Bald Peak State Park, Yamhill County, Oregon

After a week of snow falling each night and melting away in the day, I looked forward to getting outside in warmer weather. Today the weather reached the mid 40s F in the valley, with white puffy and not stormy clouds overhead, and streamed glimpses of sunshine through my window. I thought, Today – today I am going to see what new growth is springing up with this change in the weather.


For whatever reason, Bald Peak State Park popped in my head as a place to go. As a small State Park in Yamhill county tucked in among family farms in the Chehalem hills, it does not offer much in the way of hiking, but on clear days it offers a beautiful view of Willamette Valley looking west out toward Hillsboro. On those clear days the Pacific Northwest’s volcanoes: Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, along with Mt. Rainier can be sighted from here. This was not one of those days.

Sure, I realized it was a cloudy day when I left for the park, but I thought the rise in elevation might put these clouds in a different perspective; and it sure did. What I did not anticipate, nor did I even notice, as I drove up the mountain was the decline in temperate. By the time I reached the park, elevation 1,629 feet, the temperature had dropped by 11 degrees F, down to 35. The wind had also picked up as my little car climbed the mountain, giving that wind chill that gets the cold right down the jacket and past the shirt collar. Snow was all over the ground, while gray storm clouds hovered right above the treetops. Water sporadically rained down in a combination of snow melting from the Douglas fir limbs brought down by the wind and sprinkles from the clouds.

Despite the chill, I decided to walk around. To get a better view, I took a side path down the hillside. I had not walked more than five minutes before I slipped and landed hard in the ice-crusted mud. While I would not go straight to treacherous or unpleasant, my 15-minute meander through the woods was more than enough! Despite being cloud covered, the view was worth trek.


I chuckled to myself as I coasted down the mountain to warmer territory below. Of course it would be colder up the mountain! You know you would have enjoyed it more if you had been better prepared, I chided myself. But I enjoyed it any way!


The Oregon Coast in January

The Oregon Coast scenery and landscape is always changing. The phrase, “the shifting sands of time” makes sense once you’ve actually seen sand shift. With the recent winter storms, the sands have certainly been shifting at my favorite coastal destinations, Cannon Beach and Tolovana Beach.

New Year’s day at the coast was warm and sunny. The sand was wide, golden, soft, dry and deep. The bright blue sky and fluffy clouds, along with the sparkling blues of the ocean made for a spring-like day. I kicked off my shoes and walked the beach with many others out enjoying the day. There were even kids in their swimming suits braving the Pacific Ocean that day! (…and the Pacific is always cold in this section of the ocean.)

Three weeks later, the coast felt truly winter-like. With high tides, all shades of dark blue and gray stretching from the sand to the horizon and through the sky, with only little patches of clear light sky blue, it felt very much like the winter it is. Along with the darker colors, the constant wall of coast wind and the moments of rain added to chill of winter on the coast. With all the churning, pushing and pulling of the tides, the sand was flatter and covered with thick tumbling sea foam. Needless to say, fewer people were out walking the beach, and I saw no kids swimming!

Despite being warm and sunny, the visibility was not as good as on the cold and seemingly overcast day. From Tolovana Beach, the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse was visible not on the sunny day, but rather on the cool wintry one. When I went back and looked at my photos, I surprised when I noticed this!

But the sunsets during both visits were displays worth watching. Knowing that the day, while ending here, is just starting somewhere else, is mind expanding to think about. The sun is one of those things everyone around the world experiences and benefits from…

Banks-Vernonia Trail. Washington & Columbia County, Oregon

Stumbling on an adventure. What a great way to start my new year! I am surprised that it is already two weeks into the year and yet, here I am only now sharing my discovery!
While I enjoy a good celebration, I am not a party animal. Going out with friends and strangers, staying out late to party in the New Year just doesn’t do anything for me. At the same time, I didn’t want to just sit home either. Boring!
So, December 30th – that last Saturday before – I was on the Internet looking into renting a State Park cabin or yurt for New Year’s Eve. No such luck. Every one within a couple hours drive from my house was booked. There were several open for Monday night… but! Low and behold! I came across a promotion called: First Day Hike.
Apparently across the U.S. on New Year’s Day select State Parks waive any parking or entry fees and offer free guided hikes with a Park Ranger. The First Day Hikes have been going on for seven years now and seem to be very popular.

After browsing the 22 listed here in Oregon, I decided on the Banks-Vernonia State Trail. It is “the first “rails-to-trails” linear state park built in Oregon”  and follows the 22 miles of an abandoned train track between the small rural towns of Banks and Vernonia, with rail tracks now replaced with asphalt. The trail features a paved eight-foot wide trail for hikers and bicyclists along with a parallel gravel and woodchip horse trail.
The hiking group met at the Buxton Trailhead. At the picnic shelter Friends of the State Park had complimentary hot drinks, fruit and breakfast cookies. By 9 a.m. when the hike started, at least 60 people of all ages had gathered. (According to the State Parks stats, 75 people showed up!) The herd of us walked about a mile north into L.L. “Stub” Stewart State Park. At couple of points along the way, Ranger Betsy stopped the group to show off points of interest and talk about what we were seeing in the forest.

After turning back, we walked a short distance south of where we started and crossed the Buxton Trestle. It is 700 feet long and runs 80 feet above Mendenhall Creek. Built in 1920, the over one hundred year old train trestle still stands on the original supports. The top portion was converted to a pedestrian bridge a number of years back. It was impressive! I was in awe that train conductors once had the nerve to drive a train across it. After going across with the group, I went back over the trestle again, it was that impressive.

The day was cold, but the sun shone and with layers, the walking warmed me right up. The forest was beautiful with the sun piercing the dense woods. The camaraderie among the hikers was great, and you could tell that Ranger Betsy and her assistants were enjoying the first day of 2018 as much as anyone else. I highly recommend looking to see if there is a First Day Hike in your area! It turned out to be a great way to kick start a new adventure year!

Trail Ride – Yacolt, WA

Having friends who like their jobs is always a good thing, and I am lucky to have a few friends who do. In this case, because my friend Daisy likes her job at Royal Ridges Retreat in Yacolt, Washington, she invited me and another friend for a trail ride on her day off. We saddled the horses and meandered over the hills, through the pastures and forests and enjoyed an overcast (but dry!) late November day. On a clear day they say Mount St. Helens is visible from the trail we followed. Despite the overcast weather, it felt good to be out and in the saddle.

Royal Ridges Retreat offers summer youth camps and riding lessons through the year. The Retreat’s camps include paintball camps, adventure camps and horsemanship camps.

Tillamook State Forest & Gales Creek Campground, OR

After discovering and enjoying Gales Creek and the Campground during our hot spell here this summer, I decided to take my sister hiking there. I am a little delayed in posting about this adventure … we actually went back in September. This time, while the weather was still warm, it was considerably cooler than it was during my previous visit.

After parking in the day use area near Gales Creek, we chose the first hike we found a sign for. It turned out to be the Gales Creek Trail along the Low Divide Creek, a moderate hike just under 3 miles leading up to the Wilson River Highway/Highway 6 and the trailhead.


Our “trailhead” start

The narrow hard packed dirt trail led us up from the creek to another parking area just off the highway. For much of the trail we could either see or hear the creek and crossed a number of little bridges crossing streams flowing to the creek. They say that there is an old train trestle somewhere along the path. Though I was looking for it, I never saw it.The path is obviously a well-used one. While I wouldn’t say it was crowded, we did run into a couple of mountain bikers, two families with kids and a trio with their dogs. Everyone was polite and the bikers followed the trail rules and yielded to us hikers.

Once we reached the trailhead, we found a sign with a large map of the local trails there in the Tillamook Forest. I wanted to cross the highway and take a different trail that would curve and bring us back to the Gales Creek Camp from the other side of the creek. That trail was a little over 4 miles and my sister was not up for the additional distance, even as slight as a mile. I have to admit, there were places where the trail had been steep enough for me to question its “moderate” designation. As this turned out to be a destination hike, I was glad we had started out from the bottom of the trail; when we turned around and went back, it was all down hill! The dog trio sadly did the opposite, and when we met again on our respective returns, they were tired and puffing.

When we arrived back at the camping area we took advantage of the creek to wade and cool our hot feet. The camp was full and bustling, and we were not the only ones in the creek!

Me being the “hey – do you wanna ___?” one in my family I had another suggestion for my tired sister. Just a short distance, about 13 miles, down the highway from the Gales Creek Campground is the Tillamook Forest Center. Despite it being late in the day, while sitting on creek rocks I suggested we go check it out. My sister reluctantly agreed.

We arrived at 4:45, 15 minutes from closing. I know I say this often – I want to go back! There was fire lookout tower to climb, a free museum, a multi-sensory theater and more. I didn’t realize until stopping that the Tillamook forest is the largest state forest in Oregon and that as a temperate rainforest it receives over 120 inches of rain every year!

Tillamook Forest Center
5500 Wilson River Highway Tillamook, OR 97141 (near mile marker 22)

Tillamook State Forest Gales Creek Campground
18001 Rogers Rd. Glenwood, OR 97116 (Right off Wilson River Highway / Hwy 6)

Mt. St. Helens, Silver Lake, WA

After berry picking, I got on I-5 and headed home. The great thing about having a free day is the ability to be spontaneous. On a whim I decided to stop at the Mount Saint Helen’s visitor center, a five-mile detour east off I-5. When I got there, I found a wonderful view of the mountain over Silver Lake. Despite the light haze from distant forest fires, the view was beautiful.  Since I had some time leeway, I decided to take the Silver Lake Wetland Haven Trail, an easy one mile loop, and stretch my legs.  The sign promised: “This loop trail guides you through an intriguing marsh wetland, home to creatures galore within one single sheltered cove of Silver Lake.” The easy hard packed gravel was a walk in the park, very easy, with a super accessible view of the mountain. With interpretive signs and benches along the trail, it was a very informative walk as well.

It is amazing to think that the mountain blew its top in 1980, 37 years ago. The area is beautiful now.  It is hard to imagine that the area was covered with ash for miles around, and the destruction wrecked on the people and land is appalling to think about. 57 people died that day. However, it is also an encouraging thing to keep in mind as forest fires currently rage through Oregon, Washington and along the entire West Coast.  There is hope that the land can heal and the forage can grow back again after a major disaster.

Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center
Exit 49 off I-5


Willapa Hills Trail – Chehalis, WA

As this summer has been busy, this adventure is from a few weeks back, but it started months ago with some planning this past spring. When my friend took me on the rails to trails trail back in May she mentioned that the blackberries along the trail were amazing. Since I love the taste of fresh, sun warmed, wild blackberries, we planned a blackberry foraging adventure for when they got ripe, which ended up being about the middle of August.

This time on the trail, she took me to a different section, about mile post 1 1/5. We picked up the Willapa Hills Trail (I now know its name!) off Tune Road in Chehalis. Not walking too far, we crossed train tracks (which are currently in use) and found patches of blackberries full of wonderfully plump and sweet berries! It was a good thing we weren’t in competition because she beat me and picked at least double the berries I gathered! In my defense though, I spotted a plum tree nestled behind the berries. The purple fruit looked ripe and, if I could only get through the berry thorns, within arm’s reach. There in the farmlands of western Washington, we had a good time getting sweaty, scratched and eating delicious fruit.

When I got home, and with a little internet searching, I discovered that the Willapa Hills Trail starts in Chehalis and ends about 56 miles away west in South Bend at Highway 101 (the historic Coastal Highway connecting the West Coast from Los Angeles, CA to Port Angeles, WA). The trail is a mix of paved and gravel, but consistently easy the whole way. As I was told, it used to be a train track and is relatively flat the entire distance.

Btw – I blame White Collar TV show for my lack of a blog post in August. Thank you, my berry picking pal, for recommending! It’s hilarious!