Date of trip: March 24, 2018 - March 30, 2018
I write this blog almost a year to the day of our trip to Oregon. It wasn’t our first time, and certainly won’t be our last. Oregon was much wilder this time around–full of logging trucks, farms and ranches, moss covered forests, waterfalls and turquoise rivers, wild hawks and signs reading, “Only Jesus saves lives” and “Keep Oregon Wild.” The trip spanned Portland, Salem, Eugene, even Roseburg. For more information about the trails and falls we visited, find details on our explore Oregon page. If you are my grandmother, by all means, continue reading about every detail in between!
- Day 1: Portland, Salem
- Day 2: Salem, Pacific City
- Day 3: Salem, Abiqua Falls
- Day 4: Eugene, Spirit Falls
- Day 5: Eugene, Toketee Falls, Watson Falls
- Day 6: Eugene, Sahalie Falls, Koosah Falls
- Day 7: Portland
It was spring break. So the airport was a bit of a nightmare, with a stressfully long security line, the longest we’d ever seen. We got through, though, with enough time to grab breakfast from French Meadow and be to the gate as they started boarding.
We didn’t get seats next to each other this go around, which I never prefer, but I had me a new book written by Barack Obama and a Disney movie to watch. As we landed, I tried ignoring the crying child behind me while hiding my tears from Disney’s Coco. In the typical sleek transition, we found our rental car and beelined to the first place we needed to go in Portland–Pok Pok.
The restaurant had just opened, which meant there was no line. We ordered the only way we knew how–the Khao Soi with chicken and Pok Pok’s famous Vietnamese wings. I had been waiting to return and eat these chicken wings since we had last visited. If you’re not familiar, they’re spicy, sweet, tangy, and crispy. Your taste buds need not want anything else forever. Chris devoured his noodle bowl before we realized we could fucking chillax.
We splashed through the PNW rain to Salt and Straw and ate salted caramel and almond brittle ice cream.
We had a bit of time that afternoon before we headed to Salem, so we drove to the Saturday Market downtown near the river. The market was full of delicious smells, making me hungry all over again, and people selling their crafts–bird houses, paintings made of math equations, knitted pieces, and wooden shit. I really wanted a corn dog.
A bit overwhelmed and tired of the rain, we retreated back to the car and decided to just head out of town early. Who knew. Maybe Salem would have something interesting for us to do. Following the river out of Portland, the trip only took about 45 minutes.
Salem, the state capital, turned out to just be a place where people live and die. Not to say that it’s not a special place where people lovingly call home and care for their community–but it’s not for tourists. We stayed in a quaint, old neighborhood of bungalows, some with overgrown vines and moss covered roofs. Our Airbnb was a treat, though, a little studio in the backyard of a blue cottage with white trim. The studio had a kitchenette, sliding glass doors, a fresh new bathroom. All the details were covered–fresh local soap, white towels, tea and coffee, an umbrella, local beer in the fridge, and a clipboard of how to use and enjoy the cottage. We napped through the rainy afternoon, recovering from the early morning.
Thankful for our hosts suggestion, we grabbed dinner at The Kitchen on Court. I ordered the BLT with fried tomatoes and arugula. I gave Chris the side-eye when he ordered a Cuban. Who is this guy?? Salem was dead quiet. Storefronts were closed, including the bakery, a vacuum repair shop, a thrift store, and a few diners. No one was out. The old town clock looked bored. We hoped a driving tour would find more action, but we drove in circles down the same sleepy streets until we found a movie theater. After considering what our other options were, we bought two tickets curbside to Black Panther under the lights of the theaters glowing awning.
Cinebarre, as we would find, is no average theater. There’s a massive bar in the lobby and a dinner menu with full service from your movie seats. Black Panther did not disappoint–at all.
Refreshed from a dreamy rest, we brewed some coffee and left sleepy Salem behind as we drove out of town towards Pacific City. The winding road cut through the dense backwoods. We passed makeshift houses, lots of horses, cows, and sheep, and a billboard of Montgomery Gentry playing at a local casino (still kickin)! Fog clung to the top of the mountain on the horizon. A white bearded man in a pick up looked at us as we passed by. We stepped out of the car amidst a green forest split by a rocky river. I couldn’t get my camera to translate the feeling. It was a different world.
The sites weren’t enough to keep the motion sickness at bay. Chris coined the “G-forces” as my greatest enemy. Thankfully, we arrived to Pacific City soon enough (around 9am) and grabbed some food at a busy coffee shop named Stimulus Cafe. From the brightly colored space, we watched the parking lot across the street and the beach and waves beyond. A lone sea stack stood tall within the sea, fuzzy from where we sat. The sandy parking lot was almost vacant this early in the morning, except for a few retro vans from Alaska and California strapped with serious surfing gear.
The wind was serious that morning. We bundled ourselves snug as we set out across the sand, camera ready. The sun poked through the scattered violet clouds, catching the sparkling sea mist.
Silhouettes of people frolicked across the far end of the beach, their dogs running to catch flying frisbees.
From the beach, we climbed a sandy hill to explore a bit of Cape Kiwanda, trying our best to stay on the right side of the ropes.
The clouds had left. The surfers left their footprints in the sand as they headed to the waves. A dory boat sped straight onto the beach where it was met by a pick up truck and towed out of the surf.
A mother yelled at three young teenagers to stay inside the roped area, making it a bit awkward as we saddled and crossed over the rope, continuing on a wide, solid trail. From a rocky flat, I sat watching Chris continue on a slim path to another rocky space closer to the edge of the ocean. I kept my eye on him the whole time, scowling with knots in my stomach when I lost sight of him. When he had returned, he promised the entire area in which he stood was solid and wide, and not to bother about the stumble he took on his way back. I was thankful when a stranger gave Chris a gentle reminder not to cross the rope later on the trail, as someone had fallen just months before. “Maybe that’s your guardian angel, Chris…or just a smart person.”
We spent the afternoon on the patio of the nearby Pelican Brewery, warmed by the sun. By now the beach had filled with vehicles and vacationers.
Surfers returned from the water to their vans, ringing out the water from their wetsuits. Buzzed from the juicy, clear IPA’s, we picked up some snacks for the afternoon hike at Cascade Head (salt water taffy and finally, the corn dog that I needed).
Just 20 minutes from Pacific City, the hike led us uphill through a muddy, wooded trail to an open clearing with views of the ocean.
I couldn’t help but continually break out in song, “The hills are alive with the sound of muuuusic…” Chris couldn’t handle it. On the way we rested near two white-haired souls talking about a trip to Istanbul and Barcelona.
Despite pleading that I didn’t want to, Chris led us past a barbed wire fence, onto a massive grassy field.
There were massive piles of animal dung everywhere along the grassy path. BEARS, I thought. I didn’t care to continue and slowed as Chris frolicked onwards. “I’m good,” I said, when he asked me to join him. I watched him as I hung back, freaking out that maybe a bear would pop out at any moment. When he returned, we continued on, huffing and puffing to the top.
The little engine that couldn’t, I thought. In all, the hike to the summit took about 2.5 hours and another hour to climb back down. I never wanted pizza so badly…
That night we did get pizza. We found a pizza place in town, ordered one to go, and ate it on the beach (don’t get all romantic, we sat in the car away from the cold). Chris attempted some sunset photos, but the wind was bitter and stung. Others were returning to the beach with the same idea. Some sat in their cars, watching the sun dip behind the Haystack Rock, while others braved the weather to start a bonfire or walk along the water.
The sun had almost gone and a sudden dread came over us. A deep crevice had formed throughout the day between the beach and the start of the paved ramp that led vehicles to the parking lot. The difference in space looked to be at least a foot. We watched tentatively as a truck and a car revved their engines, took to the ruts in the sand, and jumped the space between. Also watching the ramp were two men with crossed arms, leaning on their jeeps near the landing. “Are they here to save people like us?” we asked ourselves.
Chris’ silence scared me. There’s a 50/50 chance he thought to himself. He tried to go in slowly at an angle, but didn’t make it and backed up for a second try. I covered my head in pure fear and embarrassment as Chris eyed the pavement, circling the car as he gathered the guts. He swung the car straight on, sped up, fell into the ruts and jumped the space onto the pavement. My legs were noodles as we drove safely through the parking lot and onto the dark road home.
That morning we had to pack up and leave our little boat house in Salem. Chris got to talking with our host about hockey (she was from Wisconsin) and the Oregon winters. “Shit, I’m sitting on my porch with a t-shirt and it’s perfect right now,” she said. She had a brash way about her. We thanked her for the hospitality and found coffee on our way out of town (Salem was finally lively on a Monday morning)! That morning we were driving to Abiqua Falls.
From off the freeway, we stopped for gas. When we came to a stop, a man came out to assist, startling Chris. “This is how we do it here,” he said. He tapped on our Chase credit card, about to comment on its weight as most people do. “Can I ask you a question? Have you ever considered shaving that thing down and using it to slit throats?” Chris gave out a nervous laugh. What a silly, violent thing to muse with a stranger…we drove off quickly.
On our way out of Salem and east towards the falls, a beautiful blur of farms and wineries passed by our windows. We drove through the charming town of Silverton, named after the same creek that runs through it. The road led us upwards past mountain homes and farm life, we even spotted a llama or two. Rain turned to snow and we turned to our trusted directions. Prior to the trip, we had googled and even asked other Instagramers how in the world to find these hard to reach waterfalls. It proved very useful.
Eventually, the paved road led to a dirt one. Snow covered the ground in patches. We followed the unmarked wooded drive to a single dirt lane until the road was too jagged to continue.
On foot we followed the road in the company of tall evergreens and the birds.
We were glad to have stopped driving when we did. The road deteriorated to sunken holes and jagged toddler-sized rocks.
And when we spotted the trailhead marker we entered the forest, whimsical, green, and quiet. The trail was muddy at first and then dropped off sharply as we neared the river. Trail ropes helped as we lowered ourselves down through the roots and the mud. We dipped and climbed over fallen trees, green from moss. The sound of the wind through the trees was loud.
When we made it down, the edge of the water was covered in lichen covered trees, making it look like a page out of a Dr. Seuss book.
Huge mossy boulders lined the clear river. We climbed carefully over them as we followed the river in the direction we were told. We could hear the falls before we could see it.
And when we rounded the bend, it was there, in all its misty glory, stopping our hearts–Abiqua Falls.
The basalt stacks were glistening orange and green. We stood at the edge of the water turning in circles. The mist clung to every part of us, camera lens included. We took turns standing in front of the other to block the mist, while the other wiped it clean.
Chris considered to wade across the knee-deep river but it was far too cold. I nixed the idea, despite pleads. The cold creeped into our rain jackets and wouldn’t let go. Before climbing back up the hillside through the mud, we stopped to snack. Two hikers had come down the hillside at a further point and were wobbling over the rocky riverside. “So you took the hard trail?” Chris asked. One of them stayed silent as they passed while the other exclaimed, “Yeah, it was pretty bad. It this the trail to hike back up?”
The trip up was almost worse than going down, but we made it up quickly and back to the road. As we neared our car, a Prius pulled up and a woman asked, “Is this the way to the waterfall?” We pointed to her clearance and said, “Yes, but we don’t suggest going further in that thing.” Of course, the idiot guy with her told her to keep going, to which she did. Still wonder how that worked out for them…
On our way towards Eugene, we warmed up with tea and coffee in Silverton. We sang our lungs out to Lights as we drove the hour and a half through the valley, the mountains watching in the distance. When we arrived in Eugene, we followed a windy road narrow enough for just one vehicle up a hilly neighborhood that eventually turned into a park–Hendricks Park. The park sits at the top of the Fairmont neighborhood, a quirky, well-to-do, jungle neighborhood–that’s how I would describe it. It was weird and beautiful–chicken coops, steep driveways leading to glass-walled hillside mansions, small, garden patios glowing from string lights, shingle siding–all under a green canopy of forest.
We pulled up to a tall, rectangle home with sister porches, one on top of the other with rockers. A dead tree sat in the side yard with an overgrown garden and table with a Buddha statue. A three-legged cat hobbled, sat on the porch, and hobbled away into the garden as we climbed the steep driveway and to the side door.
Our Airbnb was a comfortable mother suite, cabin-like and woodsy. We were very comfortable and happy to be resting finally. That night we ate Thai food and life was good.
We had heavy bones this morning. It took extra work to get out of bed. With the suggestion of our host, we had breakfast at Studio One, an unassuming place converted from an old home.
We were to visit three sister waterfalls in the mountains–Spirit Falls, Moon Falls, and Pinard Falls. We stopped at a ranger station on way. The old man behind the counter stared at me until I was forced to ask for trail maps. He got up slowly, saying, “Yyyyeaup” and handed me two brochures from the wall. He mumbled something about conditions but didn’t appear alarmed or too concerned to even be understood.
On our way to the first falls, we passed the most bizarre collections of things–roadside homes falling to pieces, trash all over lawns and front porches, discarded tires, old vehicles, buses, tarp covered things, a biodome and teepee.
The road narrowed, the trees got greener, and we easily found the trail marker. The hike to the falls wasn’t as difficult as it was muddy. I took out the 50mm to document the tiny, delicate details.
We were not expecting Spirit Falls. I felt like we had just transported out of Bambi. I waited for a little animal to crawl out of its home and start talking to us about our day. We stayed and monkeyed our way in and around the trees to the pebbles and waterside, the mist not an issue.
Time passed. Not believing our luck, we kept watching the trail for another hiker. No one ever came. Not even as we pulled ourselves away from the peaceful moment.
Once back in the car, we continued on the main road. Permanent signs pointed us in the directions of the other falls, Pinard and Moon, three miles in different directions. We picked left and drove as far as we could–the snow coverage went from nothing to a foot within minutes of climbing the mountain. Chris stopped at one point, reversing about a half mile until there was a clearing.
We traveled back down the mountain and took a right, hoping at least we would be able to see two of the three falls. Up again we drove, hitting snow just as before, and eventually stopping when it was too high to drive through. At one point, the car started sliding towards the edge of the road but Chris corrected. We backed up to a clearing to regain our nerves, said fuck it, and drove on until we parked and started walking. Not long after getting out to walk, the tire tracks ran out and we gave up, unable to compete without serious snow gear.
We were really hungry at this point. I snacked on a day old muffin and granola bars. As we returned to what felt like normal heights, we saw an old man on a bike and looked at each other with confusion–where the fuck is he going?
Since our excursions ended sooner than expected, we grabbed quick Jack in the Box and strolled around Hendricks park, tried finding some roses at Owen’s rose garden, and then headed to the Whiteaker neighborhood to eat and drink (a suggestion made by dear friend Mookie Tierney). We got some IPA’s from Ninkasi Brewing, pizza from the Pizza Research Institute, and walked around the neighborhood. It was weird as hell.
We passed a housing cooperative, much like an apartment complex with orange, yellow, and purple houses. Each had a tiny yard or patio that faced the sidewalk and glass sliding doors that allowed pedestrians to see inside each home, offering a sample of life from each one. As we passed, we saw a mother and two children with legos all over the floor and odds and ends stacked and balancing everything; a man sitting in a dark room, his face lit from his computer screen; a woman laying on her couch, a book in her nose; each tiny rectangular room stuffed with life.
As we turned the block, the front of the cooperative had a sign that explained the most eccentric thing I’ve ever heard in my life. It basically described the purpose of the cooperative was a self-governing, self-sustaining ecosystem meant to establish a balance of purpose and use. Still pondering the oddity that we just witnessed, we passed an overgrown yard with extensive decorating, furniture and signs saying, “watering hole.” Two beards sat having an existential conversation on the porch.
It was our earliest morning. We were up and out by 7am just in time to say hello and goodbye to the wild and fat turkeys crossing the street in the neighborhood. We drove through the early morning fog and gloom of the valley, sipping our Dutch Bros coffee. Fog clung to the top of the mountains and pockets of light dared to shine through. We were ready for the scenic North Umpqua River highway.
The highway led to rolling hills, the road followed alongside a valley and turquoise river. We stopped to say hello to some horses and then pulled over soon after to let a herd of cows pass. It was like my life flashed before my eyes. It was my moment. At one moment, Chris saw them coming in the distance, straight for us. He pulled over and gave me a five second pep talk, “This is your chance!” Cows, for those who don’t know, are my spirit animals. Their precious, big faces and brown eyes–how could you eat one?! But I got nervous. They looked really big as they neared, as did their horns. Their moooos grew louder and louder. Three men on four-wheelers herded them along the road and as they trampled past, so did their stench. We gagged as we drove away, learning later that there was cow shit on our tires.
The rolling hills eventually led to a forested highway, running the length of the turquoise river. We had hoped to eat an early lunch at the Steamboard Inn (a suggestion made by dear friend Bridget Ayers Looby) but it was closed as we rolled on by. We stopped at a log, roadside shop and got snacks and water.
Our first stop was Toketee falls, where we followed a beautiful, sunny trail that clearly was meant for high traffic. Wooden platforms reinforced parts of the trail. It was a short walk to the platform, overlooking Toketee in all her glory.
Chris couldn’t help himself and jumped from the platform to a steep trail to the water’s edge. I held my breath, as I usually do, catching glimpses of him as he disappeared into the trees. I didn’t spot him for another 15 minutes. I thought about what I would say if he never came back. “Hey, can you help me? My husband is lost.”
As time passed, I grew less worried as I watched a couple teenage girls slip down the trail and out of sight. Maybe I’m the loser, I thought. Soon after, I spotted Chris and his tripod at the water’s edge. He gave me a big thumbs up and continued on.
When he finally crawled back up, all I could ask was, “So??” He gave me the stupidest shit grin and dropped his head, speechless. He sighed and looked at me with wide eyes and smiled and sighed again.
Based on the teenage girls suggestion, we got off trail again to stand atop massive boulders and watch the swirling blue pools above the falls.
Our next stop was Watson Falls. The trail uphill wasn’t very long but it was steep. No bother, though–the trail was lined with wide, ancient trees that soared straight to the clouds. A few had been cut and I estimated they were 300 to 400 years old.
Before long, we were standing next to Watson, a falls so tall we had to walk back through it’s rocky, grassy valley to turn around and see it all.
On our way back, we argued about our options: calling it a day and getting food, or trying to locate one last waterfall–Grotto falls. Chris won, but our attempts were fruitless as the elevation climbed too high for us to pass the snow again. I closed my eyes in defeat and Chris drove us the rest of the way to the city of Roseburg. We ate at McMenamins Roseburg Station Pub & Brewery, where I swear the bathroom came straight out of an episode of Peaky Blinders and I had the happiest food feast (pretzel sticks and fish n’ chips).
At the end of the day, Chris drove us back to Eugene. Together we sang Caitlyn Smith at top of our lungs. As we rested, Chris laid on the bed in front of his computer, huffing and puffing at his pictures. He was happy. That night we decided, despite the couple failed attempts, we would try one more day of waterfalls, instead of returning to the coast.
In the morning, we eavesdropped on a grandfather and grandson breakfast date as we ate our omelets at the IHOP in town. “Why are your eyes so squinty?” the boy asked. “Because I don’t have my glasses on.” Grandfather explained the lessons of life; drink 8 glasses of water a day, don’t eat your butter before your pancakes (and it’s not whipped cream it’s butter), that’s not a tortilla it’s a crepe, and oh by the way, your great uncle Herald made sausages for this restaurant when it first opened. Grandfather said, “You’re supposed to strike up conversation with the people you’re with,” and the boy put his phone down.
On our last drive out to the falls (Sahalie and Koosah Falls), we listened to the Doobie Brothers and Fleetwood Mac. The fog looked like smoke through the trees, making it hard to see. We stopped once for gas and water. When I came out of the restroom, Chris was jumping a local couple about to drive to Arizona. They were very appreciative and told us the falls were worth the visit.
Along the way, we passed many more storefronts, speciality shops, and mom and pop motels, catering to the tourists of the area, much like the North Shore of Minnesota. The first falls were right off the main road. Right away, we could feel how cold it had gotten between Eugene and the Willamette forest. We didn’t have the place to ourselves as we did the days prior–other cars were in the parking lot already. The path leading to the Sahalie Falls was pure ice and we slid down it, clinging to the wooden railing. The sun was in the worst possible spot for photos, hitting the falls dead on.
We continued on the path that follows the river until we reached the top of the other falls.
We hiked further until we could turn around and have a clear shot of Koosah. The sun was crushing the falls, making the forest itself more pleasing to photograph. I felt like a little frog, perched on a fallen tree, watching others roam around.
When we were done exploring, we stopped for food at Vida Cafe for a yummy lunch. As we ate, I read a news clipping on the wall. The cafe, built in 1951, had burned down in 2015 and rebuilt within just a year. With a picture of a building engulfed in flames came the story about the cafe’s reopening–an early morning crowd, still in pajamas and rollers, waited dutifully to return to their beloved cafe. Underneath was a black and white photo of a woman named Vida.
We did not sing this time. As we drove back to Eugene, we sat silent listening to the “Stars” playlist–Chris’ favorite mashup of instrumental music. That afternoon we took a hard nap and then got drinks and food at another McMenamins, this one just down the hill from our Airbnb. That night we shared some photos with our Airbnb host and thanked her for the hospitality and care. We couldn’t wait to return.
On our last day, we drove back to Portland and did what we needed to do. We ordered multiple cake donuts from Blue Star donuts and then explored the bookshelves of Powell’s City of Books.
We tried again for roses at the International Rose Test Garden (always Ali’s request).
After arguing about what to do next, we waited in line for the Japanese garden (which ended up NOT being a total waste of crowded time).
After the gardens, we went to the St. Johns neighborhood in search of something that turned out to be closed down. We grabbed a quick beer from St. Johns Beer porch, and then drove across town, seeking out Italian from Gumba (my god).
Eventually, we turned in. Our hotel for the night was right next to the airport, making it easy to get up and out early the next morning. If you’re looking for more photos of the trip, find them at the explore Oregon page!
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