crossed the road to find the Central Salmon River trailhead.

Selfie on the bridge

If I thought the Lower Salmon's forests were impressive, the Central Salmon River trail's woods were even grander.  Green moss covered everything, dangling off branches like old, gnarled hands.  The fir trees were huge - some trunks pushing 8 feet in diameter.

Striped unknown flower

Although this trail climbed high above the water, river views were never far away.  A popular place for backpacking, I passed by several nice campsites.  Surprisingly, there was only one site occupied - strange for a dry Saturday morning in May.

Corydalis was everywhere!

I traveled a little over two miles in.  My turnaround was at sturdy log bridge that spanned a side creek.  After capturing a few selfies by balancing my camera on a nearby log (much to the amusement of a passing group of young people) I grabbed a quick snack and headed back.

One more nurse log (because they're cool!)

Now early afternoon, I began to encounter large numbers of people heading up the trail.  It seemed the rest of Portland had decided a shady hike was a good idea too.  No more solitude for me!


Although there's not a large amount of elevation gain on either trail, by the time I hit the Lower Salmon Trail again, my feet and legs were beginning to tire.  But colorful wildflowers buoyed my spirits, as did the sighting of a merganser couple floating in the river's crystal-clear waters.

Yellow violets

The following day was Mother's Day.  In the past I'd commemorated the occasion by dragging my kids and husband on a hike.  But with both kids now living out-of-town that wasn't going to happen.  If asked, my hubby would've hiked with me, but the salmon were biting and I knew he was itching to be out fishing.  So I decided this year's Mother's Day hike would be a solo endeavor.

Love this sign alteration!

After driving nearly to Mt Hood and back the previous day, I wanted someplace closer to home.  Hardy Ridge, my old standby, rose to the top of the list.  A short distance from Portland on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, I knew I could be up and down it's 8-mile loop and back home in plenty of time for a Mother's Day steak dinner.

Lots of bleeding hearts on Hardy Ridge

Wildflowers were putting on a show here too.  Rose-colored bleeding hearts bloomed profusely in the woods leading up to the ridge.  Fringecup, serviceberry, fairy bells, and Oregon grape added to the colorful underbrush.

Fantastic Gorge views from atop the ridge

On top of Hardy Ridge, I marveled at the stupendous Gorge panoramas from the many overlooks.  I lucked out with clear skies to fully enjoy the views.

Phlox was blooming in full force!

The final ridge is named "Phlox Point."  On today's hike, I finally got to see how this ridge got it's name.  The entire crest was covered with tiny, purple Phlox flowers.  Oh, it was so lovely!

Mt Hood and Columbia River from the ridge

After not seeing a soul my entire climb up Hardy Ridge, I was just settling down with my lunch, when a large group came tromping across the point.  So much for peace and quiet.....

There's a reason they call this "Phlox Point"

However, the people were friendly, and asked if I'd take a their group photo.  After snapping a few images, one lady offered to take my picture.  Although I was planning to set up my small tripod and get a selfie, I took the woman up on her offer.  Turned out, I didn't like any of her shots (of course I didn't say anything).  Luckily after their photo session, the group moved down over the ridge and left me to my solitude.  It was then I set up my tripod and used my camera's timer to snap a few frames.  Much better!  I was really happy how the photo below turned out.

Enjoying the view

Mother's Day dinner (and a beer) were calling, so I packed up my stuff and headed back down to the parking lot.  Making it a loop hike, I took a different trail on the way down, and the flowers weren't nearly as prolific.  Maybe it was a good thing - less distractions for my camera! I got down in record time.  I was able to capture a nice patch of bright yellow Oregon grape flowers, which by the way, are Oregon's state flower (although I happened to be in Washington).

Oregon grape (in Washington!)

A productive weekend - Hikes No. 16 and 17 DONE!  Yeah!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Springtime at Tom McCall Point

After spending a long weekend on the Oregon Coast, I was itching to get back to the Columbia River Gorge for another spring wildflower fix.  Rumor had it the balsamroot was peaking at Tom McCall Point, so the following Friday I made an early morning visit.

Lupine at sunrise

Although arriving in plenty of time for sunrise, cloudless skies made for a less-than-impressive dawn.  I wasn't satisfied with any of my images (of course, that might have been due to the photographer.....)  The only shot that I felt really turned out well was this backlit cluster of lupine.

Lovely morning light on the Columbia River

Once the sun crested over the hills, I wandered around the Rowena Plateau, enjoying fantastic early morning light on the wildflowers and Columbia River.

Rowena Plateau

I ran into a professional photographer from the East Coast, out scouting locations for future photo workshops.  He had lots of questions about photogenic spots in Oregon.  The guy asked about some of the well-known and photographed spots on the coast and I was able to tell him "I was just there last weekend!"

Riot of color on Tom McCall Trail

After the photographer and I parted ways, I decided to hike up Tom McCall Point.  Rumor had it the wildflowers were at peak on top.  The hike started out well - not far from the trailhead I ran into this technicolor meadow.

Breathtaking Mt Hood view on top

The 1.7-mile climb to the top was a pure delight.  Wildflowers bloomed profusely on the grassy slopes.  I even spotted a few deer happily grazing in the meadows.  With so many photography subjects, let's just say I wasn't a speedy hiker.

Mt Adams peeping over the hills

Visitors making the 1100 foot climb to the very top are rewarded with stellar views.  Mt Hood rises from the southern skyline, while Mt Adams peeps over the Washington side of the Columbia River. 
And down low before you, the Columbia River and it's steep banks spread out east and west, as far as the eye can see.

Columbia River view looking west

This wonderful preserve is owned by the Nature Conservancy, who maintains the trails, studies the rare plants, and keeps this area as pristine as possible.  The name of Tom McCall honors a past Oregon governor, who was committed to conserving Oregon's natural treasures. 

Another grand view from Tom McCall Point

Once on the summit, of course I got busy with my camera trying my best to capture all this floral beauty.

Balsamroot sunshine

The morning was still early, so I shared the summit with just a couple other people.  I chatted briefly with one lady who'd trekked up solo.  After snapping a few images, I turned around and she was abruptly gone.  A few minutes later, I located her lying in the middle of the flower fields, apparently taking a nap.  Going off trail is a big no-no here, as people can trample the plants (not to mention ticks live in the grassy areas). 

Lovely lupine

That's the problem with the onslaught of social media.  Although I love to share my photos of these special places, it does bring more people to visit.  And not everyone is aware of the damage that occurs when you start walking through delicate flower fields.  My message to those reading my blog is this - if you visit, please stay on marked trails and be respectful of nature.  Don't pick flowers, leave litter, or stand in the middle of flower fields for your Instagram shot.

Amazing spring wildflower bloom

Before departing from the summit, I switched to my 60 mm macro lens, hoping to get some close-up flower images on my way down.  Imagine my surprise when a deer bounded across the trail, not 10 feet in front of me.  Only having my macro lens, I did the best that I could trying to capture it.  (Story of my life - I never have the proper lens on my camera at the right time!)

Caught this deer running by

Despite the bungled photo op, I still had a lovely hike down, capturing all the flowers I missed on the way up (or thought I missed!)


These purple penstemon were especially fetching.

Chocolate Lily

And I even found a few stems of chocolate lilies.  One of my favorites!

More amazing lupine

Lower down, the lupine was a lovely deep shade of purple.

Caught one butterfly

I was even able to capture a blue butterfly as it paused atop a flower.

Mother Nature's bouquet

But by far my favorite spring flower is the balsamroot.  It's bright sunny yellow petals make me smile.

Happy flower

As I descended back to the parking lot, I met group after group of people, all climbing to the flower fields.  The advantage of going early, I had the trail and summit nearly all to myself.  I arrived back to an overflowing parking area.  Time to get the heck outta Dodge!

Best way to spend a spring morning!

No better way to spend a sunny spring morning than chasing wildflowers in the Columbia River Gorge.