Washington County, Oregon

Sunday was a beautiful warm and sunny summer day. I believe it reached 98 degrees Fahrenheit / 36.6 Celsius. Earlier this month my friend Anna, a dedicated photographer, and I had made plans to go explore the Laurel farmlands and the Bald Peak area. By the time we arrived, our enthusiasm for being outside had waned. After taking a few photos and walking a short way along dusty paths, we were contemplating our other options. Despite being warm and bright, it was quite hazy in the distance over the Chehalem Valley, but even so, we spotted water out in the valley west of Bald Peak. That lake made us think of Henry Hagg Lake, which is one of the seemingly few outdoor swimming holes in Washington County. The lake is just 25 miles southwest of Portland, at the base of Oregon’s coastal range, and is filled in part by Scoggins Creek, which flows from these mountains.  Just thinking about the cool water, combined with the sweat trickling down our temples, prompted us to change plans and head out to Hagg Lake.


What a terrific idea it turned out to be! By time we reached the park it was just after 6 p.m., and the crowds were leaving! Park closing is at sunset (8:41 p.m.), so we had a little more than two hours to swim. This was the first time for both of us to swim at Hagg Lake. While I was surprised at how rocky the lake edge was even at C-Ramp Recreation Area where they have a “sand beach”, it didn’t take long to get beyond the rocks to deep water though. As the lake is a multi-use lake, speedboats cruised further out on the lake, and occasionally slowly cruised through the swimming area. And the water was warm! As the sun lowered, the water temperature cooled down, but it felt so good! Floating on the lake was the perfect way to cool down. As the sun sank behind the coniferous trees, the sky in the south became a gorgeous purple, pink and peachy light orange, while the water took on deep violet and indigo shades. By the time we left, the evening had cooled to a pleasant warmth, and home we drove, relaxed.


To know when you go:
Henry Hagg Lake: 50250 SW Scoggins Valley Road, Gaston, OR 97119
503-846-7000
Open dawn to dusk
Parking fee of $7 can be bought at the main gate.
A map of the park can be picked up at the gate as well.
Personal flotation device loaner stations are scattered along the west side of the park for people to borrow life vests.

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Spring on the Oregon Coast

Spring weather on the Oregon Coast varies greatly day to day. Over these spring months, I have had the opportunity to get out to the coast a few times. Each visit has been beautiful, but then again, I am an Oregonian and a beach bum at heart. (Bad days at the beach never happen!)

I really enjoy the blustery, windy, rainy and stormy days. Despite the chill, the strength of the elements has a way of grounding me. Somehow the energy exerted to walk the beach on those days never exceeds the energy restored by the brave walk. Besides, afterwards a strong, hot and slightly sweet black tea tastes so much better while watching raindrops slide down the windowpane as your bones warm and your hair drips dry.

Now with that said, I must say that I do appreciate the idyllic warm, sunny beach days as well. Those days, with a slight cool breeze and a bright sky overhead stretching blue over 180 degrees as it merges and reflects in the open ocean, recharge my energy levels to a point of calm and full. Walks in the sunshine of those days take my problems, my worries, and shrink them to nothing-size.

Life isn’t always perfect, but God makes each day perfectly. Thankfully my visits have included both types of beach days.

Here are a few photos from Pacific City on a beautifully blustery early spring day. This was my first visit to Pacific City, a mid-sized coastal town where car bummer stickers proclaim: “Pacific City: a town of drunks with a fishing problem.” With the bay for fishing and a State Park with some very large sand dunes and strong wind for hang gliding, this town keeps hoppin’. I parked in the public parking at Cape Kiwanda and walked north on the beach away from town. Hiking the sandy Cape to get some of these shots was a calf-stretcher, but worth it!

My next visit to Pacific City was on a day more quintessentially the perfect beach day – sunny and warm. This time I explored along the southern end of Pacific City’s coastline, parking by the Green Acres horseback riding stables near Bob Straub State Park. The small parking lot had a very steep sand dune between it and the beach, which I had to climb – both ways, entering and leaving the beach. Slightly winded, I ended up sitting in the beach grass at the top of the dune for a bit. Sitting there I realized that, unlike Seaside or Cannon Beach on such days, there were very few people out on the beach. It was a nice ratio of people to sand space.

That same day, my friend Anna and I left Pacific City and drove south on highway 101 to Depoe Bay. There I shared with her the Depoe Bay Scenic Lookout. We walked along the rock coastline to view the town from a northwestern angle. Anna had previously only driven through Depoe Bay, which is understandable considering it doesn’t really have sandy beaches to speak of. It literally is a coastal town with a bay and a good fishing culture.

With summer almost here, I got one more spring beach trip in. This time, it was for a birthday celebration. The group of us drove out to Astoria, out on the mighty Columbia River – where the river meets the sea. During our stop in Astoria, we took the Old 300 trolley tour of Astoria’s old town. I highly recommend the one and a half hour tour. It cost a $2 donation and the guides were informative and very friendly!

For dinner we drove on to Fort Stevens State Park, out near the wreck of the Peter Iredale, where we built a bonfire and had a picnic dinner. For the fun of it, we brought a croquet set. Let me tell you, it is a whole different game in the sand! Balls just don’t roll the same in the sand as on grass…

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.

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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.

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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.

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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
360-274-0962

 

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!

Oregon Summer – Tillamook Forest & Neskowin Beach

                                      Blazing hot.

That’s what it has been here in this part of Oregon lately.

Last week we saw temperatures of over 105 degrees Fahrenheit here in Washington County. On top of that we were seeing our air pollution levels rise from smoke coming down from the wild fires 350+ miles north in British Columbia. It made for a hot, muggy, hazy and rather bleak couple of days. While the heat wave and the hazy air are still here, it has cooled and cleared considerably.

Because this part of Oregon does not usually see such temperatures, many homes do not have air conditioning nor are people ready or accustomed to such elements. I have a friend who moved here from Texas a few years ago who was shocked to discover that many cars do not have air conditioning here in Oregon!

Last Thursday, to escape the heat, I went and joined my mom and family friends out in the Tillamook State Forest. Our family friends were camping out there at Gale’s Creek Campgrounds.

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A small rustic campground about 15 miles from Banks and Highway 26, it is a no reservation and low amenity (it has trash pick up and out-houses, but no showers) campground. It is first come, first served, and once the 23 campsites are filled, they are filled. Our friends got lucky and got a site right on Gale’s Creek.

The creek isn’t very large, but in places people have dug out rocks and have hand built rock and log dams to make for small, but deeper “swimming” holes. My young friends (ages 6 & 7 ½) think they are the best!

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As we sat on boulders in the creek, the younger kids swimming while the older kids threw rocks and Frisbees, we could see the haze above the cedars and pines. Thankfully the air in the forest, especially by the water, was cool and clear.
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