The Pacific Northwest: Road trip memories no. 1
A narrative about a road trip to the Pacific Northwest including must see places to visit.
What is the most beautiful place you have ever met?
When you shook its hand, did you notice the grip? How strong it was?
I met a place in Oregon, deep in damp green forests, that still has not let go of its firm hold, nor do I think it ever will.
Summer 2015, my sister and I rented a car, packed it with essentials and headed up Highway 5 from the Bay Area.
First stop Humboldt County. I have visited this area before and wanted to share the magic of its beauty with my sister. We traversed our way along the North Jetty of Samoa Beach jumping over puddles and climbing over rocks. Next we drove north where we camped at Patrick's Point State Park. We hiked around the grounds - Ceremonial Rock - and walked down the trail to Agate Beach where we enjoyed a sherbet colored sunset. We cuddled in our tent giggling up a storm and ironically awoke to a rainy morning. We threw all our wet gear in the car and headed North.
We had a long list of hikes and viewpoints before our next stop, so getting an early start to the day was great. However, the rain did put a slight damper on us. Unfortunately, we did not have four-wheel drive, so Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park with the magical Fern Canyon was unreachable. It was wet and muddy. Even though this driveway looked unbelievably impossible, we tried anyways.
We reached the entrance of the tunnel of trees that ascended steeply. Tiny streams of water trickled down the road towards us. I drove strategically toward this slope and slid back down...Nope, not going to risk that. My sister was devastated because Fern Canyon was number one on her bucket list for our road trip. 'A' for effort? I promised we would come back someday. We jumped back on the freeway after smashing a couple puddles and continued North.
The journey is the adventure.
Next on our list was Crater Lake. When taking a road trip with my mother and sister five years prior my Mother offered to take us to the magnificent Crater Lake. She beamed as she spoke of this magical body of water, however, impatient and less grateful children we were wanted to trudge along on our long drive to Idaho. To this day I wish we had stopped, but I have had the opportunity to visit two times since sadly rejecting the tranquil deep blue landscape my Mother offered to show us.
After taking in the smells and chills of Crater Lake my sister and I headed down the mountainside. The next stop on our way to crash at a friends house in Eugene was a unique challenge we had created for ourselves.
One year before this trip I went on a mission with a friend to find secluded hot springs in Umpqua National Forest. No luck. We searched high and low and were not able to bask in their glory. So one year later my sister and I were on a strict mission with a little more direction and a lot more passion.
We drove deep in the forested landscape, no more cellular service, no more lights, no more paved roads. We were in deep and we were on our own. Thankfully it was still early afternoon, so we parked in the gravel lot and got out of our car. The directions we had were extremely vague and confusing. They included a gravel lot, bridge, trailhead, and steep climb.After we got out of the car I remembered every trail I had been down when I was searching a year ago. Going over my memories and aligning the directions with everything I did before, I tried to rule out the paths to nowhere. We started hiking down a trail that was over a bridge and to the right. There was a sign that said hot springs, so we thought we were getting warmer (haha...hot springs).
The trail followed along a shallow lake and did not seem to get much steeper, which was inconsistent with our directions. We started running through the forest when the trail headed somewhat upward... but then went downward again almost like a roller coaster. Running like forest nymphs getting excited thinking the snaking trail heading somewhat upward was leading us to our treasure...nope. It opened up to a service road...where are we?We walk down a path towards the lake: Dead end.
We were about to give up and jump in the freezing lake then head to our sleep spot. Enter scene: Fellow hot spring seekers. A couple followed us to this dead end, we chatted about not understanding the directions and both trying to find the chillest place to get hot. Enter scene: Mystical trail guide...some random middle aged man walks down the dead end trail towards us. He asks if we are trying to find the hot springs, he knows the area...and has a working phone? He pulls up Google and shows us a map then disappears back into the forest. To this day I do not believe he was a real person, but whoever he was he guided us in the right direction. But it does not end there.
The couple, my sister, and I started heading towards the road from the trail we went down. Mind you, the directions we had when we departed our car said a fourth a mile of walking to get to the hot springs. We had hiked, ran, jumped, and frolicked three miles at this point in flip flops, bathing suits, and towels around our neck--not ideal. We were exhausted, mentally, emotionally, and physically especially knowing we had at least two miles back to the car. We chose to take the gravel road back because we felt it was shorter than hiking through the forest on the trail. We thought when we finally got to the car we would be able to find the springs thanks to the directions from the mystical trail guide. So walk we did in our flip flops down the gravel road...one or two cars passed us and we thought about asking for a ride.
We were in pain, a car was approaching. I stuck my thumb out, a gesture I never thought I would do in a million years.
The girl who is afraid of running in her suburban neighborhood alone is now sticking her thumb out with no cell service, in the middle of Oregon forests where no one knows where she is...and a van is creeping up to us. It slows to a stop and slides open the side door. There were no seats, just mountains and valleys of junk: camping supplies, clothes, and blankets covering the floor. Just like you would see in a movie, smoke and scents escaped from the vehicle and four eccentrically eclectic hippies ask us if were going to the hot springs. We all released a sigh of relief -- yes.
All four of us crawl into the van as cozy as we can be, but so happy not to be walking on gravel anymore. They dropped us at our car and told us to follow them around the bend. We begged them to wait for us and not drive away without us because we did not want to have to continue to search for these springs.
We got in the car and followed the van about 700 feet around the corner of trees. There we saw a party happening. Music blaring: vans, buses, cars basically having a block party in the parking lot. Half-clothed characters strewn about...no way were were this close and could not find it. We were dumbfounded. Even the first time I came searching for the springs...we were so insanely close.
Such a relief to finally find hidden treasure.
We parked in the gravel lot (check) and jumped out of the car. Saw a trailhead (check), headed over the bridge (check), and hiked up a steep hill (final check). It was so easy it seems silly this glorious place almost escaped my grasp twice. When we got to the top landing our eyes opened wide--we hit the motherland of naked hippies!
We made our way over to a pool and slid in, so warm and cozy. This is hands down one of the most supernatural places I have ever been. It is so extraordinary that it is hard to describe visually, but I will do my best. (Except for the naked hippies, I hope you do not visualize those too much).
Four large pools jetted out from the mountainside looking out on the forest and a creek below. The top of the four pools was the warmest and the water flowed down from each to a lower pool. The bottom pool was the coolest. Finally, we made it. We felt obligated to get back on the road soon since we were suppose to check in with our friend in Eugene hours ago, so we relaxed in the pools for a bit then headed back to the car before dark.
Timing on road trips can be tricky, and you need at least a little light to see the end of the tunnel. I was a little nervous… if anything else slowed us down, night would have beat us. Always hard to leave, we did not hit the main highway until dark. We drove back out of the winding road toward our sleep destination, Eugene.
After resting we got back on the road the next morning. We heard of a picture perfect waterfall and swimming hole that we were dying to visit. After our challenge the day before we felt prepared for anything.
The oasis we were searching for was called Abiqua Falls, just above Goober Creek and to the left of Crooked Finger...I am not joking. As easy as a map looks to read, the roads do not always follow suit.
Not far past Silver Falls State Park lives a cluster of waterfalls and swimming holes not broadcasted to the public, so you might as well just call it the middle of no where. Home to tranquillity that I cannot even begin to explain, you will need to take a visit at least once in your lifetime to see for yourself. Whether it be Crater Lake, Umpqua Hot Springs, or Abiqua Falls…any of them will give new life to the phrase, “a whole other world.”
We stopped at Silver Falls State Park to ask a ranger the directions to the splashy, yet not well-known: Abiqua Falls. [Side-note: Silver Falls State Park is absolutely stunning and very well paved and laid out for travelers to view grand waterfalls. However, we wanted a bigger challenge.] The ranger had no idea these falls existed, but showed us the way to travel towards the point we showed on our map. Seriously, a diamond in the rough.
Nothing beautiful comes easy.
We continued down Crooked Finger Road until it turned to gravel. A little sketched out because we did not have four-wheel drive, we slowly drove on. We had no idea where we were going. We stopped to park outside a farm house on the side of the road to revisit the once again vague and not-updated-with-cell-service map. A man approached our car, we hesitantly opened the window. He asked if we needed help. We were nervous to admit we were lost in this deserted backcountry, so we just asked if he know where we could find Abiqua Falls. He said keep driving, you will drive over a cow grate then pass an outhouse, after that take a left and follow the road down. Sounded easy enough, so we did not ask any questions. Again though, there were many cow grates and many left turns. We took a risk and gambled on a left turn.
We were deep in Marion County, I am surprised we found our way back out. Nerves and frustration crept into our minds. Were we on the right path? Should we turn back?
The left turn opened up to a gigantic desert looking valley. All the trees and dense forest we had been traveling though disappeared. We drove to the valley edge and parked. We were exhausted from driving all day and searching all afternoon. We stepped out of the car to stretch. Where were these waterfalls?
Very faintly I heard something in the distance. Highway traffic? No. Car overheating? No.
Crashing water? I glared over at my sister, she did not hear it yet. I said, do you hear what I hear? She listened closer and responded asking if that was water. I responded by saying, it has got to be! We looked in the direction of the sound. A one-way steep gravel road sloped downward at about forty-five degrees. We saw a van hesitantly traveling up it, however, we were in a car that barely made it down a gravel road...do we risk it? I made an executive decision. We came this far, I can hear the falls, we are taking the risk.
You gotta risk it for the biscuit.
Slowly creeping down the slope I prayed we would be able to make it back up the hill. The dry desert-like downward slope led to a dense tunnel of trees ahead. We reached the dark green entrance, held our breath and crossed the threshold.
We pulled up to a gravel parking lot and got out of the car. The sign read Butte Creek Falls. Even though it was not the falls we were searching for we were game! We saw all of two other cars in the lot, both on their way out as we made our way in, so not a soul was in sight. We jumped out of the car and ran towards the trailhead. We were craving a waterfall, any waterfall at this point would do. I looked past the trees and dense greenery, and down into the valley below. I saw colors so vibrant--greens, browns, tans, purples, and blues. Colors I have never seen anywhere before, and the silence…the silence (all except the waterfall) was the best part. So quiet and still, it was like time had frozen. No picture or video will ever be able to translate the feeling of what it was like to see nature in its purest form. I had to put my camera down for a little, because some things are solely meant to be looked at naturally, and not from behind a lens...
In life, in love… sometimes you need to set aside the distractions to be able to see things as they truly are. Look, listen, and appreciate. There’s magic that exists in everything. We hiked down a slippery trail towards the swimming hole below. The view was magnificent. An oval-shaped cave caressed by crisp white streams of water crashing over it like a curtain. We stripped down to our swim suits and walked into the rocky shallow edge. Rock piles ruled the lower end of the waterfall that emptied into a creek. The water was ice cold, but we drove this far-we were going to take a dip in it. We turned our GoPro back on and jumped into the shallow water.
The natural explorers we are wanted more. We climbed around to the cave hidden by the curtain of water. Walking along the dirt edge inside the cave we scrambled up and across fallen logs almost like tight-rope performers, but more wobbly. The water on this side of the falls was enticing. We dove in again. This time surfacing to the crashing curtain of falls on our heads.
Content we were. Sometimes in search of something specific, you find something you never would have found. We found happiness that day. This is my most vivid memory from our trip and I will never forget it.
Think of a place that pulls you in. Grabs you.
It pours its beauty and secrets into a mold surrounding your heart and leaves a bit of magic, forever lingering in your essence. Certain places have this hold, casting a sweet spell over their possessor.
For me, that place is off the beaten trail in Oregon. It’s somewhere that I will never quite be able to fully digest why I love it so, I just know that I like to be there. No matter what season, no matter what part… it is my favorite.