Keeping Social Distance by finding Secret Places: My Thursday Ramble, 9 April 2020

Near Knapp Falls. Camera: Olympus XA2. Film: Kodak Ultramax 400.

It’s somewhere near a month of Stay-at-Home here in Portland. The quarantine is now just a fact of life. Yes, it’ll end at some point, but now life before it seems so distant. Hang out with people? Go to a cafe? I know we’ll have that again, right now we make do.

I try to have at least a half-hour of outdoor exercise a day, as recommended. Much of it is walks, since it’s nice and easy, but I’ve been throwing in a bike ride two to three times a week. And the weather has turned nice–real nice. The last few days we’ve had “summer preview” weather, lots of sun and temps above 70F/21C. Time to break out the shorts and sandals for the first time this year!

Thursday’s weather was sun and 75F/24C. I wanted to do a bike ride of a couple hours, go a little further than the neighborhood. I’m still keeping it manageable–no epic excursions, just something that’ll be 15-20 miles round-trip from my front door. The problem is that on days like this, people are going to flock to all the obvious places. Bike paths become congested, which is not a great way to practice social distancing. And as awesome as it would be to go to a place like Powell Butte, now is not the time. I need to seek out the off-the-beaten-path places.

Thankfully, there are plenty in Portland, if you know where to look. And I’ve spent the last 19 years looking for those places. One came to mind, one I haven’t been to in awhile–Knapp Falls.

Now, I’m not exactly sure that’s the “official” name. There may be no official name–checking out the USGS map, it’s unmarked. But Google Maps indicate that name now, and I’ll go with it. It’s on SE Knapp St just east of I-205, on the north slope of Mount Scott, one of the numerous volcanic cinder cone buttes that dot the city’s deep southeastern periphery. I happened upon this small series of rapids descending through a little ravine on a ride in 2013, but haven’t been here much since–it’s so far off my map (yet not that far from the Springwater Corridor.)

The ride there is about 6 miles. I took out the Bantam, as it’s the fun ride bike and I want to use it more often. The bike felt good under me. I used the 50’s bikeway and that big and beautiful new bike lane on SE Foster to get there. I also paused at an old apartment building in the Lents district which was the temporary home of Woody Guthrie–history!

Knapp Falls. Camera: Olypums XA2. Film: Kodak Gold 200.

Even though Knapp Falls is off the beaten path, I was still a bit apprehensive–what if it was swarming with people? I remember there was a pull-off right at the falls, and the last time I was there, people were just hanging out in their cars. But this was not to happen–the pull-off was blocked off, thankfully. The only person around was a young teen, eager to show me pics of what the top of the creek looked like.

I hung out for about ten minutes, taking photos, soaking up the ambiance. The creek was a’ babbling, not nearly enough to tune out the freeway a half-mile west, but after a bit, I didn’t notice. I just wanted some sort of small waterfall. I can’t go out to the Gorge right now, this’ll have to do. I can imagine coming back here during the heat of summer, where the shade and water would be much appreciated. There also looked to be a few trails to explore, so a foot adventure may be in the future. (There’s no place to lock up a bike, but a MAX station is pretty close, so it wouldn’t be hard to get here.)

Coffee Outside setup at Brookside Park.

I moved on. I wanted to find a spot to have some Coffee Outside action. I rode up the steep hill and onto SE Flavel, crossing 112th. Flavel is hillier here than I remembered, with grades maxing out at 10%. But I survived. It’s nice to have to do this every once in awhile, and know my body and my bike can climb a-ok.

I wound my way downhill to Johnson Creek to find one of the more secret and obscure parks off the stream–Brookside Wetlands. This is on the south side of the creek and just east of SE 111th. It’s not too far from the Springwater Corridor (and pretty easy to get there now, if you use the path through Lents Floodplain), but it’s just far enough off the Springwater that it’s pretty much a neighborhood park. Yet, it’s pretty big and open, features Johnson Creek and a nice pond off to the side. Yes, you’ll hear busy Foster Road, but like Knapp Falls I tuned out the traffic after a couple minutes and tuned my hearing to the creek and the birds.

Camera: Olympus XA2. Film: Kodak Gold 200.

There were a couple picnic tables, and the park was so spaced out and unused (there was maybe a half-dozen folks I saw in the 30 or so minutes I was there). So I felt it was safe enough to break out the Esbit coffee maker and have a go. It was nice to do this.

I’m hoping to find some more out-of-the-way spots while the weather is nice, so I could maybe sit for an hour or two and draw a bit without stressing out. As it was, the day was getting late and I didn’t feel like hanging out too long. The ride back wasn’t as fun–I managed to hit a headwind the whole way. I also took the I-205 path for about a mile and a half. I had worried about using a bike path, hearing about the reports of the jammed Springwater Corridor. But a freeway-side path has little ambiance, so the amount of people I encountered (barely anyone) was about the usual.

There’s more nice weather on tap, and I hope to get out some more. And I’ll be exploring more out-of-the-way places. How about you?

EDIT 24 April 2020: More photos here, or see the dynamic album below.

Knapp Falls, 9 April 2020.

10 thoughts on “Keeping Social Distance by finding Secret Places: My Thursday Ramble, 9 April 2020

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  1. hey! I never realized that Brookside Wetlands had a name! I just think of it as the cool wetlands off the Springwater that no one ever goes to, heh.

      1. P.S. I explored around Knapp Falls today (which I didn’t know existed until I read this), as well as Clatsop Butte (which I’d also never been to), and then all around kinda randomly and it was great:) Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. I just posted a couple comments on your last Flickr post. As you’ll see, my question prompted me to visit you here. Although I explore Portland on foot, I have a similar dilemma – where can I go this weekend that is safe (from a social distance standpoint). Before I went to Alaska recently (see Flickr), I explored the upper grounds at the Grotto. That was a nice day.

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