6 miles (to date: 17 / 70)
I took my annual obligatory adventure to the Columbia River Gorge yesterday. It’s not that the Gorge isn’t beautiful, it is. But it’s not mountains, it’s a long interstate drive, the trails are within hearing distance of another interstate, it’s peopley. On the plus side, it’s snow-free in April.
I went on Saturday because, in April, you take good weather when it shows up. It’s not that I’m not happy for the working world that weekends have been the best days lately, I am! But it’s cramping my style, and I have little choice but to get a 5:00 start on the day.
I went to bed Friday night and suddenly remembered the coffee kiosk doesn’t open until six on Saturdays. Crap! On a whim, I check the other Avenue Espressos in the area on my phone, and discover the one at Sunbird’s, right on a perfectly good route to I-5 S, opens at five. I go to sleep relieved that I will be able to get my road latte.
Rising to the orange slice of a moon, I pull up to the kiosk at 5:10. Closed. Damn. They need to update their social media. I’ll have to break down and go to Starbucks on the other side of Chehalis. I pray it’s open. It is, and I’m mollified a bit by the sweet (but not annoyingly perky) voice through the speaker. She asks me my name, and when I get to the window she greets me with it. I’m impressed that a young person is so cheerful at 5:20 on Saturday morning, and I return to the interstate, warmed from within.
There’s deep fog the first half of the drive, until finally breaking out as the sun begins to blush the clouds pink then edge the distant foothills around Mt. St. Helens in gold. This is a way better drive than I-5 N.
My destination is Triple Falls in the Oneonta Gorge on the Oregon side of the river, just beyond the Multnomah Falls tourist destination. There are already cars in the parking area at 7:15, and I have a fair amount of company on the 3.5 mile round trip trail. For a moment I think Oregonians must get up earlier than Washingtonians, then I remember it’s Saturday. It’s a decidedly younger crowd than I’m used to during the week, and nearly as many dogs as humans.
A few minutes in, the trail turns, and the roar of traffic on I-84 gives way to the roar of Oneonta Creek in the canyon far below. They are nearly the same sound, and so different. A waterfall drops down the long far side cliff and crashes into the “creek.”
This area is the site of the 2017 Eagle Creek fire that raged for three months, burning 50,000 acres along the historic Columbia River Highway before it was contained, started by a teenager throwing fireworks into a canyon during a burn ban. The forest canopy is completely gone, and the standing trunks are charred.
The trail is rocky and narrow in places, but not nearly so alarmingly so as some trip reports on All Trails made it out to be—at least not relative to other trails I’ve hiked. I’m relieved. And there are flowers!
The falls are pretty spectacular too.
I go on as far as the bridge, not realizing there is more trail that goes beyond the burn, but I have another destination anyway.
I return to the car and continue east toward the intersection with I-84, running parallel to the historic highway, stopping at Horsetail Falls. Like Multnohmah Falls, it’s right there by the road. Not as satisfying as having to put in some effort to get to it, but spectacular.
I cross the Bridge of the Gods back to Washington. There’s a two dollar toll, which seems a bargain what with the deity connection.
I’m heading to the Wind River Arboretum. When my parents moved to Washington in 1946, after the war, my father worked for the forest service at the Wind River Experimental Forest in the unincorporated Stabler Community (I know!) and my mother started growing my older sister.
First, I take a detour down a forest service road to a lonely trail called Whistle Punk (#59 in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest). It circles through a turn-of-the-last-century logging operation, complete with interpretive signs and a few rusty pieces of equipment. The hemlock and fir forest is sublimely fragrant, and there’s an observation deck into a wetland where I stop to listen to a Grand Ribbit Symphony of unseen frogs.
I’ve been to the experiment station before (no longer in operation), and wondered if my parents lived in one of the houses. Sadly, I can’t remember now what my mother told me about it.
The experimental forest was established in 1932, to study the sustainability of exotic trees in the Pacific Northwest environment, but Forest Service research in the area began twenty years earlier. I walk through the arboretum, which is my destination, that I didn’t know was here the first time I came. I don’t know what my father did here, exactly, but now I have a better idea of what the “experimental” part was about. As a silviculturist, perhaps my father walked among and studied these very plots. They were here for only a few months before my father was transferred to Olympia.
There are signs throughout saying when a species was planted and where it came from, along with interpretive signs. Mostly the trees are not here. Turns out nothing grew well, that it was best to stick with species native to and seeded in the PNW, like the Douglas fir that tower for miles outside the arboretum. Even Douglas fir seeds from Colorado eventually failed.
Was it a failed experiment? No, not really. They didn’t find anything that grew well, but they learned a lot. Foresters now replant forest land with locally sourced seeds. Most interesting, at least to me, were the European and Siberian larches that grew much faster than Douglas fir over thirty years, but by the time they were fifty years old, they were weak and had stopped growing. “These experiments were done prior to large scale reforestation in the PNW, or foresters may have been tempted to extensively plant the larches.” No experiment is ever a failure, even if only to learn what not to do. (Also, the PNW’s own native species have been widely introduced in other temperate forests around the world, and do well.)
It was a fun day, culminating with Burgerville in Camas and the seasonal Oregon strawberry shake. I think I’ll make it a goal to sample all the seasonal shakes this summer. At least once.
You can read more about the Wind River Experimental Forest here.
To read about my upcoming memoir, Mother Lode: Confessions of a Reluctant Caregiver
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