Exploring Ape Cave & Lava Canyon – Mount St. Helens National Monument

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 demonstrates perfectly why I don’t “just do a trip” for a group without having a solid knowledge of the area. This was organized as an exploratory trip (meaning I had not been to these locations before and neither had the participants). Since all 5 of us are members of a local hiking club, and skilled hikers/backpackers in our own right, this was known to all up front, but still, this trip was a gentle reminder that local knowledge is needed for providing the best experiences. We had a good time and learned a great deal, but had I known more about the area the trip would have been exceptional.

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.

Having lunch at Lava Canyon.

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.

Viewing the waterfall at June Lake.

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 in, little issues were quickly adding up into larger concerns [such as starting the morning hike late which made starting this long hike begin well after lunch, hiking over sections of lava fields that had now heated up in the afternoon sun, half of the group being tired, several with not enough water, the leader not having the best map, having to cross glacial melt steam late in the day, and increasing signs that at some -including the trip leader- were dehydrated]. The trip 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.

Looking up the lahar, Mount St. Helens is in distance. For scale, note the people walking in the lahar.

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.

Looking up at the skylight – Ape Cave

Minus Tide Explorations & Eagle Viewing on Oregon’s Central Coast

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.

Pacific Harbor Seal
A visitor to the tide pools during a minus low tide.
Great Blue Heron
Wet and overcast during our visit.
Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. What was most amazing today is the lack of wind.
Eagles!
An adult bald eagle and what appear to be two juvenile eagles at the ocean’s edge.
An adult bald eagle and juvenile (at left) stand over what appears to be a deer carcass on the beach. A turkey vulture is at the right.
The two juvenile eagles are much larger that the turkey vultures who are keeping their distance.
Found some fossils while tide pooling!
Mussel colonies
Up close with a starfish

Watching a Banana Slug Eat

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.

>> Watch a time-lapse video of the banana slug eating

Central Oregon Hiking Explore 2022

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.

Driving over the pass to the Bend area that morning, we encountered snow with temperatures in the 30s. Arriving at Tumalo State Park in the afternoon the temperatures were mild today and provided the setting for a great hike along the Deschutes River. We stayed for an evening in the park before venturing further inland.
The often-overlooked urban caves in Redmond provided a respite from the rain.

The Shaniko Hotel is being refurbished. Our group was fortunate to be invited inside to see the renovations and hear some ghost stories.
The lobby of the Shaniko Hotel (dated 1900) is undergoing a facelift.
Horses and wind turbines
Arriving at Cottonwood Canyon State Park we enjoyed several hikes along the John Day River.
Swallows gather mud for their nests along the edge of the John Day River. They flew across the river to a cliff and disappeared among the complex shadows and crevices of the massive rock wall.
Occasionally called a white woolly bear caterpillar or “white woolly,” the hickory tussock moth caterpillar is white with a black line going down its back. According to legend, the wider the rusty brown sections, the milder the coming winter will be; the more black there is, the more severe the winter. 
Swallowtail butterfly
The beautiful John Day River amid a stunning landscape.
A herd of California bighorn sheep gazes down upon human hikers.
A quiet (and windless) evening in Cottonwood Campground. The quiet and comfortable evening led to a night of blustery weather with temperatures in the 40s (F), strong winds, and pelting rain.

The Surprising World of Washington’s Quinault Rain Forest Nature Trail

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.

Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail: Waldport to Heceta Head

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.

Back on the beach just south of Waldport.
Big Stump
Crossing a creek.
Walking the 804 trail in Yachats.
The hike is nearly done for day 1 of this section. Yachats, Oregon.
Creative Covid awareness signs in Yachats.
A Barred Owl visited our camp for 40-45 minutes. The owl flew off and I snapped this photo.
Back on the trail in Yachats.
The Amanda statue. Her story is saddening, yet her legacy inspiring.
On the trail up the Cape Perpetua.
Cape Perpetua
Cape Perpetua
The CCC shelter at Cape Perpetua
Sunset at the coast, Cape Perpetua.
Day 3: Crossing a creek.
South on the Oregon Coast Trail. Heceta Head in the distance.
An osprey
The Hobbit Trail
Looking north on the OCT, and where we just hiked.
A Sitka Spruce with ferns.
A Gray Whale
A Gray Whale
The Heceta Head Lighthouse
The Heceta Head Lighthouse
The end of our hike at the Cape Creek Bridge

Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail: Newport to Waldport

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.

Looking back at the massive Yaquina Bay Bridge, Newport, Oregon.
Crossing the 3/4 mile-long Yaquina Bay Bridge. The wind was intense at times.
After the bridge, we walked along the jetty road crossed into the South Beach State Park. The park has a number of little trails that all route to the park’s massive camping area. The campground is one of the largest, if not the largest, in the Oregon State Park system. We were fortunate our group area was mostly away from the busy campground.
A beautiful start to our O.C.T. hike today. Best of all, we could leave our group site and walk to the trailhead.
For the first 2 miles, there were blue skies and lots of sun.
Our view for the next 5 miles. This provided an other-worldly view of the coast and helped us to not see a number of large houses that rested on the unstable sandy bluffs.
We arrived at the mouth of Beaver Creek.
After a lunch break along the bank of Beaver Creek (Brian Booth State Park), we crossed over a bridge to continue south along the coast. About 2 miles later we approached Seal Rock. About an eighth of a mile before the rock was a small, and hard-to-see trail, in the fog trail that led us close to the parking area of the Seal Rock Recreation Site.
Departing Seal Rock. The dark line at the base of the rock represents the splash zone of the high tide.
A beautiful low tide!
Amazing tide pools; a minus low tide today!
The fog returned! This was our ethereal view for the next several miles.
A quarter-of-a-mile inland on the OCT the sky was clear and warm. At the end of the road, we turned onto a footpath along the river to the Alsea Bay Bridge. After a short climb up a hill, we arrived at the north end of the bridge.
Crossing the Alsea Bay Bridge into Waldport.
Another mile or so to go.
While walking near the seawall in Waldport we saw a Blue Heron.
We arrived at the Governor Patterson Memorial State Recreation Site where this section of the hike ends. In the distance is Cape Perpetua, the heart of the next section hike on the OCT.

Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail: Depoe Bay to Newport

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.

Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail: Baker Beach to Florence’s North Jetty

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.

A little windy on the coast; sand is seen gusting over the surface. Getting ready to cross a driftwood log over Berry Creek.
Exploring the north end of Baker Beach
Horses and riders seen on the horizon
A wind-blown sand sculpture created by a shell.
Leaving the dunes for today.
Our small group enjoying a rest at our campsite. We explored several additional miles of local trails in the evening.
A panoramic view of the ocean near the the mouth of Sutton Creek.
Arriving at the North Jetty, Siuslaw River, Florence.

Exploring & Hiking on Oregon’s Central Coast

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.

Trip Report:
Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Road Scholar | Date: September 2019 | Duration: 6 days | Participants: 20+ | Type: hiking

A pleasant walk on the last day.
A dune ride to see how the dunes looked prior to the introduction of European Beach Grass.
Walking across the dunes.
Left alone, everything grows big here.
A wonderful walk in the woods.
An out-of-shoe experience on the beach.
A lovely sunset seen during a quiet beach walk after dinner.
Experiencing the lush temperate rain forest.
Enjoying a walk on the beach

End of the Summer Camping in the Cascades

This was possibly the last warm-ish weekend in the Cascades this year, and our group was able to enjoy 3-days of hiking and camping at beautiful Waldo Lake, Oregon.

Trip Report:
Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Date: September 2019 | Duration: 3 days | Participants: 11 | Type: hiking, car camping

A remote area of the lake
Waldo’s Camp Edith sign continues to show its age…not bad though for 130 years of weathering. The camp remains a secret, known only to those who find it, including my group who spent part of an afternoon using a photo from the 1890s to re-discover the location.
It was a mycological paradise in the woods – lots and lots of mushrooms to see!

Traversing to Fort Rock Cave the Home of Oregon’s 10,000 Year-Old Shoes

This was a 3-day experience into Central Oregon’s Outback to learn more about early human habitation and the area’s geology. Our route included the archaeological site of Fort Rock Cave, the 2-mile long volcanic fissure known as Crack in the Ground, and plans to visit the Fossil Lake area.

Trip Report:
Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Date: May 2019 | Duration: 3 days | Participants: 8 | Type: hiking & camping

On our first day, one member discovered she didn’t have the right key to the car carrier which held her sleeping bag. Our caravan stopped at a hardware store in Oakridge where the employee emerged with the largest pair of bolt cutters ever seen. He quickly removed the troublesome lock. For lunch, we stopped at Salt Creek Fall for a break and later at an info kiosk on Hwy 31 before continuing to Fort Rock. At Fort Rock, we hiked to “the notch” along the western tuff ring where the wind was really strong. We made our own trail back down the rough side to more level ground. Afterward, we visited the Homestead Museum to learn more about homesteading was like in earlier years. At a nearby private campground, we set up our tents and enjoyed a fire for an hour or so when we noticed a mist in the distance. Within a minute or two it started to rain. We called it an early evening.

On the second day, in the early morning, the sunrise was beautiful and a coyote was heard yelping in the distance. One participant had green shower shoes and after a miscommunication about where they were to be delivered, gave everyone a good laugh. At 9 am we drove to Fort Rock for our interpretive tour of the Fork Rock Cave where 10,000-year-old shoes had previously been found. The Oregon State Park Ranger had driven from La Pine and was delayed a few minutes because of traffic. Our group and two others joined him in a state park van and we drove ten minutes close to the site. Then we walked about half a mile to the cave. He shared 3 prevailing theories about how humans arrived in the Americas and included a traditional story about how Fort Rock had been formed. We were asked that the story remains in the cave. As we walked back to the van one participant was keenly interested in the bleached bones of a dead cow. Back at Fort Rock we ate lunch and watch some of the birds on the cliff face.

A reproduction of a 10,000 year-old sagebrush sandal

We then drove half an hour to Christmas Valley then to Crack in the Ground. We hiked several sections that we could scamper through and also hiked along the top of the fissure. Several participants disturbed a prairie falcon who was not happy to see them. The falcon made a lot of noise, and as they moved away it acted as though it wanted to nose dive them. Storm clouds were approaching; we left about 3 pm and drove to an isolated ranch. The directions were a bit off and we took several wrong turns before arriving. We were greeted by two rambunctious dogs, a golden colored and bear-sized dog and a smaller ten-month-old border collie. As we were unloading our cars the collie jumped in the back of the trip leader’s car when a door was open and pee’d on the back seat. Just as we completed setting up our tents a 20-30 mile-an-hour wind blew past and dark clouds rolled in. The rain started at about 6:30 pm and everyone quickly disappeared into their tents to eat. We didn’t see anyone again until the next morning. The rain poured throughout the night.

The morning of the last day we were happy to hear that everyone pretty much stayed dry during the rain. We decided that traveling on muddy back roads might be problematic so we canceled the last portion of our trip to Fossil Lake. Just as we packed the last of our gear the two dogs reappeared but now they covered in mud – quickly we departed. We stopped in Fort Rock at a convenience store for gasoline and a break, then another break at Fort Rock, then again Salt Creek Falls before returning home.