Thursday, January 26, 2012

Big Southwest Loop

I mapped out this big loop walk about a year ago to give myself a challenge, and also to help prepare for more difficult multi-day backpacking trips. It's become one of my favorite walks of all time, but I need to set aside a good four hours dedicated to walking. Nearly three of those hours are actually spent walking, with the balance set aside for travel time.

My childhood was spent in Southwest Portland, attending Bridlemile Elementary School and Wilson High School. During some of those years, I walked the southwest hills delivering the evening newspaper, The Oregon Journal. This loop covers some familiar territory, and also a good stretch of new walking trails that have been added more recently.

Today I started near the South Park Blocks in downtown Portland. I walked south through the PSU campus, then followed main streets to Terwilliger Boulevard and Sam Jackson Park Road. From here I entered the Marquam Nature Park and followed the Marquam Trail to the top of Council Crest. I continued along the Marquam/4T Trail, along city streets and then through the woods to Highway 26 and the Oregon Zoo. From there I followed the Wildwood Trail through a section of Hoyt Arboretum and Washington Park, dropping down to the Japanese Garden. I walked along the access road to the Rose Test Garden, down along the Washington Park Reservoirs, to the Vista Bridge. I crossed to the high side of the Vista Bridge and then walked down Market Street Drive back into the city.

The total distance is about 8.5 miles and takes nearly 3 hours, walking at three miles per hour. All of the trails allow dogs, so today I walked with my Shetland Sheep Dog, "Smokey". He was very well behaved and made friends with at least a dozen other dogs that were also out for a walk.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mount Talbert Nature Park

A large oak tree at the summit of Mt. Talbert
On December 4th, I returned to another favorite place to hike, Mount Talbert Nature Park. There are basically two loop trails at this park. One circumnavigates the base of Mount Talbert, and the other goes up to the summit and back down the other side. The last time I tried the lower loop trail, a portion of it was closed, forcing me to turn back the way I came. This time, I wanted a short but energetic walk, so I chose the summit loop. I don't know if the lower loop still has a closed section. According to one source, people generally ignore the "closed" sign and hike the loop anyway.

The summit trail is a moderate climb. It's easy enough for most beginner hikers, but difficult enough to get your heart pumping and your legs working. If you're quiet, you might catch sight of a deer in the forest. Keep your camera ready and you might get a photo like at least one hiker did. I've hiked this trail five or six times and I have seen a doe with a fawn on one occasion, but it's not a common sight.

The summit of Mt. Talbert is rather unremarkable in my opinion. There are no views to speak of, and perhaps the only real reward is that you get a little relief as you transition from uphill to downhill. On the downhill side, my favorite part of the trail is a short boardwalk across a swampy open meadow. There are lots of ferns and mosses and it's rather nice to experience the open feeling of the meadow.

This park in the heart of eastside suburbia is another example of the great work the folks at Metro are doing to preserve some of the natural spaces for everyone to enjoy. Keep in mind that dogs are not permitted on the trails at Mt. Talbert. While our canine pals would certainly enjoy these natural spaces even more than most humans, the sensitive wildlife living there would most likely be overly stressed by their visits. Fortunately for us dog owners, there are plenty of other places to share with our pets.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Marquam Nature Park

Saturday was a beautiful, sunny, late fall day. Today was another story. It started cloudy and by noon the rain was falling. It so happens that I began my walk today at noon, and I was rained on steadily for the entire 80 minutes that I walked. This is Oregon, and in the words of Paul McCartney, "you've never felt the rain, my friend, 'til you've felt it running down your back." With the rain running down my back, I had a bit of an adventure on my nature walk today.

Last year I discovered a portion of the Marquam Trail that goes from the Marquam Shelter (near the bottom of SW Sam Jackson Park Road) all the way to the top of Council Crest, the highest elevation within the Portland City Limits. It's a good hill climb, but it's also a simple up-and-back. Today I wanted to try something different. I wanted to find an interesting loop hike.

I grew up in the 1960's and 70's on the shoulder of Council Crest, with the big red-and-white broadcasting tower blinking its aircraft warning lights into my bedroom window. I figured that I know that hill well enough to find my way around without consulting a map. And, for the most part, I was right.

Today I parked right at the summit of Council Crest and started my walk on the neighborhood streets. I walked down to Council Crest Drive and followed it to McDonnell Terrace, which connects to Fairmount Boulevard. At Fairmount, I turned left and walked the short distance to Marquam Hill Road. I started down Marquam Hill, keeping a sharp eye out for any side trails.

Not too far down the hill, eureka! A trail on the right headed into the woods along an old logging road. And, even better, it was marked with stakes. When I returned home, I discovered that this is called "Trail 1" on the Marquam Nature Park new trail plans. You can read more about it here, though you will probably need to register with an e-mail address first.

The trail was a bit muddy, but fortunately I was wearing my sturdy hiking boots. It was, in all honestly, really fun to hike down along this section. It amazes me that I can be this deep in the woods, yet less than two miles from the very heart of downtown Portland. After a short, mostly downhill walk, I came upon a section of the Marquam Trail that I haven't walked previously. You can see the "new" trail behind the trail marker sign (above). This is where the trail to Gaines Street crosses, also.

This was about the halfway point of my walk, and also about the lowest elevation. From here it's just over two miles of up and down (mostly up) to get back to Council Crest along the Marquam Trail. It's a good thing there are trail signs along the way, because it would be easy to take a wrong turn on the network of trails in this section.

The walk, rain or not, is very serene and peaceful. Perhaps because I grew up playing in these woods, I find them welcoming and comforting, and very pretty. But I also think that anybody, from anywhere, would find these trails to be a hidden treasure in the heart of Portland.

You can check out a map and detailed directions for this walk on my map page.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tryon Creek State Park

Tryon Creek Trail Map and Nature House
Sunrise this morning was just about 7:30am. I hit the road just after sunrise, heading to my favorite walking trails at Tryon Creek State Park. This park is located off of Terwilliger Boulevard, adjacent to the Lewis and Clark College campus, between the southwest Portland suburbs and Lake Oswego.

I've walked these trails at least twenty times. I really enjoy the ambiance of this park, with its tall, mature trees, its network of trails, and the many bridges and boardwalks along the way. Unlike many of the Metro Natural Areas, this park allows dogs on all of its trails. It also has an equestrian parking area and a decent amount of equestrian trails which are also open to foot traffic. The trail network connects to all of the adjoining neighborhoods, so I often park at a neighborhood trail head to add variety to my walks.

Sunbeams along Cedar Trail
This park is quite versatile! It's very popular with runners. In the early morning, such as today, I saw more runners than I did walkers. It is also an excellent place to bring kids or elderly people for a walk. There are short and easy walks which stay relatively flat, which are good for very small kids. As for me, I enjoy the longest possible hikes with lots of elevation change and as many bridge crossings as possible.

This morning I chose a nice, long 3.9 mile walk which includes a section of bicycle trail along Terwilliger. The sun had just risen and the sky was clear. There was just enough moisture in the air to create beautiful sun rays through the forest canopy and among the tree trunks. The air was cold and crisp, just below freezing at the start of my walk.

I am no fair-weather walker. Walking only during warm and dry weather would limit the experience. 
Iron Mountain Bridge
Nature has many faces, and many moods. I like to experience all of them.

Map and Trail Description

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cooper Mountain Nature Park

Sunday morning, I decided to check out Cooper Mountain Nature Park for the first time. This park is easily accessed from Beaverton and other west-side suburban neighborhoods, and is on the border of fairly dense residential areas and wide-open rural farmlands. Situated near the top of a hill, it has great views of the valley below. It also features a nice variety of habitats.

The trails allow a variety of loop walks, from short and easy walks up to a nearly 1-hour walk which includes a few hundred feet of elevation change.

Here is the Metro web site for the park:

I also found another blogger who has written up an excellent article on Cooper Mountain Nature Park:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Born to Walk

Almost every week for the past 18 months or so, I've been waking up early on a Sunday morning to go for a long walk. Human beings are born to walk. These days those of us who are able to walk, often don't. If we're physically fit and active, we might run or play sports or work out on a treadmill. Most of the rest of us walk only as far as we must, to get to and from our car and to shop for our groceries at the market.

Since I started my weekly walks, I've been surprised at how wonderful it feels. I started doing it, frankly, because I was too cheap to pay for a gym membership and too out-of-shape to play sports or run. Now my fitness level is far improved, I can run and play sports, but more than anything else I enjoy my leisurely, simple walks the best.

Perhaps the best part of walking has been exploring the amazing walking trails that are available around the Portland, Oregon area. I've lived in this area my entire life, but was mostly unaware of the great diversity of trails that exist right here in the metro area. The more trails I find and the more places I go for my weekly walks, the more impressed I am with these regional treasures.

I'll share my impressions with a different trail or a different walk each week. I encourage everyone who is able to, to get up, go out, and take a walk! Rain or shine, hot or cold, you were born to walk. Your mind and body will thank you.