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Smack! Into the Woods; Trail 3507; Blue Pool; Lava; Whoopsie! Why we do this…

I will undoubtedly get in trouble with My Lovely Bride for this photo, which could be construed as her having laid an egg. Actually, she is sitting on this uncomfortable rock under our campground’s office window because the Wi-Fi signal in the coach was too weak to send out her daily Sanaya post.  The bedhead and attire is evidence of the fact that NOTHING comes ahead of Sanaya!

Okay, now I will get to the primary reason that we are here in McKenzie Bridge, Oregon; it is the terminus of the nation’s #1 rated mountain bike trail, the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail (USFS Trail #3507) in the high Cascade Mountains. This 26 mile long trail parallels (kinda-sorta) the spectacular whitewater river from Clear Lake to Paradise in Oregon campground in the Willamette National Forest, dropping about 3,000 feet over our ride. (Thanks, Brad, for the USFS’ great work!) We asked Jim, our campground host, for help in arranging a shuttle to the top of the trail. Lonnie, one of his other guests, then drove us up the mountain, dropped us off, and returned our car to the campground. This topographic trail map shows our route. Beginner map readers will note that the squiggly lines that are closely spaced indicate mountains and steep cliffs…

The trail started out only moderately difficult, and became harder/more technical in places. I’ll get to the hard part later. The trail is very twisty and narrow in most places, and you have to duck and weave under some of the branches… that keeps you alert!.

On much of the trail, you are riding through 600 year old Douglas fir groves that blow your mind with their beauty.You have to stop now and then (1) to catch your breath, because it’s not all downhill, and (2) to take in the magnificence of the forest.

This area is called the dry riverbed section, because the McKenzie goes underground for 3 miles, due to the porous nature of the volcanic basalt rock. There are several smaller streams and ravines to cross on narrow log bridges. I’m sure there are some teenagers that will ride across these bridges on their bikes, but our good friend Prudence suggested we carry our bikes here….

How does the question go, “If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one there to hear it, is there any noise?” I can almost guarantee you that when this tree fell, it made a bunch of noise!

Shortly later, we arrived at one of the very special sights on this trail, where the river reappears – crystal clear Blue Pool, also known as Tamolich Falls, one of Oregon’s hidden treasures. You can hike to the pool, but it’s at least an hour in from the trailhead. From the trail where we’re standing, it’s about a 100 foot drop to the water below, and the turquoise color rivals that of Crater Lake. The falls, fed by snowmelt from higher elevations, are dry in summer, but in early spring could be seen on the lower left side of the cliff below me.

After Blue Pool, you get to the lava flows. Lava flows? Yes, this area has numerous signs of the widespread volcanic activity that marks Oregon and Washington as part of the Ring of Fire that runs around the Pacific Ocean from South America through the US, Canada, Japan, the Philippines, the South Pacific and down to New Zealand. This photo shows us carrying our bikes through a steep lava flow; it is much safer than riding down, because a fall here could have grave consequences. Local riders call falls on lava like landing on a cheese grader. Oooohhh, that sounds nasty!

Speaking of falls, I am still trying to figure out what happened in the next section of the trail, which featured an off-camber turn (i.e., it sloped away from the turn). My Lovely Bride thinks I may have been “going too fast for conditions” or riding too close to the edge of this drop-off… I think it may have been a late season dry avalanche. I’ve heard of them. Really. Or maybe it was a very localized earthquake. In any case, one moment I was riding along thinking about the beauty of the river several hundred feet below, and the next moment I felt the ground move under me, and my trusty steed and I were sliding down the hillside toward the river. A very thoughtful fir tree intervened and provided a gentle resting place for a few moments while I regained my composure before climbing back up to the trail. Fortunately, Suzanne was able to document my adventure for future generations to ponder and laugh about. She couldn’t have done a thing to help me, because I had the situation completely under control. If nothing else, it made a great photo op, with only minor scrapes and bruises to remind me of the event.

Did I mention that there are lots of really BIG trees up here in Oregon? There were several spots like this where you rode under or between fallen fir trees…

There was also more lava; this must have been a fairly recent event, because it was not overgrown with ferns. I don’t think we’d want to be here when the lava was actually flowing… tires don’t like that kind of heat.

We arrived at our final bridge crossing, and MLB decided to relax for a few and enjoy the cool breeze blowing over the river. It had been a hard ride, almost five hours of pedaling, carrying and occasionally walking our bikes. But the beautiful scenery had been worth the effort, and even my fall(s) had provided amusement and valuable lessons learned. (Note to self: avoid unintentional, rapid changes in elevation while riding along cliffs!) 

To Suzanne’s many mothers out there reading this blog, we seem to do some crazy stuff, risking sprains and fractures on mountain bikes, but to us, it’s worth the occasional bruise or three to experience the beauty of the wilderness close-up and personal. You can see by these pictures why we are drawn to do these things…


  • Anonymous
    Posted July 8, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    You are welcome and glad you are around to tell us about it! Early in my career I worked as a Wilderness Ranger just north of the McKenzie. Getting paid to hike around greeting people, doing trail work and occasionally fighting fire was a great job! I met many office bound people that wanted to trade places with me. Brad

  • Anonymous
    Posted July 11, 2014 at 5:03 am

    Great blog. Just found you. Very entertaining. It great to be able to "see" a place I've never been, through your blog, and I really like your pictures. Keep up the great work…play!


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