Sunday, April 26, 2020

River Scenes

Stuck at home with nowhere to hike, I was getting desperate.  So desperate in fact that just to have an outing, I agreed to go fishing with my hubby.

Moon and Bridge pier

It's not that I hate fishing.  It's just that fishing involves sitting in a boat for hours on end and I like activities with more movement.  My hubby loves this sort of thing but I, well, I find it kind of boring.

But - these are unusual times - and sometimes that means keeping an open mind and trying new things.  So in the very wee hours one early April Saturday I found myself at a boat ramp just north of downtown Portland helping my hubby launch his boat (well, technically he was doing 99% of the work......and I was just holding the ropes).

St Johns Bridge before sunrise (cell phone shot)

We launched at one of the few City parks still open underneath Portland's iconic St Johns Bridge.  The moon shone brightly in the pre-dawn sky, lighting up a bright halo around the clouds and illuminating the bridge.  Hoping for some wildlife shots, I'd only brought my long lens and had to rely on my phone's wide angle camera to capture the full scene.

Sunrise river reflections

After loading everything we'd need into hubby's boat, and parking the truck and trailer, we slid out into the Willamette River.  (And for those of you not from around here it's pronounced "will-AM-it" as in, Willamette, dammit!).

The riverbank here is far from pristine.  Lined with industrial docks, warehouses, huge cranes, rotting pilings, tank farms, and huge ocean-going vessels, this portion of the Willamette has been tainted by commerce for well over a century.  Still it was cool to cruise by gigantic docks with the corresponding large ships as we motored to hubby's favorite fishing spot.

Bright morning clouds

In this era of social distancing, fishing was one activity still allowed by the state of Oregon.  With everyone in boats, it's easy to maintain that 6 foot distance, I guess.  But neighboring Washington state apparently didn't agree, and closed their fishing season due to the virus.  Of course this caused a great migration across state lines.  My hubby said last weekend over half the boats on this river were from out of state, mostly Washington.  Since that didn't jive with the "stay close to home" spirit of social distancing our governor then declared only in-state residents would be allowed to fish from the following weekend on.  


Despite the lack of out of staters, there were still quite a few boats floating in the river as we approached the designated fishing spot.  Hubby rigged his pole and began the slow troll up and down the river, hoping to lure a fat, spring salmon.  I readied my camera to capture sunrise from a shore lined with utility poles, buildings, and huge metal towers.  A bit different from the mountain scenes I was used to capturing.

Sauvie Island Bridge

Sunrise was a lovely golden orange, providing a warm glow to the surrounding riverbank areas and fisherman's boats.  I glanced over at nearby Sauvie Island (a huge island where the Columbia and Willamette Rivers meet) and captured a nice shot of the Sauvie Island bridge basking in soft morning light.

Looking back towards the bridge

After that, my hubby kept trolling up and down the river, in a set pattern.  The number of boats increased and I entertained myself checking out the other fisherman (and some women) in boats of many different shapes and sizes.  There were huge cabin cruisers and tiny metal dinghy's with putt-putt motors.  Some boats had just one occupant, while others were crammed with people (no social distancing happening there - hopefully they were all from the same family).  A couple of the fancier boats belonged to professional fishing guides.  Painted with bright colors and decorative logos, I was surprised to see these boats full of fisherman (and they were less than 6 feet apart).

Osprey perching on a piling

Besides sunrise, the highlight of my day was cruising by an osprey nest.  Perched on top of some rotting pilings, an osprey couple had built a huge nest of sticks.  Each time we passed by, I'd ready my camera and big lens, hoping to catch one of the birds in action.  The advantage of being on the water - we could get really close to these magnificent raptors.  With the moving boat, however I soon discovered it was extremely difficult to hold my lens steady enough to get a clear image.  But our trolling route took us past the nest several times, so I got many opportunities to practice.

River view

Fishing was slow.  My hubby had one bite, but quickly lost it.  We saw a grand total of two salmon caught the entire morning (among 71 boats).  Spring salmon are extremely difficult to catch.

I'd hoped to see more wildlife, but besides the osprey the only other action was a flock of Canadian geese.  After a few hours, boredom set in, and I reached for my Kindle.

Osprey in nest

With my Kindle to read, I was entertained and would've probably lasted longer if it weren't for the call of nature.  Although I'd rationed my water intake all morning, by 10:30 my bladder began telling me it needed some relief.  I didn't want to try and go on the boat.  We were surrounded by other fishing vessels - full of mostly men - so I wasn't about to drop trou over a bucket in front of them all.  And there wasn't a good place to tie up on the adjacent shorelines, nor anywhere I could go even if we could.  Luckily hubby took pity on me, and said he was ready to quit anyway.  So he pulled in his line and we headed to the dock.

St Johns Bridge in daylight

One advantage to finishing early - no one at the boat dock, so social distancing was easy!  While hubby took care of loading the boat, I made a beeline for the restroom.  (It wasn't the cleanest but at that point I didn't care.  Luckily it had a good supply of soap and water)  While my hubby readied the boat for our trip home, I grabbed my camera for a couple of daylight shots of the nearby St Johns Bridge and it's gorgeous steel span and towers.  One of Portland's local landmarks.

So that's the story of my first salmon fishing trip on the mighty Willamette River.  It really wasn't that bad - I saw a lovely sunrise, got close to an osprey couple, and got to learn all about what my hubby does on his spring and fall weekends.  Would I go again?  Well, yes probably if this quarantine keeps me from hiking for awhile.  But next time we'll have to figure out a new "relief system!"  :)

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Backyard Birding

Confined at home for the past 6 weeks (has it been that long already?) I've taken up a new hobby - birdwatching.  Yes, it's true.  I've become a "bird nerd."

Northern Flicker

My hubby maintains two bird feeders in our backyard.  Before the quarantine I'd had passing interest in them.  If I happened to catch an unusual bird visiting, I'd grab my camera and attempt to photograph it.  But now that I'm working from home, my seat at the dining room table gives me a continuous front-row view to all the backyard bird happenings.  It's a wonderful distraction.

Male Northern Flicker

There's a Northern Flicker couple that make daily visits to the feeders.  The male loves pecking on the metal top of our chimney - it makes such a racket! 

Two flickers on the bird feeder!

One day I even was lucky enough to catch both the male and female flicker on our bird feeder at the same time.

Female flicker checking things out

I've taken to keeping my camera with its long lens close to my working area just in case an interesting bird happens by.


One Sunday morning, my eagle-eyed husband spotted a hawk perched on our back fence.  I'm sure he was scoping out the bird activity in our yard, hoping to catch himself a snack.  Look at those huge claws!  I was so excited and eager to capture an image of the hawk before it flew away, my photos didn't turn out as crystal clear as I'd hoped. 

Wood duck

There's a small decorative pond in our backyard, and every year a few mallards drop by.  This spring, my hubby and I were surprised and pleased when a wood duck couple decided to visit.  The male wood duck is so colorful - and his red eyes look so otherworldly they're kind of spooky.


One day the male wood duck made a trek around the backyard, and hid out in our tulip patch.  I loved this image I captured of him peeking out from the blooms.

Spotted Towhee

The final unusual backyard bird I spotted one day was a spotted towhee.  This gray bird with an orange breast (and also weird red eyes) landed on one of our feeders and I luckily had the camera handy. 

So, as you can see, my life isn't the most exciting right now.  No cool mountain vistas to fabulous fields of spring hiking trips along amazing trails.  Just me and my backyard feathered friends.

But my hubby and I are healthy (so far no COVID) and we both still have our jobs, and for that I'm extremely thankful.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Last Hike (Before the World Fell Apart)

Things started to go south the third week of March. That Monday I arrived at work only to learn at noon that due to the cornavirus, my building was closing to all non-essential personnel. At 5 pm everyone would be kicked out until further notice.  The rest of the afternoon was spent in a mad scramble to locate a laptop, load everything necessary to do my job onto its hard drive, and try to gather things from my desk that might be needed during the shutdown.

Between Tuesday and Thursday I endured the extremely steep learning curve of trying to do my job remotely.  By Friday (thankfully my day off), between work and COVID-19 worries, I was in dire need of some wilderness therapy.

Grand Gorge views

But....should I go hiking?  Although a "stay at home" order hadn't been issued yet, the news media hinted an announcement was forthcoming.  However, I really needed some outdoor exercise.  If I went early on a Friday morning trails couldn't be that busy, could they?  After much thought I decided I'd be okay to hike as long as I picked a less-traveled trail and didn't stop in any local towns for food or bathroom breaks.

Yellow bells

Catherine Creek, on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, is always a good early spring wildflower destination.  It's rolling green hills, normally dotted with color this time of year, give way to spectacular Columbia River views.  Although the main trail is well-traveled, a bit of internet research netted me a map of the entire trail system, detailing several lesser-known paths.  After choosing a less popular route I set out early the next morning, confident I could avoid the masses.

Dewdrop-covered yellow bells

Arriving at the trailhead by 8 am, I was surprised to see a half dozen vehicles already at the parking area and two groups of people lingering by the trailhead.  Still unfamiliar with the whole "social distancing" concept, I stayed in my car until both parties had left.  Then I quickly grabbed my backpack and took off on the "new to me" path that I'd mapped the night before.  My chosen route led westward from the parking area in the opposite direction of the main trail.

Mt Hood, Columbia River and Rowland Lake

It was a gorgeous spring morning.  The sky was a brilliant blue, with temperatures starting to warm away the morning chill.  I climbed through an open, grassy plain, showcasing views of Mt Hood and the Columbia River as I gained elevation.

Climbing along the rocky cliff edge

And then my phone buzzed.  Normally when I'm hiking I ignore any phone calls.  But the number was from work, so I went ahead and answered.  An automated message stopped me in my tracks.  It said my workplace building had been shut down to all personnel for cleaning and no one was to enter under any circumstances.  Although the message was disturbingly vague, I knew it could mean only one thing - someone who worked in my building was sick with COVID-19.

Mt Hood and desert parsley

And, just like that, this ominous message ruined my entire day.  Having been given no details, I immediately assumed the worst.  Was I now infected with the virus too?  Extremely upset, I called my husband and instructed him to disinfect everything in our house I may have touched.  Should I cancel my hike and head home?  My hubby assured me he'd clean all the household common areas and encouraged me to continue my outing.  In light of this bad news, stress release via exercise was needed now more than ever.

Shooting stars

Well, I'd seen zero people on this trail so far.  I decided to continue my hike as planned, and try to finish by midday before things got busy.  So with a heavy heart, I carried on uphill past an oak grove.

A few grass widows still left

I discovered a patch of lovely yellow bells blooming near the trees.  Morning dew still clung to their petals, making for some fine photo ops.  Seeing those cheery blossoms lifted my mood a little.

Raven on an old dead tree

The path began switchbacking steeply up the side of a rocky cliff.  More fantastic views unfolded as I climbed higher.  State Highway 14 and Rowland Lake appeared far below.  The Columbia River glistened a brilliant blue in the early morning sun.  And, of course, Mt Hood was also a constant companion on the southwestern horizon.  A patch of magenta shooting star flowers decorated a nearby hillside.  I even spotted a few late-blooming grass widows.

He even posed for me!

At the top of the first incline an old, dead tree tilted towards the cliff's edge.  Perched on top of this tree was a large raven.  I edged closer to the bird, snapping photos as I went.  The raven didn't seem to mind my presence, and even appeared to be posing for the camera.  I was able to get extremely close and was rewarded with some great images.

View to the top

Then my path edged along the clifftops, climbing ever higher.  I welcomed the exertion - it was a great stress reliever.

Another lovely grass widow

I was all alone until the first trail junction.  About that time, I noticed a large group of people gaining on me.  Although I'm not the slowest hiker, my frequent photo stops had allowed this party to catch up.  They were a group of older people (well, older than me!) so I wanted to be sure and stay far away.

Mt Hood close-up (one can never have too many photos of Hood!)

When the group finally overtook me, I quickly stepped as far off trail as possible.  Not knowing if I was contagious or not, I didn't want to chance infecting anyone.  I exchanged pleasantries and then lingered in position until the party had traveled a far enough distance away before resuming my hike.

Following an through the meadow

The final climb to the next trail junction was through a large green meadow.  Huge electrical transmission towers threaded high voltage wires along the cliff edge.

Fabulous Mt Hood views on top

Arriving at the junction, I marveled at the fantastic views of Mt Hood from this high perch.  An old road contoured through the meadow leading in both directions.  One man, a member of the older group I was trying to avoid, hiked past me to capture a photograph of Mt Hood beyond the powerlines.  Deciding to capture the same image, I followed the man.  It was here I met another couple coming from the other direction, who asked me if I knew where the trail led.  Maintaining what I thought was a safe distance, I held out my map for them to see.  The woman took a quick photo with her phone, while the man lingered, trying to read my map.  The woman chided her companion for dawdling saying "just take a photo, we don't want to endanger her!"  I thought to myself "hopefully I'm not endangering them."

Rocky road back down

After taking my mountain photo, and freeing myself of the map-reading couple, I headed back in the opposite direction, following the road towards Catherine Creek.  I passed by the older group, now safely sitting off trail enjoying a snack.  The trail turned into a rocky abandoned road that dove steeply downhill through a thick forest.  These shady woods were a welcome respite from the hot sunshine.

Passing by the old corral

The bottom of the road intersected with the main Catherine Creek Trail.  Having hiked a mere 3 miles thus far, I wasn't ready to end my hike just yet.  Should I continue up the main trail?  I was here, why not?

Old corral

I caught up to a family with three small children crossing Catherine Creek.  Keeping a safe distance, I passed the family and continued uphill to the abandoned corral.

Tumble-down fence

This abandoned corral is a local landmark.  It's also a great place for photo ops.  I snapped a few images, and then sat down on a nearby log to have a quick snack.

Looking through oak groves

Oh, the world had woken up!  While sitting, five different groups of people walked by, climbing up the main trail.  Maybe adding this route wasn't such a good idea.....

Classic Gorge view to the east

I stashed my goodies, and continued up the trail.  The family with small kids was ahead, spread out across the entire width of the trail.  No social distancing was happening here!  I walked as fast as I could and when I finally caught up, veered off trail as far as possible and quickly passed the family by.

Wild turkeys

The final two miles of my hike wound around the open meadows above the corral and rock arch.  I encountered several groups of hikers, most politely stepping off the trail to give room, but not all.  About halfway back, I came across a flock of wild turkeys.  Although I tried to get close enough for photos, the turkeys were having none of it, and quickly scooted off into a nearby ravine.  Those turkeys were pros at social distancing!

One more beautiful grass widow

The final half mile I walked by a lovely wildflower field, with more yellow bells, a few straggler grass widows, and some beautiful purple camas blooms.

Yellow bells with a bit of orange highlights

I stopped and sent a text message to one of my coworkers asking if she knew anymore about the abrupt closure of our building.  She informed me that, as I suspected, someone in our building had "exhibited symptoms of coronavirus" but thankfully that person didn't work on our floor.  And since we'd been out of the building since Monday our chances of exposure were fairly slim.  Hearing this information was a great relief.

Blooming camas

Heading down the final half mile to my car, I encountered a conga-line of people all heading up the main trail.  There were several large groups, and no one was doing a good job of leaving space between other hikers.  It was time to get out of here.

The trail now crossed a brand new bridge

Although happy to have taken the hike, I realized anyplace I tried to go that weekend I'd likely encounter even larger crowds.  Narrow hiking trails were not conducive to social distancing.  No more hiking for me - I decided to stay put at home for the rest of the weekend.

Missing my favorite trails

As I drove away, I knew in the back of my mind this was likely the last hike I'd be able to take for the foreseeable future.  The writing was on the wall.  COVID-19 had arrived, and a shutdown of my state was imminent.

And the following Monday, that's exactly what happened.  All state parks were closed, as were the hiking trails in the Columbia River Gorge.  This hike happened almost one month ago, and I can't tell you how much I'm missing my favorite spring wildflower trails.  I'm still holding out hope that outdoor activities will be able to resume this summer.  Stay home everyone, so we can defeat this pandemic and get back to enjoying the great outdoors!

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Surprise Snowy Hike

Oh how I miss the carefree "before COVID-19" days!  Stuck at home for three weeks now, I've been going through photos of my final hikes before everything shut down.  In mid-March news of the spreading pandemic was starting to take over the airwaves.  Although a few cases had been reported in Oregon by then, nothing had changed quite yet.  It was still business as usual.

Blooming tree at the Wahkeena Trailhead

After running a few errands on my Friday off - including navigating a surprisingly packed grocery store full of people panic buying, I needed a break from the madness.  Although rainy weather was predicted all day, I grabbed my waterproof gear anyway and headed to the Gorge.  I was getting a hike in no matter what!

It's starting to snow!

Not only was the day wet, it was also cold.  Temperatures hovered near the freezing mark.  Slushy snowflakes splattered on my car's windshield as I drove towards the Columbia River Gorge.  Was hiking today really a good idea?  Many times during the trip I nearly turned around and headed home.  But physically and mentally I knew a good outdoor workout was necessary.  I kept telling myself to wait and assess the trailhead weather before bailing. 

Big snowflakes against a foggy backdrop

Whenever I need a quick hike, the Multnomah-Wahkeena loop in the Columbia River Gorge always delivers.  A mere 40 minute drive from home and 5.5 mile trek, it's easy to fit into a half day. Traversing the Gorge scenic highway, although cold and wet, I deemed the weather acceptable for hiking and decided to give it a try.  Having to use the restroom, I parked at Multnomah Falls to take advantage of their facilities.  After a pit stop (which included washing my hands really well) I donned full raingear against the drizzly skies and headed towards the Wahkeena Trailhead.

Huge cedar tree

Rain fell steadily as I trudged along the tie trail between Multnomah and Wahkeena Falls.  At Wahkeena Falls, a few soggy tourists posed for photos at the roadside viewing area.  Adjacent to Wahkeena Creek's stair-step cascades, a pink blooming tree gave the only hint that it was nearly spring.  Although my mirrorless DSLR camera is fairly weather-resistant, at this point increasing rainfall forced me to tuck it safely into my backpack.  Being the photo nerd I am, I'd also brought along my pocket point and shoot camera. Having withstood many seasons of skiing photos in all kinds of weather, this little camera was better suited for today's wet conditions.

Snowy view looking up a basalt cliff

So dear readers, photo documentation of the hike was not lacking.  From the road, I began climbing the Wahkeena Trail up a paved path towards the waterfall.  Having taken hundreds of photos of these falls, I snapped a quick selfie as I walked by and kept climbing.

Fairy Falls

From Wahkeena Falls, the paved path climbed steeply through several switchbacks, framed by intricate rock walls.  Although charred trees from the 2017 fire were still prevalent, green ferns and other vegetation indicated the forest was making a comeback.

Snow beginning to accumulate

It was then I began to notice the raindrops were beginning to get heavier.  A few large soggy snowflakes stared to mix with the rain.  As I climbed higher in elevation, the snowflakes became more numerous.

Frosty tree

By the time I reached Lemmon Viewpoint, the precip had almost entirely switched to snow.  Huge, wet flakes fell from foggy skies.  It was so pretty!   With my little point and shoot camera, I made a valiant effort to capture the lovely scene of snow falling.

Trail sign is the only thing that isn't white

Leaving the paved path, I climbed higher through partially-burned forest.  Snow began accumulating in the tree branches and along the trailside.  The snow began transitioning from slushy sleet to drier flakes.

The higher I climb, the larger the snowfall accumulation

I stopped at Fairy Falls and pulled out my good camera to capture this pretty little cascade.  After a few shots, a young couple arrived and asked if I'd take their picture.  I used the man's cell phone to snap a few images, then he offered to take a few photos of me.  Not thinking, I handed the man my phone and he proceeded to snap a dozen pics of me in front of Fairy Falls.  Later I realized not only had I touched a stranger's personal phone, I'd also let him touch my phone.  With the Coronavirus scare just beginning, it made me think about how I needed to change my interactions with others. 

Snow-covered fern

Beyond Fairy Falls, I left the couple behind as I climbed higher up the Wahkeena Trail.  Snow was falling heavily now, coating the forest and trail in a white blanket.

Snow-covered vegetation makes a lumpy texture

At the Wahkeena Springs junction, the surrounding forest was a world of white.  The brown trail sign was the only thing of any color.

The white-flocked trees were beautiful

I continued my trek along the Wakeena Trail, heading for Multnomah Creek.  The snowy weather was a pure delight.  Frosty tree branches and bushes made beautiful photo subjects.  My little point and shoot camera just couldn't do them proper justice.  Since it wasn't raining anymore, I pulled out my good camera and put it to work documenting all this beauty.

Happy hiker with snowflakes on her glasses!

However, the wide angle on my point and shoot camera was good for capturing selfies!

Pussy willows catching the snow

Who would've thought I'd encounter such a snowy wonderland on the trail today?  What a wonderful surprise!

World of white

As I meandered through this winter wonderland snapping copious photos, I temporarily forgot about the impending pandemic, frenzied grocery stores, and potential stranger contaminators.  This is why I hike.

Last autumn leaf

The final half mile of the Wahkeena Trail as it winds downhill to Multnomah Basin is one of my favorite parts of this hike.  Multnomah Creek is visible through the trees, and even with a forest full of charred trees, it is still lovely.

Snow makes this burned-out forest look beautiful

 A fresh coating of snow made it all the more stunning.

Multnomah Creek

After the final trail junction with Larch Mountain Trail, it was a steep downhill ramble along Multnomah Creek.  Numerous fallen trees covered the creek, all casualties of the Eagle Creek fire.

Fallen tree

As I descended in elevation, sadly the snow began to transition back to rain and the snowy landscape from white to green and brown.

Weisendanger Falls

By the time I reached Weisendanger Falls, only a light dusting of snow covered the side slopes.

More snowy ferns

Soon I had reached the paved path once again, this one switchbacking steeply down to the base of Multnomah Falls.  The rain had returned in earnest, and I realized my mirrorless DSLR was quickly getting soaked.

Gloomy Gorge view from Multnomah Falls trail

So I hoofed it down the pathway as quick as I could, only stopping for an occasional photograph.

Top tier of Multnomah Falls

For a wet, crummy day, I was surprised by the large number of people visiting Multnomah Falls.  Of course this was a week before social distancing was mandated.

Multnomah Falls - the Grand Dame of Gorge waterfalls

Despite the dreary weather forecast, it turned out to be a magic day of hiking in a winter wonderland.  Looking back now nearly four weeks later, I'm glad I took a chance and went ahead with my plans.  These images will have to tide me over for the next few months.  I'm missing my beautiful Gorge Trails more than ever.