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Warren Falls: A Postscript (Part 1 of 2)

November 27, 2016
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Warren Falls lives! Well, on a few days each year, after heavy rainfall…

The campaign to restore Warren Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is over, at least for now.

The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is putting the final touches on the latest section of the Historic Columbia River Highway (HCRH) State Trail, from Starvation Creek to Lindsey Creek (more on that in part two of this article), and undoing their diversion tunnel at Warren Falls was not part of the deal.

While Warren Creek now has an especially handsome bridge on the new state trail, the dry cliffs of beautiful Warren Falls (below) will continue to be a ghostly testament to the arrogance and carelessness of our modern age – except on those rare stormy days each winter when the falls briefly reappears (above).

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Warren Falls as it exists most of the time… for now…

Restoring the falls would have been the perfect companion to the HCRH State Trail project, itself an epic restoration project. Samuel Lancaster would surely have approved, too. It was a once in a century opportunity to do the work while heavy equipment was right in front of the falls. But if fighting City Hall is an uphill battle, then the castle walls at ODOT are still more foreboding.

The agency isn’t a monolith. There was encouragement and support from sympathetic professionals at ODOT along the way, albeit plenty of opposition from others. In the end, the agency formerly known only as the Oregon Highway Department revealed its roots, reluctant to step beyond its narrow right-of-way.

And yet the Historic Highway State Trail project, itself, is a bold step forward from simply building highways, and one the agency has been truly committed to. Thus, I’m hopeful about ODOT’s future, and the new state trail has much for us to be proud of.

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So very close… but not this time…

[click here for a larger view]

Perhaps most disappointing is ODOT’s lack of ownership and sense of responsibility for a stream diversion project that today would be considered a crime against nature. Even when Warren Creek was diverted and the falls destroyed in 1939, it was jarringly at odds with the vision and reverence for the landscape of Samuel Lancaster’s Columbia River Highway, and should have sent up red flags for the Highway Department.

Still more astonishing was learning during the course of this project that none other than Conde McCullough – engineering deity to many as the designer of Oregon’s most treasured highway bridges of the 1920s and 30s – signed off on the diversion project while serving as chief engineer!

Worse, we also learned along the way that it was completely illegal to destroy the falls, even back in 1939, as revealed in this article on the blog.  Oregon wasn’t a very big place back then, so it’s hard to believe the law protecting the falls went unnoticed at the time… but the truth on that point will likely never be known.

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Warren Falls flows briefly in 2015

Perhaps the greatest irony in the Warren Falls saga is that the original diversion project was designed to protect one the bridges on Sam Lancaster’s famous new road – by destroying one of the more spectacular waterfalls along the route. Lancaster died in March 1941, so it’s doubtful that he was even aware of the project as it moved forward in 1939. Let’s hope so, anyway.

Today, the crumbling diversion dam and tunnel are still listed as “assets” by ODOT, but are really just orphans, and now all but forgotten by the agency for the foreseeable future. Short of Oregon Parks and Recreation (OPRD) taking on the decommissioning as part of some sort of larger Warren Creek restoration project, the most likely outcome is continued deterioration of the diversion structure until nature finally reclaims it.

So, the campaign to restore Warren Falls is over… or is it?

Postscript… and premonition?

After years of attending meetings, writing letters, giving tours to all manner of advocates and officials and even a segment on OPB’s “Oregon Field Guide”, there weren’t many stones left to turn in coaxing ODOT to bring Warren Falls back to its original glory. On the surface, there’s very little to show for the effort.

But is that really true? It depends on how you define victory.

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OPB crew at Warren Falls in 2012

Yes, in the immediate future ODOT will continue to treat Warren Creek like a glorified storm culvert, and the former Warren Falls will continue to be a depository for “trash” (what the original engineers called the rock and woody debris we now know are essential to a stream health) separated from the creek’s flow. That’s a shame, and a missed opportunity for the agency to show that it has evolved from its “Highway Department” past.

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OPB crew above Warren Falls in 2012

But over the past five years, tens of thousands of people have learned the story of Warren Falls thanks to the OPB coverage, thousands more have viewed the WyEast Blog stories here and on the Restore Warren Falls Facebook page, and hundreds have visited the falls site, with more making the side trip each year to pay homage to what once was – and will be, again.

Until they see the silent cliffs where Warren Falls once flowed, most of these visitors have no idea that today’s Hole-in-the-Wall Falls is simply a man-made attraction that came at the cost of destroying Warren Falls. Armed with the history of Warren Falls, few who visit can view it as anything less than an environmental tragedy.

So, despite losing this round, Warren Falls has a lot of new friends, and a lot of people who love the Gorge have gained a better understanding of the lasting cost of “progress” and the chore of undoing our handiwork, even in places we seek to protect most.

Which brings me to…

(Not so) Secrets of the Monkey Wrench Gang…

Oh, how I wish I could share all of the schemes for liberating Warren Falls that have come my way over the past five years! They range from temporary performance art to more permanent alterations that would probably be illegal… if any governing entities were actually concerned about the fate of Warren Falls.

Still more surprising is the range of Monkey-Wrench-Gang-wannabes who proposed taking the restoration of Warren Falls into their own hands: you’ll just have to use your imagination, but some were rather prominent folks who left me speechless with their audacious plans.

So, I’ll share a few highlights, with the strict caveat from the WyEast Blog Legal Department:

NONE OF THESE ACTIVITIES APPEARS TO BE LEGAL, at least not without prior permission from the OPRD or ODOT (and good luck with that, by the way), and therefore the following DOES NOT CONDONE OR ENDORSE these ideas in any way!

Whew. Okay, well one of the most popular schemes is to roll plastic tarps over the giant “trash rack” that forms the screen over the Warren diversion tunnel. This would allow the pristine waters of Warren Creek to ride a plastic liner above the tunnel and over the natural falls. Sort of a giant slippery-slide, but with a real surprise at the end!

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The massive “trash rack” that turned Warren Falls dry in 1939

Someday (on my deathbed, or possibly at the dedication of a restored Warren Falls?) I may reveal an especially prominent individual who personally pitched a version of the slippery slide to me – truly, one of the more unexpected twists in this five-year saga!

Most versions of the slippery slide focused on getting a really good look at what an unaltered Warren Falls looked like via a temporary restoration. But Warren Creek gets pretty wild and wooly in winter, so this would likely be a very brief restoration.

There’s also the question of what would happen to the tarps, once swept away, as there is a lot of potential for adding more man-made junk to an already defaced stream (assuming the tarps didn’t get hung up on the cliffs or left hanging form the outflow to Hole-in-the-Wall Falls).

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OPB’s Michael Bendixen filming the “trash rack” above the brink of Warren Falls in 2012

Others suggested (WyEast Blog Legal Department repeat notice: not condoning this!) speeding up the “weathering” process that has already begun to expose and compromise the steel beams that form the “trash rack” at the top of the falls.

It turns out that in just the ten years since I’ve been advocating to restore the falls, this part of the diversion has shown noticeable deterioration, and seems to be speeding up. It turns out the top of the “trash rack” is the weakest point in the design, and is steadily unraveling. So, I’m not sure Mother Nature needs much help at this point, despite the enthusiastic volunteers out there.

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OPB’s Michael Bendixen on top of the “trash rack” that rests on a cobble dam that is gradually eroding away

These photos show the vulnerability of the steel “trash rack” beams where the mortar that once fully embedded them above the diversion tunnel has been significantly compromised since 1939 by the relentless flow Warren Creek:

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A closer look at the lip of the “trash rack” showing the masonry cap on the cobble dam

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The masonry cap has worn thin where it anchors the top of the “trash rack” and a small garden flourishes where debris has clogged the giant grate

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Creative types see an opportunity to speed up the demise of the “trash rack” where these steel beams are almost freed from the concrete cap by weathering

The motive for speeding up the release of the beams varies among schemes and schemers.

One version is to allow enough stream material to pass under the protective “trash rack” to plug up the surprisingly narrow diversion tunnel leading to Hole-in-the-Wall Falls. Which is just 60” in diameter. This is probably what Mother Nature has in mind, though it may take awhile.

Another angle on speeding up the weathering at the top of the steel beams is to allow larger debris (logs, large rocks) to wedge between the beams, thus acting as levers to literally tear it apart with hydraulic pressure during high stream flow. To a large extent, this is already happening, as at least half the rack is plugged with smaller cobbles that are twisting and bending the steel beams with the effects of freeze and thaw during the winter months.

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Vince Patton from Oregon Field Guide inspecting the access vault on the west end of the “trash rack”

At least one Warren Falls fan spotted the open vault above the west end of the diversion structure and suggested diverting the creek into this hole (WyEast Blog Legal Department reprise: this is not an endorsement! Plus, you might fall into a tunnel that spit out as a man-made waterfall!), where it could move debris large enough to plug the bypass tunnel. I’m not positive, but I think solid basalt prevents this from happening – either through creative monkey-wrenching or courtesy Mother Nature. But I was impressed at the attention to detail from those who love Warren Falls!

As much as I enjoyed hearing these inspired pitches for a DIY restoration of Warren Falls, one of the reasons I advocated for removing the “trash rack” structure and filling the bypass tunnel in an orderly way was to avoid having a bunch of steel debris entombed at the lip of this beautiful falls. I’d still much prefer a thoughtful decommissioning of the diversion over a disorganized mess – whether triggered by humans or nature.

We owe it to future generations to do this right. And who knows, we may still get the chance!

What the Future Holds: Warren’s Cousins

Short of an unforeseen intervention, the restoration of Warren Falls by forces of nature will take awhile. But it turns out that Warren Falls has some similarly trod-upon cousins in the area who have suffered flagrant abuse, then been abandoned to recover on their own.

The good news: in all cases, nature is winning… albeit, very slowly.

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White River Falls needlessly goes dry each summer, thanks to a derelict Pacific Power diversion that sends the river around the falls (visible dropping in on the right).

A spectacular example is White River Falls, located in a state park by that name on the east side of Mount Hood. The falls is just upstream from the confluence of the White River with the Deschutes River.

More than a century ago, the Wasco Milling Company diverted much of the falls to a giant pipeline that fed a powerhouse downstream. Energy from the powerhouse was transmitted to The Dalles. Wasco Milling later sold the plant to Pacific Power, and it was finally shut down in 1960, when the land was transferred to the state of Oregon.

Pacific Power left quite a mess behind. The abandoned power plant, numerous pipelines and the diversion dam all still survive on state park land today. During high runoff in winter and spring the diversion channel is overwhelmed, and the former glory of White River Falls is on display. But by late summer, the entire flow is still diverted into the bypass channel, tumbling around the falls where the diversion pipe once existed.

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The derelict diversion channel at White River Falls

In this way, the situation at White River is not unlike present-day Hole-in-the-Wall Falls burping out of the Warren Falls bypass tunnel where it once connected to a flume that carried the creek over the old highway and to the Columbia River.

And like Warren Falls, the bypass channel “falls” at White River is a sad, ugly duckling compared to the magnificent original falls. But while there is no plan to formally decommission the diversion at White River Falls, the approach to the diversion dam is increasingly clogged with silt and debris, and should eventually fail, finally closing the chapter on the Wasco Milling Company era.

A few years ago, I reported on a now-scrapped scheme by Wasco County officials to reboot the White River generating plant, proving once again the wise words of John Muir: “Nothing dollarable is safe.” Even in an Oregon state park, it turns out.

A closer cousin to Warren Falls is popular Bridal Veil Falls, located at the far west end of the Columbia Gorge. Though few of the thousands of visitors who hike to the base of Bridal Veil Falls each year can even imagine what this spot looked like just a few decades ago, it was one of the most heavily degraded areas in the Gorge.

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The lower tier of famous Bridal Veil Falls was altered for mill operations! Who knew?

The mill town of Bridal Veil was once located just 100 yards below the falls, though the town is now nothing more than concrete foundations and rusted cables covered in moss and undergrowth. In this eastward view (below) from the early 1900s, today’s Bridal Veil exit from I-84 to Multnomah Falls would be located near the buildings at the far end of the mill town.

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The mill town of Bridal Veil in the early 1900s

The pile of rough-cut timber in the foreground marks the terminus of log flumes that fed the Bridal Veil mill. At least three timber flumes carried logs and rough lumber to the mill from the slopes of Larch Mountain. One flume closely followed Bridal Veil Creek with the kind of roller coaster ride theme park “log rides” have tried to replicate ever since.

In the scene below (from about 1900) the audacious scale of the flume is evident as it courses down the canyon, about a mile above Bridal Veil Falls, and just below Middle Bridal Veil Falls. The area had already been heavily logged by this time and the stream was viewed as nothing more than a steady water source and convenient path for moving old-growth timber to the mill.

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The main flume followed a ravaged Bridal Veil canyon to the mill

This view (below) of the converging flumes coming into the mill site conceals Bridal Veil Falls, which is located directly beneath the flumes. Today’s trail to the falls would have travelled under all three flumes where they converge in this scene.

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Flumes over Bridal Veil Falls (the falls is located directly below the flumes)

Bridal Veil Falls not only had a trio of log flumes passing overhead, the falls itself was also modified by the mill, presumably to carry water to the mill (though this is just my own speculation – I’d love to hear from mill historians who know more about this!)

The photo below shows the falls in the late 1800s, just before the lower tier had been raised about 15 feet, creating a pool below the upper tier and allowing for a diversion structure (?) to presumably carry a piped portion of the creek to the nearby mill.

During periods of low water today, you can still see parts of the diversion structure at Bridal Veil Falls poking from the water (below).

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Lower tier of Bridal Veil Falls as it exists today

Here are detailed views of the diversion structure that raised the lower tier of Bridal Veil Falls to what we see today:

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A closer look at what seems to be a cobble dam that raised the height of the lower tier of Bridal Veil Falls…

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…and a still closer look…

This rare view from the early 1900s shows the diversion structure already in ruins or perhaps under construction? In either case, its purpose only lasted a short period, and in this way the falls is a kindred spirit to Warren Falls, where the short-lived diversion functioned for barely a decade before becoming obsolete and abandoned.

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The cobble dam shortly after construction… or perhaps after it was abandoned?

Today, there are still a lot of concrete and steel reminders of the mill town, though they’re often hidden in plain sight, under layers of rust, moss and ferns. For example, this view (below) of the stream below Bridal Veil Falls reveals a “boulder” that is actually a concrete footing and an intake pipe for one of the mill ponds.

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Mill relics hiding under moss at Bridal Veil Falls

Other large waterfalls on Bridal Veil Creek were impacted by the mill operation, but have recovered dramatically in the decades since the mill finally closed in the 1960s. Here are then-and-now photos of Middle and Upper Bridal Veil Falls:

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[click here for a larger version]

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[click here for a larger version]

In more recent years, stolen automobiles have periodically been pushed from the cliffs along historic Palmer Mill Road into Bridal Veil canyon. Some of these dumped vehicles have been pulled from the canyon, but others are too difficult to reach, and are slowly fading into the forest.

While they have undoubtedly released engine fluids into the creek and have plastic parts that will last for decades, nature and Bridal Veil Creek are nonetheless making short work of the rest of these vehicles.

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Moss and ferns consuming a dumped Hyundai Santa Fe just above Upper Bridal Veil Falls (photo courtesy Jamen Lee)

Unlike Warren Falls, the waterfalls on Bridal Veil Creek were never completely diverted from their natural streambed, yet the overall impact of logging and milling at Bridal Veil had a much larger impact on the larger watershed than anything Warren Creek endured. The fact that Mother Nature has consumed most of what wasn’t salvaged when the flumes were pulled from Bridal Veil canyon in the mid-1900s is an inspiration for the ongoing recovery of Warren Falls.

In time, all traces of our impact on the environment really can heal – provided we allow it to happen. Responsibly cleaning up after ourselves would be a more noble path, of course, but at least nature seems to forgive us in time… so far.

Warren Falls Lives!

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False alarm! Horsetail does look a lot like Warren Falls, though…

A few weeks ago, the local waterfall hunting community had a brief moment of excitement when a vintage 1918 film seemed to include a rare view of Warren Falls! But after looking more closely at the images, it turned out to be Horsetail Falls in very low flow. So, the hunt for a photograph of Warren Falls before the 1939 diversion project continues.

But the similarity was real, so the following is a rough guess of what we might see – and perhaps, sooner than we think: Warren Falls flowing again, returning its amazing amphitheater to mossy green, as the diversion structure continues to crumble into history.

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For waterfall devotees, this is Horsetail Falls superimposed on Warren’s dry cliff with the reversed base of Dry Creek Falls providing the foreground.

[click here for a large version]

Of course, we already know what a small amount of flow over Warren Falls looks like during high runoff events, as shown in previous photos in this article. What we don’t know is what the full force of Warren Creek might look like coming over this 120-foot escarpment, and especially what it might do with 77 years of accumulated stream debris piled at the base of the natural falls.

We have a pretty good idea, though, based on recent dam removals around the Pacific Northwest. It turns out that streams are surprisingly quick to redistribute accumulated debris and restore themselves to their natural stream state, as we’ve seen with dam removals on the Hood, Little Sandy and White Salmon rivers.

Today, Warren Creek below falls has been reduced to ditch, radically moved by ODOT from its former channel in the 1950s and devoid of the rocks and woody debris essential to a healthy stream since 1939, thanks to the “trash rack”.

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Add some rocks and logs to lower Warren Creek and it might look like this someday

[click here for a large version]

When Warren Falls returns, the huge pile of stream debris will begin to move downstream, and the debris-starved lower section of Warren Creek will develop the pools and eddies necessary for salmon and steelhead to spawn, as imagined above.

The good news is that the new HCRH State Trail passes high and wide over Warren Creek, ensuring that the creek can evolve back to a natural state in the future without a redux of the 1930s highway impacts that led to the diversion of Warren Falls.

When will Warren Falls return? Not just now… but perhaps sooner than we think.

Meanwhile, we wait… and watch.

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(Part two of this article will focus on a review of the newly completed Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail segment from Starvation Creek to Wonder Creek, and passing Warren Falls)

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 To revisit the complete history of the Restore Warren Falls project, here are earlier WyEast blog articles on the subject:

 An Overdue Warren Falls Update (and a bombshell!)

“Warren Falls Lives… Again?”

Warren Falls Solutions

“Warren Falls, we’re ready for your closeup…”

 Warren Falls Mystery… Solved!

Restoring Warren Creek Falls

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Warren Falls on Oregon Field Guide

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Restore Warren Falls on Facebook!

 

 

 

Fireweed: a rose by any other name..?

September 5, 2016
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Fireweed frames Umbrella Falls on the East Fork Hood River

Somewhere in the long history of botanical naming slander was committed, as the common name “Fireweed” was given to one of the most beautiful and useful plants found in our forests – and around the world. Thus, the noble Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) comes to be associated with notoriously invasive plants like Horseweed, Bindweed, Chickweed, Tumbleweed and Pigweed!

But Fireweed is anything but a weed, at least by the most common definitions:

weed  (wēd) noun

A plant considered undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome, especially one that grows where it is not wanted and often grows or spreads fast or takes the place of desired plants.

To the contrary, Fireweed is a widespread native in northern latitudes, growing from sea level to timberline in a remarkable range of habitats. The common name is half-right, as Fireweed is among the first and most prolific plants to return to burned areas, performing an essential role in stabilizing soil and providing shade for other flora to gradually return. Fireweed is equally at home in moist meadows, forest margins and wherever the ground has been disturbed by human or natural activity.

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Fireweed has carpeted the 2011 Dollar Fire on the north slopes of Mount Hood

The string of fires over the past decade on the east and north slopes of Mount Hood have brought a sea of brilliant Fireweed blossoms to the mountain each summer. Fireweed spreads readily by seed, but are hardy perennials, so they provide years of soil stabilization once established in burned forests or disturbed areas.

Fireweed blossoms are spectacular: their spikes can grow as tall as six feet, though typically they are 3-4 feet in height. Their flowering plumes can have 50 or more blossoms, opening first at the base of the spike and progressing through their long blooming season, typically from June to September.

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Fireweed flower spike

Each Fireweed blossom has four petals that alternate with four narrow sepals, surrounding white stamen and a pistil that splits in fourths.

Depending on your eyes, the blossoms are anything from hot pink to bright fuchsia. The flower stems are often bright crimson, as well, adding to the striking appearance of these plants during their bloom season.

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Fireweed flower spike

The leaves on Fireweed long, narrow strips, radiating from the stem like steps on a ladder. Their leaves give the Fireweed its Latin name of “angustifolium” (meaning narrow-leaved). A close look at the leaves reveals an unusual feature: circular veins looping back to the leaf stem instead of terminating at the edges like most plants.

Given their adaptability to the wide range of habitats we have in Oregon, it’s not surprising that Fireweed is found across much of North America, as well as northern Europe:

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Fireweed is especially common in the boreal snow forests of Alaska and Canada, where the provincial flag of the Yukon Territory incorporates the Fireweed blossom:

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While Fireweed has an important ecological role as a pioneer species in burned areas, it was also collected by native peoples in the Northwest for a variety of human uses. Its leaves were brewed to make tea, and nutrient-rich spring shoots were collected as edible greens. Even the fluffy silk from its seed pods were used for weaving.

Today, Fireweed honey and other products from its nectar are still made where the flower is in abundance in places like Alaska, Canada and Northern Europe.

Fireweed Life Cycle

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Young Fireweed patch in a recently burned area

Fireweed is a perennial species with the spirit of an annual. While it springs to life from hardy roots and stems each spring, Fireweed grows as easily from its abundant seeds as any annual species, and thus its ability to quickly colonize burned or disturbed areas.

Young plants often produce one large flower spike and a couple of small spikes from auxiliary buds along the main stem. The young Fireweed shown in the photo above are typical, with young plants growing in a dense patch, each producing one main flower spike.

As Fireweed plants continue to grow over successive seasons, they form multiple branches, each with one or more large flower spike. In this way, a single mature plant is eventually capable of producing dozens of spikes. The image below shows a larger, mature Fireweed with several large flower clusters growing from the main plant.

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Mature Fireweed with multiple stems

Just as the blossoms of Fireweed open progressively beginning from the base of the flower spikes toward, older blossoms soon produce elongated pink seed capsules (below) even as the tip of the flower spike is still producing blossoms.

Within each capsule, seeds are attached to a fluff of silk that acts as a tiny parachute to carry them far and wide when the capsule splits open. This is the secret to the Fireweed’s remarkable ability to colonize.

A single Fireweed plant can produce 300 to 400 seeds per capsule and as many as 80,000 seeds per plant that will float as far as the wind will take them. Seeds can persist in the soil for years and survive fire, further helping the plant function as a pioneer species in burned areas.

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Fireweed seed capsules opening to reveal silk seed parachutes (USDA)

Fireweed seedlings quickly grow to form their first flower spike and produce seeds by their second year, while also establishing rhizomes that allow mature plants to spread and form clumps.

The first seedlings in a burn often take root where fire debris provides protection and mulch, with new plants quickly filling in the gaps in the first years after a fire. First year Fireweed seedlings look like this:

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First year Fireweed seedlings

This two-year old seedling is coming into its prime in a still scorched area of the Dollar Fire burn, along the Vista Ridge trail:

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Second-year Fireweed with a main flower spike and several auxiliary spikes

This more mature Fireweed plant has begun to spread its rhizomes and form a clump as it sends up multiple flower spikes in a protected spot by a fallen tree:

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Mature Fireweed

Adding to their colorful display, Fireweed leaves often turn to blazing shades of red and crimson in autumn, another showy feature of this remarkable plant:

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Fireweed foliage in autumn shades of red (USDA)

At higher elevations, the perennial stems of Fireweed are flattened by winter snowpack, but can survive the winter cold to produce broader clumps when new growth emerges in the next growing season.

What’s in a name?

With all of its beauty, versatility and ecological function, why isn’t the Fireweed more celebrated – outside of the Yukon Territory, that is?

Oh, be some other name! What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”

(Juliet Capulet, upon seeing her first Fireweed..?)

 One reason might be its humble name, so one option would be to revert to the British name of “Rosebay Willowherb”, a common name with origins in its herbal use dating to the late 1500s.

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Fireweed frames Mount Hood from Waucoma Ridge

But in the spirit of bucking norms and traditions, how another option that could be a more complimentary, modern version of it’s weedy current name? Like Fireroot? Or Fireflower? How about Fireleaf? Nope… doesn’t quite work.

How about… Firestar! Hmm… this minor adjustment would honor its essential role in stabilizing burned forests, but with a positive spin – after all, it is a “star” in this role! What do you think?

Yes, it would be a really big lift. A quick web search reveals an aerospace company, energy crystals, software brand, sci-fi novel, rolling fire doors and… a mutant Marvel Comics superheroine! If all of the above are anything like the Yukon Territory, they’d be honored to share their corporate namesake with a beautiful wildflower, right?

Where to see Fire…. star!

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Fireweed crowds the Vista Ridge trail as it passes through the Dollar Fire burn

I’m not really sure how to go about establishing a new common name for a flower, but since many have multiple common names, it must be possible. So, why not try?

In that spirit, here are a couple of trails where you can enjoy magnificent displays of Firestar on the slopes of Mount Hood from mid-July into September:

Elk Cove Trail: this moderately steep trail travels through the heart of the 2011 Dollar Fire, passing near the origin of the fire just below the Coe Overlook and lots of Firestar. The overlook makes a good stopping point for those looking for a shorter hike, though Elk Cove is always a lovely place to spend an afternoon.

Vista Ridge to Eden Park & Cairn Basin: this moderately graded trail hikes through the western expanse of the 2011 Dollar Fire, passing fields of Firestar along the way before looping through idyllic Eden Park and Cairn Basin. Be prepared for a couple crossings of Ladd Creek, a glacial stream that fluctuates with summer melt on hot afternoons.

Enjoy!

“Princess of the Pacific Northwest”

August 13, 2016
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The “Princess of the Pacific Northwest” in her regal summer robes (Mount Hood from Elk Cove)

A friend alerted me last week to some unexpected publicity for the Mount Hood National Park Campaign: a mention in Backpacker Magazine’s special National Parks issue! If you’ve followed the blog for awhile, this isn’t the first time the park idea for Mount Hood has made the national media – Sunset Magazine suggested included the mountain in a similar piece a few years ago, as covered in this blog article.

I should confess to not reading this magazine much, as it as always seemed a bit fluffy and gear-obsessed. But while I’ll excerpt the Mount Hood mention here, it’s definitely worth picking up a copy of the National Park issue (August 2016 issue, on newsstands now).

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Backpacker’s special National Parks issue on newsstands now (August 2016)

There are surprisingly thorough articles in this issue of Backpacker on the state of our National Parks, covering everything from the worrisome lack of diversity among parks visitors to the impacts that we are all seeing as our public lands grow increasingly popular. There’s even a piece on Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, a new effort to reboot the spirit and scope of FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps in our time.

The Mount Hood National Park mention comes way back on page 102 of the magazine. Four future parks are profiled as “top contenders” for joining the park system, including our own Mount Hood (and Columbia River Gorge), Driftless Rivers in the upper Midwest, Upper Bald River in Tennessee and Maine Woods, where National Monument status seems closer than ever after years of determined effort.

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Mount Hood at the top of the list! The “Princess of the Pacific Northwest”

But Mount Hood gets the lead and photo (Mirror Lake) in the piece, along with the wonderful tagline “Princess of the Pacific Northwest”. Mount Hood has sometimes been called the “Queen of the Cascades” over the years in a nod to “King” Rainier (often called the “Monarch of the Cascades”), but “princess” works well, too!

The article suggests the Eagle Creek trail as the best pick for exploring for new visitors. It’s also a good choice for underscoring the connection between Mount Hood and the Gorge, with the Mount Hood Loop the new national park together.

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Sure, you can read about Mount Hood here, but this issue of Backpacker is worth picking up, with several good articles on our National Parks

But what would the best pick for an alpine hike have been? Most likely the short, popular trail to Mirror Lake or maybe something near Timberline Lodge, as the south side does seem to be the default for national media coverage. But local hikers would also look to McNeil Point, Elk Cove, Cooper Spur or Gnarl Ridge as the finest Mount Hood trail experiences.

And as much as Mount Hood is (deceivingly) serene and lovely in the photo from Trillium Lake, I would have picked one of the more rugged sides for the article, like the towering west face from Lolo Pass…

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“Princess of the Pacific Northwest” in her elegant winter robes (Lolo Pass)

…or the rugged north face from the Eliot Glacier moraine…

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“Princess of the Pacific Northwest” showing her wild side (Eliot Glacier)

…or even something lesser-known, like Badlands Basin on the east side, in Mount Hood’s ran shadow…

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“Princess of the Pacific Northwest” from the less-traveled east side (Badland Basin)

…but those images can wait until Backpacker Magazine profiles Mount Hood as the NEWEST national park in the system, one that finally protects the Princess of the Pacific Northwest” for all time!

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In other media mentions, the Oregonian ran this “what if” piece on national parks that didn’t happen a couple weeks ago. It includes an interesting (if incomplete) history of the idea for Mount Hood, but oddly it makes no mention of the Gorge, which came very close to national park status when the Gorge Act was coming together in the 1980s.

Unfinished business, to be sure… but an idea whose time will come!

‘Tis a lesson you should heed

Try, try, try again

If at first you don’t succeed

Try, try, try again

-Thomas H. Palmer and Frederick Maryat (1847)

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Meet the (Northwest) Maples!

May 31, 2016
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The author hanging out with a few Bigleaf Maple giants

Fair or not, we’re not really known for our native maple trees here in the Pacific Northwest. And while we can’t compete with the fall color spectacle of New England’s sprawling maple forests, our trio of native maples have (arguably) a lot more personality!

For example, our massive Bigleaf Maple is the largest maple species in the world, dwarfing anything found in New England forests in scale and grandeur. Likewise, the diminutive Vine Maple is prized as an ornamental for its graceful beauty and dependable fall color. Lesser known is our Douglas Maple, a close cousin of the Vine Maple, but with a personality all its own.

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Comparison of the three Northwest maple species

This article is brief introduction to our native maples, and tips for identifying them on the trail next time you’re out exploring our Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge.

Bigleaf Maple (Acer macroplyllum)

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Bigleaf Maple grove forming a green awning over Tanner Creek

Bigleaf Maple can grow to 100 feet tall and 50 feet wide, towering over most other broadleaf trees in Northwest forests. These are high-octane maples: young trees can grow 5-6 feet per year, and stumps from cut or fallen trees typically sprout dozens of new shoots that often grow to become impressive, multi-stemmed trees.

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Bigleaf Maple

As their name suggests, Bigleaf Maple have leaves that can grow to as much as 12” across, and are commonly up to 8” wide. If you have young kids, you’ve undoubtedly brought them home by the handful as souvenirs, as their sheer size is irresistible to young hikers.

In spring, Bigleaf Maple are covered with clusters of yellow-green blossoms that mature to become fuzzy “samaras”, the familiar winged seeds that float through the air when they ripen, like tiny helicopters. In fall, their leaves turn to bright yellow and light orange, depending on exposure. Their bark is rough and becomes deeply furrowed with age.

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Bigleaf Maple in autumn

Bigleaf Maple like moist soils with good drainage, so you’ll find them along canyon floors and lower-elevation mountain slopes from the Cascades west to the Pacific. However, you can sometimes spot them in the arid eastern end of the Columbia Gorge, growing along the shady north side of cliffs or in slot canyons protected from the harsh desert climate.

In their preferred west side rainforests, mature Bigleaf Maple are usually draped with a thick layer of moss, which in turn creates the perfect habitat for Licorice Fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza), a species that gets its name from the licorice-flavored rhizomes it uses to ramble over rocks and up mossy tree trunks.

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Moss-draped Bigleaf Maple with Licorice Fern

Bigleaf Maple aren’t commonly planted as urban trees, in part because of their ultimate size and huge root systems can overwhelm a small garden and lift patios and sidewalks. But you can find them in many urban parks where they have more room to spread out. Though their main commercial value comes as firewood, woodworkers also value burled wood from mature maples.

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The author (with his better half) circa 1993 with the world’s largest Bigleaf Maple. This giant stood near Jewell Oregon until it fell to a storm in March 2011

The largest Bigleaf Maple in the world stood near the elk refuge at Jewell, Oregon until just a few years ago. This massive tree was estimated to be 200 years old with a trunk measured at 12 feet in diameter! A Pacific storm in March 2011 toppled this gnarled patriarch. Another giant in Marion County has since assumed the title of largest in the world.

Vine Maple (Acer circinatum)

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Vine Maple sprawling in front of Ponytail Falls

Vine Maple is easy to love. These graceful little trees are as tough as they are adaptable, happily growing as a sprawling “vine” in the shade of deep forests and as a dense, stocky shrub in full sun. In Cascade rainforest environments, Vine Maple can dominate the understory, forming an impressive thicket for off-trail explorers to navigate.

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Vine Maple

These little trees rarely exceed 20 feet in height, and usually form multiple sprawling trunks as they mature. Their leaves are small – just 2-4” in diameter, with 5-9 lobes (most often 7 lobes).

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Vine Maple in autumn

In fall, forest-dwelling Vine Maple take on a bright yellow color, while those growing in full sun take on dazzling shades of crimson and orange.

Like their Bigleaf cousins, Vine Maple reproduce with winged samaras, though in their deep forest habitat, they usually spread by simply sprawling and rooting where their contorted stems touch the ground. Their bark is bright green in shade and tan or yellow-green in full sun.

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Vine Maple samaras

Vine Maple have roughly the same range in the Pacific Northwest as Bigleaf Maple, favoring moist mountain canyons and slopes. This puts Vine Maple square in the path of industrial logging, but if there is a tree that can cope with the timber industry, this is it.

Vine Maple not only survive clear cutting operations, they often survive the destructive mass herbicide treatments still used by the timber industry to destroy all native vegetation prior to planting a monoculture conifer seedlings on logged-off land.

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Though Weyerhauser Inc. did its corporate best to kill anything that survived their logging operations in this clearcut with the practice of post-logging herbicide treatments, this Vine Maple is cheerfully pushing up a thicket of new shoots from the base of its poisoned trunk

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A closer view of this tough Vine Maple reveals new shoots sprouting from a limb burned and cracked by heavy application of post-logging industrial herbicides

Vine Maple are a perfect native species for urban gardens in the Pacific Northwest, thriving on neglect and adaptable to sun or shade. As a result, they are readily available in commercial nurseries, but you can also collect them from most public lands for non-commercial use with a permit. The best time to dig is early spring, before buds break, so it pays to learn how to identify them by their stems before you dig.

Douglas Maple (Acer glabrum)

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Douglas Maple

The least known of the Northwest maples, the Douglas Maple (sometimes called the Rocky Mountain Maple) is quite similar to the Vine Maple. While the two share the same range from the Cascades west to the Pacific, Douglas Maple is more likely to inhabit drier sites on mountain slopes and talus margins. Its range also extends to the Blue Mountains and Northern Rockies.

Douglas Maple are more upright in form than Vine Maple, growing to 20 feet in a spreading vase shape. Their leaves are small, just 2-5” wide with 3 lobes, and noticeably serrated compared to Vine Maple. These are key features in distinguishing the two, as these species often grow right next to each other in their native habitat. Douglas Maple bark is also like Vine Maple, light green becoming tan as trees age.

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Three lobes, serrated (or “serrate”) leaf edges and bright red stems help distinguish Douglas Maple from its cousin, the Vine Maple

Like its maple cousins, the Douglas Maple also reproduces with winged samaras. In fall, their leaves take on brilliant shades of yellow, red and orange that rival Vine Maple for showiness.

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Douglas Maple in autumn

Though uncommon as a urban tree, Douglas Maple are just as adaptable as Vine Maple to city gardens. Because they are rarely found in commercial nurseries, collecting them from public lands with a permit is the best option.

Where to See Them?

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Winter is a great time to see Bigleaf Maple, when bare branches reveal their gnarled, moss-blanketed form. This winter scene is along Tanner Creek in the Columbia Gorge.

You can see magnificent Bigleaf Maple stands in the Columbia Gorge along most of the popular streamside trails, though some of the best can be found along the Latourell Falls loop trail and the popular Eagle Creek trail. The loop trail at Silver Creek State Park near Silverton is also famous for its Bigleaf Maple stands and impressive shows of fall color.

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Vine Maple thrive in the understory of tall conifer stands like this in the Columbia River Gorge

Vine Maple can be seen on most any trail in the Gorge or on Mount Hood, but for fall color, it’s hard to beat the view of Mount Hood from the Lost Lake loop trail, framed with brilliant Vine Maple. The Ramona Falls loop on the west side of Mount Hood has beautiful stream scenes frames by Vine Maple.

Though its range extends to the Pacific, Douglas Maple is most prominent on the east slopes of the Cascades, including most trails in the eastern Columbia Gorge from Starvation Creek to Mosier. The Tamanawas Falls trail at the eastern foot of Mount Hood has especially abundant stands, with excellent fall color shows in early October.

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Bigleaf Maple in autumn along McCord Creek in the Columbia River Gorge.

For a trifecta hike that includes all three of our native maple species along a single trail, try the Elowah Falls hike, where magnificent Bigleaf Maple line McCord Creek, Vine Maple fill the understory under tall conifer stands and Douglas Maple grow from the rocky slopes high above Elowah Falls.

All of these hikes can be found in the Oregon Hikers Field Guide. Enjoy!

WyEast Roundup!

February 26, 2016

Lots going on as we enter 2016 in WyEast country, so this article is a bit of a roundup, beginning with yet another commemorative nod from our federal government in the form of…

Columbia River Gorge Priority Mail Express Stamp!

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On December 30, 2015 the U.S. Postal Service released another stamp celebrating the Columbia River Gorge, joining the 1992 USPS postcard of the same, classic scene of Crown Point as viewed from Chanticleer Point (Women’s Forum Park).

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While the 1992 commemorative card was an affordable $0.19, the new Gorge stamp is a hefty $22.95, making for a steep addition to stamp collections! This new Priority Mail Express stamp is available in panes of 10 (for a mere $229.50!), and in the words of the Postal Service, the new stamp “celebrates the grandeur of the Columbia River Gorge” with the following:

Approximately 80 miles long and up to 4,000 ft. deep, the gorge runs along the Columbia River to form part of the border between Oregon and Washington. The stamp art captures the beauty of the Columbia River as it winds its way through the steep cliffs of the Cascade Mountain Range. The historic Vista House sitting atop Crown Point and overlooking the river 725 ft. below shimmers in the golden light of the setting sun.

Illustrator Dan Cosgrove of Chicago worked under the direction of Phil Jordan of Falls Church, VA, to create the stamp image.

The artists captured a faithful rendering of the scene, but I can’t help but wonder why a local illustrator wasn’t selected? After all, the Portland region is home to so many, including Paul A. Lanquist (PAL), the creative force behind dozens of “new retro” posters of Pacific Northwest scenes, like this view of Vista House:

Courtesy: Discover the Northwest

Courtesy: Discover the Northwest

So, save your money on that spendy USPS stamp and consider supporting a Northwest artist, instead. You can find Paul Lanquist’s posters at Discover the Northwest and many other outlets.

Still Creek Trails

As part of a recent series of articles on the Mirror Lake backcountry and Wind Creek Basin, I proposed the following concept for eventually expanding trails in this pocket wilderness:

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(click here for large map)

After posting these articles, I happened to be researching the area for a related topic and was surprised to find many of my “proposed” trails on early maps. I’m going to chalk that up as “imitation being the sincerest form of flattery” as I’m sure I’ve studied these maps before, and must have noticed these earlier trails! Or so it would seem?

Nonetheless, it was a pleasant (re)surprise to discover that we once had a hefty trail network here, as it helps make the case for bringing more trails in this area to reality someday. Past is prologue! And who knows, maybe some of these old treads still survive?

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(click here for large map)

A closer look at the 1937 forest map (above, marked with red arrows) reveals a rim trail that followed the north side of Still Creek valley from Camp Creek to – what’s that? – a trail between Still Creek and Mirror Lake!

These old trails show up on a more “official” 1939 forest map (below), with added detail showing the connector to Still Creek continuing south to (what still exists today as) the Eureka Peak trail. This explains what has always been an odd trail fragment at Eureka Peak and raises the intriguing question of whether the segment north of Still Creek to Wind Lake and beyond still exists?

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(click here for large map)

These old routes persist on forest maps dating into the late 1940s, when the commercial logging assault on our forests began wiping out hundreds of miles of old trails (below).

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(click here for large map)

But Mirror Lake, the Wind Creek Basin and Still Creek valley were still recovering from the catastrophic Sherar Burn when the logging bonanza took off in the mid-1900s, and were mostly spared from clear cutting and logging roads. That not only gave today’s pocket wilderness, but it also bodes well for traces of these old trails to still survive – and someday be rediscovered and restored, perhaps?

Eliot Crossing Update

Lots of news on the Eliot Crossing proposal, first described in this WyEast Blog article from 2014. As reported earlier, the Forest Service is moving a trail project forward this year that will finally restore the missing section of the Timberline Trail at the Eliot Branch crossing.

The following map originally appeared in this blog, but later became a Trailkeepers of Oregon (TKO) map for the purpose of the Eliot Crossing project, and now is being shared with the Forest Service, as well:

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(click here for large map)

In January, Claire Pitner, Forest Service project manager for the new trail at the Hood River Ranger District, sent this good news to local non-profits involved in the project:

“I wanted to let you know that the environmental analysis for the Eliot Reroute was signed yesterday. Furthermore, earlier this week we received word that the Regional Office is providing funding to complete the project. Much of the work will be done using a contractor with volunteer assistance as well.

“We are working on finalizing the contract package in hopes of having a contractor long before we are able to access and do work at the site. I’m looking forward to working with TrailKeepers to get some good work done this summer!”

By early February, the local media picked up on the story with (surprise!) mentions of the WyEast Blog in The Oregonian and Willamette Week – a nice plug for the blog and the Eliot Crossing project!

In early March, the TKO board will be meeting with the Forest Service and several other non-profit organizations to begin planning volunteer activities related to the project. It should be a fun, family-friendly opportunity for volunteers to be part of the project, and I’ll post updates on the project as more details become available.

LG TV Mystery Mountain Ad

I’ll end the roundup on a whimsical note, courtesy LG, the electronics giant. I spotted the following print ad over the holidays and something about it looked too familiar – as it should have. This is our very own Trillium Lake…

Do not attempt to adjust your television…

Do not attempt to adjust your television…

…except it isn’t, unless you’re looking in the rear-view mirror of your kayak (or canoe). A closer look at the mountain (below) shows all the major features of WyEast reversed, with a misplaced White River glacier flowing down the southwest slope of the mountain (imagine the mayhem in Rhododendron!), and poor Illumination Rock and Mississippi Head rudely moved to the east side of the mountain:

This looks vaguely familiar…

This looks vaguely familiar…

But the really goofy part of this ad is the appearance of what seems to be an Italian (Burano?) or perhaps Icelandic fishing village teleported to the Oregon Cascades:

Preview of a future Forest Service concession..?

Preview of a future Forest Service concession..?

As always, it’s good to see our mountain (and Gorge) making regular appearances in print media from around the world, even if the graphic artists can’t resist making a few improvements. Even with the artistic tinkering, these ads underscore the world-class nature of these amazing places… and their national park-worthiness, of course!

2016 Campaign Calendar!

January 3, 2016

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Each year since 2004, I’ve produced an annual “Mount Hood National Park Campaign Scenic Calendar”. It’s mostly for fun and to showcase the mountain (and Gorge) in a way that helps move beyond the too-often heard “it’s too [fill in the defeatist excuse] to become a national park.”

Wrong! In fact, the spectacular scenery, dramatic human history and sheer diversity of ecosystems in such a compact space make it a perfect candidate! Thus, the “idea campaign”, now entering its 12th year.

Each scenic calendar does put a modest $4 into keeping the campaign website and this blog up and running, but the main reason for picking one up is to simply enjoy looking at our someday national park through every month of the year. They sell for $29.95 over on my new campaign store:

Mount Hood National Park Campaign Store

If you’ve purchased a campaign calendar before, you’ll note that I’ve moved from CafePress to Zazzle for printing. This is in part due to CafePress dropping large format calendars from their offerings. But in truth, I’ve had mixed experiences with the company in recent years, and have heard the same from others who purchased calendars there. So, it was time to bail.

By contrast, Zazzle seems to provide a much better customer experience and the print quality is exceptional – especially compared to CafePress. I’ve been impressed, and I think you’ll be pleased, too!

Now, bear with me as I indulge in my annual reflections from the past year as illustrated by photos from the 2016 calendar…

The Cover Shot

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Mount Hood and valley fog from Gumjuwac Overlook

The view on the cover of the 2016 calendar is from a favorite viewpoint that is surprisingly unknown and never crowded. It’s along the Gumjuwac Trail, and the combination of a steady climb and not much information on maps or guidebooks to indicate a viewpoint seems to have kept this spot out of the mainstream… for now!

The cover shot came on one of those bright blue mountain days when the East Fork Hood River valley was blanketed in dense, freezing fog, thanks to a classic temperature inversion.

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Silver thaw on vine maple along the Gumjuwac Trail

The temperature at the trailhead along the East Fork that November day was a foggy 28 degrees. The first part of the climb along the Gumjuwac Trail was through a wonderland of glazed trees before breaking out of the fog about 1,500 feet above the trailhead. There, the temperature was suddenly in the 40s and allowed for a relatively balmy lunch in the sun!

The Monthly Images

For the January image in the 2016 calendar, I chose a photo taken along the historic Bennett Pass Road (below) after the first big snowfall of the 2014-15 winter season. As it turned out, it was also the last big snowfall! We soon entered a long year of drought in the Pacific Northwest that left the Cascades with the lightest snow pack in years.

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January features Mount Hood from Bennett Pass Road

The February image of the north face of Mount Hood (below) was taken from a mostly bare Old Vista Ridge Trail in mid-May, with a fresh coast of spring snow at the upper elevations of the mountain that belied the ongoing drought. The trail would normally have 5-10 feet of snow on the ground at that time of year, but the drought of 2015 was already well underway, and many mountain trails were eerily snow-free by early June.

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February features a close-up of the north face of Mount Hood

For March, I chose a close-up photo of Wahclella Falls (below) on Tanner Creek taken in early May. This has become one of the most popular trails in the Gorge, and remains my favorite, as well. In 2015, I hiked this lovely trail a total of seven times, spanning the four seasons.

On this particular trip, an impromptu, full-blown Bohemian wedding unfolded on the rocks above the falls while I was shooting this image – complete with baskets of rose petals and various acoustic instruments wafting (somewhat in tune) above the roar the falls. It was undoubtedly an unforgettable wedding for the lucky couple, and just another quirky Gorge experience for hikers passing through..!

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March features Wahclella Falls on Tanner Creek

The Wahclella Falls photo required a bit more commitment than simply showing up with a tripod. The falls are well-guarded with huge, truck-sized boulders, so to capture this image I packed creek waders and eased out to about mid-thigh in very “refreshing” water to get a clear view of the falls. After 20 minutes in the stream, it took awhile for the circulation to return to my legs…

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Thawing my legs after some quality time in the middle of Tanner Creek

This year I started a new guided hike series for the Friends of the Gorge focuses on waterfall photography for beginners. Tanner Creek is the perfect trail for this, with world-class scenery along a short, safe loop trail.

Though the main goal for most hikers at Tanner Creek is Wahclella Falls, the lower creek is especially good for learning the camera basics of long exposures and filters. The April scene (below) was captured during one of these guided hikes.

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April features a sylvan scene along lower Tanner Creek

While poking around the boulders along Tanner Creek for a good photo that day, I nearly stepped on a pair of garter snakes (below) sunning themselves in the filtered sunlight. I assume this to be a mother and offspring, but will defer to the herpetologists on that point!

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Garter snakes on the banks of Tanner Creek

For the May image, I selected a perennial favorite of a lot of photographers, Triple Falls on Oneonta Creek (below). This is one of those spots that just calls out “national park!” It’s a completely unique waterfall that perfectly captures the elements that make Gorge scenes like this unmistakable: bright, crystal clear streams tumbling over sculpted black basalt, framed by velvet blankets of moss and ferns and shaded by the lush foliage of the Cascade rainforest. It’s no wonder the Gorge waterfalls have become iconic, drawing admirers from around the world.

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May features Triple Falls on Oneonta Creek

The trail to Triple Falls was briefly closed on a couple of occasions in 2015 thanks to a large landslide that occurred just below Middle Oneonta Falls, about a half mile below Triple Falls. On the way down from my trip to Triple Falls, I ran into Bruce Dungey (below), a U.S. Forest Service trail crew legend who has worked for the agency for 38 years and in the Gorge since 1992. He had been fine-tuning a temporary route his crew had built through the landslide.

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Forest Service trail crew legend Bruce Dungey working on the big slide that briefly closed the Oneonta Trail last year

We chatted as he was packing up his gear and hiked back to the trailhead together. Bruce quietly lamented the collapse of funding for trail crews in the Gorge over the time he has worked here. As recently as the 1990s, three crew leaders (including him) each led a crew of five working on Gorge trails. Today, there are a total of three trail workers remaining for the entire scenic area.

During the same period, Bruce has seen trail use explode, and he and his remaining crew are struggling just to keep up with the sheer numbers of hikers. Making things worse are bizarre new “sports” like trail bombing, where hikers intentionally cut across switchbacks for the fun of it, in a race to get to the bottom.

Bruce will soon be retiring, taking an immense amount of knowledge of the Gorge trails with him. My conversation with him was yet another reminder that we all need to work together to rearrange our priorities, and move recreation funding to the top of the priority list at our federal agencies.

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June features Owl Point on the Old Vista Ridge Trail

The June image is another from Owl Point (above), a beautiful rocky perch along the Old Vista Ridge Trail. The trail here was almost lost to neglect after being dropped from Forest Service maintenance in the 1970s, but since 2007, this old gem has been gradually restored by a small army of anonymous volunteers.

Today, the old trail looks better than ever, keeping alive one of the earliest routes built on the mountain. Hikers have noticed: the summit register at Owl Point recorded more than 60 entries in 2015, including visitors from as far away as Japan and Europe, and Owl Point is now featured in several hiking guides.

The Owl Point hike took special meaning for me this year, as I was able to take an old friend and college roommate (below) there for a one-day reunion. We couldn’t have had a more idyllic day. It’s no secret that trails are the perfect place for reconnecting with old friends!

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Old friends and mountain trails are a perfect combination!

For July, I selected one of my few wildflower scenes from 2015 (below), captured along the Timberline Trail near Timberline Lodge.

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July features the Timberline Trail near Timberline Lodge

The early wildflower bloom caught many hikers by surprise, with places like Elk Cove and Paradise Park peaking a full month early from their typical August bloom time. I was among them, and completely missed the bloom at Elk Cove for the first time in over a decade.

The following side-by-side shows Elk Cove still blooming in late August in 2012 and completely gone to seed by August 4 in 2015:

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The August image in the new calendar is also from the Timberline Trail, this time in a sloping lupine meadow captured in early July on the brink of White River Canyon (below).

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August features lupine meadows on the slopes of White River Canyon

The vastness of the White River Canyon is always an awesome thing to see, and despite the retreat of the White River Glacier, its rugged terminus is still an impressive sight, too. It’s hard to know just how far the glacier will recede with climate change upon us, but it’s fair to say that the lower extent in this photo from last summer (below) may be gone in just a few years, leaving a few moraines behind to mark its former extent.

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White River Glacier is receding in a warming climate…

For September, I chose a photo of the relatively new log bridge on the Trail 400 (The Gorge Trail) over Gorton Creek (below). This handsome footbridge replaced a nearly identical version that had decayed enough to become unstable a few years ago. But the new bridge has quickly weathered to appear as if it has been here for decades, making this is one of the more photogenic spots in the Gorge. It’s rarely busy here, so also a favorite escape of mine on otherwise crowded weekends in the Gorge.

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September features the Gorge 400 Trail bridge over Gorton Creek

When approaching the Gorton Creek area, this sign (below) at the entrance of the Wyeth Campground always seems odd – after all, most campgrounds in the Gorge have piped water systems from nearby springs.

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Surprising sign at the Wyeth Campground…

But the story behind the water problems at Wyeth unfolds as you approach Emerald Falls, the unofficial name for the photogenic lower cascade on Gorton Creek. A 1930s-era diversion dam and pipe system at the falls has gradually been falling apart, with various jury-rigged efforts to keep the system functioning over the years.

When I visited Gorton Creek this year, the latest fix consisting of a riprap of logs (below) had been placed beneath a new section of water line leading to the campground. It’s unclear if this fix will actually restore potable water at Wyeth, but there’s apparently a renewed effort by the Forest Service to do so.

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The fragile, exposed waterworks below Emerald Falls

Fall colors were surprisingly good this year, despite the devastating drought that saw many deciduous trees dropping their leaves in mid-August. By late October, however, many Gorge trails were lighting up with the familiar bright yellow displays we expect from our resident maples, including Elowah Falls (below).

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October features Elowah Falls

The Elowah Falls photo is actually a 3-image, blended panorama from a long-forgotten overlook that was bypassed when the modern trails were built in the McCord Creek area. It still provides one of the finest views of the falls, but only if you know where to find the old trail!

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November features tunra swans at Mirror Lake, below Crown Point

For November, I selected an image from “the other” Mirror Lake described in this blog article. While I was able to capture some fall colors and even a group of tundra swans flying through the scene, my main goal in visiting this spot was to replicate an 1870s image of this same spot (below), as captured on glass slides by pioneering photographer Frank Haynes.

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Echo Bay Comparison (1880s – 2015)

Click here for a larger image

I didn’t quite nail it, in part because I didn’t want to spook the abundant waterfowl resting here, and also because I was running out of dry land to walk on. But it was fun to trace the footsteps of an early photographer. Next time, I’ll try getting a bit closer to the exact spot where Frank Haynes stood by visiting outside of the migratory season for swans, geese and ducks.

For December, I picked a somewhat unconventional (for me) image of a group of mountain hemlock, noble fir and Alaska cedar near Barlow Pass after the first (and only) heavy snowfall, below.

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December features a winter wonderland near Barlow Pass

But my real goal on that early snowshoe trip last winter was a different photo, the view of Mount Hood from the Buzzard Point overlook (below) along the historic loop highway. In the end, I thought I’d break from tradition and use a more intimate scene for the calendar – hopefully, you will agree, and apologies if you prefer the alpenglow scene!

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Later that evening near Barlow Pass

The new calendar format offered by Zazzle also gives me the back cover of the calendar to design, and that’s a major enhancement over CafePress. I thought long and hard about what to put on the back, and ended up doing a wildflower collage (below), since close-up images of flora never make it into my calendars.

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The back cover features nine of my favorite wildflower images

For the curious, the flora were taken at the following locations, starting in the upper left and working across:

Top Row:

  • Vine maple near Clear lake
  • Clackamas White Iris near Pup Creek Falls
  • Fairy Slipper (or Calypso) orchid near Cabin Creek

Middle Row:

  • Tiger lily along the Horsetail Creek trail
  • Columbine near the base of Elowah Falls
  • Paintbrush along the summit of Hood River Mountain

Bottom Row:

  • Chocolate lily in the hanging meadows above Warren Creek
  • Gentian along McGee Creek
  • Maidenhair fern near Upper McCord Creek Falls

That’s it for this year’s calendar! Looking ahead toward 2016, I hope to keep up my current pace of WyEast articles as I focus more of my efforts as a volunteer for Trailkeepers of Oregon, among other pursuits. And spend time on the trail, of course!

14CalendarHappyNewYear

“You know, this would make a GREAT national park!”

As always, thanks for reading this blog, and especially for the kind comments you’ve sent over the years. I’ve never felt better about Mount Hood and the Gorge someday getting the recognition (and Park Service stewardship) they deserve! That’s largely because of a passionate new generation of Millennials who are questioning the tactics and somewhat stale vision of the conservation movement’s old guard.

While it’s true that we oldsters have savvy and insight borne of experience, it’s also true that fighting too many battles can leave activists tired and resigned. So, bring on the new blood with their refreshing idealism and optimism! We are about to hand them the keys to the movement, and I very much like where they want to take us.

Happy trails to you in 2016!

Tom Kloster | Wy’East Blog

WyEast Roundup: the good, the bad and the ugly!

June 30, 2015
Mount Hood from Hood River Mountain in 2014

Mount Hood from Hood River Mountain in 2014

Lots of activity on Mount Hood this spring, so this roundup is a mash-up of three updates: one good, one bad and one just plain ugly. We’ll start with the latter, and get that part over with!

The Ugly: Hood River Mountain Logged!

Anywhere else, this would be a national park or preserve… here, just another clearcut (same spot as the opening photo)

Anywhere else, this would be a national park or preserve… here, just another clearcut (same spot as the opening photo)

Last winter the SDS Lumber Co. of Bingen, Washington quietly put the word out to the hiking community that the beloved Hood River Mountain trail would be closed this year for a logging operation. Not included in the announcement was the fact that the trail would actually be destroyed in the process, never to reopen.

It was their right, of course, and as the company SDS Lumber has been more generous than most timber companies in allowing hikers and cyclists to visits its forest holdings. The company had been planning this for a while, sending requests to hiking websites as long as two years ago to pull trip guides describing the Hood River Mountain trail.

Before-and-after views of the savaged summit area

Before-and-after views of the savaged summit area

(Click here for a larger view)

But the logging operation that began this spring turned out to be worse than anyone who loved Hood River Mountain could have imagined. Not only was the old trail to the summit completely destroyed, SDS pushed a 25-foot deep pile of gravel and debris over the actual summit of the mountain, burying the gorgeous meadows and boulder garden where countless hikers used to take in the stunning views.

Then-and-now views toward Hood River from the summit

Then-and-now views toward Hood River from the summit

(Click here for a larger view)

The destruction of the summit area wasn’t out of malice, though arguably, there’s a certain amount of malicious disregard for the environment required to treat any piece of land with this degree of brutal disregard, no matter who owns it. But in fact, the bulldozers flattened the summit simply so it could serve as the log yarding area for logs cut from a large clearcut encompassing the entire north slope of Hood River Mountain.

Then-and-now view north toward Mount Adams from the summit

Then-and-now view north toward Mount Adams from the summit

(Click here for a larger view)

As tragic as this turn of events is for local hikers, it’s also a useful reminder that scenic gems like Hood River Mountain belong in the hands of the public, not timber companies whose sole master is the corporate bottom line. According to one local activist, SDS Lumber declined an offer from a national land trust for the property a few years ago, so that option seems to be out of the question — or is it?

Ironically, the recent logging might open the door for another offer from a land trust, now that the lucrative timber has been logged. Another possibility could be a land swap of less prominent Hood River County or Forest Service lands for this site. A swap offer could also be timely, now that the land has less immediate value to the timber industry for the standing board feet it represents.

Panorama of the "new" summit piled on top of Hood River Mountain

Panorama of the “new” summit piled on top of Hood River Mountain

It’s tempting to judge SDS Lumber for the destruction of Hood River Mountain — and for those keeping track, SDS was also involved in the notorious clearcut that marred the south wall of the Columbia River Gorge two years ago, above Koberg State Park.

But the function of a corporation is to make money, after all, and cutting trees at maximum profit is how STS does it. That said, clearcutting is discredited practice and scientifically indefensible. So is spraying the clear-cut with massive quantities of herbicides after logging to block any sort of natural recovery process and allow for a monoculture Douglas fir plantation to replace what was so recently a biologically diverse forest.

Panoramic view of the new clearcut from the "new" summit

Panoramic view of the new clearcut from the “new” summit

If SDS allows the new clearcut on Hood River Mountain to recover naturally in the coming years, with no herbicides, it will show itself to be better than most timber corporations. Most notable in the latter practice is Weyerhauser, which has picked up the baton in the continued deforestation (and conversion to monoculture plantations) of the nearby West Fork Hood River valley that began when the private lands there were still owned by Longview Fibre.

We’ll know next spring, when the clearcut will either be green with recovering understory species (and over time, young conifers) — or brown and completely dead following an herbicide treatment. Let’s hope SDS allows nature to be part of the recovery, now that the trees have been cut.

The Bad: U.S. 26 Widening…

What the slope across from Mirror Lake looks like now

What the slope across from Mirror Lake looks like now

If you haven’t driven the Laurel Hill section of U.S. 26 lately, you’re in for a shock. As described in a series of articles in this blog, ODOT is in the processing of widening this stretch of highway to “improve safety”. Translation: they are adding passing lanes to allow skiers to “safely” speed just a little faster down the mountain on busy winter weekends.

As its main “safety” feature, ODOT is also adding a center median barrier from the base of Laurel Hill all the way to Government Camp to prevent head-on collisions (though these are exceptionally rare, according to ODOT’s own data) as part of the $37 million widening project. ODOT’s own safetly consultants suggested that simply lowering and enforcing speeds during the few snowy evenings on weekends when their data show crashes happening could have accomplished the same goal for less, and with much less impact on the mountain, but widening the highway was always the goal.

The tradeoff for installing freeway-style median barricades will be more difficult access to the Mirror Lake and Laurel Hill trailheads, with those approaching from Government Camp forced to drive to the bottom of Laurel Hill, complete a U-turn, then drive several miles back up the hill to park at the trailhead.

ODOT is still cutting away the north side of Laurel Hill near the historic Chute

ODOT is still cutting away the north side of Laurel Hill near the historic Chute

To fit all of these “improvements” in, ODOT is carving away massive chunks of Laurel Hill, from the Mirror Lake trailhead all the way down to the “map curve” — the corner with a pullout near the bottom of Laurel Hill where Mount Hood first comes into view. These scars along a route designated as a “scenic byway” by ODOT will take generations to heal, if ever.

To highway engineers, the $37 million price tag for this project might not seem a lot (just a quarter of what was spent to design a bridge that will never be built over the Columbia River, for example!). But just think what $37 million might have bought at Laurel Hill: how about a parkway design that would have managed the ski traffic by calming it, not speeding it up, while also respecting all those who seek a calm and scenic driving experience as explore Mount Hood?

Or better yet, how about restoring the extensive abandoned segments of the old loop highway, just as ODOT has been doing in the Columbia River Gorge, to provide a world-class way for bikes and hikers to travel through the area?

Nope. These alternative projects will have to wait for another day — and new mindset at ODOT.

The rock wall opposite the popular pullout at the "map curve" is being massively cut back, supposedly to prevent loose rocks from landing on the highway… and to widen the road, of course

The rock wall opposite the popular pullout at the “map curve” is being massively cut back, supposedly to prevent loose rocks from landing on the highway… and to widen the road, of course

Most of the destruction thus far is according to plan, though the quality of the concrete medians is still an open question: ODOT promised “architectural” medians that would attempt to complement the scenic nature of the highway, but has since been backing away from that commitment. Generic Jersey barricades (like those found on urban freeways) are more likely, and would be strangely appropriate, given the overall travesty of this project. Anything better would just be lipstick on a pig, after all.

A post-mortem of the widening project will be posted in this blog upon completion next year. For background, here is a previous articles on the U.S. 26 widening project: Highway 26: Last Chance to weigh in! (scroll to the bottom of the linked article for additional links to articles about the highway project).

The Good: Mountain Goats!

The lone WyEast goat on Yocum Ridge skedaddles (Photo courtesy William Imholt)

The lone WyEast goat on Yocum Ridge skedaddles (Photo courtesy William Imholt)

Thankfully, not all of the news on Mount Hood is ugly or even bad! Consider that local hiker Bill Imholt not only spotted a mountain goat on Yocum Ridge a few weeks ago, he also captured a photo of it! The above photo shows the

Bill then contacted the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), who speculate that the goat (a male) migrated to Mount Hood from a group of goats introduced to the east side of Mount Jefferson in 2010. That’s amazing, when you consider the 50-mile journey would mostly be through forest and crosses several paved roads along the way!

In this 2011 blog article, I proposed reintroducing goats[/link] to Mount Hood based upon the relatively large areas of wilderness now protected on the mountain. So, while the ODFW has no plans to bring more goats to the mountain at this time, it’s heartening to know the goats may have their own plans to come back to Mount Hood! Nature bats last!

…and a teaser… watch for more good news to come!