And then there are the trails... a hiker's candy store...a mutt's fire hydrant, a young man's Amsterdam...hundreds and hundreds of miles of trails to choose from, deep into the heart of the Cascades...far more distance available then these half century legs will cover in a lifetime or two...but we did manage to sample a taste of a few of the more scenic trails that in no time flat had us walking to the beat of the river. Dick and Melinda....you would (and could) love notching the miles here.
The North Fork Trail is along the "Wild and Scenic" section of the North Fork Middle Fork of the Willamette River (in 1969, Congress passed the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Act declared that certain rivers possessing extraordinary scenic, recreational, fishery, or wildlife values shall be preserved in their free-flowing state, together with their immediate environments, for the benefit and enjoyment of the people). The trailhead is located at the Office Bridge park. The trail meanders along the river's edge with many perfect overlooks and beach access points for all wannabe anglers. We were rewarded with many fantastic views of frothy rapids and deep translucent blue green pools... and if that is not perfect enough, your walk is mostly under the shade of a canopy of a young, yet dense forest. This trail section is also a very popular ride for mountain bikers, although we are amazed that the difficulty is rated as "easy"...we would not only be walking the bikes most of the way, but might be tethered to them also!
The Middle Fork Trail extends along the Middle Fork of the Willamette River and winds through dense stands of mixed conifers, cottonwood and big leaf maple. Beginning our hike at Sand Prairie Campground, we saw only a short segment of the trail, but it did provide us a glimpse of the diverse and changing ecosystems that can be found along the route...from riparian to high elevation fir. Multiple trailheads offer opportunities to customize the length of one's hike, dictate elevation the gain and difficulty and offer points for easy river access. We chose a casual, relaxed riverside route to satisfy our curiosity and afternoon walk "requirements".
The Joe Goddard Nature Trail is a short loop, but you can spend hours ogling the monstrous trees. You'll walk across a rustic log bridge over Black Creek and from what we gathered, a remnant of past logging operations. You'll stroll past huge Pacific yew, a nine-foot diameter western red cedar and several Douglas firs that are more than 250 feet tall (most tops have been blown off by high winds) and ten feet wide, with the reputation as the biggest trees in Lane County. These old growth trees range in age from 450 to 700 years.
Friends and fellow hikers, Janice and Jeff, found one of the picnic tables made of hand hewn planks and cut logs and patiently awaited those elusive forest elves to take their drink order...they are still waiting.
The Black Creek Trail trailhead was reached only after a long and dusty 8 mile gravel road drive. It's hard to believe after seeing this hike, you may be the only vehicle parked there. This hike soon rewarded us with a magical wayside. The trail begins through a grove of young trees and follows Black Creek up a gentle rolling grade for 2 miles to Lillian Falls of Nettie Creek, a series of beautiful small cascading waterfalls that tumble down over 100 feet.
Nestled in an old growth forest of giant trees, the setting is spectacular, with a lush growth of ferns and tree foliage surrounding the entry points of each waterfall. As the stream tumbles over boulders and logs draped with brilliant green moss, you easily visualize how nature's offering of a bed full of soft emerald cotton balls would look like... these comfy mounds nestled throughout the stream bed, beckoned us to sit and enjoy the beauty. The trail climbs steeply from the falls, through a tableland full of colorful rhododendrons, north to the Waldo Lake Trail.
Exploring a segment of the Salmon Creek Trail was like entering the "secret garden". Walk across the Salmon Creek Gorge Bridge and you enter a realm of filtered sunlight with the golden rays arching in every direction...tree moss 4 to 6 feet in length hang lifeless from overhanging branches... silhouettes of watchful scarecrows, without the crows. The soft, cushioned carpet, which is really the trail, is bordered with sword ferns and vanilla leafs and leads you deeper and deeper into the forest...and everywhere you look...you'll be treated to a color palette of every variation of yellow and green. Creekside access points lead you to some wonderful beaches to soak up the sun and deep pools to cool you down or snag a wary trout or two.
Our effort to log a few more miles on Oregon's segment of the Pacific Crest Trail proved somewhat disappointing. We drove miles on a beautiful paved roads, then onto a dusty washboard road and finally a pure mean and ugly 4-wheel drive slab of dirt to get to this high elevation access point on Summit Lake, aptly named for it lies virtually on the crest of the Cascade Range. We were then unceremoniously greeted and swarmed by hundreds of hungry fans....mosquitoes. We lathered ourselves in deet, then rubbed whatever other nasty, foul smelling goop we had, in every nook and cranny in hopes we could be a "turn off" to those pesky, blood sucking skeeters. Didn't work... all those repellents were like a dry rub on pork ribs. But we did make an honorable effort to put in a few miles before every orifice starting tinkling with unwanted critters. So we packed up, drove back 3,000 feet down the mountain and finished off the day with option #2.
As our stay at Casey's came to a close, we decided to spend a couple of days, fine tuning technique and skill levels, while also wetting a few flies for any wary trout to gawk at. And yes...fish were caught...and then ceremoniously released to be caught again in the future.