Searching for new-to-me parks with the van

Hello folks! It’s year whatever of the pandemic! The days before having to mask up to go into a public place feel like a lifetime ago. This is our new reality, at least for the moment. Like you, I wish to get out of this purgatory as soon as possible. But I’m a pragmatist, and realize that I can’t just “pretend” COVID-19 is over. Emee and myself have been cautious: avoiding crowds, getting things delivered or set up for curbside pickup, and staying close to home. We’ve started to “loosen up” a wee bit, like hanging out with other people (outside, distanced) for the first time since March. But even with that, we are still itching.

One of the things we’ve been doing is trying to check out some new-to-us parks. These places are not far, but further than we’ve been travelling. And to get to many of these places, we’ve been using the van.

I haven’t owned a car in twenty years, and had only used a motor vehicle very occasionally since moving to Portland. But Emee owns a van because of her work (event planning) and we use it from time to time. I’m all about human powered exploration (as noted in the blog tag line). But there’s only so much I can do on my bike within a reasonable radius of my house. Sometimes I wish that I was one of those folks who can toss off 50-100 miles like it’s going to the corner store, but I am not one of these people. 20-35 miles is more my speed.

And I can only go so far with that mileage, especially since I am not using public transit at the moment. This really bums me out because I like to use transit. I moved to a city like Portland specifically because of the transit. I used to start or end a ride with transit if the ride was getting on the long side. Now I don’t want to do that. In these pandemic times, transit for me is a last resort. I can’t wait for that to not be the case, but right now I have to adjust.

So I’ve been seeking out those greenspaces on the fringes, places hard to get to by bike or transit, or places that have always just been a little bit too far away. I got out my copies of Wild In The City, a local guide to all sorts of natural areas. I remember getting the first edition around 2004, being turned on to places that I didn’t know about, telling myself that I’d check them all out. Sixteen years later, there’s still spots I have not gone to. Getting bored with the close and easy, I’ve been checking off spots on the list. Now is as good a time as ever.

On Friday July 3rd we took Emee’s kids with us and headed south. Our primary destination was Graham Oaks in Wilsonville, a large natural area administered by Metro, our regional government.* I had known about Graham Oaks for awhile and had wanted to go, but even in normal circumstances it’s far, about 25 miles one-way. And being on the edge of the metro area, transit to get there is doable but not thrilling. Sure, there is actual commuter rail that goes within a couple miles of the park, but that runs only during commute hours. So it remained unseen to me until now.

Graham Oaks. Pentax IQZoom 170SL/Kodak ColorPlus 200.

Graham Oaks habitat is supposed to be what the Willamette Valley was like before European settlement: more an oak-madrone savannah than thick forest. Unfortunately, the current condition is nowhere near mature: meadows with scattered young Oregon White Oaks. There was one token mighty oak. In another generation or two, it will look way different. Saying all that, it was still cool to wander around in a big meadow habitat, and thankfully the day was not that hot.

Canemah Bluff. Pentax IQZoom 170SL/Kodak ColorPlus 200.

Heading back home, we paused at a couple more parks: Boones Ferry Park in Wilsonville sits on the Willamette River, just east of the I-5 Bridge. This was the landing for the namesake ferry. Canemah Bluff on the west side of Oregon City was another location that’s tantalized for years and just remained enough out of reach–a bluff above the river that is the oak-madrone prairie that Graham Oaks will someday be.

Graham Oaks, Wilsonville. 3 July 2020.

On Sunday July 12th we got in the van with the kids again and headed south, but stayed closer. Happy Valley is one of those anonymous suburbs that can be anywhere, if you didn’t see Mount Hood in the distance it could be outside Nashville for all you know. But Happy Valley has quite a few natural areas that I’d been wanting to check out. Hidden Falls is on Rock Creek** and pretty new, only in existence since 2017. Well, the falls have been there a long time, but they had been inaccessible until now. The access to the falls was through very recent subdivisions, but once we were down in the valley, it didn’t matter. While we couldn’t get down to the actual falls (it’s pretty steep, and they are trying to protect the habitat), I can imagine this’d be a good spot to hang out on a hot day.

Hidden Falls.

The final destination for this tour was Scouters Mountain. It’s one of the numerous volcanic buttes of the Boring Lava Field that pepper this part of the area. The property was once home to a Boy Scouts Camp (hence the name) and is now administered by Metro. The trail system doesn’t seem to be that extensive (yet) but the top features a pavilion and a nice view of Mount Hood.

There’s still more to be seen, and this summer, nor the pandemic anywhere near over. So I see us getting in the van many more times to check out more natural areas. Hope you are getting some time out in nature as well!

Hidden Falls, Happy Valley. 12 July 2020

*Oregon is one of the few places in the United States where we have an actual regional government outside of the county level. Metro consists of the entire Portland metro area, anything inside our Urban Growth Boundary. This consists of cities like Portland, Beaverton, Hillsboro, Tualatin, and more, and encompasses land from Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington Counties.

**Not to be confused with the Rock Creek on the westside suburbs.

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