Brian's Photo Blog — Article 309
<< PreviousNext >>Blog Index
A Spring Slog Through Finley Refuge
Thursday 17 April 2014   —   Category: Outings
Ever since I became fed up with photography at the end of 2012, I have hardly gone on any photo outings for the past year and a quarter. Most of the outings I have made were during my two trips to California to visit my parents, in January 2013 and March 2014. I've pretty much neglected and abandoned Oregon! But seeing that I had previously made dozens and dozens of photo outings all over Oregon, the state shouldn’t feel too rejected!

With the stirring of new life this Spring has come a new stirring in my heart to go on more photo outings this year. Perhaps if I take things in moderation I won’t get burned out like I did before. In addition, it’s less tiring to go to places closer to home, although there are some very enticing destinations further afield in Oregon.

So in order to start off with a small step, I decided this week to make my fifth outing to Finley National Wildlife Refuge, south of Corvallis, about a 45-minute’s drive from our house in southeast Albany. Normally I wouldn’t go hiking in Oregon in April, but because this has been a relatively dry Winter, I thought I might as well give it a try. I always love to go out in the early morning, so at 5:30 I was already on my way.

As I was passing through Corvallis, I stopped at Einstein Bros. Bagels for an awesome pumpernickel / cream cheese / smoked salmon breakfast treat. But I didn’t eat it until I arrived at a panoramic lookout spot at Finley — that way I could enjoy the food and the view at the same time!

Having made a number of visits to the northern end of the Refuge over the past few years, this time I decided to focus on the southern end. Therefore I chose the Beaver Pond and Cattail Pond Trails loop. The fact that a good half of the trail was labeled as “unimproved” sounded interesting and adventurous, while its short two-mile round-trip length would literally be a walk in the park — or so I thought!

I was very glad that I had my iPad Mini and the Topo Maps app with me, because there is a dearth of signs in that part of the Refuge. Even the parking lot for that trail didn’t say anything about the trail! And there was no sign marking the trailhead — you’re definitely on your own! But there is the trail description on the Refuge Web site:
Trailhead is located at a turnout off Bruce Road. Walk up the interior service road to an old rock quarry site. Turn left; at fork stay left to cross a rocky ditch. Follow trail staying to the right through the Maple Knoll Research Natural Area to Beaver Pond. At the gravel interior service road, turn right to follow signs to Cattail Pond. Trail will loop around the eastern bank and hug the field edge. Take a right as the trail weaves back into a wooded area and returns to the quarry site.
Since there are not very many service roads lying around down there, it wasn’t too hard to figure out where to start, despite the lack of signage. After reaching the quarry and turning left, I was at a loss because I hadn’t read the trail description, and as I said, there were no signs. All I had was my topo map, and the full Refuge map on paper. And since I had plenty of time and didn’t really care if I took a wrong turn, I decided to simply follow the most obvious trail. Unfortunately, this led me west along the southern side of Maple Knoll. I eventually realized my mistake, and headed back for the low-lying land between Pigeon Butte and Maple Knoll, which was the only possible location for the trails I was looking for.

The Beaver Pond southern trailhead off the service road
The photogenic Cattail Pond, with Pigeon Butte in the background
Finally I came back to a trail which I had previous passed, which seemed to be in the right location and headed the right direction (north). Even though there was no sign at this trailhead, I (correctly) assumed that it was the Beaver Pond trail. There were a few fallen trees across the path at different locations, as well as some standing water on the trail here and there, but all in all it wasn’t too bad.

It didn’t take long to reach the unimpressive Beaver Pond. It was so plain and devoid of wildlife that I didn’t even take any pictures there. Instead I pressed on to Cattail Pond, which is much more photogenic. After taking a number of shots I continued east around the Cattail Pond, and then struck south, back towards the gap between Pigeon Butte and Maple Knoll.

It was on this stretch of the hike that the label “unimproved trail” really took on its full meaning. On the Cattail Pond Web page, their description proved to be very accurate. If only I had read it before the hike!
[This] trail will take you right along the edge of a field and into a dense thicket where the elk hide during the day. This path may be extremely boggy in the Spring and, in fact, could remain closed after the rest of the refuge opens to hikers.
A slough in the middle of the Cattail Pond trail
As I continued south, I encountered more and more wet and muddy sections of the trail, with plenty of elk hoof prints! After successfully skirting the edges of a few of these patches, I eventually came to a part of the trail that was totally impassable, unless I wanted to take off my boots, roll up my pant legs, and tiptoe barefooted through the water and mud!

Because I was so close to the end of the trail, I for sure didn’t want to turn around and make the long trip back that way. So I decided that the best solution was to make a detour around the slough through the forest. But before I slogged on, I stopped to take a photo of the miry trail, so you could see it for yourself.

Lucky for me that I didn’t know elk hide in this forest during the day, or I might not have had the courage to go that way. Even luckier for me, I didn’t stumble upon any dozing elk! I’m sure they’re not too friendly if you disturb their slumber! Actually, right then I was a lot more worried about poison oak in the forest than about elk. Even in the forest the ground was a bit boggy, but nothing compared to the trail I was bypassing. After some dozens of yards the trail finally rose to a bit higher ground, and the slough came to an end. Back on the path, I was at the end of the trail in no time.

The Cattail Pond southern trailhead off the service road
The “rocky ditch” cutting across service road
Once I arrived back at the service road, I decided to take some photos to document the locations of the two unsigned trailheads. I also dropped a couple of pins in the Topo Map app to mark the spots for next time. From what I have learned, I would like to modify the third sentence of the Refuge’s trail description. Instead of “Turn left; at fork stay left to cross a rocky ditch,” I would write in more detail:
After reaching the quarry, follow the service road left. A bit further down the road there is a fork where the service road turns to the left. Take the path to the right to go to Cattail Pond. Otherwise, follow the service road to the left. After crossing a rocky ditch which cuts across the road, you will come to another fork where the service road bends left. Take the trail to the right to go to Beaver Pond. Follow the service road to the left to continue west along the southern side of Maple Knoll.
What would be even better is if the workers at the Refuge would put up a few signs! That doesn’t seem like it’s asking too much!

As I was driving out of the Refuge, I stopped for a while at the large McFadden’s Marsh to try to get some wildlife shots. I had moderate success.

All told, I took 94 photos during my two-and-a-half-hour stay at Finley Refuge. The best 18 images can be viewed in the new Finley Refuge 2014 album. In addition, I've combined the 69 photos from all four years of Finley outings so that they can be found in a single, complete, conglomerate “super-album” — Finley Refuge (All Years).

A piece of photography advice that I've heard many times is that you should visit the same location over and over, experiencing it during different weather, times of day, and seasons. This approach will help develop your artistic eye, and force you to look beyond the surface to the deeper qualities of the place. With that thought in mind, I’m sure I’ll be making more trips to Finley Refuge in the future.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 309
<< PreviousNext >>Blog Index
Reader Comments
On April 23, 2014, Lisa Orvis wrote:
I really liked the cattail pond photo!! Great to see your ongoing work....
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 309
<< PreviousNext >>Blog Index