in Exploring Oregon

This is the first article in a series I’ve been working on discussing some of the lessons I’ve learned exploring Oregon over the last year.  Oregon is a beautiful place, full of amazing sites and getting out to explore it has been a tremendous pleasure.  I’ve learned quite a few things in my adventures, and they might be valuable to other people

Maps are vital.  Being from Missouri, I’m used to google maps being pretty much all I need.  In Oregon, this is not the case.  I discovered this the first time I tried visiting Crater Lake.  I had pulled up Google Maps, and plotted out a course that took me through the Umqua National Forest.  I figured it was going to be a beautiful drive.  About an hour into the trip, I discovered a problem:

Google maps does not tell you if a road is paved.

At that time, I did not have a GPS device other than my phone.  Instead of visiting Crater Lake, I ended up driving around on National Forest roads for several hours and ended up about 30 miles from where I started.  Lesson #1: Do not depend on Google maps.

You need to get a paper map.  As soon as I got back to civilization, I purchased one of

Oregon Road and Recreational Atlas Cover

Oregon Road and Recreational Atlas Cover

these, and it always stays in my car.  It shows the information you need, for the most part.  You can tell whether or not a road is paved, which is major.  I’ll talk more about roads in my next post, but for now, knowing whether or not a road is paved is very important information.

Google maps has a different kind of value.  When looking for places to explore, one thing that I spend a lot of time doing it looking at the terrain version of google maps.  I like to look at how elevation changes and the possibility for great views.  One very recent example of this is my discovery of Mt. Hebo.

I was looking for things to see along the coast in the Tillamook area, using my paper atlas.  I was suspicious when I saw a paved road that was named ‘Mt. Hebo Road.’  Road names can jump out out you after a while.  This sounded like a promising name to me.  Was there a mountain there that could provide some excellent views?  I pulled up google maps and saw this:

Default View of Mount Hebo Road

Default View of Mount Hebo Road

Not too much exciting going on here.  But let me turn on terrain mode:

View with Terrain

View with Terrain

Okay, now that looks much more promising.  This is a pave road that goes nearly to the top of a 3000 ft mountain, less than 10 miles from the coast, and was the highest in the area.  All that adds up to some very nice views. So my parents and I headed up to check it out.  The road was indeed paved.  We started out at about 100ft elevation, and over the course of about 7 miles, we climbed up to 3000ft.  At the bottom, we were socked in with fog, and could hardly see a half mile.  By about the 800ft mark, we were up above the fog and had blue skies and bright sun.  At 3000ft, the temperature had climed to nearly 80°F and it was beautiful.  The road didn’t go all the way to the top of the mountain.  My dad set out cross country for the last quarter of a mile or so to get to the true summit.  I was a little more cautious and found a trail – of course there would be a trail.  The view was completely worth it:

Summit of Mount Hebo

Summit of Mount Hebo

That was just looking in one direction.  Looking to the north and westeast, we were able to see Mt. St. Helens, Mt Adams, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Jefferson – four of the large volcanoes in the Cascade Mountain range.

We would have missed it all, if it wasn’t for the terrain map.

Another type of map that is very important for hiking especially is the National Forest maps. These maps cost around $10 and can be found online or at stores specializing in the Outdoors, like REI.  They contain high resolution topological maps of the forest, along with roads, trails, and landmarks.  They don’t always come from the National Forest Service.  For example, for the Redwood National and State Parks the best maps come from Redwood Hikes Press.

Sample of Redwood Map

Sample of Redwood Map

Wherever you’re hiking, definitely find a map ahead of time and take it with you.  Before you go, familiarize yourself with it.  Study your route and its’ landmarks.  You might be surprised at how much it helps you enjoy your hike that much more.

Do not depend on GPS to get around.  Sometimes the maps in your GPS system are not up to date with the latest roads.  Sometimes, especially in deep mountain canyons, and thick forests, you will not be able to get a GPS signal.  Carry a compass and map at all times, and learn how to use them ahead of time.

Preparation is key.  If the first time you look at a map is when you’re lost, it’s not going to be nearly as helpful.  You have to learn the map before orienting yourself, locating your current position, and figuring out where to go.  This is not something to do while under the stress of feeling lost.  Familiarize yourself with the map ahead of time, and you’ll have a much better time.

If you expand beyond google maps, use a map that shows the types of roads and not just their mere presence, and look at them ahead of time, you’re off to a very good start in your exploration of Oregon.  Good Luck!

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