Posted tagged ‘Hood River Valley’

Proposal: Bald Butte Loop

July 26, 2011

Arrowleaf Balsamroot are the stars of the spring wildflower show

Each spring the parking lot at the Dog Mountain trailhead in the Columbia Gorge starts to look like Black Friday at a shopping mall: hundreds of hikers crowd the trail for the classic hike through steep meadows of blooming arrowleaf balsamroot. Who can blame them? The flower show is spectacular, even with the crowds.

But for those seeking a bit more solitude with their wildflowers — and equally impressive views — the hike up Bald Butte in the nearby Hood River Valley is a fine alternative to Dog Mountain. The blooms usually come a few weeks later here, toward the end of May and into June. Because Bald Butte lies well east of the Cascade crest, the weather is usually better here, too.

The beautiful flower display on Bald Butte frames sweeping views of Mount Hood and the Hood River Valley

Measured in travel time from the heart of Portland, Bald Butte is a bit more distant than Dog Mountain. But the somewhat longer drives includes the gorgeous final stretch up the Hood River Valley, which is a treat in itself for hikers.

Diamond in the Rough

So, why doesn’t the Bald Butte trail see more boot traffic? One answer could be the upper trailhead, which is accessed off Surveyors Ridge Road and is the unintended gateway for 4x4s, dirt bikes and quads to illegally enter the area. While the area trails are only open to hikers, bikes and horses, motorized vehicles continue to be a problem.

This 4x4 is driving illegally on the “trail” to Bald Butte

A second reason for fewer visitors at Bald Butte might be the quality of the “trail” from the upper trailhead to the summit. Here, the route officially follows the Surveyors Ridge Trail (No. 688), though the “trail” is actually an old dirt road that once served as access to a fire lookout on the summit of Bald Butte.

The road is not only difficult to enforce as a “trail”, it also provides a substandard hiking surface in many spots, with the illegal OHV use destroying the surface, and leaving a difficult mess of loose cobbles and ruts for hikers to navigate.

OHV damage to the “trail” at Bald Butte will likely require some sections to simply be closed and rehabilitated

Finally, the trail is bisected by the monstrous Bonneville Power Administration transmission corridor. This visual and ecological calamity came into being with the completion of The Dalles Dam in 1957, and is only surpassed by the dam, itself, for the negative impacts it brings to the area (see [link= http://wyeastblog.wordpress.com/2009/02/03/transmission-corridor-redux/%5DTransmission Corridor Redux[/link]

The BPA Transmission Corridor is a manageable eyesore

Despite these drawbacks, the hike is a spectacular one, and fills a unique niche by providing an early season mountain hike when many trails in the area are still snowed in.

More importantly, there are straightforward solutions for resolving these drawbacks, and thus the Bald Butte trail represents a diamond-in-the-rough opportunity, just waiting to shine. This article proposes a few the solutions that could greatly enhance the hiking experience on Bald Butte, while also mitigating some of the environmental problems that currently exist.

A new vision for Bald Butte

Spring wildflower spectacle on the slopes of Bald Butte

This proposal addresses four issues that currently diminish the Bald Butte trail:

1. Formalizes and manages the upper trailhead to prevent OHVs from straying onto trails.

2. Replaces sections of “road” that currently serve as “trail”.

3. Improves the hiking experience where the route crosses the BPA corridor.

4. Establishes a loop trail system that allows for better mixing of bikes and hikers.

Above all, the new trail connections in this proposal enhance the scenic experience for hikers by simply bringing them through more of the open meadows that are the main attraction — just as the newer, redesigned trails on Dog Mountain focus on the meadows and river views.

The following maps show these key elements for improving the trails at Bald Butte. The major new addition would be a loop trail starting at the lower end of the Oak Ridge Trail, and climbing the open slopes of Bald Butte.

[click here for a larger map]

The Surveyors Ridge Trail from the upper trailhead to the summit, where it follows the old road, would be converted to become a true trail. The new sections would be built across the BPA Corridor and along the south summit approach to Bald Butte. The current dirt road segments could then be completely decommissioned, giving the butte a much-needed rest from off-highway vehicles.

[click here for a larger map]

The BPA corridor, itself, would also be managed differently. Under this proposal, the Bonneville Power Administration would designate a scenic unit where the transmission corridor passes over the shoulder of Bald Butte. The agency would then manage the vegetation under the transmission lines with an eye toward integrating the corridor with the adjacent forests and meadows, and providing the best possible hiking experience.

This element of the proposal could be a pilot project for better management of BPA tranmission corridors in other areas, with new best-management practices developed to address OHVs, dumping, invasive species and other nuisances that tend to follow the BPA corridors. The proposed scenic unit is shown in purple on the proposal maps.

The main draw in the proposal would be a new trail crossing the open slopes of Bald Butte. This is an exceptionally scenic area, and the trail concept could be patterned after the “new” trail on Dog Mountain, with an eye toward creating a world-class hiking experience.

[click here for a larger map]

In addition to the spring wildflower spectacle, this expanded trail system on Bald Butte would provide a nearly year-round hiking and biking opportunity. The loop design would also allow for bikes to remain on the Oak Ridge Trail, with the new trail limited to hikers. This would allow hikers looking for a loop trip to use both trails, but reserving the new route for those uneasy with shared hike/bike routes.

Finally, the upper trailhead would be retained in this proposal, despite the problems it currently brings with illegal activity. The short access road to the trailhead is unsigned, poorly maintained and the surrounding area is in a raw, semi-developed state that sets the stage for the unlawful activities that occur here.

To help remedy the situation, the trailhead could be formalized and improved to appeal to legitimate forest visitors — families looking for a shorter hike or bike to the summit of Bald Butte or along the Surveyor’s Ridge Trail, for example. Despite the presence of the BPA towers, the view toward Mount Hood from the upper trailhead is sweeping, and could even serve as a picnic site or more formal viewpoint for motorists touring the area.

How to Visit Bald Butte Now

There is no need to wait until the trails at Bald Butte have been improved, as the current routes provide for terrific hike, especially in spring and early summer.

The Oak Ridge Trail serves as the first leg of the hike, beginning from the trailhead of the same name, just off Highway 35. The route then follows the Surveyors Ridge Trail past the BPA corridor and to the summit, following the old lookout road for the final segment.

A detailed hike description, with maps and photos is provided on the Portland Hikers.org Field Guide:

Bald Butte Hike Description

Enjoy!

Proposal: Baldwin Memorial Wayside

October 25, 2010

Few in the Hood River Valley would ever recognize the name “Gilhouley Road”, much less anyone from beyond the area. And yet, at the intersection of this obscure dirt road and the Mount Hood Loop Highway lies an imposing scene that is treasured by locals and tourists, alike: the first big look at Mount Hood as you descend into the Upper Hood River Valley.

On a clear day, you’re guaranteed to see tourists pulled to the highway shoulder, snapping pictures of the mountain rising above bucolic pastures, even as semi-trucks roar past on the downgrade. The scene is irresistible.

Illegal dumping on the proposed wayside site

Earlier this year, a friend and national parks advocate from New England was visiting, and took the opportunity to drive the Mount Hood loop, and see “Oregon’s next national park”. Despite all of the mistreatment Mount Hood has seen, his sharpest critique was the shabby way in which we treat our visitors. He was amazed at the utter lack of traveler information — and confusing information, when it was provided. So, this article is inspired by his comments.

Rediscovering Waysides and Viewpoints

In the early days of auto touring, the Columbia River Gorge had the “King of Roads”, and among the great features of Samuel Lancaster’s magnificent scenic highway were the waysides and viewpoints that dotted the route. A family could load into their 1917 Packard Twin Six, and make a day of it, pulling off at each viewpoint, snapping photos with the family Brownie camera, and often following the short trails that led to still more views, or perhaps a waterfall.

Crown Point is the king of the waysides on the “King of Roads”

Times haven’t changed all that much, since, but the way we design our roads has. Tourists are now discouraged from stopping in many spots, and often take their life in their hands, if they do. Today’s highway engineers are much more concerned about keeping cars moving, at all costs.

The Hood River valley has just one “official” roadside viewpoint, located on county-owned land at Panorama Point in the lower valley. The scene is well-known, but also well removed from the Mount Hood loop highway by a couple miles. This proposal is for a companion overlook to Panorama Point, located in the upper valley, where the mountain first comes into full view for highway travelers, at the obscure junction with Gilhouley Road.

Click here for a larger map

In researching the possibilities for a new wayside at this spot, I first did a site inspection of the hillside above the highway: the area is recently logged, but with a fair number of mature trees left standing. The inevitable illegal dumping is present, of course — the scourge of public lands in highway corridors. But the view is breathtaking, with Mount Hood even more dramatically framed by hills, forests and fields than from the highway grade.

According to public lands data, the land is mostly public, and owned by Hood River County. The map (above) shows a perfect rectangle of public property that extents east along Gilhouley Road from nearby Middle Mountain, largely encompassing the wayside site. One triangle of land (indicated with a question mark) may be a private parcel, but isn’t essential to the wayside concept.

The approach to the site from Highway 35 is ideal: the intersection is located on a long, straight segment of road that would make for safe exit and entry from either direction. The presence of Gilhouley Road means that access is legally assured, with little possibility of an extended battle with ODOT for the right to build a wayside.

Looking south at the wayside site from Highway 35

The larger question is whether ODOT and Oregon State Parks would step up to make this a joint venture with local governments. It seems plausible, at least, given the lack of waysides along this portion of the loop highway, and the obviously heavy tourist traffic.

What would the wayside look like?

The site inspection revealed a surprising expanse of public land available at this site, so I’ve sketched a full-blown day use park as the proposed “Baldwin Memorial Wayside”.

As the schematic (below) shows, there could be a viewing structure, picnic areas, a nature trail and restrooms. This degree of development puts the concept into the major investment category, but certainly not beyond reach, especially since there are no other state parks or waysides in the Hood River Valley.

Click here for a larger map

Because the site has recently been logged, the wayside proposal could be equal parts park development and habitat restoration. While the main feature would be a developed overlook for highway travelers, this proposal also takes advantage of the open hillside rising above the highway. A scattering of ponderosa pine spared from logging provides an excellent opportunity for an interpretive trail built around habitat restoration.

One interesting possibility could be a restored balsamroot and lupine meadow beneath the pines. These spectacular blooming species are native to the area, are already present on the site and could become a popular draw for spring visitors to the area, just as similar wildflower spots in the Gorge are now.

What would it take?

Could a project like this really happen? Some stars are already aligned: Hood River County already owns the land and access rights to the highway at Gilhouley Road. Together, these are an invaluable step forward, since the road guarantees highway access and the land can be used as a grant match for state and federal funds. The site also benefits from access to utilities and proximity to existing emergency services. These are all core considerations when creating a new public park.

Most of all, it would take local leadership in the Hood River Valley area to secure state or federal funding through grants or other sources. Even in times of tight public budgets, this sort of project is achievable, especially if it helps reinforce the local economy and has an ecological purpose.

About the Name

Lastly, what would this new wayside be called? Well, “Baldwin Memorial Wayside” is simply borrowed from nearby Baldwin Creek, which in turn, memorializes Stephen M. Baldwin, who settled a claim along the stream in 1878. This would have made Baldwin one of the earliest settlers in the area.

The Cloud Cap Inn circa 1900

But this is where the connection to the Mount Hood view comes in: Stephen Baldwin’s son Mason “Mace” Baldwin became a well-known figure in Hood River County history in the early 1900s. Most notably, he was one of the founders of the legendary Crag Rats mountain rescue group in 1926, formed after the dramatic rescue he led that summer of an 11-year-old boy lost on Mount Hood.

Mace Baldwin not only gave the Crag Rats their name, he was also elected to be the group’s first “Big Squeak” (president), and went on to take part in many mountain rescues over the years. The Crag Rats were the first mountain rescue organization to be formed in the American West. In 1954, the Crag Rats adopted the venerable Cloud Cap Inn, on the north shoulder of the mountain, and have since been the careful stewards under special arrangement with the Forest Service.

The Crag Rats continue to be active today, and given the connection of this site to one of their founders, perhaps the “Baldwin Memorial Wayside” could include a tribute to these mountain heroes? It would certainly be a fitting memorial, and a fine way for visitors to enjoy the mountain view and learn a bit more about it’s rich human history.

Parkdale Lava Flow

March 29, 2009
The dark wall formed by the Parkdale Lava Flow rises abruptly from the famous fruit orchards of the Hood River Valley

The dark wall formed by the Parkdale Lava Flow rises abruptly from the famous fruit orchards of the Hood River Valley

Tourists will soon be streaming into the Hood River Valley to marvel at the pink and white blossoms that blanket Oregon’s most famous apple and pear orchards each spring, with snowy Mount Hood towering above.

For many, the trip takes them to the tiny farm hamlet of Parkdale, in the heart of the upper valley. Here, the unexpected view of a dark wall of lava known as the Parkdale Lava Flow is a surprise to even longtime Oregonians. This dramatic flow is among the largest and youngest in the Cascades, yet remains surprisingly unknown.

This Google Earth view looks south, from the toe of the Parkdale Lava Flow, toward its origin, at the foot of Mount Hood

This Google Earth view looks south, from the toe of the Parkdale Lava Flow, toward its origin, at the foot of Mount Hood

From the farms near Parkdale. the lava flow looks like a ridge of jumbled boulders, with the occasional Douglas fir or ponderosa pine poking out of the chaos. But viewed from above, the formation takes on a more recognizable form. Flowing north from a deep fissure at the foot of Mount Hood, the lava first poured down the valley in a single, broad stream, pushing the Middle Fork of the Hood River from its channel.

As the river of molten rock reached the flats of the upper Hood River Valley, the lava began to spread out from the river channel, with great lobes spilling sideways from the main flow onto the valley floor. By the time the eruption was over, the lava had traveled more than four miles, and poured more than 390 million cubic yards of molten rock on the surface. That’s 4 million dump truck loads of lava, and when the lava cooled, it covered nearly 3,000 acres to depths as much as 300 feet.

Aerial views show giant ripples and lobes in the Parkdale lava flow, and the displaced Middle Fork Hood River, flowing along the edge of the new lava

Aerial views show giant ripples and lobes in the Parkdale lava flow, and the displaced Middle Fork Hood River, flowing along the edge of the new lava

The Middle Fork of the Hood River must have been a hellish sight when the eruption occurred, as molten rock filled the stream bed, and vaporized both river and forest as it overwhelmed the landscape. Today, the river traces the west margin of the flow (shown on the right in the image above), with lava slopes rising steeply from the stream. This rugged terrain along the Middle Fork makes for one of the least-visited sections of river anywhere in the Mount Hood region.

The Parkdale Lava Flow is young by geologic standards at just 7,000 years old. That places the eruption at about the time when Crater Lake was formed, following the massive eruption and collapse of the former Mount Mazama.

The Parkdale Lava Flow falls partly into private ownership

The Parkdale Lava Flow falls partly into private ownership

Geologists note that the Parkdale flow overlays traces of Crater Lake ash deposited in the Mount Hood area, suggesting that the lava flowed just after the destruction of Mount Mazama. This puts both events within the period when the first Native Americans were living in the region, and we can only imagine how the ensuing chaos must have impacted these early residents.

Since the eruption 7,000 years ago, a few trees have pioneered the lava flow, mostly along shaded side slopes, but it mostly looks like it erupted very recently. As might be expected, the flow is also home to small wildlife that thrive in the shelter that the jumbled rock provides. Through sheer luck, the flow was never mined for aggregate, despite its proximity to huge construction projects, such as the dams and highways in the nearby Columbia River Gorge.

The Forest Service has designated 854 acres of the Parkdale Lava Flow as a geologic “Special Interest Area” for the stated purpose of “public recreation use, study and enjoyment.” In its forest plan, the agency has committed to managing such areas in a natural condition, pending a detailed implementation plan for each area. This is where the Parkdale Lava Flow stands today.

Part of the lava flow, along the northeast corner (see map), is on private land. While this private land is already inside the Mount Hood National Forest jurisdictional boundary, the agency rarely acquires land thanks to lack of dedicated funding or a clear mission on which lands ought to be acquired. So for now, this is yet another unique natural feature at risk of development.

In the long term, the Mount Hood National Park Campaign envisions bringing the L-shaped piece of private land into public ownership, and providing recreational and interpretive access to the area. Until that day, the area can be explored off-trail, with access from adjacent forest roads.


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