Canemah Bluff: Part One

Canemah Bluff

Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” —Confucius, Chinese philosopher (551-479 BC)

Thumbing through Metro Parks Digest, I read about a place called Canemah Bluff.  A place so intriguing, I was quickly entrenched and knew I had to see it for myself. 

On the edge of Oregon City is Canemah Bluff that begins at the end of an urban street that dead-ends in a small parking lot at the foot of a small playground.  The moment we arrived the wind picked up, it started to rain, and the air felt like ice.  Waiting for the weather to ease, which it didn’t, I gave the trail map a once over, then Chris and I donned our rain jackets and followed Camas Spring Trail.  Along the bluff, hair blowing, and faces wet, we admired the Willamette River below.  Moving on, we entered the white oak forest, and I knew we were in a very special place.  It was that moment, I forgot all about the wind and the rain.    

Canemah Bluff with its unique geology, habitat, and history, encompasses 332-acres.  Formed on an ancient landslide, it is a place with gorgeous volcanic bluffs of the 15 million year-old Wanapum Basalts, overlain by the 2 million year-old Boring Lava Flow.  The word Canemah means The Canoe Place; artifacts of the area reveal Native Americans gathered here to camp, fish, trade, and conduct sacred ceremonies.  In 1844 pioneer settler Absalom Hedges staked a land claim.  Back then, virgin Douglas-fir forest dominated the bluff.  What a sight it must have been.  In 2008, 200 old growth Douglas-firs were logged from Canemah Bluff.  Once the virgin trees were felled, they were hauled with heavy machinery disgracefully damaging parts of the historic Pioneer Wagon Road, and Pioneer Cemetery Road (used only for funerals).  The logs were shipped elsewhere for salmon restoration projects.  In 2012, it happened again.  This time, 150 Douglas-fir trees were slated for felling, and again to be trucked out along the historic Pioneer Wagon Road, and Cemetery Road. 

The Willamette River from the basalt cliffs along Camas Springs Trail
Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) a native shrub of Canemah Bluff
Oregon White Oak—Quercus garryana
Twinflower (Linnaea borealis) a small native perennial along Camas Springs Trail
Oak Apple Gall created by a gall wasp (Andricus californicus)

A soft hike followed Camas Springs Trail that included a short segment of Cemetery Road (to be continued) and that ended with Frog Pond Trail.  Walking through part of the fifteen acres of Oregon white oak forest was incredibly beautiful.  Thick carpets of moss cushioned the trail.  From the trees, apple oak galls decorated the branches like ornaments.  The trail twisted through Douglas-fir, alder, ash, cottonwood, maple, and madrone forest.  I was mindful where I walked and stopped often to gaze and to ponder, and to simply soak up the atmosphere of this very special place.  

On the bluff Oregon White Oak forest (Quercus garryana) along Pioneer Cemetery Road
Pioneer Cemetery Road into Oregon White Oak Forest
Moss and Oak Forest along Pioneer Cemetery Road
Flag near the entrance to the Pioneer Cemetery (to be continued)
Small and bright Western Buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis) native perennial along Pioneer Cemetery Road
Non-Native Purple Deadnettle aka Red Henbit (Lamium purpureum) along Cemetery Road
Profusion of Licorice Ferns (Polypodium glycyrrhiza) along Pioneer Cemetery Road

Time passed too quickly as it usually does when I’m exploring new places. Pardon the cliché, but I felt like a kid in a candy store. Maybe if I stopped less to admire the wonderful details nature put forth, we could have finished all six segments of trail, but then what’s the fun in that? In nature, details are all relevant. To overlook them would be a sin.

Oak Apple Gall created by a gall wasp (Andricus californicus)
Bear Rub on young Douglas-Fir along Camas Springs Trail
Douglas-Fir Snag is home to woodpeckers along Camas Springs Trail
Gorgeous bark of Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) a native tree along Pioneer Cemetery Road
Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) along Pioneer Cemetery Road
Oregon Ash Snag (Fraxinus latifolia) native tree along Pioneer Cemetery Road

We finished with Frog Pond Trail pausing in the wetlands to observe the vernal pools—intriguing, temporary pools brimming with the rains of winter and spring.  Vernal pools are typically void of fish and sustain distinctive natal amphibians, and insects.  We delighted at the sight of them because in August, the pools will be dry.  Twenty paces from the trail, an old robin nest cradled in a shrub waited for spring tenants.  It was a fine finale.  

Wetland Vernal Pond along Frog Pond Trail
American Robin Nest along Frog Pond Trail

There’s more to discover at Canemah Bluff, so stay tuned for Part Two where I explore upland prairies, Spur Trail, Canemah Pioneer Cemetery, Old Slide Trail, and Licorice Fern Trail.  I hope you will join me.         

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