In the Footsteps of Explorers: Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area

A few days ago, I set out to explore Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area.  Literally less than 1 mile from my doorstep, I had yet to visit this seemingly benign park in the West Columbia Gorge Management Unit.  A parking lot, a restroom, a boat ramp, an interpretive nature trail . . . I was sure 45 minutes would suffice.

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An explorer’s view! A flooded Sandy River from Broughton’s Bluff, Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area, Oregon.

2 1/2 hours later, I emerged back in civilization muddy, sweating, hand tingling from a wrestling match with stinging nettle, and glowing from the aftermath of an unforeseen adventure.  I did not walk through the parking lot, did not use the restroom, visit the boat ramp, or wander the interpretive trail.  No, I discovered Broughton’s Bluff.

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Towering walls of basalt columnar joints make up this near-Portland climbing mecca.

Broughton’s Bluff is in Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area – it’s the cliff and ridge to the east.  It’s actually the geologic dividing line between the Willamette Valley to the west and the foothills of the Cascades to the east.  And it’s named after an explorer.  Nothing to do with the park’s namesakes of 1805, Lewis & Clark, but, rather, a British naval officer, Lt. William Robert Broughton who explored the Lower Columbia in 1792 and navigated up as far as the entrance to the Gorge –  “Broughton’s Bluff” – named after him in 1926.  (He was also the guy who and named Mt. Hood – for Lord Samuel Hood, another British naval officer.)

Although not well-advertised, you can get your own explorer on and visit Broughton’s namesake.  A steep, braiding, slippery trail winds you through mossy green boulders as you skirt around basalt walls until you can make a v-line for a ridge and scramble to the top.

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No walk in the park, the trail to Broughton’s Bluff is riddled with obstacles.

Be forewarned, this trail is not for the faint of heart (or the fear of height or the young of age).  It’s steep; drop-offs are severe and unforgiving; and the trail surface includes stairs, roots, and boulders the size of small cars – all of which are coated with moss and mud.  Falling would not be pretty.

If you’re wondering about the fitness level required, know that it is most used by rock climbers.  Rather than a day-hiking trail, Broughton’s Bluff is best known for its climbing routes sprinkled along the basalt cliffs – again, not for the faint of anything – climbing equipment and experience required here!

I came out relatively unscathed, but not without waxing my knee on a rock, scraping up mud with my butt, and bracing my hand on a stinging nettle plant – never done that?  It’s like shaking hands with a wasp.

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They’re b-a-a-a-c-k! Rufous hummingbirds are in our neighborhood! Love these little warriors.

Besides the adventure and the views, spring (and the fact that it was all warm, sunny, and windless!) also made this hike.  Five different wildflowers graced the trails – early blue violet carpeting the Sandy’s banks, Indian plum hanging along the trail, oaks toothwort just opening all nestled in the groundcover, chickweed hiding among the boulders, and then a surprise red-flowering currant bursting from behind a Douglas fir.

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Red-flowering currant – always pinker than you remembered!

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Oaks toothwort – one of the first wildflowers of the season!

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Chickweed – easy to miss this tiny white flower!

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Indian plum – a sure sign that spring is on its way!

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Early blue violet – a common wildflower, but unusual for me. I usually find wood violets, instead!

For those of us who love wildflowers, each sighting is like a reunion with an old friend – remembering names, followed by big hellos and so-good-to-see-yous, recalling the last time you met, and concluding with photos ops for Facebook.  Greeting the Townsend’s chipmunk and Rufous Hummingbird was no different.  A reminder that spring is on its way, and the forest is filled with familiar faces.

Next up?  Another trip to Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area.  This time to drop by Sandy’s edge, wander the interpretive nature trail, read up on Lewis and Clark’s 1805 visit, and check out the facilities.  And perhaps pay homage to the explorer Lt. William Robert Broughton with a quick jaunt up to the base of the basalt columns.

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Posted on March 11, 2014, in Cultural History, Plants & Wildlife, Seasons, Visiting the Gorge and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Claudia Brooks

    Thanks for another great adventure from our computer chair! We clearly will be avoiding the bluff climb, but love the new info on that spot we all know so well from below!

  2. Wow! Wonderful! (… and thanks for making this “hike” and writing about it so this old granny can enjoy it vicariously. I know I would have killed myself if I tried to climb this bluff!)

  3. Wow is right! Wish I had know how wonderfull it was when I was In my 40s or 50s or even in my 60s. I guess I will just enjoy or comments and photos!!

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