Category Archives: transportation

Willamette Falls Kayaking

July 13, 2011

Willamette Falls from the River

For years I’ve collected images of Willamette Falls.  I’ve peered at the Falls from the highway in Oregon City, Willamette Falls Drive in West Linn and from the air, but until this summer, I never saw them from the water.  Big tour boats now take tourists to the Falls from downtown Portland, but, other than fishermen, few of us locals think to go.  Thanks to Sam Drevo of eNRG Kayaking, anyone can now arrange to paddle from just under the I-205 Bridge to the Falls with a knowledgable guide.  It takes about 90 minutes with stops to enjoy the sights and sounds.

Looking south under the Willamette River Bridge

A group of us of all ages and skills left the dock at 7 PM and paddled upstream under the historic Willamette River Bridge toward the industrial area.  The steel arch bridge was built in 1923 and shows all the artistry of C.B. McCullough.  Our guides had us stop at the first big eddy to tell us about the falls.  I was surprised to learn that it is the largest waterfall in the Pacific Northwest and the second largest in the United States (behind Niagara) in volume.  The Falls are 40 feet high and 1500 feet wide.

From the river you can see the columnar basalt that forms the falls.  At one point, the rocks jut out from the bank.  An eddy forms behind the “Black Rock.”  Looking up to the top, we could see pictographs marking the special spiritual importance of this place.  I grieve for the loss of Celilo Falls, but here at Willamette Falls, it is possible to get a sense of what Celilo was like.

The falls block navigation upstream.  From earliest times this was a gathering place.  Native Americans fished here.  The Hudson Bay Company was the first to build a mill and claim land.  Others followed building towns, sawmills, grist mills, paper mills and hydroelectric plants.  We passed boats filled with guys fishing for sturgeon in the 130 foot deep channel.  The discharge from the Sullivan Plant pushed me across the river.

Sullivan Hydroelectric Plant

I helped Portland General Electric document the water rights for the plant but I’d never seen it–just the drawings.  In 1842 Gustavus Hines wrote, “This is a most beautiful cataract, and the hydraulic privileges which it affords, and which are beginning to be extensively used, are almost boundless.”  He was right.  And we have definitely used the hydropower to reshape the land alongside the falls.  But the Falls themselves are still there.  Timeless.  I was overwhelmed sitting in the kayak, watching the sun set and listening to the water thunder.


Cottage Grove 2

July 9, 2011

Old Farmhouse London Road

Cottage Grove’s lively downtown is worth visiting.  The Applegate Trail Interpretive Center is outside along the Coast Fork near the Centennial Covered Bridge.  It is just a series of interpretive panels, but does tell the story of the trail. Standing there on the riverbank I tried to imagine what it looked like in 1846.  A little north on what is now Territorial Road, the land was “thickly settled” by 1855.  The Cottage Grove Historical Society has a fine small museum with helpful staff.  They told me that the town of London, for which London Road is named, used to be a popular resort with a mineral springs.  And they explained the history of the sawmills in the city.

These small museums have a hard time cataloging all the donations they get.  They have many lovely Native American Baskets with no idea of their origin.  I was able to help them identify one artifact though–this old highway marker.  I checked with ODOT’s historian and learned that “this is a triangular concrete marker in keeping with other markers that can still be found along Highway 99. The Sixth Biennial Report of the Oregon State Highway Commission (1923-1924)
stated: ‘Concrete mile posts indicating the distance from Broadway and
Washington streets, Portland, have been set on the entire length of the
Pacific and West Side Pacific Highways…’  This was echoed in a 1924
piece of correspondence from our file between the State Highway Engineer
and a gentleman from the Bureau of Public Roads: “Our own policy in this
regard is to erect permanent concrete mile posts on all our main state

Milepost 146

Cottage Grove Reservoir

July 9, 2011

Cottage Grove Reservoir

Cottage Grove Reservoir impounds the Coast Fork of the Willamette southeast of Cottage Grove.  A paved private Weyerhaeuser logging road parallels London Road all the way from the city to the Calapooia Tree Farm on the divide between the Willamette Valley and the Umpqua.  Weyerhaeuser allows recreational access to all of it lands here, subject to some basic rules.  The Calapooia Mountains framed the skyline as I rode south past suburbs, then farms, then tree farms.  The isolated valley looks much as it did decades ago, down to a team of guys bucking hay the old-fashioned way onto a slow moving truck.  The little valley was settled in the late 1800s.  Many of the farms seem to be accessible only off the Weyerhaeuser Road.  I wonder what the opportunity is to make the private road a recreational multi-use path?

Farmhouse on Weyerhaeuser Road

Weyerhaeuser Road Sign

The Corps has done a good job developing and managing recreation facilities on the lake.  The picnic areas were full of families.  Water skiers and fishermen filled the lake.  It brought back memories of my summers waterskiing on Detroit Reservoir as I listened to kids scream and shout as they swam and looked for fish and newts.

Family Recreation

The recreation and flood control benefits of the reservoir are clear here—a great recreation area close to town.  But there were losses.  I knew the old town of Detroit was inundated by the reservoir there, but I didn’t know that the same thing happened to the town of Dorena.

Row River National Recreation Trail

July 9, 2011

Cyclist on Railroad Bridge

I got to the Village Green Resort by 12:45 to meet the cycling group from my club.  Some of them were already there and others arrived over the next 45 minutes.  We filled water bottles at the bar and changed clothes in the lobby rest room.  At 1:37 we headed southeast and soon turned onto the 17-mile Row River Trail.  BLM manages it and it shows all the signs of a rail-to-trails conversion.  Riding southeast past farms and across an old railroad bridge into the woods was glorious.  The historic Mosby Creek Covered Bridge built in 1920 is just downstream.

Trailhead Marker

The Row River Trail is indeed a rails-to-trail conversion.  It is the old Oregon Pacific & Eastern line that was built in 1901 from Cottage Grove up to the Bohemia Mining District.  Then it served the lumber mills at Culp Creek and finally operated as the Blue Goose Excursion Train from 1971 to 1988.  Three major movies were filmed on between 1926 and 1986.  The rail line was abandoned by Bohemia/Willamette Industries and in 1993 they gave the right of way to the BLM to settle timber sale defaults.   BLM and the City of Cottage Grove have done a nice job of developing recreational access, boat ramps and picnic areas along the route from downtown Cottage Grove to Culp Creek.  It makes for great cycling with a maximum grade of 5% and 8 feet or more of good pavement with no motor vehicles.  The story of the cooperative effort to build the trail is here.

Dorena Dam

Soon we reached Dorena Dam, part of the Corps of Engineers’ Willamette Project.  The project flooded the old town of Dorena when it was finished in 1949 to provide flood control.  I was surprised to find out that a hydro project is now proposed for the facility by a private company, Symbiotics.  I’m not sure whether the project is still being pursued. Water quality is a big issue due to mercury and other heavy metals from the old Bohemia Mining District.

I was surprised at how few boats there were on a sunny Friday afternoon.  The surrounding hills all show signs of historic and recent logging.  At one point along the shore there is a nice marsh.  Canadian geese and ducks congregated there. After passing the reservoir, we could see the Row River.  Soon we reached Culp Creek.  The old mill workers houses are now family homes.  The mill itself is for sale.  What a change from 1946 when Stub Stewart and his brother returned from World War II as a Lieutenant Colonel and bought Bohemia Lumber Company from his father.  The company started in 1916 near Cottage Grove.  Stub built the Culp Creek mill in 1956.

Old Farm Truck

Every small valley has an old farm, most with mobile homes.  The Child’s Way Charter School occupies the old Culp Creek School.  I watched one little girl climb up the path from the river followed by her father—the perfect picture of an idyllic rural childhood.

Wildwood Falls

I turned off Row River Road to ride up to Wildwood Falls, a Lane County Park.  High school age kids were sunbathing on all the rocks, fishing with spinning gear and floating in the side eddies.  I couldn’t help but recall my days on the Little North Fork.  How lucky we are to still have such special local places to enjoy on long summer days.  Riding back there was a head wind and then a cross wind, but it was downhill and I made good time.  There were lots of riders out using the trail, a good sign.

River Road Country Trail

July 6, 2011

Driving Interstate 5 through the Valley from Eugene to Albany is one of the most boring drives in the state.  I found the Oregon Country Trails brochure and maps and decided to follow River Road north to Harrisburg.  This road follows the old Applegate trail that became one of Oregon’s first official roads.  The main railroad line parallels the road.  Just north of the city it leaves the suburbs behind and farms stretch out on either side.

I stopped first at Thistledown Farm and bought zucchini and rhubarb.  The stand was busy with shoppers and lush with flowers.  It was nice to see them buying locally and nice to think the farmers got more profit without the middlemen.

I saw a Willamette River Greenway sign, “Marshall Island Access,” and turned to see what it was like.  The road winds around past a mobile home park and RV storage area but then there’s a gravel parking lot, a small boat ramp and an osprey nest on a power pole.  I stopped.  A jet boat blasted past in the main channel.  I walked to the top of the boat ramp, leaned against a cottonwood tree and watched a mother, son and their dog play in the river on a hot afternoon.  Timeless.

I stopped again at the Hentze Family Farm near Junction City.  It is a fifth generation family farm, 42 acres acquired in 1902 by Danish immigrants.  Their son planted cherry and walnut trees.  I bought lovely walnuts, but this year’s cherries weren’t quite ripe.  The phone rang while I was there with people calling to see if the cherries would be ready in time for the farm’s Cherry Festival July 15-16.

I headed back to the main road, Highway 99E, crossing the Willamette at Harrisburg over the 1925 bridge.  I think it was the first time I’ve ever been in Harrisburg, reminding me of the many nice small towns in the Valley.


Howard Buford Recreation Area/Mt. Pisgah

View of the Middle Fork

July 6, 2011

I drove south from Skinner Butte to the 30th Avenue Exit #189 and stopped at SeQuential Biofuels Station No. 1.  I hate gas stations and I didn’t need gas, but SeQuential has great coffee and wonderful natural, local food so I stopped to pick up lunch.  The station already has a Tesla electric vehicle (EV) charging station and I hope they get to participate in the EV Highway charging network.  You can already get biofuel there, as well as standard gasoline.

From the station I went east to the Howard Buford Recreation Area, a 2,363-acre Lane County Park.  I parked and started up the Theodore Trail through oak/fir woods before breaking out onto grasslands and connecting with the main Beistel’s West Summit Trail.  A trail map is available online.  Bill Sullivan says that, “The first Lane County pioneers climbed this grassy hill between the forks of the Willamette River, viewed the green dales at the end of the Willamette Valley, and named the hill Mount Pisgah, for the Biblical summit from which Moses sighted the Promised Land.”

The trail was busy on a midweek morning with walkers, runners and families of all shapes and sizes.  Flowers, native and invasive, blew in the wind.

At the top, the author Ken Kesey, from Pleasant Valley, contributed a lovely sculpture that shows the topography of the area and the fossils, fish and wildlife found here.  He must have looked up at Mt. Pisgah nearly every day of his life.

I sat on a bench just east of the summit looking south toward the Calapooia Mountains and eating my lunch before heading back to the car by the Arboretum. A group of kids from a day care center was eating lunch in the White Oak Pavilion.  I strolled out to an oak grove imagining all the picnics here over the years.

Skinner Butte and Eugene

Skinner Butte from Mt. Pisgah

My father moved to Eugene in 1923.  I grew up in Salem and never spent much time in Eugene.  On July 6, 2011 I took time to explore places I have seen for years from afar.  My day started out at the New Oregon Motel on Franklin Boulevard right across from the University of Oregon.  I remember staying here when I was in high school participating in athletic and academic events.  I drove south to Skinner Butte.  On the way, I drove on Patterson Street where I think my father lived.  Then I passed Amazon Park and the Aquatic Center where I raced in swim meets during the 1960s.  Memories.

William L. Sullivan describes the hike up Spencer Butte in his book 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades (Hike 75).  He notes that, “Eugene’s skyline is not dominated by buildings, but rather by long, forested ridge topped with Spencer Butte’s haystack-shaped knob.”  Bill Sullivan and I grew up together in Salem and I thoroughly enjoy his hiking guides because they often add historical notes, like the fact that the first white man to climb Spencer Butte was Dr. Elijah White, who came here in 1845 hoping to find a southern route across the Cascades.

Looking West from Skinner Butte

The Wilkins sisters were about 20 years older than my father.  They grew up in Eugene too and wrote The Story of Eugene in 1949.  They start the story with Eugene Skinner looking north over the valley in 1846 and deciding to farm on the lower slopes of the Butte that bears his name.  I felt the same way they did as I stood atop the Butte:

“It is an exciting experience to stand today where Eugene Skinner stood a hundred years ago and recapture the picture that he saw.  Imagination can sweep away the town at one’s feet, leaving the Valley of the Willamette spread eastward toward the Cascade Mountains and westward toward the Coast Range, with spurs of foothills hemming it close.  Like crooked ribs of a great umbrella three rivers come down from the Cascade Range–the Mohawk, and the McKenzie, the Middle Fork of the Willamette–to converge below Eugene at the umbrella handle, the true Willamette River.  The Coast Fork out of the Calapooia mountains, and the Long Tom, emerging from the Coast Range to water the west side of the valley, are other ribs that soon join the mainstem.”

The City of Eugene acquired the Butte in 1914 and manages Skinner Butte Park, the crown of its ridgeline trail system.  As I climbed the steep route up I imagined my father doing the same thing with his Scout troop in the late 1920s.  The trail was shady with Doug fir and then oak near the top.  I climbed hand over hand up the rocks at the top and scanned the views of the Three Sisters, Fern Ridge and the city.  I could see Marys Peak to the north.  College students, older couples, dog walkers, families with small kids, runners, walkers all enjoyed the trails and views on a sunny weekday morning.


Boones Ferry Road

June 9, 2011

I’ve never seen the confluence of the Willamette and the Tualatin so I headed to Willamette Park in West Linn.  Anytime we leave home we make choices about the route to take and, most of the time these days, people choose to take the freeway.  The route you choose affects what you see.  Unfortunately it doesn’t affect what you smell or hear since we drive around with our windows closed and air conditioning on.  I decided not to take I-5/I-205 from my neighborhood in the West Hills.  Instead I drove on Boone’s Ferry Road, turning onto it near Lewis and Clark.  The route dates back to the early days of road building when citizens demanded plank roads built from wood slabs to enable year round travel.  By 1856 a Portland newspaper reported on a new plank road from Portland to Salem via “Boon’s Ferry” on the Willamette.

The view is a lot different now, but driving it I got a sense of how pioneers would lay a road on the land, rolling downhill along the woods of Tryon Creek State Park.  The stark change occurs as the grade flattens and you reach the suburban subdivisions, malls and commercial strips of Lake Oswego.  In 1856 Oswego Lake was Sucker Lake, a former channel of the Tualatin River.  Today, as then, the road runs southwest around the west end of what is now the lake.  I got on I-5 before the old route crosses the Tualatin and heads to the old ferry crossing at what is now Wilsonville.

The speed of the old stagecoaches was about the speed of a bicycle today.  Travelling at 15 mph or so allows you to see the land and hear birds and winds in a way that we lose when driving.  But avoiding the freeway and taking the old route gave me a better sense of the land than the solid commercial development sprawled along I-5.