Why Not Run Away to Mary’s Peak?

DSCN4147After listening all day Thursday to the Senate Judiciary Committee testimony about sexual abuse, I needed a getaway day. So on Friday I ran away to Mary’s Peak.

It was so foggy on the coast I wondered if this would be another opportunity to drive for two hours to see nothing, but by the time I stopped in Alsea, population 164, about 30 miles up narrow, winding Highway 34, it was clear and hot. Since I hadn’t planned ahead, I was worried about running out of gas. How far was this dang mountain? When I saw the big GAS sign at a no-name station with one line of pumps, I pulled in. Honk or walk across to John Boy’s Mercantile to fetch the attendant, said a sign. I honked. Two people resting on a bench out front of the store looked up, and I suppose they alerted the lanky white-haired man who ambled across to fill my tank. We chatted about the weather—yep, warm here–and the need for a runaway day. He agreed it was a good idea. He reminded me of the handsome actor Sam Elliott. I wondered whether he was John Boy and whether he was single. Probably not.

DSCN4141$3.60 a gallon? Whatever. I was off on my adventure. Just before Milepost 48, I turned left at the Mary’s Peak sign and drove an even narrower, windier road for about nine miles. At the top, just past a campground, I turned into the parking lot, my jaw dropping in amazement. No, not at the view, at the cars. The parking lot was full, including two busloads of kids. So much for sitting quietly staring into the distance.

At 4,097 feet, Mary’s Peak is the highest point in Oregon’s Coast Range and the most prominent peak to the west of Corvallis. On a clear day, you can see both the Pacific Ocean to the west and many of the Cascade peaks to the east across the Willamette Valley. Unfortunately, on Friday, the view to the west was all foggy goo, and the rest was a bit hazy, but it was much better than the one time I came up with Fred and couldn’t see anything.

DSCN4132There’s not much up there at the top. No real shelter from heat or rain, no food or water, a couple picnic tables, a self-pay fee station ($5), pit toilets, and several trails.

I picked one of the shorter, shadier trails clinging to the steep mountainside. Man, it was a long way down from there. The trail went up and up, merging with a switchback trail that emerged into dry grass and looped back to the parking lot. My legs got a workout after two months of slow easy walks with Annie, who is still recovering from knee surgery. I saw crickets and yellow jackets, dusty little birds, deciduous trees coming into full fall color, and hikers in couples, groups, and packs. Many sported fancy walking poles, which might have been helpful. A hat would have been good, too. By the time I saw the yellow buses in the distance, I was hot, and my own gimpy knee ordered me to sit down. So I did.

DSCN4146I considered eating the healthy snacks I had brought, then decided I would rather sit in an air-conditioned restaurant sipping iced tea, eating French fries, and reading my library book. So I did. Taphouse, Philomath, good grub. Close to Highway 20, which offered a much easier ride home into the cool fog and a suspicious dog who sniffed me all over, wondering where I went without her.

The upper road to Mary’s Peak is closed during the winter, although the park is still open to cross country skiing and other non-motorized sports. For more information about trails, camping, etc., visit the website.

 

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Highway 58 detour worth every mile

img_20160906_101219591For 20 years, I’ve been driving back and forth from my home on the Oregon coast to San Jose, California, where my family lives. I usually take I-5, a straight shot inland, or, if there’s snow in the mountains, I take Highway 101 along the coast. See the same things, stop at the same places, no time for side trips, tempting as they are. It takes me about 13 hours.

This time was different. I scheduled in extra time for a vacation. Just outside Eugene, I left I-5 and headed southeast on Oregon Highway 58. I wanted to see some of the sights I’d seen in the winter on the train and take a little time for myself.  I wanted to see waterfalls and lakes. I wanted to hike in the high country. I wanted to sit by a river and write poetry. I wanted to see the tiny towns along the way and end up in Klamath Falls where my grandmother started her teaching career a little over a hundred years ago. So I did.

Everything published about Highway 58 emphasizes that it leads to Crater Lake, and yes, you can get there that way, but I had already seen Crater Lake several times. I was seeking new territory. Over the next few posts, I plan to share some of that country with you. Did it bother me to be a woman traveling alone? Maybe it should have, but no. I enjoyed my freedom.

Things didn’t start off great as I left home on Labor Day. It killed me to leave Annie, who is not a good traveler. Assuring her she’d have a great time with her dog sitter, “Auntie Jo,” did not keep her from following me around with her tail hanging low. Then I discovered the restaurant where I had my heart set on eating lunch–Eats & Treats in Philomath, so good–is not open on Mondays. So I forged on, taking a different route to Eugene, only to get miserably lost. Thank God for GPS. I ended up eating lunch at the kind of diner where they vacuum around your feet while the waitress hollers, “Whatcha gonna have?” The chicken tortilla soup with two chunks of chicken and four tortilla squares floating on top set my stomach on fire.

dscn4040But then I got out of the city and encountered the first of two covered bridges on this route. The Lowell Covered Bridge is located at the Dexter Reservoir. Ah! Water, trees, blue sky. Also a restroom. I took pictures of the bridge and sank onto a bench to stare at the lake. Now we were on vacation.

Down the road, I came to the Office Bridge. It has openings for both cars and pedestrians. Walk or drive through into a big park with covered picnic areas and hiking trails. I could have sat there and stared at the Willamette River flowing below forever. Note that the directions I got online were wrong. I kept looking for West Road. I think it was a typo. Simply take the Westfir exit off 58 and follow the signs for three miles. There’s a store and a resort there for those who want to stay a while.

img_20160905_154516584Having gotten a late start and gotten lost a couple times, I hadn’t really gotten far from Eugene, but that wasn’t the point. I spent the night in Oakridge, population 3,200. I toured the “downtown business district.” It was pretty quiet on the holiday. Everything was coated in dust from months of no rain. Relaxing at the Best Western (yes, they have one), I noticed the phone book: six yellow pages for business, 32 pages total. The phone book is published by the local newspaper, the Dead Mountain Echo, not a bad local weekly. Why would anybody stay here, I thought. But I learned it’s a hub for mountain bikers, of which there were plenty, and folks also make beer there. They even have a Keg and Cask festival in August. Being only two hours from Eugene if you don’t mess around, Oakridge has a small-town feel with access to big-city amenities.

At dinnertime, I was surprised to find a Mazatlan Mexican restaurant in town and even more surprised that the food was fabulous. Shame on me for stereotyping small towns.

In the morning, surprise! It was raining. What? I had all these hiking plans and this list of stops: hot spring, waterfalls, trails, lakes. Rain? The guy at the gas station was deliriously happy to see water coming out of the sky and hoped for lots more. Sure, but today? I get plenty of rain at home. Never mind, we Oregonians carry on.

Somehow I missed the McCreadie Hot Springs–darned online directions again–but I found the biggest waterfall. Cascading 286 feet, Salt Creek Falls is the second highest waterfall in Oregon, Multnomah being the highest. It was worth the wet walk. Oh my gosh. The trail took me along the creek until it suddenly fell off a ledge and there were the falls, so big, so white, falling deep into a canyon below. My camera can’t portray the way it made me feel. Deep breath.

From the waterfall, I started off on one of the many trails, but it was just too wet, and I feared I would slip and fall into the creek. Nobody knew where I was. Bad idea. Back on the road. Waldo Lake, Diamond Peak, the Willamette Pass Ski Resort, Crescent Lake, Odell Lake, the turnoff to Crater Lake, and finally Klamath Falls, where I pigged out on a Reuben sandwich at Elmer’s and checked into the Holiday Inn Express. Back in civilization again. But that’s another story. If you’re in the mood to wander, check out Highway 58. There are lots of trains, more waterfalls to see, campgrounds and picnic areas, and places to ski. (Bring chains in the winter.The Willamette Pass is over 5,000 feet.)

BTW, I hear truckers take it south to California because it’s faster than I-5. Not the way I did it.