Trip Report: Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based hiking group | Date: late-June 2022 | Duration: 3 days | Hiking Distance: 9 miles | Participants: 5 | Type: Hiking & Tent Camping
This trip was to visit the southeast side of Mount St. Helens, in Washington State.
Day 1: The group arrived and we had time to explore the quiet tent-only campground and some local trails near Cougar, Washington. We had dinner, talked around the campfire, and some stayed out close to 10 pm as the mid-summer sun stayed long into the evening sky.
The morning of Day 2 began with birds blasting the campground with calls at about 4:30 am! The group had a relaxed morning, though several commented they had not slept well that night. Possibly this was related to being tired, or we were talking, but while driving to the hiking area we missed a turn-off and went the expected distance down a road to realize we needed to backtrack. This delay caused us to start about an hour and a half late. Driving back, we learned there was a significant absence of Forest Service signage in the area related to general features like river crossings, sights, overlooks, etc. We finally made our destination of Lava Canyon and hiked around the upper trail area. Prior to the trip, we knew the suspension bridge was out of commission, though we had hoped to hike downstream to the Ship Rock area, sadly this trail was also closed. Hiking back, we crossed over the main footbridge and ate lunch overlooking the beautiful glacial-blue Muddy River. Leaving, we made a stop at the bridge overlooking the 1980 lahar flow with Mount St. Helens looming in the background.
We drove to the June Lake parking area and began our hike to June Lake. The plan had been to continue to Chocolate Falls for a 5-mile loop, but about 2 miles into the trip the leader made the call to stop the hike soon after June Lake. This was an unhappy call to make but hopefully avoided an injury. Driving back to camp, we located where the earlier signage mistake had been made – a sign had been misinterpreted. We also visited the Ape Cave turnoff to better know where to go the following morning and we discovered the sign along the road identifying the turn for Ape Cave was completely missing! Finding the turn, we stopped for 20 minutes at the Trail of Two Forests Interpretive Site where a 2,000-year-old lava flow from Mount St. Helens ran through the forest, around trees, solidifying around the trunks and leaving tree wells. The group ended our day back at the campground and had an early evening.
On the final day, we departed camp at 8:45 am and visited Ape Cave for our 9-9:30 am time slot to arrive. We parked in a lower lot as the official signage in the area was poor and did not direct us to the upper lot. Finally, we began our adventure up the difficult 1.5-mile upper cave route. Progress was slow as there was a significant amount of bouldering across rock falls, several tight places, and a harder-than-it-sounds narrow 8-foot wall that had to be scaled. There were a few scraped knees, but the group arrived at the end of the lava tube; our completion time was 2 hours and 15 minutes. We walked 1.5 miles back to the visitor center through the forest for farewells and then drove back to Eugene. We had hoped to get ahead of any surge related to the Fourth of July weekend holiday traffic but still managed to hit bumper-to-bumper traffic through Portland, making drive time from Ape Cave to Eugene 4 hours.
Trip Report: Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based hiking group | Date: mid-June 2022 | Duration: 3 days | Hiking Distance: 7 miles | Participants: 8 | Type: Hiking & Tent Camping
The low tide zone is always covered, except for a few times a year during the lowest tides. It was during one such minus low tide that 8 of us ventured to an area along Oregon’s central coast to explore tide pools during an impressive -2.4 feet (-73 cm) low tide!
Day 1: Our group arrived on their schedule at one of the nearby Oregon State Park group camps. That afternoon and evening were open for beach walking, exploring on your own, or watching the sunset. In the evening, everyone enjoyed a campfire and discussed plans for the next day. It was interesting that one topic of conversation that arose was the book, “Braiding Sweetgrass.” Of the 8 participants, more than half had read the book, one was in the process of reading, and the others were interested. At 10 pm a gentle rain started and continued through to the morning.
Day 2: At 7 am, we carpooled to an unnamed parking area expecting a filling parking lot, but to the trip leader’s surprise were only 3 cars. The rain, cool temperatures, and overcast skies likely contributed to the low turnout. We arrived about 2 hours before low tide to follow the tide out. This particular tide pool area is special because we can walk on sand and open rocky surfaces to visit ‘islands’ of marine life. After 2.5 hours, and a returning tide, we started back and met several rangers who helped to provide some more context to the area. One ranger said the rain had chased most away that morning. We saw numerous anemones, various seaweeds, chitons, crabs, limpets, mussels, and some small fish believed to be skulpins. Also observed were a pacific harbor seal, seagulls, and great blue heron. Later that morning, we drove to a coffee shop in Nye Beach to warm up. Then half of the group ventured back to the campground, and the other half visited the Hatfield Marine Science Center. That afternoon, we met up at the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area and saw at least 4 bald eagles in addition to the common murres, surf scoters, and pigeon guillemots. One participant said that in 30 years of visiting Yaquina Head she had not seen that many eagles there as that day. That evening we enjoyed dinner around a campfire. Several of the group visited the beach at sunset to see up to 8 large birds visiting what appeared to be the body of a deer on the beach (the deer had not been there 24 hours earlier). The deer had been possibly struck by a vehicle on the nearby highway and made it to the beach before dying. Near the body were 8 birds; 3 were vultures, 2 were adult bald eagles, and 3 were juvenile bald eagles. The interactions between the birds were raucous at times. Just at sunset, the eagles departed and the vultures returned. That evening the rain returned.
Day 3: We awoke to a wet campsite and decided to meet in Depoe Bay at 9 am. Some broke camp early to grab some breakfast in town. In Depot Bay the group met up again, and we looked briefly for whales, but saw no signs, then drove north to Fogarty Creek to enjoy a -1.5 foot low tide. After an hour and a half, everyone departed for home.
While recently camping on the Oregon Coast, my daughter noticed a giant banana slug. This slug was a beast measuring 8.5 inches in length! Over several hours, the slug moved from the ground to some low-hanging leaves of a Salal plant. The lower oval-shaped leaves were leathery, but the smaller leaves, just a foot away, were tender-looking and bright green. The slug found these smaller leaves within a short time and began to devour the newly-found meal. What was most amazing to me was that I have only seen banana slugs eating decomposing materials. This was the first time I observed one eating leaves. Also, because of the slug’s location, just a few feet off the ground, this was a great way to see how they eat. The slug’s mouth quickly closed and moved to the next section on the leaf, it is the microscopic teeth (or radula that can number up to 27,000) that make this creature even more fascinating. Below are some close-up pictures and a 2-second time-lapse video taken over about 3-minutes showing the slug eating.
Trip Report: Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based hiking group | Date: late April / early May 2022 | Duration: 4 days | Hiking Distance: 17-20 miles | Participants: 9 | Type: Hiking & Tent Camping
Just getting to our assembly area was an adventure with snow and cold temperatures crossing the Cascades. Arriving at Oregon’s Tumalo State Park the temperatures were mild if a bit cool. The group hiked 6-miles along the picturesque Deschutes River and then enjoyed an evening around the campfire. On the morning of day 2, we made a stop at the Ogden Wayside to see and walk the impressive 500-foot canyon made by the Crooked River. The weather included dramatic downpours mixed by sun and calm. We drove to the historic town of Shaniko and were welcomed inside the historic Shaniko Hotel (1900) which is undergoing renovations for opening later in the year. The town is a page out of the late 1800s and early 1900s and the hotel has a number of ghost stories. Continuing to Cottonwood Canyon State Park we drove past a number of wind turbines, cows, and open rangeland. Arriving at the park we made camp and enjoyed a 4-mile hike. It was windy that afternoon and well into the night. On day 3, we hiked 7-miles in the morning along the John Day on the Pinnacles Trail. We had to turn around due to a trail closure because Golden Eagles were nesting. Bighorn sheep peered down at us from high above the basalt cliffs. After returning to camp and enjoying some lunch several of the party hiked another 4 miles, with some making an additional 7. We enjoyed a quiet and windless evening around a warm campfire. We went to bed as the stars were coming out. Later that night the stars were amazing, though rain clouds were rolling in. The morning of day 4 was an early departure for the group with some opting to enjoy a warm breakfast in Condon.
We observed merganser, deer, mallard ducks, turkey vultures, Canadian geese, California bighorn sheep, swallow, crows, hawks, an unidentified lizard, and several snakes along the trail. There were tracks and signs of bobcats, coyotes, more bighorn sheep, and possibly pronghorn. We heard soft hoots with a stuttering rhythm: hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo from a Great Horned Owl, and the chucks of what was believed to be Chukar partridges.
During a trip to the Olympic Peninsula in March, I was excited to experience the Hoh Rainforest, but upon arriving at the Ranger’s kiosk was told that a tree had fallen over the road. The tree was large enough that outside help had been called in to help with the removal. My vehicle, along with others, was told to return another day. 🙁
But the ranger, upon hearing that I was traveling to the south shore of Lake Quinalt suggested visiting the Quinault Rain Forest Nature Trail -a personal favorite of his.
Upon seeing the striking beauty of the trail I was hooked. This trail was about half a mile in distance but required an hour just to meander through this old-growth forest and fern-covered canyon. There were hanging carpets of lush green moss, signs of various animals, fungi, and the wonderful smell of clean air. This place, in a word, is breathtaking. I love interpretive trails but had not expected this half-mile walk to be so encompassing. For a longer walk, the nature trail connects to the Quinalt National Recreation Trail System with several additional miles of trails. The trail has some fantastic interpretive signage – kudos to those who arranged the material! This visit was in the springtime with temperatures in the low 50s and lots and lots of rain.
Trip Report: Trip Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Date: August 2021 | Duration: 3 days | Distance: 25 miles | Participants: 6 | Type: Hiking & Camping | Trip leader and participants were fully vaccinated against Covid; masking precautions were taken as needed.
The trip began at the Cape Perpetua main parking area at noon on Sunday. For logistical reasons, we switched the day 1 and 2 sections with each other. We arranged several shuttles to Yachats and walked through town, then on a side street, then a pathway next to the highway before venturing inland to the Amanda statue. After that, the trail had an unrelenting elevation gain. Finally, we reached the top at just over 1,000 feet and descended to 800 feet to the shelter at Cape Perpetua for amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and Oregon Coast. We walked down the switch-back laden trail, with some continuing to the group camp while others retrieved vehicles from the nearby visitor center parking area. The evening was quiet and we were able to enjoy a campfire in the cool ocean air.
The next day, we broke camp and arranged several shuttles between Yachats and the Governor Patterson Memorial State Recreation Site, about 7.5 miles away from where our hike began. The fog quickly returned. We passed the Big Stump, a relic of a “ghost forest.” The card attached to the tree says this is an ancient redwood tree that died about 1,200 years ago. The associated website for additional information is not active at the time of this writing. A second, seeming ancient redwood was found about a quarter-mile top the south on the beach. The group made several creek crossings. The wind kicked up. Entering Yachats, we walked on the 804 trail along the rocky coast and through Yachats to where our car shuttles waited at the Yachats State Park Recreation Area. The group split up, with those in town finding some lunch with several shuttled back to pick up our vehicles. Near the parking area, we watched several whales just off the coast. That afternoon, we returned to the group camp, where we relaxed and hiked local trails. BTW, on the interpretive display at Perpetua about the CCC camp from the 1930s, a Thanksgiving Day menu is shown. One of the items is “Goat’s Milk,” which is code for beer. That evening, a juvenile bard owl visited the camp. The owl sat on a prominent dead, broken tree about forty feet away for about 45-minutes. The owl looked at us and was very curious about some rustling in the nearby grass. The owl departed, and we enjoyed the evening.
On the third day, we broke camp and drove south by-passing several hard-to-access beaches or areas with a hazardous shoulder for walked to the Heceta Head parking overflow lot. We arranged a shuttle to the Muriel O. Ponsler Memorial State Scenic Viewpoint. We walked south to the Heceta Head, where we observed an osprey and briefly two bald eagles. We traversed the hobbit trail and over to Heceta Head Lighthouse. Just beyond the lighthouse, there were two possibly three juvenile gray whales playing and having lunch. We continued under the Cape Creek Bridge to the picnic area, where we ended the trip. Over three days, we hiked 25 miles and saw some fantastic wildlife.
Trip Report: Trip Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Date: July 2021 | Duration: 3 days | Distance: 25 miles | Participants: 8 | Type: Hiking & Camping | Trip leader and participants were fully vaccinated against Covid-19
Day 1: The first day began at noon at the South Beach State Park day-use area. The afternoon was free-form for exploring, and some of us walked over the Yaquina Bay Bridge into Newport, where the previous Oregon Coast Trail hike ended. We stayed away from busy indoor areas as many visitors to the area were being flippant about Covid precautions, especially not wearing masks. Our walk back over the bridge proved to be very windy. The wind was knocking our feet from underneath ourselves, and with the amount of close vehicle traffic on the narrow walkway, this was a bit unnerving. in the late afternoon, we checked into the group camp and explored a bit more of the park.
Day 2: In the morning we walked a few steps to the trailhead and began our 8-mile hike to Seal Rock. The route was sunny for the first several miles then the fog moved in. At Brian Booth State Park, we had lunch next to Beaver Creek then continued south again on the beach to Seal Rock. As the beach trail ended about 1/8th of a mile from Seal Rock, we ascended a somewhat hidden and unnamed path to the highway. While walking that last couple of feet on the highway, to the parking area and our shuttle, a large truck passed us and swerved onto the highway’s shoulder to avoid hitting a car that was turning. It was a close call for us. At the parking area, we enjoyed the view of Seal Rock then returned to the campsite. For dinner, we ate at a local fish house where we could sit outside. Everyone had an early night.
Day 3: We started at Seal Rock and enjoyed a negative low tide. The tidepools were amazing! Because of the low water we easily navigated rocks that might have been problematic. The soup-like fog returned and we hiked for 5 miles on the beach in an ethereal haze. Approaching Waldport, we walked inland on some side roads, and the fog immediately cleared. We made out way down to the Alsea River and shimmied up a rough trail to the Alsea Bay Bridge. The crossing was pleasant, and we enjoyed the wide pedestrian walkway. In Waldport, we walked more on the beach, past the seawall, and to the mouth of the Alsea River. The wind was picking up again. We had a close encounter with a blue heron who flew close. At the Governor Patterson Memorial State Recreation Area, we ended the section of the Oregon Coast Trail.
Trip Report: Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Date: July 2021 | Duration: 3 days | Distance: 19 miles | Participants: 7 | Type: Hiking & Camping | Trip leader and participants were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 Note: For logistical reasons, the trip was split into three sections with the second section being on day one and the first section on day two.
Day One: The trip began at the Yaquina Head Interpretive Center. Very windy. We explored Quarry Cove, the lighthouse, then rested out of the wind at Cobble Beach. We saw lots of common mures and several sea lions. Close to 4 pm we drove to the Beverly Beach State Park and stayed in a Group Camp. That afternoon, we attempted a walk south on the beach to the Mooklack Beach, but the wind was unrelenting, so we stayed more inland. We hiked the Nature Trail around the park, then later spent the evening around the campfire.
Day Two: We departed camp at 9 am and drove to Depoe Bay to explore some of the small parks and hidden lookouts adjacent to residential areas. We saw several grey whales feeding close to shore. At the Big Tire overlook, we saw lots of cormorants and a great view. The group enjoyed a coffee at a local coffeehouse. We departed for the Rocky Creek State Scenic Viewpoint 2 miles away. This was to avoid a dangerous stretch of highway with no shoulder. We walked the Otter Crest Loop. A short walk down the road revealed several people walking a slackline suspended between two sides of the cliff and high over the ocean. If we were driving, we would not have seen them. We watched them for a time from the roadside. We continued to Cape Foulweater, curiously being re-branded as Otter Crest State Scenic Viewpoint, and looked at the magnificent view. We had a short bite to eat and rest. We continued to Devil’s Punchbowl State Natural Area then walked on the beach looking at fossils. We continued south, then under the Hwy 101 bridge into Beverly Beach State Park to our group site. We spent the evening around the campfire.
Day Three: The group broke camp and drove a short way to the Agate Beach State Recreation Area and we arranged a shuttle to the endpoint. We walked north a bit, but the high wind returned. At Nye Beach, we walked into town and the group descended upon a small bakery. Afterward, we continued on Elizabeth Street to the Yaquina Head lighthouse. We ended our trip overlooking the Yaquina Bay Bridge.
We encountered: bumblebees, grey whales, sea lions, common murres, cormorants, pelicans, humans, crows, robins, one pigeon (emerging from a small cave at the Big Tire overlook; interestingly, the bird’s pigeons descended from before they were domesticated lived in seaside cliffs). We also saw deer and a ground squirrel.
Trip Report: Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Date: May 2021 | Duration: 2 days | Distance: 6 miles | Participants: 4 | Type: Hiking & Camping | Trip leader and participants were fully vaccinated against Covid-19
After a long delay from Covid-19, I was glad to again be leading trips. Our vaccinated small group made our way to Oregon’s Coast to begin a patchwork of hikes along Oregon’s Coast Trail (OCT). Although windy, our hike along Baker Beach was beautiful. The wind did create numerous little sand sculptures that provided endless fascination. Later, at the group campsite next to the creek at Sutton Campground we set up our tents and rested a bit. In the late afternoon, we enjoyed a walk through the woods to the Holman Day Use Area for a view of the dunes. In the evening, the wind quieted and we enjoyed a campfire and saw the stars. The next morning, we car shuttled between the North Jetty (mouth of the Siuslaw River near Florence) and Heceta Beach County Park. Our beach walk was north to Sutton Creek to link up where we left off the day before then south to the North Jetty. The total beach distance was about 7 miles, but we hiked about 11 miles in total exploring other trails. Returning to the Heceta Beach County Park parking area we saw the send-off for Shawn Cheshire, a blind athlete who is biking 3,800 miles to the Atlantic Ocean in Virginia.
Our group was fortunate with sunny weather this week as our program was bookended by storms. Our local study leaders, who were well-versed in the area’s natural history, really brought the program to life – thank you for their expertise! This was a great trip to discover how the natural history of the central coast has changed, especially over the past 150 years. I’m happy to have helped with bringing my own experiences and knowledge to help such a wonderful program.
Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Road Scholar | Date: September 2019 | Duration: 6 days | Participants: 20+ | Type: hiking