Mrs. C asked me what I wanted for my birthday Saturday. I asked for a day hike, and by golly, I got it! We took Nat and her friend Annabanana on a hike that felt like we’d walked right into a photograph in a coffee-table book. It was a stunning day for a hike!
We headed out of town on Highway 22, then north on North Fork Road for about a half hour to reach our trailhead destination. I was sort of hoping to get a little shot of autumn colors on this trip. We certainly got that while we were our driving: large yellow maple leaves fell by the dozens, twisting mid-air and catching the sunlight that broke through from above. The interplay of light and shadow, plus the movement of falling leaves, was almost too vivid, too much for the eyes to take in all at once.Paved road changed abruptly to washboard gravel road, then a one-way bridge, then more miles of gravel. We were in the middle of the Opal Creek Wilderness, part of the Willamette National Forest. This area is well known for its mountains, old growth forests, and pristine waters...just what we were hoping for on our hike. With a little patience we finally found our way to the Little North Santiam Trailhead , and within minutes we were hiking alongside the river that bears the same name.
Not more than a minute onto the trail, we had entered into the midst of giants. This ancient stand of Douglas Firs had a quieting effect on us as we walked through it. The trunks of these mammoth trees stood far apart from each other, some with awe-inspiring diameters. Few other trees could compete for space here. It was like being in a large open room with the trees standing as pillars, their crowns high above made our roof. As our hike went on, more sunlight had found its way through the canopy, turning leaves into light bulbs. Long moss hung off of low limbs, with ferns and rhododendrons interspersed between the trees.
The air. Put this on your bucket list, please: to fill your nostrils with the clean, sweet air of a forest in the Pacific Northwest. You need to know the feeling of pulling this clear forest air down into your lungs. Breathing here becomes an almost sensory experience. The cedar and fir add a sweetness to the air will stay in your memory for a good long time afterward.
As we walked, I recalled learning that this forest was destined to be cut down for timber sales. It would have been very profitable I'm sure. Just before the chain saws started up, some folks objected and the fight was on. A contentious political battle ensued for over twenty years. It was finally resolved in 1996 when Mark Hatfield, in one of his last official duties as a senator for Oregon, helped to pass legislation that designated this a wilderness area. To Senator Hatfield and all who aided in preserving this amazing natural resource for generations to come, thank you. Your efforts were well worth the sacrifices, and will be appreciated for generations.
We have so many treasures like this in Oregon. I’m a little embarrassed that I’ve not enjoyed them more than I have. I’d better get more of these local destination spots onto my own bucket list. Birthday hikes alone aren't going to get the job done.