The dirt road was a veritable minefield of potholes, craftily camouflaged in dappled midday shadows. Trees lined the road, providing a source for that insidious shade, giving those potholes ninja stealth. Driving down this minefield was akin to navigating an impassible obstacle course, where occasions of failure gave me thoughts of riding a bucking bronco, and dropping into the bigger craters evoked a guttural oof.
But what brought me to this kidney buster?
Back in the good old days, summer excursions would often take my wife and me up the Columbia Gorge for a hike and perhaps a waterfall or three. Multnomah Falls and a few watery cousins, along with the old scenic highway are a mere half hour away (traffic permitting).
Alas, no more. Last year’s fires caused substantial damage to the trails and the stability of the slopes – all are closed for the foreseeable future. Now we have to go farther afield to get our waterfall fix.
This time around that fix is a place called Panther Creek Falls. I’d heard good things about it from photographers I respected, and it was an excuse to see something new. Of course, instead of being 30-45 minutes away it was an hour and a half. Still up the gorge, but on the Washington side.
While researching Panther Creek I saw a suggestion for another falls in the region with a less than inventive name: Falls Creek Falls. It was another half hour away and included a nice little hike, whereas Panther Creek’s hike was less than a half mile. Since we were going that far it made sense to add the extension. So I fired up Google maps, set my course, and off we went to Panther Creek.
According to the write-up, the last section of road leading to the falls was dirt. But was it that labyrinth of potholes? Nope. Turned out it was paved all the way. It was, however, a narrow road, single lane in places, complete with a plethora of tree obscured curves. It was only prudent to take it at a modest pace, lest you end up in a head-on collision with an oncoming overrevved lunatic.
(Click on any picture for a larger view)
The story on Panther Creek suggested the site was a complex area with a creek and cascading falls, converging from different areas. The main trail is short and brings you to a railed wooden overlook.
From the viewpoint, we could see the top third of the main falls – a huge cascade.
I exited the viewpoint area and went to creek level. A varied rock formation made for interesting babbling brook shots.
The creek fell into a drop zone along a sheer cliff in the middle left of the picture above. The cascade continues to drop, making the view from the bottom of the cliff area the most spectacular for the falls. We, however, did not go down there. Access to the bottom is iffy. Depending on the approach a slip could be and has been fatal, and after last years Abiqua Falls adventure the wife preferred sedate. Maybe another day.
In fact, I understand the evening of the very day we were there, a young woman stood too close to the edge, slipped, and took a fatal 100-foot fall. I don’t know if it’s from the same point as the earlier fatality. I suspect not, but it still bodes for caution when attempting these backwoods waterfalls.
So we skipped the iffy bit and settled for mere scenes like this one.
Besides, why be greedy? We had another waterfall to find. Falls Creek Falls beckoned.
We headed back up the twisty road and began to backtrack. Not far along there was a shortcut – a small dirt road that seemed to disappear into the forest. Was this the source of the car’s suspension test?
Nope. As dirt roads go, this was a good one. About a mile and a half, and cut off five miles of backtracking before hitting another paved county road. We followed this road for a while, another turn or two, and five miles before the destination we met up with that fateful stretch of pockmarked crud.
Good thing the fillings in my teeth are well attached.
The hike to Falls Creek Falls isn’t as short as the Panther Creek hike, but is still short by most people’s standards. In theory, it’s only 1.7 miles, one way. It sure seemed longer, I wondered at times if that measurement was as the crow flies. The fact it was a long steady uphill climb made it seem longer. It wasn’t terribly steep but uphill just the same, and proved that our aerobic conditioning was less than impressive.
At least we felt our labored progress was justified when, on the way back down we met up with other folks wondering if the “short” hike would ever end.
It was worth it.
Falls Creek Falls is a double dipper, with all its glory in full view. Let’s just take it in, shall we?
After drinking in the view for a while, we headed back down the hill. It went much faster. The next step; strapping in for the return trek down the road from perdition. Fortunately, it was more forgiving on the return – time had passed, the light softened, the shadows were not as deep, the camouflage not as effective.
On the other hand, the frequency and depth of the potholes had not abated.
Returning to Portland, we came back on the Oregon side of the gorge. It was the first time we’d traveled the gorge since last years fires, the first time we saw the damage that had closed the scenic highway and trails. We had dreaded the thought of seeing our old playground sullied. The actuality? There is damage. Dead trees come all the way down to the freeway in places. But it’s spotty, the burns come down in some places and left others untouched.
We look forward to the day that we can return to our old playgrounds, even if hikes pass through burned areas.
I suppose an optimist would say if the fire would not have happened it would be less likely we’d discover the beauty of Panther Creek and Falls Creek Falls. That may be the way to go. There is more undiscovered country, more beauties to find, more adventures to have.
I hope you join me.