Monday, July 1, 2019

A Highway 20 Side Trip: On the Banks of McDowell Creek

Heading out of Lebanon on its way to the Cascades, Highway 20 passes farms, fields, and scattered businesses. Travelers in this area are generally just passing through on their way to someplace else, driving right by unassuming Fairview Road without a second thought. Follow that little country drive, though, and you will discover a hidden gem: 110-acre McDowell Creek Park, with its four waterfalls tucked in a lush forest in the Cascade foothills.
To find the park, turn left on the aforementioned Fairview Road; follow it for about a mile and bear left onto McDowell Creek Drive. From here it is 7.7 miles to the park, but don't be put off by the drive; it is a lovely route, passing fertile pastures and pretty little farms. The road itself is well-maintained pavement until just before the park, and even towards the end it is never a problem for passenger vehicles.
Pull into the first parking area. Here you will find a scattering of picnic tables under a treed canopy as well as a vault toilet. Follow the sound of rushing water to locate the first falls: Lower McDowell Creek Falls, which drops a total of 20 feet in three tiers. The rocks here are popular with picnickers and sunbathers.

A hike of less than two miles leads to the other falls, and while the path is well-traveled and popular with families, it is definitely not barrier-free. Be aware that the stairs can be slippery when wet, and be prepared for a few steep areas. Consider the time of year, as well; like the majority of waterfalls, these are less spectacular during the dry season. In any case, though, it is a beautiful and justly popular hike for anyone who can manage stairs and some short climbs.
Royal Terrace Falls
This hike is a "lollipop" that begins at a footbridge over the creek. Walk among Douglas fir, alders, cedars, maples, and hemlocks. Take a side trail to view 120-foot Royal Terrace Falls, which drops in three sheets of water over a set of stone shelves. Return to the main trail and go left up some stone steps. Look for a small platform to see the top of Royal Terrace.

Crystal Falls
Cross a bridge over Fall Creek. This part of the trail leads high above McDowell Creek in a lush forest understory; look for vine maples, red huckleberries, sword ferns, and thimbleberries. Go right at a junction , cross the road, and continue on the forest path to a trailhead for Majestic Falls. Follow a series of steps to view the falls, which drops 40 feet into a crystal-clear pool. Follow a wooden stairway for more views of the falls, then cross a bridge and continue on the trail. Watch for 15-foot Crystal Falls, then cross the road again (if you reach the road without finding Crystal Falls, retrace your steps briefly as it's easier to find going that direction). Cross the road and follow near the creek. Go left at the trail junction, pass a disused trail on your right, and then go left at the next junction and cross the creek. Take one more bridge, just below Royal Terrace Falls, and turn right to return to the parking lot. 

Majestic Falls
While this may sound complex, the short trail is actually quite easily navigated; click here for a website that includes a small map to help with orientation. It is also possible to customize the hike for less walking and fewer falls; however, the short distance, the peaceful forest setting, and the ever-present sound of rushing water make the walk worth every step.

Next time you're headed out Highway 20 on your way to someplace else, take a little time and turn onto Fairview Road. Bring a picnic, and of course a camera. Take a walk under moss-draped trees in this peaceful county park, far from the crowds at places with bigger advertising budgets. Park for free, bring your dog, and relax beside McDowell Creek.

McDowell Creek Falls Trailhead

Lower McDowell Creek Falls

McDowell Creek

Side view of Royal Terrace Falls

Viewpoint at the top of the falls

Majestic Falls

At the base of Majestic Falls

The author near the side trail to Crystal Falls
The small side trail to Crystal Falls
Crystal Falls
McDowell Creek
One last look at Royal Terrace Falls as you complete the "lollipop"
Enjoy the creek, we'll see you on another side trip!

Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Yachats-Cape Link: Amanda's Trail

We have previously covered much of the extensive trail system in the coastal village of Yachats: the 804 Trail, the Ya'Xaik Trail, and the St. Perpetua Trail. There is, however, a linking path between the 804 and Ya'Xaik trails in the north and St. Perpetua to the south: a 3.5-mile climb up the north face of Cape Perpetua known as the Amanda Trail. This rugged route along the coast was the only alternative to taking a boat in the days before 1912 or so, when the first path was blasted around the cape.

The trail is named in honor of Amanda de Cuys, a blind Coos woman who in 1864 was driven, with 45 other Native Americans, for 80 miles up the coast to a reservation. She was forced to leave her young daughter behind. One of the boys of the party guided her around the roughest areas; other than that, we know nothing of the stories of the other 45 people whose eventual fate, along with the fate of Amanda, went unrecorded by history. This solemn and beautiful place is now open to hikers; some parts of the trail pass through private property, so be respectful of the landowners who have graciously opened part of their land to the public.

To find the trail, take Highway 101 to Yachats and turn onto Yachats Ocean Road just south of the bridge. To your right you will find access to the Yachats River as well as a lovely, sheltered beach. Drive a bit further for close-up views of waves crashing against the rocky coastline. There is plenty of parking all along this short road; plan ahead and you can look forward to a post-hike picnic beside the water.

Once parked, continue along the road on foot. Just before you reach Highway 101 again you will see a footpath on your right. Follow it alongside the highway until the path dead ends, then (carefully) cross 101 and pick it up again on the other side. This trail is also part of the Oregon Coast Trail System, so you may see it marked as such from time to time.

The footpath then leaves the highway and enters the forest proper. It can be slippery in places, and there are some root-crossed areas, so watch your step. This first part of the trail is considered "easy" and most kids should be able to navigate it. Follow deeper into the woods, pass a bear statue, and continue to a small, creekside clearing where a statue depicting a Coos woman has been placed in honor of Amanda. Many people stop to leave a small token, and this makes a good turnaround spot for those who wish to avoid the climb ahead.

And it is a climb. To continue the hike, cross the creek. You will immediately be confronted with a crude set of stairs built into the hillside. You are on your way.

You will begin by hiking on a small ridge between two creeks. As you leave Highway 101 behind, even the roar of the ocean dulls. Gradually, the trail drops into Cape Creek's little canyon; the whisper of the creek and the songs of the birds are pretty much all you will hear. History sleuths will notice that much of the trail is on an old roadbed; in fact, sharp eyes will spot abandoned side roads here and there. Before the construction of Highway 101, a primitive route went over the Cape and followed Cape Creek, similar to the route Amands'a Trail follows. The stone shelter at the top of the Cape was used as a lookout during World War II and there has been logging in this area in the past, so many disused roads are probably hidden beneath the lush greenery on this steep headland.

Drop down to Cape Creek and a wide, verdant bog. Continue to climb. Don't count the switchbacks, just keep walking. This hike is famously steep, and muddy conditions can render some spots quite slippery; however, there are also stretches of mossy, fern-bordered pathway that are lovely and  nearly level. Most hikers in decent condition should have no trouble. Wildflowers flourish alongside the trail, and bird's-eye views of the ocean occasionally appear. Hike until you see a side path to the Cape Perpetua parking lot; continue to the right to find the stone shelter. Soak in the panoramic views, then return as you came, keeping your camera handy for any shots you missed on the way up.

Many hikers pause as they pass Amanda's statue on their way back to their comfortable automobiles parked alongside Highway 101. She stands patiently in her little clearing, a reminder to us all that if we become convinced that any person has less value than we have, we become less human ourselves.

Crossing Cape Creek

Monkey Flower

Salal growing out of an old, logged stump


View from the top

Stone shelter

View of Yachats near top

Pacific Iris and Solomon's seal

Unusual tree along the main trail

False Lilly of the Valley

Epiphytic fern

Trail through an old road cut

Old side road

Bleeding Hearts

False Lilly of the Valley and ostrich ferns

Amanda welcomes you!