Trip Report: Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based hiking group | Date: in October 2023 | Duration: 1 day | Hiking Distance: 10 miles | Participants: 9 | Elevation Gain/Loss: 200 feet
Our hike made a 10-mile loop through the William L Finely National Wildlife Refuge, home to the largest remaining tract of native Willamette Valley wet prairie. Our autumn exploration was held just at the end of the refuge’s April-October open season. Our goal was to look for wildlife and observe changes on the land during this time of seasonal change. The morning began on the cool side but quickly warmed to a comfortable temperature. The fields, which were barren several weeks ago, were now populated with carpets of green. On one field evidence of a wallow where large animals had rolled which we speculated to be from Roosevelt Elk that live in the area. Our group saw Oregon white oak, Oregon ash, and big lead maple. We also enjoyed seeing numerous ducks, and while on Bruce Road and the Cheadle Marsh Trail, we witnessed several hundred geese flying overhead.
Trip Report: Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based hiking group | Date: in September 2023 | Duration: 1 day | Walking Distance: 3 miles | Participants: 6 | Elevation Gain/Loss: 30 feet
The weather delivered a light rain and the fragrance of the forest “waking up” after a dry summer was beautiful. On the far side of Pigeon Butte, we observed a burned patch under some oak trees. This appeared to be from a controlled burn within the last 24 hours, there was one smoldering patch. The location was recorded. We observed on our short walk: Egrets, a California Quail, a Newt, 4 Deer, 1 Barred owl (shown), Grebes, Herons, Ducks, Wrens, a Jay, one Red-winded blackbird, and 20 Turkeys. Shortly after we left the Finley area the rain came down.
Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based hiking group | Date: in September 2023 | Duration: 1 day | Walking Distance: 3.5 miles | Participants: 3 | Elevation Gain/Loss: 30 feet
Snag Boat Bend is the eastern unit of the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge. The centerpiece of the property is an old meander of the Willamette River that connects with Lake Creek. On our walk, we saw four River Otters (one is shown), herons, egrets, one turkey, several kingfishers, numerous skeletal fish scattered on the bank which are believed to be carp, several ducks, signs of beaver, and a large burrow in the bank located near the water level. We were the only people on the trail during our 2.5-hour walk. Separately, we visited the Mennonite Bakery that was in the area and returned home with some delicious snacks.
Trip Report: Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based hiking group | Date: in September 2023 | Duration: 1 day | Walking Distance: 4 miles | Participants: 8 | Elevation Gain/Loss: 200 feet
This was a meandering nature-viewing hike to the highest point of the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Our hike began with a short side trip to the Prairie Overlook on the south side of Bruce Road to enjoy the view, then we walked north along the Pigeon Butte Trail. We looked for band-tailed pigeons and songbirds. We did see one raptor. There were signs of a previous fire on the south side of the butte as much of the grasslands had been charred. We saw a large white oaks along the trail going up the butte. At the old quarry, several roosting turkey vultures observed us. At the top of the butte, we could easily see 40 miles to the south of Skinner Butte even though there was smoke from an area forest fire. On the return walk, we had lunch under a tree then Cheadle Barn then continued on the Cheadle Marsh Trail to observe a wetland. The area was very dry. We saw signs of elk, a lizard, a frog, several white-colored praying mantis, and a Great Blue Heron eating a frog.
Trip Report: Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based hiking group | Date: in September 2023 | Duration: 1 day | Walking Distance: 4 miles | Participants: 4 | Elevation Gain/Loss: 50 feet
We saw egrets (shown in the photo), pelicans, grebes, swallows, a hawk, a red-winged blackbird, jays, vultures, oak woodpeckers, and other birds. A baby Gartner snake (shown) was peeking out along the trail, and we saw tracks where elk had passed over a muddy area. It was interesting to see the Cabell Marsh at a time of year when the water level is shallow and many birds have left the area. The marsh was dry and a big crisp, though the recent rain did help. We visited the quarter-mile-long Campbell Boardwalk. On our departure, we stopped by the visitor center. In the town of Monroe, we visited a family farm stand.
Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based hiking group | Date: in September 2023 | Duration: 1 day | Walking Distance: 2.5 miles | Participants: 6 | Elevation Gain/Loss: 55 feet
Our group followed a mowed pathway around the perimeter (from 18th Avenue in west Eugene) to the south end of the preserve. The area was quiet and there were pleasant views of the nearby hills. The trip leader took a spill on the trail. Walking to the east we attempted to cross a little creek but poison oak had turned seasonally red revealing its abundance. We decided it best not to risk it and returned to our original route back to the cars. Willow Creek’s native grasslands, ash woodlands, and perennial streams provide the best remaining example of native wet prairie habitats in the southern Willamette Valley. The property is managed by the Nature Conservancy where more than 200 native plants, 100 birds, and 25 butterfly species have been recorded on the preserve. This biome once occupied much of the Willamette Valley, but today has been reduced to only a few remnant patches.
Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based hiking group | Date: in September 2023 | Duration: 1 day | Walking Distance: 4.5 miles | Participants: 5 | Elevation Gain/Loss: 300 feet
Arriving at the Finley National Wildlife Refuge we discovered the Woodpecker Loop Trail was closed for repairs. Instead of beginning our hike on that path, we parked at the Visitor Center and then proceeded to the second part of our planned hike, the Mill Hill Loop. We saw a vulture on the trail. There were numerous flying ants emerging from the ground in several areas. Upon returning to the Visitor Center area, it was learned the nearby and rarely opened Fiechter House was open and staffed with interpreters. The house was built in the 1850s and is considered to be the oldest house in Benton County. After our visit to the Fiechter House, we stopped by the Campbell Boardwalk for a side trip to the Cabell Marsh. We made good use of the opportunity to eat plums and blackberries in the parking area before heading home.
Trip Report: Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based hiking group | Date: in June 2023 | Duration: 3 days | Walking Distance: 17 miles | Participants: 8 | Elevation Gain/Loss: 1,000 feet | Type: Urban Walking
On our first day, after getting settled at the Sutton Group Campground, we drove about 5 minutes to the Darlingtonia State Natural Site. This small botanical park is home, to a carnivorous pitcher plant Darlingtonia californica. The Sutton campground was strangely quiet for the time of year, and the host was out of campfire wood to sell. We recovered some wood from vacant campsites for that evening’s fire. The next morning, we drove about twenty minutes north to Carl G Washburne Memorial State Park. We hiked down the coast while exploring the cliff face and rocks, then up the Hobbit Trail and onto the Heceta Head Lighthouse. The day was surprisingly sunny with little wind. On our return hike, the wind began to pick up. We crossed the coast highway and down to the China Creek Loop, which, unfortunately, was still closed from the year before due to a collapsed footbridge. Continuing our hike, we explored a nearby old homestead. We saw many beautiful rhododendron blooms. In the park, we walked to the far end of the beach trail that took us under the highway and out to the mouth of China Creek. We walked a short distance back to our cars. The Washburne ranger was generous enough to sell us some wood. That evening, we enjoyed dinner around our campfire. On the last morning, we departed camp for the Tahkenitch Campground day-use area. We hiked out to the beach, saw some storm damage, and also a bald eagle. We crossed inland over the dunes to Threemile Lake, where we had lunch. We had a pleasant hike through the woods and back to our cars.
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.
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.
Clinging to the rugged shoreline of Washington’s coast is an especially tenacious Sitka Spruce. The tree is a favorite among visitors to the area because it appears to grow suspended in the air with just a few roots clinging on for support.
A little creek flows underneath, forming a little cave, and on a rainy day I was there a little waterfall could be seen.
Sitka Spruce is known for being especially sturdy. During World War I, straight-growing Sitka Spruce was sought out because the wood was the preferred wood for bi-planes that needed a high-strength to lower-weight ratio on construction materials. This Sitka Spruce displays its heartiness as it hangs on to the western shoreline of North America.
On this day, just feet away was a high tide, a violent ocean, and little room on a small beach littered with tree-sized logs. Turing one’s back to the water was not advised. I didn’t stay long, but it was good to see this unusual and inspiring tree.
The Tree of Life is located near Kalaloch and within the Olympic National Park.
For more information visit the Coastal Interpretive Center’s page on the tree.
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: Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Road Scholar | Date: August & September 2021 | Departures: 4 | Duration per Program: 6 days | Hiking Distance: 30 miles each departure | Participants: ~20 per departure | Type: Hiking | Note: The trip leader and participants were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and Covid safety protocols were strictly observed. A big thank you to everyone for being considerate and recognizing the safety of your fellow travelers allowing all to better enjoy this program.
Sunny weather and pleasant temperatures greeted participants on 4 hiking programs exploring Oregon’s central coast. The focus of each program was learning about how the coast has changed especially over the last 100 years. Hikes included exploring the temperate rain forest, old-growth Sitka Spruce, the rugged Oregon coast, and the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area which is one of the largest expanses of temperate coastal sand dunes in the world.