Saturday, November 28, 2020

University Falls in the Fall

October brings an abundance of autumn color to Oregon's Coast Range forests.  However, with so many great leaf-peeping hikes around Portland, this area sometimes drops off my radar. 


A big a%$ leaf maple!


The Coast Range, full of grand, mossy fir forests, copious swordferns, and acres of deciduous trees, is a beautiful place to visit.  But it's hard to love - overrun with noisy motorized recreational traffic and target shooters, and riddled with clearcuts from logging activities, I often avoid hiking here.


Yellow explosion

However, the last Friday in October I was looking for a nearby trail with good fall colors.  After waiting out a morning rainstorm, I wasn't interested a long drive.  Then I remembered the University Falls Trail in the nearby Coast Range.  Having visited last fall, I remembered it had good "bang for your buck" autumn leaf color.


Old stump from logging days


This year it's been difficult to predict peak leaf color.  Some places have had foliage turn early, others have lagged later than usual, while a few places had the leaves drop without much color at all (my theory blames the September wildfire smoke).  But as I pulled into the University Falls trailhead parking area, the adjacent forest was lit up in brilliant shades of yellow.  So far so good!


Sunlit yellow leaves

I like to hike the loop starting at the Gravelle Brothers Trail.  It wanders behind a state highway maintenance yard before diving into the forest.  Beginning my trek on the trail proper I noticed lots of huge leaves from nearby Big-leaf maples (or as I like to call them, Big-a$% Leaf maples) littering the ground, and I couldn't resist snapping a few selfies to show their scale.


Colorful forest


The path dived downhill through an area of intense yellow leaves.  Backlit by the sun, they lit up the forest and brightened my mood.

Leaf-lined trail

The first two miles delivered autumn hues in spades!  Yellow and orange leaves accented the mossy fir trees.  It was so beautiful, forward progress moved at a snail's pace as I tried to capture it all with my camera.

Lovely forest


From last year's hike, I remembered finding the best leaf colors at the creek crossing.  The trail intersects with the Devils Lake Fork of the Wilson River and the surrounding area is resplendent with deciduous trees of many varieties.


Old mossy tree


And on this day it delivered once again.  Not only lovely yellow and orange fall colors, there was also the added beauty of red vine maple leaves mixed in.

Splashes of red amidst the yellow


All leaf color appeared to be at it's peak.  I think this was my favorite spot of the entire hike.

Devils Lake Fork of the Wilson River


After taking several images of the leafy beauty, I climbed uphill away from the creek, skirted a clear-cut before diving back into dense, mossy forest once again.

Lots of vine maple by the creek


The forest here was magical.  Trees draped heavily with furry moss, they looked like something out of a fairy tale.  Large, green ferns lined the forest floor.  This is the Coast Range scenery that I love.

Lovely red vine maple


Since I was hiking the day before Halloween, some of the trees reminded me of ghostly bodies with spooky outstretched arms.

Forest full of mossy trees


Want to get into the Halloween spirit?  Just hike through a dark forest like this one.

I love coastal forests


Popping out of the forest, my trail bisected an ugly clearcut (ugh!) before once again entering the woods.  Leaving the clearcut behind, I glimpsed a few spots of orange from left-behind bushes glowing through the trees.

Colors peeking through the trees

Then I followed the path downhill for a half mile to my main destination - University Falls.

Eroded tree roots

This waterfall is a hidden gem.  Nestled in a forested canyon, it's a surprisingly tall cascade, dropping 100 feet over a rocky cliff.

University Falls


There was some great green color from adjacent foliage reflecting in the creek directly below the falls.

Green reflections below the falls

As is my routine, I snapped a bunch of moving water pics before taking a short snack break.  (Photos first, then food!)

Water in motion

After my waterfall break, I continued the loop by climbing out of the canyon, past another ugly clearcut.  The loggers had cleared an entire hillside but left one lone tree remaining.  Why??

Ugly clearcut (with one tree remaining-why?)

The rest of the loop wasn't quite as scenic, nor as colorful, so I was able to make up for lost photography time.  That, and about halfway to my car I began to hear gunshots echoing through the forest.  Not knowing the location of the source nor the character of the people shooting (were they responsible hunters having a safe target practice or beer-chugging rednecks?) was quite unsettling and caused me to quicken my pace.

Bright yellow leaves

The gunshots continued for most of the final two hours it took to cover the remaining 5 miles.  (I kept thinking how can these people afford to shoot off so much ammunition?)  It was anything but relaxing, hustling through the forest, hoping the shooters weren't nearby nor aiming towards the trail.  I ran into a couple of older ladies out mushroom hunting who also weren't happy about the loud disruptions.

Forest of gold

Finally I came to the last large hill climbing through another clearcut.  Then it was a short downhill ramble back to my car.  Although by now the shooting had finally stopped, I was more than ready to be done with this hike.

I was happy to have hit the Coast Range fall colors at their peak.  University Falls was gushing and lovely as always.  However, I could have done without the endless sounds of target practice in the woods.  But if you're going to hike in Oregon's Coast Range, you gotta take the good with the bad.  Looking back a month later I'd say that seeing the coastal forest dressed in spectacular fall splendor was worth it.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Just Another Coastal Sunset....

It had been awhile since I'd visited the Oregon Coast.  Only a short hour's drive from home, I really had no excuse for this long absence.  So two weeks ago I decided to remedy things. 

Foamy seas


My favorite weather forecaster was predicting a beautiful sunset that day.  Having missed out on several brilliant skyshows recently, I felt the need to finally capture one.  So I texted my neighbor and photographic genius Cheri and suggested we head west to photograph sunset on the coast.


Wild wave show on the jetty

Although I'd initially suggested Cannon Beach (can't go wrong with Haystack Rock), this was a wildly popular place, and therefore usually crowded.  Cheri suggested a quieter alternative, nearby Rockaway Beach.


Sad reminders of the ocean's dangers

On our way to Rockaway Beach, Cheri and I passed through the town of Tillamook, and then headed north by Tillamook Bay.  A popular place for fisherman and crabbers, we stopped on the north jetty to watch huge waves roll over the rocky breakwater.  It was quite the show!


Wish I knew the story behind these crosses


I noticed four crosses had been placed in between the jetty's rocky surface.  Names and dates were painted on each one, and three of the crosses bore the same date of death.  I didn't know the story behind these crosses, but assumed they must have been due to some tragic boating accident.  Sad reminders of the ocean's dangers.


Cheri is in position for sunset


After lingering around the jetty for a good half hour, entertaining ourselves watching the huge waves crashing over the rocky wall, Cheri decided we'd better get to our sunset spot to allow enough time for set up.  Luckily, Rockaway Beach wasn't very far up the road, and 10 minutes later, we pulled into a tiny parking area.  The beach was a short walk through a tunnel of vegetation.

Sun trying to break through the clouds


The beach was a wide open expanse of sand and sky.  Two large sea stacks stood prominently to the south.  And, best of all, crowds were nil.

Glowing ball
Unfurling our tripods, Cheri and I set up our cameras and waited.  To pass time, I took dozens of photos of the sea stacks, in every conceivable angle and f stop.  The tide was coming in, so I had to keep a sharp eye out for the larger waves and book it towards shore if they came in too fast.  I wasn't keen on getting wet feet!  Cheri, much better prepared, was sporting a set of high-topped rubber boots so the waves didn't bother her in the least. 

A few rays break through
A thick fog layer hovered in the southern sky, and we were worried it would engulf the setting sun.  But, to our good fortune, as the sun sank it popped through a break in the clouds.  Brilliant rays streamed across the sky and golden colors reflected in the wet beach sand.

Sinking behind the clouds


Hooray!  A gorgeous sunset!  Cheri and I worked our shutters furiously trying to capture it all.


After the sun had set, the sky turned a brilliant pink

After the sun dropped below the horizon, the few people gathered on the beach watching the show began to leave.  Little did they know the best was yet to come.

Beautiful clouds and reflections
Post-sunset the sky turned a brilliant color of pink.  It lit up the clouds and reflected on the sand.  This was way better than the sunset itself!

Last of the sky color

So dramatic - and breathtaking!  Cheri and I agreed it had been very much worth the drive.  After packing up our equipment, we stopped in the nearby town of Garibaldi for some take-out fish and chips before heading home.

This quick trip made me realize I need to visit the Oregon Coast more often.  I've decided one of my New Year's resolutions will be to photograph more ocean sunsets. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Angels Rest

During the summer months, I avoid hiking in the Columbia River Gorge.  The trails are packed and, quite truthfully I don't think it's the prettiest season.  In my opinion, fall is the best time to visit the Gorge.  Fabulous turning autumn leaves put on quite a show, a perfect compliment to the already amazing scenery.


Lovely fall foliage near the trailhead

So when late October rolls around, I reacquaint myself with this "gorge"ous (pun intended!) corner of Oregon.  A couple of weeks ago, I was trying to decide on a Friday hike.  Knowing rain was forecast for the afternoon, I wanted a short trail close to home.  Angels Rest Trail popped on top of the list.

Colors glow through the trees


Angels Rest is an exposed bluff on the Western end of the Gorge's Oregon side.  The summit, composed of an old lava flow, follows a rocky spine exposed on three sides by cliffs.  This lofty promontory offers excellent panoramic views of the Columbia River below.  It feels as if you're on a balcony high above the river.

Alder forest


But due to the close proximity to the Portland Metro, combined with a relatively short distance (only 2.4 miles to the top) and picture-postcard views, this trail is wildly popular.  The trailhead regularly fills up early, and on weekends parked cars often line both sides of the highway.  Not a fan of uber-crowded trails, it had been many years since I'd visited Angels Rest. 

Angels Rest summit up ahead


But I reasoned that an early morning arrival would help avoid the masses.  The gloomy weather forecast for the day might also deter people.  My planned early start worked perfectly, giving me my choice of parking spaces in the small lot adjacent to the Scenic Highway.  The early bird gets the worm - or in my case - the parking spot!

Columbia River glimpses


This trail has the unfortunate distinction of being torched by wildfires twice during the 32 years I've lived in Oregon - once in 1991 and more recently with the infamous Eagle Creek Fire in 2017.  The 1991 fire burned the summit area while the 2017 blaze scorched most of the trail's route.  Today was the first time I'd hiked Angels Rest post-Eagle Creek fire and I was anxious to see how much damage had been done.

Recent wildfire damage

The damage was apparent from the start.  Huge Douglas firs near the trailhead bore black burn scars on their lower trunks.  But I was encouraged to see many of the deciduous trees had been spared, and were now defiantly showing off their best fall foliage.

Brilliant vine maple

An alder grove just past Coopey Creek crossing was looking beautiful, golden leaves shining through burned forest remnants.  I also enjoyed a few patches of brightly colored vine maple gracing the upper open slopes.  The only good thing about the wildfires - they did open up fabulous Gorge views from the trail.  They also provided a clear view of my destination ahead - the cliffs and rocky summit of Angels Rest.

Burned-out forest east of Angels Rest


Although the trail is short, it does climb steeply, gaining 1500 feet in just 2.4 miles.  I huffed and puffed along the upper switchbacks but made good time in reaching the rocky summit outcrop.  

Colorful bushes amidst the burned trees

All that was left to reach the viewpoint was a walk along the rocky spine itself.  As I scrambled across the wide open plateau, I noticed extreme fire damage to the forest directly east of the outcrop.  It was sad to see such beautiful woods totally obliterated, the trees gray skeletons of their former selves.  The only silver lining was patches of brightly colored bushes, obviously established post-fire, glowing through blackened trunks.

Perfect place for a bench

Although I'd met a few other people descending while on my uphill journey, I was pleased to find the summit deserted.  Bushwhacking and scrambling the final few feet I came upon my destination - a wooden bench placed at an especially commanding Columbia River viewpoint.

Classic Gorge view


From here I gazed at (and of course photographed!) the Columbia River's classic westward view.  Taking advantage of such nice seating, I rested on the bench and enjoyed my hot tea and a snack.  Reading a small plaque, I learned that it had been placed in memory of someone.  For that reason, I was saddened to see the wooden seat had been carved up and covered in graffiti - very disrespectful to the person it commemorated. (This is why we can't have nice things!!)

Angels Rest looking west

As I sat on my high perch, I noticed another woman peering through the bushes.  She appeared to be seeking the same viewpoint that I now occupied.  The woman lingered nearby for a few minutes, stealing occasional glances my way.  I assumed she was waiting for me to vacate the area.  But being in no hurry, I stubbornly held my ground, and ended up taking a much longer break than originally intended.  The woman finally gave up and moved on, and when I did decide to leave I found her sitting near the eastern end of the plateau.

Colorful understory


Because the trek to Angels Rest itself is such a short hike (for me anyway) in years past, I've added mileage by following a continuation of this trail as it contours the ridge directly to the east.  I climbed a short distance, and then rambled through more burned-out forest, stealing occasional glimpses back to Angels Rest, it's rocky cliffs now visible through newly-created openings in the forest.

Vibrant leaves

Although the fire damage here was sobering, I did enjoy the best autumn colors of my entire hike.  Bushy undergrowth had come back strong and their golden leaves brightened an otherwise gloomy forest.

More Angels Rest views

I followed this trail another half mile until it became overgrown and faint.  Several downed trees that had yet to be cleared also presented obstacles.  Deciding this was enough for the day (and also eyeing the sky - I wanted to beat the predicted afternoon rain) I turned tail and retraced my steps first back to Angels Rest and then downhill to the trailhead.  Although I'd had the path mostly to myself all morning, I met so many folks on my descent that when I reached the bottom I wasn't at all surprised to find both parking areas now overflowing.


Latourell Falls

No Gorge trip is complete without visiting at least one waterfall, so before heading home I made a short detour to nearby Latourell Falls.  One of my favorite Gorge cascades, it was looking mighty fine with some fall color accents.  As you can see, autumn is definitely the best time to not only hike the Gorge, but also to photograph it's waterfalls.

A great morning getaway - so glad I have such world-class scenery only a 45 minute drive away!