While waiting for my appointment with AM Solar in Springfield, a suburb of Eugene, I opt to get out of town for a Sunday outing. I have read about the McKenzie River Area, and decide at 65 miles outside of Eugene, it’s not too far for a day trip.
I arrive at the McKenzie River Ranger Station and look at the giant billboard maps that point out all the scenic attractions around. With so many things to see and do in such a gorgeous place, I am over-stimulated. There is some sight or activity that strikes my fancy in all directions.
I have long wished I could try mountain biking to see if this is something I could do while still keeping my teeth and tailbone intact. The scenic McKenzie River trail is billed as “America’s Number One Trail,” with 26 miles of “single track” running parallel to the wild McKenzie River. Commercial shuttles drop bicyclers off at any point along the trail according to skill level, affording a downhill ride all the way. I am dying to try this, but I don’t have the right equipment, nor do I have the right skills.
So I continue along Highway 126 until I come to Clear Lake, a name that needs no explanation. With 100 foot visibility, this is the Oregon SCUBA divers Mecca. SCUBA diving in Oregon? Now that’s a novelty! I have the right skills, but I don’t have the right equipment…..anymore.
So how about a nice Sunday afternoon paddle on a perfectly serene, aquamarine lake? I have the right skills, AND the right equipment! I happen to have my Sea Eagle inflatable right in the back seat! But I don’t have the time. It would take me most of the afternoon to get the kayak out, inflate, paddle around, deflate, and store the rubber boat, just to see such a small area in this vast wilderness.
No, if I must choose one thing and one thing only, I am sticking to the “tried and true” for which I have the right skills, equipment, time, and passion. In a place so eye-popping gorgeous as this, I will go for the Goldilocks of sport options. I’m going to hike till it hurts!
As I start out the 5 mile trail which circles Clear Lake, I am reminded of all the Christmas Tree farms I have passed along the road. Oregon is our nation’s leading producer of Christmas trees! This sweet, fresh, nostalgic aroma permeates the path to the point that I must stop several times along the way, just to inhale. As much as I dislike everything the commercial version of the holiday has morphed into, I am still crazy about that scent!
Clear Lake offers up one scenic vista after another, and I take so many photos it is ridiculous. According to wikipedia (which we all know as law) “The Lake is primarily fed by snow runoff from nearby Mount Washington and the surrounding areas. The runoff filters through underground caverns for more than 20 years before emptying into Clear Lake. Clear Lake is the headwaters of the McKenzie River, which is the sole source of drinking water for Eugene.” No wonder I love it here so much. It reminds me of the caverns in the Florida aquifer where I did over 100 dives.
The hike is just what I had hoped for…but I’m not done yet. Just a few miles back down Highway 126 are two waterfalls, linked together by the breathtaking McKenzie River. Though both are right off the highway, there is a one mile trail that links the two.
The falls are crowded, but it doesn’t seem as if many choose to make the hike in between, so I enjoy many stops along the path to soak in the sights and sounds of the raging river that links the two falls. It is cold and refreshing as I can feel the brisk air on my skin forced up by the swift river. I marvel at how blue the water is, as I can see turquoise hints in the falls. But the river itself is even bluer. Were it not for the white foam, it almost reminds me of those river rides at Six Flaggs with blue dye in the water.
The uppermost falls, Sahalie and the lower Koosah Falls means “Heaven and Sky” respectively in Chinook Speak. They are left over lava flows that damned Clear Lake 3,000 years ago. I start at the Koosah Falls parking lot. It is a much less crowded parking lot, and I get the uphill section of the trail out of the way first.
After about seven miles, my objective to “Hike till it Hurts” has been met. However, I have one last stop planned before I leave the McKenzie River Scenic Area…I know of no better cure for my aching feet and knees…
I need a bumper sticker, “I Brake for Hot Springs!”