Oregon’s Forgotten Corner.
For those of you who actually read this blog on a regular basis, it may have become apparent that I am using this medium to assemble and present the first draft of a book about Oregon’s forgotten northwest corner. With the exception of those that live in this northwest corner of Oregon, most residents tend to focus on the Cascades when they consider recreation in the woods. When they do traverse the state’s northwest corner, they’re typically making a mad dash to reach the distant coast. On either side are commercial forests that until recently contained few recreational amenities to draw in the speeding driver. The traveler sees only the blue or yellow gates that prevent cars from penetrating up the gravel road into the mass of trees. For some the sight of a recent clear-cut is enough of a deterrent; for others the fear of getting lost in the labyrinth of logging roads keeps them from entering.
But for some, it’s not about reaching a certain destination, nor is it about the “purity” of the forest experience. Some of us feel an inchoate desire to ground ourselves in the spirit of a place, almost like a beacon searching out its coordinates. Have you ever seen a dog stick his nose into the air to take the measure of a place? For me these remote valleys each have a distinct character that guide the elk, shield the beavers that call it home, and nurture the shadowy carpets of duff that split to reveal buttery chanterelles.
Digging for the buried stories
Several years ago, I explained to a friend that I was writing a book about the forests and trails that stretched from Portland to the coast. “Aside from describing trail routes, what more is there to say”, he asked? To him the Coast range was a vast expanse of forest that was occasionally visited by hunters, fishermen and loggers. Where, in these remote forests, were the dramatic stories that might interest people, he wondered?
After years of crisscrossing these mountains, I recognized that this corner of Oregon was full of stories if one only knew where to look. These remote forests were rippling with historic undercurrents. Digging deeper, I discovered footpaths made by the region’s first people. In the foothills I followed the blaze marks of the ax-wielding trailblazers. Along the wild Salmonberry River I walked the trestles and tunnels of our determined railroad builders. The deeper I penetrated the denser the story became.
More than a hiking guide.
I started this project describing two hiking routes to the coast, but soon I found myself digging deep into Oregon’s history. Not satisfied with just hiking 1,500 miles of old logging roads, I began to systematically collecting long-lost anecdotes from century-old newspapers, hunting for out-of-print pioneer memoirs, pouring through obscure community histories, and culling archeological reports.
As my hikes took me deeper into the Coast range, the research uncovered an epic contest between Oregon’s primeval forest and the determinism of the American frontier. And the cast of characters exploded beyond the foresters, private land managers and lumberjacks that one might expect to find, to include the Calapooyans, the colorful voyageurs, the hard-scrabble homesteaders, the bull whackers, and even the violent “Wobs” that shaped this remarkable history.
This book will be for those people who want to explore aimlessly and to be rewarded endlessly. It is my hope that you will enjoy your natural surrounding by following the Coast Range trails I’ve surveyed. And that my digging into the heritage of the place it will give you a greater appreciation for the complex history that this forgotten corner of Oregon yet another dimension to appreciate.