Gnat Creek Trail

Hiking boots hang in a tree at the Gnat Creek Trailhead.

Saturday I chose a trail close to where I live called Gnat Creek Trail. Neither of us had hiked it before. Using the AllTrails app, I saw that it was a simple trail with no big vistas, and out and back in the forest. Trail reviewers said it was a beautiful forest, and that is what won me over. They turned out to be right.

We got a late start, which allowed us to eat a big breakfast and get the woodstove nice and hot to heat the house up again. We drove only half an hour west on Highway 30 to the trailhead. There are multiple places to access the trail, but we chose to park at the trailhead, which is near the Gnat Creek campground. There’s a nice big parking area there, well off the highway.

Mossy trees and open spaces made it a rather pretty hike.
The monstrous old growth trees were logged long ago, leaving only these stumps like monuments.

The trail is in great shape so – while the season means we’ve had a ton of rain – the good trail meant the muddy spots were easily manageable. The day was partly sunny with no rain and almost fifty degrees (almost ten Celsius) – which is equivalent to a spring day for us here in the PNW. What I’m trying to say is: the conditions were good and we had an enjoyable hike.

Gnat Creek is quite beautiful.
Pedro gets a better look at the creek.

This trail was odd for two reasons. First, it had a bonafide highway crossing. Just a look-both-ways-and-good-luck kind of highway crossing. This only works because Highway 30 at this point is pretty rural. But still! The speed limit is 55 and I did not see any signs warning the drivers. I think they have no idea to expect people randomly showing up on the road like multicolored deer in spandex.

We were lucky when we crossed.
As soon as we were safely across, vehicles came blasting past. Whew!

The second odd thing was that the trail goes right through a fish hatchery facility. We got a little lost trying to find the trail on the other side of it, so I don’t have any photos of the fish hatchery, which would have been cool to check out. Anyway. The trail comes up to the lawn of the place, and then just fades out in the grass. On the other side of the grass we found a sign that said “TRAIL” with an arrow that pointed clearly to the right, and the only thing to the right was a paved driveway to someone’s house. We turned to go that direction, and spotted the sign that said “Private property, keep out.” Doubtless installed to counter the effects of the first sign.

A picnic area for people visiting the fish hatchery. I liked the salmon. You can see the paved driveway behind it that leads to a few houses. That driveway is not the trail!

I looked at my AllTrails app for guidance, and it showed where the trail was, so we wandered over there and voila! a clear trail continued on a hill, alongside the fish hatchery. We were off again.

If you want to avoid the highway crossing, park at the fish hatchery, and walk from there. You’ll lose 1.5 miles of lovely trail, but it might be worth it.

By this time we had finished our travel mug of coffee that we had brought along, and rather than carry it with us, empty, all day long, we stashed it at the base of some pretty trees with the plan of picking it up on our way back. I thought the trees were photogenic. I rendered them in black and white because that’s what they looked like to me, shining in a ray of morning sun.

We couldn’t figure out what kind of trees these were. Alder maybe.

After stashing the cup, we looked up and discovered we were in a wide open path with brambles and the trail was a luxurious short grass track. Hard to describe but just look at the photo. The trees were cleared for power lines and I’m sure the bushes and grass were natural, but I had not seen grass on a trail before and it was pretty cool. I suppose I could call it the third odd thing.

A luxurious grass trail.

At the far end of the fish hatchery (we were on a hill, so we could still see it) the trail had information signs leading up to a waterfall. The signs were fun and unexpected, and those plus lots of benches were all sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America. It looks like the fish hatchery + trail must be a common destination for families or scouts.

Signs along the trail educated us about the forest and the creek.
I appreciated the appearance of Native people on one of the signs, but I am dissatisfied with the sign.

The signs explained the formation of the area by volcanic eruptions and the distribution of lava to shape the valleys. It explained that we receive 75-120 inches of rain annually. That’s a lot of rain, and is validation for all my whining about rain. One sign reminded people that we are standing on land that once belonged to someone else. The sign could be better. It talks the whole time in past tense, perpetuating the myth that many Americans still believe, which is that Native people are extinct. It calls the Chinook the “salmon and cedar people” which I have NEVER heard in all the time I’ve lived here and studied Oregon tribes. I’m also not sure why we would call one specific tribe the “salmon and cedar” people, when there were about 200 tribes right here that also used the cedar and the salmon extensively. That is just weird, and makes the Chinook seem more exotic than necessary. The sign could have said instead that when the Chinook lived on Gnat Creek, like the hundreds of other tribes in this region prior to colonization, they used the abundance of natural resources to have a comfortable life. The most useful resources were cedar trees and salmon. The sign could also say that the Chinook no longer live here because the U.S. Government forced them to move, and today they are scattered around the Pacific Northwest, living in cities like the rest of us.

Alright!! That’s my soapbox speech for the day!

The Gnat Creek Falls is pretty cool. For my artistic eyes, I am disappointed with the enormous log right in the middle of the falls. It has come down recently, and most probably this very winter or last winter. It will take many years for it to decompose and let us see the waterfall again. Or, prior to that there could be a flood that would be strong enough to move it. But just imagine how much water it took to carry the log here in the first place. That’s awesome.

From a viewpoint above the falls.
Standing in front of the falls and the huge tree in the middle of the creek.
Log railing above the falls.
A pretty little tributary falls into Gnat Creek.
Water cascades down a stairway of volcanic rock above the waterfall.

After the falls and the information signs, the next thing we came across was a rare Bigfoot sighting!

I would love to hear a Native story about bigfoot.

Finally we left all the idiosyncrasies behind, and set out on the kind of trail I am more accustomed to: one with no signs of civilization other than the trail itself. Because it was a non-rainy weekend, there were people and dogs on the trail. Since I live in rural Trump Land, pandemic protocols are mostly ignored out here, so, while we did see a couple of people wearing masks, most were not, and I felt no shame in not wearing one myself. (Pedro and I are of the opinion that in the open air in the forest, our odds of catching a virus are low, so we rarely wear a mask on a trail. The more virus-cautious people in the city get upset about that, but out here they don’t care as much.)

The elevation climbed and we began some serious hiking. Now and then we stopped to admire the view. The trail reviewers had mentioned the pretty forest, and somehow the description was exactly right. The re-growth since the huge trees were logged remains a little sparse. This allowed lots of light to come in and keep it bright and uplifting even though we constantly had the forest canopy over us. The sun even poked a ray through the clouds a few times, and lit up the hanging moss, which was even prettier.

Sunshine reaches the trail.
A green fuzzy forest monster.
A purple forest monster. With a camera. {Photo by Pedro}

We hiked about 7 miles total, and only about 1000 feet of climb. It’s an out-and-back trail, with a handy loop at the end, so if you’re a runner and here for exercise, you won’t have to break your stride to stop and turn around. There are also some large benches to sit on at the end, and one couple was taking advantage of that by having a large picnic lunch and watching the creek tumble past.

Pedro was helping me study my Spanish. This week I am learning words for family members. I am also constantly studying how verbs and adjectives change if the subject is male or female or singular or plural. In English, the adjective “tall” is “tall” no matter who you’re talking about. In Spanish, there are four options and it’s hard for me to remember to select the right one. It’s like learning FOUR TIMES as much language to say the same thing! Yeesh. So we walked along and talked about sobrinas, and padrastras, and tios, and abuelas, and whether they are alto/a or bajo/a (or altos or bajos or altas or bajas). I can’t believe how hard it is for me, but I’m learning.

We enjoyed the creek up close.
And from a distance.
Pedro’s keen eye spotted this secret valentine message. Do you see it?
Thanks for reminding me!
On our way out, we found another, near the beginning of the trail.
I hope this works.

We did remember to pick up the empty coffee mug on the way back. You were wondering, weren’t you?

That was not the end of the day, however. We were in for a treat as we went to find a place to eat dinner.

13 thoughts on “Gnat Creek Trail

  1. Haha, a fine tale you’ve weaved. I was wondering about the mug! And what a hike! So pretty. These greens seem exactly as primordial as they are. And these finds for the finish, just wonderful. ❤

    1. Thank you Manja! It’s the payback for living where it rains so much: greens and greens! And yes, we were delighted with the little painted hearts with messages. I’m glad Pedro spotted them. Our day ended with a spectacular sunset…but there were so many sunset photos that I had to save them for a future post.

  2. I’m like you. While I always wear my mask now every time I leave the house, I make an exception when I’m hiking. However, when I happen to bump into a lot of other hikers along the trail, I usually put on my mask just to be safe, or avoid them whenever possible. Gosh I really hope this pandemic to be over so we can live our lives without having to be worried of getting infected with Covid! Thanks for writing a better way to describe the Chinook people. To me it does sound more respectful.

    1. Oh, me too, Bama! I am aching for the day when we can stop worrying about contagion and giving or getting disease. Ugh. It’s so awful to have to keep this front of mind for multiple years. I’m glad you felt my different description of the Chinook was more respectful. The sign was not terrible, but a good example of how people accidentally do damage when they aren’t really paying attention to what they are saying. As an American Indian myself, I get so tired of people thinking we are exotic and some kind of nature-people of the past. I want to be treated as a member of a modern and current people, so I’m sensitive to signs like this.

  3. Another excellent photographic and prose record. It will be interesting to see what happens to that fallen tree on the waterfall. You keep your soapbox on the Chinooks and other peoples.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Derrick. I’ve got to get it out of my system and this is a good place I guess. My brother suggested I pass the link from this blog post on to whomever is responsible for the information signs. I think that might also be a way to help broaden awareness. The makers of this sign did a fair job, it’s just clear that they don’t realize the things they implied, by writing it the way they did.

    1. Holy cow, there’s some insider knowledge. I wonder if they mean that here in the States too. I see shoes hanging from wires or trees all the time, and it never occurred to me that they were a message. These hiking boots at the trailhead though…I can’t think of a message. I like how the photo turned out, though. 🙂

    1. And you, too, with Portuguese! I am determined to learn Spanish, and grateful that I have a fluent Pedro who is happy to answer my questions and help me study any time I ask. Yes, I love the moss as well. It’s about time I celebrate the rainfall, and the moss is a result of our wet wet climate, making the forests richly green in every season.

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