Hills like down pillows

Suspended above Drift Creek, the North Fork drops 66 feet, creating this stunner. Drift Creek doesn't impress as the kind of place to produce spectacle. About two hours outside of downtown Portland, the drive feels at times more rewarding than the hike itself, despite enduring about an hour of suburban traffic between Portland and Newberg. (A commuter corridor where, it should be noted, there seems to be an abundance of Stetsons, a detail that pleases me so much that I refrain from absolutely unloading on the uncoordinated traffic interchanges at regular intervals of 300 yards and the mile upon mile of low density commercial and the peripatetic packs of 30 year-old men on scooters and the—I hate the area. But I love the hats.)

Without a macro lens, many of these intimate shots are less detailed than they could've been. Nevertheless, forests are full of life that's easy to miss.

Thereafter, the country crumples like an unmade bed, and I found myself in the heart of wine country, the Yamhill Valley. I've been here many times—to Dayton, Amity, Willamina, St. Paul—but the idyllic beauty of this bucolic landscape strikes me only now. The hills roll like down pillows, the vines fall like hair. I counted about a thousand sheep before Route 18 slipped deep into Siuslaw National Forest. There the familiar weight of temperate rainforest returns, the bite of cold air, the musk of decay. The ferns and the firs and the clover and the hollowed out stumps that crumble to the touch. (I found Spirit Mountain Casino there. Who knew?)

Twenty or thirty miles of highway and backroads later, I arrived at the Drift Creek Trailhead. There were many cars, more people, a shed with bathrooms and a trail. If this sounds underwhelming, it's because it was.

Wahh, waaaah.

OK, I should probably back this up a bit. I have a preexisting relationship with the Coast Range, and there's a certain protocol I follow when going there. The drives are longer, so I handpick the music, which if habit is any indication tends to be a combination of Pink Floyd and Rachmaninoff piano concertos. Imagine, if you will, the sinusoidal ups and downs of hills and valleys to Dark Side of the Moon against the high-pitched ambient buzz of a four-cylinder engine. The conspiracy of forces has a sort of somnolent effect on me, I am neither asleep nor awake, and the first time I experienced this odd transformation, I explored an abandoned railroad line along the Salmonberry River on a Tuesday, not a soul in sight, just me and the coyote who wanted to eat my lunch. I can't think of anything to say except... I think it's marvelous.

A carpet of clover.

TL;DR: I was really disappointed when a crowded parking lot opened upon scrub alder and the clusterfuck of tangled undergrowth that typifies forest 50 years young amid the lingering putrefaction of trailhead bathrooms.

I was wrong.

It took a quarter-mile to let go of my hate, and once I did the forest sprang to life. I take no pleasure in photographing forest undergrowth—I just can't do it right—so I went small instead, sticking my nose in the little places that get lost in the big picture. Even the people brightened up. There's a weird unspoken hiker's code that dictates greetings for each and every hiker passed, and it was in full effect at Drift Creek; no economical "hello!" for entire groups here.

Green, green, green. It's still early in spring, so the full spectrum of color has yet to arrive in the forest.

The trail descends 500 feet in ambling switchbacks, then flattens as it follows the contours of the land for a solid mile. Deeper into the forest, much of the disheartening roadside scrub fades away and the land acquires more character. Evidence of old growth can be found in places: a carpet of clover surrounding the disemboweled remains of a Doug fir that must've been hundreds of years old when it fell; further on, across footbridges caked in mud, the trees rose like flying buttresses under a stained glass canopy.

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But none of these sights compared to what waited at the end. Drift Creek Falls isn't terribly tall, but you get every inch of its 66 feet. Before I was even aware of the creek's plunge, I encountered a 200-foot suspension bridge crossing the Drift Creek canyon floor 100 feet below. No big deal.

In August of 2010, the massive slab of rock at center broke from the main precipice and dramatically changed the appearance of the falls. Check out the difference.

The view of the falls is magnificent from every angle. I spent about an hour here to shoot photos and eat dinner. After an hour back up the trail, I headed home.

Small rapids near the base of Drift Creek Falls.