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We were headed to one of the most spectacular places in Oregon, in a state known for its outstandingly scenic regions. Less than an hour’s drive south of the town of Hood River (and an equal distance southeast of Portland) stands the iconic peak of Mt. Hood, dominating the horizon for miles around. Our destination was a forest service campground located at the south foot of the mountain, ensconced near a lake that held the reflection of the mountain within its waters. We had high hopes for this picturesque setting, to finally be situated within the true environs of the northwest. Unfortunately, the immediate weather forecast was much less than desirable. Rain, heavy at times, had been forecasted for the coming several days. Presently the skies were blue and we took that as a good sign. Intrepid travelers that we are, we drove the scenic route to our next destination with hopeful anticipation.
If Mount Hood is one of the most popular photo subjects in Oregon, it’s probably the view from TrilliumLake that’s most often pictured. So it didn’t come as any surprise that the first order of business we would attend to was checking out the view from the far end of the lake. The campground was totally filled; being Memorial Day weekend could account for that. Our site was quite acceptable, surrounded with the tall firs indigenous to the area. A very nice campground, albeit without hookups, the sites were isolated from one another and surrounded with the lush greenery one would expect to see in the great Northwest. The view from the lake was not quite as fulfilling . . . Mt.Hood was hiding behind a bank of low-lying clouds. Melinda took a shot, but it didn’t come close to her expectations.
We returned to camp and began planning out our days to come.
Developers have long eyed Mount Hood; in the 1920s, the Mazamas, a hiking club dating back to the early 20th century, fought against a tramline up to the peak. In 1937, the construction of Timberline Lodge was met with great approval. Built as a WPA project, unemployed artisans were put to work fashioning beams from giant trees, carving newelposts into owls and bears, and weaving rugs and chair covers. The entire project was completed in only 15 months. Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1978, Timberline Lodge sits at 6,000 feet. Located on the south flank of the mountain, it has Cascadian-style architecture featuring local stone and wood. The interior of the Lodge was designed around three themes: the mammoth timbers and handmade furnishings celebrate the early pioneers, wrought iron designs and carved wood are intended to capture the native Indian spirit and wildflower paintings and carved wooden animals represent the local flora and fauna. The exterior of the Lodge is in harmony with its setting too, both visually and in its construction, designed to withstand high winds and heavy snowfall. Today there’s a separate, 1980s, concrete-bunker-style day lodge filled with contemporary crafts, ski-rental shops, and snack bars. But the real place to head is the second-floor bar in the old lodge. It has comfortable sofas, great sunset views down the Cascades, and a great blend of rusticity and comfort where weary hikers and skiers can relax and mingle.
We decided to make the Lodge our first order or business the next day. We began with a rewarding early morning 2-mile hike around TrilliumLake and soon learned how the lake came by its name. We were obviously here during the right season to find the lake’s namesake growing profusely along the trail. There was quite a diversity of types and Melinda was glad she brought her camera along. The hike took a little longer than was expected; our hunger finally pulling us back to camp.
As soon as breakfast was finished we were on our way up the mountain. It was a 6-mile, switchbacking drive through a dense forest of evergreens to arrive at the immense spread of parking lots surrounding the outer fringes of the Lodge. Ski season was still in full attendance swing, and a holiday weekend had brought out the hordes. Fortunately for us, the masses were already on the slopes, and the Lodge itself was somewhat uncrowded. We spent the next hour or so exploring its public areas. It was a fascinating old structure with all the character you would expect to see in one of our landmark western lodges. After studying the displays and informational material, we learned that it had gone through some hard times in the 1940s when it began catering to gamblers and prostitution, and eventually closed down. It took an entrepreneur to come along and purchase it, and then invest the millions it required to bring it back into shape. He must have done things the right way, because it now exudes a combination of a rustic informal polished atmosphere. It makes one want to linger and just savor the atmosphere of another time and ambiance.
A massive stone 4-sided fireplace runs up through the center of the building. Beginning on the ground floor with comfortable sitting areas flanking the wood-burning hearths, it continues through the main floor, passing the open, mezzanine area of the second floor and then up even further, until exiting through the ceiling far above.
A large, formal dining room is found on the main floor, but we chose the less formal, more inviting tables on the mezzanine to have our lunch. Tables encircled the open balcony looking down to the lower levels, all placed in front of large picture windows that looked out on the snow-filled landscape. Our adjacent window happened to look out onto the ski runs, where we enjoyed watching the snowboarders and skiers. The sun so brightly reflected off the white landscape that it was nearly blinding to our eyes. Hard to believe it’s summer in other places . . . we were witnessing a completely winter scene!
Afterwards, we took a little more time to wander the public areas of the lodge, reluctant to leave it just yet. Chris found a cozy seat to his liking while Melinda went off in search of more to see.
But the day was fading fast and there was more to our agenda. Making one last stop for a quick photo op to remember this snowy landscape by, we were then driving off the mountain in search of one more destination.
Little ZigZagFalls was a typical Mt.Hood waterfall. Many fast-flowing streams come off the mountain, gushing strong flows this time of the year. Little ZigZag was located along a very scenic trail in a typical pristine forest setting. The hike was as rewarding as the waterfall along the route. Nearby was the Old Bartram Road, the first roadway built through the Mt.Hood wilderness back in the 30s. We took time to walk part of its length also.
Melinda’s hopes began to soar when observing the sky was mostly clear as the evening was coming on. With hopes that Mt.Hood might show itself through the clouds, she left Chris enjoying a peaceful time around the campfire in order to check out what was showing down at the lake.
TrilliumLake was built by the WPA guys. Soon after the lodge was completed, it was decided that what it needed to really set the lodge off, was a nice little mountain lake to look down upon from high up there on the mountainside. In return, the lake would have a perfect setting of its own, being a showcase for the reflection of the very distinguished mountain peak. Hence TrilliumLake was born.
Evening, as well as early morning, gives the calmest waters of the day and that is when photographers tend to congregate down at the end of TrilliumLake. Melinda was there too and spent a good hour or so waiting for that perfect light to hit the mountain peak. Unfortunately, the colors never came and the sunset was just so-so. Such is the life of any photographer. She took the best it had to give on that particular night. Unfortunately, it would turn out to be the best one of the 3 days we were there.
Even though the following day was predicted to have a much greater chance for rainfall and despite waking up to a steady shower, we made plans to get out and enjoy nature, even if we needed raingear to take it in. Melinda had 3 destinations lined up, waterfall hikes through a variety of terrains, all along the eastern side of Mt.Hood.
The first one involved a trek through an alpine meadow which happened to still be covered in deep snow. We geared up and headed out. Attempting to follow a trail through a pristine, unmarked snowfield can be somewhat of a challenge. Chris used his best navigating, male-oriented (ask no questions, just get out and go) sense to lead the way. Now that was a true adventure!
UmbrellaFalls was the goal we were seeking, and ended up finding in the end. She got her first waterfall shot in a snow-filled landscape. Not a colorful picture, but unique, nevertheless.
As a bonus we had a spectacular and very clear view of Mount Hood along the road we were taking. Mount Hood Meadows is the largest ski area on the mountain, and is a flower-filled meadow in the summer. Unfortunately, we were a little late for one and somewhat too early for the other.
Our next waterfall hike was a tad more civilized, being a little below the snow line. Once we forsook the muddy trail, and opted for following the Old Bartram Road, we had fewer obstacles to deal with. The patches of snow covering the road were easier to trudge through than the mud, so we took the easier way out. We passed a couple along the way practicing their cross-country skiing skills on the snowy patches. SahalieFalls was a short mile hike and again worth the effort to see it.
After a hearty, well-earned lunch we had one more waterfall hike waiting in the wings. She had saved the best and longest hike for last. A 2-mile hike with several hundred feet elevation gain was a popular trail to take, judging from the size of the parking area. Despite the holiday weekend and surprisingly good weather conditions still holding, we only passed a dozen or so hikers along the entire length of the trail. And it was a beauty of a trail, leading through a dense conifer forest with trees taller than any we had yet seen. It was difficult just keeping our eyes on the trail ahead of us, wanting to take in the entire surrounding scene.
TamanawasFalls comes from the Chinook word meaning “guardian spirit.” Dropping more than a hundred feet over a basalt ledge, it is an impressive forty-foot wide waterfall. A great way to cap off a very fulfilling day.
The rains finally did make an appearance, as we headed back to camp. And rain it did. Throughout the night. It was quite satisfying to lie in bed come morning, listening to the sound of rain hitting our Airstream roof. We had put a good day under our belts yesterday and didn’t mind easing slowly into this one. But then, the rain never did let up, and by noontime we were anxious to make something happen. So we decided to hook up and head out, albeit one day sooner than planned. The mountain wasn’t making an appearance on this side at least, so we are headed on to our next camp on the opposite side of Mt.Hood. We’ll see what’s waiting for us there.
From the slopes of Mt.Hood,
Chris and Melinda