Friday, March 26, 2021

Wilson River Trail: Elk Creek to Dog Creek (almost)

A few years ago, when I met my kayak partner, I moved a few miles East into Portland city proper. Since then, it has been easier (less commute time) to head up the gorge for hiking instead of out to the coast range. Because of that, I have been neglecting my old haunts in the Tillamook forest. But my partner has set herself a challenge to do a number of “new to her” hikes in 2021 and so she has been looking through the 60 Hikes near Portland book and found the Wilson River trail.  This trail happens to start at the same place that the Elk Creek trail starts, so we have been there a few time without actually getting on that trail.

New Parking Lot

First Trillium on stump

So Where do you want to go?

Did I mention that I hurt my knee when we hiked the Salmon river trail in December? Did I even blog that hike? I am so behind.

Anyway, I hurt my knee. Well, I incapacitated my seriously arthritic knee. I am having joint replacement surgery in a month or so and, until then, I am pretty drastically limited in my ability to go up or down hills. I can do a couple of miles on a more or less level path, however, and thus this part of the Wilson River Trail.

The park service has been doing quite a bit of work on the Tillamook trail system over the past few years. They have greatly increased the parking availability at the Elk creek (Wilson river) trailhead and have made that area open year round. They have also extended the trail system East to Idiot Creek Loop Road Trailhead. That trailhead is hard to get to using a 2 wheel drive vehicle (it is out on forest service roads) but you can do a out and back from Elk Creek. They also have a seasonal bridge now across  Elk Creek that they put up in the summer and can be used to more easily access the Idiot Creek trail. I had talked to a Ranger back oh…… 10 years ago and he had told me that a nice (expensive) permanent bridge across Elk Creek was planned but they were having trouble getting funding. I had put some effort into doing some fund raising for that bridge but I guess the project got cancelled before I could ever get going because I couldn’t even get a concept drawing from the Forest Service (I sort of figure I was going to need some conceptualization to get Intel (my employer at that time) interested in this sort of community project. )

But, enough of that, lets go on a hike.

To access this location, drive highway 26 from Portland and then follow highway 6 toward Tillamook (city). This will go through Banks and then head toward Gale’s Creek and up over the mountain pass. No snow up there this year, though I could see some white on some of the local mountain tops. This road is called The Wilson River Highway and it picks up the Wilson river just a little past the pass after traversing a high bridge into a lovely Gorge cut by the river.  Along here in the spring are lots of little water falls and run offs. There are also a number of forest roads that lead off to places for exploring, hunting, primitive camping, and 4 wheeling.  The Elk Creek Campground is on the right just after you bottom out of the steep downhill. The camp is at the confluence of the Wilson River and Elk Creek. Drive down the gravel road toward the campground and just keep going as far as you can. You will cross a bridge over Elk Creek and then head up the historic lumber road to the new parking area and Trail head. 

Looking Down on Elk Creek

Up through the Alder

There are a number of trails to access from this parking lot. Elk Creek Trail goes on up the same road you are driving on (though it is no longer road-like enough for vehicles) until it accesses another old lumber road up on the ridge between King Mountain, Elk Mountain, and the unnamed (and heavily clear cut) hills to the east. A half a mile along that same road and you come to the river crossing that starts the Idiot Creek Loop trail. 

Going in the other direction (West) there is a new part of the Wilson River Trail (about 200 yards long) that leads back to the hills above the campsite and intersects with the original Wilson River Trailhead.  Now you have your only steep climb on this hike. It goes up quite briskly for a few hundred yards and then flattens out at the official start of the Elk MountainTrail.  Elk Mountain Trail is a hell of a climb. It is only 1.25 miles but has over 2000 feet of change. I remember it as walking 20 steps and catching my breath for 2 minutes and then repeating for two hours. Once you get up there, however, you have some great views and also a fun (but challenging) loop hike back over to either the top of the Elk Creek Trail, or the Top of the Kings Mountain Trail.  Don’t do this one unless you are fit. I do want to try it again, but I will need my new knee, and perhaps a personal trainer, first.

That leaves us with the River Wilson Trail. I have my trekking poles out and we push into it. This trail is really a very beautiful, green, and pleasant walk for just about anyone with 2 knees. The Pacific Northwest forest flora is in complete domination here and is really showing off. The undergrowth is heavy with very large and very healthy Mahonia (Oregon Grape) and Sallal (Not Oregon Grape, though the berries look similar and are equally editable). The spring flowers are just getting started so we only saw a few small things that I couldn’t identify but a there were a few early Trillium just sticking up there heads. The big trees were the usual Doug Firs with quite a few local manifestations of Alder, especially near the many little creeks where large rock falls had pushed out the Firs. Everything was very green, lots of moss and sword fern at every turn.

I don't know what this pretty little thing is, but it was growing on a stump also
(OK, I believe this to be British Soldier Lichen)

The trail heads slightly up for a ways and then you find yourself advancing along a cliff with rock on the right and a steeply sloped mass of fern and tree on your left tending down to the river valley. This is something that disappointed my partner. She was expecting us to be along the river (As in “The Wilson River Trail”) but for this entire section (pretty much until one gets to the Forestry Center (like 8 miles)) you are up on the hillside and nowhere near the river. It was also obvious that we were up above the road. There was a constant background noise of car traffic. 

A rare view down the vally

The other thing that was calling my attention was the profusion of large tree stumps. This entire areas was clear cut back a hundred years ago or so. All of the huge giants were removed and they still need a century or so to grow back (note to self: Re-visit at that time). And looking at all of these stumps makes me think about things. Things like “What in the hell were people thinking?”.  Take a look at the pictures. These trees were maybe 6 to 10 feet in diameter. They were cut down using hand saws. The lumber jacks would cut small notches in the trees and insert boards that they could stand on to operate the 15 foot long hand saw. They needed the boards to get them up high enough to be above the root mass because that would be too hard to cut through. Once the tree was felled it would be drug, using cable rope and a steam donkey (a steam powered winch) down the hill to the trucks or trains. They may also set up a skyway of cable and lift the trees up with pulleys and sling them down the hill that way. But when they were done, there was pretty much nothing left except stumps and mud. All of the toppling and dragging of the logs would have torn away all of the underlying vegetation. 

Stump Forest

See the Notch for inserting a plank?
Lots of huge old cut logs tumbled here

Ok, this is a better view of the Notch

The other thing that dragging those logs down the hill, and then on top of one another, resulted in was a lot of friction heat. You know that old trick of rubbing two sticks together to light a fire? That never worked for me, but if you take really big sticks and rub them together using a Steam Donkey you evidently get better results. You get things like Storey Burn and the Tillamook forest fires that burned up huge swatches of the forest almost a hundred years ago. It used to be that all school children in the area were taught about the fires and then went out for a field trip to the old burn sites to plant Doug Firs. I am sure the lumber industry appreciated that effort. 

Well. How are we doing on the hike? In a little over an hour, we have made it 1.5 miles and we have come to a substantial creek crossing. I had hoped to make it to Dog Creek (which is the drainage for the valley between Elk Mountain and Kings Mountain) but I wanted to limit myself to 2 hours of walking (my knee gets sore) and this is really a lovely sunny spot in a tumble of big stone and ancient old forest cut logs. Stopping here also avoids the big Down Hill to Dog Creek that I remember. We sat down on a log and enjoyed our lunch in a lovely sun break. As an additional bonus, the cheerful sound of the little creek completely drowned out any traffic noise. 

our Lunch spot

Green Boulders

On the way back we had a couple of views though some tree breaks at the Wilson River Valley going East. All in all a lovely and peaceful hike.

The side trail to Elk Mountain.
1.4 miles. 2000 feet vertical.
Perhaps another Day

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Deshutes River Trail: Covid Winter Edition

 If you look down the cliff from the resort at which we are staying (Mt. Bachelor Village Resort) you can see the upriver part of the Deshutes River Trail. This is a lovely Urban trail that starts out down in the Old Mill district but then winds its way from the open spaces of Bend up the developing canyon of the river. The canyon part of the trail is a loop from Farewell Bend Park (and bridge) to a little foot bridge about a 1.5 miles up river.  You can access the trail from a couple of location up on the ridge (including a trail from the resort) but my Knee is REALLY bugging me today, so my lovely partner suggested that we drive the 5 minutes down to Farewell Bend park and avoid hiking an steep sections. She is so wonderful.  More about the loop here:  Deschutes River Trail

Bend has a couple of things that make it a rather unique Oregon city. There are the obvious ones, like it isn't on the Willamette river and it is in the high desert instead of the rain swept West side of the Cascades, but one of its more surprising and challenging oddities is the ubiquitous use of Rotaries (or, as Siri would have it, Round-a-bouts). They are friggin everywhere (thus my usage of ubiquitous).  You have to go through 3 of them in that 5 minute drive to the cute little roadside parking area for Farewell Bend park. 

Saw Mill Play Structure. Keep your fingers away from the blade

Looking toward downtown Bend.

Business Buildings up on the ridge.

Right before the river narrows and speeds up in the Canyon

Farewell Bend is evidently the longer name for Bend and I am sure has something to do with a Bend someplace in the river, but there are so many of them. This Park is dedicated to everything cutting down tree-ish. There is a lovely Saw Mill themed children's play structure in the middle. I know that as a child I just loved to pretend to be sawing timber into boards. Oh, the smell of saw dust in the morning. It smells like..... Progress.

Today, we are walking a little into the park (away from the canyon trail) to get to the little foot bridge that will lead us to the west side of the river so we can walk South up the west side of the Canyon. In normal times we could have walked up the East Side and around clockwise. But these are not normal times, they are Covid Times and one of the things that has been done to promote safe human interactions is to make the canyon part of the river trail One Way (counter clockwise).  Now, this is all well and good because we wanted to hike the entire loop anyway, but when your knee is killing you it might be nice to be able to re-trace your steps to take the shortest way back to the car. 

The One Way Sign. 

Actually, I sort of like the idea of a One way trail. If you are a normal person, it means that just about nobody, except perhaps runners, ever passes you. It is like you are walking through a little time island of your own isolation. Of course, if you are an old guy with a bum knee, everybody still passes you, but they do it less often. There sure are a lot of thin, healthy, fast moving people in tights running around Bend, let me tell you. Besides Rotaries, the most ubiquitous thing in Bend is healthy thin good looking people in tights. Well, and Micro Breweries.

Little Critters

One of those is the one we are staying in.

The river is really beautiful in the snow. Everything takes on a sort of Black and White picture feel that is only broken by the dusty orange hew of the Ponderosa Pines and the Green on Gold of Manzanita. This part of the trail is surrounded by high cliffs. Up on top of the cliffs are Condos and Resorts, but they are very nice ones and don't detract too much from the natural beauty of the area. In many places, the river is cutting through big boulders, so the trail climbs up a bit to go around them, but most of the trail is easy and even and wide and simple to manage. 

The little bridge at the halfway point is a great spot to take a few minutes and enjoy the sun sparkling off of the river. 

The View from the Bridge

We didn't have much wild life sighting but we did have a Douglas squirrel, the cute little local PNW squirrel, barking at us from a tree branch for awhile. I love seeing those guys.

And then back down the East Side. In shadow on this side of the canyon, but you get great views of the sunlit west canyon wall. There are also a couple of places where the trail winds up on the boulders and you get a good view of the rapids eating their way through the narrows.

And then you are back to the Reed Market Bridge (with pedestrian underpass) and the wide paved sidewalk of Farewell Bend park. Oh, look, there is the beach where you can put your raft or tube into the river and float down to the takeout at Mirror Pond a hour or so float away. In the summer there is a shuttle that runs to carry you and your float back up river. No shuttle today. Also perhaps a bit to much snow.

Post Script:

On Ubiquituity: We decided to reward ourselves for dinner with Covid takeout from a local Brewery. There were many to choose from but we ended up going with 10Barrel, mainly because they had an easy way to order takeout over the net (and their close by competitor wouldn't even answer the phone). It took them 15 minutes to prepare our burger. It took us 6 minutes to drive to the pub. During those 6 minutes we passed through 5 Rotaries (Round-a-bouts). Editor's note: And the food was delicious! 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Pilot Butte

Pilot Butte from the State Park Trailhead

Pilot Butte is a lovely little Oregon State Park right in the middle of suburban Bend. Bend is in the high desert of Oregon and the high desert is basically this huge (and deep) lava bed. Perhaps better described as many different eras of lava beds that have flowed over one another over the years. So, the terrain viewed at a distance is all flat, but viewed up close is all a jumble of broken lava rock. Pilot Butte is one of many cinder cones from where the lava flows bubbled out of the earth back in the most recent flow times. As such, the Butte pops up out of the flat terrain of Bend in this beautiful round symetric cone that can be seen from pretty much anywhere in the city and from which you can (conversely) see the entire city.

My partner and I are in Bend for a week long vacation and were looking for a place to hike where we could get some exercise, get a view (on our one sunny day), and be gentle to my poor Knee, which has been acting up the past month (may be about time for a new one….).

So to Pilot Butte we go.

It isn’t hard to find the place, just drive toward that big thing sticking up over there. The park entrance itself is a bit hidden behind some condos and a nice office park, but there are signs to follow. I bet that on a nice summer day, the little park is swamped, but today, even in the sunshine, the 30 degree temperature is probably limiting the crowds. 

Snow pretty much all the way up

You start getting a view right away.

There is a few inches of snow on the ground in Bend this end of January day, but the sun is out and shiny and the wind isn’t blowing too

badly, and we have plenty of jackets and other gear. We put on our “tire chains”. That is what we call the wire and metal slip guards you can wear on your boots to give you a grip on ice and packed snow. They make a HUGE difference, especially if you are not as young as you used to be and a little concerned about taking a fall.

So, up the hill we went. What a cool hike. There are actually 2 paths that go up the hill. The hiking trail and the “road” (which is shared by Cars, Pedestrians, and bikers). They both wind up counter clockwise and only intersect at the very top. So we hiked up the mile or so long trail and never even saw the road until we crossed it at the very summit.

Looking West to the Cascades

The trail is wide and well maintained. Today it was all covered in snow, which added to the beauty. After just 5 minutes of walking, you are suddenly above the height of the surrounding condos and the scenery opens up immediately. Wow, what a view, the big open plains of the high desert, dotted with occasional butte and cinder cone and then off in the distance, in all directions, various snow topped mountains (or larger buttes).

Powell Butte (no relation)

The rotational period of the trail is pretty much 1/hike. That is, you go around the butte one time on your climb to the top, which is an elevation gain of about 470 feet and a linear distance of about a mile. So you get a nice view of the entire panorama on your way up. The butte itself, by the way, is just a mound of dirt covered with juniper bushes. I think the view of the surrounding high desert is the pull here.

And now for some history:

Depending on who you trust, Pilot Butte was formed during a volcanic eruption about 200,000 to 800,000 years ago. That is pretty old compared to some of the other lava flows in the area. The lava field just South of Bend, for instance, is only around 10,000 years old. It is pretty cool too, you can see on a map how the lava flowed into the Deschutes river and changed the course of the river. (perhaps click here and take a look). After that eruption, the Butte did nothing but erode for a few hundred thousand years until it was donated to the state of Oregon by the Foley family in 1928. It is currently one of only 4 volcanos that are inside of an American City (another one is in Portland).

Peak Finder in the Middle on Top

The Top is a big round flat space. Great View.

Hard to believe that there aren’t more cities that want desperately to have their own Volcano.

Covid Comment:

We did this hike during the Covid Pandemic. Masks are currently required on the trail (and in most state parks). Most people were complying and everyone was thoughtful about personal distancing. The driving road to the summit is currently closed, not sure if that is a covid thing or just a winter a snow thing.