Sweet Creek Is So Sweet!
Tuesday 24 July 2012 — Category: Outings
Sweet Creek Falls, not far from the village of Mapleton, about 15 miles east of Florence.
We left a bit before 6:00 AM, had breakfast at McDonalds in Junction City, and then took Oregon Route 36 to Mapleton. A further ten-mile drive along Sweet Creek brought us to the parking lot at around 8:45 AM.
It’s only a 1.1-mile hike to the end of the trail at Sweet Creek Falls, with about a dozen small waterfalls along the way. Unfortunately for Catherine, she was hiking with a photographer, so it took us about THREE HOURS to reach the end! She imagined that we were going on a long walk with minimal stops, but for me, the photography is more important than the hike — although the hike is important too, it’s just LESS important.
It seemed like every five minutes' walk down the trail, a beautiful new vista would open up, begging to be photographed. With all the richness of falling water, dappled sunlight and mossy rocks, it was easy to spend 30 minutes or more in just one location. In order for the rushing water to have a smooth, milky look, I needed to set the camera on a tripod and use slow shutter speeds. That right there makes photographing take longer. Also, I needed to try different lenses to see how that would affect the images. Then, because so much time had passed, the sunlight had changed, and I would want to take the same pictures again in the different lighting!
My wife had the patience of a saint, but it was eventually hunger that drove me on with greater speed. We finally reached the multi-tiered Sweet Creek Falls a bit after noon, found some rocks to sit on with a good view of the falls, and enjoyed our picnic lunch. After a few more photos, we made our way back to the parking lot. This time we hiked the 1.1 miles in record time — 45 minutes instead of three hours! — with only a handful of pictures along the way.
Next, we drove a mile or so further up the road to the path leading to Beaver Creek Falls, just short of a mile’s hike on a somewhat-overgrown trail. Once back to the car, we crossed the road, and took another path which led back to Sweet Creek Falls, but on the other side of the creek from where we ate our lunch. On the trail, we met three young men, probably in their twenties. One of them asked me if we were from Mapleton, which seemed kind of a weird question to ask a stranger out in the middle of the forest. I replied “no,” and we continued on the to falls, while they headed back towards the parking lot.
Right at the end of the trail, as we were descending to the creek level, I wasn’t paying enough attention to where I was going. There was some water on the rocky path; I slipped and fell back, landing on my rear and the palm of my right hand. I didn’t break anything, but my right thumb was quite painful and started swelling. My pants and backpack got quite a bit of mud on them, which Catherine graciously wiped off the best she could.
Even though I fell, it was still worth making this extra hike, because the view of Sweet Creek Falls is much better from this side of the creek. I took some more photos, and then we headed back to the car, tired and subdued. As we arrived at the remote and isolated parking lot, the three guys we had met earlier were there, just hanging around their car and not doing anything in particular. It was kind of creepy, especially since we had just read in the news a few days before that the Lane County (the same county Sweet Creek is in) Sheriff was releasing 100 prisoners — some potentially dangerous — because the county could not afford to keep them locked up. We quickly got into the truck and got out of there as fast as we could!
We stopped at another parking lot, where Catherine took a towel and some water and tried to clean my pants more thoroughly. Then we drove the fifteen miles into Florence. I had already researched a good restaurant for dinner, and it was just past 5:00 PM, so we headed straight to the highly-rated Waterfront Depot. This one-hundred-year-old building may not look like much on the outside, but it is so small inside, and so popular, that reservations are usually required. Seeing that it was only 5:15, we hoped we would be able to squeeze in without any. Fortunately for us, there was one table left, which we gratefully accepted.
The Waterfront Depot has no printed menus — all the meals are written on a large chalkboard hanging on the wall. If you sit at a table from which you cannot see the chalkboard — like we did — you have to get up from your table and stand in the middle of the room to see what your options are. Because I had sat in the mud when I fell earlier, this is for sure one occasion when I desperately wanted to SIT at my table to look at the menu, and not STAND in the middle of the restaurant, with my BACK to the rest of the customers!
Catherine had a delicious, tender, wild Alaska salmon, which was cook rare, exquisitely seasoned, and topped with fresh salsa. I had a delicious, tender flat iron steak, also exquisitely seasoned, topped with an excellent brandy/bleu-cheese sauce, with a glass of Oregon Merlot to wash it down. The prices at this restaurant are ridiculously reasonable: Catherine’s salmon was only $13, and my steak was only $14! If you are in any doubt about the greatness of this place, be sure to check out these glowing reviews.
After our awesome meal, we headed to the northern end of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area at Florence. We drove all the way to the southern jetty along the Siuslaw River. It was very, VERY windy, causing our walk to the beach to be short and not too enjoyable. Little did we know that 42 years ago, an earth-shattering event took place on this very beach which brought worldwide attention to the sleep beach town of Florence.
I don’t have time or space to go into all the details, but, in summary, it goes like this: In 1970, a 45-foot, 8-ton whale beached itself and died. The best solution for removing the carcass seemed to be exploding it with half a ton of dynamite! Unfortunately, things did not turned out as planned. You can read all the detail in this Wikipedia article: Exploding Whale. There’s even an entire Web site dedicated to the event: TheExplodingWhale.com!
You've just gotta watch the original TV broadcast of the event, presented by Portland’s KATU TV. As someone wrote regarding this video:
“Back in the days of yore, before DSL and fast internet connections, even before the days of Firefox ... I mean, in the days of Netscape fitting on a floppy disk ... there was a viral video that was viral before viral was viral. It was the funniest video you could find on the infant internet, this really cool extension of university networks. It was an exploding whale.”Perhaps the original KATU reporter captured the moment most succinctly and poetically when he exclaimed on-screen:
“The blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds!”After I read the article and watched the video, I just had to tell Catherine about it. During my recounting of the story, I was laughing so hard that tears were rolling down my cheeks and splashing onto my shirt, and I could hardly breathe! Learning about this 42-year-old event was the perfect way to end a perfect day at Sweet Creek and Florence!
I took 195 photos on this outing, of which the best 47 — including a few three-image composite pictures which attempt to present the difficult-to-photograph falls along Sweet Creek — can be seen in the Sweet Creek 2012 album.
This is such a long entry already, and I haven’t even talked about what it was like taking my new Olympus OM-D E-M5 on its first photo hike. I guess I’ll have to save those thoughts for a future article.