Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sawmill Falls

I went!!

I got a very late start. 2:30 p.m. Now that's late to begin an adventure.

I had to be back to look in on my friend's cats.

A Lebanon woman I know called hysterical, you see. Her cat, Gimpy, rescued from the 5th Wheel colony last fall, along with others I took out and did not return, died last night. She does not keep her inside and she found her dead, curled up under her favorite bush.

She at first thought she had been tortured by neighbors who do not like her family, but, when she described her, there was not a mark on her and likely she was hit by a car or killed by dogs. The killing of cats by dogs is very common, but even more common in Lebanon, for some reason. There's usually no mark because they shake them, breaking their spine. Usually, if they are hit full on by a car low speed there's no mark, but internal injuries are often severe and the cat may make it back to a secure spot, where they die of injuries incurred.

I don't know what happened to Gimpy, but she's dead. She lived to be not quite a year old.

That's not a long life.

After that call, I grabbed some stuff and headed out, determined to get away.

It took only half hour to get to highway 22 and the Swiss House, where you turn and head up into the North Fork of the Santiam recreation area. It's about 20 more miles then, to the gate at the entrance to the ancient Forest called Opal Creek.

The roads are paved through Elkhorn and on. But for many miles, I traveled on bad gravel roads. Washboard city. They were not bad washboards.

I came to the fork of forest service road 2209 and 2207. Had I gone right there, about a mile down, I would have come to Three Pools swimming hole. I went left and on and on, to the gate that blocks vehicles from driving on into Opal Wilderness.

There, I purchased a $5 forest service pass, grabbed my day pack and took to hiking the old road through the forest.

It was a beautiful hike through old forest, huge trees, thimble berry bushes with ripe and unripe berries, huckleberry and salmon berry bushes, and ferns of all kinds along the path. This undergrowth reminded me greatly of forests I'd known as a child.

It was two easy miles to the Merten Mill debris that signaled I was close to Sawmill Falls. I picked through the well preserved metal machinery pieces of days gone by to find the trail down to the falls. The rocks down to the pool were steep.

I only had on rubber sandals, not the best choice for climbing.

Once at the pools edge I ditched my day pack and waded in. The water cold and translucent green and beautiful. Already, most of the pool lay in shadows. It was after 4:00 p.m.

Nonetheless, I submerged in the water. The cold took my breath away at first. I swam through a channel upstream to the falls and pulled myself under one of the water avalanches. The force against my back was brutal, but I liked it. I moved to another fall zone, then another. I then launched myself out in the current, which was only slight, back through the channel to the lower pool. I stood on rocks, chin deep, and peered into the pool's depths and saw fish swim and nibble at my feet.

Others there told me the North Fork is much warmer. This is Opal Creek and the water is cold. A man told me if I hike on up to Opal Pool, another 45 minutes, there is a 20 foot water shoot about 3/4 way there. That sounded fun, but today I had not time to walk another two miles.

When I climbed out, I knew I had to get back. I didn't want to go. My sandals were soggy and slippery. The sun was flickering low in and out of the giant trees, cascading through in spots like an opening from heaven, as the light reflected off dust particles in the air.

I passed a lot of people coming and going. Not so many when I was hiking out. Most had already left.

The two miles went quickly. On the road back, I stopped in at several parks along the river. One was Salmon something. I did not get out of my car there. A group of rough looking young men were surrounding a red SUV. I thought they were leaving and was going to wait until they were gone, but after I arrived, they milled around, coming and going past my car, glancing at me. I was nervous. These were not church kids or even college kids. They looked like gang bangers. I determined my best bet was to get the hell out of there, which I did.

Past Elkhorn I stopped in at the Elkhorn Recreation area, which includes a campground and a campground host and a day use area. I had little time, but I wanted to scope it out. I walked down a lengthy stairway to the river. This is a fantastic place to swim, to jump off rocks and to picnic, even to camp.

I then stopped at another park and hiked down long stairs to the river. This spot is better suited for families with kids, as the river here is slow and shallow. I skipped stopping at two other parks including the very popular North Fork park, because I needed to get back to care for those cats.

This recreation area is the same distance from me as Foster Reservoir and so much nicer. I will return.

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