Posted tagged ‘Punch Bowl Falls’

After the Fire: A Closer Look (Part 2 of 2)

February 27, 2018
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January sunset in the Eagle Creek burn, near Elowah Falls

This is the second article in a two-part series that explores a remarkable set of stunning, often startling aerial photos captured by the State of Oregon in early December. Their purpose was to assess the risks for landslides and flooding from the bare, burned Columbia River Gorge slopes following the September 2017 Eagle Creek Fire. But these amazing photos also provide the first detailed look at the impact of the fire, and for those who love the Gorge, a visual sense of how our most treasured places fared.

The first article covered the west end of the burn, from Shepperd’s Dell to Ainsworth State Park. This article covers the eastern part of the burn, from Yeon State Park to Shellrock Mountain. More information on the photos follows the article.

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Ainsworth State Park and McCord Creek

This first image in this second part of the series looks east from above Ainsworth State Park, toward Bonnevillle Dam. The Gorge was heavily burned along this stretch, from the banks of the Columbia River at the community of Warrendale to the tall crests of Wauneka Point and Nesmith Ridge.

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Looking east from above Ainsworth State Park toward Bonneville Dam (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

The huge amphitheater along the Nesmith Point trail is on the right in the above view, and appears to be heavily burned. Little-known Wauneka Point is in the upper left corner of the photo, and also appears to be badly burned, as shown in a close-up view (below):

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Scorched Wauneka Point after the fire (State of Oregon)

Wauneka Point is notable for its remoteness. Some reach this spot by scaling the ridge from nearly 3,000 feet below, at Elowah Falls, while others follow the faint Wauneka Point Trail from the headwaters of Moffett Creek. This is fortunate, as the rocky outcrop of Wauneka Point also has one of the most elaborate and unusual Indian pit complexes found in the Gorge.

Fires here are a regular occurrence, too — photos from the early 1900s show a recovering forest and hundreds of bleached snags along Wauneka Ridge, much as the ridge now appears after the Eagle Creek Fire. It’s likely that Native Americans living along the lower Columbia River periodically burned these ridge tops to promote huckleberry, beargrass and other sun-loving foods and materials that were gathered in the higher elevations of the Gorge.

Another detailed look at this photo helps explain why parts of the Upper McCord Creek Trail were so heavily impacted by debris after the fire. This close-up view (below) shows extensive landslides on the slopes above the trail that have released tons of loose rock and debris onto the section of trail that switchbacks up the slope beneath the cliff band. While slides like these will eventually be stabilized by recovering forests, more debris is certain in the near-term, as the forest understory begins to take hold.

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Landslides on the slopes above the Upper McCord Creek Trail (State of Oregon)

Another detail that emerges from this photo is the widely varied pattern of a “mosaic” fire, from blackened, completely burned forests to green, intact conifer stands that have survived the initial heat and stress of the fire. A closer look (below) at a section of forest that straddles the Nesmith Point Trail shows a heavily burned area in the center, surrounded by surviving forest.

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Mosaic burn patterns straddling the Nesmith Point Trail (State of Oregon)

This mosaic burn pattern is beneficial for the forest ecology, as it rejuvenates the understory where the canopy has survived, while creating forest openings that will eventually create a more diverse forest where the burn destroyed old canopy:

This close-up view (below) shows the McCord Creek delta, where it enters the Columbia River:

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McCord Creek Delta (State of Oregon)

Tributary deltas like these are likely to grow significantly throughout the Eagle Creek Burn area in coming years as erosion from burned slopes loads up the creeks with extra rock and gravel. This is another beneficial aspect from the fire cycle, with gravel deltas and debris in streams providing some of the best fish and riparian habitat in the Gorge.

This spectacular image (below) from the State of Oregon series captures the massive amphitheater that holds Elowah Falls, on McCord Creek. The twin cascade of Upper McCord Creek Falls is also visible, just above Elowah Falls, as well as the bridges of I-84, the Union Pacific Railroad and the recently built Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail:

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Elowah Falls and McCord Creek (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

Though much of the McCord Creek drainage was badly burned in the fire, some of the tree canopy survived, especially the tall conifers that grow along the creek below Elowah Falls (below).

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Elowah Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

We won’t know the fate of the beautiful Bigleaf maple groves that line the creek in the lower McCord Creek canyon until later this spring, but it’s unlikely their crowns have survived. Unlike Douglas fir and other conifers, maples lack thick, insulating bark needed to survive the heat of the fire, nor the height to protect their upper branches from the flames. Instead, maples have evolved to simply regrow from their surviving roots after fire, often forming multi-trunked trees with a circle of shoots that emerge from around the skeleton of the parent tree.

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Elowah’s graceful Bigleaf maple groves in autumn, lighting up the forest in 2014

While many riparian strips within the Eagle Creek Burn resisted the fire, some of the steepest slopes along McCord Creek below Elowah Falls (below) were badly burned. The geology of this section of the canyon doesn’t help the cause, as it consists of loose, slide-prone Eagle Creek Formation clays and gravels. This notoriously unstable formation is responsible for most of the ongoing slides and collapses that occur in the Gorge, including the epic Table Mountain landslide that briefly created the fabled Bridge of the Gods in 1450 A.D., near today’s Cascade Locks.

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Slide-prone McCord Creek below Elowah Falls (State of Oregon)

On a recent tour of this section of the McCord Creek Trail with State Park officials, it was clear (below) that a complete re-route of this iconic trail may be needed over the long term if this already slide-prone section of the trail further deteriorates as a result of the fire:

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Post-fire landslide damage below Elowah Falls

As difficult as it is to absorb these images of devastation from the Eagle Creek Fire in places like this, it’s also an opportunity to watch and learn from the forest recovery that is already underway. While I won’t see tall groves of mossy Bigleaf maples arching over McCord Creek again in my lifetime, many of today’s Millennials will live to see a substantial return of forests across much of the Eagle Creek Burn.

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Beautiful McCord Creek canyon before the fire; today’s Millennials will live to see young forests like this return to the Gorge in their lifetime

This photo provides a even closer view of the Elowah Falls amphitheater and Upper McCord Creek Falls:

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Elowah Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

The fire was more intense in the McCord Creek canyon, above Elowah Falls, including these slopes (below) above Upper McCord Creek Falls, as this close-up view shows. Here, the trail can be seen on the bare slope adjacent to the falls:

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Upper McCord Creek Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

Here is a closer look at Upper McCord Creek Falls from a January visit with State Park officials that confirms the devastating impact of the fire here:

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Upper McCord Creek Falls in January

Few trees survived in this area, and erosion is severe in several of the small streams that flow into McCord Creek from Nesmith Ridge. Yet, even with the devastation from the fire, signs of the recovery were already apparent in January, just four months after the fire, with new vegetation emerging in the middle of winter.

The burned riparian forest along the upper section of McCord Creek included 50-60 year old stands of Bigleaf maple and Red alder, and both species appear to have been killed by the fire. Unlike maple, the alder stands are less likely to regrow from surviving roots, and instead mostly rely on new seedlings. Red alder are uniquely adapted and prolific at this, and are among the first trees to colonize burned or disturbed areas.

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Upper McCord Creek Falls framed by Red alder before the fire

Still considered a “weed tree” by a timber industry more interested in lumber than healthy forests, these trees (and other pioneering, soil-stabilizing broadleaf species) are still sprayed with herbicides in recovering clearcuts to allow rows of hand-planted Douglas fir seedlings to grow, instead. Yet, Red alder are an essential species in the process of natural forest recovery in the Pacific Northwest. While the big conifers will take many decades to once again tower above McCord Creek, a scene with Red alder framing the creek, like the one shown above, may be just 20-25 years in the future if they are allowed to grow.

As an early colonizer, Red alder not only help to quickly stabilize exposed soils, they also serve as a nitrogen fixer, restoring 80-200 pounds of nitrogen per acre through their roots when pioneering a disturbed site. As the forest recovery unfolds in the Eagle Creek burn, these humble trees will stabilize some of the toughest terrain and help other species that follow become established in the rich soil they create. This process may not be the fasted way to grow lumber, but it’s the most sustainable way to ensure the long-term health of our forests.

This photo from the State of Oregon series shows a mostly scorched forest in the upper McCord Creek canyon, with only a few surviving trees:

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Upper McCord Creek canyon (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

A closer look at the photo shows a few surviving bands of forest that will help begin the recovery. This section of surviving trees will also help shade a section of McCord Creek as other, more heavily burned parts of the watershed recover:

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Patches of surviving forest along upper McCord Creek (State of Oregon)

This photo also provides another peek at Wauneka Point, mostly burned but with a few surviving tree stands that will help restore the forest on this ridge:

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A few surviving trees at Wauneka Point after the fire (State of Oregon)

The faint, historic trail to Wauneka Point from the Moffett Creek trail was already in jeopardy of being lost to lack maintenance and use, and sadly, the fire may seal its fate in becoming another “lost trail”. Debris from burned trees will quickly overwhelm the path without some periodic maintenance, something that has not occurred here for many years.

The burn provides an opportunity to rethink trails like the one on Wauneka Point, including making new connections to allow hikers to more easily use them from more accessible trailheads along the highway corridor.

Moffett Creek, Munra Point and Tanner Creek

Moving east of Wauneka Point, the next photo of the Eagle Creek Burn provides a glimpse into remote Moffett Creek canyon, one of the wildest, most untouched places in the Columbia River Gorge:

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Moffett Creek canyon after the fire (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

At about the time the original Columbia River Highway was built in the early 1900s, a group of Portlanders proposed a daring trail into Moffett Creek canyon, much like what was built along Eagle Creek at the time, but the project stalled. Today there are no trails into Moffett Creek canyon, though a few visit Moffett Falls each year by following the creek a mile upstream from where the stream flows into the Columbia River. A few more explorers climb farther, to beautiful Wahe Falls, but only the most intrepid explorers have rappelled down the string of 11 spectacular waterfalls hidden in the depths of Moffett Creek canyon.

Some of the big conifers in the lower canyon appear to have survived the fire, but this close-up view (below) of Moffett Falls shows that the forest around the falls was less fortunate:

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Moffett Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

Last April, I visited Moffett Falls with a friend, and was surprised by the number of fallen trees and debris in the lower canyon from the rough winter of 2016-17, but I never imagined that the entire forest would soon burn. This is Moffett Falls as it looked last spring, before the fire:

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Moffett Falls in April 2017

This photo from the State of Oregon series shows the lesser-known mid-section of Moffett Creek canyon, with Wahe Falls at the bottom of the photo:

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Moffett Creek canyon (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

This section of Moffett Creek canyon was heavily impacted by the fire, and most of the forest killed by the flames. The recovery here will go unnoticed by most, though the few who explored this beautiful canyon before the fire will find these images difficult to absorb.

Here’s a close-up view of Wahe Falls from the previous photo, showing that all the big conifers around the falls were killed by the fire:

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Wahe Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

Moving upstream, the burn was less devastating in the next section of Moffett Creek canyon, where towering Kwaneesum Falls is located:

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Upper Moffett Creek canyon and Kwaneesum Falls (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

Kwaneesum is the tallest of Moffett’s eleven waterfalls, named by local waterfall explorer Zach Forsyth with the Chinook word meaning “forever, eternity or always.” This closer look at Kwanesum Falls shows many of the big conifers below the falls surviving the fire:

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Kwaneesum Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

An even closer look (below) at the forest below the falls reveals the complex burn patterns that result from the unusually steep topography of the Columbia River Gorge. Here, some trees were killed by the fire, while others survived. The Western red cedar on the left was singed on just one side, and may have enough green foliage to survive:

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Complex burn patterns along Moffett Creek (State of Oregon)

Few have ever seen Moffett Creek and few of us were ever destined to because of its remoteness. The canyon will also recover beyond the reach of humans, as it has many times before over the centuries. For a wonderful glimpse into some of the secrets this canyon holds, and a look at the lush beauty before the fire, you can pick up Zach Forsyth’s excellent Moffett Creek book in his “Hidden Treasures” series over here.

The next photo in the series (below) shows the lower canyon of Moffett Creek and the eastern flank of popular Munra Point, a rocky spine that towers above the Bonneville area, and forms the divide between Moffett and Tanner creeks:

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Munra Point and Moffett Creek (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

Munra Point is perhaps the most popular “unofficial” trail in the Gorge — or Oregon, for that matter. While it was once a lightly visited secret, the growing Portland region and advent of social media has turned this steep goat path into an actual zoo on summer weekends. The Forest Service has made no attempt to manage the user trail to Munra Point, as it’s “off the system” and in recent years it has suffered serious damage and erosion as the web of steep user paths has grown here.

This closer view (below) of the trail corridor suggests that the Eagle Creek F Fire had it out for the Munra Point trail, as the worst of the burn managed to focus on the route of this unofficial trail:

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The user trail to Munra Point follows the burned ridge at center-left in this view (State of Oregon)

The burned forest and subsequent erosion on these steep slopes will make it dangerous and unsustainable for hikers to continue to flock to this trail. It’s time for the Forest Service to officially close the unofficial Munra Point trail. The slopes will take decades to recover from the fire, and maybe someday a better-designed trail could be reopened, once the forest has recovered. For now, Munra Point deserves a long rest from our collective hiking boots.

Moving east, the next photo in the series (below) shows the Bonneville Fish Hatchery, the bridges of I-84, the Union Pacific Railroad bridge and (if you look closely) the old Tanner Creek Bridge on the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. Just beyond is the lower section of the Tanner Creek canyon, one of the most beloved places in the Gorge:

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Bonneville hatchery and Tanner Creek canyon (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

Despite being just one ridge away from the origin of the Eagle Creek Fire, the lower Tanner Creek canyon seems to have fared surprisingly well, as shown by this close-up view (below). Some of the largest, oldest trees in the Columbia River Gorge make their home here, and many seem to have survived the fire intact.

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Lower Tanner Creek canyon (State of Oregon)

This photo in the series is taken from high above the lower Tanner Creek canyon, looking into the amphitheater that holds Wahclella Falls, one of the most visited and loved places in the Gorge:

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Tanner Creek and Wahclella Falls (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

This view also shows the narrow gorge above Wahclella Falls, where little-known Swawaa and Sundance falls are located just upstream along Tanner Creek. The wide view also shows how much more severely the upper canyon burned, above the waterfalls.

In past articles, I’ve proposed extending the Tanner Creek trail to this string of upstream waterfalls, but it’s unclear if the fire will open new opportunities for trails or slow down efforts to build them. There will be pressures in both directions within our public land agencies and among Gorge advocates. My hope is that we can build new trails while the terrain is relatively open and it’s relatively easy to survey, plan and build new routes.

While the fire clearly swept through the understory of this part of Tanner Creek canyon, much of the conifer forest immediately around iconic Wahclella Falls seems to have survived the fire, as seen in this close-up from the photo above:

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Wahclella Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

This will come as relief to many, though we’ll only know the long-term fate of these survivors after they have endured a couple of summer drought cycles.

The fate of the groves of Bigleaf maple and Oregon white oak (below) that also thrived here is less certain. We’ll know in spring when deciduous trees begin leafing out.

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Bigleaf maples lighting up Wahclella Falls in autumn 2012, before the fire

The next photo in the series (below) shows upper Tanner Creek canyon, with an extensive mosaic burn pattern, and many trees along the canyon floor and west canyon wall surviving. The east slope of the canyon, below Tanner Ridge and Tanner Butte, appears to have burned more severely:

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Upper Tanner Creek canyon (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

This close-up (below) of an unnamed rock outcrop and talus slope on the west wall of the canyon shows another potential benefit of the fire. Among the signature habitats in the Columbia River Gorge are the many remote talus slopes that support unique species, and in particular, the Pika. These tiny relatives of rabbits live exclusively in talus, and the Gorge is home to the only known low-elevation population in the world, as Pika typically live in subalpine talus.

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Cleared talus slopes above Tanner Creek (State of Oregon)

Assuming low-elevation Columbia Gorge pika living in talus slopes like these survived the fire, itself, the effect of burning off encroaching forest is a long-term benefit for these animals by preserving the open talus and promoting growth of sun-loving grasses, wildflowers and huckleberries that Pika depend on.

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Pika gathering huckleberry leaves (ODFW)

Another larger species that might benefit from cleared talus and ridge tops is the mountain goat — if it is reintroduced here, or migrates from where it has been re-introduced elsewhere. A 1970s effort to bring them back to the Columbia Gorge was not successful, but perhaps now is the time to try again?

This close-up view (below) of upper Tanner Creek shows the high degree of mosaic burn on the canyon floor that will not only help the forest recover, but also allow for a healthier forest of mixed, multi-aged stands to develop over coming decades:

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Mosaic burn pattern along upper Tanner Creek (State of Oregon)

The next photo in the State of Oregon series shows the impact of the Eagle Creek Fire on Tooth Rock, the legendary pinch-point for travel through the Columbia Gorge, from early railroads to modern freeways:

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Tooth Rock after the fire (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

Tooth Rock is just a couple of miles from where the fire started, and one of the first places to burn, closing the highway and railroad for days. This close-up view (below) from the above photo shows a section of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail at Tooth Rock where erosion and landslides unleashed from the burn will be an ongoing concern until the understory recovers:

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Historic Highway viaduct at Tooth Rock (State of Oregon)

If you’ve traveled through the Columbia Gorge since the fire, you have probably noticed the protective fencing above the Tooth Rock Tunnel and fresh stumps where burned trees were cut by the highway department to prevent them from falling onto the highway.

This close-up view (below) shows the larger concern, where active slides threaten the historic highway, as well as the portal to the Tooth Rock Tunnel and Union Pacific tunnels, located below the westbound I-84 viaduct:

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Stacked transportation routes threatened by slides at Tooth Rock (State of Oregon)

And so the ongoing struggle to find passage around Tooth Rock continues, as the successive roads, rails, tunnels and viaducts making their way around and through the rock over the past 150 years may all share a common fate if these landslides continue to grow.

Eagle Creek: at the Heart of the Inferno

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Eagle Creek forest burning as the fire began to unfold last September (US Forest Service)

The intensity of the fire damage to the forests in Oneonta, McCord and Tanner creek canyons might lead you to think the Eagle Creek canyon would have fared worse, since the fire was started here. But the State of Oregon aerial photo series shows the forest canopy in many of the most treasured spots along Eagle Creek surviving the fire, with many areas having a beneficial, mosaic burn pattern.

The mosaic pattern is immediately apparent in this opening view, looking into the canyon from above the Eagle Creek fish hatchery and I-84:

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Looking into the Eagle Creek canyon (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

A closer look (below) at this view shows that much of the forest along the lower canyon near the Eagle Creek trailhead survived. The historic Eagle Creek Campground is also located in this area:

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Lower Eagle Creek canyon (State of Oregon)

A still closer look (below) shows that the understory on the west (right) side of Eagle Creek in area stretch burned, while much of the conifer overstory has survived, so far:

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West side of lower Eagle Creek (State of Oregon)

The next photo in the series jumps two miles upstream along Eagle Creek to Metlako Gorge, so the extent of the burn in the intervening section of the Eagle Creek Trail is still only known to Forest Service rangers who have been busy assessing trail conditions in the burn area.

This photo (below) looking south into Metlako Gorge shows more mosaic burn pattern, with an intact forest canopy in some areas and dying trees in others. Sorenson Creek Falls (on the left) and Metlako Falls spill into the gorge at the far end:

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Metlako Gorge after the fire (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

A closer look at this photo shows that the understory was cleared by the fire on the slopes below the Eagle Creek Trail, located directly above the falls. The two familiar Douglas fir trees that lean over the gorge just below Metlako Falls also seem to have been killed by the fire:

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Sorenson Creek Falls and Metlako Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

This fascinating (below) photo from the series shows the former Metlako Falls viewpoint, once located on a short spur trail through a wooded ravine that led to a dizzying perch along the gorge rim. In late December 2016, a massive section of the basalt cliff fell away here, taking the viewpoint (and its cable railings!) with it and filling the gorge below with 30 feet of debris:

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The 2016 Metlako Gorge landslide after the fire (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

In this earlier blog article, I covered the landslide event in detail, but the new aerial views provide a much more complete understanding of the full scope and scale of the collapse.

This closer look at the photo (below) shows the scale of the collapse, including a barn-sized chunk of solid basalt that managed to land in Eagle Creek intact. The giant, intact boulder gives a good sense of just how much of the original cliff broke away:

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Close-up view of the 2016 Metlako Gorge landslide (State of Oregon)

A still closer look (below) shows the impact of the collapse on Eagle Creek, with a deep bank of rock and soil debris banked against the east wall of the gorge, and huge pile of boulders in the creek trapping a log jam of whole trees behind it:

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Logjam created by the 2016 Metlako Gorge landslide (State of Oregon)

This photo from the series (below) of the newly formed Metlako Gorge cliff face helps explain why the cliff collapse happened. The waterfall cascading down the newly exposed scarp is located just upstream from where the overlook was located, and emerges from the small ravine the spur trail followed to the old overlook:

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Metlako Gorge landslide scarp after the fire (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

A closer look at this new waterfall (below) shows that the entire stream actually emerges at the brink of the falls, where groundwater flowing beneath the forest surface has reached the solid basalt layer and is forced toward the cliff.

Constant hydraulic pressure and occasional freezing where this underground water source seeped into cracks in the basalt layer and the sheer weight of the vertical cliff pulling outward created the conditions for what is a fairly regular event in the Columbia River Gorge: outer layers of exposed basalt cliffs calving off as the elements pry them loose.

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A new waterfall where the Metlako Falls viewpoint once was (State of Oregon)

What did Metlako Gorge look like before the landslide? It was an idyllic, widely photographed scene of exceptional beauty. This image (below) is no longer possible after the cliff collapse, but the 2017 Eagle Creek fire also destroyed some of the big trees that framed the falls. This view will only live in our photos and memories:

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Metlako Falls before the viewpoint collapse — and the Eagle Creek fire

This aerial view from the series provides a more detailed look at Metlako Falls, including a rarely seen section of Eagle Creek just above the falls and the surrounding forest:

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Metlako Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

A closer look (below) at this photo shows that the fire completely burned away the understory around the falls, and many of the trees here are clearly struggling to survive. Soils in the rocky Columbia Gorge canyons are thin and competition is fierce among big trees during summer droughts, so we won’t really know how trees with this degree of fire damage will fare for another year or two.

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Metlako Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

As I worked my way through the hundreds of photos in the State of Oregon series, I expected to find a shot of Punch Bowl Falls similar to the previous view of Metlako Falls. After all, Punch Bowl is easily among most photographed spots in the Columbia Gorge (and Oregon), second only to Multnomah Falls. But after my first pass through the set, I was disappointed not to find a good view of the Punch Bowl, of all places!

However, I later came across the following image in a group of several that were more difficult to identify, and noticed the undercut cliff wall tucked among the trees in the lower left edge of the photo:

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Is that Punch Bowl Falls down there..? (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

Looking more closely (below) at this part of the photo reveals it to be the “weeping wall” that towers above the lower Punch Bowl amphitheater, across from the cobble beach that fills with hundreds of hikers and swimmers on summer weekends. Then I noticed a bare spot that marks the “jumping” spot on the high cliff that hangs above the east side of Punch Bowl Falls — and the trail overlook, in the trees high above the falls:

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…that’s a downstream view of Punch Bowl Falls! (State of Oregon)

The good news from this photo is that several stands of big conifers immediately around Punch Bowl Falls not only survived the fire, but look to have completely dodged the flames. That would be good news, as these trees may now live to grow for another century or two, helping the surrounding burn recover and passing along their survivor genes in the process.

Many of the big trees around Punch Bowl Falls have survived at least one other major fire, as much of the Eagle Creek canyon burned in a fire around the turn of the 20th Century. This early 1900s view (below) shows the aftermath of that fire, with large gravel bars filling the Punch Bowl, itself. This material was released by erosion that resulted from that earlier fire, and in coming decades, we are likely to see new gravel bars like this appear in Eagle Creek, once again:

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Early 1900s view of Punch Bowl Falls

Most hikers on the Eagle Creek Trail know Tish Creek from its tall — and recently replaced — footbridge. But a few intrepid hikers know that a beautiful waterfall on Tish Creek is located upstream from the trail, reachable by a rough off-trail bushwhack. This little-known spot also seems to have dodged the worst of the fire, as seen in this view aerial view from the series:

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Tish Creek Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

Moving upstream from Punch Bowl Falls, the photo from the series shows Loowit Gorge, just downstream from Loowit Falls and High Bridge:

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Loowit Gorge after the fire (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

Eagle Creek was clearly a barrier for the fire in this area, with the west (right) slopes near Loowit Creek completely burned, while the forest canopy on the east slope (where the Eagle Creek Trail is located) seems to have mostly survived, but with burned trunks to show for it.

This aerial view from the series shows Loowit Falls (at the bottom, where it joins Eagle Creek) and little-known Upper Loowit Falls in the distance:

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Loowit and Upper Loowit Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

A closer look (below) at this view of Loowit Falls shows a forest that was largely killed by the fire, as even the trees with a few surviving limbs in their crowns are unlikely to survive the stress of losing so much of their canopy:

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Loowit Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

What did Loowit Falls look like before the fire? It was among the most graceful and photographed in the Columbia Gorge, drifting down a moss-covered basalt wall into a perfect bowl carved into solid rock over the millennia:

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Loowit Falls before the burn, surrounded by big conifers (State of Oregon)

Upper Loowit Falls fared worse (below), with the entire forest killed by the fire. In recent years, the word has gotten out on the relatively easy off-trail route to this falls, so like Middle Oneonta Falls, this might be a good candidate for formalizing a spur trail. This could be done as part of restoring the overall trail system at Eagle Creek, when trail planners can see the terrain as never before, and have the opportunity to provide more hiking options in this popular area.

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Upper Loowit Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

This photo from the series looks downstream along a section of Eagle Creek above High Bridge:

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Eagle Creek above High Bridge after the fire (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

The burn is extensive here, though a few stands of forest canopy seem to have survived. A close look at the tributary falls in the upper left corner of this view shows Benson Falls, another beautiful, lesser-known waterfall that only a few have visited:

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Benson Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

Graceful Benson Falls can be reached by scrambling up a side canyon from near High Bridge. This similar view from another photo in the series shows the falls more clearly, and while the burn cleared much of the understory here, many of the big conifers near the falls appear to have survived:

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Benson Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

Benson Falls could be another candidate for a short spur trail as part of restoring the Eagle Creek Trail in the burn area and providing new trail opportunities.

Moving upstream, the next photo in the State of Oregon series shows a section of Eagle Creek located below Skoonichuk Falls, the next in the chain of waterfalls along the Eagle Creek Trail:

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Eagle Creek and Skoonichuk Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

Much of the forest in this section of Eagle Creek canyon was completely killed by the fire, though a few conifers survived immediately around Skoonichuk Falls, as seen in this close-up view:

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Skoonichuk Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

Unfortunately, the aerial photo series does not include a view of Grand Union Falls and Tunnel Falls (on the East Fork), the next two major waterfalls along the Eagle Creek Trail, so only the Forest Service rangers know the extent of the fire impact there. But the photo series does include this view of Twister Falls, located on the main fork of Eagle Creek, just up the trail from Tunnel Falls:

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Twister Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

Eagle Creek formed another firebreak here, though in the opposite direction from what previous photos showed at Loowit Gorge. Here, the forest canopy on the west (right) side of the canyon appears to have mostly survived, while the east side canopy was mostly killed by the fire.

This close-up view (below) of the photo shows the infamous “Vertigo Mile” section of the Eagle Creek Trail, where the exposed route curves around a dizzying cliff above Twister Falls. The fire damage here is readily apparent on the slopes above the trail, with only a few conifers hanging on to some of their foliage:

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Twister Falls and the Vertigo Mile after the fire (State of Oregon)

These trees are unlikely to weather summer drought stress in coming years as they attempt to survive with only portion of their crowns intact. As will be the case throughout the burn, debris from heavily burned slopes like this will continue to slide onto adjacent trails until the forest understory has returned to stabilize the soil. This will likely play out for several years.

The groves of big conifers at the base of Twister Falls (below) seem to have fared much better, possibly untouched by the fire:

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These big trees below Twister Falls survived the fire (State of Oregon)

Like the big trees that survived by Punch Bowl Falls, these giants will help the surrounding burn recover by helping to reseed burned slopes and providing shade to help keep Eagle Creek cool in summer and early fall.

This view from the brink of Twister Falls (below) from before the fire shows the narrow slot that holds this tall waterfall. In coming years, watch for logjams to form in narrow spots like this along Eagle Creek:

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Twister Falls before the fire

This photo in the series shows Sevenmile Falls, the last in the string of major waterfalls along the Eagle Creek Trail:

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Sevenmile Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

The understory burned off in this section of forest, but the conifer overstory seems to have survived, mostly intact. This close-up view from the photo shows a more impacted section of forest where the Eagle Creek Trail passes Sevenmile Falls:

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Sevenmile Falls after the fire (State of Oregon)

This photo from the series provides a view from high above the upper Eagle Creek canyon, looking downstream (north) toward the Columbia River, and gives a sense of how the forests in the upper canyon fared:

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Upper Eagle Creek canyon after the fire (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

While forests along many of the ridge tops were completely killed by the fire, many of the lower slopes in this photo (below) show a beneficial mosaic burn, with wide bands of surviving forest canopy:

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Mosaic burn pattern in the upper Eagle Creek canyon (State of Oregon)

The condition of trails in this part of the Eagle Creek network is unknown, as the Eagle Creek fire merged with the earlier Indian Creek fire in this area. The Indian Creek fire started weeks before the Eagle Creek fire, but spread less aggressively, mostly burning in relatively high elevation areas above the canyon floor.

Herman Creek and Shellrock Mountain

The State of Oregon photo series doesn’t provide much detail on the Herman Creek canyon, though the fire clearly burned significant portions of Nick Eaton Ridge (seen below, forming the east side of the canyon on the left in the photo). This photo was taken from directly above the Port of Cascade Locks, looking south:

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Herman Creek canyon after the fire (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

From this limited view, the pattern seems similar to Eagle Creek: killed forests along ridge tops, mosaic burn patterns closer to the canyon floor and some of the largest conifers surviving along Herman Creek (below).

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Mosaic burn pattern at Herman Creek (State of Oregon)

The final image in this set focuses on Shellrock Mountain, the eastern extent of the State of Oregon photo survey (below):

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Summit Creek and Shellrock Mountain after the fire (State of Oregon)

[click here for a large photo]

A closer look at the lower left corner of the photo (below) shows little-known Camp Benson Falls, the lower of two significant waterfalls on Summit Creek, and the ongoing construction of the latest phase of the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail:

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Summit Creek and Camp Benson Falls (State of Oregon)

Most of the burn here is also in a mosaic pattern, including along the steep talus slopes of Shellrock Mountain (below). Switchbacks from an old trail leading to the summit show in this view, as well:

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Shellrock Mountain forests after the fire (State of Oregon)

The amazing photo survey ends here, roughly coinciding with the eastern extent of the Eagle Creek Fire. Though the photos were focused on assessing potential impacts of burned slopes on highways and other infrastructure in the Gorge, they also serve as an invaluable snapshot of conditions as they existed immediately after the fire. These images will give future land managers and researchers a highly detailed benchmark for tracking the recovery of the Gorge ecosystem over coming decades.

While simply restoring the historic trail network will be a big job, the reality of growing demand in our region for new trails and experiences in the Gorge didn’t go away with the fire. These photos also provide a unique opportunity for today’s State Parks and Forest Service planners to consider new trails and trail realignments while the terrain is easy to survey and trail construction more straightforward than when the understory is intact.

The fire has created a once in a century opportunity to rethink the trails in the Gorge with our rapidly growing population in mind, and is an opportunity that should not be missed. It also provides an opportunity to link the responsible expansion of recreation opportunities to the forest recovery, itself, allowing hikers to watch and learn as a new forest grows here.

After the Fire: the Verdict

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Smoky skies in the Gorge during the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire

Those who love the Gorge already know this unfortunately sequence of events: the Eagle Creek Fire began on September 2, 2017, when a Vancouver teenager tossed illegal fireworks into the canyon from cliffs along the Eagle Creek trail. The fire quickly exploded into an inferno, burning more than 48,000 acres along the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, and briefly igniting a small fire on the Washington side when embers floated over to the slopes of Aldrich Mountain.

This month, a Hood River County judge sentenced the teen to five years of probation and 1,920 hours (48 weeks) of community service with the U.S. Forest Service. That’s more volunteer time that many Americans contribute over a lifetime. Much of that work will be in the form of restoring and rebuilding trails damaged by the fire, no doubt, and hopefully this mandated service will inspire the unnamed teen to dedicate his life to protecting our public lands after this tragedy.

The public reaction to the sentence was swift: many felt it was too lenient, given the scope and devastation of the fire. Others felt it fair and forgiving, as it gives the teen a chance to potentially direct his life toward stewardship and protecting the Gorge. Here is the statement the young man made to the court as part of sentencing:

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Letter of apology from the teen who started the Eagle Creek Fire

[click here for a more readable version]

I fall into the second category in my own reaction, and don’t see a reason to destroy a young life because of a mistake that went horribly wrong. Most of us made similarly stupid decisions in our teens, and were simply fortunate enough not to have had consequences of this scale to answer to.

I also see this sequence of events as a metaphor that all who love the Gorge can learn from: today’s kids are increasingly isolated from nature and spending time on our public lands. Learning to understand, appreciate and respect nature is something that all kids should experience, and might have prevented the Eagle Creek Fire, too.

The teen who started the Eagle Creek Fire will spend nearly a year in his young life working to help with the recovery effort as part of his sentence and will surely learn these lessons. But what if all kids in our growing region simply spent a few hours working on a trail or helping to restore the burn in some other way? How would that change the way in which future generations care for the Gorge? How could we all help to bring out youth closer to nature as we work to restore the Gorge?

Epilogue: Learning to Embrace the Burn

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Bleached snags from the 1991 Multnomah Falls fire rising from a sea of young conifers in 2004

Reactions to the first in this two-part article ranged from sadness and anger over places lost to the fire to a degree of hope and guarded optimism about the opportunity to rethink how we manage the Gorge in the future.

While the full impact of the Eagle Creek Fire is still being assessed, the best option moving forward is to embrace the reality of the burn as an opportunity to learn, grow and pitch in. That’s something we can all do, including supporting organizations like Friends of the Gorge and Trailkeepers of Oregon (TKO) who will be at the forefront of bringing volunteers to the major job of restoration.

So far, the public response has been overwhelming, with several TKO trail events filling up almost immediately this year, and long waiting lists forming for future events. That’s encouraging! Let’s hope it continues, as the recovery will take many years.

Many will continue to grieve the magnificent forests and idyllic landscapes lost to the fire, too. That’s a very human response to losing a place that is home to so many of us. But it’s also true that the recovery has already begun, and that each year in the recovery process will bring new opportunities to learn and appreciate how the Gorge ecosystem has recovered countless times from fire over the millennia.

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Young conifers growing among the snags from the 1991 Multnomah Falls fire in 2004

For those of us at (or past) the middle of our lives, our memories of what was will have to fill some of the void we feel. But younger visitors to the Gorge will see whole new forests grow among the bleached snags that will soon mark much of the burn area, and the very youngest visitors will live to see tall forests grow here, again.

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2004 view of young trees rapidly filling in the 1991 burn area above Angels Rest

What will the recovery look like? The 1991 Multnomah Falls Fire gives us the best glimpse into what to expect as the Eagle Creek recovery unfolds. For those who were around in 1991, the Multnomah Falls Fire swept from the falls west to Angels Rest, scorching much of the Gorge wall along the way. I’ve included a few photos of the burn area taken in 2004, just 13 years after the fire.

At that point in the recovery, trees killed by the 1991 fire still dominated the landscape, but a young forest seemed to be exploding from the burn area, with conifers already 10-15 feet tall and growing quickly. Today, some of these trees are twice that tall, and on the way to becoming a mature forest canopy.

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2004 view of the 1991 Multnomah Falls burn, with young trees rapidly overtaking the ghost forest of burned trees

It shouldn’t be a surprise to discover that the Gorge ecosystem can recover quickly and without our help. But with thousands of people living in the Gorge and millions visiting each year, we will also need to learn how to accept fire as part of the forest cycle if we hope to avoid catastrophic burns like the Eagle Creek Fire in the future.

What will that take? One essential tool will be prescribed burns. These are purposely set fires designed to burn a relatively small, controlled area with a relatively cool fire that most of the forest canopy can survive. The goal of a prescribed burn is a mosaic pattern like those found in parts of the Eagle Creek Burn where the fire intensity was less and allowed most trees to survive.

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2015 prescribed burn in Yosemite National Park (National Park Service)

Prescribed burns are typically set in late fall, when humidity is high and the rainy season is near and can be counted on to completely extinguish the fire. The Eagle Creek burn occurred in late summer when humidity was low, the forests very dry after two months of drought and the first substantial fall rains were weeks away. The famous Gorge winds only added to the volatility. These conditions combined to allow the fire to burn hot and spread for weeks.

Prescribed burns are now an accepted forest practice, and increasingly used by the Forest Service and National Park Service to reverse the harm done by a century of fire suppression. But preventing future fires on the scale of the Eagle Creek Fire will also require all of us to accept limits on how we use the Gorge. This may be more difficult to accept than prescribed burning, especially given the patchwork of public agencies responsible for managing the Gorge.

What sorts of limits are needed? Restored trails in the burn area will be vulnerable for years to come, and subject to more damage if the same level of foot traffic experienced before the fire is allowed to return. The public agencies that manage the Gorge will need to define and identify reasonable carrying capacities for the most popular trails, and enforce access limits with trail-specific permits, parking management and by offering new trail options for a growing region.

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Our children’s grandchildren will experience the Eagle Creek burn like this: scattered ghost stumps from today’s burned trees among a green rainforest of 100-year old trees

Seasonal limits may be required, too. The Gorge was a tinderbox waiting to burn last September when the Vancouver teen tossed fireworks into the Eagle Creek canyon, starting the fire. But it could have easily started from an untended campfire or careless smoker, too.

In the future, seasonal trail limits and temporary closures should also be considered when fire conditions in the Gorge are especially dangerous. This could not only help prevent overly destructive burns in the forests that still remain, but also acknowledges that thousands of Gorge residents and their homes were also threatened by the fire. Their safety should be a core consideration in deciding when to close Gorge trails because of fire risk.

Changes to current management practices will be hard to bring about with a reluctant public, but the Eagle Creek Fire might have given us the perfect moment to educate ourselves on the need to change our ways and think about how our impact on the Gorge will play out for future generations. While much was lost in the fire, we’ve also been given a unique opportunity to change course for the better. I’m optimistic that we will!

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Back to the future: the Gorge was recovering from an earlier fire in this 1903 view (WyEast Blog)

[click here for a large image]

I chose the above, hand-colored photo to close this two-part article, as it provides needed perspective of our place in the broader cycle of life in the Columbia Gorge. This Kiser Brothers image was taken in 1903 from a spot just downstream from Beacon Rock, on the Washington side of the river. Across the still, reflective Columbia, the cliffs marking McCord Creek canyon can be seen, with the snow-covered slopes of Nesmith Ridge and Wauneka Point rising above.

In 1903, the Oregon side of the Gorge was just beginning to recover from an extensive fire that swept a good portion of what we now know as the Eagle Creek Burn. Past is prologue, and this is what the Gorge will look like in our immediate future, as another burn cycle unfolds.

While it’s very different scene than the green forests we have enjoyed, it’s also undeniably beautiful in a rugged, wild way. The fire is part of an essential cycle, and more importantly, an opportunity for all of us to rethink how we care for our Gorge.

I’ve also included a link to a large version of the Kiser Brothers photo, and encourage you to print a copy to hang on a bulletin board or your refrigerator as part of learning to embrace the Eagle Creek burn. This snapshot from the distant past has helped me begin to embrace the new reality of the Gorge, and I hope will help you, too.

Thanks for reading!

________________

Author’s note about the photos: a friend of the blog pointed me to the amazing cache of photos featured in this two-part article, and while you could probably acquire them from the State of Oregon, I would encourage you to let our public agency staff focus their time on the Gorge recovery, not chasing down photo requests.  

With this in mind, I’ve posting the very best of the photos here, and have included links to very large images for those looking to use or share them. These photos should be credited to “State of Oregon” where noted in this article, not this blog. They are in the public domain.

________________

2017 Campaign Calendar!

December 24, 2016

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[click here for a large image]

Each year since the Mount Hood National Park Campaign began in 2004, I’ve published a wall calendar to celebrate the many reasons why Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge should be our next national park. You can pick up a calendar here:

 2017 Mount Hood National Park Campaign Calendar

The calendar sales help cover some of the costs of keeping the campaign website and WyEast blog up and running. More importantly, they ensure that I continue to explore new places in the gorge and on the mountain, as each calendar consists exclusively of photos I’ve taken in the previous year. In this article, I’ll provide some of the stories behind the photos in the new Mount Hood National Park Campaign Calendar.

 The Calendar

Beginning in 2016, I’ve published the calendar at Zazzle, where the quality of printing and binding is much better than my former printer. The excellent print quality shows in the front cover (above), a view of the northwest face of Mount Hood from Cathedral Ridge where the color accuracy does justice to the vibrant cliffs on this side of the mountain.

An added bonus with Zazzle is the ability to include a full-color spread on the back of the calendar. As with the 2016 calendar, I’ve used this space to show off some of the flora I’ve photographed over the past year – and this year, I added berries and a butterfly to the mix, too:

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[click here for a large image]

The monthly layout remains the same as last year, with a classic design that serves nicely as a working calendar for kitchens or offices:

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The finished calendar hangs 14 inches wide by 22 inches tall, with a white wire binding.

 The Images

The following is a rundown of the 12 images inside the calendar by month, with a link to a large version of each image, too. This year, I’ve posted especially large versions to allow for a closer look at these scenes (in a new window), and you can see them by clicking the link beneath each preview image.

The 2017 calendar begins with a chilly Tamanawas Falls for the January image. This impressive waterfall is located on Cold Spring Creek on Mount Hood’s east slope:

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Tamanawas Falls in winter clothes

 [click here for a large image]

This popularity of this trail in winter has ballooned in recent years, from almost no visitors just a decade ago to traffic jams on winter weekends today.

The scenery explains the popularity. While the trail is lovely in the snow-free seasons, it’s downright magical after the first heavy snows in winter. The scene below is typical of the many breathtaking vistas along the hike during the snow season.

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Cold Spring Creek gets just a little bit colder

It’s still possible to have the place to yourself, however. Go on a weekday, and you’re likely to find just a few hikers and snowshoers on the trail. Thus far, no Snow Park pass is required here – though that will surely come if the weekend crowds continue!

For February, I picked an image of Mount Hood’s steep north face, featuring the icefalls of the Coe and Ladd glaciers:

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Mount Hood’s mighty north face from Owl Point

[click here for a large image]

This view is unique to the extent that it was taken from the Old Vista Ridge trail to Owl Point – a route that was reopened in 2007 by volunteers and provides a perspective of the mountain rarely seen by most visitors.

 For March, I selected an image of Upper Butte Creek Falls:

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Lovely Upper Butte Creek Falls in spring

[click here for a large image]

This is on the margins of Mount Hood country, but deserves better protections than the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) can ever provide, given their constitutional obligation to log state forests to provide state revenue.

While ODF has done a very good job with the short trails that reach the waterfalls of Butte Creek, the bulk of the watershed is still heavily managed for timber harvests. Who knows, someday maybe it will be part of a Mount Hood National Park? It’s certainly worthy.

On this particular trip last spring, I returned to the trailhead to find these notes on my windshield:

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Our future is in good hands!

Not much damage to the car, and the note more than made up for it! I did contact Jesse, and ended up speaking to his dad. I thanked him for being an excellent parent. With dads (and moms) like this, our future is in good hands!

For April, I picked this scene from Rowena Crest at the height of the Balsamroot and Lupine bloom season:

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Rowena Crest in April splendor

[click here for a large image]

Just me and a few hundred other photographers up there to enjoy the wildflowers on that busy, sunny Sunday afternoon! Look closely, and you can see a freight train heading west on the Union Pacific tracks in the distance, lending scale to the enormity of the Gorge.

For the May image, I chose the classic scene of Punch Bowl Falls along the popular Eagle Creek Trail in the Gorge:

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Punch Bowl Falls in spring

 [click here for a large image]

The spring rains faded quickly this year, resulting in much lower flows along Eagle Creek by the time spring greenery was emerging, making it less chilly to wade out to the view of the falls. To the right of the falls you can also see the latest downfall to land in front of the falls. To my eye, this adds to the scene, so I see it as a plus.

This isn’t the first big tree to drop into the Punch Bowl in recent years. In the mid-2000s, another large tree fell directly in front of the falls, much to the frustration of photographers:

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Punch Bowl Falls in 2006 with an earlier fallen tree in front of the falls

 That earlier tree was flushed out a few years ago, only to be replaced by the current, somewhat less obtrusive downfall a couple of years ago. Here’s a wider view showing this most recent addition, including the giant root ball:

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Gravity at work once again at Punch Bowl Falls

This pattern will continue as it has for millennia, as other large Douglas fir trees are leaning badly along the rim of the Punch Bowl. They eventually will drop into the bowl, too, frustrating future generations of photographers!

 The Punch Bowl, itself, changes over time. This early view from the 1920s shows a lot more debris inside the bowl compared to recent decades, possibly from erosion that followed an early 1900s forest fire in the Eagle Creek canyon:

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Punch Bowl Falls in the 1920s

Look closely and you can see flapper-era hikers on the rim of the bowl and several rock stacks left by visitors on the gravel bar – some things never change!

The June image in the new calendar is the opposite of Punch Bowl Falls. While thousands visit Eagle Creek each year, the remote spot pictured below is rarely visited by anyone, despite being less than a mile from Wahtum Lake and the headwaters of Eagle Creek. This view is from a rugged, unnamed peak along Waucoma Ridge, looking toward another unnamed butte and snowy Mount Adams, in the distance:

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A place of ancient significance, yet lost in our modern time

[click here for a large image]

For the purpose of keeping track of unnamed places, I’ve called the talus-covered butte in the photo “Pika Butte”, in honor of its numerous Pika residents. The peak from which the photo is taken is an extension of Blowdown Ridge, a much-abused, heavily logged and mostly forgotten beauty spot that deserves to be restored and placed under the care of the National Park Service.

The view of “Pika Butte” was taken while exploring several off-trail rock knobs and outcrops along Blowdown Ridge, but what made this spot really special was stumbling acxross a cluster of Indian pits (sometimes called vision quest pits). One pit is visible in the lower left corner of the wide view (above) and you can see three in this close-up view from the same spot:

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If only these stones could tell us the story behind the mystery!

Nobody really knows why ancient people in the region made these pits, but it’s always a powerful experience to find them, and imagine the lives of indigenous peoples unfolding in the shadow of Mount Hood. These pits had a clear view of the Hood River Valley, with the Columbia River and Mount Adams in the distance. Indian pits often feature a sweeping mountain or river view, adding to the theory that they were built with a spiritual purpose.

For July, another photo from Owl Point along the Old Vista Ridge trail. This wide view shows some of the beargrass in bloom on the slopes of Owl Point on a sunny afternoon in July:

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Mount Hood fills the skyline from Owl Point

[click here for a large image]

Since this historic trail was adopted by volunteers in 2007, it has become increasingly popular with hikers. Several geocaches are located along the way, as well as a summit register at Owl Point with notes from hikers from all over the world. A few recent entries among hundreds in the register show the impact that this amazing “new” view of Mount Hood has on visitors to Old Vista Ridge:

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In a few months I’ll share some exciting news about the Old Vista Ridge Trail, Owl Point and the surrounding areas on Mount Hood’s north slope. Stay tuned!

For August, I picked another scene on the north side of the mountain, this time at iconic Elk Cove along the Timberline Trail:

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Swale along Cove Creek in Elk Cove

[click here for a large image]

The hiker (and his dog) approaching me in this photo stopped to chat, and I was surprised to learn that he was a regular reader of this blog!

As we talked about the changes to the cove that came with the 2011 Dollar Lake Fire (that burned the north and west margins of the cove), he mentioned finding the foundation from the original Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) shelter in the brush near Cove Creek! We crossed the creek and in a short distance, came to the unmistakable outline of the shelter:

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The old Elk Cove shelter foundation is surprisingly intact – but hidden

This structure was once one of several along the Timberline Trail, but fell into disrepair following avalanche damage sometime in the 1950s or early 1960s. This image is apparently from the mid-1960s, showing the still somewhat intact ruins of the shelter:

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The beginning of the end for the Elk Cove shelter in the 1960s

The location of the shelter was a surprise to me, as I had long thought the building was located near a prominent clearing and campsite near the middle of Elk Cove. Now that I know the exact location, I plan to reproduce the 1960s image on my next trip to the cove, for comparison.

For September, I chose a quiet autumn scene along Gorton Creek, near the Wyeth Campground in the Columbia Gorge (below). This is a spot I’ve photographed many times, just downstream from popular Emerald Falls:

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Pretty Gorton Creek in the Wyeth area of the Gorge

[click here for a large image]

This area has a fascinating history, as today’s Wyeth Campground is located on the grounds of Civilian Public Service Camp No. 1, a World War II work camp for conscientious objectors. The men serving at this camp built roads and trails throughout the Gorge, in addition to many other public works projects. The camp operated from 1941-1946. You can learn more about the Wyeth work camp here.

The October scene is familiar to anyone who has visited the Gorge. It’s Multnomah falls, of course, dressed in autumn colors:

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A bugs-eye view of Multnomah Falls?

[click here for a large image]

If the photo looks different than your typical Multnomah Falls view, that’s because I blended a total of eight images to create a horizontal format of this very vertical falls to better fit the calendar. Here’s what the composite looked like before blending the images:

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To young photographers of the digital age, blending photos is routine. But for those of us who started out in the age of film photography and darkrooms, the ability to blend and stack images is nothing short of magical – and fun! While younger photographers are increasingly exploring film photography as a retro art, the digital age is infinitely more enjoyable than the days of dark rooms, chemicals and expensive film and print paper for this photographer.

I paused before including a winter-season photo of Wahclella Falls for the November calendar image (below). Why? Because I’ve used a photo from this area in nearly every calendar since I started assembling these more than a decade ago. It’s my favorite Gorge hike – I visited Tanner Creek and Wahclella Falls five times in 2016 – and have photographed this magnificent scene dozens of times, and yet it never gets old.

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Wahclella Falls is a winter spectacle!

[click here for a large image]

I decided to include this Wahclella Falls scene because it captured a particularly wild day on Tanner Creek last winter. The stream was running high, filling the canyon with mist and seasonal waterfalls drifted down the walls of the gorge on all sides.

The huge splash pool at the base of the falls was especially wild – more like ocean surf than a Cascade stream, and if you look closely, you can also see a hiker braving the rain and cold to take in this view:

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Roaring falls, big boulder… and tiny hiker

I also liked the turbulent stream below the falls, which also boiled more like ocean surf than a mountain stream:

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Tanner Creek comes alive in winter

 So, another calendar featuring Wahclella Falls? Yes, and it certainly won’t be the last. This is among the most magical places in the Gorge – or anywhere!

 Finally, for the December image I selected a photo from my first official attempt at capturing the Milky Way over Mount Hood. This view is across Laurance Lake, on the north side of the mountain:

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Milky Way rising over Laurance Lake and Mount Hood

[click here for a large image]

The glow on the opposite side of the lake is a campfire at the Kinnikinnick Campground, and was just a lucky addition to the scene. While we waited for the Milky Way to appear, there were several campers arriving, making for some interesting photo captures. With a 30-second exposure set for stars, this image also captures the path of a car driving along the south side of the lake to the campground:

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Headlights and campfires in a Laurance Lake time exposure

My tour guide and instructor that evening was Hood River Photographer Brian Chambers, who I profiled in this WyEast Blog article in June. Thanks for a great trip, Brian!

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The author with Brian Chambers somewhere under the Milky Way

So, if you’re looking to support the blog and Mount Hood National Park campaign or just have an ugly fridge to cover, you can order the new calendar on Zazzle.

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…and finally, given the unusual events in our recent national election, some reflections on what it might mean for Mount Hood and the Gorge…

Post-election deju vu: back to the future..?

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Viewed through the lens of protecting public lands and the environment, the presidential election results on November 8 are discouraging, at best. For those of us who have voted in a few elections, it feels a lot like the Reagan Revolution of 1980.

So, the following is a bit of speculation on what lies ahead based upon what we’ve been through before, but with the caveat that unlike that earlier populist surge against government, the environmental agenda of the coming Trump administration is somewhat less clear and appears less ideologically driven.

Ronald Reagan’s vision for government brought a very specific mission to dismantle environmental regulations and open up public lands to commercial interests. To carry out the mission, President Reagan appointed the highly controversial James Watt to head the Department of Interior, and the nearly as controversial Anne Gorsuch to run the EPA. John Block was tapped to head of the Department of Agriculture (which oversees the U.S. Forest Service). Watt and Gorsuch were attorneys, Block a farmer who had entered politics as an agriculture administrator in the State of Illinois.

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James Watt’s radical vision for our public lands threatened to derail Ronald Reagan in his first term

Watt and Gorsuch became infamous for their open disdain for conservationists and the agencies they were appointed to administer. Watt was the Reagan administration’s sympathetic gesture to the original Sagebrush Rebellion. Block focused primarily on an ideological rollback of farm subsidies and programs that dated to the Dust Bowl, and that would eventually be his downfall.

The important lesson is that all three rode in with a “revolution” mandate, and over-reached in their zeal to rewrite American policy overnight. The blowback was instant, and though they did harm our conservation legacy during their embattled tenures, they didn’t have the lasting impact many had feared. Both Watt and Gorsuch were forced to resign before the end of President Reagan’s first term, and Block resigned in the first year of Reagan’s second term.

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Even Readers Digest covered the EPA Superfund scandal that drove Anne Gorsuch out of office!

Gorsuch was eventually pushed out by Reagan for attempting to conceal EPA Superfund files from Congress as part of an unfolding scandal, becoming the first agency head to be cited for contempt of Congress. Before the scandal drove her from office, Gorsuch became Anne Gorsuch Burford when she married James Burford, Reagan’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) chief, further fueling concern about whether environmental protections could be objectively enforced on BLM lands.

John Block lasted five years, but was pushed out in early 1986 as the worst farm crisis since the Great Depression unfolded under his tenure. Watt left in more spectacular fashion after stating (apparently a joke) that an ideally balanced advisory panel would include ”a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple.” (and in the age of Google, he has been deservedly forgotten, with the more consequential James Watt – inventor of the steam engine – reclaiming his name in history).

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Bloom County has some fun with Oregon’s Rajneeshee saga… and Ronald Reagan’s failed cabinet appointees

Will history repeat itself? We’ll see, but there is no reason to assume that the conservation community – and, importantly, the American public – will be any less motivated to speak out if the Trump administration attempts a similar rollback on public land and environmental protections to what the Reagan Administration attempted.

Yes, there will be lost ground, but there will also be unexpected gains. That’s our system. Recall that the same President Reagan who brought James Watt to the national stage also signed the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area Act into law thirty years ago, on November 17, 1986 (famously “holding his nose”, in his words). In his first term, President Reagan signed the Oregon Wilderness Act into law on June 26, 1984, creating 22 new wilderness areas covering more than 800,000 acres.

As President Obama said in his reflection on the election, “democracy is messy”. He also reminded the president-elect that our system of governance is more cruise ship than canoe, and that turning it around is a slow and difficult process, no matter what “mandate” you might claim. That is by design, of course.

…and the WyEast Blog in 2017..?

Looking ahead toward 2017, I hope to keep up my current pace of WyEast Blog articles as I also continue my efforts as board president for Trailkeepers of Oregon, among other pursuits. And spend time on the trail, of course!

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The author somewhere in Oregon’s next national park…

As always, thanks for reading the blog, and especially for the kind and thoughtful comments many of you have posted over the years. The blog is more magazine than forum, but I do enjoy hearing different perspectives and reactions to the articles.

Despite the election shocker this year, I’ve never felt better about Mount Hood and the Gorge someday getting the recognition (and Park Service stewardship) they deserve! That’s because of a passionate new generation of conservations are becoming more involved in the direction of our nation and our public land legacy. The 2016 election seems to have accelerated the passion this new generation of stewards brings to the fight.

Our future is in very good hands, indeed.

 See you on the trail in 2017!

 Tom Kloster | Wy’East Blog

 

Camera Talk: A Trip to Punch Bowl Falls!

June 22, 2013
This fascinating 1920s postcard features hikers standing on the cliff above the falls and a huge gravel bar that has since disappeared

This fascinating 1920s postcard features hikers standing on the cliff above the falls and a huge gravel bar that has since disappeared

This is the second in a pair of articles for weekend photographers on how to get professional images with the use of a polarizer filter, tripod… and wet feet! In this article, we travel to iconic Punch Bowl Falls on Eagle Creek, one of the many national park-worthy jewels along the Mount Hood loop, and a scene known around the world through posters, art photography and advertising images.

The scene at Punch Bowl Falls hasn't changed much since this 1960s tourism photo was captured

The scene at Punch Bowl Falls hasn’t changed much since this 1960s tourism photo was captured

Punch Bowl Falls has been a popular hiking destination since the completion of the Eagle Creek Trail in 1919, a three-year construction effort of epic stature. The trail is a marvel of engineering and audacity, blasted into sheer cliffs and behind waterfalls as it traverses up the Eagle Creek canyon. A short spur trail drops to Punch Bowl Falls, where wading is required to view the falls in winter and spring.

Punch Bowl Falls has long been a favorite subject for photography, including pioneering Oregon photographers Ray Atkeson and Al Monner, who visited the falls as early as the 1930s and 40s. Today, you can find Punch Bowl falls in dozens of mass-produced calendars, books and art prints, yet it’s always a thrill to capture your own image of the famous falls.

"The Log" still blocked the view in this scene from 2008

“The Log” still blocked the view in this scene from 2008

In the late 1990s, “the log” appeared in front of Punch Bowl Falls, frustrating photographers for a decade until it was swept away in the winter of 2008-09. Today, the falls once again presents itself in magnificent form, just as it has appeared to visitors for nearly a century.

Photographing Punch Bowl Falls

Pick an especially gloomy day for your trip to Punch Bowl Falls -- the more overcast, the better!

Pick an especially gloomy day for your trip to Punch Bowl Falls — the more overcast, the better!

Punch Bowl Falls always looks beautiful, but capturing the beauty with your camera requires some skill. Anyone can capture a professional-looking, slow-shutter photograph of Punch Bowl Falls by following these basic steps:

Step 1: Pick an overcast day. For slow-shutter photography, bright sun is your enemy. Even with a polarizer filter (see previous article), direct sun will blow out your highlights, produce uneven, high-contrast lighting and reduce the vivid colors that long exposures usually capture.

The following photo pair of images from Weisendanger Falls on Multnomah Creek shows the difference. Both exposures were taken from the same spot and at the same shutter speed on a day when the sun was coming and going behind fairly heavy clouds:

Direct sun blows out the highlights on the foliage while leaving other parts of the image in dark shadows

Direct sun blows out the highlights on the foliage while leaving other parts of the image in dark shadows

The same scene with overcast conditions a few minutes later, with much less contrast and much better color saturation

The same scene with overcast conditions a few minutes later, with much less contrast and much better color saturation

The “sun” sample could be even worse: had the sun been shining directly on the bright white of the waterfall, it would have completely blown out any detail.

Another advantage of going on a grey, wet day is that you’ll be less likely to have crowds at the falls. Most people flock to the waterfalls in the Columbia Gorge when the sun is out, which also happens to be the worst time to photograph them! Ideally, pick an overcast, mid-week day for this trip and there’s a good chance that you’ll have the place to yourself for at least awhile. On a recent, somewhat misty Wednesday afternoon, I was the only person photographing the falls for a period of nearly 2 hours!

Step 2: Pack the “four essentials”. Photographing Punch Bowl Falls from stream-level usually requires wading into Eagle Creek. So in addition to the standard (1) tripod and (2) polarizer filter needed for slow-shutter photography, you’ll also want (3) a pair of wading shoes or sandals so that you won’t be squishing back to your car in a pair of soggy boots and (4) a hiking pole to help keep you upright as you negotiate the stream.

Packed for a trip to the middle of Eagle Creek

Packed for a trip to the middle of Eagle Creek

While it’s possible to wade barefoot, or even wear a pair of flip-flops, the bottom of the creek is uneven, slippery and has enough sharp rocks to make something more substantial on your feet a better solution. Remember, you’ll be standing in the creek for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on how many photos you take… and how long your feet can tolerate the 45 degree water!

Yes, you will look ridiculous -- but your photos will be amazing!

Yes, you will look ridiculous — but your photos will be amazing!

Step 3: Timing and finding the right spot. If you haven’t been to Punch Bowl Falls before, it’s easy to find. Follow the Portland Hikers guide to Eagle Creek, and after crossing Sorenson Creek on a series of large, round concrete stepping stones, watch for a sign at a sharp bend in the trail pointing to “Lower Punchbowl”.

This spur trail drops one-quarter mile to the banks of Eagle Creek, where you will pass directly above 15-foot Lower Punch Bowl Falls on a somewhat slippery bedrock shelf (watch your step!). From here, head directly across a broad, cobbled beach toward the mossy opening where Eagle Creek seems to emerge from the cliffs. Punch Bowl Falls is set into a huge cavern in these cliffs.

During periods of heavy runoff, much of the beach below Punch Bowl Falls is underwater, and it's not safe to wade into the creek -- save it for another day!

During periods of heavy runoff, much of the beach below Punch Bowl Falls is underwater, and it’s not safe to wade into the creek — save it for another day!

During heavy runoff in spring, much of the rocky beach is underwater, and it’s not possible to safely wade out to the view of Punch Bowl Falls. As a rule of thumb, you should never venture above your knees in fast moving water, or you risk getting swept into the stream… and in this case, over the lower falls!

If you reach the bedrock section above Lower Punch Bowl Falls and water levels force you to duck and dodge among the logs and brush above the beach, then you should simply save the Punch Bowl Falls view for a better day, when water levels are lower. You’ll still have a beautiful view of the lower falls and the gorgeous grotto that surrounds this section of Eagle Creek, with plenty to photograph. After all, there is no such thing as a bad day to be at Eagle Creek, and it’s always best to err on the safe side when it comes to fording streams.

The classic view of Punch Bowl Falls is captured near the large hollow in the cliff shown in this photo

The classic view of Punch Bowl Falls is captured near the large hollow in the cliff shown in this photo

If water levels are low enough, you’ll likely see a little “jetty” of rocks piled in the creek by photographers and hikers who have preceded you, and you might be able to get a photo of the falls without having to wade. Later in summer, you can usually get to the falls view without leaving dry land at all. But for optimum water levels and the most vibrant foliage, it’s best to go from mid-May through mid-June, when you’ll almost certainly be wading for your photos of Punch Bowl Falls.

Assuming water levels are safe, it’s time to put on your water shoes, put your camera on your tripod, extend your tripod’s legs, grab your hiking pole and head out into the stream. Look across the creek for a large, rounded hollow in the opposite cliff (see photo, above) and aim for this part of the stream. When the falls comes into view, simply pick the spot that looks best to your eye.

Photographer standing in Eagle Creek for the "classic" shot of Punch Bowl Falls

Photographer standing in Eagle Creek for the “classic” shot of Punch Bowl Falls

Step 4: Setting up your shot. Once you’ve picked your spot in the stream, it’s time to set up your tripod and get started! If you’ve got a DSLR camera, you’ll want to have a lens somewhere in the 11-42 mm range for this scene. Any point-and-shoot will cover enough range, as well — provided you have threads for a polarizer filter (see previous article).

The classic falls view shown below is the conventional straight-on look into the huge cavern that holds Punch Bowl Falls, but you can vary your composition, of course. Once you’ve framed your image, adjust the polarizer to reduce glare and set the focus.

The "classic" view of Punch Bowl Falls that photographers from around the world come to capture

The “classic” view of Punch Bowl Falls that photographers from around the world come to capture

Next, using your DSLR or point-and-shoot on manual mode, you’ll want to set the shutter speed for 1/2 second to start with. Longer exposures will create a more smoothed shape for the falls, but are usually too long to shoot without adding a light-reducing filter. Exposures shorter than 1/4 second can result in lumpy details on the falls, but there’s no harm in experimenting with different exposures.

Finally, instead of pressing the shutter button on your camera, try using the timer, instead. Most cameras have 2-second and 10-second settings. Using the 2-second timer allows the camera to stop vibrating from your finger pressing the shutter, creating a super-sharp image.

For a less traditional shot, try setting your lens to a very wide field of view and placing the falls off-center — or, try a vertical shot that captures some of the tall trees behind the falls. The only limits are your creativity… and the degree of numbness in your feet!

A less traditional, super-wide view of Punch Bowl Falls captures some stream details

A less traditional, super-wide view of Punch Bowl Falls captures some stream details

After you’ve captured your classic images of Punch Bowl Falls, be sure to spend some time photographing the magnificent scenes below the falls, including Lower Punch Bowl Falls. You can also stop by the short spur to the Metlako Falls viewpoint on the way back to the trailhead for another classic photo opportunity. Eagle Creek is a truly remarkable place with world-class scenery, and it’s easy to spend hours here capturing the beauty in images.

The beautiful grotto below Punch Bowl Falls is well worth photographing, too!

The beautiful grotto below Punch Bowl Falls is well worth photographing, too!

Once you’re back home and downloading your images, you’ll discover that following the steps in this article will deliver terrific images right out of the camera, with little need for photo editing.

All you need to do now is pick the one that you’re going to print and frame!