June 1st has always been a special day for Alex and me. It is the date of our first kiss, and thus the date that we celebrate our anniversary each year. (We also celebrate our wedding anniversary, but that one is a bit arbitrary as it was simply the date our wedding venue was available.)
Alex and I were friends long before we started dating, having met when Alex was a volunteer at Oregon Natural Resources Council (ONRC) where I was the Grassroots Coordinator. Our friendship developed over a few years after he became the office manager at ONRC and then was hired to take my position when I left to go to law school. To us, the date of our first kiss clearly defines a major shift in our relationship, one that we celebrate every year.
For the last 14 years, on June 1, we have celebrated our anniversary, typically by going for a hike. And this year was no different. Except that this year, June 1 was also the first day of our one-year sabbatical, which made it that much more special to us.
This year we decided to check out a new trail that we’d never explored before and chose the Falls Creek Falls trail in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Of course, we’re both partial to Mt. Hood, but the GP is spectacular in its own right, and often overlooked by Portlanders in favor of its more famous sister forest to the south making it a great place to enjoy an uncrowded hike.
The Falls Creek hike starts out in an open canopy forest filled with Pacific dogwood that was just past its prime bloom. A few stark white blossoms still clung to the trees, however, with gorgeous spikes of flowering bear grass dotting the landscape. Once you cross a small suspension bridge, the forest canopy closes in with massive Douglas fir and Western red cedar trees lining the creek and a few rare old growth yew trees (which grow just millimeters in diameter each year making a 12-inch diameter tree potentially hundreds of years old). Brilliant green moss and lichens coat trees, rocks and bare ground. The creek itself snakes through a small canyon in places where wispy maiden hair ferns cling to the rocky walls, and banana slugs slither across the trail.
And then you hear it…thundering Falls Creek Falls, amplified against the towering rock wall to the left of the trail, with its own hanging gardens and dripping springs. The first view of the falls through the forest gives you only a taste of its size, as you glimpse the top two tiers a few hundred yards away.
As you get closer, the enormity of the falls becomes apparent, as the third tier comes into view and the top tier becomes hidden.
We sat for a long time amid the large boulders of the trail’s overlook, mouths agape, at the cascading beauty before us.
Ferns and flowers attached to rocks near the falls waved in the wind created by the sheer velocity of the falling water. We climbed a bit further on the trail, grabbing tree roots to hoist ourselves up the steep path. Although the trail was supposed to continue another couple miles, it petered out high up on the canyon wall, convincing us to turn back.
We made our way back to the car, then headed into Cascade Locks to Thunder Island Brewing Company. As we enjoyed cold pints overlooking the Columbia River, it really hit us that we were on vacation for a YEAR! And a big smile spread across Alex’s face.