Mary’s Peak

Sunset from Mary's Peak

One of my favorite spots in Oregon is Mary’s Peak. It’s the highest point in the Oregon Coast mountain range, topping out at 4096 feet elevation. The Willamette valley rests nearly thirty eight hundred feet below that, making it really dominate the surrounding area.

Mary's Peak from the Distance

Mary’s Peak from the Distance

Even though it’s very tall, it is also very accessible. There is a paved road that climbs from Oregon Highway 34 for a little more than eight miles. Along the road are great views of various plants and trees, some of the surrounding vistas, a few small waterfalls, and all sorts of lovely logging clear cuts. After parking at the end of the road, the summit is just a short hike for the final four hundred and fifty feet elevation gain.

Bench on Mary's Peak

Bench on Mary’s Peak

At the top, there is a communications hub, but walk around it, and you’re going to be greeted with magnificent views. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see from Mount Hood down to Mount Thielson, including every mountain in Oregon taller than ten thousand feet. In the image above, you can see Mount Jefferson in the background. If you turn around and face west, on a clear day, you’re going to be able to see to the ocean.

As the sun sets, you’ll see it reflected off of the water. In the evenings, as moisture moves in from the ocean, it gets pushed up over the mountains, forming wonderful looking clouds like this:

Marys Peak Clouds

Marys Peak Clouds

I’ve been to the summit several times now, and I always end up spending quite a bit of time just soaking in the environment. The last time I was there at sunset, and I could see a fox or coyote off in the distance in the meadow below frolicking around. It was too far away to get a good look (or take a good photo), but it looked like it was having a grand time.

I definitely recommend checking it out if you have the chance. It’s about a two hour drive from Eugene, or thirty minutes to an hour outside Corvallis, off of Oregon Highway 34. If you can be up there at sunset, that’s a really good time. IF you’re there earlier in the day, continue on out the the coast. You’ll follow the Alsea river and come out at Waldport. It’s a beautiful road.

A Trip to the Ocean

Heceta Head Lighthouse

I got up early this morning and headed out to the ocean.  It was quite foggy here in the valley, but once I made it over the crest of the coast range, it started clearing up quite nicely, and the ocean was quite sunny.  I made my first stop to take pictures of the Heceta Head Lighthouse.  It’s a pretty standard photo location, and I’ve seen it mentioned that it’s the most photographed place in Oregon.  It’s easy to see why.  There were sea lions all over the place, though, so I decided to record some of their yelping.

After taking my pictures, I headed down to the beach. I discovered later, my pictures from my good camera didn’t turn out that well. Apparently I had somehow accidentally set it to take photos with “art effects” and didn’t realize it. I really dislike those things. Even if I did want something like that, I would add them in Photoshop, not on my camera. Now the raw photos are lost.

Anyway, I got to the beach not long after the tide started to come back in. I was wandering around on far right side of the beach, and I noticed some people on the far left side that appeared to be stuck because the path was now under the ocean. I rushed up a trail to see if I could get closer to them and find out if they were okay, only to run into them. They had gone off trail and down this little gorge in order to get some photos. I understand the sentiment, but this really bothers me. There were signs all over the place telling them to not do this in order to protect the vegetation. Everyone thinks that one person won’t do that much damage. The problem is that everyone thinks that, so they all do it.


It’s a pet peeve of mine. I don’t care how careful you are. Your stupid photos are not worth more than the vegetation and local ecosystem. There are great places to take photos of things on trail. Don’t go off trail.

At least in the end, it turned out they were safe. I moved on to my next stop, Cape Perpetua. This is really my favorite spot on the coast I think. It’s beautiful and relaxing, and I could spend all my time there easily. The tide was really coming in at that point, so I took some better video of what they call the “Spouting Horn” at Cook’s Chasm.

I sat there in the rocks for quite some time. I went into Yachats and spent some time at the state park, and then headed back.

My last stop was a rocky beach that has lots of tide pools, but it was high tide, so they were all under water. The sound the water made over the rocks was very relaxing.

My friend T says “Vitamin D does wonders” and I believe it. I feel a lot better than I did yesterday. I want to sustain that feeling. I feel calm and refreshed and my mind is more peaceful. Now lets see about sustaining that throughout the week.

Hit and Run

The Dart in the Redwoods

I love my car.  Two years ago I was driving a old chevy lumina and when it came time for some high dollar repairs, I decided it was time to replace it instead.  I went all out, and bought a “Limited” edition fully loaded 2013 Dodge Dart.  This car has leather seats, a sun roof, GPS, a backup camera – every luxury that was available.  It’s very nice, and I really like it.

I have put this car through it’s paces too.  I have driven it on roads that it shouldn’t have been on.  I have taken it up one lane mountain roads, through streams, over bridges with holes in them, on dirt roads that could barely be considered roads, and even (by mistake) into sand dunes.  I’ve had to take the tires in for repairs several times now, having come out to drive it on a Monday morning only to discover that the weekends’ activities have taken a toll.

We’ve had magnificent, life changing adventures, and we’ve got through all of it without a scratch.  Sure, the tires have taken a beating, but tires are easily fixable.

Last Thursday, I slipped into the local Barnes and Noble to do some early Christmas shopping.  I didn’t buy anything, but I found what I am going to get for someone very special to me.  When I came out of the store, I discovered this:

Hit And Run

Hit And Run

Of course, I recognize in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t that bad.  It could have been worse.  I could have been in the Dart.  It could have happened on the highway, or worse, on some mountain somewhere with no way to get to safety.

It turns out, after I’ve taken this thing all over Oregon and parts of Washington, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, and California, the most dangerous place for it to be is the parking lot of the Barnes and Noble.  How stupid is that?

Fort Rock and the Christmas Valley

When reading about the Oregon Outback, one place that tends to be mentioned over and over again is Fort Rock. Fort Rock is an extinct volcano whose sides rise nearly vertically out of the flat ground of the Great Basin east of the Cascades. This last weekend, I had the opportunity to explore Fort Rock and the surrounding areas, including “Hole-in-the-Ground”, “Crack-in-the-Ground”, and the Christmas Valley Sand Dunes.

Hole in the Ground Sign

Follow the Sign


It’s very easy to miss the turn off of highway 31 to this crater.  You might think it’s an impact crater from looking at pictures, but it’s actually formed from magma exploding out of the ground and then collapsing. It’s only about 4 miles from the highway, but be prepared for a bumpy ride.  The road has not been maintained in a long time.  You will need to drive slowly.  A high clearance vehicle is definitely recommended, though I did successfully manage it in my Dart without it completely falling apart.  Take your time. You can hike around the crater rim, and walk down into the crater itself.  Make sure you take lots of water.  I was there early in the morning and saw an abundance of deer.

Hole in the Ground

Hole in the Ground

Fort Rock

I had a lot of fun exploring the areas around Fort-Rock.  There are trails available, but I spent as much time bushwhacking through the sparse brush.  Several types of wildflowers were in bloom, and I was surprised as just how much life was happening in this desert.

Looking into Fort Rock

Looking into Fort Rock

Fort Rock is easy to find. As a State Park, it has full facilities available, though no camping in the park itself.  The road is paved all the way to the entrance.  You can see the rock standing out from the ground from several miles away.  I had no problem seeing how it got it’s name.

On the west side of the fort, there is a trail you can take up the side of the wall and walk around on top.  The view is nice, though there isn’t much to see.  I spent some time just sitting up on the basalt, feeling like a king.


Crack-in-the-Ground is about a thirty minute drive from Fort Rock. Follow the signs to the small town of Christmas Valley.  I’m not sure how it got that name.  On the eastern side of town, there is a sign pointing to a northern road to Crack in the Ground.  It’s a gravel road that turns to dirt pretty quickly, but it’s in much better condition than the road to Hole-in-the-Ground.  About seven miles later, you’ll arrive at the trail head.  A short trail will then lead you to exactly what you would expect, a literally crack in the ground.  You can follow along the bottom of the trail for a while, though I turned around at some point.  Some of the turns are quite tight, and you will be scrambling over large boulders in some places.  I had to take my pack off to squeeze through at one point.

Even though it was quite hot at ground level, down in the shade it cooled quickly, and it felt like being in a cave.



Sand Dunes

The final place I explored in the area was the Sand Dunes.  I had hear of them and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Could it possibly be like the Sahara?  That’s what I was hopeful for, but the reality turned out to be much more like the Oregon Dunes on the coast, though not nearly as large.  The road was not marked at all.  As you’re heading east on the main road, look for “Viewpoint Road” and turn north.  It’s actually a different road name to the north of the highway.  After that turn, you can pretty much navigate by sight.  You’ll be able to see the dunes in the distance.  Just keep heading towards them.

The roads out to the dunes are very hazardous for small vehicles.  If it had recently rained, I would not have been able to drive at all. The roads are not marked.  I ended up on roads that were only (apparently) meant for ATVs.  But I managed you navigate it, and got a look at what free-moving dunes on Oregon look like.

Christmas Valley Sand Dunes

Christmas Valley Sand Dunes


This is a great area to visit.  There were several things that I didn’t see, including lava flows, caves, and a lost forest. I could have spent much longer exploring on and around Fort Rock as well.  Once I get a tent, I think I’m going to be headed back.  I highly recommend checking it out!

Desert Explorations

Painted Hills

I spent the last three days exploring east of the Cascade Mountains.

Desert Explorations

Sunbeam on a mountain top, a spotlight on my future
The present is in the East, in mountains I do not know
New roads in the South, in the high desert
Old roads shake my bones but drive me on
New experiences expand my mind:

Hill painted red and white, darkened spots run down their side
Meadow bursting with wild colors
Their fragrance pleases my brain and make me sneeze
Yellow flowers bid farewell to a waning storm

Peering into the distant past by reading fossils in shifted rock

Hole-in-the-Ground, don’t fall in
Walk into Crack-in-the-Ground, walk around
I perform a whistled duet with a lonely bird
Sand Dunes gorge on lost trees

Attacking Fort Rock, I claim it as my own
My claim is ignored by the earth,
For I do not know how to steward stone

Klamath marsh exploding with birdsong
Winning a staring contest with Mister Hawk
Officiated by the ghost of Mount Mazama

Finding snow in Newberry Caldera
Volcanic glass shattered the ground itself
Sharp shards threaten my feet

Dusty trail leads to falling water
Cooling my body, cleansing my soul


View the Full Album on Google Plus.

Columnar Falls

Columnar Falls

I have heard of a water fall along the North Fork Umpqua river that exists by itself, without an inlet or an outlet. It comes out of the mountain, falls along a moss wall, and goes back underground. It’s called Columnar Falls, and this last weekend I visited it. It’s in the segment of the North Umqua Trail called “Dread and Terror”.  

Later that day, I was trying to figure out how to describe my experience here to someone else.  Here is what I came up with:

Standing In Columnar Falls
By Josh Charles May 3rd, 2014

Water flowing, falling, streaming, shooting out of the ground
Over green moss, over polished rock, over my feet
Cool mist mixes with the fragrance of cedar
On my face, in my nose, in my brain
Tumbling water, chirping birds, rustling branches invade my ears
Pushing out worry, pushing out stress, pushing out thought itself

I stand in wilderness, this is my cathedral
I worship with reverence in this place of peace
I stand where my soul has chosen to be

What is work? I don’t know
What is money? I don’t know
What is the past? I don’t know
What is the future? I don’t know

Life is happening here.
Life is happening in this moment.
I am here, in this moment.

Full photo album Columnar Falls

How to Explore Oregon: Roads

Pavement Ends

If you’re going to be exploring Oregon, eventually you’re going to end up spending a lot of time in your car travelling.  While there are usually many very nice things to see close by, to really get a taste of Oregon, you need to expand.  Oregon is made up of several very distinct areas, and each of them has wonderful things to offer.  From the Pacific coast, with it’s dramatic ocean bluffs and lighthouses, to the rain forests of the coastal mountain range, the temperate forests of the west cascades and the high desert on the east of the Cascades, there’s definitely not a shortage of things to see.  Within a few hours driving you can have a taste of it all.  But you need to know some things about the roads you’re going to be traveling on.

To get up to the date information about the conditions of major roads, it’s best to always start with tripcheck.  Tripcheck is run by the Oregon department of transportation and will contain any road closures, construction, and conditions that might be important to you, including many webcams so you can check out the roads for yourself.  Some of the roads in Oregon, like the McKenzie Pass, or the Cascade Lakes scenic byway, are only open when snow-free, so it’s important to start checking those in November.  These closures can provide an interesting opportunity for some, because they are only closed to vehicles.  Hikers, Bikers, and Cross Country Skiers are welcome on them when they’re closed.  Last may, I walked along about ten miles of the McKenzie pass the weekend before it was supposed to open to vehicles, and it was a great experience.

It is important to be cognizant of road conditions in Oregon, because unlike other states, Oregon does not salt it’s roads.  This can be especially hazardous when entering from another state, whose roads are fine, only to find Oregon roads slick and dangerous.  This is especially true if you’re going to be traveling through the Siskiyou Pass on I-5 south of Ashland.

You should also be aware of elevation differences.  If you’re in Eugene, at elevation 450ft, it might be clear, or perhaps drizzling.  At at the Willamette pass at over 5000ft, this can mean snow and ice.  The weather forecast will usually include a snow line if there is snow predicted in the area.  This will be the elevation where they predict rain will turn into snow.  It can be a useful guideline.

Since Oregon does not salt it’s roads, it has something called the Chain Law.  The chain law states that you should always carry tire chains or traction tires on highways.  The chains are cheap.  I think I paid about $30 for them for my vehicle.  I’ve thrown them in my trunk and just leave them there.  You’ll see signs like this:

Default Snow Zone Sign

Default Snow Zone Sign

The message on the chain law signs change when you are required to actually equip them:

Chains are Required

Chains are Required

I’ve only been through this requirement once, and for my vehicle, chaining up was not required.  I had noticed that the message on the sign had changed, but I didn’t catch the entire message.   When I saw trucks that were towing trailers sliding around, I knew something might be up.  I had a very harrowing journey over the Santiam Pass, but in the end, didn’t experience any personal difficulty in my small car.

Foul weather is not the only thing you need to be considerate of when travelling.  With all the rain that falls in Western Oregon, landslides are a problem. Some of them can be quite large.  On more than one occasion, I’ve driven through a small path made through a landslide, and have been diverted from roads completely closed due to a landslide.  They are something to be aware of, especially if you’re traveling on roads that do not see much traffic.

There are several different types of roads in Oregon.  There are the usual roads you get everywhere: Freeways, Highways, and the like.  When you’re out exploring, though, you’re likely to travel off the beaten path a little bit.  In Oregon, this means traveling on National Forest Roads, or Bureau of Land Management roads.  Some of these may be paved, but to get to some places, you’ll be traveling on gravel or dirt.  These require special considerations.

First, the condition of the road if it is unpaved should be suspect until you actually lay eyes on it.  Just because it’s on the map doesn’t mean it’s been maintained this century, or that it even is still a road.  You might find that it’s been completely blocked off and abandoned.  You might find that it is full of potholes and driving a car with low clearance on it is impossible.  Or you might find it in fine shape and able to continue on.  National Forest roads seem to usually be in better quality than BLM roads, but I don’t think there is a large difference.

If you’re going to be traveling on gravel, plan on it taking much longer to complete your trip.  Even on good unpaved roads in Oregon, unless you’re in an off road vehicle, it’s going to slow you down.  Incorporate this into your planning. Be aware that these roads are highly unlikely to have certain safety features, like guard rails.  You will need to be more cautious, especially along ravines and ridges.

And clear cuts.  At some point, you’re going to travel through an area of the forest that has been wiped of all vegetation for logging purposes.  These are especially dangerous, because they can leave the road unstable.  Studies have shown that land that has been clear-cut is more susceptible to land slides, especially large ones.  So be careful. The only nice thing about clear cuts is that they can open up views that you might not have had otherwise.  Usually, it doesn’t feel like it was worth the trade.

One Lane Road Sign

One Lane Road Sign

If you get off the beaten path a little bit, you’re likely to run into a sign much like the one on the right.  The road you are on will narrow, and every little ways, you’ll find that it widens for 20 to 30 feet.  If you see a car coming, pull off to the side and let them by.  I haven’t figured out any etiquette for these encounters except  whoever pulls over first lets the other one past.  Of course, on these roads you want to travel more slowly in case you meet oncoming traffic.  If you’re headed around a sharp curve, you might want to honk your horn and alert anyone around to your presence.  Most of these roads are going to be gravel, but don’t assume that just because a road a paved, that it will be two lane.  I went over a paved road in the Umpqua National forest that was paved, but down to one lane.  It was also one of the roads that had been hit by a landslide.  So it always pays to be careful!

On one road, I came up to a fork that wasn’t on the map.  I was headed to the town of Steamboat, and looking at the map, I really wasn’t sure which fork to take.  Luckily, someone had left this very helpful sign:

Steamboat This Way

Steamboat This Way

Not exactly what I was expecting, but it was right.  I’ve seen signs that were knocked down and broken.  It you’re at an intersection and not sure where to go, look for a sign that may have been knocked over.  You might find something helpful!

When travelling over the large mountain passes, they require that you gain a few thousand feet in elevation, sometimes over a very short distance.  When climbing the pass, you will eventually find yourself behind a very slow semi-truck.  Be patient.  There’s going to be a passing lane within a few miles, and you’ll be able to safely pass them and continue on your journey.  When you’re coming down the pass, keep an eye on your speed. It’s very easy to build up speed and not even realize it.  Coming down Mt. Saint Helens, I was enjoying the drive until I realized that I had hit 80mph coasting down the hill.  This is a situation to be avoided.

Sunken Grade Sign

Sunken Grade Sign

Finally, you might see signs that indicate the road has a “Sunken Grade.”  They can be easy to ignore, but you should pay attention.  These signs indicate that the ground has shifted in that area, possibly due to a landslide.  Likely, the should is unsafe to pull onto, or there could be unexpected dips in the road.  The road may bank in an expected direction, especially around a curve.  Luckily, these areas are usually not very large.

That’s all for now!  Next time, I’m going to be taking a look at Oregon weather.