Dry Creek Falls Whets (Wets) the Appetite
With spring time finally hitting Oregon, one of my favorite activities is to hit the hiking trail in search of blooming wildflowers, which are abundant all along the Columbia River Gorge.
Brad and I chose to head to Dry Creek Falls, which starts right in the town of Cascade Locks. The magnificent Bridge of the Gods dominates this part of the Gorge which is one of the few crossing points into Washington. Right before you cross the bridge, there’s a small rest area – and that’s exactly where we parked, as the trail head starts right there. There are also lots of signs for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which uses this point to cross the Columbia River into Oregon.
I’ve always wanted to explore this area because I couldn’t quite figure out how the PCT gets across the I-84 freeway, and I quickly found out. We started up a small embankment, and then ducked below an underpass for Moody Street which goes right under the freeway.
Amazingly, despite being so close to the freeway, the sounds quickly disappeared and we found ourselves in a lush forest and a trail bounded on both sides by bleeding heart, a delicate early blooming plant with appropriately named flowers and lacy leaves. Soon, all we heard was bird song as we rambled our way deeper into the forest. Soon, vanilla leaf graced the trail, and I was stopping every few feet to take another photo as delicate flowers extended their showy faces towards the timid springtime sun.
We had stopped for a few minutes for a quick water break when I spotted the first fairy slipper orchid. Virtually leafless when it first blooms, it is the only native orchid to Oregon. I was transfixed- had only seen this particular plant last year for the first time in higher altitudes later in the seasons after the snows had retreated. One photo that I snapped captured the happy face of the orchid and the exquisite details of the flower. Gorgeous!
As fascinating as the flora was at this point, our real destination lay with Dry Creek Falls, a seldom-visited waterfall. We got there just as the sun was breaking over the top of it, and we marveled in the solitude of this special place. We hadn’t even seen any other people on the trail, so we had the place to our selves, which is pretty common here in Oregon.
The falls were gorgeous, carved basaltic rock which had been smoothed over the millennia… well, as smooth as hard volcanic rock can be! The verdant base of the falls was full of lush grasses and would be an incredible oasis during the heat of the summer.
At the base of the falls, the city of Cascade Locks apparently used to use Dry Creek as part of their water supply, so there are some remnants of their water control structures left here, but are non-functioning today. It was a bit of an antique backdrop to these cataracts.
After this portion of the hike, which I deemed easy, Brad and I decided to add to the hike and turned to cross Dry Creek to head towards Herman Creek. Our destination? The Pinnacles, which are huge volcanic obelisks jutting skyward. We had visited them earlier this winter, but thought it would be a nice scenic addition to our hike today to boost the mileage and stretch our legs a bit more. The one thing to be aware of once spring sets in is that this area is right at the transition point where parts of the Columbia Gorge get drier, and with less rain, that changes the terrain to include more scrub oak, and the hiker’s pest: poison oak. And sure enough, in what would otherwise look like vertical sticks poking out of the ground up to about four feet high, the shiny three-leaved pest plant was just starting to germinate. Brad and I had our long pants on, fortunately, but I was pretty sure that despite my acrobatics, I was unintentionally brushing up against the plants. That’s usually a problem the farther east you go out into the Gorge… in some areas, the poison oak plant can reach heights of up to 5-6 feet! Wearing shorts is definitely not advisable during warmer weather…
We reached the Pinnacles and ate a brief lunch, savoring the moment and quietness. I sat in a sunny patch, soaking up the rays, almost oblivious to the pointed stare from the dogs who were more intensely interested in my granola bars!
Finally, we headed back, and saw our first hikers of the day- seemed like everyone else got a late start. I was still madly snapping photos of the many flowers along the trail, including a purple one that I later identified as a starflower.
Our end mileage for the day? About 8.6 miles, which is pretty good. It’s a good conditioning hike for the mountains we’ll be hiking later this summer… I can’t wait!