Category Archives: Willamette Valley

Exploring the Willamette Valley: Cascades Gateway Park

Cascades 6I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but ever since Nanowrimo my daily walk has disappeared. Talk about unhealthy! I’ve kept up on Tai Chi class twice a week but that’s not the same sort of exercise, even if it’s good for me. The trouble with winter in Oregon is it’s cold, rainy, and dark, and mostly makes me want to curl up on the couch with hot chocolate or tea, not go out walking. I’ve been unable to talk myself into my usual route at Minto-Brown Island, and so to get myself finally moving, I went this morning to Cascades Gateway Park instead. It has the virtue of being just down the road from my husband’s work, so it’s right there when dropping him off.

That’s about Cascades Gateway’s only virtue unless you count it having a fancy name. The park is a slice of marsh right next to the freeway that probably isn’t usable for anything else. It has a small river (for Oregon) and a pond. The picnic area is nice enough, if you want to listen to the freeway right next to you with only a concrete barrier between you and it. The park isn’t really set up for walking either, the only thing it’s really set up for is fishing. And it must either actually be a great place to fish or its the only place around here to fish, because even at 9 am on a cold foggy January morning there was half a dozen people out there fishing along the pond and more people showing up. When I’ve walked during the summer there’s a ton of people fishing.Cascades 2

The trails, if you can call them that, are either a few going off from the picnic area into the swampy bushes that dead end at various fishing spots along the river, or you can circle the lake. Neither are ideal. The ones at the picnic area are overgrown, so you’ll get wet bushes in your face and mud all over your shoes in the winter and spider webs and mosquito in the summer. That and you’ll have to double back after it dead ends. Usually I opt for the lake.

It’s a short circuit, twenty minutes if you take it slow, but despite being muddy, the lake itself is nice enough. It’s at least a slice of nature instead of walking right next to cars on a sidewalk. The trail is well defined in some places with even a little foot bridge, but then in others completely disappears, like when the park turns into a disc golf course. You just have to pick your way across it until the trail picks up again at the other end. There’s also a section where you either have to walk through the gravel parking lot or across some grass that belongs to all the ducks and geese, which is sort of a toss up which is better.

Cascades 4Despite all that, it’s not a bad walk. I’m making it sound terrible, but it really isn’t. The fresh air and the trees are nice. Right now flocks of Canadian geese are wintering there, which are sort of interesting to see up close, and the fishermen are always very friendly. The convenience of talking myself into getting there means I actually did it. The fog this morning made the park look almost magical, adding some mystery and making the freeway barrier less noticeable (although the noise of the cars was still quite loud). Still, I found some nice shots of nature if I was careful about how I took them.

And best of all, I got an incredible view of this big guy. I’ve never seen a heron so close before. That was enough to cheer me up and get my morning off to a great start. Maybe tomorrow I’ll actually manage to get myself to Minto or Waterfront for a more vigorous (and drier) walk.

Cascades 1

Willamette Valley: Minto in Snow and Closed-door Schools

Minto 5Snow here in the mid-willamette valley is rare… usually a couple inches once or twice a year, and since we already had that in December for a couple days, I pretty much expected it to be over. When it started snowing on Thursday I certainly didn’t expect a whopping 9 and a half inches across the next three days. I don’t recall ever getting that much snow here before. It was sort of fun watching my back deck fill up with snow, if a bit stressful getting Ben to and from work on Friday.Minto 1

Good thing I’d gone shopping earlier in the week. We were snowed in all weekend. Which while it left plenty of writing time, made me restless, so today after successfully getting my husband to work, I tried going on a walk.

It probably wasn’t the best of ideas, I my feet completely soaked slogging through the snow covered paths, but it was wonderful to be outsides and not really very cold at all.

Minto 6I’ve discovered a path down by the river in exploring the park. Part of it had been flattened by a snow-mobile, which made walking a little easier right along the river. Heading back around the field it was a slow slog. The snow will probably all melt in the next day or so (much of it has already). I’ll probably wait a few days before braving the parking lot and paths again.Minto 2

At least I’ll be having plenty of other new things to be keeping busy. I’ve been considering taking some sort of class for exercise and one thing I’ve never tried before is Tai Chi and it sounded more interesting to me than Yoga (although that was an option too). I found a couple places with it downtown, but neither of them answered their phones. So, finally last week we just walked in after work to see if  we could find anything out that way.

Minto 3Apparently, Tai Chi schools are a bit exclusive… the teacher called it a ‘closed-door’ school, which made me think of samurai schools in Musashi and for a moment made me wonder if I shouldn’t be there, but then he said it means they don’t advertise or post for students, you have to walk through the door yourself. It just so happened we walked in on the advanced teach class… which certainly made Tai Chi look rather complex and difficult, but it also looked just as interesting as I thought it would. So, while my social anxiety went into overtime over the whole experience, on the upside we met the beginning teacher and she invited us to try out a couple classes. So I’ll be attempting my first Tai Chi class tonight.Minto 8

Exploring the Willamette Valley: Minto-Brown Island Park

Minto 3I have neglected walking for the last couple of months. It’s been on my list of things to get better about (along with a cleaner kitchen) and this week I finally dragged myself out first thing Monday morning to explore a new park. Ironically, then the blog post didn’t end up happening until today, but hey, I’m walking again.

I went to explore Minto-Brown Island Park, located in south Salem off of River Road. The park is the largest one I know of in the Salem area, although I haven’t been in years. Despite the name, Minto is not actually an island, something that I’ve always rolled my eyes about. However, upon arriving there, I found a sign patiently explaining it’s called that because it used to be an island, or actually two islands, one named Minto and one named Brown after the people who settled them. Over the years, less rainfall and the shifting river-bed has meant that neither are true islands anymore, although in a large flood they might end up underwater. Originally used for farmland, the land is now  a wild-life refuge.Minto 4

I had vague memories of Minto last time I lived in Salem, but it’d be so long I wasn’t sure what to expect. Apparently this time of year, the park tends to be misty in the mornings. Both Monday and Tuesday had it covered in thick mists that obscured the view across the open fields, but this did nothing to diminish the walk. Instead it felt a bit like entering a fantasy world. The larger size of the park meant I could finally take a walk that really felt I was out in nature, even if it lacked the stunning beauty of the gorge. I had a fabulous time.

Minto 2

Much of the Willamette Valley is rather swampy, and Minto is no exception. With streams, ponds, and rather boggy areas, I quickly found this time of year at least, to stay to the paved paths. Fortunately Minto has plenty of long paved hikes even if there’s more unpaved ones. I only walked a fraction of the paved section. The mist though made for some pretty effects with the light and while popular enough for hiking and running (I saw several people) it isn’t nearly as crowded as Riverfront.

The land seemed to alternate between fields and trees planted in rows, but whatever environmental restoration they’ve been working on, it seems to be working. I saw several hawks and even a bald eagle. Hopefully I will continue to see interesting  wildlife as I continue, although I hope not too interesting (there was a cougar sighting warning sign on the entrance bulletin board, but that’s normal for just about everywhere in rural Oregon). It was wonderful to be out in nature properly without having to drive very far.Minto 5

On thing that amused me though, was the mist and my unfamiliarity with the park meant I misread the sign on Monday and got a bi t lost as the trails are rather long and cross each other multiple times without clear signage, but  I didn’t mind since I knew I could always turn around, and managed to find my way around a loop to the parking lot with only a small amount of backtracking. I’ve had better success reading the sign the last two days, and I’m looking forward to trying some of the other loops. The park has so many different loops and it will be a long time before I’ve exhausted all the trails.Minto 6

Willamette Valley: Riverfront Park

riverfrontAs I’ve been settling into Salem, I’ve been looking for a decent place to walk. After trying one near my husband’s work, I found it a bit marshy and muddy, since the path isn’t paved, or even well defined in places. So, I’ve switched and for the moment have settled on the popular, but reasonably nice Riverfront Park. It’s a busy park, one that usually has a large amount of people, but it also has nice paved paths along the Willamette river, which is good this time of year. Even better, since I last lived here, they’ve added a pedestrian/bike bridge over the Willamette that connects with Wallace Marine Park in West Salem. It’s the bridge that helps outweigh the popularity of the park, although I’ve yet to find a park that isn’t fairly busy when the weather is decent in Salem, even the muddy one (lost of people fish there).bridges

Three bridges cross the river in downtown Salem, two one way bridges on 22, that have a relatively unpleasant yet effective sidewalk, and this third bridge, which was up until a few years ago, a railroad bridge. Apparently when the rail line was no longer used, the city acquired it to make it into a hiking/biking trail. In my opinion, it’s the nicest of the bridges (although the arches in the pillars of the older highway bridge are pretty. The former railroad bridge used to lift, so it still has the towers that once controlled it, even if now it’s paved over with a nice wide path. There’s plenty of room to stop and gawk at the nice view of the river in either direction without worrying about getting in anyone’s way, as well as a couple of places made for viewing, which I assume were for people to get out of the way of the trains originally.

bridgeWallace Marine Park in west Salem has also been redone since I’ve last been in the area, with a further path going north along the river bank, with places to go out and down to the river. The Willamette is even looking slightly less disgusting in general (I haven’t seen any raw sewage in it lately) but I still would not swim in it unless it was a life or death situation. Still from up on the bridge or the safety of the bank, the river is pretty enough.

Apparently eventually they plan to build another bridge on the other side of the part connecting to Minto Island, which will be nice. I have yet to go try to walk there, because it’s a little further out of my way, but I vaguely recall it also had a number of paved paths, so I might try it out here and see if it’s less busy than Riverfront. I will look forward to when it’s connected though, even with increased traffic, because it’ll make it more convenient for me.river

At least I’m finally getting back into a daily walk. Always a good thing. Remember, sitting too much will kill you! And I have too many novels I want to write to let that happen.

Exploring the Willamette Valley: Covered Bridges

320083_277325128960677_4311291_nWhile the Willamette Valley is not the Columbia River Gorge, it’s a bit unfair to make that comparison. Really, the gorge is stunning on a global scale, while the Willamette Valley is more of a plain nice. I’ve always liked it and found the Western Oregon countryside pretty and only been a bit disappointed by it lately because of my recent move from the gorge, so I was excited when my parents and aunt invited me along on a covered bridge tour across the mid-Willamette Valley in the Stayton/Albany/Corvallis/Monmouth area. There are also a number of nice bridges down by Eugene/Cottage Grove, but my parents did those last fall and were using my aunt’s visit as a good excuse to find some new bridges they hadn’t seen yet.

Now, while I recall a “Covered Bridge Festival” in Stayton when I worked there about 5 or 6 years ago, I’d never really paid much attention to them before. My father though, gained an interest in them after reading an article in the paper about Oregon bridges and when and how they were built. I’d heard from both my parents that finding the bridges was quite enjoyable, and I found my experience with them was indeed terrific.

First, it’s a bit fun to look up the bridges, where they’re located and when they’re built. Then you have to find them, which takes some doing. The directions online are not always the best. We found 6 out of 8 bridges on our trip. One we decided we didn’t have time for and one simply wasn’t where the directions claimed it would be. The hunt was a lot of fun, and it was good I knew one of the bridges from living in Corvallis, because the directions were incorrect for that one too.

315843_277321765627680_4120616_nWhile driving to the bridges, you also see a lot of really nice countryside. The day we’d picked was a lovely summer day. It got hot in the mid-afternoon, but other than that it was perfect. Then, the bridges themselves have a rather spiritual quality to them. The best ones are the ones that have been moved off the main road, because you can walk through them. They frame the water of the small rivers they go over in so many beautiful ways. They sort of combine a house, a road, and a church all together in one. I had many lovely moments—seeing a crayfish swimming when looking down through the bridge slats, butterflies on the reeds along the bank, climbing a train bridge next to the covered bridge for a better look at one that’s along a road. I’ve arranged to join my parents next fall as they take a third trip to find yet more bridges. I can’t wait. It’ll help me start to explore the mid-valley more and find good places to walk and get out in nature.

And the gorge is still waiting for me. I plan to drive out there this week and soak up as much of it as possible in a brief visit with my writing group in Hood River.