Thursday, September 26, 2013

A waterfall destination

9/25/13 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Ah, youth! I remember it well!  The world was my oyster and travel was my dream. Although my husband and I married young and lived frugally for many years, we always took our three kids on yearly camping vacations.  Thanks to cabins and tent trailers, we enjoyed state parks in most of the Western United States.

Once our children grew up and flew the coop, we spread our wings and did some traveling abroad. At some point in the 1980s I posted a “Top Ten Places in the world to visit” list on my office bulletin board. The goal of course, was to visit every place on the list and if possible, every continent. We didn’t quite make them all but we’ve been almost every place overseas that was important to us.

Now that we are in our 70s, we can look back and enjoy exotic memories of places like Petra in Jordan and the famous Egyptian Pyramids. But our more active youthful vacation adventures were all here in the states. They included rafting magnificent glaciers in Alaska; and hiking trails from Death Valley and King’s Canyon in California to snowmobiling the Grand Mesa in Colorado.

Aging has put somewhat of a crimp in our travel ventures. Flying over the pond no longer holds much allure for us. Bad backs and knees mean less hiking and more overlooks. We now focus on places in the Pacific Northwest and across the United States that we haven’t been. But truthfully, we are always happy to come home to Oregon.

This year we didn’t even want to fly across the country. So we downsized our travels again. We’ve always loved waterfalls so we got in the RV to check out some of the falls in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest area: The Upper, Middle and Lower Lewis River Falls. We were staying nearby on the Columbia River and decided to make the short trek from Woodland into the Lower Lewis River Falls area.

Sandra and Terry, our longtime friends and RV buddies joined us. These fun-loving travel companions just happen to have a tow-car and were the driver and co-pilot on a typical Kaiser Adventure journey into the wilderness. I am the navigator on these trips and Chuck is the resident comedian. The four of us make quite a team.

As navigator, I had prepared driving instructions via the Northwest Waterfall Survey website. It seemed to be a short hour-long drive, so we violated travel rule #1: always pack a lunch. A nearby Chamber of Commerce assured us that lunch would be easily obtained in nearby Cougar. The access description was simple:

“Easy Access: Take Interstate 5 to the town of Woodland, and exit onto Highway 503 heading east. Follow 503 east to Cougar, and continue to Forrest Service Road # 90, just past the Pine Creek Ranger Station. Follow FR 90 for 14 miles to the Lower Falls Recreation Area. Parking for the falls is to the right of the entrance. There are numerous trails along the canyon leading to several good views of the falls in less than 500 feet.”

After breakfast at Rosie’s Coffee Shop, we hit the road about 10 a.m. or so. The drive to Cougar was beautiful—densely wooded areas growing alongside deep blue reservoirs. About an hour into the drive, my husband, who is not known for his patience, began to say, ”Are we there yet?” “No, Chuck, we’re not there, yet,” we would all chorus in reply.

About that time we started driving over a series of bridges. Our co-pilot isn’t fond of heights and was getting a bit woozy. Ever solicitous, Chuck would say, “Close your eyes,” as we approached bridge after bridge and he closed his eyes! There were no waterfall signs in sight.

As the miles clicked off, the roads narrowed, traffic was sparse and tension mounted. We had passed Cougar, our last chance for lunch. We had water and protein bars but that was it. That’s when Chuck looked at me and busted us up by dramatically groaning, “We’re all going to die!” Well, we all thought we were going to die laughing!

Still, there was nothing to indicate that waterfalls were anywhere in the vicinity. I was responsible for our directions and my reputation was on the line. Our driver pulled over and asked to see the map. Yep. He confirmed that we seemed to be going in the right direction.

Right then, the pavement ended and we could see a gravel rock ‘n roll road ahead. Then someone spotted a small sign indicating that there was a campground at the end of the road. A group of motorcyclists came roaring up the road towards us. That was good news. People had gone down and come back up alive.

So down into the canyon we went, bottoming out in the valleys and repeating the now famous saying, “We’re all going to die!”

The road was rough, steep and washed out in places but the reward was worth it. The Lower Falls was a short walk outside the campground. A solid wall of water crashes into the large pool in a spectacular fashion with other falls just a few feet away. The Middle and Upper falls are accessed from this area but according to fellow sightseers not worth the trouble.

That was good enough for us. We admired the view, climbed down on the rocks, took pictures, made more memories, ate our protein bars, drank our water and headed back to Rosie’s for a very, very late 3 p.m. lunch. We were alive and well.

There is a time and a season for everything. A time for big trips and small. So whatever your age, get out and see our beautiful country before it's too late.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

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