Category Archives: Hikes
October 18 and November 1
Andy and I hiked the Sauvie Island Warrior Rock Lighthouse trail on bright autumn day in mid-October. And later, on November 1, I returned to hike around Virginia Lake.
Sauvie Island is a special Portland destination and it sits just 10 miles northwest of downtown. It is the largest island in the Columbia River (32 square miles) and is home to approximately 1,500 nice gentlemen and lady farmers and some ne’er-do- well houseboat dwellers. A large portion of the island is a protected wildlife area.
The Lewis and Clark expedition originally named the island Wapato after the plants that grew there in profusion. Wapato is also known as “Indian Potato” and it was a food source for the 2,000 Native Americans who were the island’s original settlers. But you know the story, by early 19th century trappers and white settlers brought beads, weird religions, and population-devastating disease to the natives.
Historians recorded that most Wapato Island natives were wiped out by the “ague” epidemic of 1829. And by the early 1830’s the native population was so decimated Hudson Bay Company burned the native lodges and removed the remaining survivors. That last sentence encapsulates how I was taught history –annihilation stories told in single sentences with a soft casualness. Words like ‘removal’ and ‘burning’ were used as if they were synonyms for ‘meet’ and ‘greet’.
In the 21st century Portlanders bring their children to Sauvie to walk through corn mazes, pick berries and pumpkins, and get a feel for rural life. Besides a good variety of kid activities in the summer and fall the island also offers outstanding bird watching year-round.
The Audubon Society of Portland website informs there are 500+ bird species in Oregon and 250 of those use Sauvie Island for one thing or another. In fall migrating Sandhill cranes, Snow geese, Tundra swans, and Osprey all nest on the island. On our hike Andy and I saw multiple Osprey nests within feet of one another. Bald eagles breed and celebrate the winter holidays on Sauvie along with other big birds like Northern Harriers and those randy Rough-legged Hawks. Waterfowl on the island exceed 200,000 in the winter.
At first glance Sauvie Island looks Midwestern-agrarian but views open up to 3 close-by mountain peaks (Hood, Adams, and St. Helens) and stands of native evergreen trees punctuate the island. There is a sense of familiarity to the place. Sauvie could well be the source of that pastoral print ripped from a free calendar handed out by an insurance agent your grandma tacked up somewhere in her old craftsman.
Our hike to the Warrior Rock Lighthouse was over a wide flat trail that is good for running, and multiple runners zipped past us that sunny afternoon. The trail follows one channel of the Columbia River and along our hike we were treated to views of blue water, white sail boats, and deep sandy beaches – sections of which are designated as clothing optional. (Google images of ‘Collins Beach, Sauvie Island’ and you’ll get an eyeful of naked Oregonians.)
After 3.5 miles the trail ends at a point marked by the Warrior Rock Lighthouse. Warrior Rock is Oregon’s smallest lighthouse and only one of two not on the Pacific Ocean. The lighthouse is automated and sounds a bell and shines a beacon for boats and ships to be wary of the Sauvie Island reef.
The second time back to Sauvie I walked another wide flat trail around Virginia Lake. I found the hike on a web site but when I returned home Andy checked to find the trail and Virginia lake on a map and couldn’t find either. In fact, we couldn’t find a reference to the lake on any official map of Sauvie. So, the whole trek has a tinge of the surreal to it.
To add to the strangeness of the day, at the turn-around point for the Virginia Lake trail I found a dock where no one spoke English nor did they acknowledge me -they didn’t lower their eyes or look away as I passed, they acted quite simply as if I was not there, as if I was unseeable. Side note: it was Day of the Dead when I took this hike. Draw your own conclusions but I plan on returning soon to figure out that “lake”.
Both trails were comfortable out and back trails. And those two trails (uhm…if there really was a Virginia Lake trail) are just two among a good number on this bucolic island, just northwest of dense and bustling Portland. We’ll come here when you visit if you would like. The options are endless for a good day of outdoor activity: flat hiking trails, naked swimming, berry picking, kayaking, bike riding, bird watching, and maybe even a tibble if its between October and April (see the final pictue).
September 29 and October 3
Mt. Tabor Park is the crown jewel of a southeast Portland neighborhood of the same name. The park wears an exuberant carpet of green that runs under tall firs and traverses alongside gravel paths. Tabor stretches for 190 acres and is crisscrossed by multiple hiking, biking and walking trails. It also reaches into the sky; at 650 feet above the Willamette Valley floor you can catch glimpses of the park from lucky parts of the city. The park’s most unique characteristic is that it is built on an extinct volcanic cinder cone.
Recently, I have hiked through this city park twice, the first time with Andy on a Saturday morning and then again a few days later with my friend, Lori.
More cool things about this park: the cone is part of the Boring Lava field – which is a network of cinder cones and small shield volcanoes that run from Boring, Oregon to southwestern Washington. Three other cinder cones of the Boring Lava field sit within Portland city limits.
–>Boring, Oregon is a sister city to Dull, Scotland. Boring and Dull couldn’t milk that partnership enough so they created The League of Extraordinary Communities and invited Bland, New South Wales, Australia to join their exclusive club.
On Mount Tabor there are 3 beautiful open-air water reservoirs and gatehouses, all were built at the turn of the 20th century to supply drinking water to some east Portland neighborhoods. The reservoirs are no longer used for water supply but have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and must be maintained. In 2011, a man was seen peeing into one of the reservoirs and the resulting citizen uproar led to a decision to drain that reservoir’s water, costing about $36,000 to do so. There have been other grumblings of money mismanagement regarding the reservoirs but that story is one of the juiciest.
I checked with my friend Janet, who is a water scientist for Portland, to confirm that what I had discovered about the reservoirs and the peeing incident was correct. “True,” Janet confirmed, but she also shared that the continued maintenance of the reservoirs is not assured. It’s expensive and just because people in the Mt.Tabor neighborhood like the reflecting pools they’ve walked around for years doesn’t mean that the Parks Department is willing to support this indulgence forever. In anticipation of the eventual shut-down requests have gone out on what do with the reservoirs. Many proposed designs have been eccentric and over-the-top (to be expected?) but one that captured Janet’s imagination: pipe the hot mineral water that may be flowing beneath the lava field into the reservoirs and create public hot springs. I love this idea, Portland as Reykjavík South.
Mount Tabor Park also has a well outfitted playground, an outdoor amphitheater, basketball and tennis courts, softball fields, and the requisite statute of an old dead white guy, Harvey Scott who was a local newspaper editor. Lori shared this bit of wisdom as we walked up to the statue during our hike, if we moved Harvey off his pedestal and looked at him straight on, his head would look as if he was suffering from hydrocephalus, which by the way no one suffers from any more, because of shunts (Lori knows this stuff, she is a nurse). Lori clarified, sculptors create them with very big heads and put them on pedestals so as we gaze up in awe, the perspective looks right. A side note, Harvey Scott’s likeness, including his boulder-sized head, was created by Gutzon Borglum while he was at work on the Mt. Rushmore presidents.
Mount Tabor Park is home to an annual Adult Soapbox Derby. Every year home-made cars, some of which go as fast as 50 miles per hour, race down the cinder cone. This year over 40 people registered for the race which is seven-tenths of a mile. I have seen the videos. Race Day looks to be my kind of fun with its hints of cartoonish danger, clever car designs, and costumed drivers who are urged on from the sidelines by their slightly inebriated but enthusiastic buddies. This is not a sanctioned city park event, but has grown in popularity, and exaggerated pomp and circumstance over the last 20 years.
→An aside, my advice to someone looking to settle in a new city would be this: live in a place that is not afraid to be a bit silly.
Andy and I hiked through Mt. Tabor on a Saturday morning and covered 4 miles of trails. Different from hiking in wilderness where views consistently open to broader expanses of nature, this urban hike presented phenomenal cityscapes. Mt. Tabor has well-placed park benches and we passed people taking time to look back on their city. I am slow to realize things, and it took me until I was 60 years old to understand nature can also help us appreciate the constructed world. It is obvious the architects of the park took time to make this point by laying out key landscape features to frame city views.
The biggest activity in the park the day Andy and I hiked through was being driven by a large group of park volunteers. The volunteers were prepping the park for autumn and cleaning up the causalities of a long hot dry summer.
–>Here’s another bit of advice I’d give to someone looking to move to a new city: consider someplace that is not afraid to be silly and where volunteering and activism is as common as the rain.
My second time through Mt. Tabor Park I hiked with my friend Lori, who was touting a Victorian style knee brace. But Lori is ever the optimist and I am not quite sure what would ever slow her down. During our walk she found something else injured, a lamppost, and we admired people’s futile attempt to save it (more silliness).
I am learning something about feet-to-ground (hiking/walking) and hands to ground (yoga) that sparks my mind and memory. But I don’t have much more to say than that right now, I’m still figuring it out, & maybe there is nothing more to it than just that. I can say that Lori and I talked for 4.5 miles and 28 stories (iphone app) as we randomly moved from trail to trial. It was a stunning fall day enhanced by the surrounding nature, a vibrant friendship, and perfectly framed city views.
Urban hiking involves sharing the road a little more than hiking in the forest or on remote spits of sand. There are children, hordes of volunteers, and cyclists all of whom can step into and out of your path from moment to moment. But rather than this feeling like a nuisance, it really is a glorious mashup of nature, fellow citizens, and the city that surrounds it.
September 18, 2018
Summer 2018 was filled to the brim with challenges, and I discovered my sixth grade English teacher, Sister Gabriel, was right again –with every challenge comes a valuable lesson. Here was mine:
I had the crappiest boss ever this summer. For months she made work miserable, spewing verbal abuse that she followed up with days of complete silence. I likened her to the classic abuser boyfriend who had perfected the “beat-up the bitch then sail into the honeymoon” cycle. Here is the lesson I learned, an interesting friend does not naturally translate to a good boss.
Her instability had my gut in knots and I was disappointed in my inability to act and simply walk away. I told myself next time she called me an embarrassment I would quit. And like the common batterer returning to the boxing ring, she threw her go-to punch. And then I quit.
I had planned on stopping work next summer, so I was not completely unprepared for not-work, yet it’s a little earlier then I had anticipated and it happened quickly. So I admit to being caught a little unprepared; it is as if I had a small amount of wind knocked out of me. For now I am willing to let the days unfold quietly as I catch my breath. (Did you know this is what you should do when you are lost or stranded – unpack everything you have with you, lay it all out, and contemplate what is available to in front of you that can be of help).
While I don’t want to set large goals now, I do want to lay out some small milestones, you know to set some guardrails. So here is something I have set my cap for, I’ve decided to take local hikes, Portland hikes. Not hikes out in the country or up on Hood or further afield in Washington, I am going to focus on local hikes –around the corner or across the river.
I took my first city hike yesterday on September 18th at Tryon Creek State Park. The park is just a little over 650 acres and sits across the Willamette River from our house, north of Lake Oswego and snuggled into Portland’s southwestern canyons.
The area that makes up Tryon was originally an 1850 land claim which was later sold and logged. Some of the roads used by the loggers back then are trails hikers use today. In 1900 the upper part of the land parcel burned and the old snags remain in place, you can see them from the trails.
Tryon is an example of why Portland is one of the best cities in the US. There is plenty of culture and fun to be had but politically there is a serious focus on supporting and maintaining natural areas. Tryon is a preserved parcel of typical Willamette Valley ecosystem and it is used extensively for public study and education and….recreation. Dogs, horses, bikers and hikers are all welcome. About 350,000 citizens visit annually. There is a nature center that anyone can use. I spent time there with my girl scout troop around 1971 before Tryon became a state park.
There are nearly 300 plant species in the park and 90 types of wildflowers. The trees in the second growth include alders, maple, Doug Firs, red cedars, and hemlock. There are more than 50 species of birds and small mammals in the park including beavers. Tryon Creek is one of the few creeks in Portland with a run of trout and salmon. This is a humbling list, an awe-inspiring outcome of people’s work to protect this parcel of land and make it available to everyone.
I took the big loop trail and hiked up and down the canyon. Unlike hikes in the coastal range or Cascades some of the hikers I passed were in flip-flops and carrying iced drinks from the coffee shops down the road. There were plenty of mothers too, leading children and naming trees and fern species, and occasionally stopping everyone in order to listen to woodpeckers.
I was captivated by the early fall light that fell through the trees and the patterns it made on the forest floor. Komorebi, even saying the word brings a wave of calm.
I passed others with cameras pointed at autumn colors and at the remaining late blooming species of wildflowers. It was a bustling park but for many stretches I was on my own. Despite my stiff ankle and cranky knee that day I was able to move easily in and out of the warm yellow light and cool shade. The air is finally fresh again in Portland after a long summer of suffering from wildfire smoke. And all of it at that moment, the light, the shade, the cool on my face, knowing the effort people put forth to assure this park in the middle of our dense city is available to everyone, well I felt renewed, unscathed by the challenges of the summer. And at th
Bucking the Heat
“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”. You’ve heard this one, right? It is a saying used so frequently that it can often be mistaken as white noise.
I get it, we run around too much and don’t take time to enjoy the present. We are too busy and would benefit in so many ways by slowing down. We need to relearn how to appreciate what is in front of us because longing for what we don’t have is the source of all misery. The sentiment of the saying is not lost on me. I appreciate the reminder here and there.
But you know what? Sometimes it is about the destination. Take for instance last Sunday…
We had our first heat wave of the summer last week and Portlanders sweated their way through three consecutive days of commanding heat. And on the third day, the meteorologists all warned, a record would likely be broken as they were confident Portland would exceed the 100 degree mark.
If you are a US citizen who lives in a place other than the Pacific Northwest, two days of 90 degree heat followed by a day of 100 degrees may be nothing but a sweet little summer bump in the road. But for those of us used to cloud cover and an annual average temperature of 64 degrees, that kind of weather is almost unforgivable. For example, air-conditioning is not a given, in any place. In fact, we don’t have an air-conditioned house but we are lucky in that our house is a good piece of 1940’s craftsmanship. The walls are solid and the windows are arranged so that the evening breezes move efficiently throughout the downstairs. And it helps that the nights often cool down into the low 50’s.
But when faced with back-to-back days of high temperatures the house inevitably gives up and lets the heat linger in corners and eventually allows the heat to make itself at home in every room. And so it was on that third day, early Sunday morning, I padded out from the bedroom into the dining room bleary-eyed to feed cats and took time to read the thermostat. It was 76 degrees indoors before 8AM.
I moved through the house drawing shades and blinds and closing all the open windows to trap the coolest air of the day. And then I went about the task of convincing Andy not to prep for the following day’s work schedule but to escape with me somewhere into the cool.
It’s a semi-secret lake. You can Google it and get directions, but you have to know about it first. And then you have to have the determination to follow the damn crazy directions to get there.
I drove and Andy navigated, unraveling the following directions whilst looking for the poorly marked forest roads:
Take 224 through Estacada and at approximately 20 miles turn onto Forest Road (FR) 57. From FR 57 drive approximately 7.5 miles to the junction of FR 58. Stay left. Then at the junction with FR 5810, turn right. Drive east until FR 210. From there it’s just another mile to the trailhead.
Only two of those Forest Roads were marked. We backtracked a few times. More than once we ended up on a road that was crowded with fallen trees and pocked by burst asphalt only to eventually spy a sign directing vehicles to turn around as the road was no longer maintained.
We muttered to one another when we had to turn around on a precarious road, this is how people get lost and die in the wilderness.
Buck Lake Trail.
Length: 1 mile roundtrip.
Elevation change: 310 feet.
Location: At 4000 feet, somewhere around FR 210 in Clackamas County in Mt. Hood National Forest. Good Luck.
Yep after all that driving, you still must hike into the lake area. The trail is steep and rocky at the outset making it difficult to carry coolers and floaties. Plus you’ll be pretty pissed about the drive in and that won’t help your footing. So watch your footing because if you fall and break anything it may be difficult to make it safely to civilization with one driver and an incapacitated navigator.
And you know at 4000 feet you’d think it would be cooler than what it is.
The trail does become easier- not quite as steep, not quite as rocky -and the shade gets better as the trees get bigger. Yet even then the trail certainly feels much longer than ½ a mile so go ahead and send a kind-hearted husband ahead to assure you are on the right trail, because today probably has not been a lucky one for direct routes. It would surprise no one if you have started out on a wrong trail.
Be sure to thank the heavens (at whatever point on the more-than-likely-longer-than-a-half-mile-trail) for a good partner who also happens to be a capable scout and has an ability to cleverly frame uncertain messages so that they sound more positive than what they really are. “I see a clearing”, he may say all sweaty because he has run ahead fleet-of-foot and back again so you are not alone for long on the trail.
Because you are weak, you may jump at the positive tone of the message but think again about that sentence, “I see a clearing”. You know, it is not the same as “I see the lake”. Force clarity: “Does that mean there is a lake ahead?” Do not be surprised at an impish grin, he is good but he is also mischievous.
Sometimes the journey can suck, but the destination is well worth it. And as you paddle about in a perfectly clear spring-fed lake be sure to tell yourself, well this time it was all about the destination. (Even though now from this point in the storyline the journey can be re-framed as satisfyingly adventurous).
Then go enjoy chocolate chip cookies, bbq Pringles, coke-a-colas, and the Sunday New York Times under a canopy of old growth trees. Wait out the final hours of the heat wave in the gentle embrace of the trees and an aqua lake with the one you love best.
I started hiking when I was a young girl. There are pictures of a day when I walked partially up Mt. Hood with my father. I was 4 years old and I remember the day well for a variety of reasons: I was in my favorite dress and was sporting my beloved red leather shoes with buckles. I was confident I sparkled in the eyes of other hikers. I also remember my mother walking away, to wait in the lodge, and I had to decide who I should accompany.
I decided to stay with my father and head up the mountain. He wasn’t much interested that I was tagging behind (maybe there were some good-looking women ahead?) but no matter I had a spectacular time. I wandered off the trail at will chasing after little things that caught my eye, which were mostly patches of snow that had managed to self-preserve in the Doug Fir shadows. When I caught up to my father at a resting rock he scolded lightly about lagging behind, but his words didn’t faze me. I was bursting with the thrill (edged with terror) of having been in the woods for those brief moments, on the side of the mountain, all alone.
After moving to the Midwest, I didn’t hike much. After years of feeling lovingly enveloped and cooled in the forests of Doug Firs, cedars, and hemlock I found the open prairie scared me. The prairie landscape felt over-exposed and made me feel inexplicitly vulnerable.
It took some time but I eventually came to see the beauty of the Midwestern vistas (although there is still nothing that I fear more than driving at night in the prairie). I reset my eye and mind, and as Mike says I finally “found the beauty in the open spaces”. (Cue Miles Davis music now, as it certainly is the music of the plains). Nonetheless there was always a place in me that longed for the sensation I had as a 4-year-old, alone and enveloped by a still and deep green forest magnificence.
- Old Salmon River Trail in the Mt.Hood National Forest.
- Hike Type: Out and back
- Distance: 5.0 miles round-trip
- Elevation gain: 200 feet
- High Point: 1,640 feet
I drove to Welches, Oregon on an early Sunday morning in June when Andy was out of town. Welches is a village in the Mt. Hood corridor, less than 40 miles southeast of our house. Welches’ neighbors include the villages of ZigZag and Wemme. All three places are just spots in the road that support passing traffic and supply goods to the hermits and millionaires alike living in the surrounding mossy forest.
I wanted an easy hike and the Old Salmon River trail is referenced as a ‘family’ trail (translation: if kids can hike it so can you).
I took my time getting to the trail-head. I stopped in Sandy Oregon, a small town that caters to outdoorsy folks. I sipped a cup of dark steaming coffee on a bakery’s wide front porch and exchanged smiles with people bundled up in ski jackets and stocking caps in mid-June. There was a tangible buzz on that porch, seems we were all looking forward to a big day outdoors.
I could see my breath but also feel the warm sun on my cheek. The sky was vibrant blue. I felt my body downshift as I relaxed into the porch chair and hot coffee. I promised myself I would hike the trail exactly as I wanted.
The Old Salmon River trail used to be the main byway into the upper canyon of the Salmon River but just after WWII a road was built to make the access easier. Some of the trail was lost then but the Forest Service has recently restored a major section and this trail is a beauty.
Sections of The Old Salmon River trail run very close to the new road but a few steps in and the forest is upon you and the road is easily forgotten. The old growth cedar and Doug Fir that populate the forest in this area are some of the most stunning specimens of nature you will ever see. And then a few steps further on the trail, you come upon the Salmon River.
The Salmon River is just over 30 miles long and it drains a sizable portion of Mt. Hood’s southwestern section. The Salmon River dumps into the Sandy River which in turn feeds into the mighty Columbia. The entire length of the Salmon River is a protected National Wild and Scenic River and many sections are also protected wilderness. The lower section I hiked supports a variety of inhabitants including black bears, cougars, deer, badgers, fishers, and martens. There are warning signs posted for the bears and cougars with very clear instructions on what to do if paths cross.
The Forest Service has added wooden bridges over small streams and side trails that lead hikers to enticing pools on the river. Small swaths of sandy beach have been added at the wider river bends and I imagine are crowded during Portland heat waves.
I took my time on the trail and along the way I tried to name all the trees, plants, and flowers I could. (I didn’t do well but next time I vow to be better studied). I also stopped whenever I spied an alluring resting rock along the river and I pulled out my book on…martens. (Book report soon).
The trail was not crowded at the beginning of my hike but traffic picked up as the day progressed. However, there are so many side trails and resting rocks and sandy river beaches that I never felt more people than nature. Most people like me were taking their time and wandering off on the multiple offshoot trails.
Shinrin-yoku is a term I recently learned, it means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” It sounds crunchy but Asian researchers insist that there are tangible health benefits from spending time under the canopy of a living forest. I love the notion that a simple stroll through the woods can improve health.
I will never be able to adequately express how rested and invigorated I felt as I drove home after my day on the Old Salmon Trail. I was so happy and satisfied. I could not quit smiling. I felt connected to my earliest days of wide-eyed wonder at the forest. I am delighted that sense of awe is alive and thriving within me and I will nurture that spark until I am pushing up daisies (hopefully from the forest floor).