The Portland, Oregon, area we lived in 1966-1968 was a far different place than we returned to in 1981. It doesn’t seem like much could have changed in a little over ten years, but it had. When we left, the area had a “big city” feel to it, but it was still a collection of smaller towns with areas of “country” between them and Portland Proper. When we returned, much of the open space was gone, and it had become one big, three-county Metro.

   It was still a pretty nice place to return to in the 1980s, and we have thoroughly enjoyed our years here, but the ‘60s were special. Strange as it seems now, Portlanders had not really “discovered” their outdoors then, and almost any day of the year we could hike in the Columbia Gorge and – once we got out of the immediate vicinity of the famous waterfalls – have the trails almost to ourselves. Away from the main tourist attractions, there were trails that apparently had not been maintained for years, but with a little brush crashing, one could reach waterfalls and viewpoints as good as anywhere in the Gorge. Also – and a sad reminder in the 1980s of how it once had been – you could leave your car almost anywhere, and still find it unlooted when you returned.

   But this essay isn’t about the Gorge. We spent many happy days there, but really wanted to get up in “the mountains.” Mt. Hood wasn’t much farther from home than was the Gorge, and we suspected there were some good hikes up there. But that was in the days before there were dozens of  published trail guides, and the available maps were only helpful in a general way. Somewhere (and I have no idea where) we found a little booklet entitled “Trails of the Mt. Hood and Columbia Gorge Area.” It had about 25 pages, was printed in blue ink on one side of very cheap paper, and was stapled together. There was no date. The author, John Hill, used about half the booklet to describe how to hike (preparation, clothing, food, etc.), then gave very brief descriptions of half a dozen trails in the Columbia Gorge, and another half-dozen near Mt. Hood. One trip that sounded interesting was the Umbrella Falls Trail, on the east side of the mountain. According to the guide, it was six miles long, and “and offers the possibility of a trip starting and ending at the same point without retracing your steps.” It had “beautiful views of Mt. Hood, mountain meadows, Umbrella Falls, and other points of interest.” We decided to give it a try.

The trailhead was easily located, and we set out to find Umbrella Falls on a lovely, calm, summer day. No one else was hiking the trail that day, and we sauntered along, enjoying the wildflowers and the occasional glimpses of Mt. Hood beyond the forest. We were having a lovely time. Then, when we felt we were getting fairly high up toward the mountain and nearing the falls, we heard what were unmistakably the sounds of motor vehicles close by. Around the next bend in the trail, we found ourselves on the edge of a paved road!

   It wasn’t a heavily used road, and I’m not sure we saw any vehicle go by while we stood there, but there was a lot of litter beside the roadway, apparently exposed after the snow melted. There was no trail sign, and no indication of where the trail was supposed to go. There was obviously no waterfall, and no stream large enough to have supported a significant cascade. Perplexed, we returned the way we came. It was a nice hike, but we couldn’t explain either the missing waterfall or the existing road.

 *  *  *

   Afterword: We moved to Atlanta, Georgia, later that year, and I’m not sure we learned the story of the “missing” waterfall and the “mystery” road until we returned to the Portland area in 1981. Here’s what happened.

   In early 1966, the Mt. Hood Meadows ski area was approved, and that summer the entrance road (our mystery road) was built. Development of the facilities occupied the rest of 1966 and most of 1967, with the ski area opening to the public on a very limited basis in December 1967. The trash along the roadway that we saw in the summer of 1968 was the leavings of the first public use the previous winter.

   We never found out where the trail disappeared to in the summer of 1968, or why there were no directions to the falls. Looking at recent maps, it appears that Umbrella Falls is on “our” side of the entrance road – not far from where we met the pavement.  Perhaps at the time the trail crossed to the other side, then crossed back, and was eventually rerouted and signed.

   But yes, there really is an Umbrella Falls. We never went back to see it (although we’ve hiked on that side of Mt. Hood many times), but there are photos of it on the internet. It looks lovely, and would have been a welcome destination for us. Even without the falls, it was a nice hike. 




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