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

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.

What is the Tree of Life on Washington’s Coast?

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.

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.

Exploring & Hiking on Oregon’s Central Coast 2021

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 | Trip leader and participants were fully vaccinated against Covid-19

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.

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!

Hiking & Rafting in Central Oregon – An Active Education Tour

Helping people experience and learn about the rich natural history of central Oregon is always a treat. My energetic group of 14 adults hiked, rafted, and explored the amazing volcanic landscape.

Trip Report:
Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Road Scholar | Date: August 2019 | Duration: 8 days | Participants: 14 | Type: hiking, rafting, tour

A Double Rainbow Over Crater Lake!
Rafting on the Deschutes River
A Day Hike in Smith Rock State Park, Oregon
A day hike across a magnificent lava field.
Entering the Massive Lava Tube Cave
Crater Lake National Park – The Watchman – Overlooking Wizard Island
Hiking in the lush Cascades
Enjoying the 100-feet cascade of Diamond Creek Falls, Willamette Pass, Oregon.
We just finished up a rafting trip on the Santiam River.
Enjoying an evening walk to explore Eugene’s colorful murals and micro-art.

Listening to Oregon’s Kalapuya Talking Stones

Talking Stone LI-YUU (Prairie)

Trip Report -Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy; Group: Eugene-based Hiking Club; Dates: April 2019; Participants: 16; Type: Urban & Trail Walking

Imagine attending a grand celebration…
Every year, 100 people gather to laugh, tell stories, eat good food, and celebrate. Near the conclusion of the festival, everyone erupts into a joyous song, this music is extra special because for it to be harmonious each person is responsible for contributing just one note at the right time. The song rises and flows with many voices as old and young share. The following year there is another celebration but now a people few are missing. The next year, there are others who don’t attend and the melody starts to fray. For decades this unraveling of the song continues as fewer people are around to sing. Afer one hundred years only two people remain. They sing with passion, but how do they celebrate the larger song with so many notes missing? …How would you?

In the early 1800s, the Kalapuya people numbered around 15,000 and were the largest Native American group in what is now known as the Willamette Valley of western Oregon. Diseases introduced to the area decimated the population and by 1850 about 1,000 people remained. In 1900, the Kalapuya numbered about 300 (2% of the original population) and by the 1950s the last generation of speakers had passed. A 1977 University of Oregon anthropological paper declared, “the Kalapuya population is now presumed extinct.”

This was the setting for Esther Stutzman, a woman of Kalapuya heritage who wanted to revive the language. Over the years she made incremental steps to build awareness about the Kalapuya and awaken the language, but even into the early 1990’s, she was told by academics to not even bother as the language was dead. One reason for this difficulty was the geographic connection to Kalapuya place names no longer existed; pioneers had given all the landmarks names. Esther eventually partnered with the Citizen Planning Committee of East Alton Baker Park. Together, they convinced Willamalane Parks and Recreation and the City of Eugene to re-associate place names with Kalapuya words and phrases. The 237-acre park was re-named the Whilamut Natural Area of Alton Baker Park, and a year later, they placed cultural art installations known as the Kalapuya Talking Stones.

The Talking Stones are etched boulders that carry a Kalapuya word from one of the several dialects that describe the location where the stones reside. Today, fifteen stones quietly speak with those who will listen from along riverside trails in the Whilamut Natural Area in Eugene and the Eastgate Woodlands of Springfield, Oregon.

Talking Stone GUDU-KUT (frog)

The stones are etched with a simple font that approximates being written by a human finger as though an elder has just shared an idea by drawing a concept in the earth.

Placing the stones required years of work, public education, and patience from Esther and often-unsung heroes on the Citizen Planning Committee (CPC), including Charlotte Behm, Vicky Mello, David Sonnichsen, and others. The group has spent more than twenty years (as volunteers) diligently working to place and maintain the sacred Talking Stones and to educate the public about their important role in our community. The Talking Stones is a watershed project on blending native place names within metropolitan areas for the education about the people who once lived -and continue to live- in the area.

Charlotte Behm shares stories about the creation, installation, and public interactions with the Talking Stones.

To better understand the Talking Stones’ stories Charlotte Behm joined us on our 2.5-hour walk. She shared her experiences and history about the stones and some of the challenges that remain. We were happy to listen and better understand the geographic connection to Kalapuya place names. Thank you, Esther and Charlotte, and the many others for helping to share a larger story with your voices.

An additional thank you to Charlotte Behm for her help with this article.

Additional Resources:
> Kalapuya Talking Stones Brochure & Map (PDF)
> Video: Hunting for History Part 5: The Kalapuya Talking Stones
> Article: “Future of the Kalapuya Story
> Article: “Ancient Oregon Languages Being Nudged Awake
> The “presumed extinct” reference is from publication,”Cultural resource overview of the Willamette National Forest, western Oregon” 1977, #12, (page 79 > actual location in PDF is page 90)