Monday, January 19, 2015

Baskett Slough: A Winter Refuge

Oregonians who have driven Highway 22 from Highway 18 to Salem may remember Baskett Slough as Land of the Lousy Restroom. Beaconlike on its hillock overlooking a lovely plain, the vault toilet never failed to disappoint with its intense aroma and graffiti-scarred interior. Weary travelers could also avail themselves of the observation kiosk, where interpretive signs described bird species which might be visible to observers possessing x-ray vision.

The restroom has been removed, mourned only by the most desperate of bladders. The kiosk, however, remains. On a clear winter day, it is possible to observe Canada geese and other migratory species from this viewpoint. Or perhaps that's just specks on your sunglasses. It's hard to tell.

Visitors to the kiosk and late restroom may be disinclined to devote much of their day to Baskett Slough, but that would be a mistake. This wildlife refuge is not only peaceful and beautiful, it is accessible for everyone (a car makes an excellent observation blind when birds are accustomed to vehicle traffic). To reach the real Baskett Slough, take 99W north from Highway 22 or south from McMinnville. Turn west on Colville Road (see map). Colville is a decent gravel road that passes through the heart of the refuge. Don't be deterred by the signs warning of area closures; the road is open, as are the uplands and oak grove. Extensive closures of the bottom land are in place during the winter to allow migrating waterfowl a safe place to rest during their journey.

View from the platform
At a turning in the road, you will find a parking area and a much better restroom. There are also picnic tables and maps of the refuge. While many of the trails are closed in winter, the Rich Guadagno Memorial Trail and Viewing Platform, marked in pink on the map, are open year-round. To reach the platform, head uphill from the parking lot and go left at the Y. The trail here is wide and smooth, but it is a bit of a climb. Continue to the platform for a panoramic view of the valley, with ponds and marshes all around.

Return to the other arm of the Y to reach the treed hilltop. The trail here is narrower and a bit muddy in places as it ascends into the woods. Old oaks cradle snarls of mistletoe and deer wander nearby, unconcerned by human presence. Watch for hardy little songbirds in the brush and hawks hunting overhead. On the map, this loop trail is shaped like a lollipop with a piece of hair stuck to it; in reality, it turns into a maze of small trails once you enter the trees. It's easy enough to find your own route back to the main trail, though.

Once back at your car, continue on Colville Road to the bottom land. You will find a number of pullouts where you can watch waterfowl on either side of the road. Besides the Canada geese, expect to find coots, grebes, herons, egrets, and a wide variety of ducks. When you are ready to leave, continue on Colville, take a left at the intersection (Smithfield Road), and you will find  yourself at the junction with Highway 22.

There is no camping near the refuge, but it makes a pleasant stop along the way during the darkest days of the year. Bring binoculars, boots and raingear and spend a little time with the birds.

Photos in this post taken by Sally Gosen Case and edited by Austen M. Case

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Portland Japanese Garden

We would normally hesitate before paying admission to visit a garden in the wintertime, but Japanese gardeners (who work in a climate not unlike western Oregon's) have learned to design landscapes that soothe and delight the eye year-round. They build gardens with "good bones," visually strong hardscapes that give artistry and structure even when many of the plants are dormant.
Northwesterners are fortunate to have an authentic 5.5-acre Japanese Garden tucked into the hills west of Downtown Portland. Consisting of five separate but connected gardens, this is a place of peace and beauty in any season. Of course, the raked-stone "zen" garden never changes, except for the odd wind-blown leaf. The Flat Garden, just outside the Pavilion, is also especially lovely whatever the weather, and the secluded Tea Garden is a serene hideaway any time of year. Our favorite spot, though, is always the Strolling Pond Garden. We could spend hours watching the enormous, colorful koi just beneath the water's surface.

If You Visit the Garden
The Japanese Garden is next to the Portland Rose Test Garden; in fact, they share an often-crowded parking area. It is easily accessed from West Burnside; there is a printable map on the city's website. Be prepared to feed the newfangled parking fee machines. TriMet bus # 63 runs from downtown to the Rose Garden area, so it is possible to leave your car behind.

Don't bring the dogs and the barbecue; this isn't that kind of garden. Admission for adults is $9.50. Bring your camera and plan for a few peaceful hours in Japan. Be advised that the garden closes at 4:00 in the winter, so come early.

Sadly, only part of
the garden is fully accessible. The Flat Garden between the entry and the Pavilion is open to all. Many of the other areas would be difficult or impossible to navigate without steady feet. On the other hand, there are worse things than spending a few hours among the exquisitely shaped trees and carefully placed stones of the Flat Garden.