Brian's Photo Blog — Article 115
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Abiqua Falls Photo Outing
Sunday 17 June 2012   —   Category: Outings

Although less than four miles away — as the crow flies — from the ge­o­log­i­cal­ly-​similar and better-​known North Falls and Upper North Falls of Silver Falls State Park, the remote, lesser-​known, difficult-​to-​get-​to Abiqua Falls is, for all practical purposes, a world away. As you can see from the photo to the right, even some of the flora seems to be from another world.

To begin your journey to Abiqua Falls, you first need to get to the village of Scotts Mills, which is a couple of miles southeast of Oregon Route 213 between Silverton and Molalla. At the eastern end of Scotts Mills, you take Crooked Finger Road south and east for 10.8 miles — 9.4 miles of that is paved, after that it’s gravel. At this point, you turn right on an unmarked (except for a small post with “7-2E-33” on it) road which is the last segment of route to Abiqua Falls. So far, so good!

The first mile of the Abiqua Falls road is not too bad, but the next mile-and-a-half until the end of the road is quite rough, and you will probably want to be driving a high-clearance 4x4 vehicle. This 2.5 mile road is quite steep — from the Crooked Finger Road turnoff at the top, to the parking spot at the end of the road, it’s a drop of just over 1,000 feet in elevation. A couple of small turnouts provide limited parking for hiking the rest of the way to the waterfall.

A couple of signs at the end of the road remind you that this is not public land, but private property. From what I can tell, the road area appears to belong to a logging company. The area that you hike through to get to the falls belongs to the Mount Angel Abbey — fifteen miles to the northwest, as the angel flies. You would be very wise to take to heart their advice to “please be cautious and exercise extreme care.” It was probably NOT a good idea for me to go alone. The path is steep, treacherous and demanding — USE AT YOUR OWN RISK!

On my way down the 0.2-mile hiking trail from the parking area to Abiqua Creek — during which the terrain looses about 260 feet in elevation — I almost lost my footing numerous times, but never fell. It almost seemed like angels from the Mount Angel Abbey — on whose property I was hiking — were on each side of me, lifting me up and guarding me in all my ways (Psalm 91:11-12)! Surely I should have fallen many times, but somehow I didn’t! It’s not like the trail was exactly slippery, or composed of loose gravel, but it was quite steep, and rocks in the path would often come loose.
Once I had reached this point at the bottom of the canyon — the halfway point to Abiqua Falls — I naïvely expected the going to be much easier. But the path (seen on the left bank of the creek) was so rocky, and there were so many fallen trees across the path that in the end it was not really much easier. Finally, after a ninety-minute hike (including lots of stops to take pictures), I arrived at my goal: Abiqua Falls.

How can words adequately describe this stunning work of art? How can I say it better than what has already been said elsewhere?
Abiqua Falls is a near-perfect free-falling waterfall of 92 feet in height set amid a spectacular basaltic amphitheater, framed by some of the best examples of columnar jointing that can be found in western Oregon.
Rather than rely on feeble words, you can feast your eyes on the 21 photos of the waterfall that are in the Abiqua Falls 2012 photo album. At first, you might think that that is an unnecessarily large number of picture for just one subject. But with various combinations of different angles, lenses and exposure settings, each photo presents a unique perspective. See for yourself as you browse through the album.

After enjoying and capturing the beauty of this magical location for about an hour and a half, I headed back to my truck the same way I had come. Even though the path rose sharply uphill for the last half of the hike, I still made it back in only 55 minutes — and of course I could not resist indulging in some more picture taking.

Before this outing, I had been planning my trip and looking at maps of the area. From what I could see, it seemed like there could possibly be access roads to the falls from the north and the west, in addition to the established route from the east. So once I had returned to my truck, I decided to explore the region and see if one of these alternate routes might pan out.

First on the agenda was the northern approach. After driving south on Oregon Route 213 for a couple of miles from its junction with the Mt. Angel Scotts Mills Road, I turned left (east) onto Abiqua Road. I followed this road southeast until the pavement ended after about nine miles, then continued on for another mile until the road was barred by a locked gate, about half a mile past its junction with Milk Ranch Road. I had suspected that this would be the case, but I was still disappointed. Now to try the second alternate route.

After photographic detours through Mount Angel and Silverton, I took Oregon Route 214 southeast from Silverton towards Silver Falls State Park. About four miles north of the northern entrance to Silver Falls, I branched off on some backroads, starting from the Drake Crossing area. Both Bridge Creek Road and Grade Road run in the same southeastern direction, usually par­al­lel­ling each other, sometimes over­lap­ping, and both are gravel. I discovered that Bridge Creek road had been chopped into a few segments, therefore it was impossible to drive the entire length of it.

Back at Oregon Route 214, I instead travelled down Grade Road for about 5.5 miles until I reached its third intersection with Bridge Creek Road, onto which I turned left (north). There seems to be a lot of logging operations in this area. I was getting closer to my goal, but after about a mile I came to yet another locked gate barring my way. From there it is only 1.5 miles to Abiqua Falls (as the crow flies), but by this time it was about 4:00 PM, and I wasn’t ready to start another potentially-long hike into the unknown. I’ll have to attempt that another time, when I can get an early start. On the other hand, from what I can see on the map, I’m not even certain that it’s possible to hike from there all the way to the waterfall. And it seems very unlikely that I would be able to descend to the creek level, seeing that the western wall of the canyon is a vertical cliff! But just maybe there’s a good view from the top?

Well, my afternoon exploration seems to have pretty conclusively demonstrated that there is really only one way to get to Abiqua Falls. All in all, it was quite an endeavour to get to the waterfall and back. It’s so close to Silver Falls on the map, but so far in reality! I took at total of 294 photos during this outing, which I have narrowed down to the best 60, including, as I mentioned above, 21 of the waterfall itself, and two panoramas. You can see them all in the Abiqua Falls 2012 photo album.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 115
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