You've seen the rushing waters of Benham and Dillon falls enough that they could make a spectator shrug.
Perhaps you've enjoyed the plunging waters of Tumalo Falls. While the falls are undeniably scenic, the parking lot gets so crowded with visitors that you wouldn't be blamed for feeling as if you're at a mall instead of a waterfall 12 miles from town.
Paulina Falls, a bit farther afield from Bend, is tried and true and well worth the drive. But if you're heading south on U.S. Highway 97 anyway, follow those urges a bit farther down the road: Let them carry you past La Pine, beyond Gilchrist, to Crescent Cutoff. Turn right and keep going.
After 12 miles, hang a right on state Highway 58 and keep going west, young man, or woman. Make ready that sense of wonder and feast your eyes upon Salt Creek Falls.
Because if you've ever wondered if it's still possible to find a waterfall that will speak to your sense of wonder without all kinds of gawking groups of people in your peripheral vision, here is your answer: Salt Creek Falls, located just west of Willamette Pass, about a 75-minute drive from Bend depending on how much coffee you drink en route/how many pit stops you make.
How impressive? Well, according to every guidebook known to man, at a whopping 286-feet tall, it's the second-tallest waterfall in Oregon after 620-foot Multnomah Falls — a waterfall with an interstate highway practically running through it, speaking of crowds.
Last week, I loaded my three kids, our dog, plenty of snacks and water, jackets in case of rain and my dog-eared “Bend, Overall” guidebook in the car and made the drive to Salt Creek Falls, in eastern Lane County.
Discovered in 1887
According to www.water fallsnorthwest.com, the falls were discovered by Frank S. Warner and his guide, Charles Tufti, in 1887 and were named for Salt Creek, which has “a high salt content often used as salt licks by wildlife.”
A suggestion if you plan to make the trek to Salt Creek Falls: While you're feasting your eyes, mosquitoes will be trying to feast on your blood. Do not make the mistake I did and forget mosquito repellent. The mosquitoes are out a little earlier than usual this year, and man, did they wake up hungry.
Nevertheless, we set forth on a most excellent adventure toward the falls. But first, we got gas and then bought coffee and hot chocolate.
We soon rocked it past La Pine and Gilchrist and Crescent. I drove right past the convenient shortcut at Crescent Cutoff Road, a mistake I did not make on the return trip.
A roadside pit stop at a chain-up area alerted me to the presence of mosquitoes. Fortunately, there's civilization to be had in the Odell Lake area, so we stopped to buy a can of skeeter killer.
The proprietor of the small roadside store at the Odell Lake Campground warned us we might also see bears. She must have noticed our ever-alert dog out in the car, because after warning us about bears, she mumbled something like, “You have your dog with you, so that's good.”
'Too Much Bear Lake'
I'd noticed in “Bend, Overall” that author Scott Cook, writing of a nearby hiking opportunity, playfully refers to “Too Much Bare Lake,” but it's actually named “Too Much Bear Lake,” according to maps. The words are homophones, and there's a world of difference between “Bare” and “Bear.”
Perhaps the proprietor who sold us mosquito repellent and an impulse buy of Goldfish meant Kaloo, our dog, would scare off any bears with his woofing. Or maybe she was suggesting a hungry bear would prefer having him for lunch. Either way, I was glad to have him along.
We didn't see any bears, as it turned out. Perhaps the mosquitoes scared them away.
In fact, for a short time, we had Salt Creek Falls all to ourselves. We were able to take in the blooming rhododendrons, ferns, giant looming firs and all the other great wet-side sights, along with the falls.
We hiked the trail down to the bottom, my oldest daughter snapping photos along the way and commenting that this was the best outing I'd ever taken them along on.
Pause for the plunge pool
The last stretch of trail before a small lookout area had been taken out by a rock slide, and we paused to look at the plunge pool. It may have even looked inviting on a warmer day, but with dark clouds looming, we headed back up the trail to the top.
Another of my daughters commented how easy the hike had seemed on the way down to the bottom. It's true: There's nothing like an uphill hike to put you back in touch with reality, or at least the gravity of a situation.
We stopped to gawk at the falls again at the top, but out of nowhere (or the parking lot) a couple of groups of other people began to materialize. I have to admit I hadn't missed their presence earlier.
Any more hiking would have to wait: The sky began spitting rain, which became steady during the short walk back to the parking lot. We skipped the picnic tables and instead listened to the rain hitting the car roof as we munched on peanut butter sandwiches and Clif Bars.
I asked if anyone wanted to try hiking in the rain, but two of the three were already immersed in the books they'd brought along.
Their contented silence was golden.