Monday, October 20, 2014

Portland's Washington Park: The Hoyt Arboretum

I want to be a squirrel.

They spend the early part of fall stocking up on snacks. Then, when the weather turns ugly, they go to bed. They snooze until things improve; then they get up, look around, have a snack, and go back to bed. That, in my opinion, is the way to spend the winter.

Sadly, due to some fault in my DNA, I am a human and must stay awake during the winter. This involves such miseries as running errands in torrential downpours and scrubbing mildew off of the walls. When the weather turns ugly, we still have to go to work. Squirrels don't have these problems.

Ugly weather, at least in the western part of Oregon, often involves our infamous silverthaws, where a thick layer of ice forms on every possible surface. In the city, I have done the hokey pokey around swirls of downed power lines. In the country, I have had my truck stuck inside for days, unable to slide up our slanted driveway. Then comes the thaw. In the city, that means breaker-like waves of muddy slush thrown up by passing cars to drench pedestrians. In the country, it means mud. Lots of mud. Once things have warmed up and dried out, the squirrels wake and have a snack.

The real issue, though, is getting out and hitting a trail or two. In the Cascades, trails disappear under snow and downed trees. In the Valley, they turn to slippery mud. At the coast, some trails are actually under water during the winter. Experts tell us, though, that it is important for our health to spend time exercising outdoors. There is no substitute for natural light, which is said to ease seasonal depression and help keep our circadian rhythms on track. Mostly, though, we don't want to spend the winter turning to jello. With this in mind, as fall grinds its way into winter, we will be sharing some of our favorite year-round hikes.
Staghorn Sumac

One of our fall traditions in the Portland area is a visit to the Hoyt Arboretum. This is, in fact, just a lot of trees on a hillside, some of them sporting I.D. tags. In the fall, though, the Arboretum comes to life in a bounty of colors. The Visitor Center has a map of the different areas of the Arboretum, which is divided into species groups. Since different trees turn color and drop their leaves at different times, this hike could be done several times during the fall. Be sure to bring a camera.

There are twelve miles' worth of trails in the Arboretum alone, so it can be difficult to know where to start. The Overlook Trail runs from the Visitor Center, over the hill, and down toward the zoo. This trail leads to the maple and ash areas, which would be a good place to look for fall color. If it isn't raining, you will probably see people enjoying picnics. If the sun is out, families will be lying in the grass. The southern-facing hillside welcomes those of us who can't say goodbye to summer.

Another beautiful walk is the Redwood Trail, which leads to the larch and redwood trees. Now, on most days, larches do not cause me much excitement. If someone told me that I must go and look at a wonderful bunch of larches, I would avoid eye contact and back away slowly. This rule does not apply, however, in the autumn. These trees are deciduous conifers, meaning that they shed their needles in the fall. When the nights grow chilly, the larch grove turns every shade of gold. Also watch for the dawn redwoods, massive trees with bronze needles in the fall; the low-angled sun lights them up like a torch.

The Wildwood Trail passes by the north end of the Arboretum and heads toward the Japanese and Rose Gardens. I am always amazed at the roses that keep stubbornly blooming despite the weather. We have gotten some beautiful shots of rose blossoms and fall leaves. This area still smells like summer when summer is long gone.
Basin outside the Japanese Garden

From here, you can either return to your car the way you came or catch the bus back into town. Bring a snack. If you meet a squirrel, be sure to say goodnight.

About Hoyt Arboretum and Washington Park
The Arboretum is spread out on the hill between the Oregon Zoo and the Rose Garden. It is a short, pleasant drive with occasional parking areas.
The Visitor Center is centrally located, but be prepared for a maze of roads and trails. A map is very helpful. There is also a month-by-month guide supplied by the Hoyt Aboretum Friends which outlines seasonal highlights for the area.

With the many trails and small roads in this part of the park, it's easy to customize the length of your hike. Please note that, as tempting as it is, the Wildwood Trail is closed to bicycles.
Fall leaves in the Japanese Garden

The Rose Garden and Arboretum are free, but there is a fee to visit the Japanese Garden. It is well worth it, though, if you have about two hours to tour the garden.

Tri-Met Bus #63 takes a leisurely ramble up to the Rose Garden area from downtown Portland. Passing through the beautiful West Hills, it's a pleasant mini-tour in itself. If you can't take public transportation to the park, you will have to find a place for your car. Some weekends, this can be a challenge. There is now a parking fee in Washington Park, so be sure to note your parking spot number so you can pay at the booth. If you try to guess, you might mess up the machine. But that's another story...

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