Opal Creek Wilderness

Still river It's tacitly agreed among us hikers that you always *wink* stick to the trail when you hike because, you know, the signs say so. Not to mention the numerous perils that may befall the hiker who strays: catastrophic injury, wild animals, catastrophic injury by wild animals, and impossibly lost pair of Ray-Bans. Nevertheless, the allure of something truly wild the fiction so easily found of being lost where no one's tread before, the bewildering phenomenon that occurs when a traveller and an environment merge into a transcendental whole make a compelling case for leaving the beaten, paved, enclosed path behind. Other times, a bulldozer blocks the right-of-way.

Such was the case at Opal Creek in early June. Maintenance on Forest Road 2209, the main thoroughfare to Jawbone Flats and Opal Pool, closed passage to hikers for all but brief periods during the day, and this wasn't one of them. The bridge was blocked from rail to rail by a backhoe in full operation. There was truly no way to pass discreetly, without interruption. About 200 feet below the bridge's platform burbled one of the many creeks that feed the Little North Santiam River. Steep forested banks on either side of the bridge made a descent to its waters beyond peril, just as they made it impossible to detonate explosive charges in outrage. The return from an unfulfilled hike was full of curses and resentment, but the shame might might've been harder to bear. Shame at the lack of foresight to check trail conditions. Shame at the lack of courage to ask the construction crew for an exception to their rule.


At the Opal Creek trailhead, a map shows in very stark detail the path of Forest Road 2209 and the course of the Little North Santiam in parallel, just south of the road. Unnoted on the map, of course, are tens of improvised trails that connect the river to the forest road. On the southern side of FR2209, the map reads, is a Scenic Recreation Area. On the northern side is Opal Creek Wilderness. The difference? The Scenic Recreation Area permits mineral collection. Where minerals can be collected, rivers can be forded.

In other words, the rules don't apply to the creative adventurer.

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