Opal Creek Wilderness – Long Overdue Return
By Adrian Klein
Over eight years ago Molly and I took my son Logan on one of his first backpacking trips. I had just bought my first DSLR that summer but knew nothing about photography. The trip was certainly more about checking out a new location and getting out for a weekend in the woods than anything else. I remember the trip well, a fantastically beautiful place relatively close to home that I had not heard of before. We still have a photo up in the house of three of us sitting on a large boulder in the creek near camp playing the card game Uno.
This year I looked at the images I captured back in 2003 and realize I have come a long way with my photography skills. Almost all of them would not make the cut today. Having a large gap of many years since visiting allows for a worthwhile retrospective to see how my work has changed. It was indeed fascinating.
Fast forward and it’s 2011. For years I have said I would go back and I put it off to go elsewhere. This year I had the perfect excuse to go. Abnormally high snow fall last winter in the Northwest kept the snow packs solid and deep on the mountains well into summer. Although there are a several “summits” in the 4,500 to 5,500 feet range the falls and creeks are located around 2,000 feet which makes them accessible most of the year.
Fortunately I was able to coax my now teenage son to go back to Opal Creek with me for a 3 day trip. We got the packs stuffed and headed out to reminisce and create new experiences. Below are some of the images I captured and details about the area.
There are several ways to get in but only one that is realistic for most. The others are longer multi-day trips. From Portland, Oregon it’s less than a couple hour drive to the main trailhead. Directions: http://www.opalcreek.org/experience/directions.aspx
The majority of the hike in I would classify as easy. The first few miles are only a few hundred feet elevation gain on dirt and gravel road. This means expect summer weekends to be busy. I have seen even jogging strollers with families making their way. That all comes to an end at Jaw Bone Flats, the old mining town converted to nature education center and a handful of cabins for visitors and residents. After that it’s a regular narrow hiking trail with a 2nd log bridge that needs to be replaced (you can still cross at your own risk which we did). After the bridge the numbers dwindle. We camped 4+ miles in from the trailhead and saw few over the 3 days. If you are camping there are numerous spots near Jaw Bone Flats, much less after that but they are there if you look. More details about getting here and the hike: http://www.oregon.com/Hike_Opal_Creek
When To Go:
Considering the majority of locations around 2,000 feet elevation and below in the Northwest are accessible most of the year there are not many limitations when to go. I have seen images taken in the area with fresh snow on the ground. I would prefer early summer with the rich fresh greens if I had to pick one. As for time of day, you are down in a canyon which means you have ample shade. Expect to be in full shade for the remainder of the day by 3 or 4pm, even in summer, which obviously has benefits allowing photographs whether it’s overcast or sunny.
This post would not be complete on this blog covering a location without discussing the photography aspect. As you can already see by the images in this post there are many opportunities and they will differ based on when you are there.
Color Depth: The images show how much color can change based on water depth, camera angle and light. It can vary from too deep to stand in to no more than ankle deep. With all of them giving various shades of opal color.
Man & Nature: If photographing man made items in nature tickles your fancy then you have a number of possibilities. The image I included of the old US Navy fire truck is one of my favorites in Jaw Bone Flats. There are other old cars, woodstoves, mining tools and more.
Reflecting Light: The light reflecting from the foliage covered walls and forest can be rather intriguing, as seen with the abstract image in this post. It may look like a bad acid trip from a Grateful Dead show. I can assure you it’s not. Many opportunities like this exist in the area when the sun is coming into the area or leaving.
Challenges: Whenever you have rushing water in a canyon the foliage is rarely completely still. Even when the wind was calm in the area I often found brush moving somewhere in the image near the water. Despite bumping up to say ISO800 I had still had movement issues most of the time.
If forests and streams are your interest when it comes to hiking and photography, this place is a must. It’s certainly a gem in more ways than one and is hard to believe this area almost met it’s demise to logging less than a couple decades ago. I know we need wood in this world but we can certainly learn to conserve to help protect spectacular places that would be completely altered for generations to come if logging came to town.