As I returned to my car after this hike, I was soaked to the bone. In fact, everything I carried with me was wet. The pages of my journal were rippling, my camera had fogged the lens with condensation and stopped working.* My iPhone wasn’t doing well either, having been used to take photos after my camera’s untimely death. It abruptly shut off. So why was it that I was beaming a toothy smile?
When I go on a hike, I hope to have at least one magical moment: that fleeting few seconds or minutes when I connect with the nature around me. It could be as simple as a hoot from an owl hidden high in a tree, the wind blowing the leaves in a certain way, or an encounter with an interesting bird, insect, or mushroom. These magical moments are why I like to get out on a trail in the woods.
My hike into the ancient forest of Opal Creek Wilderness was a magical moment from beginning to end. Despite my dead and dying electronics, I was a happy hiker.
I stumbled upon information about this 20,266-acre wilderness east of Salem, Oregon, while perusing the Internets for pictures of Oregon lichen. (Yes, I’m a geek.) On my ramble through the intertubes of the WWW, I found the website for Northwest Lichenologists, where they had on their calendar a Spring outing to the forest. What really grabbed my eye was this line: “Opal Creek is home to hundreds of species, many of which are only found in the ancient forests of the northwest.” Nine hours later, I was in my car, driving to see this forest for myself.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being a little giddy with excitement when I arrived at the trailhead. The drive up North Fork Road teased me with what lay ahead. Either side of the winding road – sometimes paved, sometimes not – dripped in green vegetation. They dripped with water as well – rain was in forecast on and off throughout the day – but having grown up in Oregon, I didn’t expect to visit such a green place any other way. In this kind of weather where the humidity is 100%, there’s very little you can do to stay dry for long, so I just expected to be soaked by the end of my adventure. (I was.)
I came here to hike, of course, but also to study any lichens and mushrooms I might encounter… and encounter them I did! I only covered a little more than a mile in the first 90 minutes in the forest. I was constantly stopping to photograph and study the lichen, which were saturated in color due to the saturation of rain water. I had just recently purchased Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest and after spending hours looking at beautiful photos in the book, it was nice to see the real thing out on the trail. (See the photos below)
*It turns out that my camera’s life died on this hike. No amounts of rice could save it from the humidity. My iPhone’s camera also died on this hike. The weather almost bricked my phone, but a day in rice saved everything but its camera.
Location: Opal Creek Wilderness, Wilamette National Forest, Oregon
Length: 7.6 miles
This map was made with the data my GPS captured on the hike.
For a more detailed trip report map, check this out.
If you prefer, I’ve added the following photos into Flickr so you can view them at a better resolution. Here’s the set.
Heading out in the morning dawn, banana in hand.
Only a couple hours from Bend, I found myself in a real-life Jurassic Park, except without Jeff Goldblum.
Look at how LUSH the ground is! LUSH, I tell you! It makes me so happy!
Bridge over Gold Creek.
The golf tee-like fungi: Crowned Pixie-Cup lichen – Cladonia carneola
I found a lot of Alectoria sarmentosa, commonly known as Witch’s Hair Lichen, on the forest floor. I suppose that wind knocked it out of the tree or maybe the weight with rain water was too much for it to handle. Here you can see that this colony is still attached to a broken branch.
This area is called the half bridges, an engineering feat where the road tightly hugs the side of a steep portion of the Little North Santiam River Canyon
Another section of the half bridges.
In 1859, miners arrived in the valley and discovered gold. Building on the Jawbone Flats mining camp.
Brown tree, red tree, green tree, whee!
I’m feeling a bit green here.
Some bird’s storage unit in the woods.
An old steam boiler, remnants of Merten Mill
View of the Little North Santiam River from the trail.
The smallest National Forest in America! (Joking)
The Opal Creek Trail is, in fact, a continuation of North Fork Road, the access road one takes to get to Opal Creek Wilderness. It continues into the woods to here, the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center.
This is Jawbone Flats, home of the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center.
Cabins at Jawbone Flats.
An old fire engine in the woods near Jawbone Flats.
This is the beautiful Opal Falls, some of the most beautiful in all of Oregon, as you can see. Seriously though, this is the last photo my camera captured before the condensation killed it. RIP Canon Elph 300.
My iPhone’s camera wasn’t doing so well either, but I was determined to try to photograph the continual beauty found on this trail!
I’m certain that this forest was enchanted.
I hiked for miles without seeing another soul.
Not a bad photo for an iPhone G3.
B ROLL Photos:
When I first found this guy under a log, I thought it was a salamander, but it is in fact a young newt, or an eft. There are quite a few species of newts and salamanders living in the Opal Creek Wilderness, including the Pacific giant salamander, which can grow up to a foot long.
This is possibly Roesler’s cartilage lichen, or Ramalina roesleri
An adult rough-skinned newt – Taricha granulosa.
This is either Lobaria oregana or Lobaria pulmonaria
This is either Lobaria oregana or Lobaria pulmonaria
A fungi in the family Peltigeraceae
Lobaria oregana or Lobaria pulmonaria, known as cabbage lungwort. I love the texture of this lichen.
I photographed this tiny lichen – the whole image area is the size of a US nickel – holding my 10x loupe up to my iPhone camera.
This rain soaked leaf was partially transparent. I find that pretty cool.
This is possibly frog pelt lichen, or peltigera neopolydactyla
Inactive tube lichen, or Hypogymnia inactiva, is greenish on upper surface and black on the lower surface.
This is cup lichen – Cladonia bellidiflora – one of my favorite lichens. I first learned about this lichen in Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest by McCune/Geiser and thought how cool it would be to find it in the wild. Just 24 hours later and there it was, in front of my lens!
I didn’t know why I wasn’t finding many mushrooms on my hike until I learned that a mushroom workshop took place a few days prior. I’m not sure if ecologist John Villella, the leader of the workshop, or one of his students decided to pick this mushroom and write graffiti on it, but it was a disappointing discovery.
Cladonia leporina – cup lichen
Devil’s matchstick lichen, or Pilophorus acicularis
Possibly Aspicilia sp.
I’m not sure what this small plant is.
More Crowned Pixie-Cup lichen – Cladonia carneola – a common lichen in the Pacific Northwest.
I don’t know what this lichen is but it looks cool.