Brown Beauty in the Green

A red-legged frog is visible through dense greenery along the Horsetail Falls Trail in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon on September 11, 2011. Originals: _MG_4409.cr2 and _MG_4418.cr2

One of the areas I knew I would miss most when leaving Oregon was the Columbia River Gorge, a lush area of forest and waterfalls just half an hour’s drive from our urban Portland neighborhood. I usually went to Ridgefield when I wanted wildlife and the Gorge when I wanted trees and streams, but sometimes the Gorge had its own animals to share. This little beauty hidden below the dense undergrowth along the Horsetail Falls Trail is (I think) a red-legged frog, taken in the fall of 2011. Easily one of my favorite trails anywhere, I didn’t get to go late in our time in Oregon as it closed after devastating fires, but if I ever make it back it will be high on my list of places to visit.

An ant is starting to walk onto the frog in the picture below.

A red-legged frog on the forest floor along the Horsetail Falls Trail in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon on September 11, 2011. Original: _MG_4360.cr2

Tread Carefully

A snail crawls across a fern frond in the Columbia River Gorge

Walking in the Columbia River Gorge you’re likely to come across slugs and snails underfoot, such as this snail (maybe one of our lancetooth species? I know nothing about snails) near Latourell Falls. It was just crossing over the fern frond that had fallen to the forest floor, not dining on it, I think lancetooths are carnivorous and eat other snails. The little creatures of the forest are one of the reasons I value short close-focusing distances in lenses, it minimizes the need to switch to (or even carry) a dedicated macro lens when you only need to get close, but not macro close. This was taken with the Sony-Zeiss 16-70 f/4 zoom lens, a lens I wasn’t sure about initially but which I’ve really come to like.

Before The Fire

A side view of Horsetail Falls in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge

A side view of Horsetail Falls in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge from the trailhead next to the road. This is my favorite place to hike near Portland but even after the Eagle Creek fire is contained I doubt this trail will be open until at least the spring. From the pictures I’ve seen this area wasn’t completely burned but some of the trees in the background are gone, no idea about further up towards the upper part of the falls, my favorite waterfall. The nearby interstate is still closed as they work to clear dangerous trees and stabilize potential rockslides, work that will eventually have to be done on the trails before it is safe to let the public back in. I haven’t heard if my feared bridge survived, but I suspect a number of bridges will need to be replaced.

I hope the pikas are doing OK too but there is much work to be done yet by the firefighters to contain the blaze before the full extent of the fire can be determined. Some of the trails further east may be open during the winter, they should be less touched by the fire. I can explore other places too of course, but when I needed to immerse myself in beauty for a few hours, all these hikes are within a half hour’s drive from my house in Portland.

The Gorge will still be there, and will still be beautiful, even if part of it has a long recovery ahead. As this alternate view of the falls shows, the water of Horsetail Falls plunges past basalt, a reminder of the forces of lava and floods that violently changed the landscape long ago and gave us the Gorge that we love so much.

Horsetail Falls plunges past basalt

Ash Tuesday

Ash from the Eagle Creek fire covers the green hood of a Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid

I washed my wife’s car on Monday morning, its lovely green paint shining in the sun, but this is how it looked Tuesday morning. A bit of a bloom from the crepe myrtle above the driveway had fallen onto the hood, where it was surrounded by the charred remains of trees in the Columbia River Gorge, ash that had been drifting down throughout the evening and night. A fire started on the Eagle Creek trail over the Labor Day weekend, possibly by teens setting off fireworks, and with high winds and a parched forest it soon spread to other parts of the Gorge, including several areas I’ve been hiking this year and will be back visiting soon. Walking to the train this morning in our Portland neighborhood the sun was deep red even well after sunrise but by evening when I returned home you couldn’t even see the sun so thick was the smoke in the air.

It’s too soon to know the extent of the damage to the forests and the trails as the fire is still raging, but this is the sort of area that is burning, looking down into the Oneonta Gorge, taken on a hike in the spring when everything was a luscious green. Move away from the mountain streams and much of the surrounding forest is not so damp, especially not after such a hot dry summer. My thanks to all the firefighters trying to contain the blaze and protect the historic structures and the small communities in the area, and who led about 150 people trapped on the Eagle Creek trail by the fire to safety.

Lush greenery surrounds a mountain stream in the Oneonta Gorge

It’s Nothing Personal, But I Hate You

A bridge over a gorge in the Columbia River Gorge

When you’re scared of heights, when hiking a new trail in places like the Columbia River Gorge, you never know when you might reach a spot that will force you to turn around. I always cross this bridge to look at the waterfall on the other side, but it’s a white-knuckled crossing every time. There are little slots in the bridge that let the rain through, important in an area that gets as much rain as the Gorge, but it also lets you see the water rushing underneath. The first time I forced myself to take pictures from the bridge itself I was so nervous I forgot to focus or set the exposure, but this latest visit I not only took photos but videos as well. My heart was pounding and I gripped the railing tightly, but I took them. Properly focused and exposed, even.